employee lied about coronavirus to get time off work, coworker sprayed Lysol at me, and more

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

1. My employee lied about being exposed to coronavirus

One of my employees lied about being exposed to COVID-19. She called in to work saying she had gone back to her hometown over the weekend to visit family and was exposed while she was there. There were cases in that city, and she said one of her family members had been diagnosed with it. She also said she visited places where an infected person had been present, as per the news. She emailed HR a copy of a public health notice about COVID-19 in that city and her family member’s doctor’s note confirming the diagnosis.

In our field, working remotely is not possible. She was given two weeks of paid time off. I spoke with HR and my own boss and I assured her she wouldn’t be in trouble for missing work and to not worry.

While she was off, HR and another manager came to me because their employees had brought up pictures of my employee on Instagram and Facebook. She was tagged in pictures (current) in another country. They said it looked like she was on vacation. When she got back, one of our HR reps met with her about the pictures. At first she said the pictures were old, but then admitted she went on a trip to another country that doesn’t have any COVID-19 cases. She also admitted she didn’t go back to the other city and was never exposed. The doctor’s note from the relative was forged. There are has never been a case of COVID-19 in our province. She said she lied because she used all her PTO and had not accrued any more yet and she wanted to be able to go away with her family. She apologized at the end of the meeting.

I never checked into the doctor’s note to confirm her story. I never thought she would lie. Policy is not to ask for doctor’s notes or documentation for time off for illness or bereavement unless it is extreme circumstances. I never thought to doubt her. She gets PTO and she can use it. In the four years she has worked here, she has never once had a PTO request denied.

I’m torn and could use your advice. She has never given me trouble before and I didn’t see this coming. On the other hand, I know other employees are upset at her for lying. Does this warrant firing even if it is her first offense?


This wasn’t “I’m feeling under the weather” on a day when she wanted to sleep in. These were detailed, premeditated lies and forgery (forgery!), as well as taking advantage of a public health crisis and people’s good will and compassion. This was an utter absence of integrity and honesty.

You cannot keep her on your team. Aside from the fact that you can’t work with someone whose word you can’t rely on, there’s also the message it sends to other employees if you don’t act — will everyone get a free pass on one forgery?

2. Coworker sprayed Lysol at me when I coughed

With the fact that it’s starting to get warmer, pollen is spiking in my area and allergies are starting to kick in. I was coughing at work, due to my seasonal allergies. How the hell do you deal with a coworker spraying what is essentially a poison directly at you (Lysol) due to the panic about coronavirus? Do I really have to stand for that? I consider that an assault, but if I try to file charges it’s going to cause more problems than it will solve.

Yeah, filing charges is not the answer here. But that doesn’t mean you have to stand for it either; there’s a lot of room in between those two options. The solution is to speak up — as in, “STOP. Do not spray that at me. I am coughing due to allergies, but even if it were something else, it’s not okay to spray a person with Lysol.” This is not a situation where you need to modulate your tone; you are allowed to sound alarmed and upset. If that doesn’t get through to her, you can escalate this immediately; your employer doesn’t want people spraying others with chemicals.

You might also point out that spraying Lysol directly at someone (or even in their near vicinity, in some cases) can trigger severe respiratory and other medical reactions for some people.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I don’t want the CEO at my graduation

My company has a tuition reimbursement policy to help out those who seek extended learning (bachelor’s or master’s). I’m two semesters away from completing my master’s and my manager (who is also the CEO) is insisting he’ll be attending and bringing the staff. My initial impression was he was happy for me and was joking in front of other staff. But he’s continued to say it and is insisting that I tell him the day, venue, and time.

To be frank, I don’t want him there. I want this to be my own personal day with my family and he’s making me uncomfortable and anxious about my own graduation. Am I overreacting? Is this right for him to do this? I should note that the company has helped me tremendously with the costs and I am grateful. But the persistence feels uncomfortable.

Any chance you can credibly say you have a limited number of tickets and will need them for family? Often that’s really true. If not, you could say, “On the day of, it’s going to be just close family, but I’ll definitely be bringing in cake to celebrate at work too.”

But also, this is two semesters away! You could just tell him you don’t know the details yet and right now are focused on getting through your final classes.

4. Employee doesn’t read emails

I am a director at a large company and I supervise a manager who is in most respects a great manager. She does an excellent job of coaching her team and working through escalations (of which there are many), but she has difficulty getting to all her emails in a timely manner. We’ve talked several times about the need to delegate, to review all emails within 24 hours, and strategies for working quickly through emails that don’t need a response to get to the important stuff, and she’s getting better, but I still have to prompt her on hot items that come in because she hasn’t seen them.

I have recently heard her mention working on weekends in order to go through her inbox and stay up to date. I understand that she receives a lot of emails. We all do. But I don’t understand why it takes so much extra time on her part. I’m a huge proponent of work life balance and I worry that she’s going to burn out if this keeps up. We are ramping up a huge project and things are only going to get busier for the next few months. To add to this problem, she is a subject matter expert in one area that I have little experience in, so I often can’t respond to questions/escalations without consulting her. I want to be respectful of her time, as I know her workload isn’t small, but sometimes I need an answer now.

For some context, I’ve always been really good at setting boundaries at work and delegating work, and I find it odd when other people don’t do that. I also tend to read and process information more quickly than most people, but I honestly can’t tell if it’s that, or if she’s just disorganized. I’m definitely guilty of delaying a stronger conversation on the issue because I know she’s busy and she’s great at everything else, but I want to address it before she gets too deep in the weeds. How do I understand what the root of the problem is and address it before it’s too late?

Ask her! Frame it as, “I want to help you fix this — can you help me understand what’s going on so we can figure out solutions?”

Particularly since she’s good at the rest of her job, make it clear you’re giving her the benefit of the doubt — and who knows, it could be that she gets three times as many emails as you do, or her work keeps her away from her computer most of the day, or all kinds of other explanations. Or yes, it could be that she’s disorganized or bad at email. But approach it collaboratively, as if there’s a problem you want to solve together (which is true), and see what info that gets you. From there, you’ll be much better able to figure out what solutions would work.

5. Praise on Monday, discipline on Friday?

Have you ever heard of a theory for management that says to praise an employee on Monday and discipline an employee on Friday? The thought is that with praise on Monday, the person will be riding high and you’ll get more productivity. Friday’s discipline has them thinking about the error all weekend and will spur them to straighten up and do better, thus gaining productivity. I worked for a manager that thought this was the best way to handle things!

That’s a bad theory! First, you should give people feedback as close as you can to the thing you’re commenting on (unless it’s fairly minor, in which case it’s fine to save it for your next routine check-in). Second, the idea that you should want an employee to dwell on criticism all weekend is awful. Third, if you make this your pattern, people will quickly pick up on it, the praise will seem insincere, and Fridays will be feared.

Most of all, you just don’t need to manipulate people in the way this implies. You make feedback a normal and routine thing, you praise people when they do good work, you talk to them forthrightly when you want them to do something differently, and you interact with them as fellow competent adults rather than running plays on them.

{ 684 comments… read them below }

  1. Junior Dev*

    Re: 4, I live in fear that I will miss an important email, because I receive hundreds a day, most of which are auto generated. It’s a problem my department has with using broad email lists like security@companyname.com (my department) to sign up for services that then send notifications to everyone on the team. And there are dozens of these services and all the info is important to *someone,* but no one person needs to see all of it. I’m slowly adding inbox filters to keep it manageable but I’m not at all confident that I’ll actually see any email that needs my attention. Fortunately people tend to use Slack for important stuff. But this is an institutional problem where I work and no one is willing to stop using the group emails for these things.

    1. Gatomon*

      We have a problem with this as well. There’s at least 10 distro emails that probably end up sending to me (and distros with distros nested inside… UGH). Plus a whole bunch of systems that spew automated alerts and reminders to do tasks, because more email is clearly the solution to my team not getting things done in a timely manner….

      What works for me is a complex system of auto-deleting about 90% of it, auto-filing about 8% of what’s left and then manually reviewing the remaining 2% of valuable information into archive/this month/this week/today folders based on a great article I read about a year ago. I’m tempted to create a “someday” folder instead of “this month” since it doesn’t fit my workflow very well.

      I also set up a daily 1/2 hour meeting block on my calendar for getting organized. I use some of that time to manage the email mess. I do check my email more frequently and deal with things as they come, but that time block is great for going through the folders to clear out what I did handle and to block out time in the future for dealing with any complex tasks that arise. For me this works well just before my usual lunch break when my motivation is waning and my concentration is failing.

    2. Product Person*

      I have the same problem but solved it by automatically moving group emails unread to different folders based on whether it’s something I really need to read and if so, how quickly.

      Emails from customers, specific colleagues stay in my inbox and get processed twice a day. Emails from bosses are marked high priority snd I get an alert so I can stop what I’m doing to read right away.

      Having mechanisms to distinguish emails by sender can go a long way to keep our bosses happy with our response time without completely derailing our productivity which would happen for me if I stopped to read every email as it arrives…

      1. AnnaBananna*

        This is how I have mine set up too, as well as color coding the font from my director is hot pink, so it’s super visible (and because it gives my inbox a little pizazz, ha!).

        Here’s a link on how to conditionally format important people/messages in your inbox: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/color-code-email-messages-sent-only-to-you-83c150ab-2c69-43c3-ae4f-73912f594f9e. Alison – sorry for the moderation need – and thanks for allowing the link. :)

        I’m also super diligent about blocking spam the first time I see it in my inbox.

        Outlook has been a lifesaver.

    3. SongbirdT*

      Yep. I use G-Suite these days, which has a nifty auto-sort option that surfaces actual emails from humans pretty well, but I had Outlook for years and it’s nearly impossible to manage without creating tons of manual rules. That said, if I send something to someone that definitely needs their attention, I follow up with a chat or text because it can get lost otherwise. Where I work now, though, internal communication is almost never done via email.

      LW4, is your workplace heavily dependent on emails, or do you have use of other collaboration tools? It may be worthwhile to explore alternate options. If the hot items are only managed via email, I’d say that’s less an organization problem for the employee and more a process problem for the workplace. Email is simply too unstructured to manage processes effectively.

        1. mustang76*

          In the year 2020 AD, my company is still using IBM Notes. Outlook would be a sweet release.

          Things can always be worse.

          1. Linguist*

            Hahaha, thank you for that bracing statement. :)

            (The name of the programme alone makes me shiver delicately.)

            1. mustang76*

              Always happy to be of service :)

              25 years of cruft grafted onto Notes makes it impossible to transition. Love everything else about this firm, but I’d settle for almost any other email client at this point.

              1. Candi*

                I wouldn’t be surprised if 1) There’s a way to transition 2) that’s really, really expensive and 3) would require extensive specialized help.

                So they’ll keep trucking with what they have until it bites them where it hurts.

      1. noahwynn*

        Outlook has Focused Inbox now which is actually pretty decent at also pulling out emails that are directly from people instead of automated systems or alerts. It can make the problem worse though if the person never looks through the other email.

        1. mlk*

          Yes, this. It might be new with Outlook 365. At least, that’s when I noticed it. I also use some rules to sort automated emails and notifications into separate folders that I usually clear out quickly once a day.

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            Correct, it’s new with 365.
            First came out in the web version, than mobile, and now you can also enable it in Desktop Outlook (it’s not on by default).
            I find it useful, ymmv.

      2. Krabby*

        Ugh, Outlook!

        I had G-Suite for years and did everything through it. Got a new job last year and it uses Outlook exclusively (they don’t even let you access Google Drive for security reasons). It’s driving me crazy!

    4. Orange You Glad*

      We just have our department email address go to a separate inbox. Of course someone needs to check that inbox and clean it out, but it’s helped to prioritize things that come through that address (also then you don’t have 3 people responding to the same message).

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        You can also assign someone to be “on dept/company email duty” for the day or time period. Their job is to read and respond to those emails and when the contents task a particular person/team, forward it their way.

        Stand up meetings can be loathsome when done poorly. But if you have a 100+ email/day culture, the duty person could save employees a lot of time by quickly stating information from these e-mails that applies to most coworkers, but isn’t so pertinent that they needed to read the whole email.

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I have a similar problem, so I started using conditional formatting in my inbox so emails from specific people appear in different colors. Emails from my boss are in red, emails from everybody else in my workgroup are in blue, that sort of thing. So the auto emails and the mailing list messages that can wait aren’t swallowing up the important stuff that I actually need to see.

      1. Nessun*

        I do the exact same thing – my boss’ emails come in bright blue, and I know to grab those first because he’ll want immediate responses. One particular crazypants coworker whose emails can be very needy or very strange or just really useless is in orange, so I know that when I open them it could be any level of importance or pointless nonsense.

    6. Brett*

      Same problem here. The real issue is that they keep sending critical emails through the same distro lists as much less important emails. For example, the email list that tells us about mandatory site closures (as in “if you show up you will get reported to your supervisors”) and mandatory meetings comes through the exact same distro as weekly updates, company financial reports, top company news, quarterly updates, and lists of weekly meetings. Best part, the site closures, financial reports, and quarterly updates, are all given the same “critical news” label. And the list of weekly meetings and the mandatory meetings are the exact same format.

    7. SheLooksFamiliar*

      When I worked at Huge Global Corporation I averaged 300 emails a day. Lots of candidate and hiring manager emails, which I could handle, but I also got far too many group or ‘reply all’ emails. And, yes, lots of company announcements that almost no one read, except for the C-level writing them.

      I tried to filter in Outlook – never did master that – and missed key emails. Thankfully most people understood, because they had the same struggle with their own inbox. Gradually, we started to rely on Lync or Skype messaging when we really needed to connect with someone, and that made life a little easier. Also, one of those C-level folks realized emails had gotten out of hand. She and her team created training on email etiquette and best practices. It cut down on a lot of ‘reply all’ and nested emails, which helped.

    8. TootsNYC*

      I might try to get this manager some coaching from some other employees who know the ins and outs of managing a email inbox.

      And maybe some administrative help in getting herself sorted out and set up, help wading through the backlog (especially if she’s got a good right-hand-person on her team who can say, “Oh, yeah, you don’t need this anymore”).

      Someone else might be able to help her see more clearly, and help determine if she can come off some mailing lists, or whether people can use subject lines more effectively, or whether there’s any sort of “automatic sort” she can set up to delete or file certain emails.

      It may be time to provide permission–or insist on it–for her to set aside serious time to evaluate her inbox and create procedures; most of us just fly by the seat of our pants on this, figuring it out as we go. But once it’s a problem, it deserves time and effort, and even outside expertise sometimes.

      Now that we have G-suite, I love the “archive” function.
      It doesn’t require the kind of word that sorting into a folder does.
      It holds onto the email, and I can find it if I search.
      But it moves it out of my list.

      So if I feel uncertain about whether I can delete the email, I can archive it.

  2. Annie on a Mouse*

    LW1, if it helps you to view it through a different lens, what your employee did amounts to fraud: a forged doctor’s note to receive emergency benefits the employee wasn’t entitled to because there was no coronavirus exposure, all to be able to take PTO that hadn’t been accrued. This was premeditated and the employee only confessed once confronted with evidence—and even then tried to deny it at first.

    I hope I’m compassionate, but if this warrants a second chance, what doesn’t?

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Yes. Premeditated. Forgery. And TWO WEEKS. All of this adds up to a firing offense.

      Plus also worrying coworkers that they might have been exposed.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Alison I’m curious if the paycheck for the two weeks of extra PTO the employee was given has not been paid yet would the company be in the clear to cancel payment on it? If it has been paid would you suggest the company sue the employee for fraud to get the money back to make an example?

        1. Observer*

          Unless this is a highly paid employee, I would probably not bother. Getting fired is a good enough “example”, I think. On the other hand, simply firing (at least in the US) generally is pretty straightforward is it’s pretty obvious that it’s not being done for illegal / discriminatory reasons. And, unlike getting the money back, you don’t have to prove that your belief was correct, just that you DID have a solid belief. In this context, MUCH easier.

          1. valentine*

            would you suggest the company sue the employee for fraud to get the money back to make an example?
            The firing itself would be example enough and a better move is to tell her they currently don’t plan to pursue fraud charges. (Leaving room in case something else comes to light.) It gives her less room to make a fuss. People (both her camp and the Internet, because her side is ripe for Twitter, AITA, and this place) might be less inclined to rile her to get/not return the money or to fight the firing, and perhaps more people would try to impress on her how lucky she is to have gotten what she wanted and paid only with her job and reputation.

            (I hope her family didn’t know.)

            1. LKW*

              I like framing it as “We won’t be pursuing fraud charges” as a not very subtle message that she got two weeks of severance and will not be paid unemployment.

              1. Colette*

                They may still have to pay severance, based on the laws where they are. (They are not in the US).

                1. NerdyKris*

                  It’s unlikely they’d have to pay severance when someone is being fired for fraud, though.

                2. Krabby*

                  They said ‘province’, so I’m assuming Canada, where I am. IANAL, but I think this would be a good case of termination with cause, which would mean no pay in lieu of notice (ie, severance).

                3. whingedrinking*

                  You can be terminated without notice or severance for egregious misconduct in Canada.

              2. Mockingjay*

                “We won’t be pursuing fraud charges at this time.

                Not sure what the statute of limitations is on fraud, but I’m all for putting the fear of *deity into her.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yes, with the PTO, she basically defrauded the company of a significant amount of money. It should be treated as such, even if they decide not to pursue it, so that other employees don’t think that time card/sheet fraud is something that might be ignored or taken lightly.

        1. Product Person*

          I’m actually surprised that the OP self-described as “torn”. I don’t care if it’s the first offense, if a direct report did that and I had firing authority, they’d be escorted out of the building immediately. And if I didn’t have the authority myself I’d be contacting whoever did right away.

          I’m willing to provide second chances in many scenarios; this is definitely not one of them.

          1. MsM*

            I think OP may still be a little shellshocked and in denial that such a seemingly unproblematic employee would do this. Doesn’t change the fact you and Alison are right, though.

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            If a solid employee on my team did something so horribly wrong and out of character, I’d expect to feel conflicted and torn, too! Yes, the employee has to go, but I imagine the OP will find it hard to stop thinking about the years of good performance, even in the face of such a terrible offense.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              It would be like being sucker punched by someone you trust. There would be a bit of “Wait, what? X did this? X????” I’d be shellshocked for a bit

              1. LongTimeLurkerInfrequentPoster*

                Being done dirty by someone you trusted above all recalls a popular phrase from a certain movie:


                *”This is the worst betrayal of them all!”

                n.b. with all due respect and RIP to Bruno Ganz.

          3. designbot*

            This is a really clear illustration of just how much credit good work can buy you. This is why offices put up with truly awful (and even abusive) behavior from star employees in a whole variety of ways. They think they’re above the rules, because they have correctly assessed that their output is highly valued.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          Exactly. I truly don’t see any other viable option.

          I mean, I wouldn’t enjoy doing it either, and it would make me sad to fire someone I otherwise like, but…she’s gotta go!

      2. Old Med Tech*

        Actually leaving an area with no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and traveling out of the country the employee might have really exposed her co-workers.

      3. Artemesia*

        Absolutely fire this person. Yeah — a mental health day or going to the ball game — not a giant deal but this is about an elaborate deception plan that also reduced the grace future employees might get when they really need that two week paid time off. Wink at the guy who takes Friday for the ball game but fire someone who orchestrates this sort of deception and that goes double when taking advantage at a time when people in big trouble will NEED those advantages.

    2. JKP*

      How much $ is that paid 2 weeks of vacation worth? Would you feel differently about firing her if she had written herself a company check for that amount?

        1. leapingLemur*

          Yep and to go on vacation. Not for something necessary. She showed you she doesn’t have scruples.

        2. Mads Bondo Dydensborg*

          Worse actually. A check would represent a fixed value. What she robbed them of was actually two weeks worth of her work, which – hopefully – should be worth more to the company, than the compensation they give her (otherwise, she is costing them money).

          Also, most likely, someone on her team would need to make up for the work she is missing, increasing the workload on the team, etc.

          This should really be one of the most clearcut firing offenses.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        Yes, true.
        And also, its not like the employee didn’t know this was a fireable offence. She knew the risks and took it anyway.

        You’re not surprising her here. She’s COUNTING on your good will and not wanting to be the “bad guy” to get away with a choice she made. This is not a choice she made under duress. Its a unilaterally selfish decision that hurt you (now having to make a tough call), your coworkers (covering for her while sick) and your company (theft of property).

        1. Krabby*

          And hurt every other employee in this organization who will now have their sick leave requests questioned (whether consciously or unconsciously) moving forward.

      2. Smithy*

        While I understand the logic, and for a small business – that amount of money might actually be meaningful – I think in the long run it risks backfiring with the rest of the staff.

        In the sense of abusing a public health emergency for personal gain, this is egregious. However, I also think that there are a lot of people very anxious about what COVID-19 will mean for their own health, safety, and employment. And the chance for this to make it’s way to other employees in a more ambiguous fashion is really high.

        I know someone who left where I last worked with a blanket statement from our Leadership that I was disinclined to believe because of other experiences I had with them. When I later met up with that woman (who I had not gotten along with personally at work and would not consider a trusted friend at all), I entirely believed her story over managements because of how I had been treated. I will likely never know the exact truth, but to this day I believe that woman as it echoed my own negative experiences there.

        Losing her job at this time for reasons of fraud around a public health emergency is going to have an impact. Seeking the funds back will inevitably seem petty.

        1. Artemesia*

          Interesting as I would have the opposite reaction. She used a public health crisis to cheat the company AND she probably reduced the chance that others would be treated well if THEY had a genuine emergency. I would not make her pay the money back, but I would fire her.

          1. Smithy*

            Right now we have the OP’s word, and are taking that at face value as being true. But were this company to pursue her legally for fraud….I think there are lots of opportunities for multiple stories to circulate. First, if the company takes legal action, then their best legal advice might be to not share many details with staff. Which makes gives room for rumors and this employee’s version of events to spread.

            What she did was awful. She should be fired. But pursuing her legally to return funds similar to another kind of company fraud…..that’s where I think there is room for multiple stories and rumors to emerge that only put the company at risk with their current staff.

    3. 867-5309*

      What’s especially unfortunate, is now if another employee is ACTUALLY ill, this employee has created a situation where the employer is going to demand more in the way of documentation at a time when they’re sick.

      Also, I was waiting for this question, as it was only a matter of time before someone did this.

      1. Alice*

        The company may react that way next time, but it can also choose not to. This doesn’t show that the previous policy was bad, just that one employee was untrustworthy.

        1. valentine*

          OP1 can quietly Google the name on the next doctor’s note, if that’s what would’ve made the difference here.

          1. Katrinka*

            AFAIK, an employer can call a doctor’s office to verify the information in the note. And the doctor’s office can either confirm or deny it. The employee has given up their HIPAA rights by giving the employer the note. And the employer is allowed to ask for a note. That’s why most doctor’s notes are so vague – just the name, date, and how long they are to be out of work. If a return to work note is required, it usually just says that the patient is medically cleared to return to work and either says without restrictions or lists the restrictions.

            1. JessaB*

              Exactly. And if someone was exposed to COVID19 and I employed them, and they self quarantined for the required 14 days, I would absolutely insist on a note that said they were clear of COVID19 specifically. This is not your average “person is cleared to work” situation, this is a pandemic.

