HR says I can’t tell an older colleague they’re wrong, coworker stole creative work, and more

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

1. HR said telling an older team member they’re wrong is ageism

I’m an IT manager and when our company went 100% online work, my small team of 3 staff and I helped set up 35 employees with hardware in their homes. The department we support is mostly people in their late 20s-early 30s. One employee, “Archie,” is in his early 50’s, and “Edith” is in her 40s. Archie and Edith both have bad attitudes and break their hardware a lot. I would say a good portion of my staff’s time is spent replacing Archie’s screen for the 3rd time this month or fixing a virus that Edith has spread to the entire department. Don’t get me started on what they do to phones, tablets, and laptops.

My team has been on the ball during social distancing – troubleshooting, providing assistance and training on video platforms and conferencing software, and generally being very helpful and kind while handling all their own family needs and trying to stay safe. I’m very impressed with my team.

I was just notified by my boss and our HR officer that both Edith and Archie have filed complaints about one of my staff members because she politely explained a process in a step-by-step email and used the words “that’s not accurate” and the “correct way.” Both Archie and Edith felt that they were being discriminated against and mocked because they’re older than the rest of the team. I read the email and that is 100% not what happened. After they filed their complaint, they sent harassing and abusive texts to my staff member.

They want me to reprimand my team member on the record and then sent an email that we all have to complete a sensitivity training and that we can’t use the words “right, accurate, wrong,” or “incorrect or any version thereof as some team members find the terms offensive and disrespectful in regards to their age.” I asked them to clarify and HR responded, “Don’t tell anyone older than you they’re wrong, it’s rude and hostile.”

That’s not okay and I’m not willing to (1) reprimand my staff for explaining and fixing an error that could have cost our company a lot of money, or (2) let people bully my staff, for which they won’t be reprimanded. I pushed again and the HR rep said, “I just want to shut them up, okay?” I know emotions are running high right now, but as a middle manager what do I do here?

This question made me highly irritable, because your HR team is so terrible. This is in no way age discrimination, and it’s absurd to say it’s rude, hostile, disrespectful, or offensive to correct someone older than you in a work context.

I mean, sure, maybe out of respect for her age, we choose not to tell Great Aunt Lucinda that she’s wrong about the best way to bake pie crust, but that kind of age-based deference is out of place at work, especially when it comes to actual work errors that could cost actual money. (In fact, I’d argue it’s disrespectful and patronizing to let someone’s age deter you from letting them know they’re mistaken about something that affects their work … or to come up with an absurd solution to “shut them up.”)

Your HR is very, very bad.

Do you or your boss have the capital to push back on this? To go over your HR rep’s head to someone with more sense?

But if your boss is on board with HR’s decision, your options are more limited. In that case, ask her to explain exactly how she’d like your team to respond when someone older is asserting incorrect information or making potentially costly errors. (I’d also like to know what you’re expected to do if you don’t know whether the person you’re talking to is older than you — which can easily happen when you only deal with people remotely. Shall we all go back to preemptively announcing a/s/l like in AOL chatrooms in days of yore?)

P.S. I hate your HR.

2. Our coworker stole creative work and passed it off as his

My colleague, Tilda, and I are peers at the management level at our company. Tilda is a creative and runs her own photography business on the side. HR and our executive team are aware of this; there are no conflicts of interest and all is above board. Our colleague Mike is junior to us and fairly new to the corporate world.

Recently, Tilda ran into an issue with a small PR agency that had used one of her photos on their client’s social media without crediting her, and was ignoring her requests to correct it. Annoyed, Tilda dug deeper and discovered the PR agency was in fact Mike operating as an independent contractor! As far as I know, nobody at our company was aware of his side gig. Even worse, Mike was passing off work he had helped commission from other creatives at our company as his PR agency’s doing, with muddy wording that made it seem like our company was his client, which is absolutely not the case.

Mike’s manager, Jackson (who is our peer), only recently took over as Mike’s manager and wasn’t involved with the work in question and is now in an extremely awkward position. We’re all working from home right now, are very busy, and can’t afford to be one man down for long, as it’s difficult to recruit in our area at the best of times. If you were in Tilda or Jackson’s shoes, what would you do?

Jackson needs to have a very serious conversation with Mike and find out what happened and why. If it turns out Mike is just incredibly naive but didn’t mean to steal anyone’s work or falsely claim credit for things that aren’t his (which I find unlikely), then Jackson can give him a very stern warning, insist he clean up the whole mess, and watch him very, very closely going forward. Under this scenario, whatever autonomy Mike currently functions with would probably need to be largely curtailed, since his judgment can’t be trusted.

But if, as seems more likely, this isn’t about naiveté but instead is about bad character, Jackson’s got to be willing to let Mike go, regardless of how hard it is to recruit new hires. You can’t have someone on your team who steals people’s work, lies, and has an obvious lack of integrity. And you should never let yourself think you can’t afford to let someone go regardless of how badly they behave — it’s rarely true, it’s awful management, and it’s also ineffective since the person could quit tomorrow and you’d have to find a way to make do.

3. I caused a coronavirus panic at work

I work in a critical facility that has 24/7 coverage for some staff. We are, broadly, responsible for public safety. I am not a direct employee but someone contracted to clean by an arrangement between the facility and my employer.

Before every shift, we are required to meet with a supervisor of this facility and report any potential symptoms of coronavirus. I am very close to this department. They are the ones I see daily, and we make jokes and check in on each other. When I had some coughing after leaving my shift, I contacted the supervisor there for guidance. I swear, I did not mean to make it a huge thing. And I never said I had coronavirus. In fact, I was contacting them to put them at ease. In my head, I was just keeping people informed and following policy.

It was a huge mistake. People from my company, including my direct supervisor are very angry with me. I think the situation was misrepresented, as they were getting a report from a very high-ranking person that I had called in with coronavirus. Again, this could be just how it filtered between the layers. I do hope they know I didn’t tell a high-ranking official I had it, just asked a coworker for advice on a symptom. I understand now I should have gone directly to my supervisor instead.

Because of this, the building suspended our services, and I have been out of work pending a doctor’s note and COVID test. Got both, ready to return. Not sure when I will be allowed to come back. Been terrified I will be fired. But if all does get resolved and I am reinstated, what do I tell people who ask? My instinct is to downplay it, but that could be throwing my employer under the bus or telling my facility they were overreacting. I really just want to minimize it and move on. I am aware I did inadvertently cause a panic, though.

If they asked you to report possible coronavirus symptoms you reported one of those symptoms as requested, you followed their policy and aren’t responsible for what followed. When you say, “I understand now I should have gone directly to my supervisor instead,” are you saying you’ve been made to feel you should have ignored the facility’s policy and tipped off your employer first? Because if so, I’m not sure that’s the right lesson. The facility you work in asked for reports and you complied.

If people ask about this when you return to work, say, “Since we were asked to report symptoms like coughing and I had a cough, I reported it the way they requested. The response was stronger than I’d realized it would be, but I think it stemmed from very understandable caution, given the circumstances.”

I’d also check in with your manager and make sure they’re clear on the facts: “I’ve heard some not-right things about what happened, including that I called in with coronavirus, so I want to make sure you know I just reported a cough to Jane, per the instructions we were given about reporting a cough, fever, or other symptoms.”

It’s very unlikely that you’ll get fired, and your employer would be on awfully shaky legal ground if you do. At a minimum, a lawyer would have a lot to work with.

4. Phone calls to set up interviews while I’m at work

I am struggling with a question in my job search. I have no problem taking time off or going to my car for a phone interview when Im at work, but how do I handle phone calls to arrange interviews? I would great prefer email, but it seems strange and off-putting to add that to either the cover letter or resume. Should I change my voicemail message to indicate I can give a faster response by email or just leave it with my name and return calls when possible? Is it standard now to try calling or emailing first? I could be overthinking this somewhat, but I typically need quite a bit of prep time to make the simplest of phone calls (social anxiety issues) so this is really stressing me out.

Some employers do call to set up phone interviews rather than emailing, I assume because it feels more efficient to them. (I’d argue it’s not, once you factor in voicemail and phone tag.) If you happen to answer, just signal that you need to keep it as short as possible — i.e., “I’m at work so only have a minute, but I could schedule for Thursday or Friday afternoon.” If the person tries to drag you into a longer conversation than you can do on the spot (like starting to ask screening questions), it’s okay to say, “I’m actually just walking into a meeting but I’d love to talk. Could I call you back at (time)?”

Given your phone anxiety, it might help to prep for both of those scenarios and practice responding, so that you’re not going into it totally cold if/when it happens.

It’s also fine for your voicemail message to say you can respond faster by email (and provide your email address), but employers who prefer to call may ignore that and stick with calling regardless, so don’t rely on that as a foolproof method.

5. Furloughed and can’t use vacation time

I work(ed) in an independent primary care office. A month ago, we were called into a meeting where our boss announced she was cutting us to 50% hours and pay. She also told us we could use our vacation and/or sick time if we wanted to. I opted not to. I picked up a few hours elsewhere to make up some of the difference and kept the PTO in case I got sick or needed to quarantine.

Yesterday we were called into another meeting, and our boss explained that the small business payroll loan hadn’t been approved before the federal funds were all gone, and we were all furloughed until further notice. I asked if I would be able to take the vacation time now, since this is a blow and unemployment is backlogged, but the answer this time was, “Sorry, the funds are just not there.” I’m not talking about a lot of hours, I had about a week of vacation saved up. Any thoughts on next steps? Do I even have any options?

If you live in a state that requires vacation pay-out upon separation, you could pursue that (some states’ payout laws are triggered by furloughs and some aren’t, so you’d need to check for your state). But if the money isn’t there, and it sounds like it’s not, you’ll be in line behind other creditors.

Everyone: If your company is furloughing people or is otherwise in serious financial distress, do not rely on your vacation time being there for you to use (or to convert into cash) later this year. If given the opportunity to use some of it now, that might be the safer option.

{ 555 comments… read them below }

  1. HBJ*

    #1 Maybe try asking HR why they are asking people to discriminate. They are literally telling you to tell your employees to treat people differently based on their age!

    1. MJ*

      And ask why Edith and Archie are not being reprimanded for sending the staff member harassing and abusive texts. That’s downright bullying. And they don’t get to bully anyone because they are older.

      But that’s wishful thinking considering:
      ‘HR responded, “Don’t tell anyone older than you they’re wrong, it’s rude and hostile.”’

      It seems HR supports bullying by older employees.

      1. Filosofickle*

        If the situation can’t be changed, it sounds like the workaround is in the phrasing. IOW, avoid the triggers words wrong / right / accurate etc while still providing guidance. So you can say “here’s how to set that up” or “our latest data says x” but don’t say “you’re doing it wrong” or “that is incorrect”. The meaning doesn’t change but it shifts the tone. Even “here’s the info” instead of “this is the correct info” avoids the implied “because what you are doing is wrong”.

        It’s stupid and you shouldn’t have to but this meets the letter of the law from HR. (And yes, I’m in communications.)

        1. doreen*

          Archie and Edith sound like real problems, but tone matters. I don’t actually think the change in phrasing is stupid, although it may or may not help and I don’t think the age matters – there’s a difference between telling someone ” You did it wrong” and saying ” Here’s how to do that” , whether the person you’re speaking to s 30 or 70.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yes, tone matters, but it doesn’t sound like OP’s employee’s tone was the real problem here – Archie and Edith sound like they would object to correction no matter how it was phrased, hence the HR rep’s admitting they just didn’t want to deal with these two (methinks they complain a lot).

            1. Sam.*

              Fully agree. Saying, “the [correct] way to do X is…” is fine and shouldn’t trigger questions about tone unless the rest of the language is clearly rude. These people are just looking to be difficult (and speaking of, what’s the deal with the damage they’re doing to their hardware? No place I’ve worked would be ok with people being continuously destructive with company equipment like that.) Regardless, in the short term, I think OP should take over interactions with these two instead of allowing their lower-level employees to take the brunt of their bullying.

              1. yala*

                Yes, thank you! I’m trying to suss out just HOW Archie managed to break multiple screens. Did he actually physically act out and damage one of them? Because holy cats, that would be multiple levels of not ok.

                1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  My guess is it’s not a touchscreen monitor, and he pokes at it like it’s a touchscreen, thus breaking it.

                2. Jessica will remember in November*

                  I’ve accidentally done that before when switching between a touchscreen and non-touchscreen device, and you know what happened when I poked at my monitor like it was a touchscreen?
                  1. NOTHING
                  2. I felt foolish.
                  There’s no way that should be enough to break a monitor!

                3. KoiFeeder*

                  Yeah, I have an incredible ability to destroy things, but I’ve only broken one computer screen in my life, and that wasn’t even my fault. Either Archie is habitually dropping his screens, resting heavy objects on them, or otherwise misusing them, or he’s purposefully breaking them by physically acting out or the like.

                4. SusanIvanova*

                  Dropping a laptop will do it, especially if it’s set up so it’s easy to tug on the power cable and pull it off the desk.

                5. Sparrow*

                  I am also quite clumsy and have dropped my personal laptop a couple times. I’ve even killed a device or two with spilled water, but I have NEVER broken a screen. I don’t know how you’d manage it without significant physical force.

                6. Never Surprised*

                  I had a colleague break two screens. These were older monitors, not flat screen. She had a plant on the monitor and watered it. Twice.

            2. Quill*

              Also there are going to be situations in IT where relying on people to intuit “no, don’t do that under any circumstances” from less direct language about what is and is not correct is going to cause more problems that it solves.

              Especially when it comes to physically breaking their equipment, multiple times.

              1. Captain Raymond Holt*

                I do some compliance stuff for my job. Soft language is the enemy of compliance. You need to be direct and firm with users so they know what they can and cannot do with their machines.

              2. iglwif*

                Yeah, that is SUPER concerning to me?? It should not be that easy to break standard office computer hardware.

                1. JustaTech*

                  I have known people (more than one, not all coworkers) who, when they’re frustrated by something on/with their computer, will progressively click their mouse harder and harder and harder until they are slamming it down on their desks.

                  Cheap computer mice can only take so much “why won’t this file open!?!” before they break.

                  The monitors, that’s a bigger issue.

              3. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

                And it’s not just the hardware, one of them also spread a virus! It’s very difficult to explain security without hard “don’ts”, but the dangers are serious!

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Seriously.

                  Viruses and destruction of property should get hard “Don’t do X, Y, Z! Doing A, B, C is wrong, and violation of company policy.” type of responses.

          1. Joielle*

            Except then someone could think “Well that may be the best way, but I’m used to doing it my way, so I’ll just keep doing it even if it’s not the best.”

            It’s essential to be able to clearly tell someone “No, stop doing that, you need to do this instead.” Especially in this situation, where it sounds like the older workers are routinely doing serious damage. And it’s essential – as a life skill, not just a work skill – to be able to accept corrections (even if they’re not perfectly diplomatically worded)!

            1. Quill*

              Precisely. If you routinely hedge on things like “known scientific fact” “correct lab procedure” or “you absolutely will corrupt the TPM report if you do it any other way than this” you get problems.

            2. Phony Genius*

              You may be right that it could be misinterpreted. However, when I put my toe in the water working in an IT group, this is exactly what we were trained to say. (This was eons ago – I got out when I was ankle deep.)

              People skill training came about after an incident with an MS-DOS computer (circa 1995). The user had inadvertently deleted a file, but the file was still visible at the top of the screen; it had not yet scrolled off. They wanted to recover the file. There was no way to do this, but the user insisted that there must be a way because it was still visible on the screen. They did not understand that even though it was visible on the monitor, it was no longer in the computer’s memory on the hard drive. Undelete and Recycle Bin hadn’t been invented yet. The IT person tried to explain this, and the user filed a formal complaint with the bosses. By the way, the user worked in HR.

              1. Observer*

                So? You had terrible HR and stupid bosses. Because whether the IT tech was rude or not, the solution to that is not to pretend that you can do things that can’t be done.

          2. Observer*

            No. Sometimes there is a “best” way and an “OK” way. But sometimes there is really is only one “right” way, and there are no other acceptable options. You simply cannot imply there is an acceptable option, when there actually is not an option.

            The OP really needs to kick this upstairs.

          3. Yorick*

            “The best way” is for when there are multiple acceptable ways, but one is best. But there are wrong ways to do something, and we can’t pretend that’s not true to spare feelings.

      2. TootsNYC*

        This would be my vote–this HR person wants to placate the unpleasant people? The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Time to become the squeaky wheel, and make your squeak much louder than theirs. Yours is more just.

        They break things, they cost you guys time.
        I’d list all those things out, with dollar signs. Count up the tickets they’ve opened, and assign a dollar value. Count up the equipment you’ve replaced.

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          I sort of wonder if the better solution here wouldn’t be to make either Boss or HR person handle IT stuff for E and A, if Boss and HR are going to insist on this ridiculousness. IT can provide them with the solution to E and A’s problem but it’s up to Boss and HR to convey it successfully w/o every using a term, phrase or tone that E or A don’t take badly.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          “Time to become the squeaky wheel, and make your squeak much louder than theirs.”

          Very much this. If HR’s strategy is to defer to whomever is the biggest pain in the rear, then it serves them right when people escalate .

          1. leapingLemur*

            These squeaky wheels need to be replaced.

            Also, being in their 40’s and 50’s is no excuse. There are plenty of people in their 50’s and over who are very computer savvy – I’ve worked with a lot of software developers over 50 who are excellent at their jobs.

            1. JustaTech*

              My grandmother, who was born in 1915, was a perfectly competent computer user starting in the 1990’s (when she was at least 80) when personal computers become super common.

              She was competent because she *wanted* to learn how to use her computer.
              Computer literacy has little to nothing to do with age and everything to do with a desire to learn.

              1. Rachel Greep*

                My grandmother was a journalism and yearbook teacher. She was on the cutting edge of all the new tech in the 90s and going forward. She’s been retired 20 years and is still more tech-savvy than me!

              2. pope suburban*

                Ditto my grandfather, a WWII veteran. When one of my cousins brought over his laptop to go through some family photos in the early 00s, Grandpa took right to it because he had kept basically current with tech, and wasn’t too proud to learn. I think plenty of people have grandparents and parents who took to smartphones like a duck to water; people can learn if they put in the effort and recognize the need.

            2. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

              Seriously – my dad’s in his late 50’s and is a self-taught IT engineer. My 80 year old grandma is better at using social media and online shopping than I am. Very few people are “too old” to understand technology – computers are not some sort of newfangled thing in the workplace.

            3. Curmudgeon in California*

              So many people forget that the people who invented the internet are not the younger generation! People who have never lived in a world without the net didn’t create the net!

              Lots of older people were some of the first “early adopters”.

              Yet my wife, who is now 68, has been told by younger men in IT that “It’s ok, you don’t have to pretend that you are not afraid of the computer.” She was demonstrating systems and software in the 1980s, before some of those folks were out of grade school.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I know, I was playing with BBSs and writing on a Commodore 64 in the 1980’s, while at a class I was dancing with punch cards (though I had also worked with punch cards in the 1970’s in the Air Force). We changed to Windows in the early 1990’s and are now doing tablets and phone stuff like crazy.

            4. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

              THIIIS. And, what irritates me as a 44 year old, is that these people are essentially abusing people who are younger than them for no reason other than their ages. My current supervisor is young enough to be my daughter. The one previous was young enough to be my son. We all found this hilarious, as they hadn’t known I was twice their age (apparently everyone at my job thinks I’m 30, max). It’s really offensive to cry ‘age discrimination’ when someone younger than you corrects you in a work environment when you’re doing something incorrect just because they’re younger than you.

              But then, I think I’ve only had one job ever where my direct supervisor was older than me, so I’m fairly used to having young supervisors, because they have more time on the job, or a degree I don’t (vet tech vs vet assistant; I never completed college for vet tech), but they’ve never had an issue with letting me get on with my job because they tend to watch me and know I know how to do my job, but will step in and correct me in the rare instance I screw something up, or they know a better way for me to do something.

              These people are annoying as can be, and need to be corrected by someone, soon.

            5. Librarian1*

              Yeah, I feel like people haven’t updated their understanding of who did or didn’t grow up with computers since the 90s. The oldest Millennials are 39. We have always been considered tech literate. People in their 40s and 50s are Gen X. Many of them had exposure to computers relatively young as well and anybody who works an office type job knows how computers work. Also, anyone with common sense would know that if you do something that breaks your monitor, you should stop doing that thing.

        3. Troutwaxer*

          “Dear HR,

          As Archie and Edith have harassed and abused my staff, are constantly breaking our carefully-tuned systems, have made ridiculous age-related discrimination claims, and we can no longer tell them that they are wrong, or have done something (perhaps something very crucial indeed) incorrectly, or that they need to interact with the system in a fashion which does not break it, we will no longer be providing IT services to Archie and Edith.

          We will revisit this policy when appropriate.

          Thank You,
          The IT Department”

      3. Mama Bear*

        The real problem is not that these two are older but that they are clueless and willing to be nasty about being corrected. That’s not an age thing. That’s a personality thing. I’m not in my 20s but if I kept breaking things, I’m sure IT would have a few things to say. Seems that HR doesn’t want to deal with them, either, and is willing to throw anyone under the bus to make them stop. Perhaps OP needs to be a squeakier wheel than those two.

        If I were the IT manager, I’d push back with documentation that Archie and Edith were harassing my employee and I’d also document how much specific time/money/resources were devoted to handling their repeated violations of protocol and/or destruction of property. If your team is not allowed to guide them then what is the next step, because not being able to resolve an issue just because they don’t like the resolution is not productive.

        When I worked a Help Desk, we had a few customers that were so obnoxious that they got routed through a special inbox and the managers had to deal with them. This sometimes meant they had to wait longer for a resolution, but if they weren’t so nasty, they wouldn’t have basically been put in time out. I appreciated my managers taking lead (the customers would always ask for a manager anyway) to spare us the abusive behavior.

