employee wants to take high-risk vacation, my job is about to be outsourced, and more

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

1. My employee wants to vacation outside the state in the midst of coronavirus

My direct report has requested vacation time late next month and followed up on his request because he found a great deal on a flight. When I pressed him about it, he said that he was traveling to visit family in a state that doesn’t have the same coronavirus restrictions that we do here in New Jersey.

First and foremost, I worry about his health, and second our relatively small team would be very overburdened if he contracted coronavirus and had to miss at least two weeks time in addition to the time he took off for the vacation. We are working remotely for the time being so we don’t risk exposure to other team members, but our policy prevents anyone who contracted the virus from returning to any work duties until they have a negative test and a doctor note.

I have not yet approved the request. He has accrued the time and we don’t have any scheduling reasons that would lead me to deny the request that week. Am I being too nosy? Is it my place to question his judgement?

I question his judgment too, but you have to tread really carefully if you’re contemplating telling employees what they can and can’t do in their off time. Yes, it would be hard on your team if someone needed time off for virus recovery right after vacationing, but that’s the same as anyone who gets sick or injured on a vacation and you presumably don’t tell people they can’t cliff dive or sample pufferfish when they take time off. (And frankly, he could be taking all sorts of unnecessary risks without traveling outside the state too.)

You can certainly tell your employee that you’d need him to quarantine at home for two weeks after returning from any travel — which it sounds like he’d be doing anyway since he’s currently working remotely — but I don’t think you should get into the business of telling employees what they can and can’t do with their vacation time (and I say that as someone who does think the plane flight would be reckless).

2. I think my job is about to be outsourced

I’ve recently noticed on my manager’s calendar that they are meeting about outsourcing my job. I work in IT and am the only IT person on staff. A few weeks back, while looking for an open time on my manager’s calendar, I noticed he had a meeting with the CFO and the CTO about an “IT quote review” and upon further inspection saw they are comparing costs and services between three different IT companies. I tried to ignore it and went on about my life, trying to tell myself that it’s probably for something more specific than outsourcing my job. Fast forward today, almost the same situation, looking ahead at the calendar to plan a meeting with my manager and the CTO about going over a product we’d like to implement, and this time the meeting with the same people reads “IT check-in” and says “Review plan for IT outsourcing and timeline.”

What do I do? I think if they are going to outsource my job, it’s only fair I know in advance so I can work on securing another role somewhere else first. My first instinct is to confront my manager and ask him directly, “Hey, is the company going to outsource my job?” I don’t know what I’ll do at that point. Do I hold any leverage at all if they say “yes” as opposed to no?

You absolutely can ask about it. The info you saw was available on your manager’s calendar; you didn’t go snooping to find it. I’d say this: “I was looking at your calendar to find a time for us to meet, and I saw a meeting about quotes for outsourcing IT and another about a timeline for outsourcing IT. Obviously that concerned me! Are we preparing to outsource IT, and what will that mean for my position?”

If they tell you no, I wouldn’t believe it; assume you need to actively job search unless you hear a compelling and credible explanation. But if they tell you yes, ask about the planned timeline and what they want your role to be in the transition. The leverage you have here is your willingness to remain available to help with that transition, and at some point it might make sense to say something like, “I obviously need to be actively seeking another job, so if you need me to commit to staying through the transition or assist with it once it starts, could we talk about what payment for that might look like?”

3. Manager wants to be bcc’d on emails

I am a senior member of staff in a UK school. My manager has let slip a few times that she instructs the people who report to her to bcc her on emails that they send to others.

Is this an acceptable use of bcc? It seems to me unethical, and I would only use bcc to protect people’s details from other people when emailing a group.

I wouldn’t say it’s inherently unethical (although it would depend on the details of what’s being emailed and how private the recipient might want the topic to be), but as a regular practice it’s certainly micromanagey. I’d want to know more about her reasoning — is it “bcc me on this one specific thing so it lands in my inbox and nudges me to follow up if needed?” If so, that’s not necessarily a big deal. Is it “bcc me on everything you send because I don’t trust you to send emails without my constant oversight”? If so, she needs to loosen the reins and trust her people (or, if there’s a reason she can’t, she needs to address that).

4. Letting managers sign off on internal transfers

I am the HR business partner for a small managed care company, and we are are discussing how to promote from within. For example, if a leader identifies a high potential employee from another department, can that leader approach the employee about a possible opportunity on their team? My group is saying no, that that leader must speak to the employee’s leader first before they can approach that employee. Also, the employee’s leader would not have the right to say, “No, you can’t have my person.” Basically, the team says it is all about doing what’s best for the business.

My concern is for not only the employee in question, but other employees and the stigma of favoritism, potential discrimination and the general feeling that this feels like the employee is being traded without their consent/knowledge/input.

Am I overreacting? I truly believe in succession planning, but we have yet to build this out and develop a structure around it we all can embrace. However, the above approach without some structure seems ripe for all kinds of issues.

It’s not uncommon for employers to have policies requiring a person’s current manager to sign off on their promotion/transfer to another team. The thinking is that that’s best for the business, so a manager won’t be blindsided by colleagues poaching their best employees, won’t have a key person lured away right in the middle of a project where they’re essential, etc.

But it’s a bad policy. It’s bad for employees for obvious reasons (they don’t always want their manager to know they’re thinking of moving on, can have a promotion thwarted by a manager not wanting to hire right now, etc.), but it’s also bad for employers — because you can’t stop employees from changing jobs if they want to, and this policy will just drive them to seek their next role outside the company instead of inside it.

It’s reasonable to make sure managers aren’t blindsided by internal transfers — and you also want the hiring manager to be aware of any performance or other issues the current manager might be able to share — but there’s no reason you have to require their consent. Notification, yes (at later stages). Input, yes. Sign-off, no.