              1. valentine*

                an employer can call a doctor’s office to verify the information in the note.
                Sure, but I don’t think OP1 needs to be less trusting. The good morale of the team, some of whom brought the fraud to light, is worth at least one more wild incident like this. And there are points in between the extremes.

                I would absolutely insist on a note that said they were clear of COVID19 specifically.
                What if there’s no testing in your area, or they can’t access it?

                1. Hillary*

                  I’m in self-quarantine right now because I visited a region over a week ago that’s now “high risk.” The likelihood that I’m a carrier is pretty low due to my behavior during that trip, but I’m in my guest room instead of at my desk. And my partner is in his office in the basement instead of at work.

                  Requiring a note that people are clear isn’t going to be possible. My state currently has capacity to run about 600 tests a day, right now tests are only available if people have symptoms plus some kind of connection.

                2. SophieChotek*

                  Same situation as Hillary. My “self-quarantine” ended yesterday also. But it would be impossible to get a doctor’s note. In fact, my Dad went to the doctor with a bad chest cough he knew was bronchitis (He gets it every year), and he was actually surrpised and rather dismayed the doctor didn’t order a COVID test anyway….

                3. Doc in a Box*

                  I’m in the same boat as Hillary and SophieChotek. Went on vacation to a country that had a single isolated cluster of cases on an offshore resort island that I wasn’t going to visit; less than 24 hr after I returned home, the capital city declared emergency and closed all public facilities and schools. Since I’m a physician with a mostly geriatric patient population, I’m erring on the side of caution, canceled clinics, and am self-quarantining for 14 days, even though I’m asymptomatic. (Hospital policy.)

                  I’m shocked that a person who supposedly had direct contact with a confirmed case (even though it was untrue) wasn’t being monitored by the health department. Of course, there was no screening or even info signs at the mid-sized airport where I re-entered the US, or at least two of the 11 designated quarantine airports per family/friend reports, so….

              2. >*

                Our company policy says you have to get cleared from a doctor before you can return to work if you were self quarantined.

                1. Krabby*

                  That does not seem well thought out. For a lot of people, requiring a doctor’s note will be impossible. Not to mention, it will put unnecessary strain on local healthcare systems and increase the likelihood of exposure for healthy employees who were simply being cautious, since now they have to go where everyone else who is sick is going: the doctor.

                  If they’re that concerned, they should just tell everyone to wfh indefinitely

                1. Eukomos*

                  What are you talking about? Hospitals have overflowed in China and Italy, Iran has high level government officials dying, community transmission is confirmed in the US without sufficient measures to stop it. The numbers suggest that likely 50%, if not substantially more people will catch this, and the death rate nears 1% (ten times worse than the flu) when hospitals AREN’T overwhelmed. It rises above 3% (worse than the Spanish flu) when hospitals are overwhelmed.

                  If you’re trying to say that more people died in the swine flu then sure, that’s true, so far. But we’re at the beginning of this, not the end, and this has already killed a quarter as many people as the swine flu did. Unless people stop dying in a week, this is going to be significantly worse.

                2. Anonapots*

                  Please stop spreading this misinformation. It has been declared a pandemic by the organization whose job it is to determine these things.

                3. Perpal*

                  Ebola is also worse, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop this, too. 1% death rate is still a lot if 60+% of people get it. And it gets worse if everyone gets it at once.

                4. Dr Rat*

                  Gee, who should we all believe? The freaking World Health Organization or some random person named Candi on a message board? Tough call…

            2. lost academic*

              Why do you think that the employee has given up their HIPAA rights by providing a doctor’s note?

              1. JJ*

                Agreed, you still get your privacy by law. Also they’re not in the US, so their country might vary from HIPAA.

              2. chronicallyIllin*

                They have essentially given the doctor permission to corroborate the info on the note, not any other info. So they’ve waived their HIPAA rights on that set of info, I believe.

            3. The Cosmic Avenger*

              I think if the employee asks for a doctor’s note, the doctor and their staff can assume that the patient has consented to the employer being informed of what is in the note, and so they can confirm or deny whatever is in the note (that the patient had an appt. on a particular day, usually). But I Am Near A Llama.

              1. WomanFromItaly*

                As a HIPPAA provider, though not a doctor, this is not the case at all. A note is not in any way a release of information. A client could ask me for a note, and I give it to them, for them to do with as they wish because their information belongs to them. That does NOT mean that I am legally permitted to discuss that same information with anyone who is not the patient. If I want to do that I need a signed and dated release of information specific to client’s employer.

                But in Canada I have no idea what the laws are.

                1. Cj*

                  even if it’s true that and an employer can call the doctor to verify a note given to their employee the forged know was supposedly given to their family member by that family members dr.

                2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

                  Would you not be able to confirm or deny a note supposedly from your office is genuine?
                  E.g. the employer can fax you the note for verification. You are not giving them any information they do not already (provably) have, you just confirm that the note was indeed issued by your office-or not.
                  Where I live (Germany), doctor’s notes legally only can say that a person is unfit to work until (date), no diagnosis. They must be on a prescribed form (“yellow chit”) to be valid; soon it will be an electronic form directly sent from the doctor to the employer (upon employee’s request). This makes fraud pretty hard. Legally, the employee must see a doctor and get the note latest on the third day of sickness to claim paid sick leave (six weeks are mandatory).

            4. Candi*

              The employee hasn’t given up their HIPAA rights -the law doesn’t work that way. They’ve agreed that the information on the note can be shared, and confirmed or denied by the doctor. Their HIPAA for anything else stands.

          2. CJM*

            I think most people are smart enough that they would use the name of an actual doctor on a note oh, so I don’t see how that would help.

      2. Mookie*

        Except that some of this documentation could have been immediately and discreetly checked, like the public health notice (this was also forged, I take it). It’s extraordinary and appalling to go to such lengths to bag a paid holiday, but the right answer isn’t always to make the test more burdensome for everyone going forward. This is an outlier case and should be treated as such, but it isn’t an issue of a pre-existing procedural failure or loophole, especially because this organization doesn’t even ask for doctors’s notes. Verify the things you’re given and are comfortable asking for. An interwebs search have done so in this case in record time. The only change I’d make is that, barring privacy issues and prevailing labor laws, any employees who wants to use these kinds of materials to support requests for additional sick pay should be informed up front that some of those materials may be subject to verification.

        1. Bagpuss*

          As I read it, the public health notice wasn’t forged – it was a genuine notice for a city she claimed to have visited but hadn’t.

          1. Mookie*

            I based that on my reading of this line from the LW:

            There are has never been a case of COVID-19 in our province.

            1. AgathaFan*

              In the OP’s area there was no health notices but she says that the employee said that she went to her hometown and other areas where there were outbreaks. So it’s pretty likely that the health notice was not forged.

        2. Artemesia*

          And of course the real lesson here is to not publish your stolen vacation on Instagram or Facebook — duh.

    4. Viette*

      Yeah. You’re never going to trust her again (why would you?), she forged a doctor’s note, stole from the company, and tried very hard to continue lying for as long as possible.

      Even if none of us agreed, you get to decide if this is fireable. I understand checking with AAM just to be sure, but as Alison has pointed out many times, in most states bosses can fire people for nearly any reason — and if not this one, then what?

      1. EPLawyer*

        If she had just lied about being exposed, the trust is gone. Maybe if she was a good employee, you might keep her and see if trust could be rebuilt.

        But when she graduated to forgery, that was gone. You can never trust anything she does again. If she will forge a note to go on vacation what will she do with her work product to cover up a mistake?

        1. Paulina*

          Yes. She’s not the person you thought she was, OP. Someone who would look at the current pandemic as an opportunity to get free time off for a vacation, including foreign travel, isn’t someone you should trust with anything.

          1. Zillah*

            this – and it’s likely not the first time she’s done something like this, just the first time she got caught.

    5. AcademiaNut*

      Yes. Some things are egregious enough that firing on the first offense is warranted. And “I wanted to take a two week holiday, but had used up all my PTO” does not count as mitigating circumstances.

      Would this count as a case where UI benefits could be denied? She’s not being fired for being bad at her job, or being hard to work with, but for forging a doctor’s note, lying about sick leave, exploiting a pandemic situation for her own enjoyment, and then lying about it when confronted.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, she’d almost definitely be denied unemployment benefits if the company reports the reason for the firing. You generally get denied unemployment for very black and white policy violations (as opposed to just not being able to do the work well enough).

        1. LavaLamp*

          I’d like to point out that the Lw says province instead of state, so I’m assuming they’re Canadian. They might not be able to just fire someone for this, even though it is egregious.

          1. Not Australian*

            Even so, surely the best thing to do would be to fire the employee and let her try challenging it afterwards if she wants to? Decisive action is what’s needed here, not vacillation.

            1. Mookie*

              Why risk the company’s reputation when they’ve done nothing wrong? Why spook current and future employees about the lengths you’re willing to go to to get rid of an employee that will, at some point, be eventually gotten rid of? The company only caught this because employees outside of management and HR were doing their job for them; it might temporarily boost morale (staff get to see a bad actor punished), but it’s iffy in the long-term.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Some offenses warrant immediate firing. If you’re that worried, put her on administrative leave while it’s investigated.
                By the way, if the company has a policy about self quarantining after travel? She just violated that too.

              2. LKW*

                I think letting current and prospective employees know that you run a company that’s based on trust and professionalism is good. Also good is to reinforce that when that trust is abused, the consequences are in line with the crime. What punishment would you think is appropriate for someone who forged paperwork, lied about exposure during a public health crisis and then took unearned vacation?

              3. The Other Dawn*

                “The company only caught this because employees outside of management and HR were doing their job for them”

                But why would management and HR go searching for evidence that the employee was lying and forging documents? The OP states she had no reason to doubt the employee, so why would she waste time trying to confirm it’s legitimate? I’d hate to think about a company where every illness/potential exposure claim had to be investigated to make sure it’s real. How would anyone ever get their work done?

                1. EvilQueenRegina*

                  They may not have been actively searching – if those employees had her as a friend, or were friends with someone else in the photos, they could have seen them quite naturally.

                2. Antilles*

                  Especially since OP had a doctor’s note! Like, if you’re arguing that Management and HR should check up on employee’s stories even with doctor’s notes, how do you check up on that? If this employee hadn’t accidentally been outed via someone else’s social media, the only other way would be for the company to call the doctor’s office to confirm information in the doctor’s note…which…No, Just No.

              4. Health Insurance Nerd*

                Whoa- it is not HRs job to monitor the personal social media of their employees. This employee got caught because she is a liar and a thief, in additional to being pretty morally challenged- firing her is what needs to happen. If that “spooks” current and future employees, they aren’t people should want to have working for them in the first place.

                1. kittymommy*

                  A liar and a thief and not particularly good at it. If you’re going to set up such an elaborate plan don’t televise it on social media!! Jeez!

                2. Michelle*

                  I agree kittymommy. Forged a doctor’s note, liked about exposure, but hey, lemme put my awesome vacation pics on my Insta and Facebook!

                3. Marny*

                  She’s also incredibly foolish and judgment-impaired if she thought it was a good idea to post those vacation photos while lying about being in quarantine. So she’s both a lying thief and frankly, a dummy.

                4. Frank Doyle*

                  She didn’t post the photos, she was tagged in them. She probably didn’t tell her family/companions that she was lying to work.

                5. Mookie*

                  Not what I was suggesting and I’m against that kind of monitoring. What I am suggesting is that because HR did nothing, employees felt they had to step in. It is better to do your due diligence before that happens, because it’s not good.

              5. Emily K*

                I’m confused what the threat to their reputation would be and what “lengths they’re willing to go to” you’re referring to? The suggestion is just to fire her for fraud and dishonesty… why would that spook anyone or risk the company’s reputation? At first I thought maybe you were suggesting it was a bad look for other employees to find out that you caught her because you were willing to go to the lengths of looking into her social media, but then it sounds like you’re saying the opposite, that not enough/the right people at the company were monitoring her social media?

                1. Risha*

                  I would actually be pretty alarmed if I knew a coworker of mine pulled something like this and then just… showed up for work on Monday, and everyone acted like everything was normal. I’d be seriously side-eyeing management from then on.

              6. Katrinka*

                The employees weren’t looking for the information, they happened to see it on social media and reported it to the company. Unless there’s some reason to doubt the employee (and OP said there wasn’t), employers don’t usually verify absence notes.

              7. Observer*

                Because you have a liar and thief on payroll. This is a person who cannot be trusted at all, and thus cannot be of use to the company. On the other hand, by allowing her to stay on it sends a really bad message to staff, who are already upset about the situation.

                The risk to the company’s reputation is actually higher if they KEEP her. Firing her is such a no brainer that if she challenges it, she is only going to prove that the company did the right thing.

              8. Anonapots*

                I’m not sure how firing an employee who committed fraud and lied about a serious illness would harm the company’s reputation. What harm’s reputation of management is not acting swiftly on something pretty clearly awful and actionable.

            2. Mary*

              Don’t know about Canadian law but in the UK it’s not that you wouldn’t be able to dismiss someone for something like this (very likely gross misconduct), but that dismissal from a contract is always open to legal challenge, so you’ve got to make damn sure you follow all the right procedures and you’ve got all the paperwork. It’s not super uncommon for sacked employees to get a payout not because they didn’t do it, but because the employer didn’t follow their own procedure properly.

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                Yep. Follow procedures, make sure they have representation at meeting (hopefully union), but it is a firing for gross misconduct instead of having warnings situation.

              2. JasperJ*

                Here in the Netherlands the rule is that there’s two kinds of firing — the normal kind and “Ontslag op staande voet”, aka in latin Stante Pede, or in english, I guess, a “there’s the door, do not ever come back here again” type of thing (Literally, ‘standing foot’).

                For something to be a valid Stante Pede firing you have to catch them in teh act *and* it has to be so egregious that no person in their right mind would disagree with it being a valid reason for firing the employee. So, merely getting caught red-handed stealing a €20 from the cash register? Not actually a valid reason. It has to be *really* bad.

                And frankly I think this more than qualifies. However… you also have to do it right then and there. Or at the very least you have to send them home right away and then think not too long about it. Once you’re to the time frame of AAM, you’re probably not going to be able to claim a valid Stante Pede firing offense.

              3. boop the first*

                Thanks for this, I was wondering why someone might think people couldn’t be fired in Canada. We aren’t much better or different from the US about much of anything.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            Even in Canada, EI can be denied if you’re fired for misconduct (ie, deliberately doing something wrong).

            1. Random IT person*

              If this is not an example of deliberately doing something wrong – i don`t know what would be.

          3. Asenath*

            I am not a lawyer, but you can certain fire people ‘for cause’ as it’s called, in Canada. The exact rules vary by province and also by whether or not there’s a union contract in place, but it is indeed possible to fire someone for fraud, and I suspect this sort of thing would qualify. The employer might have to pay for at least the provincial minimum notice period, but if they do that the employee could be gone immediately.

            I worked somewhere that was unionized, and an employee just vanished – that was said to be a fraud case, and as soon as the employer knew about it the employee was gone. It would be easier, if possible, in a place with only the standard provincial labour laws in place.

          4. The Other Dawn*

            Right, but OP didn’t ask if it’s legal to fire her. She asked if it’s a fireable offense, which tells me she’s not sure if this is a big enough deal to warrant that. In my opinion, unless there are some laws protecting the employee, this is grounds for immediate termination. I don’t care how long the person has been with the company or how good their work has been. If I can’t trust my employees, why would I want them on my team? What’s the use of having people you can’t trust anymore?

          5. Alma*

            I’m in a government union in Canada and I would be instantly fired for this. In canada you have to be fired for cause that’s all. This is easily cause. My union would be cursing me to the skies for doing this, and telling me basically so sad, too bad.

          6. JessaB*

            I’m pretty sure that even in Canada you can fire someone for outright fraud and theft. You might have to make sure your documentation is spotless (and they have all their ducks in a row, so that’s done.)

          7. The Great Octopus*

            In Canada (I am a Canadian) we have the same ability to fire people for cause and you cannot apply for EI (unemployment) if you are fired.
            The main difference is that we have coded ROE’s and based on the code is if the government grants you access to EI or not, and you can still get lose your job at will but your former employer isn’t really involved in your case for EI. They are only involved for verification you did work there, and if you challenge they mis-coded your ROE ex mark it as a firing or you quit when it was actually a layoff.

          8. Chinook*

            As the em0loyee committed fraud and forgery, this would be a clear firing offense for cause in Canada.

    6. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      It’s not much different to stealing 2 weeks of salary. If your employee stole 2 weeks salary in cash from the office, you wouldn’t be debating whether to fire them, you’d probably call the police.

      And it’s so much worse because they weren’t about to be evicted, they didn’t have a medical emergency, but simply wanted to have a holiday at the company’s expense. Not that these would be acceptable reasons to defraud or steal from the company, of course, but people sometimes do uncharacteristic things when they are desperate.

      OP1, it may be tempting for your company now to start insisting on documentation, checking doctor’s notes – please don’t change your policy of treating employees like grownups because of this one person. Deal with the incident effectively and don’t change your culture, which sounds awesome. Have a meeting with your staff to explain what happened (she defrauded the company and presumably got fired), why you took the action you did (she’s shown herself to be untrustworthy and has shown incredibly poor judgement, and you cannot keep staff who lack integrity), and that you will not be clamping down on trustworthy people because of one bad apple.

      You sound like a good, kind and compassionate manager.

      1. Mookie*

        +1, and great advice for the LW herself. Don’t let this stop you from being that good manager.

      2. Ice and Indigo*

        I’d say there was a significant difference: she deliberately spread medical misinformation during an epidemic. Things are changing by the day here: for all she knows, tomorrow it could be a legal requirement for you to report a case of ‘exposure’ to your local health service, making them think the province needed resources directed away from actual cases. On a personal level there have probably been employees worried about their elderly parents; on a business level, it could cost you extra – my son’s school did a deep clean because they had a situation like this reported to them. And on a public level, she gave false information that could have been acted on by people trying to prevent deaths. It’s unbelievably irresponsible.

        If you explain her firing to employees, I wouldn’t just talk about defrauding, I’d talk about spreading lies about a dangerous and highly contagious disease. The more everyone understands we need to be community-minded, the fewer people are going to die.

        1. Carlie*

          That’s what kicks into the “immediate firing” category for me. She could easily have incited a panic. Plus, it shows stunning callousness and disregard for others. Of all the lies to choose from, she chose the one most likely to legitimately scare others.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            “Of all the lies to choose from, she chose the one most likely to legitimately scare others.”

            Exactly. Because she knew it was very unlikely someone would doubt her.

        2. Groove Bat*

          Not just that. She just provided fuel to the fire of employers who refuse to offer paid, unlimited sick leave to people who need it. They point to the abuses and say, “See? Everyone will abuse it, so we need to put restrictions in place.” She has proved every excuse. She has made it harder for everyone who is fighting to make the workplace more human and fair.

          In a time in this country where people don’t have enough, or any, paid sick leave and are coming to work because it’s “work or miss a rent payment,” this is just breathtakingly selfish and irresponsible. and for what?

          I hope she enjoyed that vacation. Her coworkers and society at large paid for it.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yes. This is far worse than merely a lie. She is deliberately endangering people for her own selfishness.

        3. Smithy*

          I agree with this.

          This question reminds me of the one yesterday with the company with the flawed PTO/sick time policy and how that encourages people to lie. Lying or the omission of truth in saying “I need to use a sick day and am not feeling well” – when the reality is that an employee is aiming to use a sick day to care for a sick family member or have a doctor’s appointment is not what this employee did. This employee also did not call in sick with the stomach flue to use 2 or 3 sick days instead of vacation days for a vacation.

          While I imagine some commenters would approve of my first example but argue my second one is a similar case of fraud – the spreading of misinformation during an epidemic is simply not the same for the many reasons above. Decisions around quarantine, PTO for those who can’t work remotely – all of that is for serious public health concerns. Not just an employer being understanding about a complicated illness.

          Yesterday I thought I might be feverish (or just warm – our building’s heating is wonky), had a sore throat, etc. As someone who lives alone, was also concerned that my apartment was 100% not ready for me to be in any version of quarantine for any length of time. So I asked to leave early to make sure I could be ready and WFH as needed. It was just an afternoon, but I had I used that excuse to meet up with friends for a party at a crowded bar – it’s particularly scummy. In addition to it being a lie, I’d also going against recommended public health recommendations for my city.

        4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I’m not at all disagreeing that the deliberate misuse of a public health crisis is a very serious offence, but OP’s question was about whether she should be fired. The point I wanted to make was that the fraud *on its own* should be enough reason to fire her. When you add in the disgraceful disregard for other people, it’s really a no-brainer. But thanks for making this point.

        5. Krabby*

          Yep. And what would have happened if the place where she was vacationing started to have reported cases while she was there? If she should have been quarantining herself when she got back, would she have done so?

      3. Katrinka*

        I don’t know about Canada, but here in the US employers cannot tell other employees why someone left/was fired. It’s considered confidential information.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I’m pretty sure there are no laws about that. There have been a fair number of public announcements of “so and so embezzled/sexually harassed coworkers/said horribly offensive things online and is no longer with the company” (think #MeToo).

          1. Anonapots*

            There aren’t any laws about it. Managers are cautious for fear of litigation, but if someone stole equipment and you fire them and then you get a call for a referral, you can tell them they were fired for…misusing company equipment if you don’t want to outright say they stole it.

        2. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Er… say what? Source for that claim? I have never heard any such thing and find it very hard to believe. Maybe that is a policy that your particular employer has chosen to live by, but I’m fairly positive there is no such legal restriction.

        3. hbc*

          Yeah, not illegal. This is like giving a bad or detailed reference–lots of companies discourage it for fear of a lawsuit, and lots of people (including plenty in HR) mistake “we could be sued” for “it’s illegal.”

        4. EPLawyer*

          Not generally. you obviously can’t make up stuff and you should just stick to the facts, but you can most certainly say “we fired Esmeralda because we found out she forged a doctor’s note in order to go on a two week vacation with her family.”

          Some companies CHOOSE to not provide anything other than dates of employment and eligibility or not to rehire, but that is a choice.

        5. Paulina*

          Whether or not they can announce the firing and reasons thereof to other employees, they don’t really need to. The other employees already know about the situation (since it came to the management’s attention through another employee), and will make likely correct assumptions on learning of the firing.

        6. The Great Octopus*

          In Canada you can say what ever you want but you are encouraged to stick to facts mainly so we don’t get sued as well because you can get sued for defamation. I can say “I fired Jane for lying about getting exposed to Coronavirus, forging a doctors note we did not request to back up her claim, and actually taking a family vacation while we paid her all because she was out of PTO”. Those are facts. I could but shouldn’t say “I fired Jane for lying and stealing” as stealing is subjective in this case. It’s technically true, but the paid time off was offered she just lied about needing it.

          As long as you stick to fact, there’s no case for defamation or slander. As someone who was forced to start a legal case against a former employer in Canada over them telling lies to block me from getting a job.

        7. Observer*

          This is totally not true. With very few exceptions, employers have very little legal requirement to guard the confidentiality of the employees. And reasons for firing are almost never considered confidential anyway.