        IT can also change their wording, but I would expect Double Trouble to complain about anything. And sometimes you do have to say in no uncertain terms “Don’t do that.”

      4. Librarian1*

        The fact that Edith and Archie are getting away with their awful behavior is bullsh*t

    2. PollyQ*

      Or ask them if you’re allowed to correct female employees, in the services of of avoiding sex discrimination. (Insert race/ethnicity/religion as needed to make the point.)

      Also, as a 50-something myself, I recognize that this is an age range where people can experience discrimination, but it is also not that old! The computer revolution started when I was in my teens, and there’s no reason why someone my age (or in their 40’s!) should have extra difficulty with technology.

      1. Maddy*

        Right? I’m in my ’50’s and I can keep up with technology. Or at least learn what to do if it’s shown to me. I don’t just sweep things off my desk and shrug and go “I’m too old to learn these new-fangled things!” I dunno. I have a feeling these people would be struggling to learn anything. It’s not technology. It’s them.

          1. I Love Llamas*

            +1 also. As a 55 year old, I always appreciate younger colleagues teaching me new things. Those two make the rest of us look bad. That’s bullying and gaslightling. I wonder if somehow they are connected to the HR rep?

            1. Maddy*

              Me too. I like learning new things and if someone wants to show me something I am grateful.

        1. Edwina*

          Right? I’m a screenwriter, writing a new movie for Netflix and meeting (remotely) with other studios on a new project; in the past few weeks, I’ve mastered three different formats for remote teleconferences, figured out how to look more professional on Zoom (set up a background in my office, put the laptop on a riser, adjusted the video output, even bought a new special light and set it up!), I help other people figure out screenwriting programs and also share the secrets of MS Word, I can google-search faster and better than almost anyone I know, I have the latest phone and laptop, I’m super active on Twitter, with an actual following, and I’m even on Reddit, with a 188K “Karma” score.

          I’m 67.

          I mean, there’s literally no excuse. NONE. Your HR is insane.

          1. misspiggy*

            Ooh – off topic but I’d be very interested to read an Alison interview with you about your work!

          2. Aquawoman*

            It is wonderful for you that you can adapt to technology so easily, but it also sounds like maybe something you have a talent for. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean other people your age can do it. At a minimum, it disregards physical difficulties (poor eyesight, eg). I think it’s ageist to assume either way and I personally don’t find age really correlates very strongly with ease of use of work technology. I’m better at the tech we use than my youngest team member and my oldest team member (I’m in my 50s).

            1. Observer*

              You’re missing the point AND you are being really, really ageist here. And rude, to boot.

              Sure that fact that ONE person can manage X does not mean that all people of that group can manage it, but it does mean the generalizations are less likely to be true.

              The really big problem is that in the same paragraph that you say “don’t assume based on age” you actually try to make the case that in fact being older makes you less likely to be able to learn technology.

              Poor eyesight is a particularly bad example, because lots of young people have eyesight issues and it’s rather widespread by the 30’s. Also poor eyesight has little to do with not understanding how to use most programs, getting offended at people for no good reason, or most of the other issues that the OP described.

              1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

                I agree. The point is that age is not an excuse. If they have bad eyesight they should talk to IT to figure out a solution, not keep clicking on random stuff and get angry if someone tells them they opened the wrong file. And the one who is really being ageist here is HR, insisting that since Archie and Edith are “old” there’s no way they can learn and it’s much better to let them keep setting desks on fire.

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Seriously. I’m 58, and if HR condescended to me like that I would be offended.

                  Then again, I work in IT, and don’t destroy company equipment on a regular basis. I’m more likely to fix it. (I’ve had the job of cleaning up laptops that have been returned after two years of use. The keyboards alone can be gross!)

                2. Beckysuz*

                  But like also, that’s not old?!? My husband is 55 and when our 15 yo needs help with IT stuff she goes to him. And she’s had years of technology classes. He’s not a tech whiz but he keeps up with things.

                  55 is certainly not an age at which tech incompetence would ever be a reasonable assumption

              2. Maddy*

                Also computers can be set up to accommodate people with poor eyesight. I make the text bigger on mine. *shrugs* I also wear glasses like people with poor eyesight do.

                People of all ages have poor eyesight. *shrugs*

                1. pope suburban*

                  Exactly this. Accessible technology is for everyone who needs it, be they experiencing changes from age or from an injury/medical condition. The same goes for enrolling in online in in-person technology classes for help. Many libraries offer tech programs, as do adult schools, community colleges, and municipal recreation departments. I get that this stuff can be intimidating to some folks, but really, there are tools and help out there, and anyone who is struggling deserves that help to learn.

              3. RussianInTexas*

                Right? My partner is 50 and a software developer, so obviously tech is not a problem. He also has poor eye sight since childhood, so what gives here?
                My father is 67 and still working, and perfectly fine with technology. And yet I had to explain to a 24 years old coworker how to do very basic excel things, she looked at me like I was creating a miracle by extending a sum formula to multiple rows. She works on a computer daily.

                1. Former Employee*

                  I think that some younger people only use certain aspects of technology and while it is “conventional wisdom” that the younger a person is, the more tech savvy they are, in fact they may only be tech savvy as respects social media.

                  Understanding how to work with formulas in Excel may well be something with which they are totally unfamiliar because they never needed to know how to use that sort of function prior to entering the work world.

                2. RussianInTexas*

                  True, and she probably never had to. And I still wouldn’t say “youth are bad at technology” because one young women didn’t know how to use excel.
                  I freely admit I am not up the snapchattiktokwhathaveyou. And it’s not because I am “old”, but because they are outside of the area of my work, and I don’t have personal interest in them.

            2. leapingLemur*

              My mom’s in her 70’s, and she knows more about her smart phone than I do about mine. (This is partially because I’m spending more time working with HTML, etc. than with my phone, but still… )

              1. Liz*

                while she doesn’t know more than I do, my EIGHTY FIVE YEAR OLD mom has an iphone, ipad, and mac, knows how to use them all, and has googled solutions when she has issues, and is pretty tech saavy for someone “her age”

          3. Eva Luna*

            Seriously. My dad (now 79 and retired) ) is completely self-taught in IT and was in charge of the IT side of rail car maintenance for a major city’s transit authority. It’s crazy to assume that older people are incapable of learning about technology. I’d say it’s discriminatory to treat them that way, in fact, and certainly not in their 40s and 50s!

          4. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

            This! I also want a masterclass in Reddit and Zoom from you. I’m 31, and you’d definitely school me on both.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Seriously. Archie (early 50s) and Edith (40s) are in the generation that basically built the Web. He would have been born in the 1960s and she in the 1970s – meaning that they may both have been using computers by the time they were in their teens, and probably were using computers by the time they entered the workforce if they’ve been in office/white collar professions for a long time.

          Computers were already ubiquitous in offices 20 years ago. Anybody who’s been working in office jobs long term and can’t do the most basic things with computers is deliberately not learning how. They’re equivalent to people who throw bright red laundry in with white on purpose so nobody ever asks them to do laundry again.

          1. Oli*

            Plus if there is one thing we’ve learned from Corona it’s that genuinely old people have much, much nicer lives if they can master video chat

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Um… Please tell me you were joking, because then I can tell you that the joke fell flat and leave it there.
              I bristled at the ‘older folks’ phrase. Archie is my age. I don’t break screens, bully IT staff, or file bogus charges with HR. I maybe the oldest in my group, but I’m the best with technology from video chat to RoboHelp.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                I started this before coffee, put it on hold, and just posted before rereading. Oli you said ‘genuinely old’ and my undercaffeinated brain glitched.
                I am embarassed and will use this as a warning for the rest of my day.

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  There, there. We’ve all done it (and that’s a generalization that I am willing to make).

          2. Mongrel*

            May wanna check those dates Gazebo Slayer..
            I was born 1970 and am hitting 50 this year so Edith is a child of the 80s.
            So when i was at school (UK) we had retired the big, clunky, rack-mount looking computers and had shifted to BBC model Bs and at home ZX Spectrums, VIC 20s & Commodore 64s were pretty common.
            But we still had people who were sure that these computer things were just a fad that’d blow over (and I had one acquaintance that held this view to current day).

            Honestly these people sound belligerent and are using their ‘learned helplessness’ as a bludgeon. I also predict that they’re happy to throw around ‘Millenials’ & ‘Snowflakes’ at the slightest provocation and without a hint of irony.

            1. Cathie from Canada*

              I’m 72. I first used a computer at work at the newspaper in 1980 and I remember it took me three whole weeks to start using it – I was still typing stories out on paper with my typewriter because I couldn’t wrap my head around how blips on the screen could exist as actual words and could be saved as stories when they disappeared off the screen in a blink. Then a typesetter told me to think of a word processor as just a file cabinet. Opening a file was like pulling open a drawer and getting out a file to work on, then putting it back again to close the drawer.
              OK. Now I get it!
              Never went back, of course. And ever after I found if I had problems grasping some new technology I just needed to think of something old to compare it to.
              Archie and Edith have no excuse for being such jerks.

            2. AntOnMyTable*

              The math is correct. Every year of 1970’s would make Edith in her 40’s other than yours, 1970. I was born in 1982 and I am not even 40 yet. She might be a child of the 80’s but she wasn’t born in the 80’s and Gazebo Slayer was talking about when they were born and not the years that they were kids.

          3. sam*

            right? as a fairly computer-savvy 46 year old (to the point where I am my entire extended family’s “IT support”), I resent the idea that someone in their 40s is some sort of old fuddy-duddy that needs to be coddled about their computer use. It sounds like these two people are just assholes.

            (and to be clear, I’m not some specialized computer expert – I’m a lawyer with an undergrad degree in poli sci and women’s studies)

            1. Joielle*

              Yeah, this is assholes making baseless threats, nothing more. This is why people hate HR – because so often, they have zero understanding of concepts like age discrimination, and instead of learning more and making an informed decision, they capitulate to any threat of litigation, no matter how ridiculous.

              (#notallhr, obviously, but enough to make it something most people have encountered)

              1. Observer*

                HR here is being horrible, and lots of HR people are either incompetent or lazy. But, that’s true in every profession.

              2. RVA Cat*

                A-holes gonna a-hole. I’ll bet they complained about being corrected when they were the *younger* employees. Maybe this is what happens to Interns With Gumption! if they’re never checked…

            2. Eva Luna*

              Seconded. I am in my 50s and have no specialized technical background at all, but at an old job I kept having to remind our IT support guy that my asking him for help with something that wasn’t working properly actually meant that it wasn’t working properly, and that asking me to “search the Help menu” wasn’t an appropriate response to asking him to do his damn job, because I was doing spreadsheets in DOS before he was born.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                This. I switched careers from working part of the time with computers (spreadsheets, documents) to full time in IT in the 90s.

                I actually hate having to call the help desk for anything, because they want to sloooooowly walk me though the troubleshooting steps that I have already done before calling them. I actually start writing down what I’ve done and when before I call them, just so I can upload my troubleshooting into the ticket.

                People telling me to “search the help menu” is just a fancy way of saying “RTFM, idiot”, IMO. If I’m calling tech support, I’ve already been through the help and researched the problem on the web.

                I realize that not everyone is this thorough, I just wish some support folks were trained to recognize when they are.

                1. Anonny*

                  They probably do that even when you tell them you’ve done all the basic troubleshooting steps because there’s often those idiots who are like, “yes yes I’ve done that” and then it turns out they haven’t done troubleshooting step #1, which is ‘make sure the thing is plugged in and turned on’.

                  I don’t understand how these people’s brains work. Do they think by skipping basic troubleshooting they can get to the dark magic aspect of tech support faster?

            3. The Olds Know How to Computer*

              This seems like one of those “the olds are ruining everything with their bigotry and Ludditism!” Hey, kids, the olds invented those fancy smart phones! We’ve been using computers since before you were born. Our generation created social media. Just because we’re not generally into TikTok or up to date on the latest Karen memes doesn’t mean we’re old fuddy duddies who can’t handle technology.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                +1000

                I hate it when younger folks assume that I’m some sort of Luddite because I’m older. Some of the first social media was BBSes and UseNet.

              2. AntOnMyTable*

                Who are you having an issue with? The writer doesn’t say they are incapable of their age. She says she has two people who are relatively incompetent with their technology and mentions their age because they themselves claimed ageism. Their age is relevant to the story because they feel they should get special treatment due to being somewhat older than their coworkers.

                All the commenters are saying that age is no barrier to knowing how to work technology and that most older people probably had experience with technology from a pretty young age.

                So I really don’t know who you think is claiming older people can’t handle technology.

          4. Knitting Cat Lady*

            My parents are in their 60ies. My dad studied computer science in the late 70ies and finished his Master’s just before I was born in the early 80ies (it was a narrow race, he beat me by a week).

            My dad brought home the first PC when I was 3. My mum, who had INCREDIBLY bad luck finishing her PhD thesis started writing it on said PC.

            I saw every connection device from acoustic couplers onwards!

            Computers have been standard in offices since the beginning of the 90ies! That’s 30 years! Someone in their 40ies (not THAT much older than I am, FFS) has definitely worked with computers all their damn work live, just like me. And someone in their 50ies probably has as well.

            The whole ‘Old people can’t tech’ thing needs to die already. Because the ‘old’ people working right now? That’s the generation that fucking invented the tech!

            1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

              No kidding. I have two relatives in their 70s. One had the first non-governmental email address in their major city. The other recently joked she could make a killing if she wanted because she can program COBOL. Tech and age are NOT the issues here!

              1. Cathie from Canada*

                Hey, the Canadian govt apparently needed Cobol experts to get their COVID benefits up and running so quickly this month – they used the Unemployment insurance system for speed, and it’s so old that it is still based on Cobol. So she could have named her ticket in Ottawa!

              2. Blueberry*

                My roommate’s mother was supremely busy right around 1999 as one of the experts in older computer languages they needed to prevent the Y2K crash. She’s in her 80s now and better with online video chat than I am!

              3. emmelemm*

                My partner’s mother, who’s 78, used to program in COBOL. I told him we should put her back to work, let her earn a million or two, then we’d be set for life.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              +1000

              I used my first computer language on a teletype in 1978. I later learned Fortran on punch cards. I had dialup net in the 90s.

              I’ve also taught people older than I am by 20 years to use tech for socialization, back when social media was UseNet.

          5. INTP99*

            Srsly. We born in the 60s and 70s lived with Windows 95 and all its brainfarts. #thepinnacleoffrustration

          6. many bells down*

            I’m 47 and basically running tech support for my office right now. Because I was the one handling things like our Zoom scheduling when this all went down, I am the one helping people get set up and fixing software issues now.

            My dad was an engineer and an early adopter of most technology so I learned in my teens to teach myself new software. It’s been a useful skill.

          7. an actual doctor*

            I’m the same age as Edith (40s) and have BEEN REQUIRED to use computers functionally since high school and in every job that was not camp counseling. She is just not old enough to qualify as old enough to “not understand” technology.

          8. BBA*

            Yeah, this.

            Also, great user name by the way. So few of us consider the dangers when confronted with the sudden appearance of a gazebo. Even fewer choose to attack. And only the very skilled can hope to slay such a foe.

          9. Dahlia*

            I think that can definitely be very class dependent. I’m 27 and I only had a computer in my home at 16. My mother, born in the 1960s, has never owned a computer. She’s also never worked an office job.

          10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Most of us who were born in the 60s didn’t touch a computer till well into the 80s.
            I worked at a vocational training school in the 80s and we had computers to learn touch-typing on (my boss was a geek and did that in his spare time). We had to tell people it was a “special machine” because if we called it a computer, they’d say “oh no I don’t know how computers work so I can’t do that course”.

            Although I agree that being born in the 60s isn’t an excuse for breaking hardware.

        3. Not A Manager*

          We got trouble, right here in River City. With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool.

        4. Karia*

          I mean… regularly breaking screens? That sounds more like a personal vendetta against tech than being bad with it. And spreading *one* virus around could get you fired from a lot of places.

          Not to mention the bullying!

          1. CJ Record*

            Yeah, that sounds like it’s time to document every single negative interaction with them, from the broken screens to reporting every single instance of bullying. “They won’t shut up to HR” may unfortunately be how the game is played at this company.

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            They need to start being charged for the replacements at this point – see how long that screen breaking lasts then.

          3. Djuna*

            If he’s damaging equipment repeatedly and frequently to the point of needing replacement, this is a him thing and his manager should be (a) informed and (b) seriously managing him about it.
            It sounds to me like he’s getting frustrated and taking it out on the equipment (I worked near a serial keyboard smasher years ago, who got fired for it).

            I’m seeing high levels of stress from less confident/tech savvy employees a lot at work these days (and I’m not even in IT), and while I have a little compassion for the pressure they’re under, I have none at all for them choosing to take their stress out on other people.

            Also, I’m in my late 40’s and have no issues at all with being corrected – I would much rather be told “you’re doing it wrong” than have people having to tiptoe around me or clean up after my mistakes.

            1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              Yep. Age is not even close to being the issue here. You’re dealing with 2 difficult people who don’t have any respect for the people they’re working with and the equipment they’re given and should be disciplined accordingly. If someone makes a mistake you need to be able to tell them and you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells to do it because Edith and Archie can’t handle being told they’re wrong.

            2. MusicWithRocksIn*

              I’m glad the keyboard smasher got fired. Not only for destroying company equipment, but if anyone smashed a keyboard near me it would freak me out badly and that is not an environment I would want to work in at all.

              1. Djuna*

                He sat two desks over from me, and it did freak me out.
                I never said anything though, because he was always in a blind rage when he did it and I didn’t want to risk being his next target.
                IT were the ones to report him, his final warning was basically “One more keyboard, and you’re gone.” Inevitably, there was one more keyboard, but it did surprise me that he was walked out immediately afterwards. Surprised, in a good way, because this was over 20 years ago and I somehow didn’t expect them to follow through.

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I guess it would disturb me because any decent keyboard is hard to break.

                  I type *hard*. I learned on a manual typewriter, then typed on creaky old machinery, and never lost the hard touch. I wear the letters off of cheaper keyboards, but that’s fixable. I have only had two keyboards fail on me, and that was because the wireless part died. (perfectly good keyboard otherwise, just no talking to the box anymore.)

                  If someone is smashing keyboards, they need anger management and a different job.

            3. many bells down*

              Yes thank you. My 70-ish boss yesterday asked me how to access some database software and then told me I was “unhelpful” after his first password attempt didn’t work. All he really wanted was one piece of data, which I immediately gave him once he actually told me what he wanted!

          4. RobotWithHumanHair*

            Yeah, I’m puzzled by that one. I’ve been working with computers for 35 years and not once have I ever broken a screen as a result of my own actions (had an LCD die on me in an old laptop and that was about it). Sounds like Archie may have anger issues on top of being an asshole.

            1. Massmatt*

              I am really curious about this as well. Is he spilling liquids on them? Punching them? It seems to me you’d really have to go out of your way to break equipment repeatedly, and normal people would be so embarrassed by the first instance that there wouldn’t be a second.

              It sounds like at least three people need to be fired: Archie, Edith, and idiot HR person.

            2. Joielle*

              Yeah, I broke a screen ONCE about a decade ago when I dropped a laptop, but to be a serial screen-breaker? That HAS to be intentional.

            3. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah, I’ve had monitors die, but it was an age/hardware failure, not something I did to it. I’ve had some trouble with backlights on cheap monitors.

              I think I only ever had one screen break, and that was because it fell during an earthquake (set too close to the edge of the table.)

            4. mgguy*

              I’ve broken 3 in my life after using computers better than 25 years(and I’m in my early 30s).

              The first was doing a room clean-out at work and moving a cart full of 21″ CRTs(heavy beasts) out so that they could be loaded up and taken to surplus. One slipped off the cart-it broke the case and knocked off the alignment and had a funky color shift over part of the screen.

              The second was working on an old, collectible compact Macintosh. I inadvertently knocked the small tip where the manufacturer pumped down the tube off of it, “gassing” it and ruining it(never tried to power it up, as the results would likely have been ugly and fried other components). Fortunately, I was able to get a replacement tube and go on.

              The third was a laptop carried in a bag over my shoulder while walking to my car at work. I tripped in a sidewalk “pothole”, went down, and fell right on top of the laptop(yes, I’m clumsy). It cracked the thin glass on the panel and made it into a lovely piece of modern art when powered up. Fortunately a good used Ebay screen came to the rescue.

              I think my favorite “fried screen” though came from a co-worker. I’m a chemist, and this coworker and I both are our departments “fix it” guys(although we fix different things). My co-worker had a couple of hotplates that he’d been asked to repair. He had one that was brought to him with a complaint of not stirring. He had the bottom off it, plugged it in with it sitting hot-plate down on his laptop to work on the stirrer mechanism without realizing that the heater was on(and still worked), then stepped away from the office. A few minutes later I hear a third co-worker across the hall say “Come quick. There’s smoke coming out of Cliff’s office…AND HE’S NOT EVEN THERE”(a few minutes later I had a good laugh over that particular phrasing). I went in, unplugged it, grabbed it, and stuck it in a fume hood until the acrid plastic smell went away. The plastic on the laptop lid had melted through and left an interesting pattern on the screen. That was the last time that happened…and he actually fixed it by finding a laptop of the same model at surplus and swapping the screen.

              I feel like all of those are pretty extraordinary circumstances and not something that would happen in a normal office(except maybe a clumsy person tripping and falling on a bagged laptop).

        5. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          Exactly! I have a colleague who always refused to use the institute’s online forum, claiming that it was too complicated (we are scientists, btw. literally rocket scientists). We don’t even use it a lot, we just post our most important results to keep track of what we are doing. Now, with COVID, the director flat out told him “you HAVE to use it” and, guess what? He suddenly learned. Overnight. And it’s really not a matter of age: the director is almost 70, the coworker is around 40. He just has his head full of weird ideas and divides the world into those (few) smart things he does and all those silly, useless things other people do.

