coworker says I don’t respond to his emails, a bizarre company survey, and more

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

1. My coworker says I don’t respond to his emails — which I never received

My department has been working from home due to the current situation, so we have been having a lot of Zoom meetings. I was unable to attend one yesterday but was told by two coworkers that someone, we will call him Greg, was saying that I have not been responding to him or answering his emails. Since it is entirely possible that I missed an email or two, I searched through my email and saw nothing from him. No original questions and no follow-ups of any kind.

Knowing what I know about this person, there is a very real chance that he will use these phantom questions that I never answered as a reason he has not gotten a specific project done when our manager asks him.

I want to head this off at the pass and maybe email him with our manager cc’d to address this. Should I? Will this put my coworkers who were in the meeting in a bad spot with this person? He doesn’t have any power, but can be unpleasant at times. Should I let it go and wait for him to ask? If I do send the email, should I stop myself from addressing the fact that I know he was talking openly behind my back in the Zoom meeting?

The best way to address this kind of thing is to act as you would if you assumed the other person was being entirely genuine (even if you don’t think that) and respond with concern, as you would if you thought there was a real misunderstanding or technical problem behind this. That can ruin whatever the other person is trying to do, while you remain above reproach. (And it allows for the possibility that there really is a misunderstanding.)

So in this case, email him this: “I was really concerned to hear you’d mentioned in yesterday’s meeting that you haven’t been receiving email responses from me! I scoured my email and don’t have any messages from you at all in the last month, so I’m not sure what has happened! Let’s both check with IT to see if your messages aren’t getting through for some reason. Meanwhile, if you can forward me the emails, I’d of course be happy to get you answers immediately. And until we know for sure this is solved, can you call me if you haven’t heard back from me on something? This seems like a technical issue and I’d never want you to think I wasn’t being responsive.”

You can also cc your manager on this so she knows you’re on top of this and checking into whether there’s a glitch somewhere.

2. We’re furloughed and work has sent us a bizarre coronavirus survey

My job sent all employees a survey last week, and in these strange times I’m not sure whether it’s totally fine or a bit … strange.

All of our company is currently furloughed (with a percentage of pay due to government intervention). The survey includes questions relating to how you are feeling (bored, happy, unappreciated, etc.), what have you been up to while furloughed (cooking, gardening, fitness…), how healthy you consider your lifestyle to be, how worried you are about coronavirus, and whether you’ve been social distancing. Then there are questions regarding how you feel about returning to work and how will you feel when lockdown ends (three options to choose from for these: happy, excited or sad). “How do you feel about using public transport to commute?” has just happy or sad options.

I mean, apart from anything else, I don’t think happy or sad covers my feelings on any of this and I’m not five years old.

There are some questions asking for opinions on measures they might take upon return to the workplace and other practical considerations and I have no issue with these aspects. I can see that the intention is probably good overall, but I find some of it just a bit weird and intrusive and surely it has the potential to be held against me. Or is that being ungenerous and paranoid?

It’s not you. This is weird and intrusive and wrong-headed. Not only are some of the questions none of their business (the healthiness of your lifestyle?!), and the limited options for answers so simplistic that they make some of the questions unanswerable, but some of these questions are guaranteed to make people panic. If you don’t answer correctly, will that affect whether you’re brought back or not? What if you don’t indicate you’re excited about returning?

This is bizarre and poorly thought out.

3. My company wants the results of a background check I did to volunteer with my kid’s soccer team

Earlier this year, I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team (which is obviously not happening now due to Covid-19). Since I’d be working closely with children, I had to complete several clearances, including an FBI fingerprint record check. Everything came back normal. All good. I’d forgotten about it.

Fast forward several months, and I just received an email from my company asking for the results of the background check. Apparently, they were notified of the check, and their standard procedure is to ask for the results to put in my personnel file.

Am I right to be weirded out by this? I have nothing to hide, but it’s the principle of the thing. I paid for the background check myself so I could volunteer in my community. This feels like a really big invasion of my privacy.

Yeah, I don’t think they have any claim on this and I’d be weirded out and annoyed too. Maybe this is a thing some companies do (I don’t have comprehensive knowledge of every company or every field), but I think it’s a huge overstep.

Your options, from most passive to most direct: ignore the email (maybe they won’t follow up), tell them you no longer have a copy of the background check, or tell them that for privacy reasons you don’t think it makes sense to provide them with a private background check that you obtained outside of work at your own cost. I suspect they will not push since they have so little to stand on here (it sounds like something they just ask hoping people won’t object).

4. Can I ask managers for their references?

I’ve somehow in my two most recent posts (in academia, at a prestigious institution) managed to end up working for truly awful people. They’re out of touch, insulting, self-aggrandizing and egotistical — and those are their better qualities! I can’t stand it and am job hunting again. Am I allowed to ask any future prospective managers for references from their past direct reports, much in the same way they’d ask for professional references for me? Or would that be a nonstarter? I’m really leery of making the same mistake thrice.

Yes, you’d just word it a little differently. The way to say it is: “Would you be able to put me in touch with people who are on the team currently or have worked for you in the past?” Or, “Would it be possible for me to talk with others on the team, to help me flesh out my understanding of the culture and the work?” You’d ask this toward the end of the process when you’re a finalist or have an offer, since it won’t make sense for them to set it up until they’ve determined you’re a very strong candidate.

A good manager will be glad to do it; they’ll understand why you’re asking and will be invested in helping you make sure the fit is right. A manager who resists is giving you important info.

That said, be aware that the people you talk with may not be completely candid with you, especially if they’re still working there. You’ve got to pay attention to their tone and pauses and other subtle cues. (And here’s more advice on spotting bad bosses before you take a job.)

5. Do people ever realize a question on Ask a Manager is about them?

I’m interested to know if you’ve ever received an update where the person says that the other people involved in the matter have read the original question on your website and realized the question online was about them.

Yes! Read the update to this letter from someone whose coworker thought she was being abused, when actually her bruises were from BDSM. Also, this update to the letter from someone whose grandboss was being a jerk about her gym time (her direct manager also commented on the original post, in support of her). And this update from someone who was worried her employee was having an affair with a married coworker — the employee saw the post on the manager’s computer the day it was published and initiated a conversation about it.

There was also a letter-writer whose coworker was badgering colleagues about weight and diet choices, and she ended up printing out the post and left it on the person’s chair. The person did then stop the food policing, but that would not have been my advice and I don’t love that they did it for all the reasons described here. That said, there are situations where the power dynamics mean it’s tough to speak to someone directly, and I could understand someone choosing that tactic if that’s the case.

If you’re worried about writing in and someone recognizing your situation, sometimes it can help to include insignificant fake details — ones that won’t impact the answer — like mentioning you’re in Florida when you’re really in Maine, changing genders or ages or company size, etc. (Generally, though, what’s more common is that when someone says, “Oh, I think I recognize this office,” it’s about a situation that’s so common that I’ve had dozens of similar letters over the years. Based on how often that happens, I think most of the time people tend to be wrong when they think they recognize a situation, unless it’s something really unusual.)

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Melanie Ryan*

    #1, check with your IT team that his emails have not been caught in a spam trap or firewall. Our team uses TrendMicro and every so often genuine emails get caught and I have to ask them to release them and white list an email or domain.

    1. London Lass*

      +1 I have had a few cases recently where I didn’t receive emails sent to me, and only knew about them because a colleague who was cc’ed forwarded them on. The technical reasons were specific to how my account is set up, but you really don’t want to risk putting yourself in the wrong here by jumping to conclusions. Keep the moral high ground!