        8. Chinook*

          I have seen employers explain why someone was fired after they elft the building. Awesome boss did it after he fired two guys in a month to ensure that everyone didn’t think we were laying people off. His explanations were “Person A was struggling ith job and nothing they did could fix that while Person B attemtped to see drugs to another employee.”

          1. TootsNYC*

            I know that so many companies don’t want to say (and sometimes there will be a contractual agreement between the fired employee and the company, in which the company gives up the right to provide reasons in exchange for the employee’s leaving quickly and quietly), but in so many cases, I think it’s just better all the way around for there to be some not-too-specific reason given.

            “It was a performance issue. No hard feelings, and we did try to work with them, but it wasn’t working. We wish them well, and are confident they’ll find a job with a better fit.”

            I suppose that’s not “hard, cold facts” because it uses labels and subjective judgment and subjective adjectives instead of describing behavior.

        9. Candi*

          There’s no laws for that, not even in California.

          Thing is, especially in the late 1990s before tort reform (and one of the things that caused that reform), there were a lot of frivolous and bone-headed lawsuits -including against companies by former employees, suing about anything they could that sounded vaguely actionable.

          In the US, you do not need to be a lawyer to file a civil case. All you have to do is be able to pony up the filing fees and other costs, or qualify for hardship waiving of the fee. (The idea there was to make it easy for the poor to file.)

          Companies don’t LIKE their names on a bunch of cases, which are usually available to the public. It looks bad.

          One of the backlash effects is a lot of companies went to “name, rank, serial number” type of referrals: “Yes, Moist von Lipwig worked here. From XX/XXXX to YY/YYYY.”

          The intention was not to give anything a sue-happy employee could use to sue. Other companies have adopted the practice for other reasons, some of them really silly.

          1. Burned Out Supervisor*

            Tort reform was not introduced to fight against frivolous lawsuits, it was championed by large companies who wanted to limit punitive damages set by juries due to legitimate negligence. I suggest you read up on the “Hot Coffee” case to see who would really lose out and who would win if tort reform really gets to the level that some lobbyists hope for. Pro-tip, people with legit claims would absolutely lose.

        10. Groove Bat*

          It sounds like the cat’s already out of the bag, given that it was fellow employees who saw her tagged on the social media posts.

      4. JessaB*

        I think you’re right except for one thing, if it involves COVID19 or the current flu, or some other public health thing, I think at least a phone call to the doctor’s office is reasonable. Because honestly companies are going out of their way to pay people for leave that would normally not be paid. And that money needs to be used by people who genuinely should be on leave. From what I understand the Feds are trying to pass some kind of public health addendum to FMLA, and that level of documentation has been considered reasonable under law. So I’d treat it like FMLA even if your company right now doesn’t have qualified employees.

        1. Candi*

          I caught some of it on the radio earlier (when my dad would shut up*); part of it was required paid leave for hourly workers, and a couple more sounded like stuff US workers have been begging for for yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrsss to put us on par with other nations.

          I hope I heard accurately, and that if I did it passes.

          *Dad was listening to the main radio show, but the news announcements, aside from traffic, go under “commericals” -he looks at Yahoo and Drudge for news.

      5. aebhel*

        This. She needs to be fired, and that alone will send the message that you take this kind of behavior seriously. There’s no need to change the policy of treating your employees like responsible adults (because, frankly, the vast majority of people would not do something like this).

      6. k*

        Also, doctor’s offices are already overwhelmed and will likely become a lot more overwhelmed in the coming weeks/months; providing doctors’ notes are one more source of overwhelm.

        1. Zillah*

          And honestly, making doctors’ offices field phone calls confirmed that someone’s note is valid is also not a good use of time.

          At the end of the day, if people think they might be sick, they should be able to stay home. I have a sore throat and a slight cough, and while I messaged my doctors office to let them know, there’s very little they can do right now, and my going in there is just going to expose me to the virus if I don’t have it or expose other people to the virus if I do. I know what I need to do – stay home, drink plenty of liquids, get enough sleep, monitor for a fever, and if I start to feel worse give them a call.

    7. Dragon_dreamer*

      I am appalled that this employee treated the situation so casually, lied, and used a pandemic as an excuse to take a vacation. To me, this also indicates that if she or someone she knows DOES get it, she’s going to brush it off as nothing and potentially expose many others.

      My University is going online only today, partly because several study abroad students came home, did NOT self isolate, and held a frat party on campus. Now multiple people involved are sick.

      I am a student worker, but thankfully I can not only keep working since I work in isolation anyway, but I am approved to work as much or as little of my 20 hours a week from home, remotely, as I want. Each department decides how, but the university appears committed to making sure research projects get done, hourly student workers get paid, and we all finish the semester as successfully as we can.

      (Also, I *know* my old retail jobs would have brushed off that I’m high risk. Immunocompromised and underlying health issues. I feel VERY valued and appreciated to know even my department chairs went above and beyond to get my work and research approved for remote work. That doesn’t happen for undergrads.)

    8. Mama Bear*

      At a former job we had an employee get jail time for a DUI with children in the car. While there were some bits of truth about their store, when HR found out that they were on work release under a friend’s company (friend lied and said they were an employee) while also on short term medical leave from our company (legit surgery, but not legit reason to be out for longer), they were fired. I only know this because they were on my team and we were given guidance about how to respond if they contacted us, etc. I think the same applies to this virus lie vacation. The employee blatantly and deliberately lied to steal PTO from the company. OP is understandably shocked about this behavior but there’s no way OP can ever trust her now. Let her go.

    9. StrangerThanFiction*

      I think the employee should count herself lucky not to face fraud charges. With the fear that some freeloaders will take companies for a ride in the current crisis, the system will be thirsting to have a go at the first few who actually *do* abuse it, and they will be disembowelled to encourage the others to stay in line.

    10. TrainerGirl*

      Someone at a previous job did just about the same thing during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. I don’t remember if it was to go on a trip, but she got 10 days off (paid) by saying that she’d tested positive. I think that HR let her resign, but she lost her job as soon as she was found out to be lying.

  3. SW*

    Re: #5 – the kind of manager who thinks ruining an employee’s weekend is a jerk. Mentalities like that are the mentalities that, long term, cultivate resentful and fearful workers, not workers who thrive.

    1. SW*

      Oops – I meant to say the kind of manager who thinks ruining an employee’s weekend *is a good thing* is a jerk.

    2. GeoffreyB*

      That, or, employees learn to recognise these patterns and then just discount both the positive and negative feedback. Which is also not productive.

      1. Antilles*

        Even before the pattern, to be honest – the first time, if you’re praising me on Monday after disciplining on Friday, the obvious conclusion is that Boss thought about it over the weekend as well, realized he was too harsh, and this is his way of making up for it. So both the negative and positive feedback get a little tempered as “the negatives were overexaggerated on Friday, but my positives are being overexaggerated on Monday to over-correct”.
        And then after a couple of times, it would lose all value since it would seem like it’s just Your Thing, so both the complaints and the praise are completely insincere anyways.

      2. jbouv*

        I read this as if there is something to be disciplined about, you do it on Friday. And if there is something to be praised, you do it on Monday. Not that all employees get praised on Monday, and all get disciplined on Friday, regardless of their work.

        1. WorkingGirl*

          That’s also how I read it… but omg, it’s still such a bad way to do it! Forcing people to stew over things over the weekend is sooo mean!

          1. Jadelyn*

            It’s not just mean, it’s the sign of a manager who thinks he’s entitled to his employees’ entire lives. I mean, his stated purpose with Friday criticism is to make them think about it over the weekend, and maybe that sounds reasonable until you ask “what right does he have to deliberately try to take up his staff’s time and emotional energy OUTSIDE of work like that?”

            Because the answer is none. He has no right to that, but he thinks he does if it will get him “productivity” the following week.

            Besides, it may not even work the way he thinks it will. I have a very strict no-work-on-weekends policy for myself, and that includes thinking about it. Criticize me on Friday and I will very deliberately not think about it at all for the following two days, and by Monday the impact will be severely blunted because I’m a few days out from it already.

        2. TootsNYC*

          The argument that I would see for providing negative feedback on a Friday is that the person doesn’t have to keep working but can go home and regain their equilibrium without being under the eye of their boss, who just reprimanded them, and have some time to percolate on how they will improve and what might have caused the problem.

          Which is the same thing without the meanness!

    3. Juli G.*

      I will say I’ve given Friday feedback to employees that receive feedback poorly – so they can shake it off away from the office and me, not to make their lives bad or ruin their weekend. Glad this terrible advice came up. I’m rethinking the approach now.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Honestly I speculated that recovery time/distance was the reason for negative feedback on Friday. Not everyone will dwell on work all weekend.

        This logic is completely flawed. What kind of effusive feedback is the boss giving on Monday that leaves people so happy that they’re riding high and more productive? I mean, I’m happy to get good feedback but I can’t imagine me being so happy about it that I work extra hard.

        This is just so illogical. But the boss with the theory sounds like a total jerk plotting ways to manipulate his employees with insincere compliments and unnecessary problems to scare employees into working harder because they’re afraid for their job.

        1. Dragoning*

          If I came into work Monday morning to praise, I would be wondering what the heck I did to earn it.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        To be honest, if you’ve got an employee who is difficult to work with after getting routine feedback (like the person in the post earlier this day), I think giving them feedback at the end of the day so they can deal with it outside the office and not make things unpleasant for their coworkers or boss is a reasonable approach. But it’s do it for general feedback to that person, not just unpleasant conversations.

        It is, however, manipulative to do things like this to employees who haven’t given you problems. In those cases, address things as they come up and assume people will respond reasonably until proven otherwise. Plus splitting praise and criticism to different meetings is going to become obvious, and limit the effectiveness of both.

      3. leapingLemur*

        “I will say I’ve given Friday feedback to employees that receive feedback poorly – so they can shake it off away from the office and me”

        I think this is reasonable.

      4. Mookie*

        I also think this is fine on an individual basis and with a direct report you know well. We just had a letter about someone who has taken to sulking and skipping work when given feedback. If letting them go through the seven-odd stages of Taking Negative Feedback Poorly over the weekend means the workspace is spared the disruption of an aggrieved colleague and said colleague can address the problem and resume being productive on the clock thereafter, there’s no downside. Management can and ought to be personalized like this, I feel.

      5. Mel_05*

        Yeah, I think it just ruins the weekend and they don’t have a chance to act on the feedback for a couple of days, which is stressful.

        Sometimes it can’t be helped. If the thing happens on Friday, you’ll end up addressing it then. But if it happens earlier in the week, addressing it at the time let’s the employee go ahead and work on making the changes they need to, which feels waaay better.

      6. Alton*

        I think it’s good to remember that everyone is different. Some people would appreciate your approach. Personally, leaving work on Friday with something negative hanging over my head just makes me dwell on it all weekend, and when I’m home without as much to do is when my anxiety is more likely to flare up. I would rather be able to confirm quickly that things will work out.

        1. Kesnit*

          I had this exact situation happen a few weeks ago. I spent the entire weekend suffering extreme anxiety and fear I was going to lose my job the next week. Even things I normally do to distract myself weren’t occupying my mind enough.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I would absolutely ruminate on the feedback all weekend, and come in Monday prepared for the worst.

          1. WorkingGirl*

            Same. And like… if you give me negative feedback on Monday, I’ll be able to fix it for Tuesday!

      7. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Generally speaking, if I have something to talk to an employee about that I think they’ll take badly, I try to do it at the end of the work day so they don’t have to stick around the office afterward. But saving it up until Friday has never occurred to me. I feel like holding on to it for several days would make it feel like even more of a big deal, which isn’t really my goal in giving staff feedback.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right? What a terrible idea! On top of it, no one will believe the Monday praise. “Eh, that was a pep talk so I’m more productive during the week. They’ll give me the real feedback on Friday.”

    5. Bee Eye Ill*

      Last time this happened, I got in trouble for complaining out loud about having to do another (higher paid) employee’s job for them after I called in on a holiday.

      Instead of going home angry all weekend, I spent the weekend tweaking my resume and cover letter then applying for a bunch of jobs. I was out of there, making more money, a few weeks later. It took them 3 months to refill my position! :)

  4. Uncle Bob*

    For LW1, I’m a bit befuddled why this is even a question. She defrauded your company and forged documents. This is egregious to the point where previous behavior doesn’t matter.

    1. Avi*

      If you can’t fire someone for this, what can you fire someone for? Do they have to be holding a coworker’s still-beating heart in their hands before you start considering disciplinary actions?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Quite. I think this would be a clear firing offence (gross misconduct) even in jurisdictions or under contracts where it’s difficult to fire people.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes. I am in the UK which has stronger employment protections than the US – if one of our employees did this they would (almost certainly) be dismissed for gross misconduct. It would take about 48 hours as we would have to notify them that they were being investigated and would have to have a meeting with them, and give them the opportunity to bring a co-worker or union rep. with them.

          A few years ago we did sack someone for doing something similar but less serious (they lied and claimed to be off sick because they wanted to conceal where they were. – which was at the local police station being interviewed in relation to an alleged criminal offence related to their previous employment)

          On the day we found out, we suspended them as we didn’t want them in the building, we (senior management) then had a quick meeting and double-checked our legal position and the process we needed, then sent them an e-mail and postal notification for a meeting the following afternoon at which they were summarily dismissed (so no notice or notice pay)

          In this case, the employee lied, she accepted pay she was not entitled to so defrauded the company and they showed a total lack of integrity. I would not hesitate to fire them and I would be looking to recover the pay. Heck, I’d be giving serious thought to whether it was appropriate to report it as fraud to the police although I don’t know whether or not they would take any action.

    2. Airy*

      Sometimes when someone does something this audaciously, egregiously bad, especially if they were always well-behaved before, people are so stunned by it that they don’t react as they otherwise might. We all tend to divide people we know, based on past experiences, into good/trustworthy and bad/untrustworthy categories, so when a person on the bad side does a bad thing it makes sense to us and we move quickly against them, but when it’s a person on the good side it just doesn’t compute and it makes us slow to react, even second-guessing the obvious response. This is why, when people are assaulted by someone they’d previously trusted, they often don’t try to defend themselves or escape as you might expect (and as they probably would if a stranger or someone they already disliked did it). From outside the response looks obvious because the first thing we’ve heard about this person is that she’s a lying dirtbag.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes! It’s sort of like, if someone shirks work, or is surly, I have a toolkit for dealing with it. If they take off all their clothes and dance a merry jig, I have no toolkit for dealing with it. It doesn’t mean that something shouldn’t be dealt with, but it means that I don’t have an immediate response to pull right to hand. (Carolyn Hax talks about this a lot regarding gross and obvious racism or sexism or ableism–those of us who are lucky enough to live in places where that is rare often end up frozen when we encounter it because it just isn’t in our working toolkit, whereas responses to subtler forms of discrimination are, being more common.)

    3. Snuck*

      I can think of a rare situation where you might NOT fire a person… If they are the only person with an incredibly specific and hard to gain set of qualifications… for example a rare coder in a sub language specific to ?xbox one game engines? That ONLY a dozen people in the world might have.

      Or… they are heading up a project that is make/break for the company, and that project delivers in such a tight near timeframe that an immediate dismissal will cause your company such humongous pain that it’s not worth it.

      Anyone else… goes. Without fanfare, but immediately.
      In BOTH these examples… that person would be signing a final warning, losing two weeks pay (returning pay they shouldn’t have taken/should have been unpaid) and publicly apologising to their colleagues. Or going… and I’d find a way around the pain and learn to NEVER leave myself open to such a risk again.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        In the second example would it be feasible to fire her once the project is resolved?

        1. Snuck*

          All very suppositional / situational.

          I was more trying to illustrate the fact that no matter how indispensable some staff think they are (or businesses think they are) it’s rare for a staff member to be truely indispensable.

          Imagine if a car accident happened and a staff member was out for six months (heaven forbid!) … how would you cope? Now you know how indispensable someone is, and whether you need to build some workload security in…

          1. Candi*

            It’s the hit by a bus/won the lottery situation that’s been discussed here before, usually under “There should always be a backup plan, and there should always be up-to-date files so a bunch of important stuff isn’t only stored in someone’s head”.

      2. Amaranth*

        At that point I don’t know that I could trust the person to put any kind of honest effort and quality into finishing a project, without being micromanaged to the point another expert might need to be hired anyway. Personally, I couldn’t stand to trust them with access or project details after such deliberate fraud.

    4. snowglobe*

      And speaking of ‘previous behavior’ – this whole situation would have me wondering if, in fact, she has previously lied about other things, and just never got caught.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I would be looking into whether there was anything which cause business problems which she might have lied about.

        I would probably also be reviewing policies to consider whether there as anything such as expenses claims which she might have fiddled and where we might need to tighten up processes to ensure that any further problems would be spotted.

        I likely wouldn’t change processes for other employees needing sick leave because I would be reluctant to lose the trust of my honest employees because of one bad apple.

        1. Antilles*

          It might be worth reviewing the policies, but I’d really think carefully before making any changes.
          The blunt truth is that you’ll never have a policy comprehensive and detailed enough to handle every eventuality for someone who’s specifically trying to find loopholes or sneak around…and even attempting to make a policy to handle the 0.1% exception will likely end with a policy that’s sufficiently bureaucratic/draconian to irritate the other 99.9% of normal and reasonable employees.

      2. tinybutfierce*

        Same. This wasn’t some one-off little white lie in the spur of the moment; this was HUGE, planned, and she even denied it when initially confronted with obvious evidence. I have a very, very hard time believing this is the first time she’s pulled something like this.

      3. aebhel*

        Yeah, this is *so* egregious that I’d be really surprised if she hasn’t gotten away with smaller lies.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      100%. I’d have fired her before you could say Corona virus.

    6. TGIF*

      And this might sound harsh, but it makes me question their judgement as well. I mean, in what world do you not fire someone for this?

  5. Mer*

    #1 – Aside from the horribleness of exploiting a pandemic to get an extra two weeks of PTO, it was so dumb to post vacation pictures either publicly on those sites or when she’s friends with her coworkers. If my boss kept someone like this around, I would lose all respect for her. You’ve got to let her go and know that she brought it on herself.

      1. valentine*

        it was so dumb to post vacation pictures
        I initially thought they were to prove she was out and about near to home, because traveling wasn’t bright, either.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Seriously. She lied and committed theft and fraud, AND THEN wasn’t savvy enough even to pretend to cover her tracks?!

      She deserves to get the hook for each one of those things individually, but I frankly might fire her just because I don’t want someone that dense working for me.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m completely astonished by that – I’ve never forged a doctor’s note but I’m imagining that even with good Photoshop skills, this isn’t something you just accomplish successfully with two clicks. It sounds like she planned this whole endeavour pretty meticulously. And then she carelessly posted about it on social media?! I find this completely egregious on a “How stupid can you be?” level alone.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I work with medical records — some of the official forms I’ve seen, especially from small 1-2 doc practices, could be (and probably were) created in Microsoft Word in like, five minutes. :) (Which is of course not to say that one SHOULD forge doctor’s notes. Just that, unlike official prescription pads, doctor’s notes are not HARD to forge.)

        2. hbc*

          People put a lot of effort into scams but fail to see the whole picture. I hit a deer with my car 3 days after switching insurance companies, which is like a flashing fraud alert. When trying to work with the agent to figure out some backup that I didn’t hit the deer 5 days before and then panic-buy the insurance, I said, “Hmm, I’ve got the text I sent to my husband saying ‘Oh crap I just hit a deer’, but I suppose I would have sent that today if I was planning this out.” And the agent was all, “Nah, that’s good, people don’t usually think to do that.”

          I guess if I had less integrity, I’d be a pretty good scammer.

        3. Signe*

          I’m a doctor, and the doctor’s notes that our EMR generates would be ridiculously easy to forge. They look like they’re made in Word. They look, in fact, like they were forged by someone not very competent. I never understand why anyone would accept them, so I always write any official notes on a prescription pad

          1. Risha*

            Lots of very official institutions use Word templates for all sorts of things (I’d place money on that EMR software just pulling one of those and doing the equivalent of a mail merge for you). Many those template are designed by random employees who maybe are very good at their jobs but don’t know anything about professional looking letter design. I always faintly grimace internally when a state employee tells me we don’t need to convert such-and-such letter because it’ll just be sent out as a one-off out of Word.

        4. EPLawyer*

          Oh clearly you don’t peruse police twitter. Criminal do this ALL the time. They take selfies with the phone they stole and post them to social media. They post with drugs, etc.

          Basically, some people aren’t too bright. Even if they can do all the things like forge a doctor’s note (not that hard really especially if not from a local doctor that management would recognize the letterhead), they would still think “well I only did this to go on vacataion, no big deal. So I can post pictures. ” She really thought that since it was a benign reason she lied that it would all be glossed over.

          1. Candi*

            They were doing it before the advent of cell phones. Photos and videos of the crooks doing everything from growing massive amounts of marijuana back when it was 100% illegal (even now, to grow, transport, or sell, you need the proper permits) to nude photos dropped off at photo development booths to visual evidence of how cool they were committing their crimes, all left all kinds of places.

            Some of them were not only dumb but sick -some scummy slime dropped off photos himself sexually abusing a child at a photo booth to be developed, back in the day of film cameras. Apparently he thought that the people didn’t have to look at the film to develop it. (Had he NEVER seen a movie where it shows someone developing pictures the chemical way?)

    2. RB*

      It says she was tagged in pictures. So she likely traveled with other people, who tagged her, thus showing the pictures to people she was connected to on social media. (Although not telling the people she was traveling with to keep things quiet was a bonehead move.)

    3. Mel_05*

      People who lie about why they miss worked are generally all kinds of stupid.

      They all post photos online or send snapchats of their vaca go their coworkers. It’s truly amazing.

    4. Amy Sly*

      L. Scott Brisco’s Free Legal Tips #1: Do not post pictures of yourself committing crimes A, B, and C. They will become State’s Exhibits 1, 2, and 3.

      I highly recommend checking out the rest as well.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Free Legal Tip #40: Not happy with your drug dealer? Complaining about a bad deal on Facebook will only lead to more reasons to be unsatisfied. Again, see Tip #1.

      2. Candi*

        Okay, I am now in love with this.

        Although with the credit card one, I wonder how she got the three-digit code on the back.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      It just says “she was tagged” in pictures; I was assuming other people posted them.

      1. AKchic*

        Another reason not to have coworkers on your social media accounts.

        No, seriously though. She needs to be dismissed. Whoever brought the issue up to HR/management did the right thing.

      2. biobotb*

        That’s what I assumed. I doubt she told all her family that she was planning to scam her workplace in order to go on the trip, so they’d have no reason not to blow her cover.

    6. IDon'tWanttoHavetoLeave*

      There was as situation at my last job where an employee was posting that he hate his job and the company and was actively seeking employment elsewhere. Management did nothing when it was brought to their attention. That’s when I lost all respect for the management.

      1. Silly Valley*

        Not even comparable to the fraud mentioned in #1. It may be rude and strategically unwise, but there’s nothing fraudulent about badmouthing your company and being public about looking for a new job. What would you have your employer do, fire someone for (basically) complaining?

  6. GeoffreyB*

    #1: This might be a good time to double-check that employee’s previous absence/expense reports/etc. This is the first time you’ve caught her out, but not necessarily the first time she’s done it.