          1. Ralph the Wonder Llama*

            “…divides the world into those (few) smart things he does and all those silly, useless things other people do.”

            Ho-lee cr@p! It’s 8:23 am on a Tuesday morning and I just had a life-altering revelation from your comment. This totally explains some people I know. Thank you.

            1. Zelda*

              Whatever George Carlin’s other flaws may have been, I am grateful for his bit about driving– you ever notice how the road is just full of idiots and maniacs? Because an idiot is anyone who drives slower than you do, and a maniac is anyone who drives faster than you do.

              Sometimes, when I am having a particularly irritating day, it is useful to remind myself that my office is full of idiots and maniacs– i.e., that we all like our own choices best, and I can’t *really* be mad at the whole office for the terrible sin of Not Being Me.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              Indeed. I have a mental image of a Lisa Frank-style colorful kitty with big eyes peering out the window of a glittery Gernsbackian rocket ship.

              1. Phony Genius*

                I was picturing the cat as wearing a lab coat and glasses, working out calculations on a clipboard while standing upright near the launch pad.

              2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

                LOL YES!! A glittery rocket, that’s exactly what I need! Even better, a rocat :)

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Behold, my newest superweapon: a Norwegian Forest Cat crossbred with a JATO rocket! With this, I will finally destroy all the grackles within a 30-mile radius!

                  And every other small, edible animal.

          2. Uranus Wars*

            “Literally rocket scientists” I have been waiting my whole life for this to happen.

            Thank you and that is all!

          3. anonymouse*

            There’s a wonderful story in my family about my grandmother, who was an engineer who’d worked for NASA in the 60s. At some point in the mid-90s, one of her daughters was trying to get her comfortable using a Mac with a GUI, and she just was not having it (she had some computer experience, but only with a command-line interface). Exasperated, her daughter said, “Come on, Mother, this isn’t rocket science!,” to which my grandmother snapped back, “I’ve DONE rocket science; this is harder!”

          4. Third or Nothing!*

            Oh man there have been so many people commenting and mentioning really interesting jobs! Seems to be a theme today. I must have read at least 4 comments so far and thought “wow I’d love for Alison to interview this person!” (Just to be clear you are indeed #4.)

            1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

              I am very curious about the Netflix writer myself!
              As for me, I hope I didn’t set your hopes too high :) I am a researcher in space science, I don’t actually build the rockets (with all my pushing things off the tables and whatnot).

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                No, it’s the rocket *engineers* who do the building. Rocket *scientists* are busy doing *science*. Which necessarily involves either bubbling chemicals or whiteboards but never wrenches or hammers.

              2. Third or Nothing!*

                Oh I’m a huge space nerd. I love all the research-y things. My husband is an aerospace welder and is more involved in the actual building of things. I love him to death but my eyes kind of glaze over when he talks about welding with plasma vs argon.

        6. Snark no more!*

          +1,000. I, too, am in my 50s and often help the younger members of our department. They are being ridiculous.

          Perhaps HR should find out why they are so insecure about their abilities?

        7. snowglobe*

          I’m in my mid-50’s and I’m considered the office expert with a lot of technology, particularly with new applications that get rolled out. I do suspect, based on the “Archie” and “Edith” names, that LW thinks that trouble with technology is just to be expected with older employees, and maybe that attitude has been picked up on.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Archie and Edith are the names of the main characters in the show “All in the Family,” both of whom were obnoxious in their own way (while Archie was also a flaming racist), and I just assumed the names were chosen to show just how annoying and brash they are, not because the OP thinks all old people are like this.

          2. Massmatt*

            I think you are reading too much into word/name choice here. People often use names from TV shows or fiction for ease of nomenclature, it doesn’t mean the fictional character is the perfect embodiment of the character traits of the person in the letter, nor the LWs attitude towards them. People often use the names Cersei and Jaime, for example, and I doubt they are suggesting incest.

            Also, LW is not the person that corrected Archie and Edith, LW says they filed a complaint about (and sent angry texts to) a third party, someone in IT. If their reaction to LWs supposed attitude towards them is to pick on someoneelse in IT then they are even worse than I thought.

          3. biobotb*

            I think the LW mentioned their ages because they claim they’re experiencing age-based discrimination from one of the LW’s team members, not because the LW is necessarily attributing their discomfort with technology to their ages. They’re the ones using their ages as a weapon.

        8. Annony*

          And they are specifically asking for help! If they knew how to do it, they would not call IT to fix it for them. If IT was simply assuming they couldn’t do something I could see the issue but they need to be able to correct someone when they are wrong regardless of age and job title. If the 70 year old CEO is wrong, they should be able to tell him that, same as the 18 year old intern. This is their area of expertise.

        9. CupcakeCounter*

          My 80+ year old grandpa had an iPhone, laptop, and other tech gadgets when he passed away. He had multiple trade accounts he played around with and Skyped his grand and great-grandkids a couple times a week.
          He retired before computers became a staple of the workforce and still kept up. Edith and Archie are a-holes and OP sounds like a great manager for standing up for his team. He should have his reports file complaints against those 2 for the abuse. Text messages are proof same as emails.

        10. Doctor What*

          Right?!
          I’m 46, working from home and my only problem with the company tech is that the laptop isn’t touch screen like my personal laptop is! LOL

          I think Edith and Archie are just not good employees and I’m a bit amazed at their destruction of hardware!

        11. Pennalynn Lott*

          Same. I’m 54 and I am the one the 20-somethings come to when they can’t figure out a piece of technology or software. (I’m an ops/finance auditor, not an IT person, btw).

          Way back when, during my first round in college, I learned to write computer programs for text-only screens and carried my homework on 5.25″ discs. My first computer had no internal hard drive. The O/S had to be loaded every single time I booted it up. I hated (still hate) using a mouse, preferring short-cut macros created using versions of ctrl-functionkey, shift-functionkey, and alt-functionkey.

          So, yeah, I can navigate drop-down arrows, pop-up boxes, advanced settings, etc. In fact, the way I learn new software is (1) make sure important stuff is backed up, (2) press every key, button, option, field and see what happens.

          Plus, I compare software programs to learning typing in high school. Back in The Olden Days, we had to take Typing as an elective in my high school. IBM Selectricts (electric typewriters) were ubiquitous but expensive, so my tiny public H.S. went with manual typewriters. They were noisy, physically-intense, heavy-ash@ll monsters, but we were able to learn where the keys were (and commit that to muscle memory) and how to format letters, reports, two-column articles, and envelopes. All of that was invaluable when I was presented with Word Perfect at my first job. Since I already new how to format the different bits of paperwork I’d be creating, I just needed to learn how the software handled indenting, double-spacing, proper margins, and so on.

          Approaching new tech with the mindset of, “My job here is to figure out how it does X in real life,” has meant that I’ve never met any kind of tech that I couldn’t master, no matter how opaque and byzantine (looking at you, SAP).

        12. Richard Hershberger*

          You and I are of similar age. When we were teenagers, using a computer was a distinctly geeky pursuit. [Raises hand.] They were becoming reasonably standard office equipment by, oh, let’s say 1990. The internet as a mainstream activity dates to c. 1995. So someone our age might well have gone through their twenties and into their thirties before using a computer. On the other hand, that still was decades ago. This is not an excuse.

          And suppose it was? Suppose everyone agrees that Edith and Archie will never figure out these magic boxes, and therefore cannot be expected to be productive workers. Follow this logic through and see where it goes…

      2. jm*

        omg i’m 41 and i feel positively ancient right now. these are gen xers behaving like they survived the depression. breaking all their hardware? who ARE these people?

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Tantrum-throwing children in middle-aged bodies, apparently. Complete with breaking their toys when they don’t get their way.

          1. EPLawyer*

            That’s it. They don’t like the new system. They don’t like working from home. They are letting everyone know in no uncertain terms they don’t like it.

            HR knows they are a problem. They are sick of dealing with them. That’s why they just want them to shut up. The solution however is not to put the burden on other departments but for HR to have a serious talk with manager about how Edith and Archie need to act like professional adults.

            LW, I second documenting every IT problem you have with them, and forwarding it up the chain. Someone is going to notice eventually. If they don’t, that tells you about the culture of te company. You know what to do that that point.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Reminds me a little of one of my wife’s colleagues, who repeatedly talks about how something fairly ordinary will take him longer or be done a different way because he’s working from home and doesn’t have a home office. And he says it without a hint of self-awareness that my wife is working from our dining room table while simultaneously supervising zoom school sessions for both our children and getting all her work done as normal. And that the office has provided VPN and laptops and such to enable occasional WFH for years.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I feel like HR does not understand what “protected class,” etc. actually means. (It does not mean “anybody who might be discriminated against is always right.”)

        I’d bet money they’re also the kind of HR department who thinks they can never, ever fire anybody who is LGBTQ+, disabled, or a person of color, for any reason up to and including setting the building on fire to cover up their massive heist, because the big bad politically correct government has decreed it.

        1. Joielle*

          YUP. Instead of learning anything at all about the legal standards for discrimination (or consulting an attorney if they’re really concerned) they just roll over and capitulate to any suggestion of discrimination, no matter how baseless.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            And then other employees start thinking that’s how things really work in the real world, and end up deciding they’re the Oppressed Straight White Man….

            1. Blueberry*

              Exactly. I was just thinking that between A&E and HR this played out like those scenarios people used to throw at me when I advocated for racism and sexism being disallowed at work, the whole “well that means I can never say the Black or female coworkers do ANYTHING wrong or I’ll get fired blahblahblah”. And I think this may the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing happen.

              (Wow, the HR is ridiculous. I am so sorry, LW#1)

      4. Mel_05*

        Yeah, my parents are in their 60s, one is perfectly competent with computers, the other is brilliant with computers.

        The people who struggled with computers were *their * parents.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Agreed – my children’s grandparents are all retired, but one was a helpdesk manager and one was a software developer before retirement. The “non-techy” two used PCs daily for decades, and even their parents could manage email etc.

          Millennials and younger can have a tendency not to understand instinctively *how* a computer does things, because we’ve always had access to easy interfaces and haven’t had to learn coding just to turn the thing on.

          1. Lynn*

            My mom is in her 80s. She started work when computers were not a thing, and was thrilled when they came in because that was when her then-employer finally banned smoking at desks (they figured out it was bad for the computers). She used them for many years and, while I occasionally would help her with an Excel problem, she was perfectly competent to do the things she needed to do for her job.

            She has been retired for 15+ years now, and doesn’t need a computer for her retirement-except that she likes to use it to keep in contact with folks. If my mom and her husband, who is in his 90s now (he was medically retired in his early 50s) and never heavily used computers on the job, can manage, then Edith and Archie have no excuse. Heck, if mom’s husband couldn’t argue with folks on the internet about airplanes (he was an airline mechanic and has strong opinions to share about Boeing and Airbus, etc) he might start talking to her about it-and that is not ever going to be allowed to happen. :>

        2. Bear Necessities*

          This. My Boomer parents have a fancier tech setup than I do and they put it all together themselves. These cranky Gen Xers need to get it together!

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          Yes! My parents are both in their late 60s. My mom struggles with adopting new tech, but my dad is a whiz with computers. Always has been. I remember him teaching me MS-DOS commands when I was a preteen.

      5. Beth*

        YES. Absolutely. I’m 59, and I’m the IT lead at my firm. The next most tech-savvy person here is my grandboss. He’s in his 70s.

        The *least* tech-savvy people here are the youngest.

        1. pentamom*

          Yes, because a lot of much younger people’s only acquaintance with tech is how to use the apps on their phones, and how to write a paper on a desktop. They don’t know their way around desktop hardware and software. Not all, of course, but Gen Z and the younger millennials aren’t really tech savvy because by the time they came along, tech was so advanced that their familiarity with it is mostly as a really fancy toy, not as a complicated thing to figure out. The ones who are tech savvy are those who had a particular interest in it, but there wasn’t as much need to figure it out.

          1. anon for this*

            I’m in my early 30s. I look in awe at my friend in his late 50s who was the entire tech department for a big startup in the early 1990s and learned about three programming languages to do it. I know…well…HTML.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              OMG remember when people had to learn HTML to customize their MySpace or Neopets page? Man that takes me back. I’ve forgotten most of what I taught myself (plus it would be outdated now anyway).

              1. AGD*

                Haha! I’m pretty sure I gave my Neopets account to a younger friend. I hope so, because otherwise those creatures have been going neglected for, oh, 15 years. Ahem.

          2. Clisby*

            Or a parent has a particular interest in it. When our son was about to enter high school, my husband ordered all the components for a desktop computer and showed him how to put it together. Three-plus years later they went through the process again to upgrade.

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            This is the typical progression of tech. Fifty years ago it was normal for an American teenaged boy to know how to repair an automobile. How involved a repair he could manage varied with aptitude and exposure, of course, but basic mechanical skills were normal. They also were (a) possible, and (b) necessary (or at least expensive not to have). Modern cars are so reliable that those old skills are no longer necessary, and in any case modern cars aren’t designed for amateur repairs anyway, so those often are impossible without a lot of dedicated equipment and training.

            There is a danger of geezerdom here. Yes, kids today don’t know how to drive with a stick. This is because automatic transmissions are so good that installing a “standard” transmission in a modern car is an affectation. Similarly with modern electronics.

            1. Jean (just Jean)*

              “Standard” transmission may be unnecessary but the automotive engineers will pry my stick transmission out of my cold, dead hands (heaven forbid!). More likely, I’ll have to give up driving stick because eventually all combustion-engine vehicles will be replaced by hybrids or 100% battery-operated ones. (I think these types offered standard transmission for a while but no longer.)
              Okay, back on topic.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                I prefer stick, but I also generally buy used cars and run them into the ground, at which point I repeat the cycle. I haven’t found a used car with a standard transmission the past couple of cycles. I would grab one if I did, but I wouldn’t pretend that this was anything but an affectation.

            2. KoiFeeder*

              I actually tried really hard to learn how to drive with a stick, but it turns out that the clutch is sticky enough that I was dislocating my hip just trying to shift gears.

              If anyone who has EDS and can drive stick has tips, I would be grateful.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                Not all clutches are (or were) created equal. You were either driving a heavy vehicle, or the clutch was overkill. (Or, I suppose, you have particularly delicate hips.)

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  The right hip falls out if you look at it funny, but usually the left hip is pretty sturdy!

                  But I suppose pickup trucks qualify as heavy vehicles, don’t they.

        2. Captain Raymond Holt*

          I teach traditional age college students (part-time). Here’s what I’ve seen:
          – Doesn’t know how to download a browser to a computer
          – Can’t figure out how to download Word (we have a free subscription) instead of Pages and set Word as the default software
          – “My email won’t work, but IT says it’s fine, I don’t know what to do.” (I can’t help you with that)
          – Doesn’t know how to double space (or do other basic word processing things)
          – So. Many. Sloppy. Documents.
          – I introduced a new program (Microsoft Teams) and they can’t figure out how to use it.

          If they have a problem with the computer, they just stop and throw their hands up and don’t do anything. They give up.

          It’s so frustrating. I would expect them to know how to use a computer and they just…. don’t. Someone should have taught them before they got to my class.

          1. TootsNYC*

            this isn’t really about what they’ve been taught.
            It’s about how hard, and how inventively, they are willing to work to figure something out.

            And sometimes it’s about their thinking patterns, or their inability to draw parallels between paradigms (the steps in starting a car and then driving can be analogous to starting a Word document; heck, writing a letter on paper can be analogous to starting a Word docuent).

              1. tinyhipsterboy*

                The refusal of some people to simply google an issue baffles me. I worked at a cell phone store a few years ago, and every terminal naturally had computers with internet access so we could get into the phone systems to program customers’ numbers and such. My manager literally thanked me two weeks in for being willing to google information I didn’t know (i.e. phone RAM and such). I was flabbergasted.

                It’s easy to lean back on it being an age thing; for instance, my father, who built computers when he was in his 20s and 30s, taught me how to use all manner of electronics, and used to routinely fix my grandfather’s virus-riddled desktop computers, has full-on stopped trying with technology in the last 4 or 5 years or so, and he’s in his mid-50’s. The last decadeish, he’s asked for information on and off, but for some reason, he couldn’t set up his Amazon speaker despite the app giving step-by-step instructions (i.e. “Plug in the speaker. It will light up and go orange. If it does not go orange, press this button. If it DOES go orange, click ‘next.'”).

                It’s easily dismissed as an age thing, but as Captain Raymond Holt said… that’s not exactly the case. I’ve recorded video instructions for friends my age that they have trouble with, and I’ve had coworkers who simply couldn’t fathom anything with technology. I don’t know what it is, exactly; there’s something about technology that people just get intimidated by and shut down when they try to work with it. (To a degree, I get it, but this happens for basic things, it seems like, moreso than complicated tech work…)

          2. Mama Bear*

            Ugh.

            My child doesn’t know how to touch type because they didn’t teach kindergarteners but started them early on computers. There were a lot of benefits to ye olde Keyboarding and Formatting class. Schools should bring that back. And WordPerfect.

            1. Lindsay*

              I’m 33, I was never taught how to touch type because computers were so ubiquitous that most students were already proficient at typing just from using computers in their daily lives. (Typing class was something they had previously taught in middle school). I imagine those classes might need to come back now that tablets and phones are more often used than laptops/desktops.

          3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            ” – “My email won’t work, but IT says it’s fine, I don’t know what to do.” (I can’t help you with that)”

            They probably need to clear the cache in the email app. I had this happen a couple of years apart and forgot the solution. After the last time I made a note to just do it periodically.

          4. Yorick*

            I teach college students too, and I feel like they have a serious lack of problem solving skills in general. I notice this some in my relatives that are around that age too, but it’s probably not as generational as I feel like it is.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Well, yes. Every time I tried to problem-solve in school prior to college, I ended up in detention for it. There’s no incentive to even do anything outside of keeping your head down and obeying your teacher’s instructions to the letter, because if you don’t, you get in trouble.

              I mean, I nearly got expelled for downloading firefox to the school computers! If you’re not the one setting up the computers at home, and you get banned from the school computers for the rest of the year just for switching browsers, you’re not going to learn these things.

              1. Princess Zelda*

                +1; when I graduated high school in 2012, I had been scolded countless times for doing even benign stuff to school computers, like changing the background or doing ctrl+alt+arrow key to flip the screen while working on something I wanted to see sideways. (I was going to change it back, Ms. McAlister, I swear!) I got sent to the counselor’s office in 8th grade because I wrote a story about a girl with schizophrenia; I got switched out of my US history class in 10th grade because I told the teacher that the way he was presenting the Civil War was reductive and that he skipped Kentucky being a Union slave state. (I didn’t realize Maryland was a Union slave state too, at this time; I knew about Kentucky because of a book I’d read about Nat Turner.)

                The US public school system does not, or at least did not for me, encourage individual thinking. I had serious trouble in college because I had been trained that 1) questioning your teachers is Bad and 2) that you’re Not Allowed to try to solve problems by yourself or be subversive in your creativity, you must ask the teacher and only do what the teacher says is okay. But not in a way that makes the teacher feel like you’re questioning him, because see 1). My college professors had not been told that this was the playbook and were generally disappointed by my lack of engagement and creativity.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Definitely, I’ve ended up having to work to unlearn the assumption that teachers are always looking to punish you for any deviation. I still haven’t gotten to the point where I’m able to just go in and attend office hours- the second that door closes, I freak out and have to leave.

          5. Observer*

            This has nothing to do with tech savviness, and everything to do with attitudes.

            Sloppy documents is about some education, as well. But the constant waiting for someone to figure it out for them is clearly an issue of people who have never learned how to think or do for themselves.

            I would be very surprised if a lot of these folks had so-called helicopter or snowplow parents.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        Right? I’m in my 40s and have never broken tech hardware, my own or my employer’s, ever. I can see if somebody dropped a phone or laptop once or twice *in a lifetime*, but regularly? What on earth is going on with this man?

        I’ve also never whacked my entire contact network with a virus. SMH.

        1. Bee*

          Hey, some of us have a tendency to accidentally fling our phones. But that’s why we get protective cases instead of the decorative stuff!

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I once got startled by the dog and threw my phone at him. He caught it.

            Getting a corgi to give you something is really, really difficult.

            1. Lizzo*

              LOL – as a former owner of a corgi-type pup, please Google “fox steals phone” for an exceptionally adorable video. I promise it will make your day.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                The difference between fox steals phone and corgi steals phone is the scene where the corgi is lifted one foot off the ground while STILL holding onto your phone in his horrible little mouth, and you have to stop playing tug-of-war with him because he’s going to break either his teeth or the phone.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  The vet keeps giving us discounts because we keep bringing in stray animals, so surprisingly, the phone- but breaking his teeth would hurt him and that’s way more important to me.

        2. Uranus Wars*

          I keep thinking over and over “I know someone who got fired from a restaurant for routinely dropping racks of mugs and glasses and plates”…how is someone who is breaking 3 monitors A MONTH still working?

      7. Quill*

        My late grandfather, who would be 90-something, worked in computers before the internet existed. My dad’s in his mid 50’s and he’s worked in computers since he graduated college. I learned to fix my own computer because when I went to college the unqualified child they had hired for the student IT desk took one look at my laptop and suggested a factory reset to make the school’s antivirus install properly, and then confidently declared “It’s probably because you have games on your laptop” while I sat there and explained to him, for the fourth time, that the error message I was getting was that the antivirus file type was not supported on my operating system (windows vista) and I was certain I could not be the only one who’d had this problem.

        Age and basic competence with computers pretty much don’t correlate any more. I didn’t even go to college that long ago and I had peers who 1) thought you could scan a printout and it would automatically become a microsoft word document, not a PDF, 2) could not understand why nobody without an apple laptop could open the .key file they’d made us even after the professor specified it had to be made in power point, not any other program 3) legitimately (slightly drunkenly, maybe?) thought wifi could ‘leak’ like a water pipe.