    2. Eng*

      I bet there is something going on because this would be a really strange lie! Most people know that workplace emails are very easy to track, it’s not sustainable to purposefully keep up a charade that someone is ignoring you. Maybe he accidentally typed your email wrong once and since then it’s been autofilling.

      1. MK*

        I agree. I think the OP is assuming ill intent based on what she knows of this person, and very likely his character does play a part in this, not in “He is making up phantom emails to blame me for not doing his job” but “”He didn’t get a reply to his emails and, instead of contacting me some other way like any reasonable person, he complained to other people”.

      2. Annony*

        Honestly, it wouldn’t be that strange a lie. He may have not expected any of this to get back to the OP. Or he sees email as an inscrutable black box that you can’t really check to see what went wrong. Not everyone knows that work email is easy to track.

        1. LW1*

          I think that’s it more than anything — He just assumed that since I wasn’t in the meeting, I wouldn’t hear about it. We have an oddly dysfunctional team in that way — nobody thinks we talk to each other!

          1. charo*

            YES. You for sure don’t want to accuse him of anything w/o proof.

            I used to sometimes kill someone with kindness if they implied I was in the wrong when I wasn’t — offer them more info. than they even wanted, more proof. They back off fast then. Esp. if it might mean more effort on their part.

            This gives you the moral high ground here after he’s been whining behind your back.
            Off-Topic: A question mentioned being “body checked” in the hall by bullies at work, and I was shocked. Also, skeptical. Is this person a Drama Queen, kinda “histrionic”? Because that just sounds so unlikely. No one I read asked if she might have misinterpreted an awkward bump, and she talks about all this “bullying” but it sounds bizarre to me that physical bullying can go on like that. It’s ASSAULT, legally.

            1. Rainy*

              It’s lovely you’ve never encountered the kind of person who engages in physical bullying! Pretty great for you.

            2. Blueberry*

              As Rainy says, you are a very fortunate person if such experiences are so far outside your own.

              Also, many people continue to be abused and cannot be helped because others, whether because of the Just World Fallacy or simply lack of experience, refuse to believe that the described abuse happens.

          2. tangerineRose*

            Even if he’s lying (and he easily could be), AAM’s answer is right on. It makes you look like a concerned co-worker, and if he is lying, this may make him look slightly worse.

      3. Stacy*

        I had a very similar situation happen to me a few months ago. I received an email out of the blue from a coworker in another department with her boss cc’d saying she was delayed in completing her project because I had not responded to multiple email requests for a document. I checked all my folders and not a single email about it. I responded with a message similar to what Alison recommended asking her to forward me the emails so we could determine if there was a technical glitch. Coworker immediately tried to backpedal as she had never sent the emails. As far as I could tell, it seemed that she had missed her project deadline and thought she could blame it on me since I was fairly new at the time. She ended up getting reprimanded by her boss.

        1. charo*

          Yeah, it’s not an “odd lie” really because people learn from childhood to say the dog ate my paper. It should be really easy for her to produce her emails. In fact, boss could come to her desk and ask to see them before asking her to present them.

          The “odd” part is not backing up her lie somehow.

        2. tangerineRose*

          I’m surprised she kept her job. Lying and making someone else look bad when they had nothing to do with it.

    3. Kate*

      Maybe OP thought it goes without saying, but I noticed that OP didn’t write that they had also checked their spam folder.

      1. Vina*

        I’d check my spam folder then check with IT to see if there is something else going on. If they don’t find anything, I’d write to the coworker and cc my boss saying that you checked your spam filter and with IT and they couldn’t find anything, so he needs to have IT check his computer to make sure there’s nothing wrong with his outgoing mail.

        Treat it entirely like he’s telling the truth. If he is, you haven’t been a jerk unnecessarily. If he’s not, it will come out.

        1. LW1*

          Well, this is complicated by the fact that we are IT, but I 100% agree with Alison and everyone else on keeping the moral high ground.

          1. JSPA*

            Oh, snap! Entertainment value just went way up. (So does the chance that someone in the loop here knows how to make good fakes / mess with time stamps. And the chance that someone will have egg on their face, if the system is messed up. Many layers, here.)

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        Or there is someone in the company with a similar name. I used to get complaints that someone on my team wasn’t responding to emails. It was always that the email was sent to Prunella M. Tusselthorpe instead of Prunella Q. Tusselthorpe. Prunella M. only worked part time and did not always forward the emails so the requests often went astray.

        1. Wintergreen*

          Exactly! If you’re using a corporate Outlook setup then it will auto-complete your email address if they start typing your name. If there’s someone else with the same (or maybe even similar) name then it could be auto-completing to them.

          And of course once this has happened ONCE Outlook will believe that the name-twin is someone who your colleague wants to email, and so will prioritise their email address over yours…

          Also, of course if this turns out to be the problem it’s worth emailing your entire team with a warning about it – after all, if it can happen to one person then who knows what other emails people have been assuming you’ve been cc’d on!

        2. Mama Bear*

          There are two people with my same first name here, and there was an incident where I wasn’t getting info from someone. When I inquired, they realized they had selected the first person with this name (hired before me) and not me. Took a few months to fully retrain everyone.

          That said, this letter sounds like that would be unlikely but I’d ask just to cover all bases.

      2. Salsa Your Face*

        Yes, this. When I worked with a small team, I tended to type people’s email addresses by hand instead of going through the company directory. And if it’s misspelled once, Outlook might automatically fill in the misspelling going forward. If OP’s name is one that is prone to misspellings (I currently work with both a Sheri and a Sherri, and remembering which one is which has been driving me bonkers), this could be a likely scenario.

        1. TardyTardis*

          My husband, the retired teacher, once had four Catelyns in his class, all spelled differently. God bless the seating chart!

    4. charo*

      Always be polite and don’t rush to blame someone.

      Here’s a trick w/a pushy boss: If they complain that you’re a couple mins. late, make a point of being a few mins. early and even email them w/a question so they see the time. Stay a little late sometimes, noticeably.

      If they say you’re not communicating enough, email them more often than they may want. If they wonder what you do all day, email them every time someone interrupts you w/a dumb question, to be sure they know that Soandso was asking it. That’s esp. good when you’re sharing a dumb suggestion, by a staffer you name, that you know goes against the boss’s thinking.

      Don’t overdo it too much — mgrs. like to know that staff actually take their suggestions and make changes, so try to just show that you are.

      Kill them w/kindness, and they’ll back off.

  2. Magenta Sky*

    LW #1: Alison’s answer is dead on. Take his claim at face value, whether you believe it or not, and have IT dig through the logs – both yours and his. They’ll find that he sent emails, or didn’t. If he didn’t send them, they’ll want to take a look at his computer to see what happened, which can be very illumination for everyone. If he did, the logs will show what happened to it. They can *prove* you didn’t get it, and that’s their job.

    1. Beth*

      Yes, agreed. It may not even need to go as far as IT–if the emails really did get lost somewhere, it may be as simple a fix as correcting OP’s address in this coworker’s address book or adjusting a spam filter. And if he is making excuses at OP’s expense…well, Alison’s script will be a good heads up that he can’t use OP as a scapegoat anymore, and I suspect the ‘resent’ emails will come through with no issue. From there, his manager can decide whether it’s worth tracking down the logs to prove whether he tried to send them before; it’s not really OP’s problem anymore.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Nope. OP’s been publicly accused of something – behind their back, no less. Public accusations require public resolution.

        1. Beth*

          Alison’s script included CCing OP’s manager. I don’t think there’s reason to be concerned for OP’s reputation, if their manager is in the loop and knows they never got these emails. After all, ‘Beth didn’t reply to an email’ is pretty weak and uninteresting even on the scale of office gossip–I doubt any of OP’s coworkers really care! And even if that would be salacious in this particular office for some reason, it sounds like this particular coworker who was complaining already has an iffy reputation, so I’m going to bet their behind-OP’s-back nonsense doesn’t have much impact.

