asking for a reference while furloughed, in trouble for kissing at work, and more

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

1. Is it risky to ask my boss for a reference while I’m furloughed?

I was furloughed from my IT job last week, and we’re expecting it to last approximately 90 days. Of course, right now nothing is certain and I’ve been busy looking for other temporary and full-time opportunities since I’ve been off the payroll.

A good job opportunity that’s equal in pay to the one that I’m furloughed from has come up, and the recruiters are interested in presenting me for an interview. They’re asking for three references up front.

I would like to ask my current boss for a reference because the work I do in his group is similar to what this other company is looking for. But I also worry that asking him for a reference would be career suicide if I don’t get the other job, and I’m concerned that I could be not asked to return once they start calling folks to come back. I do have other former bosses at this company who’d give me a good review, but it’s a pretty tight-knit crew and word would get around.

My assumption is that they would know my colleagues and I would be looking for other full-time work and this wouldn’t be a big deal. Am I overthinking this concern?

Any halfway sensible manager will know you’re looking for other work now that you’re off their payroll — but it’s also not unreasonable to worry that if they can’t bring everyone back, they might figure the person who’s actively working with recruiters is more expendable (not because there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing, but because they might think you’re closer to new employment than other people are). That’s not the right way to look at it, but it can happen and you’re not wrong to worry.

If you have plenty of other good, relatively recent references who don’t work at your current company, I might use them instead. But if you feel you need to use your boss, word it this way: “My strong first choice is to come back to (company). But I want to make sure I have my ducks in a row in case that doesn’t happen, so I agreed to talk to this recruiter. Would you be willing to give me a good reference? I know we’re still hoping to bring everyone back; I just want to make sure I’m covered in case we don’t.”

That might feel a little more deferential than you should need to be. (They furloughed you! They’re not paying you! Of course you’re looking for other jobs!) But it’s in your best interests for your boss to see you as still invested in coming back if you can.

2. I got in trouble for kissing my boyfriend at work

I currently work in retail and I have always followed the rules, came in on time, took shifts, etc. I’ve never gotten into any serious trouble while at work and I’ve worked there for almost nine years. My boyfriend started working there back in 2018. Usually when one of us leaves before the other, we stop by after our shift is up and give a quick peck on the cheek. This is always done when the one leaving is off the clock. I’ve been nervous before because even though I know I’m off the clock, I worried that we would be seen by a manager.

I was recently pulled into HR’s office and told that a leader had seen us a few days prior saying goodbye to each other. The HR person asked if anything else had transpired. I said no because that was the truth, we never go further than that. He informed me because a leader had seen us, I was being written up for inappropriate touching because I was still in my work clothes and my boyfriend was on the clock and in his work clothes, and to any unsuspecting customer, it looked like we were kissing while working. I do remember that I had my purse and a bag in my hand from the store that day, so I was visibly off the clock.

HR told me that the worst outcome of this could be termination but there’s a larger chance I would be placed on corrective action He said he would keep me updated once they emailed him back. Can I be written up for something I did off the clock? And if so, what do I do going forward (other than avoiding saying goodbye to my boyfriend from this point forward)?

Yes, they can tell you not to kiss your boyfriend in their store, even if you’re off the clock. Keep in mind that while you were off the clock, your boyfriend wasn’t, and both of you were in work uniforms. We can debate about whether they should care or not, but they do and they can make that rule and hold you to it.

That said, they really should just tell you not to do it again; all this writing up and threatening of something further is overkill. But yeah, the way you handle this is to stop kissing your boyfriend goodbye in the store.

Caveat: Did your boyfriend receive the same warning? If you’re the only one getting in trouble (when he was the one who was actually on the clock), that’s a problem. I realize you probably don’t want to demand that he also get in trouble, but punishing the off-the-clock woman and not the on-the-clock man for the exact same behavior, if that is in fact what they’re doing, reeks of sex discrimination.

3. My boss won’t stop asking if I’m okay

My boss is very empathetic and attentive. When he senses something is off with an employee, he asks if we are alright. Over the last several months, he asked me three times separate times if I am doing okay, and said he is getting the sense that I am “sad” or just generally not okay. Each time he asks, he questions me if it’s personal, work-related, or something else. It feels more like an interrogation to figure out if I’m happy at work, and each time I get increasingly uncomfortable. I really am okay — albeit less fulfilled.

The truth is, I have been looking for another job since the start of the year because I am ready for a new challenge. I’ve been reflecting on my behavior and I don’t think I’ve been hugely different lately, so I am at a loss as to why he is asking me so often. I also don’t believe the quality of my work has decreased.

Part of me thinks it may be down to his own insecurities, because in the last six months he’s had to lay off two people in the department and another two people resigned after that, so he may just be overly anxious to keep the employees he has left.

But it doesn’t change the fact that his questioning makes me very uncomfortable and I don’t know what to say other than, “Really, I’m fine. Although I’m not happy and bubbly all the time, it doesn’t mean something is wrong” (which is what I said the most recent time). I feel like I need to fake a smile on days I’m not overly bubbly, just to please him. Do you have any advice on what to say if he asks me again? Should I tell him it’s making me uncomfortable?

Yeah, it’s nice to be concerned about employees’ happiness, but there’s a point where this kind of interrogation feels more like a demand that you perform emotionally for him and less like genuine solicitude. I bet you’re right that it stems from his worry about your team’s losses this year — but he needs a different way to manage that anxiety.

If he asks again, say this: “You’ve been asking me that a lot. Am I doing something that’s making you concerned about me?” And then if he says you seem sad or so forth, say, “Nope! It’s a weird time for everyone, obviously, but I’m fine. It does throw me off when you keep asking though, so I hope you’ll believe that I’m fine and I’ll tell you if there’s anything I want to discuss!”

4. I’m a parking cop — am I getting rejected for jobs because of it?

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a parking enforcement officer for my university. It was the first job I was offered when I got to school, and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I get it, there is not one person on God’s green earth who likes the parking cop. However, I have been a hard-working employee and I know my boss would be a good reference.

I applied to be a resident assistant in the dorms last year and had all the academic requirements and even a shift leader position at a sandwich shop before coming to college. My much less qualified, never employed roommate got a call back and not me. I’m not trying to sound conceited, but I know I would have made a good RA. I think the big “parking enforcement officer” on my resume may have ruined my chances. Should I include this frowned-upon job on my resume in the future?

Yes, you should still include it. Employers don’t generally have a bias against parking cops! People getting ticketed may, but it’s a legit job that it’s very unlikely you’re being rejected over.

With RA jobs, they’re often looking less for specific work experience (since you’re all college students) and more for evidence of specific personality traits — empathy, comfort with difficult personal issues, community spirit, listening and communication skills, conflict resolution, etc. It’s possible your roommate just spoke more effectively to those things in her application than you did.

In any case, it’s not the parking officer job. Leave it on without fear.

5. Companies that say to send in your resume even when they’re not hiring

I’m looking to do a big career change and switch industries entirely into a marketing/brand image company. A lot of the companies I’ve found that I’d love to work for don’t have an active job opening, but encourage sending in a resume/cover letter in case something comes up. The language around this sounds like “You’re probably the candidate we need, but haven’t gotten around to posting your future job yet! Send in your materials and let’s start talking!”

As a manager, is this smart to do? Will they actually go through the applicants they have on file before posting a job, or is it better to wait until a job is posted and apply then? If they do end up posting a job and don’t call you back, is it professional to send in your materials a second time, but tailored to the opening?

It varies. Some employers (particularly smaller ones) mean what they say and will give your resume real consideration even when they don’t have current openings. Others will glance at your resume and file it away to look at next time they have openings. Others will file it away but then never actually go back and look at it.

There’s no way to know from the outside which it is, so since they say they welcome applications, you might as well go ahead and send in your resume and a cover letter about what you can offer. Even if nothing comes of it, it won’t hurt you — and you can still apply for specific openings there in the future.

{ 318 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Oh, number 4, I’m sorry you’ve taken people’s resentment of you doing your job so much to heart. It’s a necessary job and employers really aren’t going to hold it against you. I offer you an appreciative British radio sketch about a parking enforcement officer explaining his job to old ladies (and yes, one of them is Olivia Colman):

    1. Bilateralrope*

      More importantly, if that resent does cost the letter writer a job, its probably a job the lw should avoid.

    2. OP #4*

      I appreciate this! It’s hard to remember that my job does some good when I’m dealing with angry people every time I go to work. Thank you for the reminder! I might try for the RA job again this year. I definitely have learned some listening and conflict-resolution skills from this job that I could speak to on my application.

      1. Snuck*

        I’ve been an RA in university housing (Australian, but we had a lot of American RAs and exchange students stay in our accommodation). Your Parking Officer COULD be damaging your chances. RAs have to be flexible, you are living in with a bunch of young people who are all just trying to live life, work hard, play hard, study meh. It takes a certain kind of personality to do it well, and your less qualified friend might have had that personality.

        A good RA will know what the rules, and when to bend them. What to report to senior staff and what to manage on their own. They will have the respect of the students and be able to create an invisible but friendly line between students and themselves, while not making it obvious there is one. They have to train roommates to resolve their own issues rather than wade in (because apparently everyone in dorms is an adult hahahaha) and they have to know when to police the corridors (exam nights folks) and when to swap shifts with someone else and get the hell off campus so you don’t have to deal (post exam nights).

        All while living in amongst the students. Depending on your accommodation you are sharing bathrooms or living areas, hallways, parking lots … day in and out.

        This job is SO MUCH about interpersonal relationships, and less about the ‘qualifications’. Being a parking officer could be viewed as being a person who is rigid or rule applying, it might be that you are permanently sunk if you are currently giving students parking tickets now (don’t stop!) and expecting to be able to manage their social stupidity tomorrow. (I assume you’d drop the Parking Officer role if you RA, there is NO WAY you can police parking AND dorms and have any hope of success.).

        I’m not saying this will be an impossible job for you to get, but you will need to emphasise your creative problem solving skills, your ability to work with complex people in complex environments and give examples of good judgement. That’s more important than knowing the rules and that’s how you’ll be enforcing them.

        1. Smithy*

          Was an RA quite a while ago….and in addition to all of the above, sometimes just being perceived as overly busy could be a knock against you. I don’t remember exactly what the policy of being an RA and having other campus work was – but it could be an assumption that you’d aim to keep your campus parking job, and be overly busy or be put in an awkward situation with students who have cars.

          A lot of RA applications include engagement with student life and work study that isn’t assumed to end with getting the role. Therefore, it might be helpful to stress a desire to leave the campus parking position if successful in the RA application.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Coming here to add this. I actually dropped out of the running to be an RA when I was in undergrad for this very reason. I don’t know if it actually would have sunk my chances (I know my current resident hall director was disappointed when I dropped out*) but it was an active decision I made based on what I knew my current circumstances to be and what was realistic.

            *I found out at the beginning of the following school year she was moving to a larger residence hall on the other side of campus. I’m sure she was hoping I would get selected and then she could bring me over there. While I would have loved working for her, I don’t think I would have loved living in that particular residence hall, so perhaps it was all for the best?

          2. LunaLena*

            Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking. I work at a university and have worked closely with Res Life on a few things, and if you have a lot of extracurriculars, a heavy course-load, or several jobs, it could count against you simply because you’ll look too busy to be an effective RA. Being an RA doesn’t just mean being physically in the dorm once in a while; it means being on call overnight some weekends, being available for regular meetings and trainings, and generally being available to students on your floor. If you have an super-active social life or a job that requires you being out most nights, they maybe think you won’t be a good fit for an RA.

            Also keep in mind that being an RA is considered a job at some universities, and many universities have a cap on how many hours student employees work. I don’t know if RA jobs are handled the same way regular student jobs are, but it could also be a consideration for those reviewing your application.

            I agree with Smithy – don’t leave the job off your resume, but maybe put in your cover letter that you understand being a RA is a huge commitment and you are willing to prioritize it over other obligations, or even drop some if needed.

          3. Snuck*

            Yep Smithy, the American RAs who we had come out to us were an incredibly social lot. And were surprised at our laid back approach. They were also surprised that we were all reasonably professional AND laid back, and training across multiple university RAs etc was had.

            I will always remember that the American RAs were the most social, most disorganised, and most confused at times in how to manage the crowd. I was in very multi cultural accommodation, and there would be RAs selected from a variety of cultures, and the Yanks were stand outs to be party animals, the South East Asian country RAs handled things quietly and rather ruthlessly efficiently but didn’t mess with people if they didn’t have to, and the Aussies were somewhere in between. Generalisations ahoy, but it did make me realise I wasn’t cut out to be an RA in the US. I was more than willing to ‘forget’ a bong in a kitchen cupboard in return for a house to shut up and stop partying in exam week, and quietly encourage and support multiple women to step forward when one of the US RAs was being a s3xual predator (to a shy minority group)…. but I wasn’t able to keep up with their level of noise making and socialising. I imagine being one in the US requires the social dynamite of Godzilla.

        2. TechWorker*

          I do not have this experience but I admit my initial thought was that Alison is being too kind to the average recruiter… parking officials probably do have a reputation, unfairly or otherwise, for being officious. I’m not sure that’s a trait you’d want in an RA. In general I totally agree it should not impact your job chances – for this specific role and context.. maybe.

          1. Smithy*

            Yeah….as someone who was an RA as a lofty sophomore, I wanted the job as much for the social reasons as anything else. I was a super geeky extroverted student life character who enjoyed being in the middle of everything. In putting together my application it was almost like another college essay – I will contribute to the diversity of mentors you have on your RA staff. And I found a huge part of the job was about being an engaging buddy with students as much as it had any enforcement pieces.

            In a case very specific to this job and not necessarily the larger workforce….the problem may be that the OP just came across overly professional and not personal enough.

            Later in my 20’s, I worked at a summer high school student college enrichment program – and that was work in a way that being an RA definitely was not. In that job having had parking enforcement skills would have been such a plus….

        3. Salsa Your Face*

          This is a wonderful description of an RA’s role!

          I have a (lived) example of what happens when the wrong personality type becomes an RA. My freshman year of college, I was one of the very few freshman who was placed in a particular building reserved mostly for juniors and seniors. Our RA, a sophomore, was quite obviously self-conscious about being younger than most of the people she was in charge of, and brought it up frequently. Whether she naturally lacked authority or let the age thing affect her too much, I can’t say, but she wore through her welcome very quickly. In response to her perceived lack of respect, she strictly enforced every rule and made life difficult for all.

          The final straw came just before finals. The thermostat controls for the entire floor were in the RA’s room, and we were in a part of the country with very cold winters. Every night for a week she would turn the heat way, way up in the early evenings. It became so hot in our rooms that we’d have no choice but to go to sleep with the windows open. Then, in the middle of the night, she would turn the heat completely off, so we’d wake up freezing. No one was sleeping well, half of us got sick, several more lost their voices. People had been filing complaints about her all semester, but it took a group of us finally showing up in person to croak out the details of what had been going on for something to be done about it. When we came back after winter break, she’d been replaced.