      8. purple otter*

        My mom is in her late 50s/early 60s and she is not good with technology (she leaves that to my dad, who is an engineer). But she has *never* broken a computer or cellphone screen by accident or on purpose while using them, so really, what is Archie doing to his computer?!

        1. Mama Bear*

          My mother is really bad with tech – she basically needs an IT department. I don’t know what she does to the computers other than maybe go on weird websites. But she doesn’t need to use a computer for her job and she’s not breaking company equipment. How are these two able to function at their jobs if they can’t stop breaking things? Is this indicative of other issues, I wonder.

      9. iglwif*

        That really struck me as well! I’m in my mid-40s, my spouse is 50, and I definitely don’t think of us as “old enough that people should expect us to have trouble with technology.”

        I mean, I also don’t like that paradigm in general: resistance to using new tech has a lot more to do with other factors than just age alone. (I always like to tell people about my late-70s mum, who admittedly can’t handle touch screens but has been using PCs and the Internet since the 1980s, has taught online classes, and can absolutely handle being told how to do a computer thing without losing her shit and accusing people of age discrimination. When I was a teenager, SHE taught ME how to use a computer.)

        There’s a certain niche set of people who see their resistance to adopting new tech stuff as some kind of moral virtue — they tend to also be the “millennials are always on their phones” and “this coffee shop has NO WIFI so you have to TALK TO PEOPLE” folks — and don’t recognize that while this is an acceptable eccentricity in their personal life, it is a massive pain in the ass in the workplace and they need to cut it out.

      10. Lucky*

        This. Edith and Archie need to stop with the excuses and learn the technology. My own boss (we’re both early 50s) has never learned how to properly work Outlook, but it’s because he always had an admin to do all that for him and plays it off now as “oh, I would just mess that up.” Like, gag me with a spoon, Gen Xer, you can learn computers, they’re totally not gnarly.

      11. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

        Same! I’ve broken screens (usually because, as a clumsy person, I dropped something heavy on the laptop — and once, my cat jumped on it just right and cracked the screen), but this is a me problem, not a tech problem.

        And there’s literally no reason for someone my age (44) to not know how to use a computer, since I’ve been using them regularly since the age of 17. There is something going on with these two, and it isn’t good.

    3. Massmatt*

      The HR in #1 must be the worst I’ve read so far this year, and that’s saying something. Absolutely idiotic. Hopefully it’s a single bad actor having a bad day but given the ongoing issues with Archie and Edith there’s a good chance this is systemic. Good luck.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yea, I really hope this ends with an update where the OP went to the HR reps boss and said “This can’t possibly be right” And the boss went WTF and had words with the rep.

      1. AGD*

        I actually wondered whether it was made up by someone angry about the possibility that ageism might exist, and trying to use this to “prove” that it supposedly doesn’t. (It absolutely does, but this is so over-the-top that it serves dreadfully as an example of ageism.)

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I’d consider asking why HR wants me to be condescending toward older workers and to set them up for future failure by never correcting their mistakes.

      Also – Archie and Edith are not that old. It’s not like “ohh, let’s give deference to our 98-year-old grandmother.” (And seriously, even she can be wrong.) They’re early 50s and 40s. 40s! Speaking as a 38-year-old: if someone told a 22-year-old coworker they could never correct me because I was older than them, I’d burst out laughing.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        The reading I took from HRs response was less “be respectful to your elders” and more “I don’t want to deal with Archie and Edith either”. The HR rep is a coward.

        For the record, age and technology are not mutually exclusive. Until he became too poorly to go out (about 4 years ago), my uncle used to teach computer use and Internet safety at the community centre. He turns 87 this year. My dad was a programmer all his career and only retired because he couldn’t quite get the hang of whatever was the newer programming language. Now, that was stubbornness on his part (I think he already knew Basic, C+, C++, and something else and then drew the line at JSON – something like that, I’m not a programmer, I didn’t really understand what he was describing!), but he will be 70 in a few months and only formally retired 3 years ago.
        Archie and Edith don’t *want* to learn how to look after the company equipment and certainly don’t *want* to learn how to do their jobs properly. At this point, they’d be on thin ice for keeping their jobs full stop.

        1. nonegiven*

          I read they’re needing COBOL programmers to update some of the unemployment websites.

          1. Risha*

            Which is ridiculous, honestly. (At least from what we know. I suppose it’s possible that they could be stuck on the world’s most awful memory overflow bug and genuinely need a genius.)

            COBOL experts, which are really more mainframe experts because we’re talking about memory management and the like, are rare and precious. You could carpet the country with plain old mid-level programmers who have had to pick up COBOL on the spot to make minor changes while working as a entry level dev at a bank or insurance company. It is literally the easiest language I know – it mostly reads like english.

            1. Jean (just Jean)*

              >You could carpet the country with plain old mid-level programmers who have had to pick up COBOL…
              Hee hee. I’m enjoying the image of laying down mid-level programmers side to side from, say, Missouri to Kentucky, then filling in the gaps from Kansas to Wyoming, or Maryland to Maine.
              Okay, I’ll show myself out now. Have a good day, everybody.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                I an imagining a bunch of COBOL programmers laying themselves down to measure a bridge like Oliver Smoot at MIT.

          2. pentamom*

            My sister-in-law started as a COBOL programmer, and she’s 67. I’m 54 and they stopped teaching COBOL at the high school level before I got to take a computer class. People in their 40s and 50s know nothing about it.

        2. The other Louis*

          This is one of those times I really hope HR reads this letter and Alison’s response.

      2. Delta Delta*

        When I first met Mr. Delta’s grandmother I was warned of 2 rules: grandma is always right, and grandma can’t hear very well. Grandma was incredibly smart and witty and opinionated (and tech savvy!), and luckily I generally agreed with her. Loudly.

      3. Quill*

        Also the 98 year old grandmother is more likely to have been right about the best way to bake a pie crust… with the kitchen equipment she was raised with in the 30’s! It can be a change in context… or it could be these two people who apparently throw temper tantrums if they’re told they are factually incorrect, and probably have been doing so their whole lives.

    5. Avasarala*

      Yeah this letter made my eyebrows raise up and off my face. I work in a country where the culture requires respect for people older than you (and to Alison’s question, there are all sorts of subtle ways to discern age, so you know how polite to be!) and it is still OK to correct people when they’re wrong. There are issues with people not respecting bosses younger than them and so on, but that’s seen as a problem, not a feature.

      And it’s certainly possible to correct people’s misunderstanding while being respectful of them.
      “I’m so sorry for the confusion. Unfortunately there seems to have been a miscommunication somewhere, as X is actually required, not Y. I apologize for the inconvenience, but could you please do X going forward? Thank you so much for your cooperation.”
      Basically “you’re wrong” wrapped up in a grovel sandwich.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If you’re willing, will you say more about your culture’s subtle ways of discerning age when you’re remote? That sounds intriguing.

        1. Eliza*

          Language use is a major one in many of the cultures where that sort of thing is a factor. The example I’m most familiar with is Japan, where the Japanese language is spoken in very different ways by different people, right down to literally having a couple of dozen different words for “I” depending on the speaker’s age, gender, and social status.

          1. Avasarala*

            Yes! Language use is very helpful. If you’re younger then you know to be formal and polite to everyone, so if someone sends me a flowery email like what I wrote above, I know they’re probably a younger person. If the email is shorter and more direct, they’re probably older. I can tell based on the language and grammar how polite they are being and often what gender they are. If I take the politeness down a notch to be more friendly, the younger person will still be super formal to me. And they will usually defer to others in their work/decision-making and CC their bosses (older people are more confident and don’t CC anybody haha).

            Also there are the usual tricks you probably see in the US… snooping on your work history, assuming bosses/higher level workers are older, asking around/directly and so on.

            At my old job I was told that people couldn’t tell what level of work to assign to me because they couldn’t tell how old I was. It was not a good fit… But actually I felt the same way when we had a new worker at my current job, and based on her skills I thought she was the youngest person on the team. I was actually surprised to find out she was not much younger than me. This came up at a work party and I had to re-order the age hierarchy in my brain and reconsider how much I talked down to her (linguistically).

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          In my partner’s Middle Eastern culture, there are two words for “you”, one for casual use and one for everyone you have to show respect for, which includes all people older than you. So everyone is attuned to who is respectful to whom, and you can often work out from that how old people are.

          Also, they tend not to address or refer to people by name, but by the relationship. So you’ll say, “please hubby bring me my tea”, rather than “please Fergus, bring me my tea”, and “where is my daughter” rather than “where is Jane”. After a half hour at a family reunion you know the entire family tree.

          I’m not entirely sure about professional settings, but I believe they call each other something like “boss” and “underling”, and maybe go by their job title “did the sales director call” rather than “did Fergus call”.
          Obviously respectful language will be used not only for those older than you but also for those above you in the organisation chart.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OP’s situation is so extreme that it’s truly outrageous.
        However, I have worked with a protected population and I had to learn how to say things without using the words “incorrect, wrong, bad” and so on. The people we worked with would become truly upset with mere mention of these types of words.

        It’s actually handy to know how to say things in an indirect manner. I can reframe and say it directly if I need to say it again. Some of it requires fast thinking on the feet.

        Them: Oh I made a mistake.
        Me: We can fix this and it will be okay.

        Them: Is my work bad?
        Me: It just needs a little help here and then it’s perfect.

        To be clear, this is NOT going to help with Edith and Archie. Edith and Archie do not want to be helped. But the good news side is that learning some of these approaches can really help 98% of the people we talk with, regardless of age. The value lies in getting people to respond with positive actions. How do we get people in general to move in a more positive direction?

        Unfortunately, OP, you are having an intense lesson and probably there are too many dense people involved here. I remember times where using the word “wrong” could cause me to end up in the ER with a fractured skull. I could have skipped that lesson. But I do not regret learning how to speak more in a manner that helps people to learn, grow and adapt. I ended up being seen as a trusted, go-to person.

        Now, be sure to understand that I do NOT in anyway shape or form think you are doing something wrong here. But I do think this is a good topic for AAM, because most of us have seen tamer versions of this problem. And how do we tell someone (regardless of age) how to make a change in what they are doing? Especially people who are hyper-aware and super concerned about any form of mistake. These answers are not in us at birth.

        Your next job will be a 100 times easier than this place. Your current situation is wildly off the charts.

        1. Sparrow*

          I do this a lot in my job. Fortunately, my physical safety has never been at risk, but I am a position where I’m (frequently) correcting people with a lot more power and whose positions are generally expected to garner respect (they’re also typically older than me, but that’s incidental). I could probably get away with being less accommodating in my phrasing, but it makes my job much easier and is worth the effort, imo. My coworker tends to be a bit more stark in her language, and she has a harder time getting what she needs from these folks than I do.

          I also send a fair number of emails that are like, “Hmm, I’m not sure why that’s happening. If you tried X and it didn’t work, you may need to try Y instead. It might also be helpful if you send me a screenshot of the error message you’re getting so I can have more context.” I’m usually about 85% confident they haven’t actually tried X, but framing it like I assume they’ve already tried the obvious thing – or the thing that the directions tell them to do – allows them to save face a little.

          All of that said…I don’t think much of this will help with Archie and Edith. You can word things to avoid explicitly saying they’re doing something incorrectly, but I don’t think it’s the words that they’re actually objecting to, I think it’s the sentiment. There’s no way to deal with that without better management and HR.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          But IT / Tech support is a specialized case. You can not afford to be indirect, or even that grovel sandwich. ‘It’s best not to click links or open files from random emails’ = virii all over your network.

          Tech support *must* be clear, direct and authoritative, or it fails.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Polite Imperative, plus thanks: “Please, DO NOT click on links or open files in emails, unless you know the sender is going to send you that link or file. Your efforts to reduce the spread of malware on our network is appreciated.”

    6. Perpal*

      HR is falling into age old toxic enablers “it’s easier to force reasonable people to cater to toxic people than to try to address the toxic people’s bad behaviors”. LW, you’re right to not want to do that!

      1. Perpal*

        (I should say, it is not ACTUALLY easier, especially in the long run, it just seems easier in the moment because they know toxic people are going to be obnoxious and nontoxic people will usually be nicer even about crazy requests)

    7. Sara without an H*

      Who is managing Edith and Archie??? Anybody who keeps breaking expensive equipment needs to be hauled in for a Come to Jesus Talk and some extra training. And in this case, a pretty brisk lecture on how to respond to feedback.

      And I say this as someone who is old enough to get to remember the tv show that is the source of those names. (Hell, I remember the Beatles when they had short hair.)

      1. Lora*

        THIS. Am old enough to remember waiting in line for gas if it was your day based on your license plate, had a lot of Peter Paul and Mary 45s. I remember being told by Jimmy Carter that if you’re cold, put a sweater on. We had email when I was in college though it was extremely new and you had to telnet to the Pine server. My high school even had a computer lab, though there was a list of DOS commands tacked to the desk next to the giant CRT monitor. When I was in grad school, Java was the thing, R was really new and used by academics, and Perl was being invented. About half my job is scripting now…

        Why these people haven’t been reprimanded for misuse and damage to company equipment is beyond me. This is insane. Delicacy about people’s feelings when you’re in a service role is one thing, but breaking this much hardware is bananas.

      2. Jean (just Jean)*

        In this particular situation, never mind Come to Jesus. Just go to the Bank (and withdraw funds to pay for the damaged equipment)! And afterwards, have some training sessions on How to Accept Criticism, How to Manage Anger, and How to Bloody Well Take Care of Your Employer’s Property. Alternative: a brief session on How to Pack Your Things and Leave Forever.
        I’m scandalized about the broken screens and carelessly let-in viruses.
        No disrespect intended towards more serious conversations with or about Jesus.

    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’d ask them at what age is it okay to tell someone they’re incorrect? Under 40, maybe under 35? This HR person makes me ragey.

      1. Quill*

        Like, does my arthritis qualify me for this special indulgence against being wrong, or am I still too young?

      2. Anon4this*

        It’s because in employment law, age discrimination/ageism starts at age 40+, so HR zeroing in their ages makes sense.
        It’s because 40 is “middle age” and associated with not being able to reproduce anymore and losing the last vestige of anything resembling “youth”.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          First of all, I was joking (kind of). Second of all, nothing HR is doing makes sense, because telling someone at work that they’re doing something incorrectly has nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with performing your job correctly. And it’s clear that HR just wants these problem people to get off their back instead of addressing the real problem in this situation.

      3. Kes*

        Specifically, OP should ask ‘To clarify, at what age do we need to start treating them differently?’ in hopes of making it clear that age discrimination is exactly what HR is recommending (though I wouldn’t get my hopes up).

        Failing that, they probably will need to rephrase everything as you would to a cantankerous client, which is basically what they have. ‘Actually,…’, ‘What we’ve found works best is…’

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        Dear HR person: Below what age it is OK to tell someone they are incorrect? Also, how old are you?

    9. Mazzy*

      Not to mention, being in your 40s gives you a license to scream discrimination? I never thought about. Has anyone looked around and realized some of the people you think of as young are in their 40s?

      1. Close Bracket*

        Well, not license, exactly, but workers over 40 are an EEOC protected class for a reason! I’m 49 and started a new job last year, and holy smokes the preferences shown to younger new employees is for real. Established workers there who are my age and older talk openly about giving plumb assignments to young people, meaning in their 20s.

    10. Abogado Avocado*

      #1: Alison’s right: your HR is terrible, not least because, as others have observed, they’re telling you to discriminate based on age. What I propose is sneakier: calculate the cost of the equipment and the time your staff is having to spend on these two techno-idiots. Separate it out by date. Go back a year. Include the cost of treating the viruses Edith spreads. Provide that to your boss and to HR. (When you include the staff time on an hourly basis, I’m telling you: it’s going to be a nice big number.) Then, suggest that, at the very least, Archie and Edith need more training, otherwise your department is going to be working on the issues caused by these two to the exclusion of more important projects for the company’s bottom line. I promise that this will illustrate the problem and will catalyze a more robust discussion than whether you’re using the right magic words.

    11. T2*

      I am an IT manager in my 50’s. Can I tell Archie and Edith they are wrong? Seriously, I will not hesitate to correct incorrect practices. If you don’t like it, stop being incorrect. Period.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Seriously. If they pulled that on me, I’d just say “Well, I’m 58, you’re younger than me, and still wrong. Now please do X, Y and Z correctly. Do not smash the monitors or keyboards. Do not click on links or open unknown files in emails. This is a company standard that we all have to follow.” But I’m probably not as nice as I should be…

    12. bluephone*

      Edith and Archie are not only wrong, they’re very stupid (as is your HR department).
      That’s not even being ageist, that’s just stating facts.

    13. Newbie 101*

      One of my professors last semester was an older lady who’s lecture topics included ‘Political correctness’ vs actual acceptance. She called me out on the first day for a question that, due to poor wording, sounded ageist. I can practically hear her irritation with the HR in letter 1 and can take a guess at the response she would have.

      For those curious: My question wasn’t ideal, but in my defense, she was asking us to ask anything about her we were curious about during the first half hour we’d met her. Since pretty much every prof I had met on campus was frustrated with our school intranet in specific and computers in general, I was curious why she created a digitally involved assignment where the software had nothing to do with the course. My intent was to ask if she had a background in computer science, or what else interested her in that presentation format, but… Oooofh.

  2. AcademiaNut*

    So an example of how to do #3 sensibly –

    We’re under orders to report coronavirus-like symptoms at work; I’m in an area with very little community transmission, so the probability of a random person having coronavirus (rather than a cold or flu) is quite low. A couple of weeks ago, a coworker wasn’t feeling well, and the doctor had a test taken as a precaution. An email went out to the department that didn’t name names, but described the situation, and the areas in the person had been in (one floor, plus the break room). The people who were likely to be in contact were asked to work from home under self-health management until test results were back, and the floor was disinfected that night. Two days later the results came back negative, this was communicated immediately, and things went back to normal. At no point was the suspected case’s name mentioned.

    1. Avasarala*

      This is how it was done for my spouse as well. An official HR communication went out that an employee had reported symptoms, so please nobody come to the office until further notice. Then a supervisor called and asked privately if spouse had come into contact with a certain person recently. I think it’s good to keep the person as anonymous as possible, especially for people in other departments who don’t interact with that person often. The important thing is “maybe someone has it, code 23-19”.

    2. Beatrice*

      My company’s been handling cases similarly. We work in roughly 10 different buildings, and have had cases in 4 of them. The sick person has never been named. The entire company is notified of a positive case in Building X. People in Building X are notified that the case happened with someone who primarily works in the B wing. People likely to be in regular contact with the individual are specifically notified and asked to quarantine at home. Relevant areas of the building are sanitized following CDC guidelines, often with a half-day shutdown.

      The only time any additional detail was provided was a case where the affected individual had been on vacation for more than a week before their diagnosis, so the odds germs had been brought into the building were very low. I assume our management team decided that the relief that extra detail would provide outweighed the risk the individual would be identified from it (and knowing the managers involved – they most likely got permission from the individual before sharing it.)

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      I’ll push back against the expectation of negative COVID test as a condition of return to work – as is the case in the letter (not for your coworker).

      1) it’s great your coworkers dr was able to order & obtain testing. However:
      a) testing is still being rationed and limited*, especially in cases of “I had one mild symptom and no exposure risk.” In some cases, people tick all the symptom and exposure boxes, but aren’t sick enough to require hospital care, and are being told “we presume you have it, stay home until symptom-free plus 7 days,” because a test wouldn’t change that advice either way.
      b) OP is a contractor, and if their employer doesn’t offer insurance, that’s a barrier to testing.
      2) Testing, in its current state in the US, is of limited value for people like OP who are essential and have iffy workplace exposure. Assuming OP gets a test and is negative, they’re immediately back in the exposure environment. Repeatedly putting someone out pending a negative test is impractical for the employer and for the person being asked to seek repeat testing.
      3) Test reliability has some real issues. False negatives and false positives, different types of tests which look for different things, etc. it’s confusing for providers to interpret, I can’t imagine being a lay person.

      *don’t want to derail my response, but my employer, a healthcare org, and the labs we contract with, are all backlogged; subject to the ability to get the supplies to run the tests; and other issues.

      1. WellRed*

        Thanks for all this. I read these and wonder where all these people live that they can get testing at the drop of a hat, especially for one mild symptom that could be anything (chronic cough, here).

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          My county. We ordered tests early on and only have about 100 cases so people who have symptoms are being tested. Especially people who work in essential services.
          I know we ended up giving about half the tests we received away to harder hit areas who were short but not all since we have some large hospitals and manufacturing facilities in the area.

        2. Clisby*

          Where I live, you can easily get tested by a private outfit (I think it costs $80.) To go through one of the hospitals you have to go through an online screening first, and a person with just a cough wouldn’t qualify.

      2. Little yellow spider*

        This is a great point. In my area testing is incredibly limited and so backlogged that even if you can get a test it takes a long time for results. A friend of mine was sick for quite a while, starting with mild symptoms, and couldn’t get a test until she was having a lot of chest pain and shortness of breath. It then took 19 days to get her results back. Even after she was symptom free and had been quarantined for two weeks she couldn’t return to work because she didn’t have her results. The combined time of waiting for a test and then waiting for results meant she was out of work for about a month, and in the end didn’t even have covid. She didn’t have a job she could do from home either.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      That works if you can get tested. In a lot of places in the US, you simply can’t. And given the percentage of people who can be infected without any symptoms, even if testing were available, it’s only semi-effective. If that business CAN work from home, they should be.

    5. ellex42*

      My employer has handled things pretty similarly. We actually did have someone who tested positive, and anyone who had come into contact with that person was contacted directly and requested to quarantine themselves. The areas that person were in were communicated to everyone, so that anyone who had been in those areas could contact HR and self-report that they had been there if HR didn’t already know. No names were named.

      I felt like I was “in the loop” as much as I needed to be while everyone’s privacy was maintained and respected.