          1. Kate*

            “Beth didn’t reply to AN email” is pretty weak, but “Beth NEVER replies to any e-mails from Bob” is an obvious problem that requires action.

            1. Hobbit*

              Exactly. Especially if Bob is claiming he can’t do any part of his job because Beth doesn’t reply to his emails and he needs these replies in order to proceed. That can become a big problem.

              1. LW1*

                Yes, thank you. I think that is what bothered me more than anything, the talking behind my back. As others have guessed, he doesn’t have the best standing but I don’t want this to end up being a big thing down the line so I was thinking I should head it off now.

            2. charo*

              If Bob couldn’t do his work cause Beth didn’t reply to his emails, he has to RE-send them before he talks about her. And he has to call her to let her know she didn’t respond to his re-sends.

              Whining about her to others is rude. And suspect.

        2. Colette*

          I think that’s unnecessarily harsh. We don’t have any evidence that the OP has been accused of anything. She says ” I was unable to attend one yesterday but was told by two coworkers that someone, we will call him Greg, was saying that I have not been responding to him or answering his emails.” That could have been as mild as “I sent her an email but haven’t heard back”. We don’t know; neither does the OP because none of us were there.

          But also, if one of my coworkers made a point of publicly saying “Bob says I never replied to his emails, but I didn’t get them”, that would be pretty weird. I don’t really care – your communication issues with Bob are your problem, and if you try to drag me into it, it will affect my opinion of you.

      2. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

        I definitely think IT should get involved. If they uncover that the coworker accusing OP never sent the emails in the first place, that will be something that needs to be dealt with. And if it shows that the emails really were sent but got stuck somewhere, where OP couldn’t see them, that will help OP. But, really, most people would just follow up with “hey, did you get my email from earlier?” rather than accuse the person (in a meeting where they aren’t even there) of not responding to emails. I’d be very careful of that coworker in any case.

        1. Colette*

          I mean, not replying to an email isn’t really a huge deal that requires a big investigation. The biggest consequence of doing that would probably be your manager saying “hey, can you make more of an effort to reply more promptly?”

          She should follow Alison’s suggestions and act like it’s a legitimate problem. If it is, they can get it sorted out; if it’s not, he knows that she’ll call him on it.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            “I mean, not replying to an email isn’t really a huge deal that requires a big investigation.”

            But email getting list – consistently – is a *huge* problem at most companies, especially these days.

            Getting IT involved gets to the root of the problem, whatever or *who*ever it is, without passing Go.

            This is their *job*. There’s no reason not to.

            1. Colette*

              I’m trying to picture opening a ticket for IT that says “I heard that Greg said in a meeting that I don’t respond to his emails. I checked and I didn’t get any. Can you look into it?”

              At that point, IT is going to call Greg … why not just talk to Greg directly? It would be weird to report a technical problem you heard about second hand.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                If Greg wanted to directly talk to her he would have done so instead of talking about her behind her back. Better to kick it to IT and let them handle it.

                1. Colette*

                  Speaking as someone in IT, I would think that everyone involved was ridiculous. You don’t need to get another department involved because you’re scared to talk to your coworker,

                2. charo*

                  IF he didn’t RE-SEND the same emails they can’t have been very important. You don’t just say, “I can’t do my job because I sent a bunch of emails that got no reply.”

                  It’s up to HIM to try again and then talk to her if he actually NEEDS them.

                  Then she can sweetly act surprised and helpful.

                3. Colette*

                  To explain a little more, here’s what I’d do if I got that ticket:
                  – I need more information – what date and time were the emails sent?
                  And then I’d either close the ticket immediately or wait 3-5 days and close it (assuming Greg doesn’t respond).

                  It resolves nothing for the OP, who does not at this point have an IT issue – she has a coworker issue (either Greg or the person who told her about the meeting).

                4. LITJess*

                  @Colette – It sounds like the request for more details about the emails should be included in the script that Alison proposed. I agree she should still go straight to her coworker, but if he does manage to find and forward the emails he sent (I doubt they exist, but I’ll pretend) then she can use those to open an IT Ticket to look into why she never received them.

              2. Blueberry*

                But if the person opening the ticket said they did not get certain emails, isn’t that a technical problem on *their* end? Or at least couldn’t it be?

                1. Colette*

                  She doesn’t have any information that would allow them to troubleshoot the problem. When was the email sent? What was the subject?

    2. WS*

      Yes, keeping everything public and above board is a great defence against this kind of “divide and conquer” person who talks behind people’s backs. Whether or not he sent them isn’t your problem (yet), it’s his problem, so being public turns it back on him and he knows you’re a poor target for this kind of nonsense in the future.

    3. Mel_05*

      100% This has saved me a couple of times where it seemed like a disorganized coworker was just getting even worse – but actually, something was messed up with our system.

      If I’d reacted like it was intentional or just laziness, I would have looked pretty rude, but since I approached it like something must have broken, I was thanked for helping them fix a problem.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Facts are always more useful than conflict avoidance.

        (But never forget to be polite about it. The nominal cost of good manners is close to zero.)

  3. It can happen!*

    Someone I know accidentally blocked someone’s emails from their phone for a few weeks. It had to be fixed on their phone, and not through their desktop email client. It took a few “where is this person today” and someone else being like “oh they sent an email this morning that they were out sick” scenarios until the problem was realized. It does happen!

    1. Sally*

      That happened on my phone, too! For some reason, the phone decided to mute conversations with the two people I text with the most. It seems to be behaving now.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        My phone’s done this before. It inexplicably cleared itself up, too. Gremlins?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I once managed to screw up creating a filter and a colleague’s messages all went to a folder I wasn’t checking regularly.

    3. Viette*

      Totally agree. Greg may be a turkey who’s prone to pulling stunts like this, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously — as Alison says, it’s the professional thing to do and it gets a good outcome either way. And it definitely happens that stuff gets sent ti spam folders or bounced or whatever. Plus, treating it seriously means that if there is an issue on your end, it won’t keep coming up with other coworkers (who are less annoying than Greg).

    4. Hekko*

      That reminds me of the time our showroom crew added Boss to their landline address book. Only it wasn’t the address book, it was the block list and he consequently couldn’t ever reach them. I fixed it in about five minutes, the phone interface is cumbersome, but not that much cumbersome.

    5. Snufkin the Peripatetic*

      I used to have a boss who was very enthusiastic about everything, and often forgot to respect work boundaries, calling and texting at all hours of the day and night. She was very apologetic if you pushed back, and would not hold it against you if you did (I miss her, how I miss her). Anyway, a few months after I started she commented to her EA that I wasn’t replying to her messages anymore. The EA looked at my phone, and it turns out I had blocked her by mistake (I was probably trying to limit her messages to work hours). Fortunately her EA and mine both thought this was hilarious, and an excellent, if inadvertent strategy.

    6. Kate*

      My babysitter once accidentally blocked me on her phone. That was definitely a problem even if she often called me herself to see if we’ll be meeting that day.

    7. Sara without an H*

      Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance/neglect/stupidity (your choice, there are several versions out there). I like Alison’s script because it allows both “Greg” and the OP to save face, no matter what the source of the problem turns out to be.

    8. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      My phone won’t send emails if the cache is full in the email app. But it will mark them as sent, and then actually send them weeks later.

      It happens once every 2 years, so I inevitably forget to check it before I realize people aren’t getting my emails.

  4. Potatoes gonna potate*

    For #4 does that go for corporate positions as well? I bookmarked the linked post as well, as having an abusive boss/grandboss is one of my biggest fears for my next job.