5. Can my employer switch me from salaried to hourly?

I work for a small design firm as an exempt, salaried, employee. When talk started of state shutdowns my boss told me that his plan was, should we have to close doors, to have us work from home as much as possible and he would switch us to hourly payment, since he thinks we won’t have enough work to keep us busy for eight hours each day. Is this allowed/legal? In my offer letter, it states that I will be paid as full-time, $X/year, paid as $Y on a weekly basis.

Do I have any recourse or will I just have to bite the bullet if the time comes?

Yes, this is legal. Your employer can change your rate of pay at any time as long as you’re given notice and it’s not done retroactively. You can also be changed from salaried to hourly — but if you become hourly (meaning you’e paid less in weeks where you work less), then you’re being treated as non-exempt, even if your position was previously exempt, and must be paid overtime for any weeks where you work more than 40 hours (and in some states any days where you work more than eight hours).

{ 382 comments… read them below }

  1. MistOrMister*

    OP1, I definitely wouldn’t reject a request because the covid protocols are different where the employee will be traveling. When it comes down to it, you can’t guarantee that anyone on your team will avoid getting covid, regardless of their location. There are people in locked down states having house parties and gatherings right now. And I think some people are catching it from trips to the store. Unless you can lock all your employees in a dome somewhere, there is just no guarantee. Granted, I also question anyone’s sanity who chooses,to travel right now, but the flip side is so many people are staying home that this might actually be a relatively safe time to travel.

    1. Shane*

      It’s not safe to travel especially as states are prematurely loosening their stay-at-home orders while the virus is very much alive. It’s going to come roaring back. I beg of you, as an essential healthcare worker. If y’all support us then stay at home and tell other people to do so as well.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        It may not be safe, but you can’t police what your employees do with their off time. OP can offer her opinion, but ultimately they can’t force him to stay home. He may be making stupid decisions, but they’re his decisions to make. The only thing OP’s company can control is making him WFH for 2 weeks once he returns from his trip.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        This. I don’t know where people get the idea that the only people on planes are those just heading off for a partying good time, seizing this fun chance to vacation.

    2. Mookie*

      As far as I’m aware, the only confirmed transmissions at stores were store employees. I don’t believe any case, in the US at any rate, has been traced back to a shopping trip.

      Also, the concern with traveling is that most conscientious people would not like to contract a disease on holiday in one area and then unknowingly risk spreading it abundantly via mass transit.

      Finally, the LW references a state with looser restrictions than her own. Current cell phone tracking data suggests that a significant number of residents in these areas never sheltered in place to begin with, so the idea that this employee will benefit from other people staying home is probably not entirely realistic.

      1. Acm*

        I completely agree that traveling to an area with looser restrictions right now (apart from like, New Zealand which has looser restrictions because they worked hard to eradicate the virus in their borders and there’s no way they’re letting you in anyway!) is a terrible idea for all the reasons you guys state.
        However, the question is if a workplace should be able to dictate where an employee vacations if otherwise there are no work-related objections to the PTO request, and apart from insisting on a two-week quarantine from work duties upon return, I’m not sure they should be (able to dictate that is). The potential for abuse there is vast.

        1. Acm*

          *sorry, from work related contact. This employee can perform work duties from isolation, it sounds like.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          We have to get our vacations approved by not only our boss, but a VP if it’s out of state now due to the coronavirus. So IMHO it’s not entirely overkill given the situation, but these policies will need to change once there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

            1. Anon Anon*

              A year from now, at least. And while a vaccine may be available say next January or February, it’s probably going to be six months to a year before it’s available to people. How long do you prevent someone from traveling?

              1. TL -*

                Many of the vaccine candidates are being manufactured parallel to clinical testing. It’s risky for the companies, but if one of them works, the vaccine will be available in large quantities as soon as it’s approved.

                1. Anon Anon*

                  The issue isn’t necessarily getting it manufactured it’s getting it distributed, administered, and paid for. I just think people are wildly optimist about how long it will take for a vaccine to be developed and then administered. And I already have multiple friends who have indicated that they won’t get the vaccine because they don’t feel that it can be safe given how quickly it’s being tested.

                  It’s one of the many reasons that I feel like coming up with good treatments is going to be the game changer in the next year or two not a vaccine.

          1. Observer*

            If your business is actually requiring people to get clearance for their vacation plans, you ARE absolutely going to have people lying to you about it.

      2. Anonymous for this one*

        Just FYI, there have certainly been cases of transmission from visits to stores. I personally know 2 people who contracted COVID-19 during a trip to a convenience store. It was the only trip they made outdoors in a month. Sadly, the store had an employee who evidently was ill, and in the next couple of days, the convenience store was closed. My friends started showing symptoms some days later.

        Both friends were hospitalized. One has been released, the other is still there. The convenience store reopened in three days, after having been sanitized. I have no idea what happened to the ill employee.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I, too, have a friend who contracted it from a visit to a grocery store. I am not surprised. Most of the supermarkets here are constantly packed and customers are refusing to wear masks now.

        2. NGL*

          I’m in New York, and Cuomo just said this weekend that most of our cases now are coming from people who are out doing their grocery shopping, not actually the store employees :-( I can only guess it’s because people out shopping for an hour aren’t being as vigilant in their use of masks/handwashing/etc as the folks who are actually working.