  3. Granger Chase*

    OP1: As soon as an HR rep says they just want the other person to shut up instead of doing what’s right, you know they’re absolutely ineffective. Kudos to you for being in your employee’s corner and not bending about reprimanding her (for doing her job professionally!).
    I’d get some clarity on what HR and management expect as far as dealing with these employees and their tech errors moving forwards. Are you supposed to ignore them damaging company property or infecting the whole department’s devices with malware because correcting them would be “offensive”? And don’t even get me started on the text messages ugh…I’m sorry you’re having to deal with all of this on top of trying to keep everyone running smoothly while remote.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I feel like some commenters might have missed that – when OP pushed back, HR said “I just want to shut them up, okay?”. And that’s… arguably even worse. If they (HR) simply were ardent worshippers of people older than them, at least their actions would be consistent and they could fall back on their moral high attitude or whatever. But as it stands, it doesn’t even sound like they necessarily agree with Archie and Edith, they just don’t want to deal with them. And in addition to everything else, that is, ironically, much more disrespectful towards two older employees than what OP’s report did.

      1. Mookie*

        Exactly right about the lazy motivation of HR. All they’re doing is making it clear that being consistently wrong and disruptive will be rewarded and anyone who complains will be intimidated and everyone else will have to take a class.* Morale must be through the roof.

        *if this is third-party, it might be a bit of fun to ask the instructors and moderators to address this exact situation, but framing it as a hypothetical. If they’re worth their salt, they will, emphatically, condemn this ridiculous response.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        As I read, it seemed to me that the people with the age bias were the HR people themselves. Older people can’t handle correction because they are… OLD?

        So if OP waits a few years, then HR cannot tell her she is wrong either by THEIR own “rules”. Hey, fair is fair, goose/gander and all that.

    2. CurrentlyBill*

      Perhaps OP1 can push back enough on HR so HR doesn’t want to deal with OP1 either. Just need to be a little more annoying than Archie and Meredith.

      1. Perpal*

        Yes, exactly.
        Start by filing a formal complaint about them for bullying and destruction of property.

      2. Amy Sly*

        There’s a little noticed parable in the New Testament that really should get more attention: the Parable of the Unjust Judge.

        In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

        “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she will not eventually wear me out with her coming!’ Luke 18: 2-5

        Sometimes, you just have to be that annoying widow.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Yup. Squeaky wheel and all that. I’ve been That Person before with compliance issues. Oh, you don’t want to install secondary containment as required because Random Person will be annoyed and have to move 6 whole inches to walk past? Hah. Wait til you see EC on a mission. I will annoy you *and those higher above you* to do the Right, Required Thing.

      3. Batgirl*

        Yeah its definitely a combination of ‘the squeekiest wheel wins’ and “Just be the reasonable one! (Who rolls over)”
        I would make this a huge job for HR until they realised it was far easier to smack down the bullies.
        Every day they would get an email seeking helpful clarification.
        The whole time you are doing this, explain you can’t reprimand anyone until you personally get a handle on why it’s wrong to treat people equitably.
        I’d first insist that HR put everything in writing (because a lot of this is definitely verbal – there’s no way HR said ‘shut them up’ in writing).
        Secondly, I’d ask for how we are going to limit the legal ramifications of failing to give older staff members direct feedback if this is going to become policy. I would use the words ‘deliberately patronising’ and the phrase ‘may lead to genuinely legitimate claims of age discrimination in the future with other legally protected members of staff’.
        Thirdly I’d give examples of how mistakes have been pointed out equitably amongst members of staff across all ages and ask if this is adequate proof there is no discrimination. Then: “Are we to continue giving feedback to young employees? I’m concerned that treating staff members differently is a recipe for legal disaster. Don’t forget the gender implications too if we happen to only correct a certain gender while treating people differently.”
        Following that I’d give examples of times when a corrected mistake has saved money and ask for guidance on how it should be reworded in similar situations. ‘If we can’t halt misunderstanding in their tracks are we willing to take the hit of costs up to $x and is it understood that that is going to happen while feedback has been frozen as per this policy?’
        Next I’d ask for a detailed breakdown on “how to give feedback according to ‘HR person’s new policy’ as I’m afraid I must still be misunderstanding the directive as treating people differently on the basis of age which can’t be legal and is making me nervous about implementing it”.
        Then I’d raise a mistake that’s currently happening and ask for guidance in tackling this ‘under the new rules’.
        Then I’d ask them to review another ‘mistake I don’t feel allowed to correct’.
        If HR are correcting squeeky’s and wheel’s numerous mistakes you will be keeping them very busy. They will either correct them or will be handing your two most problematic employees more rope by failing to correct them.
        When asked again about reprimanding your employee say “Having thought about it and looked into this issue very closely there’s no way she could have known about this new policy in advance. She was following my instructions so the reprimand, if any, is due to me”.

    3. BluntBunny*

      Yes if I were the IT manager I would email Edith and Archie with screenshots of the text messages attached. CC HR your employees and their manager. Explain that you will tolerate abuse of your staff who are there to support them and that you have reviewed their correspondence with them and don’t see anything inappropriate with their response.
      I would say that if they want to continue getting support from your team then they should apologise and from now on you will be CC’d on emails. Or you may want to deal with them solely. One thing to do is to send out emails to departments on tips on identifying scams and phishing emails and how to report them or identified suspicious email addresses. Also if they have broken screens could ask if they need computer bags or stand.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’d get some clarity on what HR and management expect as far as dealing with these employees and their tech errors moving forwards. Are you supposed to ignore them damaging company property or infecting the whole department’s devices with malware because correcting them would be “offensive”?

      Yes, this is what I find the most baffling. What are they supposed to say next time? “Good job, Edith, here, go download another virus”??

    5. Is it Friday yet?*

      This! How do they expect you to handle Archie and Edith moving forward? They’re coming to you because something is not working. If they are using equipment or software improperly, and that is causing it not to work, but you cannot correct them, what does HR expect you to do? I’d almost be tempted to follow HR’s advice about not telling Archie and Edith that they’re wrong since it’s just going to backfire, not solve their issues, cost the company more $ and you’ll have HR’s directive to point to.

  4. Heidi*

    For Letter 1, did anyone document the abusive texts? That kind of behavior cannot be justified by claims of age discrimination. Seriously, the first 3 letters are all infuriating in their own way.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Agreed! Claims of not being patient are one thing, but abuse of IT personal should not be tolerated.

  5. MBK*

    LW2: Any benefit of the doubt Mike might get for being “new” or “naïve” went right out the window as soon as he ignored messages alerting him to his own infringement.

    1. Massmatt*

      I agree, he sounds like a real sleaze. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d want him to stay on the job.

      And the “difficulty hiring” is a feeble excuse for retaining incompetent or terrible employees even when times are good, in a case like today it really doesn’t fly.

      There are approximately 30 million people out of work and millions more whose jobs are tenuous at best. If you can’t find someone to hire now, when will you ever find them?

      Millions of unemployed people, and your company might hold on to this… thief?

      1. Filosofickle*

        I know…shouldn’t it be easier to hire right now? And in creative work, freelancers are plentiful and you’re all working remotely anyway!

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I am very much not a fan of the “there’s a long line of people who want your job, so you’d better shut up and be grateful” mentality. But this guy is stealing credit for his colleagues’ work, in a really public, egregious, and shameless way. He’s thoroughly earned himself the boot.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          I think there’s quite a distance between “be thankful for your job” and “people shouldn’t worry about difficulties replacing employees who commit gross misconduct” – the other possibility is that, if they’re allowing remote working and open to allowing it permanently, the company can recruit over a wider geographic area than they may have done previously.

      3. Venus*

        To add to the ‘difficulty hiring’ issue: workplaces that don’t get rid of asshole behavior often end up losing better employees.

        Maybe Mike can save himself by being completely honest and changing. If he is definitely a problem then he needs to go, because if not then there is a much bigger risk of losing people who don’t want to work at a place that doesn’t deal with assholes, and they will be harder to replace.

      4. Legal Beagle*

        I can’t imagine that keeping Mike, when he’s shown himself to be dishonest and untrustworthy, would be less work than replacing him. Every day he works there puts the company at risk, and supervising him adequately would be a full-time job in itself. It’s just not worth it.

      5. Paulina*

        If it’s going to be a problem to lose the bad coworker who is a thief, imagine how much of a problem it will be to lose the good coworker who was stolen from, when she quits. And then posts on Glassdoor that your company enabled thefts of her IP.

        And people who don’t get consequences for their bad actions generally get worse, so better to cut this off now.

    2. TimeCat*

      Someone who ignores IP issues can cause serious harm, particularly in PR.

      Mike has to go.

  6. Anonariffic*

    #1 – How on earth does a grown adult in an office environment go through three computer monitors in a month? Is he painting whiteout on the screen whenever he finds a typo in a document? Does he get startled and punch it whenever a video autoplays with sound? Is he using real scissors and glue on it to try to cut and paste? How?? (I feel like the recent SNL skit on the Amazon Echo Silver Edition is relevant here.)

    Hopefully this is just one rogue HR rep who’s either an idiot or just not dealing with current frustrations well at all and they will be overruled quickly. But if these ridiculous restrictions actually are approved, you should absolutely demand that they provide your team with HR-approved scripts for how to communicate both minor and serious issues to these employees when they’ve banned every single word that would reasonably be used in a troubleshooting email.

    1. MNDragonLady*

      This right here. Archie and Edith’s behavior is not a function of their age keeping them from understanding. They are Gen X like me, and while we Gen Xers didn’t grow up with technology in our hands from birth, we did grow up with it. That is, the PC came into our schools during middle/high school, we had email addresses in college, and the internet became a part of daily life in our early careers. These folks are just badly behaved and don’t want to learn how to use tech appropriately. They will continue to cost your company in time and money unless they are required to adjust their behavior.

      I think figuring out how much they do cost your department in time and money is useful information for those above you. And if you can compare it to other folks to see how unbalanced the costs are, even better.

      1. Mx*

        I am Gen X too but never had a PC at school, and never heard about internet before the late 90’s. Maybe because I wasn’t in the US I dunno.
        Even if Archie and Edith were like me, it is in no way an excuse to behave like this. We have to keep up with our times. And if we don’t know, we ask for guidance !

        1. TechWorker*

          +1 I am 20 years younger than these guys and I remember both the point ‘most’ people started owning computers at home and the point internet became common, so I am surprised by the suggestion that someone who is 40/50 grew up with it. Still no excuse for this behaviour obviously :)

          1. Fieldpoppy*

            Yeah, I’m 55 and my first access to computers was in grad school, and that was a main frame in a lab. The only people I knew with PCs were in computer science, until I got a Mac classic in 1991. BUT. That still means I’ve been using a computer every day for more than 30 years. These people are jerks and so is your HR.

          2. WS*

            I am 45 and our family got our first computer when I was 7! (I’m also not in the US). It really does vary, though – I have co-workers aged 20-58, and while the oldest co-worker is the least comfortable with computers, the next most adept after me is 50. The 20-year-old has a lot of trouble with anything that’s not very visual.

          3. MNDragonLady*

            Well, I am in the US, grew up in the Midwest, now in my late 40’s. We had a computer in my classroom starting in 5th grade (Apple). I learned my first word processing program in high school and got my first email address in 1991 while I was in undergrad. Every paper I wrote in college (1990-1994) was done using the computers in the computer lab and the printers provided by school, which was the expectation from my professors.I guess i figured that was pretty standard for the era, especially given the folks I know in my age group from the different places I’ve lived.

            1. Risha*

              Yes, anyone who attended college in the US in the 90s should have had access to some form of computer for papers and an email address (in my college’s case, via VAX terminals). Access before getting to college, which is what I consider ‘growing up with them,’ wasn’t common outside of in urban and suburban areas and the middle class or better, until the mid-90s. Many high schools outside of that probably had desktops you could type a paper on, but I don’t really consider that the same thing. (And I, like many in that era, used a word processor for that instead.)

            2. Penny Parker*

              I grew up in the midwest and we had a computer in our school. It took up an entire room and worked with punch cards. But the school was rural and very small and it was considered amazing we had one at all. This was in the 1960s.

          4. Nekussa*

            I’m 51 and was able to take computer classes in junior high and high school (early 80’s), but they were definitely a specialty class, not something every kid took. We did have a computer in the home (Apple II), but my dad’s an engineer and a tech nerd. So I suspect whether you had access to that sort of technology at that time could easily have varied by school district and family income/inclination.

          5. RobotWithHumanHair*

            I’m 40 and I had my first computer (a Commodore 64) at age 5. Friends of mine at that age also had either C64s or Apple IIes (and this was in a lower-middle class neighborhood). Then I had my first PC running MS-DOS by age 11 or 12. I also remember using an Apple IIe in 5th grade and a computer lab running the old monochrome Macs in middle school. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I could be an outlier. :)

          6. Quill*

            Yeah, my parents are smack in that age range and my dad didn’t lay eyes on a computer until he went to college, ended up majoring in programming, has worked as a programmer ever since. My mom, despite her dad working with industrial computers, seldom had to use one until about 2000, and definitely lacks some skills, such as the ability to type using more than three fingers.

            1. LJay*

              Honestly, I’m a millennial and I type with 3 fingers.

              I can touch type, and type fast enough, but not anywhere near as fast or as accurately as someone who types correctly.

              I grew up with computers in my home and in my classroom and with typing classes in elementary and middle school, but all those classes did was reinforce my incorrect technique.

          7. Risha*

            I just had this conversation (with someone a couple of years younger than me – I’m 43) on Twitter a couple of months ago! She had grown up with computers; I didn’t really have access other than typing papers on my high school’s computers until I went to college in 1994. We finally came to an agreement that the cut off was a couple of years after me, and also by socioeconomic class.

            Her middle-to-upper-middle class upbringing meant that she, like a lot of the kids I went to school with in my quite nice suburb, had a desktop and internet at home as soon as they became widely available in the early 80s. My lower middle class upbringing, combined with how personal computers were widely available but in many ways still a novelty, meant that there wasn’t any money for that sort of thing. It wasn’t something that became genuinely widespread until AOL disks carpeted the world in the mid 90s (which started in 93 but took a couple of years to ramp up), and nearly universal regardless of class in the US until the late 90s or early 00s.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Yeah, I didn’t have access to a computer at home until I was an adult and bought my own, mid-90s.

          8. Jules the 3rd*

            TCP/IP was invented in 1983.
            In the US, colleges got on the internet starting in1984; my residential magnet high school was college affiliated and had it by 1986. Emails from the east coast to the west coast were overnight, because they got bunched up into packets and loaded overnight.
            IMDB created, 1990.
            Internet access was common in US colleges by 1992
            World Wide Web (www) invented 1991, widespread by 1994 when PCs became common in the US. (I mighta met Paul Jones back in ’91). IMDB moved to www in 1993.

            It wasn’t available to everyone in 1986 – my hometown high school certainly didn’t have email – but it was widespread by 1994, and common by 2000.

            That’s 20 years ago – plenty of time for anyone to learn, if they chose. There’s no excuse for a 40/50yo professional not to understand basic tech. (Non-professionals may have had little need to learn, and it does take time, so I get that, but office workers? No. Not when there’s free classes at your local library or community center.)

            Some neat node maps (and dates) at Vox’s ’40 maps that explain the internet’

            1. SusanIvanova*

              This. If you’re in your 50s, even if you weren’t an early adopter you’ve at least seen them on TV since your early 20s, and if your job was the sort to adopt computers they probably did it at least 20 years ago.

              I’ve been programming Apple products since 1980 when I was 15. When my brother sent out his resume in the early 90s, hiring managers were impressed that he already had an email address (yes, an AOL address was impressive once).

          9. Rachel in NYC*

            I’m 38- my sister is 41. My dad was fascinated by computers- my sister was on one with my dad by age 3. By 5, I could start up my favorite game by myself (also why I have terrible posture on a computer b/c I sit like a 3 year old.)

            Our elementary school in FL had a computer room- and we had computer class on rotation weekly, just like gym, art, music.

        2. Myrin*

          Yeah, I always think that this is probably a geographic thing – I experienced what MND talks about (with the exception of the internet being part of daily life during my teenage years already) and I’m 29! But I’m not in the US, and rural to boot, and I’m assuming that’s the biggest reason for this difference.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I am in my early 50s and was also not in the US for the first 29 years of my life. First computer I ever saw was a mainframe in my first year of college. First PCs I ever saw was in my 4th year of college. I was studying CS in college and we were a high-ranking school. Didn’t have Internet at home or a computer at home until we came to the US. Even so, I found Archie and Edith’s lack of knowledge of tech baffling. Even if they somehow didn’t have a computer in the 90s, that was 20 years ago and I bet they each have one now.

        4. iglwif*

          I’m in my mid-40s, not from the US. My elementary school had a computer lab at least starting in the early 80s, populated by Apple II’s and IIe’s; later on (mid-80s) a class set of IBM PCs was added. There were no computers *in the classroom* but they were in the building! Most people we knew didn’t have computers at home at that point, but I did have one classmate whose family had a Commodore Amiga :D We played a lot of Jump-Man on it after school.

          My mum was doing a master’s degree in music education when I was in late elementary school, and she spent a lot of time on campus typing up her dissertation because we didn’t have a computer at home. I don’t remember exactly when we got our first PC but we definitely had one by the time I finished junior high school. I stuck with my trusty portable typewriter for a while but in Grade 11 I caved and begged my mom to teach me WP 5.1 so I could have some hope of typing up my history guided coursework in time to turn it in. My little brother was hanging out on BBS’s by then and in fact ran his own for a while.

          I got my first email address in university–so, mid-1990s–and by the time I was in the workforce starting in 1996, at least 80% of my job was on the computer.

          I think for Gen X folks, a lot depends on how into this stuff one’s parents were, what jobs they had, etc. Computers and peripherals were hella expensive back then, and you couldn’t be on the internet without tying up the household’s one phone line, so if your parents didn’t get it, you weren’t getting online.

      2. Megumin*

        Agreed. I have worked tech support most of my career, and I worked with extremely tech-savvy people who were 60+, and some extremely tech-illiterate people who were under 25. I have been working in higher ed, so I got to see a wide range of tech proficiency. Going through monitors that fast is not just “not good with technology”.

        1. Clisby*

          I’m on Team What The Heck Are They Doing With Their Devices? I’m 66 and was a computer programmer for 27 years before retiring, and ruining one keyboard by spilling coffee on it is the only damage I’ve ever done. (This was a desktop keyboard, not a laptop, so it might have been $20 worth of damage.)
          I do see how you could drop a phone or tablet and crack the screen, but in our family of 4 people, exactly one of us (our daughter) has done this exactly one time.

      3. Senor Montoya*

        I’m 59 years old. I remember punch cards… Even I, at my advanced age and tech free childhood, am not stupid or unprofessional enough to break multiple devices, repeatedly contaminate an office system with viruses, or think that anyone younger than me can’t tell me I’m wrong when I’m actually wrong.

        It’s not like these bozos are even that old!

        (I’m an ok boomer)

      4. Thankful for AAM*

        Hey, I’m technically a boomer. I never saw a personal computer till the last few months of college, did not use one till grad school in the late 80s, did not own one till the late 90s (lived overseas at one point where they were behind the US computerwise). But that means, even late to the game, that I have been using one for 20+ years!

        The only damage I have ever done is to drop a laptop or pop off a key. This is not an age thing, this is an “I want it done for me” thing!

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      OMG, scissors and glue! None of this surprises me, though. We had a problem with more than one person repeatedly smashing up docking stations when they couldn’t figure out how to safely get their laptops back on. I know docking stations can be a bit fiddly, but what? How? Huh? How does this even happen without trying to rage-dock your laptop?

      1. misspiggy*

        Oh. Er, people like me are very good at destroying equipment with crushable connectors, just through poor coordination. I …don’t get on well with docking stations. But I know myself well enough to opt out of anything like that.

        Monitors are a lot more robust – I can’t think of a condition that would involve genuinely accidental trashing of monitors, unless other daily tasks like dressing yourself and cooking are also out of reach.

        1. vampire physicist*

          I’ve broken two laptop screens in my life and both would be pretty much impossible to do from home (I packed one in a suitcase, like an idiot, and the second I dropped from standing while onsite at a client in a medical supply closet such that it fell on something with a sharp corner and dented the back of the screen). You need a pretty significant amount of blunt trauma to the screen to break it in most laptops; 3 in a month or two is ridiculous.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            “You need a pretty significant amount of blunt trauma to the screen to break it in most laptops”

            My home laptop that I just replaced, had a very tough life. We spilled red wine on it, I dropped it on a garage floor once. My son spilled water on it, took it apart to air it out, and lost some of the screws. That computer had seen some sh!t. And we were still not able to break a screen. Does Archie perchance get angry at his laptops and throw them across a room or something?

            1. Quill*

              Yeah, I’m thinking: slamming them shut with a sturdy object between screen and keyboard, Egregious bad handling…

              That said, I know that my touchscreen laptop (approximately 3 years old) is flimsier than the industry average for work laptops, so if you ever have to issue edith and / or archie another machine, try to avoid touch screens, hinges that go all the way back, and extra light laptop options.

              They’re either careless or clumsy or deliberately destructive, give them the closest thing to a brick that you can run all essential programs on.

              1. LJay*

                Yeah. I’m a klutz and I’ve only broken two laptop screens in my life.

                One was Surface that fell out of my backpack when the zipper gave out.

                The other was a MacBook Pro that I closed and forgot there was a pen on my keyboard.

                My work-issued HP is fairly indestructible.

                Even with thinner, more delicate laptops though they must be doing something egregiously wrong to be breaking them on the regular though.

          2. hermit crab*

            Yes, seriously! About ten years ago, I was in a serious car crash – flipped over, slammed into a rocky roadcut, the whole nine yards – with my trusty Gateway laptop in a sleeve-style case in the trunk. I spent several days in the ICU while my laptop had the teeniest, tiniest little dent in one corner. I don’t want to know what it would’ve taken to destroy that thing!