          So no, not everyone can be an RA. Being able to enforce rules isn’t enough–they also have to be able to build camaraderie and create a sense of community. A parking enforcer is going to have to work harder than the average Joe to prove that they’ll be able to do so.

        4. Lynn*

          This is a good point — it’s not necessarily that the job is not-valued/disliked, but that the skills may not be transferable/beneficial. Like, if they had asked OP what they liked about their current job and they said “oh I love working by myself and I can listen to podcasts while I work which is so nice” — that doesn’t translate well to being an RA.

        5. Pomona Sprout*

          “(because apparently everyone in dorms is an adult hahahaha)”

          Hahahaha indeed! Remembering my own college days all too well, this cracked me up.

          Seriously, though… I was never an RA, but it always looked like a really hard job to me. I never applied to be one for that reason, and also because I was pretty sure I didn’t have the level of interpersonal skills needed to do it well (I didn’t). It makes sense to me that certain personality factors would be weighted more heavily than having a lot of general job experience, for all the reasons enumerated by Snuck.

      2. kittymommy*

        I freakin’ loved the parking cop when I was in college!!! As a communting student (everyday!) at a large university with little lots devoted to out parking sticker, seeing the attendant come along and tag and/or tow cars that were taking one of the few precious spaces we all had was great. I know it sounds mean to be happy about that, but when you have to leave 1 1/2 – 2 hours early just to creepily cruise the one lot for your sticker and realize that there are a few cars who shouldn’t be there (and had numerous lots for them), the parking cop is your hero.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Arrrrrgh, so much yes. It’s amazing what people will try to get away with in parking.

      3. Mimi*

        I appreciate the parking cop! I’ve lived places with no parking enforcement, and cars park higgledy-piggledy everywhere — sidewalks, crosswalks, curbcuts… Your job is really important for those of us who walk or wheel to get around, and don’t like to (or can’t) squeeze past parked cars in our right-of-way.

      4. Moocow Cat*

        Sorry that you’re dealing with angry people! They’re frustrated at the situation and inappropriately directing their anger towards you. It’s highly doubtful that your job as a parking officer is keeping you from getting jobs. In many fields (security say) the job experience of parking enforcement is highly regarded.

      5. Mallory Janis Ian*

        As a university employee with a parking pass — I appreciate the parking officers for ensuring that I’m able to park in the lot that I pay for. If not for their work, all the parking would be filled up with every non-paying rando who wanted to park there (students, visitors, other employees with a non-reserved pass, etc.). It would be a madhouse.

        I used to buy general faculty/staff parking, which allows parking in any general faculty/staff lot on campus. Our university has grown so much that all the levels of parking have been pushed more to the perimeters of campus, so parking in a general lot means walking a couple blocks or more. I have a chronic health issue where, when I need the bathroom, I need it immediately, so I pay for reserved parking so that I have a short walk to my building. If parking weren’t enforced and anybody could park in my lot, there would be days where I’d have to turn around and go back home because of the bathroom issue.

        Tl;dr: I don’t think anyone who isn’t a parking scofflaw is going to hold your job against you. Many probably silently appreciate the job you do.

      6. Pommette!*

        Dealing with angry people (and with entitled people who expect you to bend the rules for them) takes a lot of skill, and those skills are super transferable! You should definitely brag about those listening and conflict-resolution experiences in your applications.

        FWIW, I recently applied for a (great!) job with my country’s tax revenue agency. Although most of the skills and qualifications required were subject-matter specific, applicants were also required to have professional experience working with angry or distraught people!

    3. Merula*

      Seconding this! The bad parking situations on a lot of college campuses are a result of poor facilities planning and lack of alternate transportation options, none of which are the fault of parking enforcement workers. In fact, without parking enforcement, the situations could be so much worse.

      As someone who (in normal circumstances) walks, bikes or takes transit more than drives, I really appreciate my city’s parking enforcement. I can call them to report a blocked crosswalk or bike lane and they take care of it. If the people who parked in the crosswalk or bike lane are mad that, maybe they won’t do it again.

      1. Anony*

        Parallel spots on the street big enough to accommodate a school bus, and lots of yellow curb where there doesn’t need to be. Artificially short supply to generate lots of ticket and towing revenue. Townies who talk a big game about how public transportation is a great thing (for other people to use), while they themselves all shopped at the car-dependent Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town. I don’t miss living in a university town.

        1. somanyquestions*

          My university town changed all meters on and around campus to 45 minutes when all classes were 50. Meters were the only place to park within 5-6 blocks.

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      One of my dream jobs is to be parking enforcement officer. Bad or illegal parking really bothers me and being able to ticket people who deserve it would be great. Yell, scream, cry, spit at me, I don’t care, you are still getting that ticket. 8 hours enforcing handicapped/disabled rules to keep them available for people who need them? Sign me up.

        1. ian*

          Now we just need a version of this for people parking in bike lanes or across sidewalks…

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Sadly, my city made all parking free for the duration of our lockdown. They’re only enforcing fire lane and handicapped parking violators.

    5. Baby Fishmouth*

      Number 4, are you me? I was a parking enforcement officer at university and I got turned down for an RA/residence don job as well. As Allison says, with RAs they look for specific personality traits, etc (my interview was a full-day group interview with various activities). Don’t take it personally at all!

      I can tell you that for my first few jobs out of university, my parking experience helped a lot. Like, a lot a lot. The amount of experience I could draw from about dealing with difficult customers and handling difficult situations made me very desirable to employers, I think.

      I do miss that job though. The only job I’ve ever worked where the customer is rarely right…

    6. Lynn*

      Also, when he says “not one person on God’s green earth likes a parking cop” — I do! I worked on a campus for several years and had to witness and work around some terrible parking violations. (the worst: someone parking in the middle of a one-way, one-lane street because it was “just for one minute”).

      1. Artemesia*

        I had a friend in grad school who would park in one of the 6 parking spots for visitors only at the grad dorm that housed about 1200 students. She would then pay the ticket as she had plenty of money. One day she came out and her car was towed and she was furious as ‘I always pay the ticket’. I remember telling her – ‘they are not renting the spot to you, they are trying to discourage you from parking there since there are so few visitor spaces; since the tickets haven’t changed your behavior, they moved to the next step.’ Parking enforcement does valuable work for the community.

        1. TootsNYC*

          this is why some countries have the policy that fines are sometimes based on a percentage of your income. Otherwise “You can’t park there” becomes “It’s $35 to park there,” and if someone’s got the $35 to spare…

          1. Lynn*

            I have heard of this! There was a fascinating tidbit a few years back about how Switzerland is income-based on a lot of fines, including speeding tickets, and so ended up issuing the world’s most expensive speeding ticket. I think it was several thousand dollars

            1. Kiwi with laser beams*

              It was 116,000 euros (US$103,500 at the time). And I remember that either that guy or another rich guy who had to pay a big income-based traffic ticket got SUPER SALTY about it and humphed that he wanted to move to a country where he could have the “just throw $35 at the problem and you can do what you like” privilege again.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yeah, I’ve seen a true-but-painful comment that having a crime punishable by fine essentially means “this is legal for rich people”.

  2. Vichyssuave*

    LW2 : I work with a few different married couples (normal due to the nature of my job) but only one of them would you know is in a relationship if you were just starting. How would you know? Because they similarly do a small peck as a greeting/goodbye when their staggered shifts start and end. I have absolutely heard scuttlebutt from some of my coworkers about this. We could argue all day long about whether that is pearl-clutching or not, but the reality is some people are going to notice this and it can have an impact on how bosses, coworkers, and in your case customers, see you.

    Alison gave you great advice on how to handle it, as well as possibly flagging a sexism issue, but I also just wanted to add that perspective in case it helps in terms of any bitterness you have about thinking it was unjust in and of itself to be written up for, and not just whether or not it’s an “off the clock” issue.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      I very much want to know if BF got the same warning though. I completely agree with Alison’s advice and also that this employer is being a bit over the top. Just tell them to knock it off!
      I hope OP writes in today!

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree this is the sort of thing that should be dealt with by being told to knock it off unless they did and it continued. But I am sort of stunned that anyone would think ‘being off the clock’ was relevant when you are doing anything in uniform with another worker on the premises.

        1. Chinook*

          I would go as far as saying that just ine of you being in unigorm is relevant. When you are in uniform (regardless of the job) you represent that company/organization and optics are everything. Those who don’t know you as a person will wonder if you are giving preferential treatment to the person kissing you. Think about your reaction if you were a first time customer and you were looking for assistance. How patient would you be if you saw an employee kissing someone (even a peck) when you are looking for help?

          Is it fair? That can be debated. But, when you are in uniform and in public, those are the rules. Unless one of you is leaving for a long period of time (think weeks, not hours), the affection can wait.

          1. pancakes*

            If they’re both in uniform I wouldn’t assume that they’re capable of giving one another preferential treatment worth worrying about. Civilians who wear uniforms to work—in the US, at least—are not typically people who have command over luxury goods and services. I’m not sure I follow here, though.

            1. Chinook*

              But if I was a customer looking for assistance in a place with uniformed staff, I would be peeved that employees wer interacting with each other in public instead of working (because a kiss is not wok work related). If you are on the floor, you should be assisting customers or doing store work, not kissing (or chatting) with fellow employees.

              1. PPMarigold*

                Retail workers are not automatons. The interaction op described probably took at most 8-10 seconds. You can’t wait 8-10 seconds while the person who’s about to help you with a retail query acknowledges their humanity? Do you not ever take a minute or two of personal time while at work?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  We can debate whether this is right or wrong, but the fact is that retail often has rules about not dong anything personal when customers are around — like checking your phone or, yes, kissing a partner.

                2. Vichyssuave*

                  I’m not saying it’s right, but customers will get mad if you’re helping *another customer* for too long. There are some entitled you-know-what’s out there and unfortunately part of the deal with retail is catering to or at least trying to placate them.

                  Of course an employee shouldn’t get in trouble for helping a customer for too long and it’s a ridiculous complaint, but something like kissing on the floor is easily preventable. A lot of places even discourage chatting with coworkers versus busy work because to many customers, it’s not a good look if they walk in and aren’t helped immediately because the employees are having a personal chat. Again, I am not trying to say that we have fair expectations of retail employees, but they are certainly there.

                3. LunaLena*

                  Customers are not automatons either. Even if it’s just 8-10 seconds, if it’s 8-10 seconds more of having to placate an annoyed child, carrying heavy items, or needing help finding something, it’s going to be irritating to most people. People get mad in long lines all the time, and that’s even when retail clerks are *doing* their job, let alone when they’re *not* doing it!

                  Besides, it’s not like a goodbye kiss is part of their job descriptions. Is it absolutely necessary to do it every day at the end of a shift? Do they never see each other outside of work or something, and this is their only opportunity to “acknowledge their humanity”? I agree that the company’s reaction was over the top, but it wasn’t unwarranted for them to tell the kissers to cut it out, especially if they were doing it in a place where others could see them and have it possibly reflect badly on the store.

                4. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  As a customer I get mad not because I have to wait 8-10 seconds, but because there aren’t enough store associates and I’ve been looking for one for 20-30 minutes. So if I saw two associates talking to each other or kissing or whatever instead of being available to help me, I would be annoyed.
                  It’s not really their fault – it’s the retail corporations that cheap out by not hiring enough associates to help the customers in a timely way. And not training them so they know more about the store or merchandise than I do. And not having enough cashiers so customers have to wait 20-30 minutes in line. It’s disrespectful of our time. Most of us don’t have an hour to spare so the retail corporation can pocket the salaries of the people they are too cheap to hire.

                5. Kate*

                  Do you think it is retail-only, or is it more “in the presence of customers/non-coworkers”? Would teachers kissing in front of students or hiring managers kissing in front of wannabe employee or those people you just met for a business proposal kissing in front of you be more professional?

              2. pancakes*

                Looking for assistance in a shop is generally not an emergency. By my standards it’s overly-grouchy and petty to be irritated by coworkers taking a moment to greet one another or greet a friend. If they’re immersed in conversation, of course that’s rude, but that’s not what the letter is about, the letter is about a “quick peck” of a kiss.

                1. PPMarigold*

                  I think the fact that so many people are conflating a quick kiss goodbye with standing around chatting while customers wait speaks perfectly to the kind of entitlement some people hold towards retail workers’ time.

                2. Kiwi with laser beams*

                  Out of nesting, but what PPMarigold said. I get what Alison’s saying about working with how things ARE and not how they SHOULD be, but the letter was clearly talking about an interaction that took only a few seconds, so I struggle to see the relevance in talking about retail workers standing around talking to each other.

                3. LunaLena*

                  @pancakes – but it also matters to the store, because optics. People rely far more on what their friend says than they think. If a close friend you generally trust told you “I’m not going back to Store, I was looking for someone to help me for ten minutes and I saw two employees kissing. Don’t go there unless you want terrible service!” you’re most likely going to believe them instead of thinking “but it was just one quick little peck…” That’s potential revenue lost to the store.

                  @PPMarigold – what makes you think it’s entitlement? I mean, I’ve worked retail too, and sure, some people are pushy and entitled. But the issue here is more about what is appropriate and what is not in the workplace, and how it looks to customers. Here’s a personal example: I used to work in a Mailboxes-type store, but my job was in the back so I rarely spoke to customers. One day I came out to the front to grab something when both clerks were busy, and a woman at the counter started yelling at me “Excuse me? EXCUSE ME? I need service here!” Since what she needed was fairly simple, I did it quickly and returned to the back room. The customer then actually stuck around until the owner came back so she could complain specifically about how unhelpful I was and how I never did any work.

                  Was the woman rude and pushy? Yes. Was it completely unnecessary for her to get angry when all she had to do was wait a minute or two? Yep. But at the same time, I can also see how it looked bad to her – there I was, in the same uniform shirt as everyone else, and while the others were buzzing about and serving customers like cheerful bees, I never even looked at customers even when there was a line to the door. What she didn’t know (at least until the owner explained this to her) was that I had strict instructions to not serve customers, since 1) I wasn’t trained to do so, and 2) I was hired for a very specific set of skills, and the owner preferred I spend my time on that instead of the front counter. It actually turned out to be a good thing that she hung around to complain to the boss, since she got a reasonable answer instead of badmouthing me (and by extension, the store) all around town.

                  I won’t say it didn’t rankle to hear that a customer thought I was useless and lazy – of course it did – but that doesn’t change the fact that that’s how it looked to her and who knows how many others. It doesn’t matter that she was mistaken because she didn’t have possession of all the facts or that the whole interaction lasted less than 30 seconds – customer perception is what it is, and if you’re a small business who has to rely on reputation, it matters a whole lot.