    1. Sally*

      In my opinion, it applies to corporate environments. It makes sense because you’ll want to know about the person you’re working for before you commit to working there. At my last company, toward the end of the hiring process, they set up interviews for me with everyone on the team (one at a time) so they – and I – could be sure about it being the right fit. I really appreciated their doing that without having to ask.

    2. Venus*

      I think it should. When I was first hired into my current workplace they set it up so that a team member would spend 15-30 minutes showing us around the campus (tech) and introducing us to a few people. We were specifically told that anything discussed at that time would not be part of our evaluation, so we could ask all our questions and get an honest feel for the company culture. It really helped my confidence when joining, in part because a crappy company wouldn’t be likely to encourage these interactions ahead of time.

    3. Cedrus Libani*

      It’s a lot easier to check out a potential boss in academia, because there’s a paper trail. Academics write papers. These papers have co-authors; that’s public information, and a fine place to start. Most academics will also have a list of alumni on their website. (If they don’t, or they only list a few people who went into high-profile academic jobs while ignoring the rest, that’s a signal in its own right.)

      I absolutely think it’s wise to go sniffing for trouble, especially given that a junior academic is very dependent on the goodwill of their boss. I’m also not sure I could do it effectively outside of academia. In the private sector, I’ve had to rely on what sniffing I could do at interview time; that’s clearly not ideal, but it’s what I’ve got.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        The paper trail thing is very true when we’re talking about academics working in academia. It’s not clear from the question, but if LW is someone who works in a non-academic function in academia, the paper trail might be a lot sketchier.

        There’s niches of non-academic admin (like student affairs or research administration) where it’s easier to figure out who knows who because there’s an active professional community and a lot of people in leadership roles are active on the conference circuit. The support areas where there’s less of a strong professional network (like maybe HR, some functions in finance) are going to be just as difficult as the private sector when it comes to sniffing around, if not moreso because these roles might have less turnover than their equivalents in the private sector.

  5. CJ Record*

    #3, general question: I’ve had background checks done, including one for substitute teaching, and I’ve never gotten a copy of them. Is this a thing that we should expect to get, or is the norm to not get a copy of the check?

    1. fhqwhgads*

      My understanding is you’re entitled to a copy and can request it, but they don’t necessarily need to give it to you pre-emptively. That said, in 3’s example, she paid for it herself so it seems she would’ve been the recipient anyway.

      1. Threeve*

        I got a copy of mine. My partner drew an A+ and a smiley face on it, and put it on the fridge for a while.

    2. Sally*

      I had a background check done before I could work with kids in the New York City public schools. I was approved, but I never saw my results either.

      1. MassMatt*

        Same for me, but I didn’t pay for it. It probably varies by jurisdiction and type of search. If I paid I would want a copy, if only to satisfy curiosity about the format.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You have to supply it only if it comes back with negatives on it. But that’s our state law, it varies.

      When I pull a background on someone, the background company will alert me that “under state law, this must be sent to the person you’re investigating.”

      I believe it’s so if there’s false information on there, they’ll be notified.

      But given you probably have a clear background there’s nothing to really send you. You sign paperwork authorizing the check, so you should know what’s there.

      1. MassMatt*

        “ You sign paperwork authorizing the check, so you should know what’s there.”

        Well, records can be funny. Credit checks are notorious for mistaken identity and fraud. Likewise, criminal records can have errors. I know someone who shared the same name as a serious criminal and has more than once had it blow up during traffic stops etc. And another coworker had something show up from when he was a juvenile and the record was supposed to be expunged but wasn’t.

        everyone should check their credit at least annually for errors and fraud. Your legal liability for fraudulent charges may be very limited but it can still take countless hours to get problems fixed.

      2. CircleBack*

        “You sign paperwork authorizing the check, so you should know what’s there.”
        My partner has an extremely common name – even when passing a background check, there’s always a risk that someone else with his name ended up there, and it’s good to know about it in case it becomes a problem in the future.

    4. Chaordic One*

      You know, in the past, when I’ve filled out applications and given consent for potential employers to run a background check, there is often a little box to check where you can request a copy of the check. I have never received a copy, but I really can’t recall if I checked the box or not.

    5. mark132*

      I did one to do overnight field trips for my kids high school class and for girl scouts, and I’ve never gotten a copy either. And I paid for both of them.

    6. A Silver Spork*

      I had to get background checks (pretty simple ~15 minute thing, I filled out a form and gave them my fingerprints) for my teaching job twice a year, and I would get a “we processed your results and sent them to the school” letter but not the actual results. My job was paying for it, and I think there was an option to ask the background check company to send me a copy as well, I just didn’t bother.

    7. MK*

      I would think this varies wildly, depending on jurisdiction, who is doing the check and who the intented recipient is. E.g. in my country, there are several types of “poenal record certificate”: there is one for general use, which the person concerned has to apply for and pick up themselves, and then they can do what they want with it, another for “trial use” that can only be requested by the public prosecutor and is sent straight to the judge trying the case, a different one if you are applying to be, say a teacher or a civil servant, which the person concerned applies for but it is sent to the department doing the hiring, etc.

    8. Harper the Other One*

      My husband is a minister in a denomination that requires all ministerial staff to submit mid-level criminal records checks every three years. We’ve always found it funny that he has the option to either get the check sent directly to head office – or to send it in himself. It always seems like if you truly had someone shifty, modifying a record a check would not be that challenging a task!

      Also, at one point he was applying for military chaplaincy and working with cadets, both of which required their own checks, so he ended up doing three in 12 months. We joked that they were probably just keeping his file on a desk somewhere, waiting for the next records check request to come through!

    9. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      I’ve done police records checks (Canada) and I’ve managed security clearances for the Cdn federal government (and had my own FBI fingerprints done as well) and the only results you get are a version of All Clear or Rejected or More Information Needed. There was never any additional results and nothing “juicy” to send to HR.

      The federal security clearances were never done by HR where I was and they never saw or requested that information…and a lot of personal information goes into that form.

      If your check was for working with children, but at your office you never work with children, there’s really no need for HR to have it except to be nosy.

    10. Sled dog mama*

      In my current state the background clearance for working with minors is sent to the person who is investigated and then you forward it to the entity that needs it. I recently had to have them done for several different facilities in quick succession and that was a nightmare because each facility needed the one they ordered so I had to figure that out and get them to the right place.

    11. KayDay*

      I was just coming to say this, I’ve never seen the results, and since I’ve never been rejected over it, I’ve never pursued it. My understanding (but I could be wrong/confusing different things) is that usually the requester doesn’t even get the details, just a okay/not okay type of response. To be honest, there have been times where I wasn’t even sure if a background check had been done, because I signed something saying that they could do one, but never heard anything about it beyond that.

    12. Elenna*

      I had a background check done before a co-op term with a government agency, and I never heard anything, although I assume I was approved because I was allowed to do the job :P

    13. Dawbs*

      I do the background checks for all volunteers at a small nonprofit, and I’ve never given someone theirs.
      I suppose I could, but, nobody has ever asked and when I inherited this job, it was never presented as an option. (I do keep them on file! So I could pull them and photocopy if someone asked. But if they volunteer elsewhere, they should be running their own check that’s more up to date!)

      And to answer questions on this thread:
      The checks I do are pretty basic (they’re free through the state because we’re a nonprofit-I’ve had to register with them to be able to do them free), but they do tell me what the crime was. Although not details–it will say date and plea and what you were convicted for–but some crimes can fall into the same category and be wiiiiide ranging.
      (and the basic info on what it is I find important, because if you have a DWI there’s no way in heck you’re driving for us, but, if you want to do your community service weeding our flower beds or stuffing mailers, I’m all for it! It builds community which helps everybody.)