    3. Betty*

      YES to the HR scripts! HR just wants them to shut up because it’s easier. Make it harder by putting the work back onto HR so they end up agreeing with you to make you shut up!

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I was thinking they could be touchscreen?
      But OP said this happens to phones and things too.
      The malware unfortunately can happen to anyone, especially if the email quarantine folder isn’t as strict as it could be, or someone doesn’t follow the protocol to not open suspicious emails or websites or clickbait ads.

    5. Perpal*

      I was really wondering about what was going on with the hardware too; is Archie getting enraged and breaking them, then having the audacity to just go and ask for another on corporate dime, then do it again and again? OP please place limits on these people, be as squeeky as they are!

    6. Canadian Yankee*

      It’s also *really* difficult to trouble-shoot IT issues remotely with someone who is completely clueless about technology. I was on a Zoom call last week with someone who had never used Zoom before (his company uses Google hangouts for online meetings). He couldn’t figure out how get his camera working. I walked him through how to open the camera selection menu and after nothing worked it became apparent that he didn’t even have a camera connected to the computer he was using.

      His explanation: “With hangouts I don’t need the camera because Google has one integrated right into the software. I don’t know why Zoom can’t do the same thing.”

      I had no idea how to respond to this. I think I said something like, “That’s physically impossible. You need a real camera with a lens and stuff to record video.”

      We gave up and didn’t use video. The only possible explanation I have for what the hell was going on is that this was an evening meeting and he was probably using a home computer than he never uses during the day. That day-time work computer must be a laptop with an integrated camera that he doesn’t even know exists.

      1. Briefly Anon*

        I spent two days recently trying to troubleshoot why my mum wasn’t getting email notifications on her phone, before she dropped into a completely different conversation that she keeps it on airplane mode the whole time to save battery.

    7. I'm So OLD*

      #1 – Geez! my 93 yr old mother even knew enough to not infect her computer or break her monitor! I call BS on ageism. That just really made me see red. I HATE when people try to pull that ‘oh, i’m so old and don’t know this technology stuff’ – take off the I’m so old, admit you don’t know something and ask for help!

  7. Potatoes gonna potate*

    #1 – Edith and Archie sound incredibly obnoxious and just totally incompetent – constantly breaking hardware, spreading viruses etc and threatening texts (!). It has nothing to do with age. HR is terrible here.

    1. Sara without an H*

      It isn’t just HR (although I agree about their incompetence). Something is seriously off-kilter with management if two people build up the record described in the post without getting disciplined.

      1. Delta Delta*

        If management even knows. It may be that IT issues go to IT and they deal with it and that’s it. If the IT team historically handles things smoothly (and it sounds like they probably do), management can focus on whatever it is the company substantively does. And if generally HR handles HR issues, probably nobody escalates it to management. I sort of picture a company having internal IT and having some extra supplies in case something breaks (monitor, keyboard, etc.), and then replacing it as needed. If that’s the case, it could be that nobody would know or notice that each of these employees has gone through some equipment – until, of course, it becomes an issue that it’s a repeated thing.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Hmmm…Delta Delta, this sounds plausible, and if you’re right, the OP#1 really needs to start documenting this situation and alerting his/her own superiors.

  8. Gaia*

    Oh lord, OP1. I am not in my 40s (yet) but I would be so damn mad if I found out someone younger than me was not correcting me on something that impacts my work because of my age and because of how they assumed that would lead me to react.

    Also, Alison I actually lol’d at a/s/l – I haven’t thought about that in ages and am grateful for the laugh.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      This is actually the second time in the last few hours I’ve run into a/s/l! I was listening to a podcast that referenced it in reference to evidence in a 2002 criminal case….

        1. Amy Sly*

          “a/s/l” = “age/sex/location”

          Back when chat rooms were a thing, you’d often have people ask for it as a way striking up conversations.

        2. OrigCassandra*

          “Age / sex / location.” It was a rather crass but decidedly common mode of introducing oneself.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I am 40 and the idea that in a few years might be talking about me like “the poor dear just can’t learn these newfangled things” or “you telling her she’s wrong is just going to get her all riled up” is infuriating. It’s absolutely insulting.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yeah, Harper, if somebody at work implied that I needed delicate handling because of my age, I think I’d treat them to a display of all the profanities and obscenities I’ve learned in over the decades.

        Brace yourself, though, for your first medical check-up after turning 65. You’ll walk into the office a healthy, middle-aged human being, and be asked if you’ve fallen recently, use a cane, can’t hear, or are depressed. After all those questions, the last one will at least be true.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          Ha! My mom just went through that. Every phone conversation now revolves around how she isn’t “really” 66 because she doesn’t feel like it and if she is 66 then it means she is married to an old geezer and dad isn’t old. She isn’t wrong though…they are the most active people I know. Just returned from 3 months in Kenya with her training medical personnel and him building the hospital. Plus they chased around 7 puppies that were born days before they arrived (cutest freaking things ever!). We refer to them as Putzers – can’t sit still, must be doing something. So it they aren’t walking the dogs, they are weeding or kayaking or swimming (well not now…there is ice on my deck) or cleaning or or or

          1. Quill*

            You just fast forwarded my life 10 years, my parents are in their 50’s and my mom being impossible to keep up with has only increased in the last few years.

          2. Third or Nothing!*

            I like your parents! That’s how my husband and I want to be once we hit our golden years. Shoot, if I’m still running at age 70 I’ll be perfectly positioned to FINALLY win my age bracket!

        2. iglwif*

          Ha!

          I’m in my mid-40s, which to me (given my statistically likely lifespan) means I’ve been solidly middle-aged for at least the last 5 years.

          My mum is in her late 70s, and when I described myself to her as “middle-aged” she told me I was being ridiculous. To her, middle age is a state of mind, and she’s still in it. She has zero patience for my actuarial approach XD

        3. Clisby*

          Hah! That’s true. I even got that when I went in for an appointment solely to get an injection. Can’t you save it for my annual physical?

        4. KoiFeeder*

          The first two are true for me now, and with my auditory processing disorder, arguably three. Forty-three years to go until doctors believe me, I guess.

    3. Megumin*

      Doing online education support for the last several years, I have helped a wide range of people with tech – including deans, VPs, etc. of colleges. They were all at least 25+ years older than me, and very high on the totem pole, so I was often instructed to handle them with kid gloves. And you know what I found out? 99% of them didn’t want kid gloves – they wanted honesty, directness, and effort. I told many of them “this isn’t correct,” and showed them how to do things the right way, and they were very appreciative. I got great reviews and made a lot of good connections because I was honest with them, while being respectful and helpful. Meanwhile, my former manager, who would condescend to them because he kept saying they were “bad at technology” and “wouldn’t understand” was always having interpersonal issues.

      1. Gaia*

        Right? I mean there is a big difference between telling someone “that’s wrong, you technologically inept moron!” and “actually, that’s not right. You’ll want to do X to get Y result.” The former is rude no matter the person’s age compared to yours. The latter is perfectly fine.

      2. Clisby*

        Well, that’s how reasonable people act. Your former manager seems to be of the opinion that they’re “bad at technology” and therefore you shouldn’t help them get better at technology.

        So much of what’s called “technology” these days is pretty easy to master. It’s weird to think people of any age can’t do it.

    4. Symplicite*

      I hated a/s/l on the online chat forums back in the day. I got to the point of saying, “Why yes, I do speak the Anglo-Saxon Language. How can I help you?”

      Got a few laughs, but yo this day, still drives me bonkers.

  9. Rollergirl09*

    Today I’m wearing my Rage Pants and OP1’s letter turned me into the Hulk. Once you reach a certain age, unless you’ve worked your way up to the C-suite, you’re going to have to report to and take the direction of people younger than you. It isn’t ageism to give feedback or gentle correction. Now if the email started with, “Listen up, Boomers. I know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m going to need you to try” then we have an issue.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Heck, the first time I worked for someone younger than me was in the 90s. *shrug*

      As long as you leave any actual condescension out of it, I’m fine. “The Llama Shearing report wasn’t accurate. Could you check the results from all feedlots again? There may be a copy-pasta error.” is better than “You idiot. The Llama Shearing report was wrong again. You missed a feedlot. Try not to screw up simple copy-pasta again.”

  10. Mike*

    #1 – any chance you’re older than the HR rep? In addition to the humor it would personally bring me, I’d be tempted to tell them they are younger than you and thus shouldn’t tell you how to manage your team! Though, obviously, couched in an enlightening sort of way – “of course I’m not serious but you can see why the same suggestion to me is equally ridiculous – because it’s our job to make sure all employees are using IT resources correctly.”

  11. Magenta Sky*

    #3: Blind, stupid, irrational panic is the order of the day right now, and once someone succumb to it, they lose the ability to recognize or accept that they have acted irrationally. The more you try to downplay it, the more convince they will be that they were right, no matter what the medical tests say.

    #1: If the two users were abusing in an email, encourage the employees they were abusive to to file formal, written complaints about that. Every. Single. Time. And thoroughly document 100% of all expenses incurred because of them (which you should be doing anyway). Or perhaps find a better place to work.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, #1, it’s high time to start documenting every less-than-professional interaction with Edith and Archie, if you haven’t done so already.

      You might also want to start documenting your interactions with HR.

  12. Anono-me*

    Op1: Has anyone asked the HR rep what’s going to happen when this young (or younger at least) woman in a very male-dominated profession receives an unjustified and probably career-killing formal discipline? Because I suspect that she might print up the correcting emails, the abusive texts and her copy of the discipline action and then walk herself right over to an employment rights lawyer. ( Resulting in alot more work and unpleasantness for the HR Rep.)

    The economy is going to be tough for the near future. A lot of really well-qualified people are going to be looking for opportunities in the next year or two. Employers are going to have the luxury of choice. And very few people are going to choose to hire someone who has a history of documented bias misbehavior, especially not when there are 10 or 12 other just as well qualified applicants. Putting that black mark on her permanent record when it’s completely undeserved is just a horrible thing to do.

    I hope that the fact that the IT specialist is female has no part in this horid behavior. But if it even just appears to have it gender bias component, that could be really bad for your company. (And even more work and unpleasantness for this HR Rep.)

    So my advice to you Op1 is to do what you can to protect your team and especially this IT specialist right now. Longer term, please evaluate where this organization is going. (The fact that this idea was not laughed out of the room does not bode well.)

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      You’ve made a very good point that raises another question. On the flip side, I wonder if part of what’s going on is that the organization’s concerned about killing someone’s career, just not OP’s. Something that could be a factor in all this is that HR (and maybe Edith/Archie’s direct manager) doesn’t want to hold those two accountable because they think it’s more compassionate to keep people who would probably face some degree of age discrimination in the hiring market employed. Those two having any reprimands in their employee file, combined with their lack of comfort with basic office equipment would be career-ending for them, no doubt.

      It’s not something I agree with necessarily, but there are work cultures where people would feel more or less okay about turfing a younger, higher-skilled, and more labour market-competitive employee in favour of people who might be less likely to move on and more likely to lawyer up. The fact that most of their department is younger is something that HR might be factoring into this as well – the optics of the situation are bad regardless of who eventually loses their job over this.

      1. TechWorker*

        I mean they can tell Edith and Archie that they’ve reviewed the emails and the language used was professional, they don’t have to fire them…

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          It’s not about firing them over the complaint, though. The OP said that Edith and Archie are harassing and sending abusive texts to people, though. That’s a no-go, regardless of what they thought of what they were responding to. They’re the ones who are being unprofessional; they’re also the ones who are misusing company equipment.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            I don’t like it because sending abusive messages isn’t cool, but a competent HR who wanted to keep their record clean could have opted to tell them that the email they were objecting to is inoffensive, but that if they respond with texts and emails in that matter again in future they will be subject to formal disciplinary procedures themselves so knock it off, and make a confidential record of that.

            I suspect that would also knock the wind out of their sails, probably shutting them up, while also not penalising innocent parties or ignoring their behaviour!

  13. WS*

    #3 – your company has handled this terribly and is now at risk of the next person with mild symptoms not saying anything! I suspect they put in a “report symptoms” requirement without thinking through what they would do if someone did have symptoms, then hit the roof when, inevitably, someone did. I hope they paid you while you were on mandatory leave.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that the company the OP is contracted to is the one with the rule, but OP’s actual employer is the one that freaked out (probably because they worried it put their contract at risk).

      1. Grand Mouse*

        That is correct! I was supposed to report symptoms to my facility before each shift, but when I had symptoms after my shift and reported them to the facility, got in trouble for contacting the client. This was when I was not on the clock and at home. I thought telling them sooner rather than later was best. My company wanted me to tell my boss directly, turns out. I think they wanted to control how the message was delivered? Which I understand, and regret botching that for them.

  14. Dutch Oven*

    OP2 – Is Mike’s moonlighting the same kind of work he does at his day job? If so, the real problem here is that Mike is being disloyal by competing with his own employer. That’s grounds to cut him loose immediately.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      No, the real problem is exactly what the OP wrote – Mike stole a colleague’s work and is now passing it off on his own. It’s copyright infringement, and he needs to be fired.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      I know plenty of people who do freelance work in the same industry as their day job. I even know some people who do what Mike is doing in terms of pretending they own an independent company whose day job is their client (in my field this is considered ok, but I totally understand why it wouldn’t be ok in some fields). The copyright infringement is the thing that is 100% not ok here.

      1. Actual Vampire*

        Oh, that second sentence is so weird, but I don’t know how to rephrase it. I know people who are employed full-time by Fergus’s Teapots, but they pretend that they own a company called Teapots by Mike, and that Fergus’s Teapots is their client. Does that make sense?

        1. Clisby*

          I understand what you’re saying, but I am baffled at “pretending they own an independent company whose day job is their client (in my field this is considered ok …)” In what field is lying about your employment status ok?

          1. Actual Vampire*

            I’m in a subset of architecture. It’s not lying about your employment status exactly… it’s more packaging things differently. You say “Welcome to my company, TeapotsPlus, where we designed this teapot and this sports car,” and when people ask about the sports car you tell them honestly that you designed it while working at Fergus’s Teapots & Sports Cars. Basically you are just replacing your own name with a name that makes you sound like a company, and then you advertise all your work as the “company’s” work. I personally find it super weird and confusing, especially when someone is advertising work that clearly required the employer’s staff and resources (as in the sports car example). But I’ve asked around and it is apparently a legit thing to do. It allows designers to build their independent careers using work they accomplished at other firms, which I guess is a good thing.

            That being said, the people I know who do this are very careful about the wording they use when describing their “company’s” projects. If Mike isn’t doing that, that might be a problem.

            1. Lizzo*

              This is really interesting…if this is Mike’s mindset, perhaps he feels he can help himself to the creative content produced by his colleagues, even though Tilda’s photography is not something she does for their company.

              Explanations aside, Mike has stolen intellectual property. That alone is not grounds for firing (though Tilda should certainly pursue that, and might consider starting with the “client” whose social media account used her image without permission), but being deceptive about his employer being his client might be.

              Both things certainly say something about his character. I’d give him a brief opportunity to explain his choices, but also be prepared to dismiss him from employment immediately. (Can receipt of severance be made conditional, i.e. he only gets it if he removes the materials on his website that are misleading and/or were created while he was employed there?)

              People who do this kind of stuff typically don’t change unless they are on the receiving end of a hard reality check–do him a favor and give him one.

  15. Lisa*

    I read LW #4 as maybe having a job where taking phone calls during the business day just can’t be done without prior arrangements. Maybe their current role is very public-facing or very coworker-visible and personal calls are Not Done, or maybe they are operating equipment that requires their full attention. If they have a regular work schedule, perhaps their outgoing voicemail could include something like “Please let me know a good time to return you call after 7 pm on weekdays, or for a faster response please email me at ___.” Listening to a voicemail and sending an email could be snuck in during a bathroom break. The idea is to subtly let the recruiter know that this call isn’t going to get returned right away.

    But would it every be appropriate to include a note to this effect in a cover letter? Especially if this is an industry where many jobs could be like this (manufacturing, transportation, retail, healthcare, education…)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You can put it in your cover letter, but lots of people are going to miss it because they read your cover letter, put you in the yes pile, and then don’t read it again before calling you (and don’t remember it was there).

    2. Charley*

      I read it this way too. Eg I used to work at a deli, and couldn’t have my phone on me during my shift, so would have to let all calls go to voicemail and return them later.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      The company I just started with was incredible about this. In their application portal they asked for preferred name and preferred method of communication. I was always called by the version of my name that I prefer (and all my usernames and email address were set up with that name) and was never contacted by anything other than email. Best hiring experience I’ve ever had.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      I screen all calls. If it’s from an unfamiliar number, I let it go to voice mail. I’ve had to much robospam and scam calls to always answer my phone. There’s nothing worse than looking for a job and having some scam marketer call you and tie up your phone trying to sell you social security services. Leave me a message, it’s how I know that you’re real.

  16. Cat Meowmy Admin*

    OP#1 – Omg… I also hate your HR. As someone about to reach age 65 myself in less than 2 weeks, and my husband is 57 – I went ape-sh*t all over my living room walls when I read this. Outrageous! It is HR who is being age discriminatory here! Archie and Edith breaking equipment and bully-texting?! Wtf! They are the problem, together with your HR. Thank you for having the backs of your team and I hope this can be resolved. Personally, my husband and I are pretty good at learning new technology on our own. And whenever needed, we’re extremely grateful to those (mostly younger) who have patiently taught us additional new technology along the way at our jobs. At this point, I’ve been the “senior” boomer at my office for a long time and it’s pretty cool as different generations can learn from each other with respect. Archie and Edith better get with the program!

  17. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Archie and Edith have effectively sabotaged themselves. Accusing IT support of ageism because they didn’t like the response to their mistakes is a mistake. Sending abusive texts is a bigger mistake. Demanding a written reprimand be filed against someone who can prove that they were only doing their assigned work is the biggest mistake. Ironically, they are displaying why older workers sometimes do get discriminated against. Damaging equipment to the point where it must be constantly replaced and introducing viruses has nothing to with age. It’s carelessness and the inability to listen and learn.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I have always had trouble with technology, even when I was a kid. Then, I was terrified that if I hit the wrong key, I’d cause the computer to crash. Now I’m terrified that if I go into the control panel and randomly click icons and root around there to figure out computer problems, I’ll accidentally wipe the hard drive or something equally catastrophic. I could never understand how people can actually play around with their devices and fix them without having an IT background.

      On the other hand, I know better than to open e-mails from people I don’t know or click on strange attachments.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Echoing nonegiven – you can find solutions to most tech problems by Googling the issue you’re having!

        It can take a little practice to learn how to search for the right words/phrases, but once you do, you’ll probably find someone on a message board or support site who had the same issue. If you’re getting any sort of error message, search the exact phrase with quotes around it. For something else, try searching your operating system/computer type (Mac, Microsoft, etc.) plus a short description – Excel file not opening, etc.

        I don’t want to derail too much on this (if you’re interested in getting tips, this would be a great question for the open thread), but most operating systems have lots and lots of failsafes. Unless you’re randomly deleting things, anything you do that could cause something as major as a hard drive wipe would give you at least one “are you sure you want to do this?” type message. You can also Google as you go – if you’re not sure what an icon or program does, or what a pop-up message means, the internet can usually tell you.

        1. sam*

          I’ll make a counterpoint – as someone who does regularly google solutions, but who works for an organization that locks down our computers so that we can’t make many changes or fixes without IT help* – it’s ABSOLUTELY FINE to ask IT for help.

          What isn’t fine is abusing IT support because they told you the right way to do something.

          *I just end up emailing the suggestions I find to IT with a “maybe this might help?” for stuff that has completely stymied everyone, which seems to be the case with the problems I end up with for some reason.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            It’s true. If you try to do things that might wipe out the computer you will usually get a “This action requires Administrator privileges”

            Also know that if your backups are being run correctly you can usually recover most things nowadays.

        2. Quill*

          I learned the traditional way: making my dad fix it and watching him, until I hit my late teens, got my own laptop, and didn’t need to be ADMIN to do anything. (Technically didn’t need to be ADMIN to muck around on the family desktop either, since my brother and I had figured out dad’s password by then…)

          The number of times I’ve been deputized to call out to IT and then heard some version of “thank god, an easy one!” when I tell them that, for example, my boss’ mouse driver corrupted, I have the right location open but I need them to remote in to authorize the update is pretty high.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        ” that if I go into the control panel and randomly click icons and root around there to figure out computer problems”

        Don’t do that. Don’t randomly click icons.

        I’m not going to comment on the risk (which is low of or non-existent of wiping your hard drive) but don’t randomly click stuff. Really. Click with intention or at least some rationale of why you’re clicking it. I’m not saying you have to understand everything, but don’t randomly click things.

        In fact, try the Google first to get some direction on what to do.

      3. Koala dreams*

        The general idea is that you click the icons one after the other, not randomly, like testing the keys on a keychain. You test one key (icon), then the next, until you find one that fits.

        Ironically, I have more trouble with actual keys. I put them in the wrong way or forget which one I tried before. It’s much easier to remember that I already tried the icon on the left with the little arrow, for example.

        1. Quill*

          Oh, the worst is when a machine has actual buttons that aren’t labeled as doing all the things that they do.

          Or when one press is “start” and “hold button down one minute” is “reset”

          At least with icons you can mouse over or right click to see more options!

          1. New Normal*

            Our credit card reader at work is like that – when in the home screen the number buttons have different functions and there’s not a hint of that on the buttons themselves or anywhere on the console. One of my coworkers managed to switch it to Spanish mode by accidentally hitting a number at the wrong time and was distraught, apologizing for her ineptitude. No, coworker, this is 100% percent on the console, not you.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Awww! I have trained so many people on computers that my go to is actually “don’t be afraid of it, you won’t break it!”

        That mentality is how most of us learned computers in the first place.

        I’m floored at the fact Archie has managed to break a screen. I’m assuming he keeps pushing them off a desk like a GD cat.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I know, right?