                4. pancakes*

                  Luna Lena,

                  You don’t think it would be very unusual for two employees in a shop to be making out for 10 minutes? Or for a friend to exaggerate to that degree, that a quick peck witnessed in a shop becomes a 10-minute make-out session in retelling? I’m not sure I follow here.

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            If I were a first-time customer looking for help and saw an outgoing employee saying good-bye to an employee on duty, I would note that this is what they’re doing. The idea would not even touch my mind that they should prioritize me over finishing a 1 second social custom. (And a peck on the cheek does not take longer than saying good-bye, or shaking hands, when we still shook hands. I should note that I have lived and worked in countries where pecks-on-cheeks are standard custom even between people not in a relationship, especially women.)

            If I knew that a company would take draconian action against employees simply fulfilling basic social needs and customs of a duration < 5 sec, I would cease to patronize the business.

            This doesn't invalidate the advice above – not all asshole behavior is illegal, nor should it be.

      2. Disco Janet*

        I’m not sure I agree that it’s relevant if boyfriend got the same warning. It sounds like the only time HR knows of is where she was kissing him on the cheek – it would be different if they knew it was a regular thing and that he did the same when leaving. But I’m sure that if someone came on here saying they were in trouble because their boyfriend kissed them on the cheek at work, we’d be asking how they can be in trouble for their boyfriend’s actions. We know it was happening on both ends – but from OP’s telling of the conversation, I don’t think HR knows that.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          This doesn’t make much sense to them. Presumably HR saw the actions of 2 employees together, not one kissing an unidentified second person, right?

          Not that I think she should have been punished. Gently asked not to in the future, if they care so much about controlling every gesture of their people. So while I disapprove of any discrimination, it wouldn’t be an improvement to be harsh towards two rather than one only.

    2. T2*

      Work is work, home life is home life. Simply put, you need to act professionally at all times on the job. Regardless of if you are in a relationship or not. Seriously, please stop the PDA at work.

      I would have probably not written either one of them up unless they have been given several verbal warnings before. But if I wrote them up, I would without fail write both of them up.

      1. A*

        Ya the write up is a bit much, but I do agree the behavior is not professional. I’m surprised by the comments noting this as common, I worked in retail before getting my degree and this was definitely not commonplace at that point in time/area. I don’t see how this would be any different than when I’ve worked with couples in an office setting – they aren’t kissing on their way in/out etc. that is left entirely out of the workplace.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Your actions should not demonstrate your relationship. Of course people will know through words if you are close to coworkers or even just chitchat. But you should never demonstrate any sort of personal relationship with anyone at work.

        If you are on the premises you should be be professional. Period.

        But yeah, the write up and threat of termination is way over the top. A simple warning to not do it again should suffice. Then it becomes a matter of following your boss’ directives, not about the PDA.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Awesome. So no one acknowledge your children or parents ar work. Nod stiffly and move on.

          1. Amanda*

            What are you calling acknowledgement though? You can still talk to them normally, you can say hi and bye, have lunch or breaks with them, etc.

            But for those that think acknowledgement must be through physical contact other than a handshake*? Yeah, please, don’t acknowledge anyone ever in a professional setting. I’ve worked with plenty of these people, and it was so uncomfortable.

          2. Crop Tiger*

            Yes? You’re working, not visiting. It’s fine to say hi mom, but don’t take time you wouldn’t spend on other customers and don’t kiss them. Do that off the clock.

          3. hbc*

            If you nod stiffly at other coworkers, then yes, do that. If you kiss your other coworkers and everyone is cool with that, then feel free to plant one on your romantic partner on the job as well.

            1. Chinook*

              I agree. Teacher’s do it when they teach their kids or kid’s friends (and ignore any slips that happen). For the optics of fairness alone, pretending you don’t know them any better than your average aquaintance is best.

              This isn’t pearl clutching but trying your best to creat a work environment that not only rewards ability but also looks like it does to an outsider.

              1. Kate*

                I taught my child when he was 12. His classmates did smirk once when he called me “teacher”, but only once. And yeah, I never patted or kissed him or whatever at school.

          4. Fikly*

            When you are coworkers with your family members? Definitely not.

            But you can do more than just nod stiffy and move on to regular coworkers, so not sure why this is your reaction.

          5. Yorick*

            I guess if nodding stiffly and moving on is the only interaction you have with every other coworker, that’s also what you should do with parents or children who work there?

            But no one is saying that should be the case.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m British and thus fairly stuffy so take anything I say with a pinch of salt, but I’ve never seen a coworker kiss their partner at work, nor have I done or with/to my husband at work.

        I doubt I’d write any staff up for doing it though, probably just ask them to do it off the clock in future. It’s a lot of my time and effort to go through writing someone up so I’d only do it if it had gone way beyond ‘a peck’.

        (I did once have to discipline a member of staff for going way too far. Let’s just say server rooms are not appropriate places for some activities)

    3. Amanda*

      LW2, your company definitely overreacted. Even for retail, they seem pretty quick to do write ups and talk about termination, so you should be wary of that. Unless there were other incidents, and you or your boyfrient have been previously warned, this seems a huge exageration.

      BUT. What you did was in no way professional, and they are right to be somewhat unhappy with it. I’t ok to say bye, to give an extra warm smile or something like that. But physical contact, even as mild as a peck on the cheek, sould be avoided while at work, both retail and office settings. It’s uncomfortable to those watching, can make you seem like a “package deal” in terms of performance issues and, since you are female, it could make you be seen as “a girlfriend” and not as a professional (not saying it’s right, but it happens). Plus, he was *actively* working, probably very close to customers, and you were in uniform. Even if you had your purse, it’s not obvious to clients that you’re off the clock at all, and you are still representing your company.

      I assume you’re probably pretty young and still starting in the working world. So don’t worry too much about this, you’ll figure it out!

      1. Amanda*

        CAVEAT: I’m assuming from the tone of Alison’s response that this letter is from the time before COVID. If it’s not, then the company’s strong reaction was justified, and you were really in the wrong.

        1. Kiwi with laser beams*

          Even then, if it was a COVID concern, surely the scolding would have directly mentioned COVID rather than “were you doing something less G-rated too?” followed by (direct quote) “I was being written up for inappropriate touching because I was still in my work clothes and my boyfriend was on the clock and in his work clothes, and to any unsuspecting customer, it looked like we were kissing while working.” If it was about COVID, surely they would have been like “Dude! COVID!!! What the hell were you thinking?!”

      2. Annony*

        I think the most important part of the scenerio is that her boyfriend was still on the clock. She repeatedly says that she was off the clock so it shouldn’t matter, but he wasn’t. While a peck isn’t a big deal, I think it is far easier for them to have a blanket policy against PDA than to judge the degree to which they kissed. As far as rules go this one isn’t really egregious. Just say goodbye and wave instead of giving him a kiss goodbye.

        1. boo bot*

          “While a peck isn’t a big deal, I think it is far easier for them to have a blanket policy against PDA than to judge the degree to which they kissed.”

          This is a good point – I might enjoy this as a subplot on an episode of Superstore, but it’s not an ideal real-life scenario.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Oh man, deciding which kisses are appropriate and which aren’t could stray into discrimination so fast! Much better to have a blanket policy. (As far as the actual letter goes, I agree that the write up and talk of termination was too far.)

        2. Joielle*

          Agreed. Yeah, it seems a bit rigid in this scenario, but I’m sure the OP can understand why management doesn’t want to get into grey areas on this. Since PDA isn’t something you can really expect to do any of at work, it’s simpler to just make a blanket rule – no PDA at all.

      3. knead me seymour*

        Not to generalize about retail work, but it’s often a harsh environment for a worker–hard, often physical work, bad pay, little flexibility or autonomy, dealing with a lot of customer anger, a quite draconian approach to the rules (as this example shows). I’m not going to blame the OP too much for trying to inject a moment of humanity into a work environment that treats you like a customer-pleasing robot. Obviously I wouldn’t encourage the OP to continue doing this, since their employer will punish them for it, but I think it was pretty harmless, absent the overblown expectations put on retail workers out of proportion to what they get in return.

      4. BluntBunny*

        Yes if you are feeling nervous about being seen you knew it was wrong. I have worked with many couples and never saw them kiss you don’t have to hide your relationship but you should act professionally. You may have had standing if you were on a break in a staff canteen. I do think the boyfriend should have been spoken to but since the OP sought her boyfriend out to kiss him goodbye then I can see how the blame has been laid with her. If she just waved goodbye and he came up to her to kiss than he should have been spoken to instead. The action I would have expected them to take was to bring you both in together to say that you shouldn’t do that again. Their reaction is quite severe I wonder if HR thinks it violate anti sexual harassment rules?

    4. OP #2*

      Hi! Just to add to the people asking about whether or not my boyfriend had been talked to, that day that I was pulled in he had called off of work for an interview at a potential job. The next day he was supposed to work, which was two days after, he came into work and put in his resignation. I didn’t know this at the time and I don’t know if they were intending on him quitting or not. When we talked about this after he quit and I let him know the situation, he said he wasn’t approached by anyone when he went in so he was never talked to. I am assuming that they were planning on talking to him but I don’t know if I’ll ever know that now.

      As for me bringing up being off the clock, I agree with others that it doesn’t completely matter! When I was called in, my HR told me that wasn’t the problem or part of the problem but when I was discussing it with someone else they asked why it mattered if they knew I was off the clock. My intent on asking Allison and using that part was to get her opinion as well as the commenters because I had a lot of conflicting answers from others.

      I will say though that I am reading the comments and I do agree for the most part – the kiss, as harmless as we found it to be, wasn’t worth the situation I’m dealing with right now. Additionally, neither of us had ever been talked to about it before. When I was pulled in and was told why, I thought it was just “you can’t do that, make sure it doesn’t happen again” and it ended up being more than that.

  3. Kiitemso*

    LW #5, I sent my resume to my current company when applying to break into a new field in January few years back and in February I was invited to a job interview. The job they offered me wasn’t 100% what I wanted but I took it because the company and field seemed interesting and eventually I transitioned into something that is closer to what I wanted, so it worked out.

    I know for our often-posted jobs like customer service positions or middle manager positions there is a surplus of resumes to dig through and call through if a position opens, but for higher positions I get the feeling there is more of a “we will see who applies and reach out within our own networks” policy.

    1. Sally*

      I’m having the most difficulty with cover letters in my current job search, so when I read #5, I wondered – how do you write a cover letter when you can’t tailor it to a specific job?

      1. designbot*

        You tailor it to the industry and the company. How you admire their work (how did you even become aware of their work?), what skills you have that you could bring to them, etc. Though you should have a general idea of a job in mind—sure there may be some decisions between designer and senior designer, or PM vs technical lead, but you should know the category of what you’re going for. So mostly you can write the same letter.

      2. Serena*

        Write as you would for a normal cover letter with some adjustments. Rather than saying you are applying for X role, you can say you are currently a Teapot Designer looking for your next role in Teapot Design or exploring opportunties in Teapot Painting, Teapot Design, Teapot Sculpting (if you have a wide range of applicable experience) You’ll have to focus more on what you can offer the company more than what you can offer on the specific role. You can also look on LinkedIn and the job titles of current employees, this should give you a bit of insight into the types of roles that may become available or where they might have a gap!

  4. Blarg*

    #4: Please watch Parking Wars; I assume it is streaming somewhere. An entire reality series showing parking enforcement as the good guys and everyone else as tools.

    And I agree with what Alison said about RA jobs. Twenty years ago (gulp) when I was an RA, they looked for a diverse group, wide range of majors and backgrounds, and comfort talking to peers about sensitive issues. I worked at the front desk of our dorm (we had student staffing 24/7, which seems bonkers now but I worked a ton of 1am-5am shifts when I was 18 and 19), and that experience was def seen as a plus in hiring. There are some perks (room and board), but also huge downsides (no privacy at all, all the petty crap plus the occasional very upsetting incident — having to call paramedics, having residents report assaults or other trauma, etc). And as an introvert, I dreaded the constant need to hold “programs” for residents. I made some very close, lasting friends with my fellow RAs but moved off campus the following year. I was exhausted! Having a regular job where you can go home at the end of the day and be “off” may be a blessing. Good luck!

    1. Lioness*

      I also applied to be an RA, didn’t get the job, but looking back it would not have been a good fit. I am also introverted and really like privacy. However, even if you would have been a great fit, and it would have been a job you’d enjoy, you’re not going to get every job you applied for.

      Even if your roommate has never been employed, that doesn’t mean their resume is blank, you never know what other experience they may have, or what they could bring to the role.

    2. OP #4*

      I’ve seen a few episodes of parking wars! It’s hard for me to watch now because I just feel like I’m at work haha. I think I may apply for the RA job again this year, but I’m still considering it. I do like that my home and work lives can be separate, and I definitely don’t need more drama at work. Thanks for the advice!

      1. Jdc*

        Oh yes consider that with the RA job. You never get a break. If something needs addressed at 3am, you have to address it. I know there can be great benefits, often free housing, so could be worth it for a year, but it would be hard for me to never leave work.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Also, with that 3AM thing, yeah lived that and wished my junior year RA would have been a bit more rules oriented with the nutjobs on the third floor who tried to make maltov cocktails in emptied plastic 2L pop bottles. Yup, they started chucking them out a window at about 3AM.

          (For reference this was a 24 room building, 8 rooms per floor. And you had to be 21 years old to live in these dorms. And the “cocktails” was one of the least crazy/dangerous things these folks did.)

      2. Smithy*

        I think RA jobs are likely fairly different from campus to campus, but when I had the job – showing an interest and excitement in “student life” was big part of it. Sure there were specific hours you were on the clock, and I say this with all the respect in the world to undergrad me, but it helps to have a bit of a desire to be in the middle of everything – drama and otherwise.

        Largely speaking while there certainly are jobs where having an RA background helps (summer student programs, gap year programs, working with teens/young adults, etc.), I would not take success or failure in being selected as a huge indicator of best practices with job hunting going forward. If you really do want to transition out of enforcement into working with young adults, thinking about wording about wanting more of a mediator role instead of enforcement.

      3. BluntBunny*

        It may be that your resume is selling your self short or could be worded better. Everytime I look at mine and past cover letters I see something to improve on. Also it maybe could to hear from your friend who interviewed if there is anything you should be emphasising.

    3. LAMM*

      Oooh I LOVE Parking Wars. Partially cuz they taped in a major city by me. It’s also one of the shows my one cat will binge watch with me (she gates loud sudden noises and lots of random flashes. Parking Wars tends to be relatively chill).

    4. Super anon for this*

      I work in the same building as one of the main offices for the Philly PPA (one of the cities they featured on the show), and when I first started, I would see the one woman who was know for the hairspray often. It was very exciting. :)

    5. Delta Delta*

      Back in the Stone Age when I was in college there was so much competition to be an RA people had to *take a two-credit class* for the right to compete to apply to be an RA. One of my very good friends did it and got selected. She later told me the free room and board wasn’t worth the aggravation and it also wasn’t worth spending 2 credits on.