      3. I don’t post often*

        I would be curious to see articles on the cell phone data. Here is why: I live in a mid Atlantic state in which the northern and eastern areas are very populated and the rest of the state is rural. Hundreds of new cases are still being reported everyday in the two Northern most counties.
        When the first reports of cellphone data came out, my rural portion of the state was chastised because we “were not staying at home”. Here is the thing though: I drive 10 miles to the nearest grocery store. Drives of 20 to 50 miles from my area to work are not uncommon. When I lived in the northern part of the state I walked to the grocery store… see the difference? Only one new case has been reported in my five county region in four weeks. And yes, they are testing everyone presenting symptoms.

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, it seems awfully simplistic. Aside from the general risk of having to fill up more (which is negligible if you’re paying at the pump), miles travelled has zero correlation with risk of exposure. It’s about the stops you make and what you do there that’s important. I mean, if I drove 3 hours each way to contactless-ly drop groceries at my parents’ place every week, I’d actually be *decreasing* the risk of exposure, since then only one person would be leaving those two houses rather than two.

          Not that there aren’t plenty of people being idiots, it’s just–the correlation is tentative.

        2. kt*

          SafeGraph is one of the companies doing this type of analysis; you can look at some of their dashboards by searching for the company name and covid. This is not an endorsement just a note.

          The idea with these cell data analyses is that they compare movement to movement in the same area in, say, mid-February — it’s percent change in miles traveled or trips taken over the two time periods, rather than absolute numbers. That should help deal with proximity of grocery stores etc.

          1. Amtelope*

            Yes, but — if there’s a grocery store and restaurants a block from your house, but you normally drive or take public transportation to stores that are farther away, you can switch to only visiting places within short walking distance. If the grocery store is 10 miles away, it’s 10 miles away, and you can go less often, but you can’t go a shorter distance. There are limits on how much people in rural areas can reduce travel.

        3. BenAdminGeek*

          Yes, the initial reports on this were from people shaming simple “people who traveled more than 2 miles” analysis which disproportionally was rural folks. There are better analyses now I believe- someone else mentions SafeGraph who is attempting to get at real data due to reduced travel, which is the right way to approach it.

      4. lost academic*

        I have a young otherwise healthy friend who did in fact have his case traced back to a grocery trip.

      5. Amy*

        I had coronavirus in early March (diagnosed through the oral swab)

        I’m in New Rochelle and it’s likely many of us picked it up in public places like grocery stores. I had no other known connections to the outbreak.

      6. Observer*

        As far as I’m aware, the only confirmed transmissions at stores were store employees. I don’t believe any case, in the US at any rate, has been traced back to a shopping trip.

        This is a total straw man. On the one hand, we are doing next to no contact tracing. So, we definitely do NOT have any way to even guess where many cases of the virus came from, much less confirm those guesses. On the other hand, we know of a lot of people who are mostly staying at home – no travel, not going to work etc. who are getting it, and the best guess we have is shopping because that’s the one thing that we know that a lot of people are doing even as they otherwise stay at home.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      The key here is not that your employee is taking a vacation, but what you require for him afterward. While I agree that traveling now is not a good idea, it’s what happens whenhe retursn that’s the important part. You can tell your employee to self-quarantine for 14 days after his return. Although he is working remotely, if he’s someone who sometimes pops by your office to pick up supplies or check the mail, you have to clarify that he cannot come to the office at all during this time.

    4. Cairo*

      As someone with relatives in an adjacent county who travel into Wabash, you are very myopic about the reality there. One reported case. We have no idea how many people have it because so few are actually tested. Everyone my relative talks to is clear a lot of people are refusing to get testing and not going to the doctor when likely sick from COVID.

      They only way we’d know if it were safe would be mass testing plus almost no people traveling in and out. A lot of people on the sticks go into MtCarmel or over to Fairfield or Princeton for food and supplies. A major interstate runs through it.

      I watched David Ho – the AIDS expert- talk about this Saturday and says we don’t have any clue how widespread this is in any locale because of the testing.

      Also, my local health officials have made it clear that the number who have tested positive in no way reflects the actual number. We only have a dozen or so positives. Our experts think we have 1000s of people who have had COVID. Or even up to 10000.

      No one knows how many people are sick in any rural area. No one. We aren’t testing enough anywhere, but especially not in rural areas.

      Allison – please shut down this X area is bad, but Y is safe because we have no idea. Also, it’s really going to derail from the LWs issue.

      1. Cairo*

        Also – people can be asymptotic for this. So you can be around an infected person or in a highly infected area without knowing it.

        We just don’t have a clue yet. You can either presume things are safer than you suspect or worse than you suspect. Absent wide spread and neigh universal testing, we are far from knowing accurate risk assessment. Yes, NYC is bad. But we have no idea how dangerous it is in Middlesurg

    5. Loose Seal*

      I caught it from a trip to the pharmacy which doesn’t have a drive through so I had to go inside and wait in line. (Most customers were social distancing but when I turned around after paying, a guy was standing behind me so close he could smell my hair — which, just ugh! — and I sidled past him without him moving back even an inch. I think he was enjoying capturing me between the chairs and his body, which is gross enough in ordinary times but to think I probably got an infectious disease from him too! Ew! Still makes me shiver and that was months ago.) The pharmacy has since moved to curbside pickup but that didn’t save me. So yes, I’d agree that you can get COVID-19 anywhere, regardless of your level of recklessness.

    6. Loose Seal*

      But he’s going to fly and he’s got a great deal on a ticket so he is very likely planning to fly into a hub in a large city. You don’t tend to get deals to Wabash. Regardless of the state, I believe the highest concentration of the illness is in the metropolitan areas where he’d almost certainly have to pass through. I can confirm with a personal anecdote that it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to be successfully exposed.

      1. Cairo*

        To get to Wabash county, you fly into a major hub such as Chicago and then onto a regional airport (probably Evansville) or you fly to Louisville or St. Louis and rent a car and drive for 2-3 hours. I know, I’ve travelled through it to get to relatives in the area immediately around it. I’ve made the trip from both coasts, from Florida, and from overseas. 100s of times.