      But also, not finding something simply says that we didn’t find something that matches. I get a ‘no records found’ if someone hasn’t ever been convicted, if the conviction was while they were a juvenile, if someone lied on the form in a way I didn’t notice or I make a typo inputting information.
      So I don’t consider “no records” to automatically mean someone is a saint (hell, they could just be good at not getting caught).

      (TL;DR-I could give copies, never have :)

      (And this is also my chance to say, as I have occasionally, if you have something on your records and need to/want to volunteer/do community service, call and be upfront. I am so much better able to work with someone who says they want to volunteer but also says ‘but, hey, you’re gonna see a DUI on my record. can you work with that?’ than when I run it and find something sketchy. [FWIW, I have less room to work with people if there was a physical or sexual confrontation. But some places can]

      And I am beyond thrilled when I get to write those handy notes for volunteers saying ‘Rich is kind and dedicated and we would have him back at any time’, especially if they’re someone working their way through challenges. It’s win win.

      And if your entire company or college frat or club is doing ‘volunteer day at Small Nonprofit’ and they want to run background checks, you can ask what we’re doing w/ them. [We have policy that I see them and nobody else, unless there’s a reason. So your DUI [I don’t mean to make this the example, but it’s the one that comes up most] isn’t going to be reported to all your coworkers/friends. I’m going to know that as the crew that’s doing grounds-beautification [picking up trash] it’s immaterial, and you’re fine. But an assault conviction I”m going to kick to my boss and make him say it’s OK if the public isn’t there, not if the public is or whatever his ruling is. But I”m still not telling your coworkers])

    14. Loves Libraries*

      I’ve volunteered a lot and have never had to pay for a background check. However our local school system and library requires the employees to pay for it if hired. I’ve worked with children even before background checks were a thing and no one else has required the employee to pay for them.

    15. LW3*

      In my case, I had to file for all the clearances myself, then forward to the soccer club. So, that’s why I have access to them. When I’ve had background checks for employment, I’ve also never received a copy.

  6. mark132*

    #3, I’m a big fan of ignoring the email. I’ve had excellent results with that over my career for HR BS like this. I can only think of one time where it didn’t work (that time I was literally told sign the new agreement or be fired, so I signed, I’d tell you more but of course that’s against the agreement).

    1. Eng*

      I’ve had a “reminder” to sign some form in my work hub since literally 2015. At this point I’m committed to never signing just because it’s funny to, the form is pretty benin

      1. Eng*

        Wow heck of an “early submit” garbage post lol. It’s funny to me and the form itself is benign is what I was going for. Almost clicked post again in the middle of this comment…

    2. Sled dog mama*

      I once had a class assigned to me that had no relevance to anything I do, I waited until the last second to register and oops all slots were full, never mind that this class was assigned to more people than there were slots. That class was still hanging out on my education to-do three years later when I left that job.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Yes, I think I would probably just ignore it, too. If HR follows up on it later (unlikely), OP#3 can push back, but until then, I’d just treat this as spam.

    4. Gruntilda*

      Agreed. I can’t imagine standard HR procedure is to not conduct background checks on hire, but if HR happens to receive a call verifying employment for a background check, HR must ask for a copy of it from the employee.

      That is so convoluted. Sounds like HR thought they could just sneak in and pick up an extra copy “just in case.”

  7. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    #3 I’d go with ‘I no longer have/never got a copy’.
    Saying it’s an invasion of privacy or whatnot could make some people suspicious that you have something to hide. Some people be crazy.

  8. nnn*

    #3: I agree with quietly ignoring the email as a first step. But if they do follow up and you don’t have the capital to push back, you might be able to make the situation go away without raising eyebrows by responding with something like “That didn’t end up happening because of COVID-19”, with a tone and delivery like “Oh yeah, I vaguely remember that now-irrelevant thing from the Before Times.”

    (If you’re not comfortable suggesting that the background check wasn’t conducted, you could also say “COVID-19 came along and they didn’t get as far as hiring the soccer coaches” or “The whole kids’ soccer thing was preempted by the pandemic” or whatever is true.)

    So many things were interrupted by the pandemic that I doubt anyone would think twice.

    1. Anon for this one*

      I read the letter as saying that the company knows about the check because the background checking company already made inquiries with OPs employer (to make sure she works where she said she does, presumably) and as such I wouldn’t suggest making out that the check didn’t happen when they know it did.

      1. LW3*

        Yes, that’s right — I didn’t tell my employer, the state must’ve. Honestly, part of why I was so taken aback is because I didn’t realize my employer even knew about it. (Although, in retrospect, of course it makes sense.)

  9. Eng*

    #5, I once wrote about a situation at work that was mostly about one person but someone else involved in situation recognized it and mentioned seeing it. I was asking advice about how to deal with someone who was pretty clearly outside of professional norms so it didn’t really reflect badly on me or anything, just mildly embarrassing in general since I didn’t think the post would be tied to me personally.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      I once sent a quick note to Alison on something bizarre that happened at work, not necessarily to be published as it didn’t involve a question. Had she chosen to publish it though and if any of my co-workers reads this column, they’d have known for sure who it was about. And, since I tell everyone about AAM, it’s likely they read this column.
      FTR: Alison’s response was “What on earth?” so she also apparently thought it was bizarre.

  10. TacoBelle*

    #2, I had almost the exact same email and thoughts in the last week. Although it said anonymous I couldn’t help but feel that it would some how return it was me. I still answered because in the end I thought why not? It’s not the most crazy thing I’ve had to deal with although…

  11. Lady Heather*

    OP3, the first thing I thought when reading the letter was ‘I hope they’re willing to pay for it’.

    If you are willing to share the results for them, I’d try to find a way of saying ‘Oh, that’s so convenient that you’re willing to reimburse me for my background check instead of doing your own!’ (I’m only half-awake, and that doesn’t sound right. What I mean is going for the ‘OF COURSE the company is being a good and reasonable entity’ tone that Alison often describes.)
    If you aren’t willing to share the results with them, then obviously, take one of Alison’s options. But if they keep pushing and you think you’re better off sharing the results, at least make them reimburse you.

    And I agree about it being the principle of the thing. It’s no one’s business that I have nothing to hide.

    1. boop the first*

      Ha! This was my thought. If they were truly foolish about the process, you could charge ’em DOUBLE!

    2. LW3*

      Hah! I LOL’ed at your line about it being no one’s business that I have nothing to hide. That’s exactly it!

  12. StellaBella*

    For 5: I wish some of my former bosses would read this blog and recognise some of the common issues discussed here and learn from them, and maybe recognise themselves in some letters.

    1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      I don’t think any “bad” bosses would read an AAM type blog. And those who would, either wouldn’t “get the message” or might be defensive about the advice Alison gives. (I’m thinking particularly about the boss who wouldn’t let a hard-working employee take a few hours off to attend her own graduation, and when the boss was called out on it wrote back to defend his actions.)

      1. nonegiven*

        Bad bosses don’t? Not even ‘leap year birthday’ boss or ‘refused employee time to go to her own graduation’ boss?

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think either of them actually read the site on a regular basis or the would probably have understood that things were NOT going to go the way they expected.

  13. Jules the First*

    I think the weird-and-slightly-creepy coronavirus return to work survey is about to enter the AAM Hall of Fame for HR Done Badly.

    Ours asked how many days would be optimum once the office reopened, without making it clear whether the option “1 or 2 days” was days in the office or days wfh…it also had no option for “fully wfh”. I thought it was funny that our management then trumpeted the fact that more than 80% of our staff wanted to return to the office “1 or 2 days a week” as evidence of how much we all miss being in the office and collaborating.