  5. Not Australian*

    OP#2 – PDAs just do not belong at work, period. It doesn’t matter how minor they are, or how established the relationship is, there is no necessity for them and they should be avoided. This would be the case even if you couldn’t be seen by customers, but since you *can* – and since you know management doesn’t approve – you need to take the hint and cut it out permanently, or get a different job, rather than acting all put-upon. Nobody’s suggesting you can’t say goodbye to your boyfriend at shift change, just that you find a different way of expressing it.

    1. MK*

      I am less sympathetic to the OP because it seems she knew perfectly well her company wouldn’t approve (she says “I’ve been nervous before because even though I know I’m off the clock, I worried that we would be seen by a manager.”) and tried to get away with it. There are other ways to say goodbuy (e.g. a warm smile) that don’t involve kissing.

      That being said, the company’s response is a huge overreaction.

      1. Rexish*

        also “to any unsuspecting customer, it looked like we were kissing while working” he was working and there was kissing. But I do agree that the response is way too much.

      2. Formerretailgal*

        Retail is strange animal. What managers, HR decide is ok and not ok always blew my mind. When I worked it, people would always get trouble for the strangest things. Often it was a way of trying to weed out people that were not the best workers (I am not saying this is the case for OP). Personally I don’t see a quick peck goodbye as a big issue and I think the company, overreacted. I would just try to comply, esp if you need the job.

        1. Observer*

          While I also think that company over-reacted, I think that there is absolutely nothing strange about their disapproval of the behavior.

      3. Chinook*

        I hesitate to say it is an overreaction. If the OP knew it was wrong , then it is possible that it has been emphasized in the past, atleast to all her coworkers, that this behaviour is wrong and could be considered afirst warning. A write up then can be considered a second warning, especially since such behavior should be easily controllable by those involved.

      4. Gruntilda*

        This is where I stand. I think the company overreacted, but also the company is right that customers would not like to see it, and OP knew they would get in trouble for it.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, this. For me, the ideal is that your coworkers should be unaware that you’re in a relationship. They may know if they’ve been told but they shouldn’t suspect anything if they haven’t. Friends and friendly enough to talk about non-work stuff and to say goodbye at shift change, sure, but otherwise not.
      There are several married couples at my job, and you’d never know because in these cases, the wives have kept their maiden names. The one man and woman who happened to have the same fairly uncommon surname turned out to be a brother and sister.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        If her retail job is anything like mine, it is full of chatty people and excruciating dead time.

        And sometimes it is better to know people are together, otherwise you find yourself like I did on my second day of work at this job wondering why on earth this man was giving my coworker a valentine’s day present.

        1. Kate*

          But giving a coworker Valentine’s Day present is another of those PDAs that shouldn’t belong to workplace.

          I mean, did they really only see each other at work, or why would one give their partner a personal present at work??

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Eh… Sending flowers or a mug of candy or something like that to work is pretty common for couples who do not work at the same office. My company does charity fundraisers for various holidays, and I could easily imagine someone saying ‘gee if you got me that, X holiday would be all taken care of.”

            1. Annony*

              I agree. My husband sent me flowers at work for Valentines day. I don’t see why that would suddenly not be ok if he worked with me.

          2. Ana Gram*

            Maybe! My husband and I work different shifts. I saw him last night when I went to bed and for a couple minutes this morning at 5am when I was waiting for him to be done with the shower. We’ll do the 5am passing in the hall tomorrow morning and I’ll see him for a few hours the day after tomorrow. It stinks and we might exchange birthday or other gifts at work. Most people don’t know we’re together but, yeah, work might be the only time they spend together.

            1. A*

              Well in this case it would be better to just leave it in the kitchen or something? Idk, I just don’t think that a couple having opposing schedules should translate to flexible definitions of ‘allowable’ PDA.

              1. EPLawyer*

                Exactly. You are still at work. It is not your personal time to be together because its the only time you see each other. It is not the time to be exchanging personal gifts, discussing whether to buy a new dishwasher or continuing the fight you had last night just because you are around each other.

                1. Susie Q*

                  Then you better not be chit chatting with your coworkers about anything besides work.

                  You’re there to work. Not make friends.

              2. Ana Gram*

                Yeah, we don’t do PDA at work. But we certainly do couple things out of necessity. I’ve had him sign paperwork, we’ve met up to exchange items, and occasionally we pass on work appropriate gifts. It seems fine in my workplace culture. There are other people who are related and we have a pretty similar relationship, folks get flowers at work, cards are passed around.

                All that to say- no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to kiss at work but I did want to push back on the idea that couples see each other regularly outside of work. I wish we did! But for now, we see each other most often at work.

            2. Kate*

              I guess what I really meant was “is work really the only common ground for you and your partner”. See also what A wrote about kitchen counters.

          3. rear mech*

            A birthday/holiday when one or both are working is a nice excuse to brighten up your partner’s workday with a little gift :) Especially if you’re doing the “real” gift or party or get together some other day when y’all both have more time

      2. MK*

        I don’t agree with this; if people don’t know two coworkers are a couple (or related or best friends), it can create very awkward situations, e.g. one could end up complaining about coworker X to their spouse. The relationship should be disclosed, the behaviour should be professional.

        1. Ana Gram*

          I don’t think you need to tell everyone about your relationship, actually. In a small workplace or somewhere that your job functions overlap, then perhaps. My husband and I work at the same place (about 600 employees) and do totally different jobs. Some people know we’re married and some people know us in common. But most don’t and it would be a little clunky to tell new coworkers I’m married to some guy they might run into one day.

          I get the sentiment behind your opinion but it seems a bit awkward to actually do.

          1. ian*

            I think there’s a pretty big gap between “announce it” vs “never let anyone know”. I probably wouldn’t tell new coworkers right away, but if it came up in conversation somehow, I don’t see what would be wrong to say “oh I’m married to X who works in department Y”.

        2. Me*

          Perhaps the lesson is then that you shouldn’t be complaining about coworkers behind their backs? Not that all relationships must be disclosed.

          1. Observer*

            Yah think?

            I think that there is no “perhaps” about it – DEFINITELY a better lesson is to not to complain about coworkers behind their backs.

        3. Annony*

          There is a difference between a relationship being a secret and a relationship not being obvious from daily interactions at work. I think you should be careful about complaining about one coworker to anther coworker regardless. If it is just venting or gossip, don’t do it. If you actually have a problem that needs to be addressed, then everyone should behave professionally regardless of if two of them are in a relationship. The relationship should be disclosed to HR, not to every single coworker.

      3. ian*

        Honestly, I would find it much weirder that my coworkers were going out of their way to pretend that they weren’t in a relationship, than to just know that they’re in a relationship. It strikes me as a super odd thing to do and I’d wonder what malicious reason they had for concealing that.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Same here. Am I also supposed to pretend that I’m not friends with coworkers I’ve become friends with outside of work? Should I pretend that it’s just coincidence that my cousin who works in the next sub-department has the same last name as me and kind of looks like me?

      4. daystar*

        What I find odd is that it seems like the LW has not disclosed the relationship at work. The “the HR person asked if anything else had transpired. I said no because we never go farther than that” reads as though HR is asking if your relationship has gone any farther, if they had known about the relationship that would be an odd way to ask that question.

        LW, does HR know you are in a relationship with a coworker?

        If they did, I also feel they would have said “ok, no pda at work”.
        Anyone else read the question this way?

  6. Zoe*

    LW #4, one of my employees was a parking enforcement officer, I thought it recommended him, I figured he must be used to people being as*holes all day and have good customer service skills – I was right!

      1. TimeTravlR*

        I think that skill would be very helpful, 4, in dealing with entitled college students late at night! LOL (And yes, I know not all college students are entitled… but there will be enough that 4’s skills could come into play!)

      2. Jdc*

        I’ll never really get people getting angry about a parking ticket because they did something to warrant it. The only time I was angry over one was a lot I parked in many times that was never manned although has a booth. Every time I’d search for signs or an attendant and nothing. The one time i was there for 3 minutes I had a ticket. I didn’t say a word but for sure seethed due to putting some much effort in attempting to pay with no way to do so. Oh and he was leaning against my car therefore scratching it slightly while writing the ticket. One of those cases where you walk away so you don’t over react. Ha

        1. Jaybeetee*

          I’ve been annoyed over receiving parking tickets, but good lord, I would never confront the person writing the ticket, even if I did see them.

          There have been a few cases where I thought a ticket really was excessive or unjustified (city urged people to stay off the roads after a weather event. I park on the street in front of my building. I got a ticket for not moving my car that day…) In those cases, I go through the proper channels to dispute the ticket, I don’t hassle the officer.

          1. Kate*

            I think that in NotAlwaysWorking, there was a story where an attendant was writing tickets as people were standing in queue at parking machine. There ended up to be a half a roomful of people contesting their tickets at the same time at the same judge.

            1. No Tribble At All*

              I’ve seen tickets being given to someone who had the parking permit but only had a license plate on the one side of the car (legal in the state of registry). They couldn’t see her tags so ticketed her. I’ve been ticketed for having the meter run out after the space became non-metered (eg you had to pay between 9-5, I put in enough money until 5, when I came back at 7 I had a ticket because the meter showed expired). I’ve seen people ticketed for violating signs that weren’t posted at the time they parked. I’ve also seen people ticketed while waiting in line to pay the machine. Our parking people would ticket you 5 minutes before your time ran out. And because this was a college campus, the college made money from tickets, so you couldn’t appeal it to a real judge!

              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                This reminds me of the time I got a ticket for not having a pass, when my sticker had melted in the hot New Mexico sun and was lying on the dashboard in clear view. The ticket was because it was’t stuck to the inside of the windshield. I tried to appeal but it didn’t work.

        2. TiffIf*

          The one time I got upset about a parking ticket it was because I had driven to campus around 4 am to work my custodial job and parked along a stretch of road; there was snow piled onto the curb and sidewalk obscuring the demarcation between the parking/no parking zone so I couldn’t tell I was accidentally in the no parking zone. I did grumble to myself and then paid the ticket anyway.

          I used to live in an apartment complex that had tenant only parking but one of my roommate’s boyfriends would ALWAYS park in the lot (even though generally there was plenty of street parking nearby it just meant a little bit further of a walk) after the first few reminders not to park there didn’t do anything I gave up and just called parking enforcement on him every time.

    1. Remote HealthWorker*

      I agree completely with outside employers!

      I disagree for any on campus jobs. Id say “security officer” and leave it at that. Sorry but universities are notorious for charging hundreds or even thousands for a parking sticker while overselling parking spots. This creates a lot of animosity towards ticket officers on campus. It sucks but I do think your RA job was likely tanked due to you being a parking enforcer. RAs tend to be very cliquey and all it takes is one RA on the hiring review board who had an “unfair” ticket to toss out your app.

      Source: I wrote parking tickets in college. My best friend was an RA.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yup – RA’s can be cliquey. I experienced it in my freshman year. My RA was awesome – but she spent most of her time on our floor working with us instead of hanging out with the other RA’s. We had two rooms on our floor that were occupied by folks who flat out said at move-in their goals included creating the need for at least 2 new housing rules. Yes, two rooms – they were obnoxious, and RA did a great job of keeping them in check (laying down the law when needed, bending and counseling when that was more appropriate). But they were still fired at the end of the year because they didn’t spend enough time hanging out with the other RA’s. We were all sad to see her go, she was awesome, the person who replaced her was a waste of oxygen who let the crazies get totally out of control – and create those new rules that were their initially stated goal.

  7. Anono-me*

    OP #2. Please be sure to request copies of any disciplinary documents.

    Also, please consider verifying that any write up that you sign or initial indicates that it was a quick peck of a kiss rather than an attempted tonsillectomy of a kiss. Many locations allow handwritten
    annotations. (Check with a local lawyer if needed.) Down the road if someone is checking references Etc, you may find it helpful for your records to clearly indicate that this was a quick little gesture of affection. Otherwise, especially given how drastic this organization seems to be treating the issue, people may wonder if the kiss was R rated.

  8. Sarah*

    Can you really be so oblivious that while stating multiple times that YOU were off the clock, it never occured to your boyfriend WASN’T (and vice versa)?

    1. Vichyssuave*

      I have to admit this caught my attention too. Would LW think it was totally fine to visit her boyfriend at his place of work and give him a peck if she was just a customer (or vice versa)?

      1. Retail not Retail*

        I saw this infrequently at my old job, someone’s bf/gf/spouse coming by at a dead time or shopping after work.

        We also had plenty of family members stop by and hug people working while just customers.

        It really depends on the store culture. I’m shocked at how long you’ve both been there and not had a problem. This tells me that the grandboss’s representative saw and got onto he boss.

      2. ian*

        Uh, personally, absolutely yes. As long as it doesn’t interfere with his work, why not?

          1. ian*

            Why so? What’s actually bad about it? As someone said elsewhere, that’s a conclusion, not an argument.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It actually doesn’t matter — the reality is that this IS a rule/norm/expectation in many workplaces in the U.S., especially retail. The OP has to work within that reality.

    2. MK*

      It could be that the OP is focusing on the fact that she wasn’t on the clock, because she is asking about how appropriate her own disciplinary action was. Assuming her boyfriend also got disciplined, I can see her thinking that disciplining him was reasonable, since he was working, but her not, because she was off.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, if she was off the clock and he was on, and especially if she got written up and he didn’t – that would be pretty whack!

    3. Batgirl*

      I think it occurred to her because she said she was nervous. I don’t think it was a ‘we shouldn’t be doing this’ nervousness, but that slight uneasiness you get when you’re not really sure what the established rules are. OP told herself she was off the clock, it was a quick goodbye, which was not affecting work. I don’t think she could articulate why it was a problem which is when you usually shrug off any unease.
      Once I had two students I had to tell not to hold hands in the college building (we had bunches of employers coming in offering work experience and we had a workplace standard of professionalism) and they had already run it through the internalized rules they already knew about and concluded that a) they were now adults and b) holding hands is a PG level of PDA. They didn’t know that adults generally keep all PDA out of workspaces.

  9. LemonLyman*

    Re: OP2

    Can we get clarification on when this letter came in? My knee jerk reaction is why would anyone be kissing anyone at work and/or in public right now??

    Pre- COVID it was maybe a quick convo and a warning but starting in early March, people became very on edge about the transfer of saliva in public. We are technically supposed to be distancing a minimum of 6ft apparent and wearing masks to avoid exposure to respiratory transmission of the virus. Many states are still under stay at home orders and those that are opening are still asked to follow distancing guidelines. And recently reopened retailers are given sanitary guidance they should follow. In this instance, a kiss is more than a lapse in judgement to an employer. It can be perceived as a breech in sanitation practices or – and this may sound extreme but please know that I’m very high risk so I take my possible exposure or the possible exposure of my friends and family very seriously – even maybe endangering other people’s health/lives and the business’s ability to remain open and operational.