          Right now, I’m picturing Archie as the cat in the famous gif, going “f*** this, f*** that, f*** this, too,” as he knocks one screen off his desk after another!

  18. Antisocialite*

    #1 is just straight up b.s. If it were me I would also fully document and file formal complaints regarding the harassing text messages, plus quantify all the time and money those two jerks have cost the company. Being “older” (and 40 & 50 isn’t even that old) isn’t a free pass to act like a horrible human being all the time.

  19. Princess Zelda*

    The part in the answer for LW1 about a/s/l cracked me up. When I was a kid, I used to go into chatrooms and when someone would ask “asl?” I genuinely thought they were talking about American Sign Language and I’d tell them about how I could fingerspell and I knew some words but my mom was way more fluent than me.

    1. Avasarala*

      I love the idea that people in the 90s were trying to communicate with you via sign language, not text, in an AOL chatroom.
      It’s like calling someone and asking if they could switch to braille! Haha.

    2. Mookie*

      I had to delete a brand-new AOL account because the first time I went into a chat someone told me “im me,” and I responded “congratulations, I’m also me.” Didn’t even bother trying to pretend this was a joke, just ran away. I’m still haunted by it.

  20. Kevin Sours*

    OP#1. There are times in life when you can’t do your job if you are worried about keeping it. I don’t know about you or your situation so I’m not going to judge. But it were me I’d protect my team. Tooth and claw if need be.

    1. misspiggy*

      Yes. For me this would be a situation where I’d be willing to just refuse.

      Most likely it will be a big exercise in calling their bluff, but if a company seriously considered firing or disciplinary action over OP’s refusal, they would be headed for doom anyway.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I’ve found that people in management assume that you have to do what they say because they said it. They aren’t always prepared to face the actual consequences of your refusing to do so. Calling a bluff with a bluff is a game I don’t recommend playing. You need to be prepared for the consequences of raising the stakes your own self. But people frequently have more power than they think they do.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Same. I would completely ignore HR since they’ve proven to be utterly incompetent.

      OP, was this just a generalist who told you this? Is there someone in your HR department over the person you spoke to, like an HR director or manager? Because I would take the emails and the abusive messages from Archie and Edith to that person and explain what the rep told you and point out that by not doing your jobs and correcting Archie and Edith when they screw up your system and break screens, you’re allowing them to cost the company time and money that they should be trying to save given the current corona crisis and you’d be allowing actual discrimination against your female tech who is now being reprimanded for doing her job because people harassed her when they didn’t like her “tone” in an email.

  21. Anonny*

    For #1, I’d be so tempted to go full malicious compliance. Save all communication – both harassment emails from Edith and Archie, and the parts where HR told you not to correct them. And then wait for the next big expensive cock-up.

    I am a petty bastard.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Ya know, we talk about hills to die on. I would pick this as a hill to die on. And that is because of the lasting and broad ramifications of HR’s choices here. If this continues the whole place is destined to collapse, a work place cannot run like this.

    2. Not For Academics*

      Yep, malicious compliance is the answer here. Do what they have said they want – do not correct them. One option is to just let the things explode, but other more subtle options include:

      -Hi HR, please see the below email from Archie. This is his nth iteration of breaking the Thing X. How should we handle this without correcting him?

      -Hi Edith, please see the following link for instructions, which may or may not be a better way of handling this. We don’t know, we’re not experts.

      -Hi Archie, You’re right of course. Let us know how your new innovative solution works out.

  22. Mary*

    I agree that OP1’s HR is terrible, but Edith and Archie were my grandparents’ names and they were both born in the 1900s! I realise this is a joke, but I would be a little bit careful about countering accusations of ageism by nicknaming your problem co-workers with the names of people 70 years older than them (or, of course, forty years younger, since both names are extremely Back In now.)

    OP3, I feel incredibly sorry for you because that sounds super confusing and i am baffled about what you’re supposed to have done wrong, but feeling guilty and confused is not at all what you need right now m. I hope it lands on the desk of someone sensible soon, and you get some clarity, or that your supervisor explains properly what the misunderstanding was.

    1. Morning reader*

      Edith and Archie were the names of the parents in the show “All in the Family,” so it’s in keeping with choosing aliases from tv shows. As depicted, they were in their 50s or 60s. Perhaps Skreech and Slater would be more accurate age-cohort aliases for these two.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Nah, Screech and Slater weren’t this obnoxious. (And Screech would have been very good with technology.)

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +10000 to why the OP named them that, and I keep imagining the real Edith and Archie from the show when I read OP’s letter. Let’s admit it, this *is* what the real Edith and Archie would do. Well maybe not Edith, she was nice.

      1. kittymommy*

        Well that sounds about right as they both seem to be acting like toddlers right now (especially Archie).

        1. wendelenn*

          Archie isn’t a toddler yet, if I am correct he’ll turn one next month (Archie Harrison Sussex) :)

      2. Third or Nothing!*

        I totally love how old-fashioned names are coming back into vogue. Our daughter has a name that sounds like it belongs in the early 1900s.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Mine’s fully 19th century. :)
          There ARE some family names I hope get allowed to stay retired… but others make me smile.

  23. Jennifer Juniper*

    I would be livid if people were told to stop telling me when I did things wrong because of my age! I’m 45, not suffering from senility!

  24. call centre bee*

    I’m a bit confused by the answer to #4. It sounds like they’re in a situation like me where they’re not allowed their phone during work, but the majority of the answer is how to respond if they answer the call during work, which it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to do.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Yikes – I’m 35 and still tend to mentally think of myself as a youngish adult (I still have 3 living grandparents)… I may need to revise this belief if people only a few years older than me are pulling “this is age discrimination” cards!!

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, if OP can’t answer calls at all during work, they’re going to have to let it go to voicemail and record a message that tells recruiters to contact them via email (and then provide the email address again).

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think the real problem is at the end of the letter.

      “I typically need quite a bit of prep time to make the simplest of phone calls (social anxiety issues)”

      I think OP is just over thinking this. If they need time to prep for a phone call, just let it go to VM and prepare before calling them back.

      1. Old Biddy*

        Meh, I don’t have phone anxiety but some office configurations make this pretty difficult, especially for anything more than someone calling and asking if a certain timeslot is ok. At my previous workplace I shared an office and a lab with a coworker who was very tight with the boss. My coworker was great but there was no privacy unless I could arrange in advance. I could get away with a short call to set up a time but not anything where I was required to say anything about myself. I applied for a job at a startup and they wanted to do a phone interview but did not want to schedule it in advance or do it at a non-work time. Nope. They wanted to do a spur of the moment phone interview during the middle of the workday. FWIW I was local and this was in the stone ages when it wasn’t uncommon to do the first interview onsite.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Okay? I still think the larger issue is OP’s self diagnosed phone anxiety.

  25. LGC*

    LW1: I hate your HR SO MUCH it’s like flames on the side of my face…

    LW3: I think everyone else has said this, but…I’m not seeing where you’re at fault. It sounds like you called in with a possible COVID-19 symptom, so…your customer suspended their contract with your company?! And their upper management reported it as you having coronavirus?! I don’t think it’s an overreaction – I think it’s a total misfire and speaks volumes about their management.

    Look, COVID-19 is a serious illness. I think shutting down operations for a couple of days to clean is wise. In fact, my job had to do so earlier this month. (Next time we have a mass plague, perhaps it could wait until after allergy season?) It’s good that they took this seriously. But it’s a bit disappointing (although not entirely shocking) that they kind of threw you under the bus here.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      #3, yes about allergy season. I’m thankful that I’m working from home. While I don’t have terrible allergies, I do have post nasal drip, which is worse this time of year. This causes me to have a sore throat and sometimes cough. Many times in the past I’ve thought I’m getting a cold and it turns out to be nothing 95% of the time. If I had to go into an office and report my “symptoms” every time, I’d cause a panic every week. I get that it’s a serious disease and people have to be extra cautious, but panic is never the answer.

      1. LGC*

        To be fair, LW3 doesn’t say where they’re from. If they’re from the NYC metro, for example…I don’t know if the facility would have freaked out quite as much just because it’s EVERYWHERE right now, but it would be more reasonable to assume LW3 has COVID-19. And I don’t think that symptom screening is THAT bad – it’s not great because COVID-19 can pretty much present as anything, apparently, but it’s a starting point.

        That said, I don’t think there’s any situation where the answer to “one of the contractors has one symptom of COVID-19” is “PAUSE THE CONTRACT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

          1. LGC*

            So, yeah, they were probably right to assume you had COVID-19 until proven otherwise. And…on second thought, I made the mistake of being logical here and assuming that “we’re in an area with a raging epidemic of the ‘rona” would mean that you’d be less shocked by a potential COVID-19 case.

            And also – like, I know I said this and a lot of people said this, but this isn’t your fault! This is the facility overreacting and your bosses dumping this on your head. Hopefully you don’t lose your job over this because you don’t deserve to. You did the right thing.

  26. WellRed*

    “they sent harassing and abusive texts to my staff member.”

    OK, and has this been addressed? I’d want to use it to back up my claim that they are being unreasonable. Aside, of course, from suggesting HR take over troubleshooting IT for these people. (Don’t do that).

  27. TimeCat*

    #2 There is no charitable explanation for Mike. Someone working in PR knows what copyright is and passing work off for his firm for another is also egregious.

    If Mike claims ignorance I frankly wouldn’t believe him.

    Fire Mike.

    1. WellRed*

      Fire him yesterday or lose the trust and respect of the employees whose work he stole, and all other employees who know he stole work. Follow this with an examination of your company’s hiring practices and salary to see what might be contributing to your company’s difficulties in hiring.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I’ve worked for many companies that had sections in the employee handbook that said copyright infringement or theft of any kind was a fireable offense. Regardless of the perceived difficulty of replacing Mike right now (and I would argue it wouldn’t be that difficult since most people in creative fields are working from home right now, so OP could recruit remotely), if the OP’s company handbook has similar language and Mike isn’t fired, they’ve basically nullified their own handbook. Any staff who knows about this will feel emboldened to disregard it because why shouldn’t they? They won’t get fired anyway.

    3. Phillip*

      This, there is no way anyone working in PR or with creative in anyway doesn’t know this was wrong, new to the corporate world or no.

  28. angstrom*

    #1: Edith and Archie would be obnoxious at any age. They’re the kind of people who yell at airline ticket agents because of weather delays, or berate waitstaff when an item on the menu is sold out. It’s not a problem of age or computer skills — it’s a lack of basic human decency. It’s certainly not professional behavior. If you can’t accept the polite correction of a factual error you have no business working with other people who are trying to do a good job.

    I’ve certainly done my share of private fuming and muttering about corporate IT policies, but I’ve never taken it out on the folks who are trying to help me. I’m old enough to know better. ;-)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I will be 60 this year. I want it on record that Edith and Archie are an absolute embarrassment to us “oldsters”, like me.

  29. J.B.*

    #2 I hope that you are worrying on your managers behalf and that he will take care of Mike quickly. Here’s the thing – hiring is a pita, but there are sooo many qualified people out of work right now. Wouldn’t your team be more productive in the long run if you had someone competent you could trust working with you?

  30. Amethystmoon*

    #3 worries me as someone with seasonal and other allergies. There are reasons besides COVID-19 why people might cough or sneeze. Such a reaction would make others decide that it might be better to lie and say they didn’t have any symptoms, because they might get into trouble if they report the symptoms honestly. I do take my temperature on a daily basis and haven’t had a fever. I would not go into work if I had a fever. (We have been deemed essential, and I need to go in a couple of days a week, but have been trying to limit the number of days.)

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I am allergic to all the pollen and I live in the woods surrounded by a bunch of trees that decided it would be awesome to grow some leaves. Very pretty but I will create panic if I have to leave the house.

      1. Clisby*

        A few weeks ago I went for a walk around the nice park across the street from my house, and about halfway there went into a complete sneezing fit. I kept imagining that passers-by were freaking out that I had coronavirus. For a week or so I didn’t go back without taking Claritin an hour ahead of time. Now I’m just down to the allergy cough, but that’s easier – once I get out of bed and am up and around for a couple of hours, it disappears.

    2. The pest, Ramona*

      I have had a chronic cough for a few years, and year round allergies. My worry is that when we’re finally allowed back in public I will be the one everyone looks at with suspicion (I’m going to cough or sneeze, guaranteed). Luckily, for the time being I as not the designated shopper and have been staying home (since mid March).

    3. Eva Luna*

      Seriously. I have asthma and allergies and cough and sneeze all the time. It doesn’t mean I have anything contagious.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Same here! My eyes also water a lot, and I find it almost impossible to go more than a few minutes without blotting them with a tissue, so the “don’t touch your face” rule is highly problematic for me, to say the least.

        Having allergies is never fun, but in the age of COVID-19, it sucks more than ever!

    4. Cassie*

      I saw a sign at a supermarket the other day – about staying away if you have “cough or symptoms that are unusual to you”. That made more sense to me than the general “cough or symptoms” because there could be lots of reasons someone has a cough or stuffy nose that have nothing to do with coronavirus. I mean, I basically have a sore throat most mornings and sneeze clusters in the morning because of allergies but after the allergy meds kick in, I’m good.

      I’ve taken a few surveys in the past few weeks where the questions ask if you have a sore throat, have a cough, have a runny/stuffy nose, etc. It’s starting to make me wonder stuff like “well, what really is a cough? A single cough? A string of coughs? What’s the definition we’re using?”

  31. blackcat*

    Huh, thinking about the response to OP5:
    My husband has been asking to be furloughed to 80% instead of burning through his (one bucket) PTO for the same reason. We’re both working FT and caring for our child and we just… can’t keep that up. So he’s taking a fair bit of PTO, but we’re worried about what happens if he runs out and then gets sick later on in the year. Or just, you know, needs a day off to recharge. His company has said no, use up PTO, and refuses (from on high, his manager would if she could) to budge on his total billable hours.
    Should he stop asking? We have maybe 6 weeks before he runs out of PTO at this rate, and I have zero faith daycare will open again by that time.

    1. J.B.*

      Once he runs out I think FMLA would be an option for child care with the changes. I don’t know that I’d go there now because I think employers can make you take your paid leave and FMLA concurrently, but once you cross that bridge it would be something else. Especially if your husband is willing to give up some pay I would hope he could use it intermittently?

      This is all impossible anyway. Best of luck.

    2. CAA*

      He should take the PTO now and put 20% of his income in a separate savings account (that’s the same as if he were furloughed at 80%). If he gets sick later and needs to take unpaid time off, then you can draw from the savings account to make up for the missed income at that time.

      I’ve had to furlough people for government shutdowns a couple of times, and this question always comes up. My advice to employees who’ve asked has always been to burn through all their PTO while on furlough, save as much as they can, and plan to take vacations or future sick days as unpaid (knowing that a request for unpaid time off would never be denied at my employer). You do have to know yourself and be ruthlessly honest about your own money habits; but if you are capable of putting some aside now and not touching it, then it’s always better to have the money under your control rather than the company’s.

      1. blackcat*

        We had been contemplating this because unpaid PTO is not allowed and is considered cause for dismissal :(
        Maybe encouraging his manager to lobby for this to change would be helpful. They are gov contractors with a billable hour model, hence the restrictions.
        We could easily make it work on the lower pay. We save roughly 50% of his salary.

        Any other ideas?

        1. CAA*

          That’s rough if unpaid time off is not allowed. We also work on gov’t contracts and record and bill by the hour on a cost-plus contract, but obviously have a different policy on unpaid time.

          Even if the expanded FMLA doesn’t apply to him, the regular FMLA does, so if your main concern is him getting sick at some time in the future, then there might still be some coverage there.

          He should also talk to his manager about whether his targets are really per day, or if they’re per pay period or per month (assuming he’s exempt). Maybe he could switch to a 4-10 or 9-80 schedule and put in the same number of hours on fewer days.

          1. blackcat*

            He’s already on a 9-80, with flexibility across the pay period.
            The issue is we both work full time and our kid is the worst age to be home all day (just turned 2). Between cleaning the house (which we used to pay people for!), extra shopping and cooking, even the extra flexibility I have isn’t really enough. Our kid is needs our attention constantly when he’s awake (he won’t sit for TV), and we’re down 45 hours of childcare a week. There just aren’t enough hours in the day unless we seriously reduce our sleep (which we tried for a while, and that was bad).

            But the point about regular FMLA covering is a good one. Their policies will have the terrible impact of having people come to work sick once folks are more regularly in the office (he is “essential” and goes in sometimes already).

    3. Beep Boop*

      I’ve been wondering about something similar with my partner. What he told me was that they don’t have a lot of cases to work on right now so their hours are being reduced. They can either take PTO to cover that time or file for unemployment. That seems odd to me that they don’t want them to work but they also want them to use their PTO? That doesn’t seem fair. Can’t they do some kind of admin leave so that time is covered but they don’t have to dip into their own PTO pot? For context we are in California and he works at a large non profit hospital, non union.

      1. CAA*

        Yes, they could elect to pay people via some kind of admin leave even though they’re not working. I’ve not heard of any company that can afford to do this for very long though. Most employers can’t cover more than one or two payroll cycles before they run out of money. Some can’t even cover one cycle. That’s exactly what the PPP small business loans are supposed to help with; the idea is for employers to keep people on the payroll even though there’s not enough full-time work for them to do. I’m not sure if a non-profit hospital was eligible for that program or if they applied and just didn’t get the money, so your partner’s employer really might not be able to pay him for not working. If that’s the case, PTO and unemployment are the two options for getting a bigger paycheck now.

        1. Chris*

          My employer gave all furloughed employees one week of “emergency leave pay”, coded on our pay stubs as “disaster”. The furlough is much longer than one week, of course.

    4. decisions*

      I think it’s not unreasonable to hire a babysitter/nanny in a situation like yours. Unless you guys are higher risk (in which case mitigate risk completely), finding someone who is sitting only for your family and doing their best to socially distance otherwise is not so bad. My family is higher risk, so we are not doing that (plus if I returned to work, I’d have to be working directly with the public), but I absolutely would consider it in different circumstances. I understand it’s not exactly what we are asked to do, but sometimes you have to make reasonable decisions for your family.

  32. animaniactoo*

    #1

    “I understand that you want Archie and Edith to go away. However, there is no age discrimination happening here and I have my team member’s backs on the fact that these were perfectly polite communications that would have been written to a recipient regardless of their age. Further, I would like to register a complaint on behalf of my staff member for their abusive reaction to a perceived slight. We are all under a lot of stress, my team has been crunched trying to work through IT issues across the company and do not deserve to be harassed with abusive text messages because they dared to tell someone they were doing something wrong.”

    You’ve been in the “CS” role a little too long my friend. Your HR has just made it clear that they will work to cater to the loudest voice. You can be clear that you will not be a quiet voice to make their lives easier while they get it wrong.

  33. Czhorat*

    On #1, while I *am* with Alice 100% on hating their HR, I also tend to stay away from using language such as “wrong” or “incorrect”; I very often will soften it with “it is my understanding that the law requires plenum-listed cables if you’re running them in return-air plenum spaces”, or “So far as I know, Zoom does not have an integrated checkers game”. This makes it feel gentler and lets them back down more easily; “You’re wrong!” is perhaps the right answer, but can come across as more hostile than intended.

    ALl that said, of course, you need to be able to correct people who are not correct.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Yes, sometimes people are very sensitive to being corrected by others and the sensitivity does not always go away over time.

    2. Bear Necessities*

      Working with clients, I’ve often used “Oh, that’s not quite it,” when asked for a factual correct/incorrect answer. Even if they’re completely 100% off the mark, they take it better if I frame it as being just a little bit off from accurate, and then provide the correct info.

      “So I can take a loan from my IRA at any time so long as I repay it within five years, right?”
      “Ah, well, you’ve got the right idea, but that’s not quite how it works. You can’t take any loans from an IRA, but you can treat the money as rolled over if you put it back in within 60 days.”

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, it’s VERY EASY for someone to feel that you’re talking down to them, especially if its your area of expertise.

        “That’s not quite it” is a great phrase, because it implies that they’ve gotten themselves most of the way there and you’re just clarifying a detail, even if they are in fact one hundred percent wrong.

    3. Joielle*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s so bad to suggest that using the words “wrong” and “incorrect” can come off more hostile than intended and it’s best to use softer language whenever possible. It’s the blanket ban on them that’s the real problem.

      1. Czhorat*

        Oh, absolutely. Also “you can’t correct people older than you” is a terrible message.

        It’s also possible for the OP’s team to use gentler language, for the sake of everyone getting along together.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          I wish someone would make a gentler language list and post it somewhere on the Internet. It would help a lot of people.

  34. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Setting aside the fact HR is terrible in this company, and also setting aside the fact that Archie and Edith are being difficult (also – not clear – are they a couple? Do they reside in the same household? If not, are they friends, and possibly working together to push back on something?), I make some suggestions.

    First, make sure everything is documented. All of their hardware mishaps, replacements, etc. Are they coming to the office to get new equipment or does a person from the IT team have to go to their home(s) to fix the problem? How does this compare to other employees? How much is this costing the company, if you know?

    Second, I’m not a fan of squishy language, but it might be these particular employees need a softened approach. Rather than “that’s not accurate it’s….” something like “here are the steps for otter embroidery” and then list the steps clearly. then there is no negative phrasing. if this generates a complaint, this is easier to take to someone outside HR, like a manager. It seems like the ultimate buck stops with management – they should probably know what’s going on.

  35. Fulana del Tal*

    #5- I believe that a lot of employers are using furloughed instead of laid off and that’s causing a lot of confusion. While you may be hired immediately after all this is done as of right now you don’t have a job and you need to file for unemployment or try to find another job if possible.
    Best of luck.

  36. Bear Necessities*

    #3 – Would it really be that hard to replace Mike? Given how many people are currently out of work, I think you might find it a little easier than usual to find someone else with his skills, and not with his shaky-at-best ethical practices.