        So, even if Wabash is 100% virus free in reality (it’s not, and it’s not even 1), the areas you have to go through certainly aren’t safe. Evansville, the most likely airport, has a high amount of business travel and international travelers b/c of the proximity of factories like Toyota. So, Wabash is an extremely bad example of a “safe” area to travel to.

        There are also a lot of factories in the counties just to the north of Wabash and a Walmart hub where truckers from all over the country are still coming in. My cousins there are complaining about this on facebook. Many truly rural places have a lot of contact with the outside world. When I was a kid, that sort of contact was non-existent and the skin tone and religious beliefs of everyone there was very monochromatic. That’s very, very not true now.

    7. Jon*

      Right. New Jersey has had more than 450,000 COVID-19 cases and 10,000 deaths, making it by far a more dangerous hotspot than almost all states that have started lifting certain restrictions.

      1. Cj*

        I’m sure wherever he is flying to is going to be thrilled to have him come in from New Jersey

        1. K*

          Yes, it’s way outside of the employer’s responsibility to worry about, but just in terms of the ethics/wisdom of taking the trip in general that was my first thought.

    8. Venus*

      When very little testing is done you can’t reliably estimate numbers from the testing rate, but you can from the death rate. Unfortunately that one lags by about a month (2-11 days to show symptoms, 10-12 days to start getting really sick, 10-20 days to die) so it’s largely ineffective for travelling to a region.

      1. Cairo*

        Bingo! We only know if a place is dangerous after a lot of people have been infected.

        Until we have large-scale and reliable testing, we don’t know.

        Also, for anyone interested, the speakers at the webinar I attended Saturday said they aren’t sure that people were truly reinfected b/c both the healthcare management and the testing are atrociously bad in the USA. Also, they think we will have a shot that interrupts the reproduction of the virus rather than a true immune-response based vaccine.

        There seems to be so much bad info out there on this that people are forming all the wrong conclusions.

        Heck, most people can’t even tell you the difference between an RNA and a DNA virus. It matters a lot int he case of Covid.

        1. skunklet*

          TPWKY Podcast has done a great deep dive into this virus (technically called SARS COVID 2, ftr) :)

    9. Joielle*

      Yeah – I don’t think the OP can stop him from taking the trip, but it would certainly factor into my overall impression of the guy. If going on a cheap vacation during a pandemic is really that important to him, then he just has to deal with the fact that his boss now thinks of him as irresponsible, reckless, and selfish (and so will coworkers who find out, most likely). Not a great reputation to have in the workplace! But that’s the choice he’s making, and he’s free to make that choice.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        But I wonder how much of this is “cheap vacation” and how much of it driven by how long its been since he’s seen his family AND a cheap means of doing so. As someone who lives alone, 11 hours from my closest family member we have gotten to the point where no amount of FaceTime is enough. I am not saying I advise going anywhere, but my first thought was of his personal head space and need for family/friends/normalcy.

        Yes, I realize it’s selfish but I also think during this time people aren’t always thinking straight. And TBH I am also more concerned about him leaving NJ and taking the virus with him.

        1. Joielle*

          Sure, but in that case he really bungled the explanation. Mentioning the cheap plane tickets at all makes it sound like “well, we didn’t NEED to make the trip, but it was a deal we couldn’t pass up!” If he had said they were going for a family emergency, or to visit an ailing grandparent, or something like that, then sure, that’s much more understandable.

          I guess it just comes down to how much you care if people at work think you’re making a bad decision. We all have our reasons for wanting to travel, and for doing it or not doing it. All of those things will inform whether and when you make plans, and how you explain those plans or don’t explain them, or talk about them at all. I’m not saying there are no good reasons to travel, but if people find out, they might think it was a crappy thing to do. Everyone can decide for themselves how much they care about that.

      2. Sunflower*

        The OP insisted on prying as to why he needed his vacation approval request. Maybe if she had just approved it based on if it was OK or not, she wouldn’t be in the situation she is now.

        1. Joielle*

          I guess it depends on the exact conversations, but my impression was he said (before OP pressed him) that he wanted to go on vacation because he found a cheap flight. That’s where he messed up. He has to understand that doesn’t sound great right now.

    10. Bella*

      I also have to wonder what the alternative is… never allowing employees on vacation for the next two years? There is no cure. It almost seems cruel to tell people they can’t visit their families for a year or two because of your own fear of what MAY happen as a result. Or even just to tell them they can’t leave their home when they take vacation. At some point, you have to let them go.

      It would be one thing if he had said he was going to Disneyworld or some other likely hotbed of disease… but visiting family seems relatively lower risk.

    11. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The problem with that approach is that the data lag behind the actual infection rates, which led to things like people saying that yes, there were problems in Washington and California, but that didn’t mean Louisiana had to be careful. Or New York officials were saying that they didn’t need as careful as Massachusetts (where, yes, we still need to be careful), before it became all too clear that they did.

    12. Rachel Greep*

      Even if the employee was traveling to a rural area with few cases, chances are they first have to fly into a busy urban airport.

    13. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

      Not every state was affected as badly as New Jersey…

      The pandemic is not gone; it’s not history. I know we are not supposed to nitpick word choices here, but this is phrasing that is similar to a dangerous mindset some/many have — that how bad it is now in places is how bad it could get and will only go down from here in time.

      This isn’t a guarantee at all and with how many people and governments are itching to drop basic safety protocol as soon as possible (instead of as soon as is safe), I will not be surprised at all to see minor and major outbreaks in areas which previously had a low confirmed infection rate (which, as others have said, isn’t the actual infection rate but the ones who could be tested and followed up on).