    1. WS*

      But surely you’d assume that the two people kissing were a couple and therefore in the same “bubble”, not random co-workers swapping spit?

      1. Lady Heather*

        Perception also matters here. If a customer saw and thought ‘these employees don’t take hygiene seriously’ that’s an even bigger problem.

      2. LemonLyman*

        If this situation is during covid, in my area, businesses which are reopening have to post signage at each entrance of the facility to inform all employees and customers that they should: avoid entering the facility if they have a cough or fever; wear facial coverings, maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another; and not shake hands or engage in any unnecessary physical contact.

        A kiss – no matter how innocent – violates three of the four of these (mask, distancing, physical contact) which could put the business in a lot of trouble if reported by a customer. So while a write up seems extreme, it does make sense that corrective action would take place depending on the safe reopen guidance the business has to follow.

    2. TechWorker*

      The guidelines generally don’t apply to those who are already in the same household though, because why would they? I totally agree that if they were wearing masks for their entire shift and took them off to kiss that would be bizarre – but you’d think that would have come up! If there’s no general policy of mask wearing where they are (or when this happened) then I can’t see coronavirus comes into it very much.

      1. LemonLyman*

        I did not find any indication in the letter that they are in the same household. And a kiss would mean that a mask was removed to make the kiss, which – again – would be breaking so many covid guidelines right now.

        My point is that a kiss between two retail employees is different now than before which is why I’m trying to get a sense of when this took place.

    3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I think we’re fairly safe to assume that this letter came in before this was such a big factor. Focusing on this possibility is a distraction, IMHO.

      1. un-pleased*

        And, honestly, retail workers are subjected to so much nasty behavior right now, a quick peck between partners during this time would not be something I’d be worried about.

        1. A*

          I would. Sorry, but not sorry. I appreciate that retail workers are being put through all heck (even more so than usual), but I’ve lost loved ones to this virus. I don’t know who is in someone else’s bubble, nor should I have to wonder while out to buy XYZ essentials. These are two very separate issues. And if push comes to shove – I worry about public health far more than easing the immediate burden for retail workers. I will always and forever side with ‘for the greater good’.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s nonsensical, though. The reasonable and likely explanation for two retail workers kissing is obviously that they’re dating, or otherwise intimate. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost loved ones to the virus.

              1. No Name*

                But…if I shouldn’t touch my face in public, I certainly shouldn’t touch my face to someone else’s. Even if we do share a household.

                Any time someone returns from being out in public, they should be doing at least a quick cleaning of hands and face. So yes, it would be concerning to see anyone – but particularly employees of a store – kissing in public right now. If I saw that (even just a peck), I might be inclined to walk out of the store.

                You as an observer might think I’m overreacting. Maybe I am. Maybe my hyper-vigilant state of thinking right now is over the top. Who knows? But the store just lost a customer due to something that was already against policy.

                Whatever your opinion about COVID, safety, and PDA policies, the last thing a retail business needs right now is to give someone a reason not to shop there.

                1. pancakes*

                  You shouldn’t touch your face to the face of someone you’re not quarantining with, correct, and seeing other people do things you wouldn’t and/or shouldn’t do is, as ever, not a cue for everyone in the vicinity to do the same. As I said in another comment, I don’t think it’s clear from the letter that this incident was post-virus. It may have happened before. The letter-writer isn’t asking whether it’s safe or advisable for her to kiss her boyfriend in a viral load sense.

      2. LemonLyman*

        In a separate comment, Allison clarified that the letter came in this month. I think the OP is not considering how an innocent kiss on the cheek now means the violation of mask wearing and 6ft distancing that retail workers and shoppers are asked to follow during this pandemic and businesses are asked to reinforce. Isn’t it possible that this is the reason for the more intense reaction from management? I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but it is a factor that no one seems to be considering.

        1. Kiwi with laser beams*

          But if it was during COVID (and I’ve seen letters here about stuff that happened years before the LW wrote in, so the fact that the letter was recent doesn’t mean the incident necessarily was) then surely that would have been brought up during the writeup? LW went into a lot of detail about what the management said about it, and it was run-of-the-mill “it looks unprofessional to customers” stuff. If this was during COVID, surely they would have led with the much more pressing point about safety rather than focusing entirely on less serious reasoning?

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That’s irrelevant. OP knows it’s not allowed, and yet she continued to do it. While something like this doesn’t bother me personally, when you work together it shouldn’t be obvious that you’re a couple. Yes, the disciplinary actions mentioned are over the top IMO, and if she’s the only one being disciplined that’s a bigger problem, but the bottom line is that no affection is allowed at work – accept the consequences and move on.

      1. MicroManagered*

        It’s absolutely relevant in terms of the severity of the response. Pre-covid, yeah this should be a quick “knock it off” talking to (and OP clearly knows she shouldn’t have been doing it–it’s in the letter, so I wonder if that step already happened?). In current state, anything that gives the impression of poor sanitation could have dire consequences for a business. In my state, restaurants are facing legal consequences for not following social distancing requirements, so that could play in to why HR is going straight to a formal write-up.

          1. MicroManagered*

            The guidelines in my state are to wear a mask and avoid touching your face in public, so it follows that this includes touching your face with another person’s mouth. The virus is spread via respiratory droplets from the mouth, inhaled by another person, so again, putting your mouth on someone else’s face… c’mon…

            1. pancakes*

              Of course but it isn’t clear that the letter is about post-virus kissing. The letter is about being disciplined perhaps unfairly, not about sanitation. The letter-writer wasn’t admonished for spreading germs.

              1. No Name*

                Right, the LW didn’t bring up the pandemic or social distancing rules in their letter – and I’m all for giving writers the benefit of knowing their situations better than we do.

                However, the pandemic is a pervasive consideration that deserves acknowledging right now. Is a write-up for a first offense a great reaction? No. Does it sound like this was a first offense (given LW’s previous concern over their affectionate goodbyes)? Also no. And since LW expressed previous knowledge and concern over the store’s reaction to their rule-breaking, is it worth asking if the pandemic could be a contributing factor to the severity of response? I’d say so.

              2. LemonLyman*

                Because it’s late May, I think it’s reasonable to assume this letter was sent in the last few weeks (April-May) which was during the pandemic. If it was pre-covid, then a clarification is welcomed and what I was requesting.

              3. MicroManagered*

                It isn’t clear–that is the point. The comment I replied to is from someone saying the distinction between pre- or during-pandemic is not relevant (in response to someone asking). I disagree.

                I’m also in a very densely populated area with lots of corona deaths. People are scared here and following all guidelines pretty closely. (And I realize not every city/state is like that.) Businesses here are being reported and shut down for not following the requirements. So if I saw 2 people in a retail store or restaurant kiss, it would stand out in a way it maybe didn’t 3 months ago. I would probably not patronize that place again for a while, and I would probably tell at least 3 people (who might tell 1 person–so that’s 7 people) that I saw Gross Thing at XYZ Business. So now at least 7 people have heard XYZ Business is not safe, and that’s bad for business… So then it makes sense to me that the HR is taking these incidents perhaps more seriously than in the past. HR exists to protect the company, not the employee.

    5. Amanda*

      This is a good point, and for once I didn’t even think about COVID =)

      I still assume this letter is from the time before, but if not it definitely explains why the company’s response was so strong.

  10. Director of Alpaca Exams*

    My company works with a lot of freelancers. We send out calls for applications a couple of times a year, but anyone can apply at any time. As it happens, I just spent an hour looking through old applications—including some that came in five or six months ago—and sending “Are you still interested?” inquiries to the ones that best suited my current needs. We have an email address that applications go to, I auto-tag emails sent to that address, and whenever I need someone, I look in that tag first. So yes, LW5, some managers really do keep applications on file and check them months later!

    I’d never hold it against someone if they sent in a generic application on their own and then a specific one in response to an ad. To be honest, I most likely wouldn’t even notice that they’d done it… there are a few hundred emails sitting in that folder, and when I’m ready to bring on a freelancer in a particular area, I keyword-search the applications and barely even notice the names. However, I’d be a little grumpy if the cover letter hinted that the person thought we should have responded sooner to the first application or otherwise felt slighted at having been passed over. You also don’t want to sound desperate or like you’re going to keep throwing resumes at them until they let you in. So I personally wouldn’t advise mentioning on the second application that it is a second application, especially if you’re applying at a company that gets tons of applicants and won’t be keeping track of who’s applied one or two or seven times. Just tailor it to the job ad as you usually would.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I don’t know how it works in my field from the hiring side, but because there are so many short-term jobs that come up with little or no notice, it’s not unusual to send in a speculative letter and CV. They might remember to look at you when they need people in two days and don’t have time to run an ad, or they might not. However it wouldn’t be weird at all if you had sent in a CV two months ago with no response, and then applied for a specific job that was advertised this week.

    2. Lex*

      I’m LW5! I really appreciate this advice and will take it to heart and start sending! Thanks again.

  11. Lady Heather*

    LW2; I’m not sure if I agree with Alison that it isn’t right if only one of you is disciplined. If only one of you initiated the kiss, it makes sense to hold that person more responsible than the recipient.

    1. Lancelottie*

      I’d be pretty surprised if management didn’t ask around and that point and find out it was a regular and reciprocated occurrence.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Management knows it’s a regular thing, everyone in their area knows, management got caught allowing it. It won’t look good on them if the write-up includes the fact this is ongoing.

        Whether I had to hide my water bottle at work depended on who from scary corporate might be coming.

    2. MK*

      The only way this would make sense is if the recipient of the kiss actually objected. To punish only one of two people kissing, or even to investigate who leaned in, would be down right bizarre for a company.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Seriously. Unless the company or the kiss recipient are claiming that the OP made an unwanted move, which is an entirely different ball of wax.

      2. Yorick*

        It’s a kiss on the cheek, so I would definitely say there is a kisser and a kissee in that situation.

    3. Disco Janet*

      Agreed. If it was the other way around and OP was in trouble for her boyfriend kissing her on the cheek, I can see people saying it’s not fair to punish her for the boyfriend’s actions. We know it’s a repeat thing and that it’s happened both ways – but that doesn’t mean HR knows that.

    4. Observer*

      If either one forced a kiss on the other, then that’s a firing offense. But, it’s reasonable to assume that it was consensual, which means that both are equally to blame.

    5. Joielle*

      The thing is, management does not want to – and really doesn’t need to – get into these grey areas. This is a pretty clear-cut and reasonable rule. No PDA at work. It does seem a little heavy handed in this specific case and probably could have been handled with a minor talking-to (and calling it “inappropriate touching” is a bit much), but I know retail situations often have a specific disciplinary process that managers are required to follow.

      I just don’t think this is a situation where OP could really push back. She did something a bit questionable, she got reprimanded, she should just say “sorry, it won’t happen again” and be done with it.

  12. Arts Akimbo*

    I’m so sorry, OP #3. There’s a fine line between empathy and anxiety. Some people use empathy as an excuse to pry, and moreover, to get you to soothe them. I used to have a friend who genuinely believed she was this great empath who could feel what her friends were feeling, but the effect of her empathy was that she thought she got to tell us what we were feeling, and even when she was wrong, she believed only her own feelings over our word. That, to me, is a sign that someone’s anxiety is out of control– obsessive checking-in with other people, and getting others to constantly reassure one. Your boss might be a highly anxious person, or he might just be stressed about current circumstances, but either way, it sounds exhausting. I hope you get to leave your job for greener pastures soon.

    1. LQ*

      I’d agree except it was 3 times over the course of the a few months during which people were laid off. That doesn’t seem excessive to me at all. (And that doesn’t include the notion that it’s the most recent few months, in which, yeah…)

      If there is a grilling that goes along with it that would be excessive, but if it’s just a question and then dropping it that seems really reasonable and makes me think that this is more an OP thing. Just because someone asks a question like this doesn’t mean they are expecting, or even if they are that you have to, lay out all your problems. It’s just an opportunity to express something. It can be just an opening, not a forcing of something.

      “Hey you seem down, are you ok?”
      “Yeah, this is just how I am”
      “You sure you don’t want to talk about anything?”
      “Yeah, I’m good. You really don’t need to check in, I’ll come to you with anything.”

      Unless the boss wouldn’t let the OP leave until they promised to spill their heart, or kept badgering…Asking once a month during layoffs and coronavirus doesn’t seem shocking.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Generally, 3 times over a few months doesn’t sound like much, but this is very telling…”said he is getting the sense that I am “sad” or just generally not okay. Each time he asks, he questions me if it’s personal, work-related, or something else. It feels more like an interrogation to figure out if I’m happy at work”.

        That’s not okay. You ask if someone is doing well, and if they say they’re fine (whether you believe them or not) you let them know you’re there for them if they want to talk and you let it go. If I’m having personal problems, my boss is not the person I’m going to unload on, unless it’s affecting my ability to work.

        1. Yorick*

          Exactly. This doesn’t sound like a check in, or an “everything ok?” This seems to be a more serious conversation about an employee’s feelings based on how the boss perceives her, which is not appropriate.

          I had a department chair who was just like this once. He would interrogate me about my weekend. Seriously it wasn’t ok to just say “it was fine, how was yours?” If he wanted to inquire about someone’s emotional state, he would absolutely not let you get away without either a detailed explanation of what’s bothering you or a detailed justification to prove everything’s fine.

      2. Lucette Kensack*


        The in-depth interrogation is a problem. A manager asking if an employee is OK once a month (or less) is very, very normal.

      3. YesIReallyAmOkay*

        Being asked if I’m okay 3 times over the span of a few months doesn’t seem like much, but he is not *just* asking if I am okay. One time was an ambush in the middle of our open plan office, insisting that he thinks something is off and asks me if there is anything he can do to help. Other times he has said “I’ll walk out with you” as I was leaving for the day, again insisting that something must be wrong and asking me if it is work-related or personal before letting me go.

        While I am hugely appreciative that my boss is caring and attentive enough to even ask if I am okay, it does feel like the equivalent of being told to smile, like another commented pointed out. The fact that he is asking me if I’m okay doesn’t make me uncomfortable, but rather that he does not take “I’m fine” for an answer and keeps badgering me about it.

    2. Data Bear*

      I think there’s a simper interpretation here that’s being overlooked. OP3 says their boss is very empathetic and asks if people are okay when he senses something “off”. OP3 is also feeling unfulfilled and is looking for a new job. Boss has been asking occasionally whether OP3 is okay, and wants to know whether it’s something work-related.

      To me, the most obvious explanation fitting those facts is that Boss has noticed OP3’s discontent and is not prying, but trying to determine whether it’s a problem that he needs to address. And, no criticism of OP3 intended, but even self-aware people are often bad at judging whether they’re projecting an emotional vibe. Because the thing is… everything is NOT fine with OP3, and OP3 is actively job-hunting because of it. So if Boss really is as empathetic and well-intended as he’s been described, the reason he keeps asking is probably because his empathy keeps (correctly!) telling him that something is off.