    The absolute best question set though was the one that asked whether you used public transport to get to work, then asked whether you could get to work without using public transport, and then demanded you expand on your answer if you said “no.” At that point I’m afraid I ran out of patience and hit maximum snark and expanded on my no by pointing out that I didn’t much fancy adding two three-hour hikes to my ten hour workday, but that I’d reconsider my position if they implemented horse parking.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Poorly chosen options: These would annoy me even more than the non-of-their-business intrusiveness. These drive me batty on psychological questionnaires. There is a question “Do you enjoy parties?” I contemplate how to answer. Are we talking about a crowded room with music blaring so loudly that it is impossible to have a conversation? That is my vision of Hell. Or is it a group of people with common interests sitting together, conversing over light refreshments? That is lovely. Both fall under the category of “party.” The test gives no indication which it has in mind, so I fill in the middle space. A psychologist scoring one of these once criticized me for equivocating so much.

      Those standardized tests make a lot more sense once you realize the theoretical underpinning. It does not matter whether the questions make a lick of sense. They carry no semantic content, so far as the test makers are concerned. All that matters is if the takers’ answers statistically correlate with something the test maker imagines to be important. These correlations are what they care about, not the content of the responses.

      There is much to criticize here, even when the test maker understands exactly what he is doing. I am quite sure that this is not the case with these employers’ surveys. They intend the questions and answers to be meaningful on their own, but lack the imagination to provide meaningful possible answers.

      1. boop the first*

        The most annoying job application survey for a minimum wage cashier job (which took 45 minutes, by the way) not only reworded and repeated each question three times, but contained such thrilling questions such as:
        “I try to use tools and resources that are provided for me, true/false?”

        Like, who else is taking these quizzes, an inanimate brick??? XD

        “I feel sad at work sometimes, true/false?”

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Both intrusive and useless. I suspect a lot of jobs use time-wasting, demeaning hoops to jump through, like this, as merely a way to lower the number of applicants.

        2. Valegro*

          Reminds me of the quiz from Target that asked me in three different ways if I thought shoplifting was ok. Insane for a job that paid $6/hr.

          1. New Normal*

            Michael’s had a similar “ethics” screening test that was ridiculously long and overly specific in its examples. By the time I was done I’d learned many new ways to steal from the store.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            “Of course shoplifting isn’t okay!”
            “But I already said! It’s not okay!”
            “You keep repeating this. Um, it is okay?”

      2. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        There is a question “Do you enjoy parties?” I contemplate how to answer. Are we talking about a crowded room with music blaring so loudly that it is impossible to have a conversation? That is my vision of Hell. Or is it a group of people with common interests sitting together, conversing over light refreshments? That is lovely. Both fall under the category of “party.”

        When I hear “party,” I mentally default to the kind of parties where they have candy and cake and party favors and maybe a clown. I know that’s not what they mean (I don’t think Prince’s vision of partying like it’s 1999 included sitting down to a big hunk of chocolate cake and a great big bowl of purple Skittles), but that’s the first thing I think of, even if it’s just for a second or so.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          I’m imagining Prince with one of those curly-doo party horns in his mouth while glitter confetti spills down around him.

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

      Mine was even worse:
      1. Write your email address (mandatory)
      And then
      9. What’s your main concern for returning to the office?
      I work in a double glass conference room with fifteen people.

  14. Kiitemso*

    Regarding #5, I have never written in about my situation but I did suspect my former boss had read this blog because some of their language when checking in with me was very close to the language Alison uses, only obviously translated into our native language. She was a good boss, though very very busy and sometimes that hindered her managing.

  15. MistOrMister*

    OP2 – is the survey supposed to be anonymous? If so, I think I would only answer the questions I felt were pertinent and ignore everything else. And, if there is a section for general comments at the end I would be very tempted to note that the blank questions didn’t have answer options that fit. I mean my goodness, you only have the option of selecting happy or sad for using public transportation? That would be absurd even pre-pandemic!!

      1. Clorinda*

        Yes, you can set it up to require an answer on Google Forms. But that doesn’t prevent you from answering “n/a” or “–” or something like that!

        1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

          That wouldn’t help if you had to check a box and the only available options were “Yes” or “No.”

  16. kathlynn (Canada)*

    #5, there was the LW who spoke at least 2 languages, and her coworkers were talking about her negatively (iirc) in a second language thinking she wouldn’t understand them, and someone else in the company realized that they were doing this, and indirectly brought it up at the end of a meeting.

  17. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    #1: I would be very careful of this coworker. Follow Alison’s suggestions for this situation. And from now on, document every interaction you have with him just in case he tries to pull this crap again. Even if he genuinely thinks you didn’t respond to emails he really sent (that you didn’t see because they got caught in a spam folder or whatever), he handled it in an icky way. He can’t be trusted.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      I think he through LW under the bus because they weren’t in the meeting to say otherwise. It was possibly a way for him to deflect some negative attention in the moment. LW should absolutely follow Alison’s suggestion.

    2. Rebecca*

      I totally agree. Normally, if someone sends me an email and they needed a specific answer and piece of info from me, and they didn’t get it, they call or send an IM “Oh hey, Rebecca, I need a copy of X purchase order from ACME, did you see my email?” There are times I could have had the email up, opened, and Outlook freezes, I have to reboot, lose the connection, whatever, and I totally missed that one message because now it’s marked as read and I move on. People make mistakes.

      In this case, I don’t think that’s what happened. I think this person is trying to cover their own behind because they didn’t do something they were supposed to, and trying to shift blame.

      1. Colette*

        I haven’t had access to my work phone since March 13. Sometimes email is all you have. But there were definitely actions the coworker could have taken if this was a repeated issue.

        But the OP’s words were “I was unable to attend one yesterday but was told by two coworkers that someone, we will call him Greg, was saying that I have not been responding to him or answering his emails.” That’s the OP’s summary of someone else’s summary of what Greg said. It’s possible that the original statement was something like “I emailed the OP but haven’t heard back.” Or maybe it was “Oh, waiting on OP”, or “Yeah, OP doesn’t answer my emails”.

        Maybe Greg is emailing the wrong person; maybe the OP has Greg’s emails filtered or blocked; maybe he’s trying to deflect from the fact that he hasn’t done what he should have done; maybe he thought he sent an email but didn’t.

    3. LW1*

      Thank you for your comment. I think that’s what is bothering me more — not the fact of the phantom email. I could have missed it. It could have gotten accidentally deleted –who knows — but that he didn’t just follow up with me about it. Instead, he waited until I wasn’t in one of our staff meetings to bring it up in front of the rest of the team. I feel really confident about following Alison’s advice and I wrote to her because I suspected my initial reaction WAS a bit of an overreaction because of what I know about this person.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I think when called on in the meeting, he blamed you because he needed to blame someone, and you weren’t in the meeting. But maybe it’s an honest mistake.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Maybe it *was* an honest mistake, but co-worker still fluffed it badly. If you don’t get a reply to an email, and it’s info you need, you do *something*. If nothing else, mention it to your boss because maybe they know something you don’t. You don’t just sit around waiting for it to get brought up by someone else. I hope very much that the boss in question followed up with co-worker on this apparent lack of follow-through.

  18. TimeTravlR*

    Just have to say that the response to Alex (last letter today, link to “employee was having an affair with a married co-worker”) was a work of art and absolutely necessary! Not responding to his email about your “cooperation” (ugh!) could have left him with the wrong impression. I think you cleared that right up!!!

    1. Myrin*

      That is one of the few letters I randomly think about every now and then. What a Situation!