    1. Batgirl*

      This would also help OP’s struggle with the surprise and shock of the ‘first offence.’

    2. Mel_05*

      True. My husband looked into an employee for a few low level transgressions and found a whole TON of major ones that were less conspicuous.

      But, I don’t think any more evidence is needed to fire this person. Forgery is plenty.

      1. Observer*

        The reason to check is not to find more ammunition for firing, but to make sure that there are no major issues that she’s covered up eg work undone, stolen money, etc.

    3. kittymommy*

      Good point. Going from completely honest and trustworthy to a two-week campaign of deception and fraud complete with forgery is a hell of a jump.

    4. fogharty*

      I’m betting she probably made the “doctor’s note” on her work computer. Check her hard drive if you feel you might need more evidence.

    5. GilaMonster*

      Absolutely – they will likely uncover much more about this employee who isn’t who they thought she was.

    6. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      I agree, in fact if she got away with a bunch of smaller transgressions by taking advantage of the company’s trust, it would have built up her courage to make her think she could get away with this. And she almost did! She wasn’t caught because the company checked out her story/doctor’s note, but because coworkers saw the pics on Facebook.

  7. mark132*

    LW5, also by disciplining them on Friday it gives them all weekend to start finding better jobs than a sh*tty job that would manipulate like that.

  8. Leo*

    LW #3 – How big is the university you are graduating from? Thinking of my own college graduation, there were 1000’s of people attending, it was difficult to find my own family in attendance.

    Its not like the CEO is going to be sitting on stage with you through the ceremony… so not sure what the big deal is if someone who is paying for your school and your own manager wants to support you? It’s likely you wouldn’t even see him in the crowd. Is there some other reason you don’t want him there?

    And to Alison’s point, this is 2 semesters away, a number of things could happen by then and this could be a non issue.

    1. Gatomon*

      At least at my university, each department had their own separate ceremonies where it would be much more noticeable if someone’s entire office showed. Some of the departments were small enough than an extra 5 – 10 people would’ve caused an issue with the location. If the manager is just talking about the main graduation ceremony in a large auditorium or stadium, etc., then I agree it’s not a big deal.

      1. valentine*

        someone who is paying for your school and your own manager wants to support you
        OP2 has fulfilled their part of the deal. The CEO shouldn’t shoehorn in on what OP2 considers a family event. Once he’s there, possibly with the whole team, is he going to insist they go for a meal or otherwise spend the day together? The last thing they want is family joining the chorus of “Be nice! He’s just being nice!” *vom* Now is the best time for OP2 to say no, thanks.

      2. Mookie*

        Yes, this, and faculty can stick around to schmooze with students’s guests. There are very few instances where a student’s big boss might reasonably be expected or at least given a token invitation to attend these smaller events and stick around after the formal portion. One is, as is the LW’s case, that the company partially or wholly financed getting the degree, but I still don’t think it would make sense in most fields. If the department helped place a student in their current role and/or if the CEO is an alumna/us and has academic or professional ties with the department and a prominent place in a related industry, it might make more sense. I’d still expect there’d have to be a close, mentoring-style relationship between student and CEO, beyond just being the student’s manager, to justify their presence. The colleagues tagging along seems weird to me unless there is an equally compelling reason for their inclusion.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        My department only gave us 4 tickets to graduation, so you had to limit even family in some cases

      4. Karo*

        I think that’s exactly why Leo’s question matters, though. My university was large enough that we couldn’t physically have a “main” graduation ceremony that included all the graduates. Each department had their own graduation ceremony, and mine was held at a venue with approximately 9000 seats available. While the guests weren’t packed in, it certainly wasn’t empty. I could barely find the dozen people that I knew and loved who came out to support me; I wouldn’t have even noticed if my coworkers at the time were there.

      5. RecoveringSWO*

        My post-grad program had its own graduation with limited tickets and a big university wide ceremony with no limit on tickets. My program happened to be in the late afternoon following the big ceremony in the morning. If the CEO is this invested and hasn’t raised any red flags in previous behavior, I would consider inviting the CEO + whoever to the big ceremony, knowing that my commitment later in the day could allow me to bow out early if they insisted on a post ceremony meal. It would make for a long day, so I see LW’s hesitation. But it could also cement CEO as a reference for years to come and encourage the company to continue paying tuition for future employees.
        There’s also usually numerous receptions and events before graduation. LW could also consider inviting the CEO to 1 of those + giving the graduation livestream link for the office, while saving another reception + graduation for family.

      6. cacwgrl*

        Agree. If this is a smaller company, where LW reports directly to the CEO, they could very well likely feel more of a sense of family and pride to the LW. It could have long term repercussions if the LW insists on not allowing it to happen, unintended or not. I worked for someone who definitely fell in this camp and we all were terrible about defining boundaries. In this scenario, the CEO would have expected to be invited, partially for the company and partially for the family/pride aspect. Had anyone said nope, you’re not coming, it would not have been well received. From that experience, I lean towards what’s the big deal. It’s a ceremony, many other people will probably be there. I’d be inclined to let it go and insure I had family time after.

    2. Old person*

      At the university I work at, they stream graduations so folks who cannot attend can still see them. Perhaps your boss would be happy with that? However, I think that pointing out that asking co-workers to give up part of their weekend or evening for this might not be an idea that is well received. We celebrate enployee graduations at work with a nice lunch. We throw in other employee accomplishments as well so it is more of a group celebration. You can phrase it as a request to want to honor everyone at the company who has reached a goal.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Yeah a steamed event is a good option now as more universities are canceling large gatherings and graduations altogether due to the virus.

      2. Felicia*

        Who actually wants to watch a streamed graduation. To me, this brings up the best deflection for this issue: Graduations are BORING!

    3. The Other Dawn*

      “…not sure what the big deal is if someone who is paying for your school and your own manager wants to support you?”

      I agree with this. I don’t understand why the OP would try to get the CEO to not attend. Unless he’s a terrible jerk or someone who would embarrass her or tickets are very limited (do colleges even require tickets?), he should be there. The company paid for her education and it comes across as unappreciative and ungrateful, even though OP says otherwise. Yes, it’s her personal day, but he and the company made that possible. There’s no indication in the letter that he’s a toxic person or that the company has a toxic culture, so I don’t get why it’s a problem. He probably won’t even be noticed in the crowd. And really, how do you tell the CEO–your manager–he can’t attend after the company paid for everything?

      Years ago my then-employer, a very small company of less than 20 employees, paid for my degree 100% including all my books and other materials. I was incredibly grateful for that. The CEO asked if he could attend and I said, “Of course you can! I want you there not only to celebrate with me, but to see how your investment in me helped me be the first one in my family to go to college.” Had he not asked me first, I would have asked him. He attended the ceremony, came over after and met my family, congratulated me and we took a few pictures together. Then he left. No big deal.

      This is one of the few times where I really disagree with the advice.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I forgot to add that a whole department/office attending seems strange and I probably wouldn’t want that either, but I think the CEO should be allowed to go. And CEOs are busy even outside of working hours–I highly doubt he would do anything beyond attend the actual ceremony, congratulate OP and then leave.

      2. Ferret*

        Whereas to me this feels really weird and intrusive – but appreciate your perspective. Personally “the company paid for it” doesn’t hold much weight for me – by that logic they should be able to join you on holidays given that you are using the leave and wages they have given you.

        But my opinion is probably shaped by the fact that my graduation was in a small group in a small building and tickets were pretty limited – there was a certain amount of trading between those graduating just to make sure everyone’s close families could attend. If it was some kind of mass ceremony without those limitations then it obviously wouldn’t be as bad – but I still think this is too personal for it to be reasonable to have the boss pressuring OP to let them come

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Yeah in my case it was held in an arena, so it’s not like it was a small group and I don’t think there was a limit on tickets. I didn’t even notice him in the crowd. Of course if it was a small group and I was limited as to the number that can attend, it would have been family and spouse only, no question. We also had a good relationship and I’d been there since the start of the company 10+ years).

          If OP doesn’t want him to go then she either needs to be direct about it, make up something, or just hope circumstances change as to where he can’t attend. Her choice. But I still feel that telling him she doesn’t want him there runs the risk of creating ill will. Just my opinion. And I don’t see evidence, other than him wanting to go, that he’s going to take over the whole day. (Not directed at you, just a general statement.)

      3. Fikly*

        How is this helpful?

        The LW wrote in asking how to get what they want. Telling them what they want is unresaonable (it isnt, by the way) doesn’t help them. It isn’t even relevant if it’s reasonable. What is relevant is advice on how to help them get what they want.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          She specifically asked: “Am I overreacting?” I feel like she is. No one needs to share my opinion. It’s my opinion only based on my own experience.

        2. Felicia*

          Ummm, Allison has answered MANY letters where the LW wanted something, and she had to tell them they were being unreasonable. The point it not to help them get what they want, it’s to help them to act reasonably and professionally.

      4. NYWeasel*

        First, a manager who wants to attend is very unlikely to be happy with just sitting among the random audience. They are going to want to pose for photos, chat with everyone, perhaps even planning to pay for a celebratory meal which, if wanted, would be a nice gesture, but has the potential to completely steamroll the employee’s plans for the day.

        Secondly, in your case, you already wanted your manager to attend. You might feel quite different about it if you had a completely different set of plans and your manager wanted you to change them to be included.

      5. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I feel like if the employee had a close enough relationship to the CEO to want him to attend, they wouldn’t have written to Alison in the first place. This is a personal milestone in the employee’s life, not a professional one. And even if the CEO’s a total non-jerk person, if it’s not someone the employee feels a closeness with, it’s not appropriate for him to invite himself to this employee’s personal milestone.

        Think of it another way. If you work at a company that pays for your child’s daycare, would your CEO be entitled to show up for the preschool’s holiday concert because he pays for it?

      6. Jadelyn*

        To me, the problem is the difference between a Work Event and a Personal Event. I have a hard line between those two, because my professional self is not the same as my private self. I act differently, a bit; I talk differently.

        So if coworkers show up at a Personal Event, to me, that is now a Work Event because I have to shift gears and be Professional Me. I really sympathize with OP, I wouldn’t want my coworkers at something like that either because that’s my time to just be myself and celebrate something with my family. It’s not a time where I want to have to worry about presenting the appropriate professional image. It turns it from fun to stressful.

        1. we're basically gods*

          +A million to Professional Me and Fun Me. It’s more work and not as much fun to have to be professional me, especially when I was trying to just chill out and celebrate.

  9. Richard*

    #4 I’d also say that you should really consider how important getting to emails is and make sure you’re on the same page as her about it. There are a lot of jobs where “getting to emails” is an administrative side task pretty far down on the priority level compared with managing people or processes or projects or physical objects or whatever else, and it’s possible that you and she have different senses of what that priority should be. I don’t know about your field or her role, but I’ve definitely seen managers focus overly on easily measured metrics like email response time because other, more important functions don’t have easily generated data.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, and maybe think whether you’re on the same page as her as to what constitutes a response. Sometimes I get an email with a question or request that could take an hour to get the answer to. I could certainly understand not having time to do that right away if she’s busy. But if you’re just expecting an acknowledgement and timeframe for a full response, thats different. You say she’s really busy, so is there a chance that there’s too much on her plate and email is what keeps falling off? Even if she has staff to delegate things to, there may still be more work than there is people with time available to delegate it to.

      1. LW4*

        She is really busy, which is why I’ve been loathe to bring it up. I did like a suggestion above about having her schedule time to work through emails. Unfortunately the nature of our work is that email responses are incredibly important. We work for a client and are expected to respond timely, immediately if it’s a hot issue. In those instances all it would take is a “I saw this and I’m working on it,” but if she doesn’t see it that doesn’t happen. Other than that, she does a great job of responding thoughtfully and thoroughly.
        I definitely plan to take Alison’s advice and just ask her point blank what she thinks is keeping her from it and then work on a fix.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Something that *might* help is working with her to change email settings, so, if possible, flagging / sending to the top of the queue those super-important emails so she doesn’t have to filter through all of them. Also, filters and making conversations out of emails (instead of each one in the thread coming in separately). Over the years, I’m amazed at how many email settings/options there are (there have been some boring afternoons), and how many other people who’ve used email for years have no idea those options exist.

          1. TootsNYC*

            getting her the help of someone with expertise in this would be a smart move, I think. Either a power user in the organization, or someone from outside (not not the standard trainer, because she needs more of a coach in how to use it, and maybe someone to to the speed work of setting those things up for her).

        2. Mockingjay*

          Can you assign the client response duties to someone else and let her focus on the subject matter expert work? It sounds like she’s wearing a lot of hats: manager, client liaison, SME. I’d take a hard look at her workload and whether it’s resourced properly. Thoughtful responses take time to produce, which means that only so many fires can be put out in a single day. You likely need more staff or to redistribute workload across her team.

          People who are overloaded tend to pick an area to slide, even if management says that area is a priority. If all areas are priorities, what’s a person to do? I’m guessing that duties were added here and there over time as the project grew, so no one has really tracked everything she’s doing. Ask her to list everything (and I mean every little thing) she does and reassign or prioritize.

        3. hbc*

          It sounds like she can’t possible do all of her job well. Personally, I’m not a fan of anyone using email as a trigger for instant response whose primary duty isn’t to sit in front of their computer and deal with those emails.

          Depending on how fast “timely” is, there needs to be a) filters set up in her email so she sees the critical ones more easily, b) an alternate communication method for urgent issues, c) someone triaging her mail for her, and/or d) an actual person to spread the load to, whether it’s another SME or an assistant. Or, I guess, e) making clear that dealing with escalations is secondary to dealing with email, but I suspect that’s not acceptable either.

        4. Brett*

          I’m with hbc here. If one of a person’s job duties is immediate response to email, then it needs to be their primary duty so that they can have email open and on top at least 50% of the time (I would probably set that number higher, at around 50 minutes of every hour or ~80%). If their duties would require them to be in a different application or away from their computer more than 50% of their time, they are not going to be able to manage immediate response to email.

        5. RecoveringSWO*

          Definitely be sure to spell out to her that you expect her to send a quick “got it–will get back to you with an answer” to work emails (or just clients?). A lot of people assume that their time is better spent finding and composing a well written answer to the email and dont want to waste it acknowledging receipt. Explain to her that without a quick acknowledgement email, client may be scratching their head for 1-3 hours wondering if they need to contact someone else, particularly when emailed requests have slipped by the recipient in the past. Other commenters’ suggestions have also been great, but this is another thing to point out.

          1. Amaranth*

            I have to wonder if being the subject matter expert is also contributing to the problem, because in that case her responses might necessarily be a lot more detailed and time-consuming and LW4’s perspective ‘we all get lots of email’ might not take that into account. In that case, if the clients ask for help with commonly occurring issues, creating white papers or email templates with solutions and instructions for testing/processes can be a huge help.

        6. Candi*

          LW4, it looks like your worker is doing with her work what I did with my college class workload last quarter; I was incredibly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work, the difficulty levels, and dealing with the normal routine of life (chores, grocery shopping, etc). So I let my language class work slide -turning it in on time, but not giving anything close to a decent effort- so I could get my Calculus and Computer Science work done and maintain my grades in those.

          She needs help, and unlike a college student who must do their own work, she can get it, if you help her. Hire someone part or full time, or assign someone to help her -work to keep her from being so overwhelmed.

        7. PK*

          LW, is this employee at a level where she can get an assistant? At my work where executives get hundreds of emails a day, and many meetings, but some prompt responses are necessary, they have assistants to monitor their emails and flag important ones to them. And people in the company know to go to their assistant and ask them to follow up with that person on their email (if it’s critical).

  10. HoHumDrum*

    LW2, I’m so sorry your coworker is like this. Spraying Lysol at someone is awful, and exactly the kind of performative cleanliness that does absolutely nothing to protect anyone and instead serves to divide and harm. I hope you feel confident in speaking up if your coworker ever does this again.

    1. Avery*

      Exactly! I understand the anxiety about getting sick right now, I really do, but spraying Lysol at someone is 1) a health hazard to whomever’s breathing it in and 2) not effective because Lysol (when sprayed in a targeted manner and at close range) is meant to disinfect hard surfaces like tabletops and not just suddenly neutralize a giant cloud of airborne pathogens.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          LW2 here I ALWAYS wash my hands, especially both before and after using the bathroom.

          I’ve even been mocked during a battle assembly a few units ago (I’m in the Army Reserve). This Major was looking at me being thorough at washing my hands and made the remark “oh, Chief thinks he’s a surgeon”. My response? “So Major, despite the fact that you saw me come out of the stall, so you KNOW what I was doing, you’re going to mock me for being thorough in washing my hands?? Is that what I’m hearing?”. There were other Soldiers in there with us, and they all started laughing at him.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            Based on his remark, I’m very worried that the Major thinks handwashing is just for surgeons and thus doesn’t wash after he uses the bathroom.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Right, and what if someone has severe allergies to Lysol? You just never know these days. I get that it’s scary, but it’s not worth potentially sending someone to the hospital over.

        1. Foxy Hedgehog*

          Allergies, yes, but also Lysol is a literal poison, according to the label on my can here at home:

          [if it gets in your eyes] “Hold eye open and rinse slowly and gently with water for 15-20 minutes. Remove contact lenses, if present, after the first 5 minutes, then continue rinsing eye. Call a Poison Control Center or doctor for treatment advice.”

          Spraying that at a person would be completely unacceptable anywhere for any reason.

            1. Lexi Lynn*

              I have bad enough asthma that this could send me to the hospital. I’m having trouble breathing with all of the hand sanitizer being used. Vmy breathing around cleaning products is bad enough that people tell me before they start cleaning their desks, so I can go work in the break room for a while.

            2. Database Developer Dude*

              The coworker was about six feet away from me when she sprayed it, so none of it actually got on me. I was taken aback, and should have said something. It happened on Tuesday 3/10

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            When I worked at LastCrappyJob, I had a co-worker who had some problem with me. To this day (4 years later) I have no idea what her problem was. But she used Lysol liberally…..I’m a smoker and she would spray it my way to kill the smoky smell. I came back from a bathroom run (after a cigarette break) to find that she had soaked my raincoat and purse and other possessions with Lysol….literally soaked them with Lysol. Even now, 4 years later, my raincoat stinks of Lysol. I cannot wear it.

            Problem is, I am bronchially compromised. I have asthma, COPD, emphysema and bronchiectasis.

            So all this Lysol spraying necessitated a visit to HR, with a letter from my doctor. To add insult to injury, HR never enforced my accommodation so the Lysol spraying went on and on and on and on and on…..every single time she sprayed it, I complained. I was ultimately fired for complaining.

            I’ll never forget that. The HR rep pulled my file out and said “Yours is the biggest employee file we have right now and these are all your complaints (all were about the Lysol)!” I told him that if he had acted on the Lysol complaints when I first made them, my file wouldn’t be so thick.

            1. Candi*

              …why the (*&(*&^( were they only in YOUR file and not Ms. Lysol’s file!?!?! Her file should be equally as thick from the complaints!

              1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

                I was never able to find that out. She did a LOT of weird stuff. She refused to train me for six week. Just flat out refused. Supervisor said “Train the Destroyer” coworker said “No.” She never suffered any repercussions and I could never figure out why.

                The basic consensus around the department was that she had some kind of dirt on someone because she got away with some stuff.

            2. Database Developer Dude*

              Oh. My. God. I would have been absolutely livid, and would not have been able to maintain my self-control like I’m desperately trying to do here…..

              1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

                I started making a biiiiiig show of having to use my nebulizer/strapping on my nebulizer mask, while I was at work. It came to a head one day. She and I were in HR and I had been saying “I could freaking die from her spraying Lysol.” She pops off with “I don’t understand how spraying Lysol can KILL someone!” I looked at her and told her that was ok, she doesn’t need to understand. HR understands and that should be good enough for her. BUT, since she refuses to take their word for it….I then launched into a lengthy explanation of exactly HOW Lysol could kill me.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            I have allergies to artificial fragrances. Bad reactions include coughing so bad I can’t breathe. Lysol has those type of chemicals in it. I can barely stand to spray it on my desk. If it were sprayed at me or on me I would probably lose my shit – I would react like I was being assaulted with intent to do me bodily harm.

            That person is lucky they didn’t get a knuckle sandwich, IMO.

    2. Just allergies!*

      I would be terrified! I’m allergic to Lysol (I start wheezing) and if a coworker sprayed me with it, I’d probably end of in the hospital.

      What you’re coworker is doing is criminal, if done to the wrong person. I’d report them to HR before they blind someone or send someone to the hospital.

      1. TrainerGirl*

        While I agree that no one should spray Lysol on or directly at someone, I’ve realized in the last week that there are people who are ridiculously disgusting. On Thursday, I sprayed Lysol on the surfaces in my area after someone passed though, coughing and hacking and making NO attempt to cover his mouth. I find that just as offensive. I’ve become very conscious of people who don’t think they should cough and/or sneeze into their elbow or cover their mouth at all. IMO, that’s just as bad as spraying Lysol at someone. People really should be conscious that this behavior is terrible at any other time, but is totally inappropriate right now.

    3. Sleve McDichael*

      It sucks that people with allergies are being treated so poorly at the moment. I’ve had many side-eyes from strangers and my boss (who borrowed an antihistamine off me at Christmas) asked me if I have a cold. I’ve been sparing people but I’m strongly tempted to start saying ‘I know it’s not a cold because allergy mucus is different, it’s thin and watery instead of thick and white or yellow. That’s due to the dead white blood cells, did you know?’.

      1. Mary*

        It’s obviously different, but itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing or coughs from allergies still mean you’re producing a lot of STUFF and probably touching your face more. I’m trying to be both a lot more careful and a lot more visibly careful about stuff like only using tissues once, hand sanitiser, wiping down my keyboard, desk, mouse, headset etc, not cos I am symptomatic or I’ve been exposed, but just cis it’s good practice for all of us.

        1. Liz*

          Yes. and I am doing exactly the same as you. Where I MIGHT have not been quite as vigilent about wiping down my desk, keyborad, mouse, now i am. Aside from washing my hands what seems like 10,000 times a day.

      2. Retail not Retail*

        My allergy/cold has lasted long enough (2 packs of real decongestant) that usually i’d pop into urgent care and take care of the obviously lingering sinus infection (my ears!) because even though we know sneezing isn’t a symptom it ain’t helping!

        I went to the doctor yesterday for my depo shot (was gonna wait til monday to not miss jeopardy after work) and heard the most productive cough I’ve heard in a while. I work with life long smokers and people whose allergies manifest in coughing and men who love to spit.

        But the attitude is we work outside so we’re fine?

        Some people carry utility belts – add lysol to it and spray the leaves.

          1. Retail not Retail*

            You are telling me. I work on a grounds crew.

            Somehow the men I worked with in retail – same region, same economic class – could just hold it in for more than ten frigging minutes?

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        On the other hand, my cubicle neighbors with allergies use it as an excuse to not stifle their sneezes in the cube. It’s still loud, and they’re still aerosolizing whatever germs they are carrying (just because the sneeze is not triggered by a cold/etc does not make them sanitary). I have allergies too but for nearly every sneeze I can stifle it down to a *snerk* and keep going.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          At first I thought you meant they weren’t *covering* their sneezes, and yes, that’s super gross. But not everybody is physically capable of making their sneezes smaller or quieter. I get that it’s annoying, but so are many things about having coworkers. As long as they’re covering up to sneeze like they should, that’s what really matters.