      If that’s the case, then I don’t the best advice is for OP3 to double down on dissembling about their true feelings. I think the simplest and most effective approach would be to acknowledge that there is something off, but that it’s not Boss’s problem to fix. Now, that doesn’t mean that OP3 has to disclose that they’re looking to move on; one can be honest while still being private. But my recommendation would be for OP3 not to insist they’re fine, really, but instead to say something along the lines of “Yes, I do have something occupying my thoughts lately, but it’s not anything you can address. I’d rather not discuss it, but thank you for concern. I appreciate your support, and I know I can come to you if I need your help.”

      Said with warmth and sincerity, that will allay a perceptive Boss’s worries, should also work on a Boss who is mismanaging his anxiety, and puts OP3 on solid ground for firmly but politely maintaining their boundaries if Boss is a prying busybody.

      1. YesIReallyAmOkay*

        You make some really great points, and I have also been racking my brain to reflect on my behaviour the past few months. While I would like to say that I have been consistently performing well, I may unknowingly be giving off vibes of discontentment that he is picking up.

        I have a routine meeting coming up with EmpathaticBoss where we will discuss my performance over the last 6 months, and I am considering letting some of my frustrations known without disclosing that I am ready to move on.

        Sidenote: A company I interviewed with that was ready to make an offer decided on a hiring freeze due to the current climate, so it looks like I will be staying in my current position for the foreseeable future. It’ll be pretty tough getting motivated again when I’ve already had one foot out the door.

        1. Data Bear*

          That sounds like a good plan to me. Maybe he’ll be able to alleviate some of the frustrations, which would be nice even if you do end up moving on sooner rather than later. My fingers are crossed for you!

  13. No Name*

    I would love to hear from OP2 if the boyfriend is being punished too. I also thought the response was overkill unless it was your second reprimand. But then if they are only reprimanding you and not your boyfriend, they are sexist jerks and the heavy handed response less surprising.

    Find an in joke or code to say goodbye to each other that means I love you to you but has no meaning to other people. Hubby and I have long running joke where we touch fingers and say ouch (as in ET). The shortened work version is to simply point at each other (no touching or saying ouch). We have offices so it is easy to do this without it being noticeable ie to someone walking past, they can’t see our hands but we are a respectable distance apart and not saying anything inappropriate.

    1. Disco Janet*

      Okay I’ve said this in other comments too, but if HR only knows about OP kissing her boyfriend and not the other way around, how are they sexist jerks for focusing on the person who was actually doing the kissing? I don’t get it.

      1. Observer*

        Because even though she kissed him on the cheek, it was clearly a consensual act. If she forced it on him (or if it had happened in the reverse), that would have been a firing offense, not a write up.

        1. Disco Janet*

          Hmmm, I think this is more of a grey area. Kissing someone on the cheek can be such a quick thing there’s really no time to object. You can be uncomfortable with someone kissing you on the cheek, but not say anything because you feel awkward about it. (I know that wasn’t the case here – but again, I don’t think HR knows that.)

        2. Chinook*

          A kiss on the cheek us not necessarily consensual. Tge person being kissed may just have chosen to make a fuss about it because they are at work and just wanted the person to leave. To be punished for not making a scene and trying to be professional in an unprofessional moment is wring.

          Example: when first dating DH, I went in for quick kiss when I picked him up for the first time in uniform. He took the kiss, rather than make a scene, but then explained to me to never do it again in public while he was in uniform and why. If he had been spotted at that moment, he definitely could have been written up despite not initiating it or really consenting.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            Wait, was he off the clock and you were picking him up? And he said he could have been written up for it? I think that is really odd. I could see full on PDA makeout session in front of business, yes. But as your picking him up a quick hello peck? Maybe he worked at the same place as LW does.

            1. mananana*

              I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that Chinook’s DH was in the military at the time of the kiss.

          2. Observer*


            You don’t need to make a full on scene to let it be clear that you do NOT want to be kissed (or hugged etc.) And, in the case of the OP, it’s pretty obvious that it was consensual as they do it all the time so he knew it was coming.

            Based on what the OP writes, in fact, I would think that he not only knew, but there is a good chance that he welcomed it. The OP says she was nervous about it. Presumably because she thought he wanted it and he never gave her reason to think otherwise.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP has since emailed me this: “My boyfriend had called off the day that I was pulled into the office for an interview for a potential new job. I assume they were going to pull him into the office as well since we were both supposed to be working that day. He called me to let me know that the next day he was supposed to be working (the following Sunday), he would be going in to resign which he did.”

      1. Zeus*

        So we will never know if they were planning to make a federal case out of the kissing with BF, too. Dang it!

      2. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Well, at least it won’t be an issue for OP again! I’d avoid kissing or being kissed by him while you’re in uniform to be safe while anywhere near work, though. (Even off work property, some people like to complain.)

  14. Birch*

    Your goodbye is adorable!

    I agree, the company is going overkill and walking the line of sexism on this, but… it’s also just not appropriate to kiss at work, in general. Doesn’t matter who’s on the clock, doesn’t matter who initiated it or how intense it wasn’t. In some work cultures (I’d venture to say more likely ones where people get a lot more independence in their work) it may be ok to give a quick peck. But even then, it’s just not necessary and kind of makes you seem immature. Heck, I work in a very casual, very independent field where I’m sure it would be okay, where most of us have met each other’s partners and children, and I still had 2 colleagues I had worked with for YEARS before it occurred to me to ask if it meant something that they have the same last name. They’re married.

    1. No Name*

      Completely agree that kissing is inappropriate at work and I probably should have made that clearer. I just thought a stern warning would be more reasonable in this particular circumstance.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      I think culture plays a huge role in whether small gestures of affection are allowed. Everywhere I’ve worked (and socialized), people hug, give pats on the back, share the occasional quick peck on the cheek if they’re in a romantic relationship, that sort of thing. Physical touch is so normalized here that it’s almost weird if you’re NOT a hugger. It’s so ingrained that even my CEO hugs everyone at our yearly family night and our yearly holiday party. I live in Texas.

  15. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m hoping we get an update about the kissing letter writer. One thing I wonder is if they had kissed goodbye in the break room or out of the customer eye if the boss would have had as much to say.

    1. Not Australian*

      I’d like to think that if that was actually an option they would have done just that.

      1. CastIrony*

        Yeah, I work with my sister in retail, and when she arrives to relieve me from my shift, it’s a quick switch from tills. Seeing each other in the breakroom or outside is not an option because it all happens so fast.

        So we just text each other during our ten-minute break, and that is enough.

  16. Kiwiii*

    Someone may have mentioned it already, but for number 4, it’s just as likely that they had a preference for people with no experience/no job in that it might give them an opportunity to have a job on campus. I know when I was in college, I had a student work position at the rec center, because I needed a job during college, and then when I interviewed to be an editor at my school’s literary magazine, I was passed over for someone with less commitments (even though I noted specifically that I’d be willing to take less hours or terminate my position with the rec center during the interview).

    1. thatoneoverthere*

      Agreed, my SIL was an RA. She didn’t have any other sort of job at the time, but she was an education major and it was great for her resume. Also not sure of your application process but it could be anything… an essay, his/her major, volunteer work they have participated in etc.

    2. Kiki*

      Yeah, my school definitely had a preference for hiring people to be RAs who didn’t have any/many other responsibilities. It was definitely unfair and in some cases led to them passing over great candidates who would have reduced other responsibilities in order to be an RA. I heard, though, that they had a lot of trouble in the past with RAs who were involved in a lot because a big portion of being a good RA relies on being around the dorm.

  17. Kate, short for Bob*

    LW3, if the wording Alison suggests doesn’t work, or he backslides, can I suggest you have fun with it instead?

    “Oh, I was just thinking about badger culling for a second, anyway, about those teapots” or “do these shoes make my feet look too small? So, spouts…”

    Maybe borrow some conversational topics from Phoebe Buffet if you think you can get away with it?

  18. Mary*

    OP4, just as a quick note:

    >>My much less qualified, never employed roommate got a call back and not me. I’m not trying to sound conceited, but I know I would have made a good RA

    If this is how you think job applications work, you’re probably going about them the wrong way. Employers can’t judge you on “how good an RA” you would have made: they can only judge you on what’s in your application. It’s *entirely* possible for someone who is less qualified and less experienced than you to write a better application which is more closely matched to the job description and does a better job of selling their skills. The hiring panel only knows what you tell them.

    This is a really common fallacy when you’re looking for jobs: you think that the employer should have given you a chance, or that how good *you* think you’d be at the job counts for something. It doesn’t! Whether you make it to interview is never a judgement on you as a person but a judgment on how good an application you wrote. This is the bit to focus on, and the good news is that it’s a bit you have control over!

    1. Annony*

      If you still want to be an RA next year, ask your friend for tips or even if you can see some of her application materials. Look at how she presented herself and how it was different from your application. Did she emphasize involvement in campus life, flexibility, sociability, ect. It could be very helpful to see what worked and try to tailor your application to emphasize similar things if they apply to you.

      1. Disco Janet*

        I think this is great advice! An RA is a unique kind of job, and they may not be looking for the kind of qualifications OP is expecting.

    2. OP #4*

      Thank you for the advice! I wasn’t trying to drag my roommate through the dirt. He’s a good guy and I would have been nothing but happy for him if he would have gotten the job. I spent a good amount of time on the essays for the application and had my then RA read them over. My roommate’s were written the night before applications were due. It is very likely that he is a more natural writer than me, and is better about talking to his strengths. I’ve never been one to like talking about myself. I wasn’t trying to say that I deserved the job based on prior experience, it just hurt a little when all that work was for naught. Such is life, though.

  19. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 you have my sympathy. Is your boss a “fixer”? I like Alison’s suggestion of turning it back on him, and making him think about why he keeps asking you about it. I equate this to encountering strange men in public who feel the need to tell me I should smile. Your boss is making assumptions because you’re not vocally doing cartwheels when you talk to him. Good luck with the job search.

    1. YesIReallyAmOkay*

      Yes, my boss is someone that takes work very seriously and personally. If people are seemingly unhappy, he will try very hard to fix that – which I am very grateful for in most situations! However, it’s now gotten to a point where it’s more prying.

      I am ready to move on, so you could say that things are not ‘fine’, but in the grand scheme of things in my life I really am fine! I couldn’t really tell him “I’m fine, though unfulfilled and I’m not sure what you can do to help that at this point.”

  20. Jennifer Strange*

    #4 – As a former RA, I’d think in this case being a parking enforcement officer would be a positive while applying for an RA position since it shows that you’re willing and able to properly perform a job that might make you unpopular with your peers (since you sometimes are called on to be the party pooper, so to speak).

    1. juliebulie*

      I had an RA who was totally useless (and eventually got fired) because she was so desperate to be liked. So, while I get what someone said above about concerns that a parking officer might be too rigid, there is also that to consider.

      Plus – the parking officer SEEMS rigid because the job is fairly rigid. That doesn’t mean the parking officer isn’t capable of being flexible, just that flexibility might not come into play as often when doing parking enforcement.

  21. Sara without an H*

    Re OP#1: I know we’re still hoping to bring everyone back; I just want to make sure I’m covered in case we don’t.” This is what I love most about Alison’s script — the use of “we.” It suggests to the manager that the employee is still thinking as a member of the employer’s team, who will stay if it’s at all possible.

    Best of luck OP#1, and if you get a good offer, take it!

  22. MCMonkeyBean*

    Maybe it’s because I don’t live in a big city, but I feel like #4 is really overestimating how much people dislike parking enforcement? I mean, no one likes getting tickets sure but I really can’t imagine anyone (reasonable) hearing that’s your job and feeling any sort of resentment for you personally.

    For #2, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say no PDA at work, but “corrective action” seems like a silly overreaction. Though in general if you are worried a manager will see you doing something, your best bet is probably just… not to do it. It sounds like you already knew they would at the very least frown upon it.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Yeah, for #2 the strength of the response is very weird. She’s an adult, the only “corrective action” needed should be to tell her to stop.

      1. Disco Janet*

        As someone who has worked retail, a manager coming down heavy on something like this can mean they’re unhappy with the employee in general. I’m not assuming this is the case – OP knows her place of work better than me – but it’s something to think about. It’s bad management to take heavy action over something small because you’re afraid to address actual performance issues or are trying to push the employee out…but it happens.

        For example, at an electronics retailer I worked out, there was a new employee who there were some problems with – it was her first job and she probably just didn’t know any better. Spending too much time chatting/gossiping with coworkers (which is normal to do sometimes, but as soon as she wrapped a conversation with one person, she’d go find a different coworker to chat with), regularly checking her phone on the sales floor, not being very friendly with customers, etc. But her boss felt awkward addressing that sort of thing with her, so instead he focused on smaller petty things and made them sound like a bigger deal than they were in an attempt to push her out. Super shitty, but again, not uncommon in the world of retail. So unfortunately I think OP might need to think about if there are other things going on that management is actually unhappy about, and if they’re the type to address issues head-on or be ridiculous about it like I’ve described.

      2. LITJess*

        I think it’s one of two things: 1) this isn’t the first time they’ve been spoken to about this or 2) management reacted more strongly because (as indicated from Alison above) this happened during COVID, management and HR is being more strict about the issue.

        Either way, while I generally think it’s a harmless peck on the cheek, being on the floor in retail is a whole other world. I wouldn’t make waves about this – just kiss goodbye in the breakroom in the future or fist bump or something when on the floor.

    2. Oof*

      #4 – oh, depending on where they are, oh yeah parking can have a terrible reputation! It’s not a huge issue in my current city – though I’ve been beyond pissed at the few tickets I’ve received (1 was not marked well, 1 was clearly such management BS look I am aggravated all over again) I’ve never held it to the readers themselves. Now, when I lived in my last city, it was a well-deserved reputation at the time for the meter readers. My eyebrows would have gone up on reading the resume, but even so, it would not have been enough to put in the dismiss pile.

    3. Alianora*

      I had the same reaction to #4. Sure, I don’t always like the way parking enforcement operates, but I wouldn’t hold it against an individual employee who I’d never met. Was surprised to see comments here indicating otherwise.

    4. Koala dreams*

      The sad thing about parking enforcement is that the workers mostly meet the angry drivers who got fined, not the happy drivers (and other people) that benefit from parking enforcement. You don’t really go find the worker to say that you are really happy they fined the people who parked for too long, even though there might not be any parking space left without the fines.

    5. Lizzo*

      Agree on the overreaction. I think there’s a big difference, too, between a cheek peck as a hello/goodbye (which is “normal” in many European and Latin cultures) when the couple are two ships passing in the night on their shifts, and a full-on lip-to-lip smooch/makeout session/groping.

  23. CleverGirl*

    Regarding #4, I’m really tired of people complaining about how someone “less qualified” than they are got an interview or a job over them. You don’t actually know how qualified a person is unless you have seen their application AND you are on the hiring committee (so you know what specific skills the job is actually looking for).