  2. IndyDem*

    Another reason it’s a bad policy – if an employee’s manager is a vindictive sort, they can put a halt to any internal transfers, even if it’s in the employees and the business’s best interest.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Seen that. I was on a team with a VP who wouldn’t let anyone transfer out of their group. Nowadays, three of those team members are CEO’s and several others are high-ranking execs…all at other companies. And our original company? Went through years of mergers and restructuring hell because many of the top people left.

      If you don’t give good people opportunities to move up, they’ll find them elsewhere.

    2. allathian*

      Indeed. I think it would be a really bad policy to approach the current manager first and then the the employee, who may be perfectly happy where they are and not interested in a lateral internal transfer.
      If everyone’s happy or looking to transfer away from a particular manager, unless that person is only supervising entry-level employees, the manager may be the problem. A problem that won’t be solved by the manager nixing all internal transfers.

    3. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      My company encourages employees to move around laterally every few years or so. Prior to looking, employees need to have their boss’s approval, so we see the outcome of this policy played out frequently. Word gets out quickly about bosses that don’t allow their people to move out of their org and that reputation makes it extremely hard time to recruit lateral moves to backfill people who leave. The best candidates are not going to allow themselves to get stuck so they cut the quality of the recruiting pool very quickly.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      I had this happen to me – I joined a company after college in a role that wasn’t degree specific (I worked alongside people with degrees in biology, journalism, and athletic training to show the variety). I wasn’t super into the role but it was 2010 and there weren’t many options, plus the company highlighted that they fully supported people transferring to different roles and teams in order to find their best fit, so I thought I could work this job and then move to my preferred job in a year or two/when the position opened up. (When I interviewed they even said this was something I could do when they saw my major.)

      Well, I was pretty unsatisfied in the role, but I worked hard and when a position opened up a few years in, I put in my transfer request. My manager flipped their lid and instantly blocked it, saying how could I possibly think of transferring when I wasn’t a master at my current role, that I had to be perfect at my current role before they would even consider allowing it, that I hadn’t “earned” it yet. It made zero sense to me – this wasn’t a promotion, I wanted to transfer because I wasn’t a perfect fit at my current role, if I was a master, why would I want to leave?

      It made sense a few months later when the team rockstar tried to to transfer – the manager again flipped their lid (publicly this time) and I realized they didn’t want anyone to leave because they thought it was personal and made them look bad.

      Long story short – don’t let managers control transfers. It may not have been a big loss when I quit, but they absolutely suffered when the rockstar did.

  3. PollyQ*

    LW1: Look at it this way — would you consider rejecting your employee’s travel plans if you knew he was going to sky dive, or rock climb, or cliff dive? I don’t love employee’s plans, because they include risk to other people, but ultimately, as a manager, you can’t control what risks your employees take in their off-hours just because it would be inconvenient if they weren’t around to do their jobs.

    1. Seal*

      Years ago I took a week off work to chaperone a high school band trip to Disney World. During the trip a bug was going around the group and most of the adults caught it. Because I had just gotten over a bad cold before the trip, I ultimately came down with pneumonia at the happiest place on Earth, got sent to the emergency room, and wound up having to take another week off when I got home. Once I got back to work, I hacked and coughed my way through another month before I finally got it out of my system. No one at work was happy with the way things turned out, especially me, but no one blamed me for getting sick. Sometimes things happen on trips no matter how many precautions you take.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, this. You’ll need a back up plan if anyone gets sick. Especially now with corona-virus spreading so quickly, and many people getting sick from community spread without having taken any big risks such as travelling or partying. I can see that you want to speak to this employee about his plans since he already has shared them with you, but as a manager you don’t really have a say in personal vacation plans.

    3. Kiki*

      As much as I wish people would stop with unnecessary travel until things are safer, it’s not really a manager’s place to block PTO because you don’t like the activity they’ll be partaking in.
      LW’s concern about not being able to handle an employee needing to be out for several weeks is valid, but restricting vacation isn’t really the way to go about it. Truthfully, any number of your employees could fall ill at any given time, especially in a pandemic. I would start making emergency plans for how to handle that and prioritize essential work.

    4. Jemima Bond*

      OP1, your employee may be an idiot but his idiocy is only a matter for you only insofar as it may affect the business; in this case, most likely by placing other employees health at risk. So you can enforce a two week quarantine before any visit to the office (sounds like that’s likely to be covered by him wfh anyway) but if his vacation in his private time places other people at risk, that’s not for you to police.

      1. Smithy*

        This is the key here. I think workplaces definitely have an increased position to ask about employees travel plans – because of how it might impact the health of the larger workforce, i.e. “if you travel, quarantine for two weeks on return”. However as someone living in NYC where we have now been in a version of shelter in place for two months and with the weather getting nice….more people are outside and with different adoptions of how they’re behaving and behaving around other people.

        Is flying for a vacation a great idea right now? No. But your employee could also be getting really restless and more and more inclined to hang out socially with friends in a variety of ways in NJ that you’d never know about. If anything take it as a blessing that you know your employee wants to do this, has told you their plans, and is allowing you to therefore plan for a safe return to to the office when/if that’s a possibility.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Exactly. It would be easier for the employee to head into Newark or NYC to see friends, and potentially more dangerous than traveling by air to a state with much lower incidence of issues. Neither actions are truly safe, and I do question his judgement. But as you say, it’s a blessing that this employee is being open so you can plan safely around him.