        2. Allonge*

          Humans are not sanitary, in or out of a pandemic. People should sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, but other than that, should be able to do involuntary bodily functions without judgment.

        3. HoHumDrum*

          Oh, I can’t do that. I get these sneezing fits that go on for a bit, and I’ve noticed that if I try to suppress them they just keep going until I finally get some good sneezes in. I’m not sure I think “fails to suppress sneezes” is a reasonable thing to complain about tbh.

      4. HoHumDrum*

        Oh yeah, I work with kids and I have allergies so I’m always kind of coughy and sneezy and I’m also a bit worried about people freaking out at me. When in actuality, the fact that I have so much (sorry guys) mucus in my system is an indication people *don’t* have to worry! COVID is a dry cough!

        Honestly you’re more likely to get it from the perfectly well seeming person who has no idea they have it than someone who is aware they’re under the weather and is trying to take precautions (coughing into their sleeve).

        1. JSPA*

          It’s not like allergies protect against getting a virus. It’s possible to have both at once.

          Given we now have good information (as compared to the prior incorrect anecdote information) that high levels of viral shedding can happen in advance of symptoms, after symptoms, during a lull in symptoms, and in people who remain asymptomatic…and a wet cough can hide a dry cough…any excess mucus spreading and aerosol generation is going to be unwelcome. If it’s just an allergy, and you’re not maxed out on antihistamines, maybe hit the antihistamines a bit harder, for everyone’s peace of mind?

          1. HoHumDrum*

            Oh, I wasn’t trying to suggest that my allergies protect against viruses at all? My point is that you, a nondoctor without the testing equipment, can’t tell who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t. You should be avoiding other people in close quarters regardless if they are exhibiting any symptoms. But no matter if someone is sneezing or coughing, engaging in panic behavior like spraying people with Lysol is not helpful, it’s just making things more chaotic and potentially dangerous.

            I try not to use drugs unless I need them. I sneeze and have a runny nose all year long, I’m not sure it’s safe or reasonable to take high amounts of antihistamines constantly. I think what I’m currently doing, which is practicing social distancing and thoroughly washing my hands with high frequency is much more effective for avoiding spreading germs.

    4. leapingLemur*

      I think you should speak up now. Someone who would do this once is likely to do this again if not stopped.

    5. Bee*

      It sounds like a dumb passive aggressive strategy to get someone to go home, which is a pretty ridiculous way for an adult to behave to be honest.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Passive aggressive, maybe, but none of them wants to do what I do here, so it’s to their detriment when I leave.

      2. TrainerGirl*

        Agreed. My coworkers and I reported someone who was moving all around our area, coughing and not covering their mouth. The person who took the report seemed a bit shocked that someone was being reported, but what else can we do? We’d been given the option of working at home, so there was no reason for this person to be in the office coughing like that.

    6. Liz*

      Oh if that happened to me i would be VERY vocal about it. I also have both allergies and asthma, mine are YEAR ROUND so i cough, wheeze and sneeze daily. Despite taking meds for it. Most of my co-workers know this, but anyone who tried what this one did would find out FAST its not acceptable.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Nobody sits next to me. Our room has cubicles all around the outer walls and a huge table/storage unit in the middle of it.

    7. CupcakeCounter*

      As Alison said, this would have put my sister in the hospital. Unlike Alison, we would have pressed charges and gone after money to pay for medical costs since my sister’s issues are severe enough that she has ADA protection and accommodations that have been communicated to her coworkers.

    8. Lulu*

      One of my coworkers was spraying essential oils and was told to stop. It’s been amazing/eye opening to see the lack of sense and fear mongering going on at my office.

      1. whingedrinking*

        I find myself stuck in a very frustrating place because I’m surrounded by both people who refuse to wash their hands because “it’s basically just flu” (flu kills 6000 Americans every year on average, BTW) and people who are practically drinking disinfectant and/or every random “cure” they read about online. Both groups treat “take reasonable precautions but don’t panic (and please stop spreading misinformation)” as a personal attack.

    9. RUKiddingMeeds to disabuse*

      Exactly. If someone sprayed anything in me I’d be livid *and* making s trip to HR!

    10. Database Developer Dude*

      Thank you. I’m LW2.

      While I am no shrinking violet, I can’t really speak up about this because of the severe dysfunction of this office. Luckily, I’ve got my admin team behind me. I’m matrixed in, so the admin team that runs this project is not the admin team in charge of me. There’s a lot more going on here that’s detrimental to a person’s mental health, and I’ve got a place to which I can transfer. My admin team is behind me 100%, we just have to work out a transition plan.

      The reason I don’t feel confident in speaking up is simply -BECAUSE- I’m no shrinking violet. If I speak up, it will be in a very loud, forceful voice, and it will trigger an argument. I wouldn’t put it past this place to have me walked out by police if I get loud. While that won’t mean I’ll be jobless, it will complicate things unnecessarily.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        You have every right to be angry, and it sucks that POC (MOC in particular) are stigmatized for showing a reasonable emotion in response to an egregious provocation. I hope you get to transfer soon.

  11. Waving not Drowning (no longer Drowning not Waving)*

    LW#5 – One of my former workplaces decided to let me know on a Friday afternoon, before I started 2 weeks holidays, that when I returned, my position would be part time not full time. I thought I was attending a meeting to discuss what needed to be covered in my absence. Their reasoning was they didn’t want me to incur any high expenses on holidays (???!!!???) and be blindsided when I returned. There was no opportunity for questions.

    Instead, what was supposed to be an amazing overseas holiday that we’d planned for the past year was overshadowed by stress and worry, wondering what I’d done wrong. I returned to work, completely stressed, a wreck, feeling completely undervalued. To compound it, they got to decide what days/hours I’d work, so I couldn’t even fit in part time work around it. They finally told me it was a budget reason, not a performance reason, but it would have been good not to have been blindsided as I was about to walk out the door.

    Funnily enough, I didn’t hang around long afterwards.

    1. Candi*

      And they were shocked -shocked!- when you handed in your two weeks’ notice, right? I mean, they made all that effort to keep you in spite of the budget! /s

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I feel like that’s better than my friend’s former boss who called to fire her on a Sunday afternoon as we were driving home from an expensive vacation.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Great suggestion!

      Slack costs money, but it has some really great tools for staying organized. If this employee is having issues with emails, it’s quite possible that other employees are as well, but their problem is not as visible (yet).

      OP’s company should look into this. It could end up that the cost of Slack is more than made up for in productivity.

      1. Girl Friday*

        There is a free version of slack that you can use. My company is pretty small and we use it but there is no way accounting would have been ok pay for it.

        I love slack.

    2. TootsNYC*

      My company did this, and now I have TWO places to check for info.
      I find it frustrating in the extreme.

      And people often don’t differentiate in the type of communiqués they use in which format.

      Plus, if she needs to respond to clients, then they’ll probably be emailing.

    3. pamplemousse*

      I love Slack, but I really doubt it’s the solution here if it’s just one person who’s notably bad at keeping up with their email. It’s more likely to create a long transition period where people are using both platforms and the volume of communication only increases and is even harder to stay on top of.

      My office is about as Slack-dependent as you can get, but we still use email when a real-time conversation isn’t the best way to handle a matter. Six years of working in Slack has made me worse than I ever was before at keeping up with email, and I was never great.

    4. Daisy*

      Second the usage of any Instant Message system. OP, if you need an answer now, email is not the way to go, it is intrinsically a delayed form of communication.

      If your company requires to use emails (which could be the case), you can ping her after to check the specific emails you need an answer right now/soon.

  12. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    LW 5: This reminds me of the time, six months into a new job, that my boss gave me a little feedback on a Tuesday and said she did need to speak to me about an error I’d made, but overall I was doing a good job and she hoped I’d be with the company for a long time. The next Friday the CEO ordered me into his office and fired me. CEO said Boss had been to him many times to complain about me (I had NO idea). I asked if we could bring Boss in to talk about it, and he curtly said the decision had been made. Getting fired was bad enough, but occasionally, even after years, there’s still that little “why?” did she say those positive things if she was already going to can me.

    Not exactly the same thing, but I concluded that she was just a dirty dealer and a nasty person and I became very distrustful of management after that. A boss who’ll stroke you with one hand, then slap you with the other doesn’t have a clue how to motivate people.

    1. Ariaflame*

      Unless of course the CEO was lying about that, which is why he didn’t want your boss in the meeting.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Fire #1 immediately. People like her are going to be used as an excuse not to allow people legitimate sick leave during this crisis because “what if they’re lying??!” And as a result, the virus is going to spread even further, and sicken and sometimes kill even more people.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon.*

        Honest to gosh, I never thought of that. In my job I had very little to do with him. He was usually first one in and last one out–it was a smallish family-owned business, but a decent one with a lot of employees who weren’t relatives. So I said good morning and good night on my way past his office.

        One weird thing though–I came a little before the holidays and at the Christmas party he went around gathering up the folks who’d started that year, because they had a little tradition to take a picture of all the new people. It was only seen internally, like in a print newsletter or hung on a wall, not splashed all over the internet. Another gal in my dept who’d come shortly before me said she didn’t have her picture taken, no, she didn’t do that. It wasn’t politely asking to be excused because she’d prefer not to be photographed; she really smart-mouthed him, and in front of several other people, including our Boss. I was shocked at her bad manners, to the CEO no less. A while later I was alone in the room where the refreshments were set up, getting some soda. CEO came by the door, saw me, and stopped. He looked like he felt very uncomfortable and said something like it was only a picture so he didn’t see why it upset her. He sounded positively contrite. I don’t think I replied (don’t know what I could have said), but I sure didn’t think he had anything to feel sorry about. I thought it reflected badly on her. Still don’t know how she got away with it.

    2. Mel_05*

      That’s wild. I had a boss who was making long term work plans with me a week before she was going to fire me. I had a little heads up because I mentioned something about it to another manager and she gave me kind of an odd look that made me wonder.

      I had been told I needed to improve, but I couldn’t get any feedback on what or how. I thought the discussion was evidence that I had improved… but it was just my boss trying to keep me in the dark!

    3. No One You Know*

      I had a boss that found out I was job hunting, begged me to stay, gave me a raise, then fired me two weeks later over a mistake that I admittedly had a hand in but was much more a mistake the entire office made together.

      I’ve always wondered why she begged me to stay and gave me a raise if she was just going to push me out later. It would have been better to just not say anything and manufacture a fireable offense (to avoid paying unemployment of course) later.

    4. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      At my old job, we had someone who was fired the Friday immediately before starting his new role from a promotion on a Monday. As much as I liked that company, it had some crazy unsettling firing practices. Far too many people disappeared and you’d find out later they were fired for something that no one would explain.

    5. Bee Eye Ill*

      My old boss never gave feedback or performance reviews. Six straight years of not having any real goals or knowing how I was doing, then one day he blindsides me with a 3-day suspension over a mistake I made while doing someone else’s job for them. I quit very soon after. Some bosses are worthless.

  13. Observer*

    #2 – Your coworker is both a jerk and a colossal idiot. Definitely tell her to stop, and if she doesn’t stop or she argues with you about it, kick it upstairs immediately. I wouldn’t use the word assault here – it’s going to make you look like a drama lama. That’s not fair, but if you are looking to be effective, it’s worth keeping in mind.

    What you SHOULD emphasize to HR / Manager is that you are not ill, spraying a person (even one who is ill) with Lysol or any other spray like that won’t work and what she is doing is DANGEROUS *AND* making the problem of people coughing WORSE.

    1. Batgirl*

      You shouldn’t be spraying anything indoors in a workplace; as well as an immediate cease and desist for this aggression, co-worker needs a much wider lecture on boundaries from TPTB.

    2. Mookie*

      And is stigmatizing and hyperbolic. There is a laundry list of invisible reasons a person coughs, acutely and chronically; this colleague is not a baby and already knows this. No one should have to live in fear because this employee has appointed herself Virusfinder General.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and one of the reasons people cough is inhaling aerosol fumes, especially caustic ones like Lysol.

      2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Yes. This colleague is basically saying that the OP is dirty. It is nasty and dehumanising.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Which is basically the entire culture of this office. If you’re not one of the cool kids, you get that.

    3. Sacred Ground*

      Since she’s doing this in response to allergic coughing, would this be an ADA violation, harassment for a medical condition?

      I mean, I think this does rise to the level of assault as well. I’d tell her to stop in the moment and then go right to management and HR to complain. Mention that it makes your condition worse, does nothing to actually protect anyone, and constitutes harassment. Refer to your allergies as a medical condition or disability.

      If they blow it off and do nothing and the spraying happens again, consult a lawyer. They need to have your back or you’ll have their ass.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I’m pretty sure having allergies is not considered a disability. It’s also not assault and suing someone over this leads to the point of ridiculous. OP just needs to tell her to stop it immediately, and report them to HR if they don’t.

        1. kittymommy*

          I agree. I mean I completely get where the LW is coming from – I’m currently hacking up a damn lung due to bad allergies and asthma and I would be extremely upset if someone sprayed Lysol at my face, but suing and talk of assault is going to make the LW seem out of touch and ridiculous. Have they even told the Lysol sprayer to stop or about their allergies??? Maybe start with that before throwing around assault charges.

          1. Well Then*


            I have terrible seasonal allergies. The coworker is 100% wrong and needs to be shut down. But OP is only going to undermine themselves by claiming “assault” and talking about “filing charges.” That’s not how the criminal justice system works. Go to HR.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I’m sorry, nobody should have to tell anybody ANYTHING in order for them to not spray Lysol directly at them. Or even into the air around them.

          3. Database Developer Dude*

            I spoke to the sprayer’s boss.

            Out of touch and ridiculous? Lysol is poisonous to human beings. If this were any place other than the workplace, COVID-19 would have been the least of the sprayer’s worries. It’s not ridiculous when someone sprays a poison in your direction to consider yourself assaulted.

            1. fposte*

              Many things *can* be “poisonous to human beings.” That doesn’t mean it’s lethal to use them in human proximity or even to ingest them in the appropriate doses.

              You’re legitimately upset about some genuine bad behavior here, but I’m with kittymommy in thinking it’s important for the efficacy of your complaint to focus on a proportionate response. It seems like you think that talking about suing and assault emphasizes how big a problem this was, but in fact it makes it look smaller because those are disproportionate assertions, just as what seems to be a veiled threat to retaliate by physical battery would be a highly disproportionate response. In short: don’t let how pissed off you are inflate your claims of what you’d do; that just undercuts the complaint.

        2. Kate 2*

          Spraying someone with a poisonous chemical IS assault. Especially in the face. You could go blind, cause breathing problems, etc.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            She didn’t spray it in my face, to be honest. She was about six feet away, and sprayed it directly at me, so if anything, she was spraying it at my back, because I had my back to her.

        3. Candi*

          ” In both the ADA and Section 504, a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as having such impairments. Asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA.” (emphasis mine)

        4. emmelemm*

          It actually probably is assault, although to what “degree” may vary. Spitting directly on someone, for example, is considered an assault.

        5. Curmudgeon in California*

          No, it’s actually assault, or maybe battery. A person is spraying you with a poisonous chemical. Stop minimizing this, please.

          1. fposte*

            What “assault” is varies with the jurisdiction. In my state, for instance, it would have to make Database Developer Dude “afraid of impending violence” (and that wouldn’t include his own violence). If you’re going to the physical contact, that’s more often battery rather than assault, but again, that’s usually with intent to injure. Some states have recklessness as a factor but that would usually be involved in a charge when injury actually occurred.

            Doing something stupid that *could* injure somebody but doesn’t and isn’t intended to (it would be hard to argue that spraying at somebody’s back 6 feet away was intended to injure) just isn’t likely to fall into that category.

    4. Jason*

      I realize you probably meant “drama mama” instead of “drama lama,” but I read it as “drama llama” which is now the funniest thing I’ve encountered all day, and I’m going to start using it immediately. “Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s a total drama llama.”

      1. Not All*

        I’ve never heard the phrase “drama mama”. But then, “mama” is just a gross word to me. Everywhere I’ve ever worked used the phrase “drama llama”.

      2. Candi*

        I’ve been hearing “drama llama” for about three years now. It’s descriptive, rhymes, and is gender neutral. ;p :)

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        Sorry to burst your bubble, but “drama llama” has been around for awhile. If you do a search on the phrase you’ll see a few bazillion images.

  14. Observer*

    #1 – I’m curious. What would you be confident would warrant firing for a first offense? I’m really trying to imagine it. After all she she put a lot of planning and effort into a well thought out and detailed lie, she put her coworkers through a lot of stress, she committed forgery and tried to defraud your company of 2 weeks pay.

    To be honest I’m also wondering why has HR not started the termination process.

    1. leapingLemur*

      It’s sort of amazing to me that after doing all of that, she posted pics of her vacation. And yeah, she should be fired. This was deliberate fraud. If she’d stolen to pay for food or rent or an operation or something, that would be more understandable, but to take advantage of the situation to get more vacation!!! Plus, some companies will give unpaid vacation.

      1. Creamsiclecati*

        The social media part stood out to me too. She was smart enough to weave this web of lies, but didn’t think to refrain from posting pictures all over social media where people can see them? Because obviously people at work found the pictures quickly so they couldn’t have been well hidden.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          There are a whole lot of people that don’t fully understand how social media works, that once you put it out there, it’s not going away and other people can see it no matter how private you make your account.

        2. Desk-Nail-Clipperer*

          I’d hazard a guess that the employee didn’t post pics online, but her friends did and tagged her in them. i can’t imagine anyone being so stupid as to take advantage of a current global pandemic, tell a bunch of lies backed up with forged documents, only to then go and post pics on social media.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            I’ve heard first hand accounts of several people calling out from work and then getting caught because they posted something online, so unfortunately yes…some people really are that stupid.

            1. P peace*

              I think I get where you’re coming from, but AAM has come down on the other side for calling out from work and having social media pictures scrutinized. This situation was different.

          2. Candi*

            “i can’t imagine anyone being so stupid”

            America’s Dumbest Criminals, The Darwin Awards, and many, many other sources document people who, yes, really are this stupid, with references to back up the stories.

            Some people are very, very bad at thinking long-term, and the criminal-minded tend to be some of the worst at it.

            I’ll call this woman “criminal-minded” because, freaking forgery!? When her work wouldn’t have required the note, yet.

        3. instant whip*

          It says she was tagged in photos, not that she posted them herself. Sounds like she didn’t tell the people she was travelling with what she’d done to get the time off and not to tag her, so they posted and tagged her and the colleagues found those pics.

      2. Jennifer*

        I was ready to stand up for her and give the benefit of the doubt that they were old pictures, simply because I believed no one would be that stupid. But she admitted it.

        She should have told her traveling companions about her deception so no one would tag her in photos.

        1. aebhel*

          I suspect she didn’t because she knew how bad it would make her sound. But that was still pretty dumb.

    2. hbc*

      I’m wondering if she came across (genuinely or not) as if she did it because she was overly anxious and untrusting. There are some scared little mouse types who can make monumentally bad decisions because they’re trying to avoid some imagined Huge Consequence, and they just keep digging themselves deeper into actual trouble. Some people have a really hard time reconciling the person they expect to defraud the company (“whatever, jerks, you owe me”) with the person who steals from petty cash to cover the fact that they accidentally undercharged a customer and they were scared they’d be fired.

      1. Candi*

        I might buy that if she hadn’t forged the note. The note her work wouldn’t have required in the first place.

        The “mouse types” will take advantage of existing resources to cover their tails, but I’ve yet to see, hear, or hear anyone else tell of a mouse who will go that far. Usually because they’re scared that that type of move will put the story they’re trying to tell in the realm of unbelievable.

  15. jm*

    i really feel for #2. while i’m not allergic, i don’t tolerate those sprays well at all. if anyone sprayed lysol on me, i wouldn’t stop coughing for several minutes. which would defeat the purpose y’know!

    1. LavaLamp*

      I’d have to probably reach for my inhaler. I’m worried about this nonsense myself because I have allergies and people get mad when you have the sneezes in general, I imagine it’s even worse now with covid 19.

      1. alienor*

        I have allergies too and I can already tell this is going to be a bad year to have them. I’m on daily Claritin and trying to minimize my outdoor time as much as I can, but I’m super self-conscious about every sniffle and I’ve seen people giving me the side-eye at the supermarket. It’s pollen, I swear! I know the difference!

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          I know, right! PSA for all the non-allergy sufferers, it’s extremely easy to tell the difference. Please trust us.

          1. Works in IT*

            It’s not actually easy for me! About half the time I get itchy eyes, but my allergies usually start in my nose, sometimes give me headaches, and the itchy eyes don’t start, if they start, until the runny nose has been making me cough for several days.

            1. Alton*

              Same here, unfortunately. I get a lot of sinus headaches, and sometimes my allergies are difficult to distinguish from early cold symptoms. Sometimes it’s obvious that I’m definitely sick, but it’s not always obvious if it’s definitely allergies.

              My first reaction when coronavirus startsd making it’s way closer to where I live was ‘But I feel sick all spring! What do I do???’

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                I get serious seasonal allergy symptoms every spring, and at least twice a year, in the spring, and in the fall, I get a sinus infection that requires antibiotics, so I definitely feel you there. I’m LW2 and I’m trying to get the hell out of this office ASAP.

        2. buffty*

          Please continue to be careful with your respiratory symptoms however. Since a big part of the problem with COVID is the long incubation period with no symptoms, it’s entirely possible to have allergies AND undetected COVID at the same time, which would still be transmitted by the stray droplets of allergy-induced sneezes/mucus. You *don’t know* that you don’t have it, just as I *don’t know* that I don’t have it even without any “symptoms”.

        3. Amethystmoon*

          Yeah, I’m taking allergy medication on top of what I normally take for my hives just so I don’t sniffle and sneeze. So then this means I’m drowsy. I already know that if I have a serious cold, the allergy medication doesn’t do anything to stop it anyway. And allergy meds don’t stop fevers.

        4. Tidewater 4-1009*

          It’s bad for me too, even though winter is barely over.
          Mold allergy and warm damp winters don’t mix!

    2. leapingLemur*

      I don’t know if it’s an allergy or some general congestion, but yeah, I cough sometimes when I’m perfectly well and not contagious.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I cough a bit for the first hour or two of most days – I think because the air in my bedroom is dry and I wake up with a dry throat. It doesn’t bother me enough to mess with the expense and fuss of a humidifier.

        1. Candi*

          They make teeny tiny cheap humidifiers now -I got one for $15 that’s about four inches high, 2 inches in circumference at the widest point, and a teeny reservoir that would get past the TSA. It’s meant to sit on a desk at home in or the office and be used by just one person nearby.

          My cat likes to stick his face in the mist stream for some reason.

      2. Candi*

        I’ve had issues with coughing in damp weather after a series of yearly bronchial infections when I was a kid. Add in allergies and it’s so much fun.