    OP, do you actually know your roommate is less qualified, or are you just making that assumption? Did you see their application? Maybe they have 5 years of volunteer experience working with kids. Maybe they were a peer tutor in high school. There are so many experience they could have that would qualify them to be an RA over a Parking Cop / Sandwich Maker, and you sound a bit judgemental to assume you are more qualified just because they don’t have any paid work experience.

    1. Me*

      Important point for lw 4. Simply having a job doesn’t make you more qualified than someone who doesn’t. They;re young. Hopefully they’ll get their head out from where it’s entrenched and grow a bit from the experience.

    2. OP #4*

      He didn’t end up getting the job but I would have been perfectly happy for him if he did. Maybe “less qualified” was the wrong term and “put less effort into the application” would have been a better way of putting it. He wasn’t involved in any student life and didn’t do much outside of class. It is very likely that he had more of what the hiring committee was looking for. I was just trying to tell things how I saw them from my perspective and give an example of how I perceived the parking job hurting my resume. I apologize if it came off as complaining.

  24. Renee*

    I do not understand how so many western cultures are against public displays of affection. Not just between partners but also between friends. I kiss my friends hello and goodbye and it is normal.

    1. EPLawyer*

      At work. Work is not your personal time to show how you feel about your friends and significant others. Not that you have to be an automaton, but you need to show you are responsible and show good judgment — such as knowing that PDAs at work are not a good idea.

      This actually goes to LW2 judgment more than the actual kiss. She knew management wouldn’t like it. She did it anyway. although the reaction is way over the top, it still could be more about the judgement shown by both of them than anyone actually worried about customers seeing them kissing instead of working.

      1. pancakes*

        The idea that kissing friends or a boyfriend or girlfriend hello or goodbye reflects poor judgment or irresponsibility is wild to me. It’s also a conclusion, not an argument, and you haven’t made an argument as to why it’s such a horror. Considering it doesn’t take any longer than saying hello or goodbye aloud it’s absurd to speak as if it’s about extravagant use of “personal time.” And Renee is right, this is often cultural. I was born in the US and have lived here my whole life but I live in a huge city and there are French people here who always kiss hello and goodbye, for example — you think the owner of my favorite local French bar would or should admonish the French bartender for leaning over to kiss friends and regulars who come in? I shouldn’t let a waiter I’ve known since the late 90s kiss my cheek in a bistro, I should do what instead, duck? The bar I refer to is now a to-go window and kissing is obviously not happening except between people who are living together, but I think this is a very heavy-handed and unconsidered reaction.

        1. Gina*

          I think that you made the argument yourself-it’s cultural. Ignoring workplace norms and culture reflects poor judgment and irresponsibility.

          A bright-line “no kissing” policy is much easier to maintain and enforce. Otherwise people would be coming up with other arguments-“There was no tongue” or “We only kissed for five seconds” or “Our mouths weren’t open” etc. It may seem petty to lay into OP for this (and I agree that the reaction was over the top) but I definitely see reason to have the rule itself.

          1. pancakes*

            The idea that because a rule is a bright-line rule and easy to enforce, it’s a good and worthwhile rule, isn’t much of an argument from where I sit. It should go without saying that kissing with tongue is clearly very inappropriate for work, but a quick peck hello or goodbye on the cheek or lips is entirely different, and I think should be fine in non-pandemic times. I think it’s very uptight to object to a quick peck as a greeting.

            1. Gina*

              I don’t think that’s the main argument but that’s part of the employer’s perspective, and it is helpful to evaluate rules that way. The company isn’t in the business of policing kissing and how much kissing is appropriate and what’s not appropriate, they’re in the business of doing whatever they’re doing and it may not make sense for them to devote the time and energy to crafting a policy that will make everyone happy or that everyone subjectively feels is fair or to their liking.

              The main argument is that ignoring workplace norms and culture reflects poor judgment and irresponsibility, regardless of how you personally feel about it.

              1. pancakes*

                Part of the employer’s perspective is to make bright-line rules just because it can easily enforce them? No. And clearly this employer is in the business of policing kissing, since it’s disciplining someone for kissing. I don’t know what sort of workplace culture you have in mind but in my part of the world—northeastern US—greeting someone with a quick peck on the cheek or the lips is normal, and I don’t think retail workers should be categorically exempt from doing so.

                1. Gina*

                  I’m not sure what you mean by “No,” but at least at my company the idea that employees understand whether they’re breaking or following a rule is absolutely something we take into consideration. It often doesn’t do much good to have a bunch of shades of gray or things that are open to interpretation or argument.

                  When I say “not in the business of policing kissing” I mean that it may not make sense for a group of people in this company to sit around and come up with a list of acceptable and unacceptable types of kissing, or to agonize about what a rule is supposed to mean every time someone kisses at work, when they can just say “No kissing at all on company property, whether you’re on or off the clock” and leave it at that.

                  I would also add that “retail workers” aren’t a homogenous company, culture, or region and no one is trying to “categorically” make a rule for all of them.

                2. virago*

                  I’ve lived, studied, and worked in the northeastern US for 55 years.

                  I’ve rarely if ever seen anyone being greeted “with a quick peck on the cheek or lips,” and I’ve been greeted that way only by a French friend.

                  Granted, the part of the northeastern US that I inhabit is the northernmost and nearly the easternmost. The prevailing culture is not an openly affectionate one.

              2. pancakes*

                Gina, you seem to have skipped over the first sentence of my comment, which is context for that “No.” We seem to be talking about different things. I was not commenting on whether or not the letter writer or hypothetical employees understand themselves to be breaking a rule. I don’t believe anyone was contemplating that employers should agonize over whether to allow various types of kisses, either. That seems both wholly unlikely and clearly inadvisable.

                1. pancakes*

                  Freeway, I’m not clear on what irritates you about what I’ve been saying. Do you think employers are incapable of having or enforcing a rule that excessive PDA is inappropriate and will not be tolerated but brief greetings are an unremarkable part of many people’s day-to-day life? Is it that you agree with Gina it’s “agonizing” to contemplate even this simple distinction? Is it that you think allowing retail workers this degree of autonomy is problematic?

              3. pancakes*

                @ virago Yes, I’m not surprised that people behave a little differently in Vermont / NH / Maine than we do in downtown Manhattan! I have noticed this when visiting.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I’m a little baffled, too. In this particular case it seems like the LW knew that her particular employer did not like it, so should have acted accordingly. But in general I’ve always found the attitude that casual touches like that are such an intimate and even erotic behaviour that they should only happen in the strictest privacy a bit strange. I’m sure it has only developed in the last few decades though I’d love to see some research on that. If I were a customer and even noticed an employee in a uniform kiss another one briefly — even on the lips, the horror — and then leave the store with their bag and jacket, I would not care one bit. If I saw a customer give an employee a hug or a kiss on the cheek, I would not care one bit. Maybe I’m weird because general PDAs don’t bother me (although I might roll my eyes at the more extreme cases).

        3. ian*

          I’m an American and I know plenty of people who would at least give their partner a quick peck on the cheek at the workplace (and I’ve done it myself, as I commented below). It’s never occurred to me that anyone would be upset by it or find it unprofessional.

          1. pancakes*

            Right, it’s not something I would expect to see in, say, Dubai, but in the US it’s normal. I wonder if there’s maybe a bit of classism coming into play here — if two law firm partners gave each other a peck goodbye in the morning at the elevator banks I cannot imagine anyone giving them grief about it.

            1. Batgirl*

              That’s a very different type of location than on the shop floor though. A more equivalent parallel would be two lawyers in court, or during a meeting with a client. Sometimes it’s more important to look focused on the customer.

              1. pancakes*

                I don’t think a retail store is at all comparable in formality with court. Even Saks Fifth Avenue is not so formal that a salesperson taking a moment to greet a coworker or friend would be a terrible faux pas.

                1. Batgirl*

                  Then, probably the Saks employees know that. All I can tell you is that it isn’t done in UK stores, but it would be fine if you work in a pub. It’s not really anything to do with formality but cultural norms.

                2. pancakes*

                  Batgirl, that makes perfect sense, particularly looking back on visits to the UK — I can’t picture someone at Harrods, Waterstones, or even a train station Boots kissing anyone on the job! Someone at a kiosk, maybe.

              2. Essential for now*

                Lw2: pointing out, beyond what has already been commented, that rules in retail often times depend on the manager/supervisor/leader you are dealing with. At least, that has been my experience. Different leaders interpret the rules from corporate differently. If corporate says I’m only supposed to have bottled water near my work area, Jabberjaw might follow it to the letter, scooby-doo only wants drinks with lids, and captain caveman might only care that I don’t spill my drink.
                As to whether the rules are fair or not doesn’t matter; retail tends to have many rules that either make no sense, aren’t fair, or aren’t enforced at all. It’s the nature of retail.

          2. Susie Q*

            Agreed. There are numerous married couples at my company and I think I’ve seen several of them do the quick kiss goodbye or hello and thought nothing of it.

        4. Marie-France*

          Thank you for saying this! I am so tired, of you Americans telling everyone what is acceptable and not acceptable in your workplaces. It is enough!

          1. Julia*

            I’m European, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone kissing at work ever. And let’s not even bring Japan into this, where PDA is only slowly starting to become more acceptable, but still not at work.

            1. Julia*

              And before someone comes at me: I would not complain about someone else doing it, but I personally, and many others I know, would refrain from kissing our SO at work. If you kiss everyone as a greeting, of course you can kiss everyone including your SO, but if you don’t… you don’t.

            1. pancakes*

              Being American hardly obliges anyone to be prescriptive. The two characteristics are not intrinsically related the way you seem to expect them to be.

    2. Artemesia*

      The cheek kiss is a normal greeting in some cultures although COVID has done that in in France for example. It functions like a handshake. It is nothing like kissing your boyfriend because he is your boyfriend. PDA is just unprofessional and the LW knew it but did it anyway because she thought they wouldn’t notice.

    3. Chips and Dip*

      So in your country its normal to make out at work? I admit most of my travels have been mostly to Europe and Japan but in all of those places making out at work would not go over. But maybe that’s just working in finance.

      1. Mary*

        OP3 does literally say, “a quick peck on the cheek”. I would do that at work if I was saying goodbye to my partner in a public area of work (not in my office itself), and I certainly wouldn’t blink an eye at someone doing that in a retail space or cafe.

        (I mean, obviously I would NOW, but not four months ago.)

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        If you think that what the OP describes is equivalent to “making out”, well… actually I’m not going to finish that sentence. This is a bizarrely extreme take on it.

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

      Yeah, I’m shocked to hear that too. My grandboss and her husband work in the same building, I’ve seen them holding hands and no one bats an eye. I’d be uncomfortable if they were making out in public, but a peck on the cheek? That’s nothing.

    5. Observer*

      If you greet coworkers with a kiss in your country, then feel free to kiss your partner and friends at work as well. But, if not, then don’t do it for friends and partners. You are AT WORK. Certain aspects of your personal life should not be on display AT WORK.

      1. ian*

        Why not? I don’t understand this argument at all and no one seems to have an actual argument other than saying “it’s not professional”. What is the actual harm done by a peck on the cheek between two consenting adults in a relationship, just because it happens in the workplace?

        1. Observer*

          Because it’s unfair and boundary stomping to display any and all aspects of your personal life at work. Your work makes and colleagues are not your friends. And they don’t really have much choice about being with you.

          1. ian*

            This seems pretty arbitrary and like circular reasoning. You could argue *any* display of your “outside life” isn’t something your coworkers get to choose – why is it fair for me to say, chat with someone else about what movies I saw over the weekend but not ok to have a quick kiss with my partner? Should we force people to remove wedding rings so that there’s no evidence of their personal lives?

      2. rear mech*

        this seems so bizarre to me. How is the existence of friends or family a DISPLAY. If you’re on your lunch break amongst coworkers, should you not answer a personal call affectionately? Are “hi dear” “I’ll see you later sweetheart” “love you too” not ok? If someone has a picture of their spouse on their desk, you will know about the existence of this person and the nature of the relationship.. no more or less information that what is offered by an introduction, quick peck or verbally affectionate greeting.

    6. Asenath*

      It’s a cultural thing, I am sure. I suspect cultures in which public displays of affection are frowned on are those who for some reason lost in the mists of time draw the line there between public/private. It makes you kissing your friends or partner in private all the more special because it’s only for you and them, and not for the rest of the word. Or something like that. I grew up in a culture in which there was a very strong feeling that displaying a lot of affection in public somehow cheapens the relationship; you’re doing it to make a point to observers or show off or something similar, not to demonstrate your affection, which you do in private. People don’t actually explain it, and this is just my guess. People just feel uncomfortable and maybe will complain if someone does it by, for example, kissing a co-worker even though the co-worker is a spouse.

      What’s normal depends on where you are. And cultures do change, but not suddenly or overnight, and if you’re in one in which demonstrating personal affection in public is seen as inappropriate by a lot of people, you’d better not do it, particularly in a conservative workplace.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I agree, this is very culture and context dependent and I don’t think either side is objectively right or wrong, just different. For example, When I attended a conference in France attended mostly by people from my not particularly pda loving country, we were all very excited that the presentation of the certificates at the end of the conference included bises (air kissing near both cheeks) but I would be completely weirded out if my principal tried it (even though we’re friendlier than random conference director).

        In this example, I agree with Alison that it’s a) not a big deal b) this was an overreaction but c) it’s okay to say it’s not allowed at work. How much I would object would depend on
        a) was I as a shopper interrupted or delayed more than the length of the kiss
        b) was it during Covid. I don’t know how much of a risk it actually poses, but since I learned that singing is hazardous because you breathe too much, I’ve been inclined to be suspicious of any public activity that might generate some spit spray. (Plus the bigger question of if you aren’t worried about kissing in public, are you possibly also more cavalier with mouth covering and hand washing).

    7. Venus*

      I am friends with some of my colleagues, and we do the quick cultural ‘cheek kisses’ in social situations, but we do not do them at our more formal workplace.

      There is a lot of variation within cultures, and that can include social as well as work situations.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes, that makes sense. A retail store is, to me, much more casual than an office, and in the US retail workers tend to be poorly paid — it’s not usually the case that the person showing you to a fitting room, for example, is a professional at fitting clothes, hired and compensated for their experience.

    8. Llama Face!*

      Yes, I don’t get it either. I’m from Canada but from a culture where it’s normal to kiss family members on the lips as a greeting. (Yes, even adults to adults) I think it is bizarre that publicly acknowledging family and romantic relationships is seen as unprofessional. Perhaps it’s more of the weird sex-obsessed pseudo-puritan* mindset? Obviously you don’t go around making out in public but a kiss or hug as a greeting is perfectly normal in a lot of cultures and really it reads as discriminatory and -ist to describe these as unprofessional.

      However I do think OP #2 and their boyfriend were in the wrong because they were disobeying a workplace rule (however silly) that they knew existed.