          1. Smithy*

            As this goes on, I think there will be better and better options for “safer socializing”. Last weekend the parks in NYC were a bit of a mess, this weekend parts of Central Park had limited entry and another park sprayed social distancing circles on the grass. Certainly a ways to go for longer term thinking, but those kinds of ideas will emerge more and more. Not that it will be completely safe to do whatever, but presenting modified options to take calculated risks.

            But yeah – this employee could have just as easily said “I want to take off the first week in June to really clean my home” and then still gone on this flight out of town and not told you. Far far worse for that situation, and I think the risk you run in saying no to this is other employees adopting that mentality.

        2. myswtghst*

          “If anything take it as a blessing that you know your employee wants to do this, has told you their plans, and is allowing you to therefore plan for a safe return to to the office when/if that’s a possibility.”

          This is where I’ve landed on this, as well. You can absolutely question your employee’s judgment (and they should expect that to happen, honestly), but at least they’re giving you a heads up so you can have a plan for how they return to keep the rest of your team as safe as possible.

      2. sofar*

        Yes, this.

        We are likely stuck with this virus for a very long time, possibly multiple years. And different people are going to feel differently about what’s “right” or “wrong” or “safe” or “risky.”

        We can NOT get in a situation where people are having their vacation time blocked for months/years because their employers feel icky about their plans. Especially because this is impossible to enforce consistently across a company. One manager may be fine with some trips/vacations, another manager may not be.

        Instead, as Jemima Bond says, employers should focus on what CAN be controlled (mandatory quarantines upon returning).

        As Smithy says below, by policing how people spend their time off, we risk people lying about their plans and then not being required to quarantine upon return. Besides, if I take a socially distanced car-camping trip to the middle of nowhere three states away, while that may not be responsible to the people who live in my destination and may spread COVID-19 to areas it’s not in yet, who is to say I’m posing more of a risk to my company than if I were to stay home to do home improvement projects and pick up the virus while buying lumber at Home Depot?

        1. nonegiven*

          Also, why was this guy even looking for cheap flights during a pandemic? Was it because he was needing to go for family reasons and only asked for the specific time once he found a time to travel that fit with his needs?

      3. Patricia*

        We should also consider the possibility that the employee has weighed their options carefully, but hasn’t shared their full reasoning with their boss. They could have an unstable housing situation or they could have some family emergency in their other state. They may have been virtually quarantined for weeks, rendering their risk very low as long as they stayed safe on the journey itself and quarantined upon arrival.

        If it’s someone you know personally, it’s acceptable to say, “You’re traveling? Do you have a good reason?” But in a professional boss-employee relationship that’s not appropriate. I don’t think a conversational “Gee, I wouldn’t want to travel right now. Are you bringing tons of sanitizer? Do you have somewhere to quarantine when you get there?” would be completely amiss, but it’s not your place to directly intervene.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      Thank you! In fact, I thought that the plans WERE something like sky-diving or rock-climbing.

  4. Jennifer*

    To the person whose boss wants to be BCC’d on all emails: if this is something new, beware. My boss said she wanted to be copied on all emails that pertained fo financials so she “was in the loop”. Then it eventually turned into “copy me on all emails”. The one time I forgot (I’d never had a boss ask me to do that before so it wasn’t second nature) she got really so mad it was baffling since we had already discussed the topic and that I was going to email someone with the question. I figured it all out when they let me go. They had hired someone for my position, while I still worked there, that the CEO knew.

    1. Letter writer, bcc*

      Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your reply. Wow that sounds horrible.
      This is only for selected emails…so far.
      It would be hard to do that with UK employment law but I’ll bear it in mind!

      1. Bagpuss*

        It may be that there is a specific employee who they are concerned about, perhaps failing to keep others in the loop – if so they may well have been advised to require the same action (bcc-ing the manger) from all employers to avoid any allegation that they are treating one person unfairly or discriminating against them. We went through this when we had an employee who was not performing well – we didn’t like it, as it meant that we had to (at least temporarily) supervise other staff, who didn’t need it, more closely, but we were advised that if we didn’t, and then ended up having to dismiss the employee, they might be ble to claim unfair dismissal and claim that they had been set up to fail.

        Of course. the manager being a micro-manger is equally likely!
        I don’t, however, think that there is anything unethical – I would not have thought that there was any expectation of privacy from your supervisor in relation to e-mails sent in a work capacity,and i can see that (for instance ) if there are things such as emails to parents about their child, it may well be appropriate for the superviser to be able to easily access these but cc-ing them may not be great as it can encourage parents to by-pass the teacher and go direct to them, when replying.

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          Thanks Bagpuss. That is a perspective I had not considered although in my case it was an internal email.

        2. Archangelsgirl*

          I agree. It’s super common in education for a bcc to be used when a teacher or staff member communicates with a parent, because if the parent doesn’t like an outcome, they’re going to go to the principal and it’s handy if the principal has the teacher’s “side of the story,” as it were, ahead of speaking with the angry parent. Even though it’s a big cringey on internal email, it may stem from the same place … persons A, B, C and D are working with Student X. If A, B, C and D have a convo or a plan about Student X, principal want to know all of that before Irate Parent gets on phone. Without knowing your boss, I’d just guess it’s a blanket policy that is covering her in 90% of her dealings, the parent ones. The situation that might be bothering you about internal communication might just fall into that 10% non-parent stuff that unfortunately is covered by the blanket policy. It’s a pain to deal with some parents (again, only 10%), and you need all the info that has been going around to calm them down, I think.

          1. Aealias*

            Yep, yep, yep!

            I’ve always been encouraged to use BCC (or to forward separately) any sensitive communication to parents – or communication to sensitive parents – to my principal/head. It keeps that person informed, gives them warning of possible incoming angry phone calls, and gives them the opportunity to investigate and understand a situation before they have to talk to a family about it.