    3. noahwynn*

      We had to remove two passengers from a flight yesterday who refused to stop spraying Lysol everywhere. It did cause one flight attendant to have an asthma attack. The passengers were told to stop multiple times and offered wipes instead if they wanted to wipe down surfaces, but they insisted on using the Lysol. Ended up delaying the flight over an hour while a replacement flight attendant was found.

      1. Candi*

        You know, if the attendant wanted to sue them over causing her harm under whatever local/civil lies apply… I’d be hard pressed to find a reason to do anything but get out of her way.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          +1. Those customers need to be punished or something to get the point across so they will stop!

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        That poor flight attendant. IMO, spraying Lysol or “air fresheners” after you’ve been asked not to is assault. If you spray a chemical around me that causes me to cough or have problems breathing, you are deliberately trying to interfere with my ability to live. Those passengers should have been arrested.

  16. AppleStan*

    LW#2: I am going to echo something Alison said.

    My asthma has developed to the point that scented cleansers, scented soaps and scented antibacterial hand sanitizers will trigger an attack… to the point that in an effort to breathe I’m coughing so hard hurt my back (I’m truly worried at some point I will break a rib).

    If your coworker did this to me, I’d spin into a bad attack I would not quickly recover from. I can guarantee your company does not want that liability. Tell management what your coworker is doing for the sake of their liability and your well-being.

    1. kathlynn (Canada)*

      I’m not as sensitive to scents, but I’m extremely sensitive to cleaning products. Something like this? Would probably land me in the hospital.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m sensitive to scents, especially the cheap stuff they put in cleaning products. I once walked into a hotel where they were cleaning/buffing the floor in the lobby. After less than a minute I doubled over coughing so bad I couldn’t breathe, and I staggered out the door, still coughing, and hoped to hell I would stop once I got out. My sight was starting to dim, it was that bad. I was able to gasp a few breaths of clean air so I didn’t collapse, so I didn’t end up unconscious, but it was a near thing.

        I didn’t have to go to the hospital, fortunately, because I was unemployed and uninsured at the time.

    2. leapingLemur*

      It’s probably worth mentioning to higher ups (if the co-worker doesn’t agree to stop spraying people) that some people have allergies to the point where being sprayed with Lysol could send them to the hospital.

      1. TootsNYC*

        even for people without allergies or asthma or other respiratory problems: It is incredibly harmful to inhale Lysol mist!

    3. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I have asthma and I also have a lot of contact allergies – Lysol or similar on my skin would give me painful, itchy hives – I shudder to think what it would do if I inhaled it. I avoid spray cleaners and products in my own home as much as possible because they make me wheeze, and when I do have to use them I make sure I have lots of open windows and am extremely careful about spraying down and away from myself to minimise any inhalation.

      Someone doing this to me could land me in hospital.

      (I did once make that point to someone who was spritzing passers by with perfume in a shop, without asking if they wanted to sample it. I managed to get my hands up so I didn’t get it in my face but even after cleaning my hands immediately I would up with a rash. I did notice that the next time I was in that shop, the perfume salespeople were asking before the sprayed anyone ..)

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Geez! What kind of sales tactic is that?! Anger your customers and hope they’ll realize later that they DO like the smell of White Diamonds?! That is a very bad idea, for many reasons.

      2. Lexi Lynn*

        With people like this, I wish I could slap a plastic bag on their head, add a couple of pinpricks for air and tell them I’ll be back in 20 minutes. Might give those people who don’t understand that not being able to breathe is scary and painful some empathy.

      3. Candi*

        I saw on another forum some time ago this kind of spraying should be considered assault/battery, since the saleperson can’t know if it’ll cause harm, yet does it anyway.

        At the time, I thought they were being ridiculous. Now….

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          Yes, allergy to chemical perfumes is very common. Spraying people without knowing if they’re allergic is insanely ignorant and harmful.
          I thought there was a law against that now though. Maybe only where I am?

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I’m dealing with an asthma flare at the moment. 4+ months early from the usual schedule. Lysol would be bad. Very bad. And I will, at a minimum, present a bill for my medical care to that idiot. My main inhaler is $260 a month – and that’s a cheap one.

    5. Mockingjay*

      I worked one place where a coworker hated any kind of smell in the bathroom. It had a decent fan, so odor was cleared fairly quickly but not immediately. She didn’t like even a hint of humanity, so she would spray Lysol or air freshener until it literally fogged the air. The rest of us started wheezing and developed itchy skin and eyes. She wouldn’t stop spraying, so we hid or tossed the Lysol and Glade after she left for the day. (No, her manager wouldn’t make her stop. That old coot is another story.)

      Lysol used properly in a targeted fashion is a tremendous aid to sanitation. It is not to be sprayed like a mosquito control truck.

      1. James*

        We had a guy set off a smoke alarm that way. In his case, let’s just say the air freshener wasn’t overkill. But he sprayed enough of it that it activated the particle sensor of the smoke alarm. So we all diligently shuffled out of the building, waited for the fire department to show up, and watched them laughing as they filed back out.

        Once or twice is an amusing anecdote, but I can imagine that beyond that the fire department, management, and health and safety teams would start to get annoyed.

        1. Candi*

          Too many false alarms would get the fire department to start levying fines -so yeah, annoyed and then some.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I worked one place where they would not remove the scented air freshened from the bathroom. It was a small bathroom, and the scent was overpowering. If I went in there, I sometimes didn’t make it to the seat before I started coughing. They could hear me coughing outside the restroom. Their “solution”?? I had to use the restroom in another building, because “everyone else liked the air freshener”. The place put the dis in dysfunctional.

    6. aebhel*

      Yeah, I know people are saying this isn’t assault (and I agree that LW shouldn’t try to press charges), but spraying Lysol in someone’s face could legitimately send them to the hospital if they already have breathing problems.

    7. Database Developer Dude*

      I did talk to the sprayer’s boss. Should’ve done it on Tuesday when it happened, but I did today.

    8. Tidewater 4-1009*

      I had broken ribs and at the time thought they were pulled muscles. Applying Ben-Gay helped with the pain and they healed on their own.
      So don’t worry, broken ribs aren’t so bad.

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 This person deserves no second chances.

    She’s the poster child for “this is why we can’t have anything nice.” Your company did right by trusting their employees to be honest and didn’t investigate her note and need to quarantine.

    It takes a real snake to exploit a pandemic. It’s not too unlike the people who faked their own deaths or exploited the loss of medical and social works paperwork in Katrina or other disasters. This woman is unethical AF and needs to be terminated immediately.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Well said. And this is not her first scam. This isn’t any entry level type of lie.

      You need to review any thing she has financial responsibility for, including expense reports & spending authorization.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I was thinking that too. Who know what other lies she’s told?
          Definitely review everything she was responsible for.

    2. Avi*

      The fact that she came clean about it but did not immediately resign makes me wonder if she expects her ‘apology’ to absolve her from any further consequences. I wouldn’t expect a lot of genuine contrition from someone who could dream up a scheme like this to begin with.

      1. valentine*

        I wouldn’t expect a lot of genuine contrition
        I’ve been wondering if it was a mere “Whoops! Ya caught me,” and whether OP1 thinks they can’t expect more and/or that only felonies qualify for firing.

        1. Candi*

          Well, forgery is a felony (or similar-level crime by a different name) most everywhere it occurs. It’s also on my list of basic violations of trust.

          It’s the trust -trust to be honest, trust to have integrity, trust to be a decent person- that’s violated here.

          When someone’s violated trust that deeply, it’s time to boot them.

    3. Batgirl*

      OP said: “At first she said the pictures were old”.
      Even when CAUGHT, she’s happy to continue throwing lies at the situation. If OP were to keep her on, it would only cement the employees’ clearly held belief that lies on this scale are doable and OK.
      This isn’t a trait you can train out of people, or coach them out of; it’s basic integrity and will have been there the whole time, unseen.
      In fact, getting fired might be the best (only?) way to root out this habit.
      But even then, I’m dubious because it’s so clearly ingrained. You can’t in good conscience give her a clear reference either.

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      She’s the poster child for “this is why we can’t have anything nice.” Your company did right by trusting their employees to be honest and didn’t investigate her note and need to quarantine.

      Exactly! And this is why she needs to be fired—so that you can continue to trust the rest of your employees, and they can continue to trust you.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I really hope that OP/OP’s company doesn’t use this as a “whelp we cant trust people now” thing.

        This was one person. I really hope they keep it in perspective instead of innocent others being punished for this woman’s actions.

  18. CatCat*

    #1’s employee absolutely should be fired right away. No one can trust her at work. Her reputation is destroyed at this workplace.

    And if she has the chutzpah to apply for UI, I wouldn’t be surprised if she lies to the UI office so be on the lookout for that.

  19. Dan*


    AAM, I find it interesting that all of your justifications for firing her are based on the touchy-feely aspects of what went on. This person defrauded the company, pure and simple. While it’s not clear to me that she intended to get paid leave, she certainly accepted the payment under false pretenses.

    Hell, I’d fire her for being stupid… if you’re going to pull a stunt like that, for god sakes, *do not* leave evidence on social media.

    1. anonymouslee*

      It is not based on “touchy-feely aspects.” Alison said she engaged in forgery and displayed a clear lack of integrity, which says the same thing “defrauded the company” does in negligibly different terms.

    2. Marthooh*


      I mean, what?

      Lies and forgery and taking advantage of a public health crisis are touchy-feely aspects of what went on? Only outright fraud is a good reason for termination? Oh, and being stupid — the snorty-sneery aspect.

    3. James*

      What “touchy-feely aspects”? I’ll grant you that some of the advice didn’t have a line item on an expense report, but the reality is that management is about people. That means that trust, respect, and how others will perceive our actions are important. Ultimately a manager is a manager because the people they manage accept the manager’s authority. Lose trust, lose respect, and you lose that authority, and therefore cannot manage your staff. This holds true for any group, from a family up to a nation. Read about any famous mutiny–Spithead, HMS Bounty, any of them–and you see this pattern. (Fun historic anecdote: Edward Pellew once put down a mutiny in his night shirt by re-establishing that respect and trust.)

      And remember, this is an advice column. It’s good for someone on the fence to hear the full context, so that they can see aspects of the situation that they may not see. Sure, it may be obvious to you or me, but we’re not the one making the call. It’s not OUR perspective that’s important here.

  20. Coder von Frankenstein*

    From the headline, I was all set to say LW1 needs to give the employee the benefit of the doubt, the last thing you want right now is people being afraid to stay home if they feel sick.

    Then I read the actual letter.

    Wow. Yeah. She’s gotta go. That would get you fired even where I work (and that takes some doing).

  21. Impy*

    Your colleague sprayed you with Lysol??? I’d argue that’s on an ethical level with the lying coworker, only worse because rather than just being unethical she could land someone in the hospital.

  22. Dan*


    I had to reread your letter a few times to pick up all of the nuances. And from what you’ve written, I have a feeling your manager is overworked, plain and simple. You say that your employee is both a manager and a subject matter expert. I hate to say this, but I don’t think she can fill both roles effectively, at least given the current workflow. First things first, I think you should consider providing your manager an admin assistant to help do email triage. If your manager is expected to triage incoming emails and delegate them to others, presumably that’s occupying mental bandwidth that can be offloaded to someone else.

    I am not a manager, but I am a technical expert in my field. If I have to write a technical email, it can easily take me 30 minutes, depending on the content. Thankfully, I only get a few emails a week that warrant that kind of detail. I can also tell you that if I’m deep in thought on something technical, I really can’t be distracted by emails. When I do lead projects, my team’s needs are my number one priority. I assume if they need my input on something, they can’t proceed very far without it. So if my team needs my feedback on project stuff, they come first or the project will fall behind.

    You say that you’ve had conversations with your manager about how emails should be addressed within 24 hours, but then you also say that sometimes you need her input *now*. Well, I can tell you that if I had a 24 hour rule, I wouldn’t be staring at my email inbox waiting on every email coming in. That’s just super inefficient and disruptive to my workflow.

    So, I think you should be prepared for a few things. 1) Get your manager an admin to help, especially with email management. 2) Possibly offload some management responsibilities to someone else. 3) In the general case, figure out where your manager is adding the most value to the company, and allow her to focus on that. You say her workload is going to increase substantially — I don’t think she can handle all of this just by herself, nor do I think she should.

    1. Willis*

      I agree that she sounds overworked. It’s great to set boundaries, but its hard to do when your boss is asking you to do more work than is possible in 40 hrs. Unless she gets more capacity on her team, or has some capacity there she could be using better, the options are either work extra or something doesn’t get done. And it kind of sounds like you’re faulting her no matter which of those options she picks.

      1. valentine*

        Depending on how many “now” emails there are, putting the deadline in the subject may help.

    2. Beatrice*

      This is a really thoughtful response.

      LW4…I’m worried you might be my boss. I’m a SME and a manager and my team has been hit by wave after wave of disruption that is outside my control, and now a big new project on the horizon. I’m also slightly disorganized naturally and I struggle with adult ADHD, and I’ve worked overtime my *entire adult life* to try to offset that. Now I’m working overtime to offset the ADHD and more overtime to keep my head above water because I have too much on my plate, which my boss has acknowledged. I’m game to try to be Wonder Woman and do it all, but the cost is that sometimes I’m distracted in meetings because eight other things are going on, and sometimes my email is out of control. If that’s absolutely unacceptable, then I need stuff taken off my plate, plain and simple. I’m only one person and I’m very clearly working incredibly hard.

      1. nonprofit director*

        Ha, I was wondering if LW4 was my boss, because I am also a SME and a manager, and I have a challenging team with a lot of issues to work through. Between working with a team that three other managers have failed with plus my SME work that those others managers didn’t have, I get to my email when I get to it. I’m only one person and unless I am given help or clear priorities, then I prioritize based on what I know about the organization’s needs. Keeping constant tabs on email isn’t near the top of that list.

    3. Green great dragon*

      Yep. By all means discuss strategies with her, but if she’s overworked and this is not her strength, can someone help? Is there an assistant to someone else who can spend half an hour twice a day triaging her inbox?

    4. BRR*

      I was getting that vibe as well. The person might not be good at email management but I hope the lw takes a good look at if this position’s workload is reasonable for one person to do.

      Or, if it spikes to beyond a one-person workload when urgent matters pile up. My position could arguably be done by one person if you average the workload over 12 months, but the workload ebbs and flows and when it peaks it’s simply not manageable by just person.

    5. Des*

      Simple email filters should be setup for the ‘NOW’ emails to go into a specific folder that she can action on.
      Obviously, ‘NOW’ will be “whenever she actually checks the mailbox”. If they are really a “now” and not “today” emails, then there needs to be a notification of some sort, such as on her phone. I struggle to think of why she is getting so many “NOW” emails that she can’t get through them. Are you organized, OP? Can your “NOW” emails be transformed into “within 24-hours” emails with better planning on your part? (i.e. if you know you will need X for your client presentation tomorrow, why not ask for X last week so she has time to get you the information)

      Please do check that you aren’t unnecessarily forcing tight deadlines on your subordinates due to your own disorganization. It might not be the case, but worth thinking about.

    6. Paulina*

      Yes. I’m often in a position where I have to juggle between day-to-day things I have to keep on top of, and things that require far more thought, and it’s very hard. The deluge of smaller management-oriented things significantly disrupt my ability to do more thoughtful SME-type work. If someone needed an expert answer immediately… it wouldn’t be possible given the other things on the go. Especially a written answer that’s going to be used. But while “now” often isn’t an option, waiting for the weekend could be avoided with careful time organization, if there’s some significant time that this manager can be allowed to have each day, free of other duties, to deal with the SME questions. This person likely needs both assistance with the workload and cooperation from everyone in planning their time.

    7. TootsNYC*

      very good points.

      I also think that if you need an answer “now,” email is NOT your communication method.
      Maybe you send the background info in the email, but if you need an answer before the end of the day, I think you need to call as well.

      In many jobs, people should NOT be tied to their email box at all times.

  23. Sarah Palin in a bear suit*

    I’m currently quarantined at home for COVID-19. I am not getting any paid leave so this is not costing my company any money. And I STILL feel guilty for not being able to get the bulk of my work done over the next week.

    LW1, your employee is basically the opposite of me. My response to this COVID-19 situation is a normal one. Hers is not. She gamed the system for her own benefit. She needs to go.

    1. Bluesboy*

      But are you REALLY at home quarantined? Because I’m pretty sure I saw on social media that you were on the Masked Singer.

      But seriously, hope you’re ok. I’m also at home for the same reason so believe me, I sympathise.

    2. Des*

      Why are you feeling guilty for the fact that your company doesn’t pay you sick leave to stay home when you can’t work?

      1. Sarah Palin in a bear suit*

        I work for a small company doing customer communications. I’m the only person who does what I do. I feel bad that our customers will be left in the dark and have no one to help them while I’m gone. We provide a public service that isn’t essential but it does mean a lot to our customers.

  24. kathlynn (Canada)*

    So, LW1, you used province, rather than state. If you are from Canada, double check that you can legally on the spot fire your employee for this, or if you would need to provide notice or severance. Because laws around just cause vary by province, and Canada has more protections in place than the USA. (it may just be a matter of how it’s framed)

      1. valentine*

        Any chance those 2 weeks of PTO could count toward the notice period?
        And/or the severance?

    1. Batgirl*

      Is there not some provision allowing employers to sack thieves? In the UK employees are similarly protected from general firings without notice, but this kind of thing would be classed as gross misconduct and all bets are then off.

      I can’t imagine Canada makes people pay severance to EVERYONE. What if an employee were violent etc?

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        LW1 – yes, you’re justified in firing – two things!

        – Make sure you follow procedures (I’d imagine you have a disciplinary procedure for gross misconduct or the like… follow to the letter)

        – Don’t change your policies because of this. You don’t generally ask for proof for very good reasons – it would be hugely demoralising for that to change because of one outlier (with whom you’ve dealt appropriately).

      2. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Yes, they probably can fire them without severance. I just don’t know the law for every province, and since this is a blog located in the USA, I felt the need to remind the LW to cross their T’s and dot their I’s, and make sure they aren’t violating the law. (for example, in my province, someone missing a shift outside of their probationary period are not supposed to be fired for it. It does happen, because most people I know don’t know the employment standards act. But it’s not seen as just cause to fire someone without it being a pattern, and several warning.)

      3. Asenath*

        You do not always get severance in Canada. I know things because a former employer used to offer it, and cut it ou – but still paid it to employees who had signed up when that was offered as a benefit. You do get notice if you lose your job. How much depends on provincial labour laws, but if they want you out right now, they just have to pay you for your notice period, and show you the door.

  25. AW*

    Your coworker absolutely should not be spraying anything at you. To maintain the moral high ground, I hope you’re covering all coughs with your elbow or a tissue, and consider wearing a mask. Even if you aren’t coughing due to illness, it’s still gross to have someone’s fine mist of saliva and personal bacteria in the air. But I’m sure you’re already practicing good cough hygiene! Keep it up!

    1. Mookie*

      No, she does not need to use a mask unless she normally does so to keep out or minimize direct mucous membrane-contact with the airborne things that trigger and exacerbate her allergies. Everyone emanates respiratory droplets on a daily basis; you wear the mask when the droplets are known or suspected to have something especially pernicious and easily transmissible in them.

      1. StrikingFalcon*

        Yes, this. She should not wear a mask for allergies. Masks are in short supply right now. Even if they weren’t, you don’t need them for allergies. They should only be worn by people who need to go out in public while sick with something infectious. And right now, people should just stay home if possible.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Actually, a simple, reusable, multi-layer, cotton mask works great for allergies (dust, pollen), and leaves the professional grade N95 masks for health care workers. Not all masks are the same, and anything that helps you breathe less allergy junk is a good thing. Just make sure to wash out your mask every night to get the dirt and pollen out.

  26. Serena*

    #3 Let me get this straight, your CEO / Company paid for your education, wants to come to your graduation to support you and you have a problem with this because their presence will impede on your “personal” time? He isn’t crashing your vacation or wedding, he is coming to an event that he had a major part in (by paying for it) This is a situation where you suck it up and let him attend.

    1. Beatrice*

      The CEO/company likely paid for *part* of the letter writer’s education as part of an employee retention and development strategy. In return, they get to retain a good employee and they get a more valuable and skilled employee. Completing the degree is still the employee’s personal success that they get to celebrate how they choose, and contributing to it for the company’s gain doesn’t entitle the CEO to barge in on the employee’s personal celebration of the achievement.

      1. Tau*

        Agreed. If you follow this sort of logic further, my company’s CEO ought to be allowed to come on vacation with me – after all, it’s his money paying for my time off, right?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Ahhh, I just commented the same thing downthread. Should’ve read all the responses first. It’s a company benefit, people. The company would not be offering it if it did not benefit them too. It is not a charity thing.

      2. Mookie*

        Yep. It benefits them. This isn’t done out of the kindness of anyone’s hearts. Ditto a lot of hardfought rights and benefits labor enjoys (or don’t); beyond needing to follow the law, there’s an incentive to subsidizing (often with the government’s help) the health, education, and training of your employees.

        1. Mookie*

          This attitude is why a large segment of certain nations believe in “entitlements” that can be clawed back by government bureaucracy and replaced with private corporate “benevolence” rather than a social safety net that should be expanded, broadened, and guaranteed for all. It’s the difference between a robust national secondary education system and the pillorying of “government schools.”

    2. WomanFromItaly*

      So if your boss’ salary pays for your rent, they can crash on your couch anytime? After all, they paid for it. I think there is a flaw in your theory. My boss didn’t come to my doctor’s visits because my job offered health insurance. A job offering a benefit does not mean that suddenly everything connected to that benefit is a work function. Lots of jobs offer tuition reimbursement and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a boss wanting to actually go to graduation. I can believe they mean well, but it’s significantly overstepping and intrusive.

    3. Asenath*

      I’m surprised there are enough seats for the CEO and office staff, but perhaps different universities have different amounts of space at the festivities. Part of my post-secondary education was paid for by my then employer, but no one there even wanted to attend the ceremony. That was fortunate because I hate ceremonies myself and didn’t attend any of my own graduations except the high school one.

    4. Fikly*

      They pay for your vacation or wedding too, via your salary and vacation time, how is this different? It’s a benefit that you earn in exchange for your work. No where in the contract does it say you then exchange your work for benefit + CEO intruding on your life outside of work.

      This screams of companies expecting you to be grateful they are paying you. No, you are giving them your work, and they are giving you compensation. It’s an exchange.

      1. Arctic*

        “They pay for your vacation or wedding too, via your salary and vacation time, how is this different?”

        Because not paying a salary in exchange for work would violate the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution? And slavery is banned in almost every other country in the world, as well? Whereas tuition reimbursement outside of the public sector is fairly rare and this is place where student debt destroys many people.

        Because there is little social interaction beyond a “thanks for coming!” at the end involved in someone watching you from the crowd at a graduation ceremony? Whereas there would be on an intimate vacation or even a wedding?

        Because this is motivated by pride in the LW’s accomplishment and a person’s motive should count for how you respond to them?

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          Yeah, there’s definitely some nuance to this that needs to be considered. The size of the tuition compensation program and the personal relationship between the student and funder should all be considered. I didn’t thank or expect the VA to come to my graduation for the 2/3rd of tuition they paid for. In contrast, I thanked, attended a reception with, and would have extended a graduation invite (if asked) to the sole donor who paid the remaining ~$70-90k of my tuition, and only funded 1 post-grad Navy veteran per year. LW’s boss falls somewhere in the grey area between “sole donor” and “employer with a massive tuition reimbursement program.”