      *I say pseudo because I read somewhere previously that most of the criticisms levelled at Puritans were not actually true to the historical record.

      1. Llama Face!*

        Also, fwiw I work in a public facing job where my family has visited and even though most of my colleagues din’t have the same cultural practice as I do, I have never gotten any flack for displays of affection in public. I’m pretty sure if someone tried, my workplace would shut that down quickly on the grounds that we respect cultural and racial diversity.

      2. Batgirl*

        Well, in places where farewell kisses arent de rigueur it makes more of a public statement. Which sometimes is fine and sometimes is not. It depends when and where you are displaying the relationship and what the workplace culture is, not just the regional culture. I’m in the UK and when I worked in retail, a kiss in the staff room to a friend or partner in front of coworkers would have been fine. Around customers, no because I’m supposed to be on show as focused and available. But if it’s a family business for regulars where relationships are informal then it goes back to being fine. Then you have office work. If you’re at a lunch with coworkers or have a visitor to the office, odds are good that no one will care about a farewell cheek kiss, however if it’s a fellow employee you’re dating and the culture is to not let your relationship affect your work then you have to behave toward each other just like you did before you were dating.

        1. Llama Face!*

          Hi Batgirl, you are talking about nuances in the OP’s situation but the majority of my response was more directed at the commenters who were claiming that publicly showing affection for your family/significant other was inherently unprofessional. Fullstop. Which is an attitude that really promotes biased behaviour and discrimination because the majority of cultures where people are more openly affectionate are not white and/or are not English speaking cultures. So they are effectively saying, “Your culture is unprofessional and mine is professional”. Now of course some countries are more monocultural and I assume it would be a losing battle to try and promote respect for diversity in that context (where it is assumed that eveyone will assimilate into the majority culture) but Canada and- to some extent- the US claim to be multicultural.

          Of course this whole line of conversation is beyond the scope of the original question which I did agree with Alison that OP #2 was breaking a known rule and so their employers could enforce the rule.

  25. Mel_05*

    I gave my resume out at a job fair to a company that wasn’t hiring for my skill set, but the people at the table were sure they might be soon.

    A month later they had a listing for that position and I submitted my resume through the website. I got the job, but it was also very clear that no one ever saw my resume before that.

    So, it won’t hurt you, but be sure to reapply if you see an actual listing later.

  26. Me*

    #4 it’s hard to be rejected for a job you really want. it’s normal to want there to be a why too – something in your control. But in most cases there simply isn’t. It’s often not even about rejecting you so much as it is about actively selecting someone else. You didn’t make the cut for potentially a million reasons, I’m sorry. But it has nothing to do with your job.

    Also know that sometimes schools take financial considerations into play when offering RA jobs (my daughters school does). And not the way you might think. All things equal, they will offer the job to someone who maybe isn’t getting as much financial assistance, say an academic scholarship, but could use it.

    You tried for an opportunity and didn’t get it. That’s the reality for most people who apply for a job. There’s only so many slots.

  27. Charlotte*

    I would definitely say apply to a general job posting if you’re interested and a company has one. I got an amazing job doing that. I’m sure this is more common for smaller companies, but if you’re looking to hire someone wouldn’t the first place to look be the pile of resumes you already have? At the places I’ve worked we advertised the job too of course, but looked at the resumes in the general posting first.

  28. Wing Leader*

    Re: OP #2. I agree with Alison’s advice. Please DO NOT tell me that you’re the only one who was reprimanded. Your workplace may be thinking that you were the “kisser” and therefore are responsible, but unless your boyfriend was pressed up against a wall and desperately trying to hold you back as you planted one on him, he is culpable as well. Like Alison said, a simple “don’t do that anymore, please” to both of you will suffice, but you need to speak to your manager if they threatened you with being fired without saying a word to him.

    1. Disco Janet*

      >>>unless your boyfriend was pressed up against a wall and desperately trying to hold you back as you planted one on him, he is culpable as well.

      Yeah, I don’t like this. If a girl was in trouble for getting kissed at work and was told, “Well, it’s not like he had you pressed against the wall and you were trying to hold him back,” it would not be well received.

      1. K*

        What you’re saying is true, but in the specific context of LW’s situation that Wing Leader is discussing, they’re in a relationship and the kiss was most likely clearly consensual? If there is any doubt about that by LW’s bosses, that is a whole different can of worms and it would make sense if LW was the only one being reprimanded (though if that was the case, the bosses should have made that clear), but as long as the issue is just “no PDA at work” it makes sense that both sides of the PDA couple should be held equally responsible*. (*Though as several people are saying, I think this is not a big deal and “held responsible” should really look like just being told not to do it again or whatever.)

      2. Wing Leader*

        “Yeah, I don’t like this. If a girl was in trouble for getting kissed at work and was told, “Well, it’s not like he had you pressed against the wall and you were trying to hold him back,” it would not be well received.”

        I don’t really understand your point. My point was that the kiss was consensual. If someone is being forcibly kissed–no matter the gender of either party–then of course that’s a problem. But it’s a different problem than what we have here and I don’t think it applies to this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, they’re partners; it’s reasonable to assume the kiss was mutual and this is getting bizarre (and I’m removing a very weird thread that’s all speculation not based on the letter). All, please move on.

  29. Essess*

    I disagree with Alison’s implication of sexism because of the OP getting in trouble, but not the boyfriend. The OP was the one doing the kissing, since it was on the bf’s cheek. The bf was not the one doing the actual action, therefore it should be the OP that is spoken to. If the boyfriend had been kissing back, or if the boyfriend had been the one kissing the OP on the cheek, THEN it would have been appropriate for the bf to be the focus of inappropriate touching. The OP was initiating the touch, therefore the OP was the one told to stop.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I can’t agree with this. Just because the OP was kissing doesn’t mean the boyfriend wasn’t participating.

    2. Wing Leader*

      But how do you know the boyfriend wasn’t kissing back?

      Also, given the scenario OP presented above, we can assume the opposite probably happens sometimes as well–boyfriend kisses OP as he is on his way out.

      Gender doesn’t really need to be a thing. If boyfriend really has a problem with OP kissing/touching him when he doesn’t want it, then that’s a separate issue and he needs to go to his manager about it. Otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that this is a young couple that likes to get a little too touchy-feely when they’re working together (believe me, I’ve worked with plenty of them). We have no reason to believe that anything non-consensual is happening on either side. Like I said above, a simple “please do not kiss each other at work anymore” said to both of them will suffice.

      1. Essess*

        I’m going by the letter. She says they give a peck on the cheek, but only when off the clock. She says she is the one off the clock and he was still on the clock, therefore she’d be the one giving the peck. Yes, over time they have both done it, but if she’s being written up for THIS offense, she is the initiator. You really can’t have management go down that slippery slope of telling the recipient of an action that they were asking for it.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          That’s taking this waaaaay too literally. The OP isn’t being reprimanded because the person she was kissing complained. She is being reprimanded because of something in which she participated– and the bf participated too! If he said, “Whoa, honey, I’m on the clock, step off and I’ll see you later,” that’s one thing. But just because she literally put her lips on his cheek and he didn’t use his lips doesn’t mean he didn’t offer his cheek to be kissed.

          He WAS “asking for it”– they should both be spoken to.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whoa, no. This is getting into fiction territory. They’re partners; it’s reasonable to assume the kiss was mutual. Please leave this here.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        If the boyfriend has an issue with girlfriend kissing him on cheek he needs to talk to HER, not the manager. The only time he would the manger is if they weren’t in a relationship. They are in a relationship and it’s something they do because of said relationship. it would be really weird to go to the manager and be like “I don’t want my girlfriend kissing me at work. What can we do?”

    3. WellRed*

      I think we can assume this was a mutual act of affection, based on the information here (and as many letter writers have pointed out, lots of commenters get it WRONG). Therefore, it’s not inappropriate touching. Also, he was on still on the clock, and while I agree the company has the right to ask employees, working or off the clock, not to engage in kissing on the premises, to only punish one is wrong. I’ll let other commenters speak to the whole history of blaming women for sexual peccadilloes to illustrate why only blaming the OP (if that’s what happened) is sexist.

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      But there is a history of them doing this before, and the one who leaves first is the one doing the pecking.

      Also, from LW’s tone, it sounds like they kind of knew it was wrong.

  30. ian*

    I have to admit, I’m completely baffled on the responses here on #2. I personally will often give my wife a quick kiss if I swing by her workplace during the day and she does the same thing to me – it’s never occurred to me that this was in any way unprofessional. It’s also never occurred to me to care if any of my coworkers did the same thing, or even if the employees at a business I was frequenting did it either. As long as it’s happening between two consenting adults and not interfering with their duties, who cares?

    (that said, I agree that if your employer says you shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t. But employers also often ask for things that are kinda dumb but you should still follow).

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Indeed, I’d be appalled if I had met my spouse at work for some reason and one of us got in trouble for a quick goodbye kiss. I can’t imagine caring one bit about seeing someone do this, even if they are in full uniform and one of them is on the clock.

    2. introverted af*

      I think the reason it’s different here is because it’s a retail job. Not that it should be, but it is.

      1. ian*

        Hmm, a number of the comments above seem to be referring to any workplace, though. It seems to me like there’s some kind of hatred of any public displays of affection that goes above and beyond what I would personally consider actual workplace norms.

    3. RS*

      I agree. I think some people here have assumptions about retail worker behavior that are completely out of line with reality.

      1. Kiki*

        Yeah, as someone who has worked both retail and office/professional jobs, a lot of folks have expectations for retail workers that are unreasonable or take very minor transgressions very, very seriously in a way you wouldn’t see if the two employees were considered “professionals.” I think a lot of retail businesses respond to this by creating strict policies for their employees, which makes sense, but also emboldens some customers with weird/unreasonable expectations and causes employees to be “written up” for things that should truly just be warnings.

        Two employees with a known relationship exchanging a quick goodbye kiss is not a big deal. I can see how it could be perceived as less than professional, especially to customers without context, so telling them not to do it anymore is fine. Trying to write someone up for inappropriate touching is way overboard, especially for what seems to be the first warning.

    4. Retail not Retail*

      My sister and I lived together when I was in retail and she’d come by and annoy me all the time. (One time she got my coworker to escort her to the breakroom so she could take my debit card and buy something and the price I charged was a milkshake and fries from the place next door.)

      At my current job we have a few spouses and at least one sibling pair. One of my coworkers is married to someone in another department and they regularly kiss when he’s leaving. (He works midnight-8am and we come in at 6 or 7)

      I truly think it’s either a crackdown on OP and/or BF or most likely, something rolling downhill. (“Your employees aren’t working on the floor! I saw one text and another 2 kiss! Clean up around here!”) if it’s the latter, well stop frigging doing it anyway, but don’t sweat it.

      I can’t count the number of times we had “no drinks at the register” talks and signs put up and blah blah blah. I never had to but I said I’d go get me a doctor’s note. It’s the south, I’m on medication, I’m thirsty! And of course the quarterly “no phones” talk – one of which the floor sup was making on the computer next to me when I was at customer service. I was reading a NYT article on my phone as he did it. Hey, one day I was irritated with my friend who was MOD so I read my book in between customers back there.

      The OP knows their store culture. Cut it out and move on, know it’s probably not personal.

    5. August*

      I think this is one of those issues where the AAM commentariat heavily skews a certain way and makes it seem like it’s the majority opinion overall (similar to discussions here on introversion, team building activities, etc.). The opinions on PDA I’m seeing here don’t particularly fit with my experience in retail or an office setting, but hey.

  31. Turtlewings*

    I don’t normally bother to point out typos, but in this case, since it technically contradicts what Allison meant to say and thus changes her answer to the question: “it’s a legit job that it’s very unlikely you’re not being rejected over” — I assume that “not” isn’t supposed to be there!

  32. TootsNYC*

    Re: the “send us your resume anyway” situation
    If the employer is smart, they will remember that resumes change.
    People get new jobs, new responsibilities–and new advice for what to emphasize.

    So the smart person looks at the resumes in their file and contacts anyone whose resume seems interesting and asks for a NEW resume. Or, I suppose if the resume on files says, “very reasonable candidate,” they might just call you for an interview; I’ve done that. But I’ve also be perfectly happy to receive an updated resume, either in advance or at the interview (It gives us something to talk about).

    So yes, if you’ve submitted to “the pool” or “the file drawer,” feel free to rejigger your resume slightly and resubmit. I can’t imagine a hiring person saying, “why is this bozo sending me a new resume? don’t they know I’ve already got them on file?”
    Because we all know that resumes get lost, get buried, get stuck in someone else’s desk drawer, or just plain get thrown away.

  33. Jane*

    LW #3: I had a boss like this and left as soon as I could. It was clear that she didn’t care if I was actually okay because the one time that I was not doing well and shared, she had nothing to say in response. It felt like I was not performing happiness well enough for her instead of genuine care. I ended up leaving because her perception of my emotions soon became everyone’s perception and I started getting emails saying “I’m sorry if I upset you” , etc. and “are you okay?” check-ins from other department heads for literally no reason that I could see. I’ve been in a new job for over a year now with NO conversations like this from anyone I report to or work with and as soon as I left, my former boss started in on another coworker in the same way she did to me.

    Just be careful that these conversations do not start souring how you are perceived by other people in your department. You do not want to be known as someone who can’t control their emotions even if it is completely undeserved. I hope you can shut it down – I was never able to figure out the magic words to get my former boss to stop projecting her problems onto me.

  34. Senor Montoya*

    OP #4: I *love* the parking enforcement officers at our Univ! You’re the ones that keep people without permits from parking in the employees’ lot!

    Because it was an RA job, you could reach out to whoever is managing the hiring and ask if they could talk to you about your resume, letter, etc. People on the student affairs side are eager to help and to develop students, so they may respond favorably to you. And you can also use your campus career center for help with your materials and with preparing for interviews. You can probably do some mock interviews.

    Finally, working at your parking enforcement job looks *good*. Get some help presenting it well in your resume and in figuring out how to talk about it in an interview.

    Good luck!

  35. Strawberry Red*

    OP #3, my previous boss was a bit like this. He once asked me if I was okay because he thought my “personality had shrunk.” (I checked with other colleagues, and they had no idea what he was even referring to). Our relationship deteriorated a lot that year, and while there were other factors as well, I think it was partially because of that.

  36. OP#1*

    I’m the person who asked question #1. At the point I’d emailed Alison the question, I was literally a few days into my furlough and a recruiter reached out to me about a great job and it appeared the company is interested. Since then, the company froze their hiring making it a moot point at the time.

    Fast-forward to today, I’ve been in touch with several of my colleagues through LinkedIn and I’ve been able to secure some peer references in the meantime, all the while keeping up with my boss as to the situation at my current workplace. I have a promising job opportunity locally and have a phone interview with another potential employer in about 20 minutes from now.

    Thanks Alison!

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