            I’ve sometimes had to do this with internal communications about a specific student or situation, as well. Maybe Principal knows this kid is having problems across the board right now, and is getting hands-on with kid’s behaviour plan. Maybe we’re having to make significant changes to a student’s programming and Principal needs to be very clear on what’s happening to make the case to Superintendant.

            Using BCC instead of CC avoids unnecessarily escalating a situation with a parent. Families sometimes react badly to seeing the principal in the conversation, thinking the situation is being blown out of proportion. Sometimes they use it as an invitation to go over a teacher’s head and appeal to a higher authority. Until there’s a reason to specifically bring the principal into the conversation, I see no need to tell the parents HOW I’m keeping my principal in the loop.

          2. Letter writer, bcc*

            Archangelsgirl I don’t think she has a blanket policy. Certainly the school doesn’t.

      2. anon in a virtual classroom*

        This is the first AAM question I feel I have good knowledge for! I am a classroom teacher in the UK and I often bcc my head of department on emails to parents or students. This is because parents sometimes have irrational reactions to perfectly innocuous communication, and because some pupils will deny/ignore what you send them. If I have something particularly difficult or sensitive to write, I also get a second opinion on the language from my HoD. I work in a private school and there is a strong emphasis on maintaining positivity with parents (unfortunately, in my opinion).

        If, however, this is for internal communication with other staff, it seems very strange.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Same from a public school teacher in Canada. We’re encouraged to copy our principal or vice principal in communications with parents so they have a better sense of what’s going on in general and to have a heads up about specific issues should a parent react aggressively to an email about academic or behavioural concerns (most don’t, but a certain percentage do). I choose to BCC because parents who were already upset tended to read the CC as an escalation and behave accordingly. I don’t see it as an ethical violation because I would be sharing that info in person if I wasn’t copying the email.

          Having to BCC an email I was sending to a colleague would be really weird, though.

        2. D3*

          As a parent, I was once blindsided to learn that a teacher had included the principal on a bcc email discussion about a very personal issue with my daughter. It *really* upset me to have the principal bring up and discuss with me something I had THOUGHT I was sharing privately with ONE teacher who needed to know the situation.
          It honestly pissed me off more than anything else about how the situation was handled.
          You want to loop in the principal? Fine. DO IT OPENLY. Do not hide it BCC.
          Do not leave me in a situation where I am standing in a busy hallway at the school and the principal approaches me with throngs of people congratulating the students on their performance all around and ask me how she’s doing with it!!!

          1. Green great dragon*

            Honestly, I would assume that the principal would be kept informed about anything personal shared with class teachers, and I wouldn’t mind about the method. However I would most certainly expect the principal to be discreet about it – I’m sorry they weren’t.

            1. Letter writer, bcc*

              Green great dragon you may be correct about spidey senses. The manager in question is veeerrryyy ambitious…

              1. Batgirl*

                Yeah, I think BCC is not automatically suspicious, but it takes on a different flavour when you already distrust the person. A couple thoughts if you think shes being sly: one, let people know you’re bcc-ing her on the quiet, or two, put it right there in the email. “Boss is up to date, in fact she’s bcc-ed on this email and will be on all upcoming etc”

      3. Batgirl*

        I think there may be something else triggering your spidey senses? If my HoD asked for this on everything, I’d be taken aback, but on specific things it would just be her way of staying looped in. We have no time to pass info casually during the day as our timetables are rammed, and meetings are pitifully short. Yet her boss expects an immediate answer if a project is an agreed focus. Lockdown has improved this a bit but only slightly.

    2. LQ*

      Eh, weirdly I’d be less worried if this was new. We’ve started asking a lot of folks on critical, fast turn around/greater than a day turn around projects to CC managers on all emails. It is part of the “what happens if someone gets COVID” plan. We’ve said it a bit but people get weird when you say essentially, “we still need to work if you get really sick so we need to plan ahead enough to be able to let you be sick if you get sick”. (Lest anyone think I’m making that up, there are actual grievances supporting that.)

      We are trying to shift to using Teams but its slow and so we’ve been hammering the copy your boss on everything (and in a few cases your boss’s boss too).

      All that said…the bcc thing makes me raise way more eyebrows than CCing. CCing is just like, here are additional humans who know this information. The use of BCC here makes me think it’s a weirder thing. It could be any number of reasons, some mentioned above, I can think of about a dozen others that are varying spots along the should you be worried scale. I think the best thing to do is look at the rest of the behavior of the boss and see how they behave most of the time and then extrapolate from there. If this the only thing that seems like weird/bad behavior then I’d assume there’s at least a reasonable reason. If it’s on a list of not so great behaviors then I’d plant it clearly in the bad list.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        re COVID

        I went from happily doing a remote HIIT class to being unable to sit up in about three hours. I had the wherewithal to send a one-liner to my boss along the lines of “I am sick and it looks like covid and I’ll let you know” but startlingly misspelled (and it took over half an hour to compose) before I was essentially unconscious for a week. There was zero handover possible, so our “always cc” policy paid off.

        I also cosign the idea that it’s bcc so parents won’t immediately escalate.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          OMG are you doing better now? Going from “remote HIIT class” to “seriously ill” in the space of a morning sounds so scary!

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            It took seven weeks for the symptoms to go, but I’m doing much better, thanks!

      2. Pookie's Mom*

        BCC was something we used very rarely in my job to show my boss or another manager that someone had already received a response from me on a situation that would probably escalate to up a command chain. Since much of my work (benefits admin) involved situations protected under HIPAA, it was not used if PHI had to be disclosed in order to understand the situation (even if the person BBC’d could properly receive the PHI); this was to avoid the original employee in the situation perceive, wrongly, that privacy had been breached. In that case an open CC would be used.