  19. OP’s coworker, apparently*

    I recognized my company once! Someone wrote in about some strange all-staff emails that I recognized the text of. But I have no idea who sent it in and we have thousands of employees.

    It did give me perspective on interpreting other letters on the site, because there was some pretty relevant context left out. It was the letter about graphic company-wide emails about sexual assaults on company property. I can’t seem to find it on my phone.

      1. OP’s coworker, apparently*

        I commented on that thread with this username.

        Basically, it’s that we all get emails about all press releases, including those of our police force and inspector general. The one in the OP’s letter was because an internal investigation had just been completed about an incident that had happened during work travel a few years prior and the results were being made public, or something along those lines. It’s still disconcerting, but it’s not as random as it seemed to many commenters.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I found some of those press releases due to the original letter, and I’m still not sure why the sexual assaults have to be described so… so like that.

  20. drpuma*

    OP3, would you feel comfortable telling them you’d be happy to share if/when it is a business necessity? For context, the big corporation I work for organizes optional volunteer days for kid-centered orgs and student mentoring in our field that both require a background check. Depending on your field and how you do your work you may have clients who require them as well. In those situations it’s convenient not to have to wait for a check to be completed. But I think it’s fine to wait until it truly is necessary for your company to have before sharing anything. Just wanting it sitting in your personnel file seems very strange.

    1. LW3*

      Hmm… I’m with you in theory, and I’d be OK with sharing under those circumstances. But, in practice, I can’t imagine a situation where my job will have me volunteering with children. We’re a professional services company mostly working with HR departments (of all things…). I’m still fairly new (started last fall), but I just don’t think these clearances will ever be relevant for my work. I really think they just want them just because.

      1. JSPA*

        “If you want to pay for a copy, let me know when it’s business-relevant, and I’ll look into whether it’s possible to get a copy at that point. They normally only send copies to people who fail. I passed, so there was nothing to report, so I have literally nothing to pass along to you.”

        I sort of wonder if they’re worried about someone running their mouth with the investigator, and what-all might have been written down in the process. If so, hearing that “good news = no news” (i.e. that nobody’s got a file containing some random dirty laundry that was over-shared) may be all they want. I was tangentially in a comparable situation, which is why it comes to mind. No idea if that’s common or rare. But good investigators are great at getting people to chat.

  21. I heard a rumor...*

    I winder if the phantom emailer is using his own personal email address either inadvertently or, by design? That is why a thorough check of the spam box is important. Or, maybe he is spelling the recipient’s email incorrectly, either by accident or design. I would contact ‘phantom’ and have him read out the email address he has on file to verify. Then if that doesn’t resolve it, go to IT. Cc Boss.

  22. Baska*

    #5 – I once wrote in a question and had a colleague recognize our company. The question wasn’t about that colleague in particular, but the specifics (especially in my follow-up comments) were close enough to what was going on at our organization that they figured out that it was about us. They were very kind about it — something along the lines of, “Just so you know, other people here read AAM”. I ultimately wound up writing to Alison and asking her to take down my follow-up comments, which hopefully anonymized it a little.

    But I definitely support the idea that IF you’re going to write in, to “fudge” a little in your question to hide some of the identifiable specifics.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Alison is awesome about helping letter-writers camouflage things, whether by taking down follow-up comments as she did for you, or working with a letter-writer to alter details prior to publication if needs be. This blog is her business, readers and letter-writers are her clients, and she takes excellent care of her clients in managing the content here. (In addition to offering wise, insightful and compassionate counsel, of course.)

  23. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#4 —
    Alison’s advice is good here. I can think of several times in my career when I really wished I’d pushed for “references” from the hiring manager. Just be careful not to let your understandable eagerness to get out of your current situation make you overlook any bad vibes you get. In interviews that include meetings with other team members and direct reports, you have to be very alert for things like body language, significant pauses, and obviously careful phrasing.

    They’re out of touch, insulting, self-aggrandizing and egotistical — and those are their better qualities! Love this description! Academic people are either the salt of the earth, or its scum. There is no third category. Sorry you got two bad ones in a row.

    1. another scientist*

      Also try very hard to work your personal network for a reference. You might have already worked with somebody from the prospective new group. Or someone who did their undergrad in that university and can open their network to find you somebody to talk to. The group should have an alumni list, which is also a good way for you to gauge how supportive the boss is in people’s career development. Do they only list those former members that made it to a faculty position? Or do they list them all?

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I like this idea of reaching out to your personal network for a reference – in fact, I’d suggest that it’s probably a better idea to do that first before asking the hiring manager.

    2. old curmudgeon*

      I think this is an area where LinkedIn can be useful. If you have a wide network, you may discover that some of the connections you already have might be in a position to comment helpfully about a potential future manager. Academia tends to be pretty tight-knit anyway, and according to my sibling who is in the field, there aren’t many secrets, so that could be a fruitful avenue to explore.

    3. m*

      When I hire toward the end of the hiring process, the applicant gets to speak with most (or all) members of their team and sometimes other teams they will be working with that I also manage. It is a way for them to feel out if it is a right fit just as much for us. That being said, if someone asked in a hiring process to speak to other references outside of these people about me or their direct manager I would probably say that isn’t possible. I don’t feel it is a red flag since most of the time they have spoken to dozens or more people. Some of the team interviews are one on one and sometimes they are multiple people on various teams. When I interviewed or have interviewed this has been the case and I actually didn’t take a few because I felt it was a bad fit.

      I’m surprised that other organizations don’t follow this practice.

  24. cubone*

    #2 – I answered a survey with the same type of questions, but it was validated by an academic research board of ethics and administered on behalf of the government in the country I live in to understand behaviours, health anxieties around coronavirus, and the like. I initially wondered if maybe your company was encouraging people to do something similar, but obviously the happy/faces make this seem… unlikely.

    I don’t think it would be weird to follow up and ask how the survey results will be used. Especially if some are obvious (e. workplace safety measures), it gives an in to say “I can see how many of these questions would help inform our reopening strategy, but some questions are less obvious to me. Could you provide some clarity on how our input will be used?” (this is a best practice for any survey!). Like other commenters suggested, I hope that the questions are all optional so you could also skip the weirder ones.

    #5 – I have a question I so desperately want to write in about but worry it’ll be immensely obvious, even if I change details. But it’s fascinating and I feel like Alison is the only one with enough wisdom to advise.

    1. Richard*

      This is definitely a healthy response for #2. Depending on the institution, they might actually have a serious plan and process for reopening in an informed and intentional manner, even if the questions seem weird. Either way, this is a good way to find out without appearing paranoid or unnecessarily confrontational (not that LW2 was either, but an ill-considered response could be).

  25. hmmm*

    #3 I almost feel like the company is trying to get out of the cost of paying for a background check by using one you previously done (and how convenient, you paid for).

    1. Colette*

      I doubt it. Background checks (or at least police record checks) just aren’t that expensive – if they’re something you can’t afford, you’re going to have trouble making payroll. It’s probably just someone who “hey, that might be relevant, we should have it on file”.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        #3 I wonder if the LW’s employer wants a background check, and doesn’t want to wait for things to get back to normal.

        I was looking at the US State Department website yesterday (being idly curious about the current travel warnings) and found a message strongly advising everyone *not* to apply for a passport right now, because there would be a several-month delay before the application was processed or the evidence-of-citizenship paperwork returned.

        That suggests that there might be similar delays in any part of a background check that involved the federal government–or that the employer assumes there would be.

        The State Department website does include instructions on applying for a passport if you have a convincing-to-them reason why you need a passport in the next 72 hours: but not if you’re worried that you’ll need to go somewhere three weeks from now, or because your passport is going to expire in the next few months.