  37. AndersonDarling*

    #1 I’d comply with HR’s terrible request only if they provide a manager to “help” navigate these communications until all staff are back in the office. Edith and Archie can directly email an HR rep every time they need IT support, and that rep can be the go-between. The HR Rep would hypothetically be training everyone on appropriate communication, but they will really be subjected to the insane demands of E&A.
    I would also request a separate GL account to apply the excessive IT expenses while HR is managing the technical property of these employees. You can call it a PDSA, an HR personnel trial, communication test, whatever HR would like to call it. And you can absolutely spin this as a great opportunity for HR to get involved and increase employee engagement.
    HR has stepped in to dictate communication and technology allocation. If they want to do that, then they need to step up and truly take the responsibility. This isn’t HR telling a manager to be nicer to a staff member, we are talking about resource training and company property ownership as if HR is stepping in to design an office expansion. HR needs to understand what they are asking and take responsibility.

    1. Joielle*

      Ha, I like this. Malicious compliance! “I’m really concerned about the possibility of opening us up to an age discrimination claim like you suggest, so for now, I’d feel much more comfortable if you received all the requests and reviewed my proposed responses so I can get a feel for how you’d prefer these issues to be handled.”

  38. Bloopmaster*

    #5 – Isn’t PTO considered part of your compensation? It seems odd that an employer cannot reduce your pay retroactively, but can freely take away PTO that you also worked for and earned. Why is that the case? My gut wants to argue that earned PTO should not only be similarly inviolable but should also pay out at (at least) the hourly/daily rate you were earning when you accrued it. I’m not an HR person, though, and possibly there are circumstances I’m not thinking about…

    1. EnfysNest*

      Only a few states in the US have laws that protect PTO and consider it legally as part of your compensation, and there’s no federal protection. And in the US, unless there is a specific law protecting or forbidding something, employers can pretty much do what they want, legally speaking. You’re right that it sounds wrong, and that logic would say that it’s part of the employees’ compensation, but employers aren’t bound by logic – only by what’s been formalized as law, which isn’t all that much here, unfortunately.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      That is very much state dependent. Accrued Vacation time is sacrosanct in California but not in Virginia. There is also the blood from a stone principle operating here. Though the bit about being behind other creditors may also be state dependent. In California wages are highly favored in bankruptcy (I went through that process a long time ago) and I believe vacation time is considered part of wages here.

    3. OP5*

      OP #5 here – this was my feeling too. Kevin is right that for the moment I do believe there’s a blood from stone reality. I know my employer has applied for federal payroll loans, and I have some hope of being able to collect some of my PTO that way if they come through? I’m looking for new work now anyway. I guess if I find something soon I’ll write it off as a COVID reality and move on. But cash would be really helpful in the meantime…

      1. Jenno*

        We have furloughed 1 employee at my organization and another employee is using FFCRA leave payable at 2/3 her normal salary. We didn’t allow employees to use PTO because there is every intention of bringing these employees back once the Stay-At-Home order is lifted so we were 1. Trying to protect the employee from feeling forced into using PTO and having none on their return to work and 2. Prevent paying PTO when the organization is just trying to keep everyone on the payroll in the meantime. Plus, being furloughed and applying for unemployment actually ends up being better for the one employee in this case because she makes more from unemployment than she did from her usual wages thanks to the extra funds supplied by the federal government. In the case of the employee getting 2/3 her pay on leave, she didn’t qualify to be furloughed since we are not laying off or furloughing anyone besides the one part-time person, but this employee was unable to manage the online school for her kids while working…UI in our state is only available in this circumstance if the employer is unwilling or unable to accommodate parents, and that isn’t the case with our organization. She was given flexible hours–she can work whenever or even on weekends, but she isn’t willing to do so, therefore she is entitled to 12 weeks pay at 2/3 her salary under FFCRA.

  39. Esme*

    The only possible solution is for IT to hire someone even older to be their personal help desk concierge, but with the authority of age.

  40. Wing Leader*

    OP #3:

    You didn’t do anything wrong and they are being ridiculous for getting angry. We had a corona-panic at my job last week. My boss thought her husband had it, so she went into quarantine and the office closed for the week. Turns out, he did not have it, so everyone is mostly just relieved now.

  41. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    …I would say a good portion of my staff’s time is spent replacing Archie’s screen for the 3rd time this month…

    What?
    WHAT?

    How does this happen? And why hasn’t Archie’s manager reprimanded him for being so careless with company property?

  42. CupcakeCounter*

    #3 You did exactly what was asked of you. The only thing I would have maybe done differently is, if you truly didn’t think you had the virus and just had a coughing fit or something unrelated, would have been to give a bit of color around your day.
    “I just wanted to give you a heads up that I have been coughing since X time. My prime allergy season is starting and I also used chemicals A & B which are known to cause respiratory issues so it could be a couple of things but since it is a symptom of COVID-19 and policy is to communicate any symptoms I am passing the info on. At this time I have no fever or shortness of breath – just the cough. I will call in the morning and let you know if anything changes.”

    1. Grand Mouse*

      That is basically what I did minus that level of detail about possible coughing triggers! I said I’m having some coughing fits, no fever. I do have a history of asthma so it could be that. If I have no fever and the coughing stops am I clear to come in tommorow? Just that. I hope that nuance was passed along. But by not telling my boss, I took away their ability to control the message, is what I got.

      I did also call them because it was late and they are a 24/7 facility, versus wanting to disturb my boss at that hour

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, it doesn’t sound like that nuance was passed along at all and that’s part of why the client reacted the way they did and your boss is angry.

  43. Koala dreams*

    #3 You probably should have called in sick and reported your symptoms to your employer in addition to informing the client (the facility). It’s understandable that they are a little annoyed by your oversight, but it’s wrong to take it out on you. The panic, rumours and chaos that happened is NOT your responsibility, but a problem with the planning, management and negotiation between the two organizations. The facility should have a routine for dealing with someone showing symptoms before they started asking everyone their symptoms. Your employer should have made the rules for calling in sick with symptoms clear and simple to follow. And when negotiating the contract, both of them should have thought of the possibility of a worker getting sick at work and agreed on a plan, for example closing the facility for cleaning and schedule another worker in the place of the sick person. It’s of course easier to say what should have been done after the fact, so hopefully your employer will learn from their mistakes.

    When you get back, you can apologize to your manager at your employer for not informing them earlier, and ask them how they want you to handle the situation in the future (for example if you or another work get a cough again). You can also ask for a copy of any handbook or written instructions for calling in sick, if they have those things. When you speak to people at the client site or co-workers, it’s enough with a simple explanation. Maybe: “I had a cough and stayed home waiting to be tested. Luckily it turned out to not be anything dangerous, and I feel fine now.” or: “It turned out to be Corona, so I have been out on sick leave. Now I’m fine.”

    I hope you feel better soon. Take care!

  44. Phony Genius*

    On #3, I have seen this too many times. Upper management issues a policy for all to follow. A low-level employee follows it, and makes a required report. This causes headaches of extra work for the immediate supervisor and middle-management. The immediate supervisor, backed by middle management, informally reprimands the low-level employee for “making something out of nothing.” Upper management, who issued the policy, never finds out about either the initial report, nor middle management’s reaction to it, so they think everything is peachy keen. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I think it’s complicated by the fact that it’s not OP#3’s management that has the policy. Life as a contractor is very awkward when the client enacts policies that your employer didn’t sign off on. Doubly so when they don’t tell you how they want to you to deal with it in advance (and Triply so when they want to behave contrary to the client’s policy especially in ways that aren’t entirely ethical).

  45. yala*

    I’m torn between getting a chuckle out of the names in #1 and being insulted, because Edith Bunker would NEVER.

    Either way, what a horrible situation! I think I also hate your HR, OP.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Lol yeah, Edith’s voice was shrill and annoying, but she wasn’t mean or insulting.

  46. Buttons*

    #1 that is absolute BS. If this was your HR rep, definitely go above them. This is why people who don’t have training/education in HR shouldn’t be in HR. It annoys me so much when people who are deemed “good people” are placed in an HR role and have no idea what the F they are doing.
    I would ask them to write a script as to how one should go about correcting someone if you can’t tell them their information is wrong. I would also do everything in my power to not let them reprimand the person who corrected them. And thirdly, I would insist that the two people who are using their age as an excuse as to why they mess things up or don’t understand something, take some training. I am 45- I can use technology, I have kept up my skills current and changed with the times. They aren’t my 95 yr old grandma they have had computers their entire lives. This is no excuse.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      I’m 44. I have a 2-year degree in computer programming in addition to my normal Bachelor’s and MBA in a business-related discipline. I’ve been a computer and sci-fi nerd/geek my whole life. That being said, it is possible for someone over 40 to make a mistake. Maybe they were on cold medicine. Maybe they were exhausted due to caring for others and/or stressing out over COVID-19 and not getting enough sleep. It happens to the best of us.

  47. Workfromhome*

    #1 Go back to HR and ask them to put inwriting what you cannot say and who you cannot say it to. See what they come back with.
    If its “you cannot say the words wrong, incorrect etc to the following people because of their age Bob Shirley etc. ” then each time Bob Shirly etc are doing something wrong send an email to HR and CC your boss. I need to tell Bob and Shirly that the process they are doing is not correct and they need to do Y instead. Please provide me with an appropriate script to avoid issues. Please note that while they continue to do this incorrect process it will cost the company x 1000s of $ per day so a a quick response would be appreciated”.

    See how ling HR and or your boss wants to deal with their being involved with what should be a non issue.

    1. Buttons*

      Also, wouldn’t this be illegal, aren’t they treating someone differently just because of their age?

      1. Eliza*

        Under US federal law, age discrimination is only illegal if you’re discriminating against people over 40. Discriminating in *favour* of people over 40 is unfortunately perfectly legal, unless you’re in a state with specific laws to the contrary.

    2. James*

      You may also try putting it in an email yourself. “Per our phone discussion on DD/MM/YYYY below are the protocols for addressing issues X, Y, and Z moving forward. [list what they told you to do] Please let me know if there are any additional changes that need to be made to our policies.”

      It’s passive-aggressive, sure–but it’s also in line with standard business practices. I’ve done this a thousand times to folks, at their request, so that they didn’t need to keep a copy of our discussion. So if HR complains, they really have no justification; you were just doing something that’s perfectly normal.

  48. 2 Cents*

    At Old Agency, there was a Mike who set up a competing website, posing as an agency to directly compete with us — even using our own creative and claiming it was his. He was found out because a) I had Google alerts for all of our clients (and the moron used the client name in text, so it appeared) and b) registered the domain using his name, address, etc. He claimed it wasn’t him and the images were available to anyone to use … except he had used for-internal-use-only images that could only have been accessed through our internal drives. So, his claim that it wasn’t him, but a cousin … well, you stole something. Was never so happy to see the backside of him (he had many MANY other issues, but this took the cake.)

    1. irene adler*

      Wow! The gall!
      I’m always amazed that folks like Mike do stuff like this. Don’t they realize how easily their shenanigan’s can be found out?

  49. Observer*

    #1 – I haven’t read all the comments yet, but a few thoughts.

    1. Kick this upstairs. But please don’t make this about age – in fact that’s the core of your argument. There are certain standards that have nothing to do with age.

    2. It might be worth looking at how these two people are treated. They are jerks, and that’s going to make it harder to figure this out. But, if they are really the only two people significantly older that 35, there may be some stuff going on that makes the legitimately feel like they are not being treated appropriately. Also, are they really the only ones causing tech problems?

    3. Document EVERY problem they cause, the measures you had to take to help them and the cost to the company, including impact to other staff. Do the same for any other staff, so you can show that you are NOT treating these people differently to other people in similar situations. That’s going to be very useful to you down the road.

    4. Give a good hard look at your IT processes and set up. One thing that jumped out at me is the issue of multiple viruses – how does someone manage to infect the whole department multiple times? I realize that even good tools don’t prevent everything, but this sounds a bit excessive. Also, if someone is actually breaking equipment regularly then either you are supplying inappropriate equipment or you need to work with management to create a process where this stuff is addressed (eg requiring staff to cover the cost of replacing equipment they broke.)

    1. Senor Montoya*

      #2 is not OP’s job, though, unless it’s OP’s staff that’s treating them differently. OP already said that their staff was very professional, so…

      1. Kevin Sours*

        In IT it’s *always* your job to try to figure out how to better communicate with your clients. The reality is that they aren’t going to speak your language so you need to figure out how to speak theirs. That doesn’t mean you should tolerate abuse or otherwise deal with bad behavior. And it doesn’t sound like these two willing to work in good faith. But a moment of reflection on how to better approach relationships that aren’t working is never a bad idea.

      2. Observer*

        Op says that their staff was being professional, but it’s still quite possible that they are treating these two people differently. Also, it doesn’t matter whose responsibility it is, if there is a problem that affects the OP and the OP’s staff, the OP needs to figure out what is going on. Of course if HR were reasonably competent, they would be doing that. But, since they are not, it behooves them to look at the environment. At least in their own department, where it’s their responsibility anyway.

  50. Hedgehug*

    #1
    Ageism here can be argued in the reverse. Your co-worker can argue that Archie and Edith being angry and defensive at a *younger person* instructing them, is also ageism. Maybe your co-worker should also file a complaint, just to make a point at the absurdity.

      1. Hedgehug*

        I was mostly being flippant. Also, that law is ironically discriminatory, lol. A law saying young people can’t be discriminated against if they’re under 40, is in itself age discrimination. Ask any young person who got promoted over their older co-workers!

  51. MissouriGirlinLouisiana*

    #1-My husband worked in IT for large Fortune 500 firms. He works at a university now (so.many.stories) I told him about this letter. He said when he worked for larger, let’s rule the world telecom, somebody brought in their own personal laptop and plugged it into the system. Turns out laptop had a virus and infected 1,000 people. Shut down work for 3 days (during the 2000s) and cost $100,000s. Turns out they made him to extra work to monitor this stuff instead of mandating that personal laptops have to have anti-virus or we will hunt you down and fire you. Clearly this is not an unusual thing. :( He hates many HR departments because they have no backbone and just haven’t a clue about reality.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Actually, I can see that. If one person connecting an infected laptop to the company network can shut down the whole company, you’ve got a serious security problem, and mandating that everyone installs AV on their laptop is a very poor solution. Most people are not tech-savvy and AV software has never been known for user-friendliness. What happens when somebody forgets, or screws up? Firing them won’t bring back the lost money or time.

      Either the network needed to be hardened against such threats, or it needed to be set up so that only company-approved computers *could* connect to it. Not that it matters now, of course. :)

  52. Coder von Frankenstein*

    I don’t think we’ve seen an HR department this bad since the one that accused an employee of poisoning a coworker when the coworker stole the first employee’s spicy lunch and got sick.

    Kudos to you, OP, for standing your ground. Would love to get an update on this.

  53. Budgie Buddy*

    #1 – I do wonder if since both Archie and Edith are such confirmed chaos muppets, they may also be onto something with the tone of the email. “That’s not accurate” or “correct way” can be ways of shutting someone down, especially if the coworker who wrote the email has been pushed to the edge by all the issues these two are causing by their incompetence.

    So I think focusing on how a company can’t work if employees won’t take direction or criticism is a better approach than defending the actual contents of the email as OP moves forward. The email could well have been harsh, but obviously a more delicate approach was not working in this situation.

  54. kayakwriter*

    re OP1 So it sounds like Archie and Edith misheard the slogan. They’ve decided the way forward is “Move SLOW and break things” (I say that as a senior myself.)

  55. Yodel*

    4. I hate it when companies call me to set up a phone interview, without giving me a head’s up via email. This is particularly awkward when you are in an open plan office where other people can easily overhear your conversation. A few times at work, I’ve been expecting an important call from my mechanic, pharmacy, doctor, financial institution, etc. I don’t have many phone numbers committed in their entirety to memory, so if I see a call with the same area code as the person I’m expecting to hear from, I’ll take the call. This has led to some awkward situations at work, where I pick up the phone expecting to ask my doctor’s office what the co-pay will be for a blood test or to find out if my mechanic got the requested Toyota part in stock. To my surprise, it’s actually a prospective employer, and they want me to tell them if I’d be willing to interview for the position of Llama Groomer instead of than Alpaca Groomer. Or, “before we schedule an interview, I want to make sure your target salary is in range. What salary are you looking for?” It is super obvious if I tell them, “I apologize, but I am at work currently, would we be able to schedule another time?” Coworkers will wonder what I’m trying to hide from them, and the first thing that will pop in their head is that I’m looking for a new job! I find increasingly that “calling to schedule an interview” becomes a phone screening of sorts, and employers aren’t sensitive to the fact that if they’re calling from 9-5 and the applicant lists themselves as currently employed, most likely they are at work and can’t talk without prior notice. If it’s something super straightforward like literally asking me what time I am available to talk, that’s fine, but if they try to sneak in any other questions, this could blow my cover. If they want to send me an email the day before, I can make a point of “running to do some errands” at that scheduled time, but employers can’t just assume that everyone is already in a private place to talk!

    1. Kevin Sours*

      “Can’t talk right now I’ll call you back later”
      If that costs you a job, they’re doing you a favor.

  56. Pear*

    Just a silly observation:

    > Shall we all go back to preemptively announcing a/s/l like in AOL chatrooms in days of yore?

    I skipped to the end of the comments, so apologies if someone else brought this line up, but OMG, I had a serious flashback to when I did that. Wasn’t that yesterday? And then I realized, no Pear, that was like 30 years ago…thirty!

  57. Ellen N.*

    I can see why “Archie” and “Edith” believed themselves to be victims of age discrimination. The letter is rife with disdain for them due to their age.

    The names, Archie, a bigoted older jerk and, Edith, a clueless older person.

    The implication that “Edith” spread a virus throughout the network due to her age. Twice I had coworkers who were in their twenties spread viruses throughout the network. In both cases they’d been told to stop accessing the websites that contained the viruses. In both cases they refused to follow the instructions.

    I’ve seen many younger employees destroy equipment. Being tough on equipment has nothing to do with age.

    The next sentence after the one that states their ages says that they both have “bad attitudes”.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I think you are reading a ton of stuff that simply isn’t there. Nowhere does it say that Edith’s age had anything to do with her spreading a virus. Their age is relevant and needed to be stated in the letter because they made it relevant.

    2. Perpal*

      I hope you are joking; I think the letter makes it clear age is not the problem; the fact that these two are saying their age makes them unable be corrected by IT is the problem

    3. Saccharissa*

      Wow. You are reading *way* too much into the OP’s choice in pseudonyms here. Nowhere in the letter is any “disdain for them due to their age.”

      > “the implication that “Edith” spread a virus throughout the network due to her age.”
      The OP simply stated that she had done so, and gave no assumptions as to why.

      > “The next sentence after the one that states their ages says that they both have “bad attitudes”.”
      This does not mean that the OP is implying some causality here. Both of these things are being given as descriptors of these two people. The OP is keeping all the descriptions together at the beginning of their letter. And Edith and Archie’s ages are being given specifically because *they themselves* are making it an issue in their complaints to HR.

  58. Duvie*

    For LW1: I don’t like to identify myself as old, but Harry Truman was president of the United States the year I was born. No one ticks me off more than the person who assumes I’m too old to learn the right way to do something. If I’m getting something wrong, speak up and let me know. I promise not to hit you with my cane.

    p.s. Your HR department sucks.

  59. Mama Bear*

    RE: OP#2 – I agree that the manager needs to step up here. Find out what’s going on and if the case is as it appears to be – that he stole Tilda’s work and passed it off as his own AND is misrepresenting his PR company’s association with the main company, then he needs to go. Partially b/c it’s dishonest and partially because I’m sure Tilda is watching how this plays out. It may become a case of Mike goes or she does. There are tons of people out of work right now. I’m sure the company could backfill that role.

  60. Richard*

    #1 I fully agree that HR seems to be in the wrong here, but being dismissive to older people about a lack of tech skills is the most common way to be ageist in the workplace. From what you’ve described, you’re in the right, but everyone is the hero of their own story. Make sure you step back and ensure that you’re not doing this on some level that you’re not seeing.

    1. Ladybug*

      I had a similar thought as you, in that I wondered if Archie and Edith’s reaction is due to a culture of being dismissed repeatedly and in subtle ways, and this incident was a tipping point for them. It doesn’t excuse their behavior but it does reason to take a look at any possible root causes that the culture at this company may be contributing to.

  61. BlondeSpiders*

    L#1 is absolutely making me fume.
    I am 47 years old. I’m near the end of Gen X, and I graduated high school in 1990. I don’t know where Archie and Edith came up, but those ages are NO excuse for not knowing technology. My mother is 70 and struggles, and that’s to be expected. Maybe even someone in their 60’s I’d understand. But 40’s and 50’s? NO.

    The idea that someone in my own age group would cry age discrimination makes me apoplectic with rage. I can still do the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch. I AM NOT OLD.

    No, I’m not ok.

  62. OP_KP_Old?*

    Hey y’all! OP here!

    I appreciate all your advice, and yeah. I’m struggling with our HR team, too. My director and I were able to have a short meeting (ah, zoom) with the head of HR and someone from our executive office after the complaint got filed with corporate. My main concern was and is the direction this took – it’s not about age, and I won’t tolerate anybody bullying my staff. For clarity: the terms my employee used like “that’s not correct” was actually in reference to a previous contractor’s work that had a mistake in it so conclusions weren’t just jumped to, they were catapulted to. My first impression of this was that people on the periphery were handling it badly – like HR was just overloaded and Archie and Edith were making it that much harder by picking nothing fights – and I was right. As of right now, the training has switched to an anti-bullying training (haha!) and some behavioral issues are going to be addressed.

    1. Perpal*

      I just hope it’s the BULLIES that get the antibully training and not “oh everyone do this”. But thank you for the update and glad you are able to resist some of the madness!

  63. Cherries on top*

    “Before every shift, we are required to meet with a supervisor of this facility and report any potential symptoms of coronavirus.”

    Why? This is so utterly stupid!

Comments are closed.