        2. Fikly*

          Everything other than a salary is not mandatory. So should they be included on your vacation?

          You don’t know that this is motivated by pride in the LW’s accomplishment. You can’t know what is motivating another person unless they tell you, and even then, you have to assume they are telling you the truth if you want to believe you know what is motivating you.

          Also, you don’t know if there will be more than just a “thanks for coming” at the end of the ceremony, either. There are a lot of assumptions here.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I have a similar reaction. Graduations are big (and boring! I can’t imagine people wanting to go if they don’t have to or aren’t related to a graduate). OP can go to the ceremony, take some cap-and-gown photos with family, friends, and even the boss (who probably wants to have a nice photo for the company website), and then spend the rest of the day with family and friends.

      It also sounds like the boss is trying to be supportive and proud, but it’s coming across as pressure. A conversation between OP and the boss that he’s actually stressing her out and she wants him to stop with the grad chat for now would probably benefit everyone.

      1. WellRed*

        Agreed, graduation really ranks high on the boring ceremony list. I doubt coworkers want to spend three hours at the OPs graduation. Also, graduation is two semesters away and CEO is already talking about it? Oy! That’s gonna get old.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It feels a little like the boss who wanted to donate his kidney to his employee. He was coming from a good place, but he was still crossing a very important boundary. Same goes for this guy. He may have the best possible intentions in wanting to celebrate his employee’s achievements. But it’s still a boundary the employee doesn’t want him to cross, and that’s the bit that matters here.

      3. Amaranth*

        I agree, CEO sounds excited and supportive, but rather than shut that down, I’d suggest mentioning tickets/space/parking is limited and an alternative that still shows some appreciation for all that enthusiasm. Maybe ‘my family made plans right after, so rather than everyone fighting with traffic, how about a cake/happy hour/kazoos on Friday’.

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yeah no. Unless OP is close to the CEO and wants them there, they don’t get to barge in on a personal event. Based on that thinking, the CEO should attend the birth of their first child since the company is paying for part of the health insurance that’s paying for the baby’s birth and stay in the hospital right?

    7. Alton*

      In some organizations, tuition support is treated specifically like a career development opportunity that is meant to be work-related. In others, it’s a benefit everyone gets by default, like vacation time or health insurance.

      I think there’s something to be said for inviting the CEO/colleagues if the degree is directly tied to work. But that’s not always the case.

    8. Thankful for AAM*

      My employer paid for my education bc they see a benefit to themselves if they do. It is a benefit They offer. They did not pay to be a part of my personal life.

      They also pay for my health insurance. If I got pregnant using medical benefits paid for by my employer, would they want to come to doctors appointments or the births to celebrate with me. Or even to my family baby shower or the child’s first birthday?

      A work celebration is appropriate. Joining a family celebration is not.

    9. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      The company part paid for the education (it’s a reimbursement programme, which may not necessarily mean 100% cost coverage). Did they also give time off for studying, or attending lectures? If not, then *all* the work OP3 did to get to graduation was in their own “personal” time and they should be able to celebrate that as a “personal” achievement accordingly.

    10. Coder von Frankenstein*

      No. It’s part of LW3’s compensation package. LW3 does work for the company, and in return the company provides LW3 with money and benefits, of which this is one.

      This is not a personal favor being done for LW3 by the CEO.

    11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The CEO can also just find the graduation info and show up. Most of ours outside small events are not ticketed events. When I went to a friend’s med school graduation everything was open to the public.

  27. Rollergirl09*

    Today at work was a comedy of COVID19 pandemonium. Any time someone coughed or sneezed they got the stink eye or admonished by one of their surrounding teammates.
    If there had been a Lysol sprayer in the group I would’ve had to go home because it would make me so sick and make my eyes burn. LW should absolutely tell the offender to stop.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      Every morning when I get in the office my nose seems to be running a bit. I grab a tissue and say clearly to anyone in earshot: “I have allergies!”

      1. Quill*

        Running nose isn’t on the official list of symptoms, but you should probably catch yours.

        / badjokes

      2. London Calling*

        Same when I sneeze. ‘Sinuses, people! sinuses!’ Luckily they can hear that my voice is different because of them.

  28. Not Australian*

    LW3, you have the option *not* to have a graduation ceremony at all; most educational institutions will just let you opt out and will happily send you the paperwork. If you did this and just had a separate private celebration with your family, nobody connected with your work could possibly have a word to say about it.

      1. Not Australian*

        Well, no, he’s insisting on *being there* – which he can’t be if there’s no ‘there’ to ‘be’.

        1. Batgirl*

          I’d say that still boils down to saying “No I disagree, I am not doing a work celebration for my graduation” to a boss who wants one. If shes going to go ahead say a no, she might as well have the graduation celebration she wants and just say “I am not inviting work people, it’s a personal day” which she can do as the ticket holder. It’s not his ability to circumvent OP that’s at stake – she can say no to him and enforce it. The issue is saying no to someone with power over you.

    1. Tim Tam Girl*

      The OP shouldn’t have to decide between celebrating their major personal achievement with the formal graduation ceremony and having that celebration intruded upon by their boss.

    2. Rexish*

      Yes, this is an option. But I don’t think LW should do kip the ceremony because of the boss.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is an option if the OP really doesn’t want to go to graduation. But if they do want to go and celebrate their achievement, they shouldn’t be forced to stay home because it’s the only way to keep their boss out of their personal life. Blaming it on limited seating and not having enough tickets would be a better option. Unless this CEO is one of the bigger boundary stompers we’ve seen here, I doubt he’s going to insist on keeping Grandma from going to the graduation just so he can have her ticket.

    4. TootsNYC*

      but maybe LW3 would LIKE to go to graduation!
      Getting your degree while working is a lot of work; it’s understandable that they might want to go.

  29. a passerby*


    Do not pass go, do not collect a second chance, straight up termination for cause. Possibly report the forgery to the police too, as in some states that is a felony.

    Think about it seriously. She abused a global pandemic and the goodwill that employers extend to contain it to get free PTO. Thats despicable.

    1. Candi*

      Forgery is a felony in all fifty US states, in most of the US territories, and at the federal level.

      It also shows terrible judgement, and a willingness to ignore better judgement in favor of what someone wants.

  30. AJ*

    #1. Social media posting: That’s also how the police catch dumb criminals, such as the ones posing with their stolen loot.

    1. Amy Sly*

      I mentioned it upthread, but not posting evidence of crimes on social media is L. Scott Briscoe’s Free Legal Tip #1.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      At a previous job we had a store turn in a sick note one of their employees gave to their manager. Every third word was misspelled, and the header was the 1st image on Google images if you searched the major hospital in our area. Out of morbid curiosity we looked up the employee’s (very public) social media and there he was, getting a tattoo on the day he “had strep”, which also happened to be his birthday. Real criminal mastermind there.

      1. LeahS*

        This made me laugh out loud. If you’re gonna be a criminal, be smart about it please and thanks.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I heard testimony from a police officer once who presented security camera footage of a criminal act being done by someone in a distinctive hat and T-shirt.
      And then an Instagram photo of an identical-looking person weaering that very hat and T-shirt, and posted/taken on the same day.

      “Was this a public account?” asked the prosecutor.
      “No, it was private.”
      “How were you able to see his pictures?” the prosecutor queries.
      “I sent him a friend request.”

    4. Candi*

      My personal favorite was when a guy skipped bail a few years back and the police dept. in question posted on their FB page the usual “have you seen this guy, he’s charged with X, tell us if you see him” etc. However their lawyers say to do it.

      The guy used his very own FB account to answer the posting and argue about the charges.

      The police dept had the subpoena served to FB in short order, then tracked his data.

  31. Tuppence*

    LW3 Do they release graduation dates that early?
    I know for both of my graduations I didn’t know which date of 5 or 6 different days, all of which had at least two or even three ceremonies, I would be assigned until I finished my classes.
    I also only got two guests for crowd control.

    Also, this is roughly equivalent of your CEO inviting himself to your child’s christening because you have maternity leave. Dude doesn’t have boundaries.
    Does he say “we are like a family here”?

  32. Anna*

    #4 – other than the things that people mentioned already – getting a lot of spam etc – I am wondering if this person might be neurodiverse – dyslexic or have some other issue that stops them from reading quickly. If assistive technologies can be mentioned as part of casual conversation, that might help long term.

    1. misspiggy*

      Yes indeed. LW #4’s statement that they process written information quickly set off alarm bells. I’m like that and, before I met my dyslexic husband, had no understanding of how long it takes others to read and respond to things. Even if the manager isn’t neurodiverse, she might just have a normal reading speed and it takes as long as it takes.

      LW#4 seems to want her employee to just read and respond to emails faster, but..that’s not been happening, and if it were as easy as that for her, it would have happened already. Assistive technologies might help, but are unlikely to get this person up to where LW#4 is. Reducing the volume of emails for her to respond to, and/or increasing turnaround times, will probably have to be the main options.

      1. doreen*

        It might be- but I’ve encountered a number of people who do not respond to emails as quickly as their managers would like and the ones I know come in two varieties, There are the ones who don’t read their email often enough (and by that I mean not even once a day) and the others who for reasons that are beyond me, will not answer the most simple question in a timely manner. I could email one of my peers today, asking if he can cover for me on Tuesday, And although he will read it today, he will not answer it , not even with “I don’t know yet, let me check” until I call him on the phone on Monday.

  33. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP1, Fire her. She lied&stole AND: she traveled out of the country during a pandemic without giving your company a chance to require her to self-quarantine on return.
    I for one would deep clean her area immediately because she now HAS become a potential vector. I do not consider that panic, just extra caution about who else might have been in that hotel or plane/train/boat before her.

  34. Reality Check*

    #1 this reminds me of a friend of mine whose team had to do work at a client’s premises (they were remodeling the place). One of his coworkers stole from the client (and was caught on camera). The boss sent him home for the day when confronted by the angry client. The rest of the team confronted the boss & demanded he be fired. The boss did fire him. Because boss knew that if he did not, he would have lost the respect of his entire team. I think you are in the same boat here.

  35. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    OP1. Fire her Now. Right now. This is a serious and genuine health crisis for many people. I work with international students who are becoming more anxious and frightened every day as this pandemic goes on. They are worried about family and friends overseas. When the school term ends many of them are uncertain about being able to return home. It’s not something to take advantage of especially if you are stupid enough to post pictures on social media. She is an idiot.

  36. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #5… Third, if you make this your pattern, people will quickly pick up on it, the praise will seem insincere, and Fridays will be feared.

    Or people will start taking Fridays off to avoid the criticism.

    1. Des*

      Yes, and they’ll spend the week dreading it. Or they’ll spend the weekend polishing their resumes.

  37. Akcipitrokulo*

    (Threading error above)

    LW1 – yes, you’re justified in firing – two things may help!

    – Make sure you follow procedures (I’d imagine you have a disciplinary procedure for gross misconduct or the like… follow to the letter)

    – Don’t change your policies because of this. You don’t generally ask for proof for very good reasons – it would be hugely demoralising for that to change because of one outlier (with whom you’ve dealt appropriately).

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      But it isn’t necessarily “one outlier”. OP1’s report was careless enough to get caught, but it’s possible that other people in the company are abusing the ‘policy’ of not asking for doctors notes etc.

  38. Hi*

    I think the person in the first letter should be let go immediately. You don’t know what kind of consequences this had on everyone else at the company.

    Story time: My friend’s husband’s co worker came back from a vacation recently and told everyone he didn’t feel well and thought he may have been exposed to COVID-19. The husband has a second job at a nursing home, so he told that boss that he may have been exposed to someone with the virus. Since it’s a nursing home filled with vulnerable elderly people the husband and boss decided it would be best for him to stay out of work for the week. The husband is hourly and does not get paid sick time.

    Turns out the coworker at his first job was JOKING about being exposed to the virus in hopes of getting a free two weeks off. This coworkers JOKE cost my friend’s family a WEEK’s worth of pay from the husbands nursing home job. They’re lucky and thankful it won’t cause a huge financial hardship but they are not happy right now.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      I agree. They have no choice but to fire the person in the first letter. And also, what a dumb thing to joke about!

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      That doesn’t sound like a joke to me. It sounds like someone testing the waters to see if they can get time off and then backing out with a scummy ‘It was just a joke! Can’t you take a joke?’ when they got found out. What a lowlife.

    3. Chatterby*

      This type of situation is why my opinion on the matter is
      1) definitely fire her
      2) reassure everyone that covid-19 is being taken seriously, and the policy and procedures are _____ for people who are exposed
      3) look into the current vacation and sick leave policy. Because while she may have been an opportunist and their PTO is great, it’s also possible the workplace needs to revise it.

  39. TimeTravelR*

    We all get a ton of email. Create a culture at your office where the subject shows the importance. That is, after the actual subject, type the word INFO (for informational email), ACTION (for something that requires the TO line’s action), DELIVERY (for something that responds to an action from them), URGENT, etc. Create whatever system works for your industry.
    This way it makes it easier to see what needs read or handled asap and what can be looked at later.

    Also don’t put the INFO/ACTION/DELIVERY at the beginning of the subject because it makes sorting emails by subject more difficult.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I wish everybody did this!

      The military term for this is BLUF: Bottom line up front. You can google “military email bluf” for some great tips about how to make your email more effective.

      1. James*

        One caveat: If you start doing this it may come off as aggressive or hostile. We have some folks in the office that do this, while most of us are much more casual in our emails (emojis come into play frequently). I’ve had a few people show me emails from the BLUF-using group and ask “Did I do something to upset [name of person]?” The people using BLUF are friendly when you speak to them in person or on the phone, so folks that don’t know them well feel that they’re getting mixed signals.

        Everyone gets on the same page in a few days/rounds of email. So it’s not a major issue. Just a minor problem that you may want to prepare for.

    2. Snark no more!*

      What an excellent suggestion! We do something similar. My boss uses a Mac and they have a way to “pin” things. That’s a large part of my job as her admin. I will incorporate these categories into our current system as well.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I’ve worked at a few places where most people carefully followed subject-line protocols.

      But it was never everybody.
      Nevertheless, trying to institute them might make this task easier.

  40. Rebecca*

    LW1 – Your entire team is waiting to see how you handle this. If this were my coworker, and she pulled a stunt like this (saddling the rest of us with his work while she lied to get two paid weeks off), came back to work, and was allowed to continue on like nothing happened, I’d be looking for a new job. If my manager wouldn’t handle something this serious, it means other serious work related things could get overlooked too. If you don’t fire her, it will severely damage the morale for the rest of the team.

    1. Reality Check*

      Exactly. And as I pointed out in another comment, they’ll have zero respect for management after that.

    2. nep*

      Yes. As bad as she looks for pulling this stunt, the company would look worse for letting it slide. She’s gotta go, for the sake of the company and other employees.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      We had something much less egregious happen at work and nothing seems to have been done (though I suspect they have behind the scenes). We have lost respect for our managers and almost no one works very hard anymore.

    4. Observer*

      Yes. And warning, writeups, PIPs (what would you even put on one?) or even an unpaid suspension would really be getting away with it.

  41. Bookworm*

    LW1: People are dying, feeling super anxious/afraid. Elderly people are concerned they can’t do things like get groceries because of hoarders/compromised immune systems, etc. Hourly employees/those who who rely on tips/etc. are seeing their shifts cut, layoffs happen, less tips, etc. because of this. What your employee did was [can’t use this language] and showed she can’t be trusted if she went that *that* degree because she wanted time off.

    LW3: I agree with the ticket thing. I couldn’t go to a roommate’s graduation precisely because of that issue. It’s probably more common than you think (ticket limits) and I’d bet anything (no matter where you are located) the coronavirus will still be a concern by the time you graduate, even in a small degree. Good luck!

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      It is definitely common re ticket limits – we had a limit of three at my graduation, and I remember it was a problem for my ex’s best friend because he had divorced parents who both wanted to bring their new spouses.

  42. Delta Delta*

    #4 – Maybe I woke up grouchy, but the tone of this letter sort of smacks of, “I’m perfect at my job and can’t understand why everyone isn’t like me.” Hopefully OP takes the advice of approaching the issue as a “how can we help lighten your load?” rather than a “I can’t fathom why you can’t do this” approach.

    1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      Yeah, I can’t help thinking, “Who is more foolish, the fool who’s slow to read email or the fool who keeps emailing her about urgent issues?”

      Personally I think it’s bonkers to expect instant or even 24-hour responses to emails across the board. Email combing and notifications are the sworn enemy of productivity. If you expect your reports to drop everything and read whenever a notification pops up, you are managing poorly.

  43. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*


    In addition to saying “STOP THAT” loudly, it’s probably worth talking to your boss or HR even if the person puts the spray down and apologizes. That’s to get yourself and the rest of the office backup on “this doesn’t just mean don’t spray LW2 now, it means don’t spray Lysol or other cleaning products at anyone else, ever.” If they think spraying Lysol in someone’s face is both harmless and effective, they can spray their own face. (It isn’t, but I suspect that when told that the only person it’s legitimate to spray Lysol at is themselves, they’ll suddenly realize it’s not a good idea, that Lysol is meant to be sprayed on their desk, keyboard, or desk chair, not on their face.)

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      She was six feet away from me when she sprayed it, and I didn’t know she was going to, so I had my back turned. She didn’t spray it in my face, though she did spray it in my direction.

  44. Falling Diphthong*

    #5 There’s a reasonable teaching theory about trying to make the first contact with parents positive. You tell them that Murgatroyd’s high spirits lift the class, which establishes you two on the same side of really appreciating Young Murgatroyd, and then when you call to say that, gosh, Young Murgatroyd was disrupting class this week the parent is more likely to side with you and try to corral Young Murgatroyd into line.

    Business projects are not beloved children whose every weakness may reflect a terrible failing on the part of the employee. You can just tell them to double space the document or whatever it is, without sneaking up on it and trying to trick them.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Business projects aren’t children, but if there’s anything AAM makes clear, it’s that quite a few people still act like children in the workplace. My strategy is that I will treat you like a competent, mature adult so long as you act like one. Anything else, I will respond to you with whatever it takes to get what I need, including every trick I learned about manipulating people in many years of sales. I wouldn’t use a “praise on Monday, criticize on Friday” as a routine strategy, but if I were managing someone like the guy who takes sick leave after criticism, he gets his criticism on Friday so I don’t lose time on my deadlines.

  45. Anonnington*

    #5 – What a bunch of condescending nonsense! It sounds like bad parenting advice from a cheesy book or magazine, and it would be both disrespectful and ineffective if applied to children. For adults, yikes.

    Respect is a two-way street. If you want to be respected, you need to start by respecting others! Easy! Treat employees like fellow humans and communicate with them accordingly.

  46. Jostling*

    LW4, not sure I have any advice but I am in the same boat as your employee – I am terrible about email! I recently switched to a role where I get many more emails, most of which are at least tangentially relevant. I am still trying to figure out what system if any would be helpful for managing my email flow, and I fear that it will take hours to set up. It sounds like you have an amazing system set up that capitalizes on your existing strengths, but I think there is definitely a combination here that your employee is feeling overwhelmed AND you can’t understand her struggle because of your own skills. Perhaps start small and help her prioritize emails using the “Important!” feature? Then you at least have a benchmark of, “I know you get a lot of emails, but at the bare minimum I need a response to these within x hours,” and build from there.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I’ve found that some of the best systems are developed over time. So you’re getting a million emails from x system, setup a folder for them and an outlook rule to put them there. Then next week you do something else, and the next week something else. The only times where you’re doing all of it at once is you already have the setup and are getting a new computer or something. Then, it gets rolled into the new computer setup time.

  47. Fabulous*

    Have your employee set up rules in their email. Anything with a certain word in its title gets filtered to X folder, anything from Tom in Shipping gets filtered to Y folder, and so on. Once all the everyday, non-essential emails are filtered out of her inbox, then it’ll be easier to determine the important ones!

  48. James*

    #5: I’ve seen that advice in some old documents–Victorian era and the like. I enjoy reading historical documents, drives my wife nuts. :D Anyway, the idea at the time was that the lower classes needed their betters to provide guidance, because otherwise they would revert to their beastly nature. Giving them the weekend to consider what they’d done really (at the time) meant that the employer expected them to spend Sunday in repentance for whatever sin the employer thought they’d committed. I’m not going to get into the religious angle here; I’m merely providing this for historical context. Remember, the concept of a two-day weekend is a fairly recent invention; 6-day work weeks were the norm when this advice started.

    And for the time this advice was actually a major step forward. Of course, prior to this physical beatings were common motivational techniques, so that’s not saying much. In fact, there are cases where managers who did what you’re describing were considered soft-hearted and weak, and therefore unfit to manage.

    We’ve come a long way and have learned that pretty much everything about that is nonsense. We don’t live in a caste system anymore. We expect everyone to act like adults, and managers aren’t expected to parent those working under them. And we all know that no one is going to spend two days thinking about a minor work infraction. It wasn’t horrible advice for the time–again, compared to what went on before it was downright kind–but like anything improvements have been made.

  49. Jennifer*

    #2 The police have better things to do right now than help someone filing “assault” charges over Lysol spray. Seriously??? Use. Your. Words. If you aren’t comfortable doing that in the moment, go to a manager. We just had a firm-wide email go out reminding people not to spray aerosol sprays in the air but only on surfaces so it is a valid complaint, just not a police matter.

  50. Ms. Pessimistic*

    LW4: I’m that co worker with all the emails! My supervisor was concerned so I kept track it took me on average 9 minutes to answer every email (some are shorter and some are longer). Many of them require me to do some research and look things up before replying or putting together documents, etc. We also have a new CRM and I get 3x as many emails as my co workers.

    So now, they know and haven’t done anything about my workload which is almost worse.

  51. Quill*

    #4: Is it possible that her inbox, like mine, is filled with things that are awaiting a third party’s input? Or that she’s getting a ton of spam because some automatic system pings her every time a project document is updated.

    Possible solutions: reduce the amount of automatic spam notifications she’s getting (i.e. the teapot stability report in the documents center has been updated, you’ve been assigned X training review) by working with IT to either turn them off or send, say once a week “you’ve been assigned tasks in the training review center” or “reports you’re following have been updated.”

    If she’s just the SME for too many things, is it possible that she could designate in her calendar a chunk of time regularly for a “meeting” where people would know not to message or call her and she could get a chunk of work done uninterrupted?

  52. Nora*

    LW2 – You might direct your coworker to the statement on the Lysol can that states “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

    1. fposte*

      That is, interestingly, an EPA law based on the presence of materials classified as pesticides. I don’t think it would apply in this situation–it seems mostly geared to keeping stuff out of the water supply–but the topic gets pretty dense so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

  53. BTDT*

    Commentor #3- This may not be a popular opinion but I personally think you are being a bit of a jerk. Spending the day with your family is not precluded by your boss/coworkers attending the graduation ceremony. You can be upfront about not knowing details yet (if that’s true) or that the ticket number is limited (if true). You are benefiting from a very generous program that will help you the rest of your career. The least you can do is be willing to share the celebration with the person responsible for this.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I agree with your sentiment (but not necessarily with your tone).