        1. momofpeanut*

          Federal fingerprint checks are automated – IAFIS, the system that stores the data, is used by law enforcement primarily and returns information within 15 minutes for the vast majority of prints. Civilian fingerprint responses are printed on appear and mailed, but the delay would be days, not months.

      2. LW3*

        Yeah, this is my impression. I started working for this company last fall, and they did a full background check on me then. I think they just want this one just because.

    2. hmmm*

      You all bring up great points. I guess I should reword my statement and say that I wonder if the company has an alternative reasoning to not wanting to have a background check done themselves.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #1 I once worked somewhere that had several contacts with various government officials. From time to time – and there was never any warning about when this would happen, my office’s outlook would block all government emails. We employees would be none the wiser til someone would get a call from some gov office saying it was happening again. Id go the route of asking IT first in case there’s some unexpected block on this or other coworkers.

  27. momofpeanut*

    Fingerprint check: I worked for my State Police in this field for 17 years, so I can speak to this with some authority. Title 28 of the Code of Federal Register, Section 20, governs the release of information derived from fingerprint-based criminal justice information systems (CJIS data is the term in common language). Those results can only be provided to authorized recipients, and disclosure not authorized by law is a criminal offense.

    Your soccer club should not have given you a copy, if they did. They are required to review and destroy the results, retaining only a “clear” or “not clear” type result. If you have one, destroy it.
    You would do them a kindness to educate them on the liability of retaining that information if they are. Unauthorized disclosure is subject to civil monetary penalties that can be very high.

    Note: If your soccer club only did a state-based fingerprint check, federal law would not apply, but that likelihood is pretty rare, as this is a permissible reason for federal fingerprints (people working with a vulnerable population) and the federal prints are less than $20. Most states have very similar laws governing disclosure of fingerprint-based data, because they store federal data in their state databases and have to comply with Title 28.

    1. doreen*

      I think that might depend on exactly what “results of the background check” means. I’m sure the soccer club can’t provide the applicant a copy of their criminal history ( if the soccer club even received that) but I’m not so sure they can’t provide a report that says essentially whether the applicant passed or failed the background check without providing further details.

      1. LW3*

        Interesting. My results came from my state’s Department of Human Services (PA). It just says: “No record exists”. Nothing more detailed than that.

        And, I had to apply for all the clearances myself, then forward them to the soccer club; they didn’t submit anything on my behalf.

    2. JSPA*

      Not sure how this is relevant, as the requester is OP, not the soccer club. And presumably OP has the right to “authorize” passage of the information to the club (as they’re both the requestor and the subject).

  28. Matilda Jefferies*

    #3, definitely start with ignoring – I would say there’s at least an 80% chance you never hear about it again. But if HR does come back to it, the next step would be to ask why they need it. They’ll likely say something like “Oh, just for our records” or similar – note that that is not actually an answer! So that gives you some leeway to push back a bit further, and ask how it relates to your job, and is it a new requirement? And if so, could you take a look at the policy? Just for your own information, obviously, because of course you’re going to comply with it, it’s just that you want to be absolutely clear on what the policy actually is, because this is the first you’ve heard of it.

    The unspoken part here is that if it’s not a policy, you don’t actually have to do it! So make them show their hand – if they’re going to require you to provide the info, they need to put it in writing, along with the reasons for it. (Chance are they won’t, but if they do you should probably just give it to them – it’s not worth burning *that* much capital on something like this.)

    But if it’s not an actual requirement, and just something somebody thought was a good idea, you can safely continue to ignore it. Or if you feel like you do need to respond, you can say you’ll look into it – which will probably take weeks and weeks and it’s too bad that you’re having such a hard time contacting the league, and they’re giving you such a runaround on this! Don’t actually contact the league of course, just keep saying that you have, and you’re still waiting for them to get back to you. And you can drag that out pretty much forever, until HR finally gives up.

    TL;DR – this is a very useful tactic when you don’t want to comply with a request but you don’t want to outright refuse it either. Tell them you will do the thing, you just need X more information or Y more time or whatever. If it’s a real request, it will come back to you at some point – and if it’s not, this is a very effective way to make it disappear.

    1. JSPA*

      Frankly, creating the impression that there’s something to hide on a background check is a great way to lose trust. The company does background checks. OP said so. If OP updates, it probably just means they don’t have to ask for another again, as soon. Given that they presumably spent some time answering questions, saving them some time and effort seems fair (in the context of OP already having consented to a prior check).

  29. Joie de Vivre*

    #5 – I volunteered at a nonprofit that had to terminate an employee. A question on AAM was vague enough I thought a different organization had a similar situation. But when the letter writer sent in a “what happened next” letter – I knew it was the nonprofit I volunteered for.

  30. irritable vowel*

    #5 – someone who interviewed with my former job (when I was still working there) wrote in about something she encountered during the interview, and there were enough details provided that I knew it was us – I was on the search committee so it was pretty clear to me. She did end up taking the job because plenty of people in the comments assured her that her concern was unfounded (it was something to do with the location, not the organization). She has been a great hire, so thank you to the commenters!

  31. Falling Diphthong*

    I’m really fixated on why you can be excited that lockdown ends but not about public transit.

  32. Vichyssuave*

    I can’t be the only one amused that Q1 deals with sorting out potentially lost emails, while Q3 is basically advising to lose one.

    In both cases I think Alison’s advice is spot on (and I love the suggestions from a couple of commenters that LW3 could/should thank the company for being willing to pay for the check (ha!)), but I had to chuckle at the juxtaposition.

  33. Choggy*

    I work in IT and a user sent in a frantic email stating she did not receive an external email from a customer, and did she receive the two emails just sent to her by a coworker. Turns out there were different explanations for both. I am able to check if any emails were received by our server from an external email address. As it turns out, the customer’s email was never received, so I suggested a follow up w/the customer to confirm they were sending to the correct email address. With regard to the second one, I asked the user if she had any rules set up, she replied none for the coworker, but then I pointed out the specific text in both emails, and yes, these emails were forwarded to a folder automatically. I’m not suggesting either scenario occurred for LW #1, but odd things do happen. I hope you get to the bottom of it, especially if instead of going to you directly and asking if you received his emails, your coworker is just bad-mouthing you to other co-workers.

  34. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    #4: Another cue to pay attention to is whether there were any of your hiring manager’s current direct reports on your hiring panel, and if they were present, how they behaved. If you’re looking at positions where it’s common to have panel interviews, this could be a red flag in that the hiring manager wants to hide any current morale issues. In higher ed, most institutions will have at least some rules about who’s involved in an interview process, but sometimes for some positions they can be loose enough for a hiring manager to manipulate.

    The only time I’ve ever interviewed for a professional job where potential peers had zero involvement in the hiring process led to working for a not-so-great boss. After I got the job and we were hiring for another similar position, said hiring manager was pretty hostile to having any of the team on the panel or even having us know who was being interviewed. This happened at a place where peers on hiring panels was typical among other departments, which…said a lot.

  35. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    LW3 – Yeah, no. Hard pass. If they could actually ask for this with any sort of standing they would be able to get it without asking you for it. Background checks cannot legally be shared between appointing authorities.

  36. Essess*

    LW #1, it is very possible that the coworker HAS been sending out emails but to the wrong person. Outlook and other email systems will frequently auto-fill a name when you start typing the person’s name into the TO: box. Emails to one of my spouse’s coworkers sometimes come to me because we have the same first 5 letters in our names so he doesn’t notice that it autofilled the wrong person. On the phone with your coworker, ask your coworker to pull up one of the emails from their ‘sent’ folder and and have them read to you the email address that it was sent to. It the coworker is unwilling to do this, then that will help confirm that emails weren’t actually sent.

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