      If someone helped me pay for my master’s degree (a master’s degree—a freaking MASTER’S degree! My god, I couldn’t afford one of those unless I won the lottery at this point!) and they wanted to attend my graduation ceremony and it was possible for them to do so, I wouldn’t mind in the least.

      I would balk at including the entire office, though.

    2. Arctic*

      I think calling them a bit of a jerk is way overboard.

      But I do think this isn’t a hill to die on. The boss is proud of you and wants to be supportive. If he wants to go out after it is 100% reasonable to say “oh, we were just going to celebrate with family.”

      The fact is that people in the comments here (although not Alison, herself) tend to forget that there is a lot of relationship building that goes into being successful in a workplace.

      1. Arctic*

        Tldr I don’t think LW is wrong or bad for not wanting this, at all. I do think it is unwise.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        > The boss is proud of you and wants to be supportive

        It could be that or it could be (and I think more likely) something more like… when someone puts a significant investment into something, and then wants to be there at the launch of the ‘thing’ to see their investment come to fruition.

        Because I get the sense this isn’t a standard corporate tuition reimbursement sort of thing (even if OP worded as ‘tuition reimbursement’) but more like something that was more individual. OP reports to the CEO, and CEO wants to bring “the staff” to the ceremony. So I don’t think it’s a very large staff — maybe 5-10 people?

        Is there any tax write-off possibility on this event I wonder? With my cynical hat on.

    3. Quill*

      Honestly though there are family members I’d want at my graduation that I would worry would color a boss’ perspective of me, should they mingle. And in many cases there’s vice versa.

      It’s not that anyone involved is necessarily bad people but even without going into politics or religion LW probably doesn’t need a doting great-aunt telling the story of how she *knew* LW was going to Go Places when *insert any amusing yet embarassing childhood story here.*

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Re: awkward family member situations, my older son has always done very well academically. At his college graduation, it was myself, his brother, his dad, and my mom. They gave us booklets with lists of the people graduating as we entered the venue, and then we all sat down together, waiting for the ceremony to begin. My younger son (then in 12th grade and with a bad case of senioritis) looked through the booklet and very audibly went “Oh hey, I found (brother)! Dad, what’s “come louder”? (cue me dying of embarrassment and whispering that I’ll never bring them anywhere again.) Yeeeahhh if my older son had a job at that time and his CEO was sitting next to us, it would’ve been awkward. And this was my immediate family, that I normally trust to keep their act together. I wouldn’t even know what to expect from extended family.

        1. Quill*

          Your younger son made it to senior year and had to ask the question?

          … My high school was filled with extremely dirty minds.

          1. Quill*

            Wait I just realized it was Cum Laude.

            … Which also has caused snickering but also for different reasons.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I’m pretty sure he meant it as “haha dad look what they put in the book for (brother), heh heh heh”

            He was doing standup at the time, going to open mics all over town, so his mind was likely above-average dirty.

    4. Jennifer*

      I wouldn’t call you a jerk either, but I do agree generally. You wouldn’t have this degree if not for the CEO’s generosity. Not every company has a program like this. If it turns out there are a limited number of seats – of course family and close friends come first – but if not, let them celebrate with you.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Agreed, OP now has a degree (that they could hawk around to outside companies for an external opportunity, if they so chose) that was possible because of the company/CEO’s investment.

        This is one of many reasons I’ve chosen to always divest my own “development” from the company. It seems a much “cleaner” approach than tying up one’s own accomplishments and certifications in to the company vs. freely being able to accept them.

        So I always used my own PTO to take exams for company relevant certifications. Did the company benefit? sure! Will I benefit incrementally and above that?.. Well, I am gambling on it.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Hmm, not exactly sure how tuition reimbursement works, but my understanding is that this is a company-provided benefit, like PTO or medical insurance. Would OP be a jerk if her CEO wanted to tag along on her vacation and she did not want him to? After all, she wouldn’t even be able to go on that vacation if he hadn’t generously provided the vacation days.

      Another thing – doesn’t tuition reimbursement typically come with strings attached? i.e. you can only get it if your degree is in a relevant field, and you commit to working for the same company for a period of time after you get the degree (unless of course, the company decides to let you go). It’s not a gift he gave her out of his pocket and out of the goodness of his heart.

      Last but not least, the limited # of tickets really is very often the case. So OP might not be able to invite her CEO even if she somehow wants to. I’d bring in the cake, or invite everyone out to a bar after work and buy them a round or appetizers or something, and call it a day.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Adding to previous comment, my current job and the one before it, and (iirc) the one before that, all offered tuition reimbursement. A few of my coworkers applied and were approved for it. I don’t recall any of them bringing any of the company’s leadership to their graduation, but who knows, I wasn’t there.

      2. Jedi Squirrel*

        Your vacation comment falls under the category of “errant hyperbole”.

        OP’s case is a bit of an outlier. Here’s why.

        Very few organizations provide tuition reimbursement, and I’m not aware of any that reimburse for graduate-level studies. (This would be a good Thursday ask-the-readers question.)

        Also, CEO is her direct manager. McDonald’s and Walmart offer tuition reimbursement, but I doubt their CEO’s would want to attend your bachelor’s degree graduation if you’re an hourly grunt worker.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Substitute any company benefit in place of vacation. It’s a company benefit. It comes with the expectation that you will put your new degree to work at the company to benefit the company. I believe using tuition reimbursement to get an MBA is extremely common. I would think it counts as a graduate degree? Maybe because every place I’ve worked in the last 15-20 years had one, it is hard for me to think of this benefit as an outlier.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I’m a government employee in a department where a large percentage of positions require a master’s degree. We have tuition reimbursement, with the caveat that the program you’re enrolling in must be related to your department, you must have been a full time employee with the organization for at least a year, and a few other things that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

          People keep talking about this boss’s “generosity” in providing this particular benefit. But we do not offer tuition reimbursement out of the goodness of our hearts. We do it because it allows us to train up the next generation of our employees, thereby making our organization competitive in the industry and desirable for potential employees. That’s what we get out of it. It’s a business transaction, not a personal one, and it does not give the organization or its leaders permission to cross lines into employees’ private lives.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Government is always different though. You’re doing this because there aren’t enough candidates out there with these qualifications to perform their jobs.

            Businesses generally offer tuition reimbursement not as a benefit but as a perk to attract candidates who already are qualified.

    6. fhqwhgads*

      FWIW I’ve never encountered a graduation ceremony that didn’t limit the number of tickets per grad. I suppose they exist, but coming from that frame of reference, it seemed to me like part of OP’s point was not just “I don’t want them there” but also “I don’t want them there because it means allowing Boss to come instead of someone else”. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s what immediately came to mind. I know OP didn’t explicitly say that, but it might’ve been one of those details that seemed obvious in their head.

    7. Archaeopteryx*

      Someone attending your graduation is much less intimate than showing up to a wedding or a baptism or something, and more of a show of support. Boss would be sitting around for 2 to 3 hours just to cheer once, then shake hands afterwards and it’s done.

  54. AndersonDarling*

    #4, is it time to review the email culture of your office? It’s easy to fall into a trap of, “Everyone gets 300 emails a day, it’s just what we do.” Unless your job is answering emails, then the bulk of your time should be doing work, managing, or supervising processes.
    1. Get a clear idea of what these emails are. Is everyone in the company emailing the manager the manager with simple questions that a knowledge base article could solve?
    2. Are the emails just churns that staff use so that no one has to make a decision? If there are more that 8 responses, then the employee needs to set up a meeting to discuss the topic.
    3. Are front-line staff emailing the manager instead of going to their own managers with questions? I was at an employer where we restricted some communication to just managers. It sounds cold, but staff should be bringing certain questions to their managers first, and if the manager doesn’t know the answer, then the manager starts the communication through the proper channels.
    4. Are the emails related to discussions that will be covered in regular meetings? If the emails are that bad, then you need to start directing people to hold questions until their next scheduled meeting.
    It’s likely that the Manager isn’t doing a bad job with answering emails, but rather that the rest of the office needs to be trained on the most efficient ways to communicate.

    1. TootsNYC*

      if emails are really to disseminate information, maybe there need to be Google Drive–type respositories of information to lighten the reliance on email.

  55. Andrea C*

    Maybe I’m mis-reading it, but my impression of #5 is that if you’re going to praise someone, do it on a Monday so their week starts off great, and if you’re going to criticize or reprimand someone, do it on a Friday. Not that you’d praise someone on Monday knowing you’re going to reprimand them on Friday.

    Still doesn’t make it right.

  56. Mashed potato*

    I’m pretty sure that Lysol bottle states it’s intended use and health hazard if it’s not usede properly.

    I would rudely pick it up and read it out loud since your coworker can’t read and is being hazardous with its use

    1. lost academic*

      I’d be strongly inclined to spray it directly on food they were about to eat.

      I wouldn’t, but I’m getting some evil pleasure out of imagining it.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I’ve been suppressing my strong inclinations on what to do, because they’d get me in my own legal trouble. I spoke to the sprayer’s boss.

  57. Heat's Kitchen*

    #4: I’m much like you in how I handle email. I once had a manager who was notoriously bad at emails. I get back to emails quickly, and we had to come to an agreement where I’d give her at least two business days to get back to me, or reach out to her via another medium. I’d definitely suggest just talking to them and resetting your expectations. I’ve actually taken to only checking my email twice/day (my current manager does this too), and I’m really loving it. Even though I’m usually very responsive, I don’t need to be so immediate through a not-immediate medium (unlike Slack).

  58. Pamela Piggle Wiggle*

    Poster 2: this is a clear cut case of assault with a deadly weapon. Do not pass go–call the police immediately. This is not the time to equivocate.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Call them for what? Malicious spraying? Lysol is not a deadly weapon, unless you are a bacterium.

      I know a lot of police. They will not come out for this. Calling the police is a serious over-escalation.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        No, you call the cops from the hospital to file a report about the assault with a deadly substance if you are allergic.

        1. JediSquirrel*

          This is not things work.

          I’m allergic to molds. I don’t get to call the cops just because someone lobbed a mushroom at me.

          Hospital? Really? Who mentioned that?

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I have a friend who is deathly allergic to mushrooms in her food. If someone deliberately put them in her food, it would be attempted murder, because she would be in anaphylactic shock and headed to the hospital.

  59. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW4: One thing that can work well is a simple filter based on whether the recipient was in the To: line or CC/BCC. In some fields, managers get copied in on a lot, FYI and for oversight. If this manager only has to triage To: emails in the moment, and can get to CC/BCC within 24 hours (e.g. by clearing her inbox first thing in the morning) then that might be a possible answer to the current balance of urgency v capacity.

  60. yala*

    #5 That sounds horrid. And now I’m wondering if that’s a thing we do here. Because it does seem when I get reprimanded, it’s usually on a Friday, whenever the actual thing happened.

    Last time it was before a four day weekend, so I spent the whole holiday just feeling awful and helpless.

  61. Mystery Writer*

    LW4. Do you have any idea how time consuming your managers day to day job is? Based on your description, it sounds like she’s managing customer facing employees and customer escalations. This means she putting out fires multiple times a day while keeping her staff productive, motivated, and engaged.
    She’s using her WEEKEND time trying to catch up. This isn’t a performance issue. It’s an issue of unrealistic expectations on your part. If you need her expertise on longer term projects, let her hire an assistant manager to handle the day to day.
    I’ve seen these situations end badly. Out of touch senior manager pushing a really strong middle manager out the door. When she quits, you’ll have to replace her with two people.

  62. Mediamaven*

    If you are going to commit such a terrible offense as the person in the first letter, don’t be stupid enough to put it on social media.

  63. BigRedGum*

    2. we’ve been spraying lysol at each other all month in my office. not in each other’s faces, but in each other’s vicinity. now this gives me something to think about. i think i’ll just put the can on my desk, facing my door.

  64. Marny*

    For LW1: I think what makes me the most grossed out is that she decided that a pandemic was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of her trusting employer. It’s unlikely that she had already booked the trip prior to the spread of COVID, despite her lack of available PTO, and then just lucked into a valid-sounding excuse to get time off. The likely scenario is that once it became clear that exposed people were being told to stay home and flights got cheaper due to the travel warnings, she decided this was her chance to get a cheap vacation and fleece her trusting employer out of 2 extra weeks of PTO. It takes a truly terrible person to calculate how best to lie and cheat to use a pandemic to her advantage.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      Exactly. She chose this moment to show her utter lack of character. At this time, when people are frightened and stressed, she decided that she wanted to commit fraud so she could go have fun in the sun.

  65. StressedButOkay*

    OP1, other employees already know most, if not all, of the situation. If you keep her on board, you’re going to create a situation where upper management not only doesn’t trust her but her fellow employees don’t, either. And you’ll potentially create a “well, she got away with THIS, so I should be able to get away with this smaller, less terrible thing that could also result in me being fired”.

    She lied and forged documents, plus may have caused others at work to feel anxious about their own health. There’s simply no way you can keep her on.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      Yeah, other people on staff won’t trust her, plus there’s the ripple effect. Their spouses might have had to take time off work because of this, people with chronic illnesses get even more stressed out, etc. Keeping her on would tell her coworkers that it’s just fine to be a terrible person at this company.

  66. Ancient Alien*

    I noticed you mentioned that this manager is also a SME and I’m assuming this means that she is responsible for responding to the proposals/sales department with highly specific information for inclusion into RFP responses. I also work for an extremely large in the proposals department and it is my entire job to work directly with SMEs across the organization and make sure that the latest and greatest info is going into our sales proposals. In my organization, our RFP volume increases significantly each year, and this increases the number and complexity of these SME emails that have to go out and be responded to. If this is the issue with your employee, you may wish to work with your sales/proposals teams to see if some of this content can be standardized (so it does not require SME input every time). Not sure if this is your employee’s issue, but in my organization, it is widely recognized that these RFP responses are eating up huge amounts of SMEs’ time. (Not that anything is being done about that, of course, but that’s another discussion). Just something to be aware of in case you aren’t already. The description of your problem makes me wonder if we work for the same organization :)

  67. caseykay68*

    Just dropping in to comment that as all things coronavirus started happening, I just knew we would see a flood of coworkers being shitty….and here we are. Everyone stay safe and sane out there.

  68. DNDL*

    OP 3 — I feel you. So hard. I went to the doctor yesterday to confirm what I’m experiencing is just the earliest onset of allergies ever. Doctor confirmed–I’m 100% completely fine, not sick, not contagious, just allergies. Why did I even both going to the doctor?

    Because some of my coworkers are being downright aggressive towards me whenever I cough. People tell me to just go home already, and ask if I should even be at work. One of them even accused me of coughing openly and not in my elbow (untrue, he just didn’t look over until after I stopped coughing!).

    It is frustrating. I get the panic and fear about Corona, but we also need to respect that people know their bodies. My workplace especially is good at not guilting people if they stay home sick. I’ve never felt the need to come in while sick. But damn, I’m not burning all of my leave because allergy season started a month early after a winter that never came! People need to CALM DOWN!

  69. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My employee lied about being exposed to coronavirus
    …Does this warrant firing even if it is her first offense?

    Absolutely yes. Call a lawyer and get their help to fire her today.

    2. Coworker sprayed Lysol at me when I coughed

    Ha, I used to work with someone like that.
    Just tell her to cut that shit out. If she won’t, report it to HR.

    4. Employee doesn’t read emails
    My suggestion: Use the “urgent” flag (or some word equivalent) SPARINGLY AND ACCURATELY; you can set up her email to flag those; you can demand prompt replies when you use the flag.

    Frankly, she may just be overloaded; I’m a fast reader and I can still end up with 200 unread emails after a day or two of hard work. But technology can help.

    1. Anon for this one*

      > Coworker sprayed Lysol at me when I coughed

      Bring in one of those cans of pepper spray. Next time she sprays Lysol get the can out then claim self defence.

  70. boop the first*

    If anything, #1 just demonstrates that even demanding a doctor’s note doesn’t accomplish much, so let’s add another reason to abolish the practice!

    1. Amaranth*

      I’m curious if any employers actually contact the doctor’s office on those notes and confirm they are real. I called for a replacement note once for my husband and they told me he’d have to call and they wouldn’t even discuss the note, if they wrote one, if he’d been there, etc. I’m thrilled about the commitment to privacy, but it makes me wonder what they’d even tell an employer who tried to call in.

  71. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    My manager has the exact opposite mentality as OP5’s manager, but for the same reason: he knows he’d ruminate on something all weekend if it was brought up Friday, and he absolutely hates that, so he brings up problems on a Tuesday or Wednesday so that there isn’t downtime to angst over it.

    1. James*

      I prefer the way my immediate supervisors handle things (matrix management; my supervisors are also my underlings, depending on the project): they let me know immediately if there’s a problem, and we try to find a solution. Granted, sometimes the solution is “You need to improve X”. The idea that you should ruminate on something is very much a holdover from when management was considered essentially parenting.

  72. Enginear*

    #1 I have a coworker who just went on vacation to the east coast and was supposed to come back this week. He’s working from home all week because he traveled and doesn’t want to risk coming back to the office just in case he has something. Not a mention of him being sick. Sounds more of a I-need-a-vacation-from-my-vacation.

    I have another coworker who was sick last week and is also working from home since the two week self-quarantine note came out.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Why does it bother you that the guy who went to the East Coast is working from home out of extra caution? I mean, he’s still *working*.

      1. Enginear*

        For fairness for the rest of the people at the office. Why can’t I work from home too to be cautious? I would understand if you were feeling under the weather, but if you’re not then sounds like an out to stay home and chill.

        1. JKP*

          The point is that by the time you feel under the weather, you’ve been spreading it around for possibly 2 weeks.

      2. Anon for this one*

        Maybe WFH isn’t generally a thing in their office (for presumable “reasons”) and East Coast Guy is taking advantage?

    2. Tobias Funke*

      This??? is a good thing???

      You would be so mad if the dude came back and became a vector of disease.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Coronavirus has anywhere from three to twelve days where the person is contagious but has NO symptoms. That’s why this stuff is spreading so fast – people don’t know they have it for up to two weeks, and thus infect everyone around them.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      East Coast coworker is correct to stay home. And working from home is not a vacation. It’s working.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          No. Working.

          I’m in an at-risk demographic. I’m working from home full time, taking my breaks reading AAM. Yes, I’m working, I keep a log of what I’ve done. I even worked late yesterday because of a problem in production.

          Believe it or not, people really can do work at home.

  73. TeapotNinja*

    #2, if your coworker does this again, act as if the person is doing you a favor and ask if you could borrow the Lysol to disinfect your desk. Then ceremoniously dispose of it once you get a hold of it. If there’s an open window you can toss it out of for dramatic effect, even better. Then give the person a piece of your mind.

    Personally I would have a very hard time not blowing up on the person if I was the target of lysoling like that.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Don’t toss stuff out of windows, you might hit someone walking by underneath it.

      But yeah, I would lose my shit. I’m allergic.

  74. Candi*

    I Ctrl-f’d and couldn’t find a mention of this story.

    #3, have you ever seen the story of “graduation boss” on here? A manager refused to let her best employee go to her own graduation that the worker paid for -over 6 years and taking night classes! It wasn’t even a regularly scheduled shift -it was last-minute overtime due to a product release, on a day that the worker originally had off!

    A lot of commentators who responded then told the manager she should either cover the shift… or go to the graduation ceremony to cheer the worker on, to show her pride in her accomplishment.

    That’s what your CEO’s doing, at least in part, by wanting to attend -showing his pride in one of his workers.

    Even if you don’t want him there, please, accept his gesture in the spirit in which it is meant.

  75. Archaeopteryx*

    OP1 The longer you wait to fire her, the less respect the rest of your employees will have for you. This should be a no-brainer.

    1. CyaneaCapillata*

      We had someone who’d say “I don’t like that shift; I’ll call in sick that day.” Once, “That person’s making me mad; I’m going home early.” Manager found out each time and did nothing. Respect for him is in the gutter.

  76. we're basically gods*

    LW4: At my last job, managing the email inbox was my job. I had little bits of extra stuff, but I was an entry level employee whose primary duty was to keep an eye on incoming emails and handle them appropriately. The higher level employees in my department had other stuff to do– they were fielding calls, attending meetings, dealing with strategy, etc. They did not have time to be sorting through emails. For the most part, I could handle our incoming emails, and if there *was* something that needed the expertise of the higher level employees, I could easily flag it for their attention.

    It honestly does sound like your employee is swamped, if she’s needing to come in on weekends to get caught up, and it seems like it might not be a matter of delegating better or anything like that; sometimes there’s just too much work and too little time.

  77. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    OP#1: That is awful, and such an awful thing to lie about. It’s unfortunate because sometimes all it takes is one person lying about something like that to make employers suspicious of people who truly are sick. Shame on that employee.

  78. Fiddlesticks*

    I work for a government agency near the so-called epicenter (Seattle) of the coronavirus here in the US. Anyone who lies about having the coronavirus for personal gain should immediately be fired. Anyone who lies about NOT having the coronavirus, and exposes others to contagion, should be not only fired but receive a fine and prison term.

  79. Database Developer Dude*

    Thanks everyone. I promise to give Alison an update. I spoke to the sprayer’s boss yesterday (Friday) and he promised to speak to her. She actually did it to him, and he laughed it off, so I’m not hopeful. I fully expect her to approach me tomorrow with an attitude.

    This is the same co-worker who complained because I threw trash in the trash can and had the can taken away. We’re the only office in the entire facility not allowed to have a trash can. The justification is that it attracts pests, even though we have a cleaning service changing them out 3x/week, and we’re ON THE SIXTH FLOOR of our building.

    The workplace culture is so toxic it needs antibiotics, and for my own mental health, I’m pushing to get out of there sooner rather than later.


    1. AppleStan*

      Oh my goodness…so where, exactly, is your trash supposed to go?

      Yes, please, DDD, update Alison, and get another job ASAP!

  80. Also Once A Sponsored Grad*

    Re: Graduation. If your employers was a significant contributor to your education, you should absolutely invite them. Not inviting them will come off as time deaf and likely leave a bad taste in their mouth. The graduation is an opportunity to show your gratitude for their support and their faith in you.

  81. Former Employee*

    OP1 reminds of the movie title “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days”. Never saw the movie.

    “How To Lose A Job In 14 Days”

  82. BeeKeen*

    RE: #2 – my brother is allergic to something in Lysol and it triggers an an asthma-like attack while also making his face and mouth numb. Definitely not smart to spray people with it.

  83. Robin*

    #2. I would be livid if someone sprayed me with Lysol or anything. As a child, we were at a friends’ house and I guess their sons thought I stayed in the bathroom too long and sprayed me when I came out. 50 years later I still have to be desperate to do #2 anywhere there might be people around (work, shopping, etc.).

    Like others have mentioned, it’s just not safe to do that to anyone.

  84. LongTimeLurkerInfrequentPoster*

    Bad Idea About #2: “You Lysol, I Mace.”*

    #1: Eesh, people have concerns regarding sick leave and trust as-is, and here we go having someone abuse it.

    It’s not a money or leave issue, it’s a major breach of trust issue.

    Boot her as far as you are professionally allowed to, and then some.

    *Please don’t actually do this, even if you really want to.

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