        In any event, my boss for much of the time on that job wanted as little contact with us as possible. From her perspective, the less she heard from us or our “customers” outside of our weekly reports, the better we were doing our job.

  5. Night Owl*

    LW#1, your coworker could end up like me. I took vacation and stayed in my general area. I still managed to catch a very severe flu. There’s no way you can control what someone does on their off time, like Alison says, and there is no way you can control what happens to your employee. I would approve the request and make decisions as they come with this, rather than trying to predict the future and/or control him.

    1. Shane*

      The manager should tell the employee he is showing severely bad judgment. Go ahead and approve the request I guess but at least tell the employee that is selfish and puts himself and many others at completely unnecessary risk

      1. MistOrMister*

        I am….not quite sure if you are serious. But if so, it’s definitely not OP’s place to chastise the employee for a planned trip. It is true that the trip will put people at risk, but it isn’t a boss’s place give commentary on an employee’s time off request.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        So try and shame them into not going? This is very bad advice.

      3. hamsterpants*

        Shaming people for what they do on their time off is a terrible move. 1) It shows awful judgement on the side of the manager that they feel entitled to control an employee’s behavior. 2) It is downright silly. Do you honestly think that the employee has been living under a rock and is ignorant of the current stay-at-home recommendations? No, of course not.

      4. Joielle*

        I wouldn’t say it to the employee, but I would certainly be thinking it, and it would affect my opinion of them into the future. The guy can go on his vacation, but he has to deal with the hit to his reputation. But he’s free to make that choice!

        1. Marillenbaum*

          That’s a fair point. OP’s employee is an adult, and it would be inappropriate in the vast majority of workplaces for a manager to reject a request to use PTO because they did not approve of what was being done (I think of that post about the manager who rejected a vacation request because the employee was participating in an e-sports competition). Similarly, it would be inappropriate for the manager to chastise the employee while approving the request for the same reason. All it does is show employees that it’s better to hide what they do from their manager in order to avoid judgment.

      5. EddieSherbert*

        I totally get the desire to that but agree it wouldn’t be appropriate.

        If OP has the authority/ability to do so, I think they should require this employee work from home for the 2 weeks after their trip (if they would otherwise be in the office with their coworkers).

      6. A*

        Your advice in this thread is… overly blunt, if not rude pretty much across the board. We get it, you’ve made your feelings on the matter abundantly clear – however it does not change the workplace norms in regards to communication styles (even under the new normal).

        More bees with honey, my good sir.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Last time I got the flu I hadn’t traveled in I don’t even know how long. Pretty sure I caught it from someone at work or at a local store. I know the situation with covid is not the same as the flu, but people get sick all the time and employers have to figure out how to deal with their absences. This situations seems like it falls under the same header.

      1. TechWorker*

        I agree with Alison’s answer and the point that people could get sick at any time. But non-essential travel in a pandemic is not ‘just like that’. It’s irresponsible.

        1. Avasarala*

          I totally agree and am pretty shocked that people are comparing it to happening to get the flu on vacation. I know some states in the US are relaxing lockdowns but many many places are not. We all want to see our families but getting on a plane during a pandemic (which is still ongoing) is different than cliff diving in that it affects other people. This person could get sick and pass it to others who die.

          I’m kind of surprised that there was such consensus behind “don’t get a second job when you’re supposed to be quarantining” but here the consensus is “well you can’t tell him what to do during his off time.” I guess the boss can’t physically stop him from going but I would definitely question his judgment from here on out.

          1. Lancelottie*

            A quarantine isn’t off time, though; its a specific time period for a specific purpose. That’s very different from trying to control how your employees live the next year or more of their lives.

      2. Amity*

        I had influenza A in February and don’t know where I got it. Never had it before. It was definitely influenza (positive test result), but I wasn’t traveling or going out a lot.

  6. NotDumbHR*

    Bigger issue with L1: why would you have a policy prohibiting someone from working – when they are already remote – if they feel well enough to work? Anyone could test positive without even showing symptoms, or perhaps have a mild case and prefer to save their sick time. That seems a little odd, but maybe normal? I wouldn’t like to field complaints about not being allowed to work when no one else was being affected.

    1. jman4l*

      There is government paid sick leave for small businesses for COVID-19. I bet the law doesn’t allow people to work if they are on this leave. I know a subsidized furlough is treated the same way.

      1. allathian*

        Fair point. Still, they wouldn’t need to take the sick leave if they’re well enough to WFH. Someone at the company hasn’t thought things through.

        1. jman4l*

          The government pays their salary during that time, not the company. The company has a lot of incentive to do this

            1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              I could be wrong – but my understanding was the employer needs to pay it now, but anything paid toward that leave will be refunded as a tax credit during the 2020 filing.

              Which is fine I guess. Really doesn’t help a company with cash flow right now.

              1. Observer*

                No, it doesn’t. And it also is not relevant, as others have noted, as the law does not require the company to MAKE anyone take leave, but rather to ALLOW them to take leave and pay them for it.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        What is a subsidized furlough? I thought the whole point of a furlough was to eliminate payroll expenses for those employees?

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, this policy is really stupid. If they’re well enough to work, they should be allowed to work. And what people do in their leisure time is their business, nobody else’s. If you make a fuss now, all it means is that people will stop sharing their vacation plans with you.
      That said, traveling by air is not a risk I would personally take at this time, YMMV.

      1. Acm*

        Who dictates “well enough to work” though? You don’t see companies directly or indirectly through an ingrained company culture of masochism pressuring people to work from home even as they’re feeling because technically they can sit up and they’re home anyway so where’s the problem?

        1. doreen*

          Well in this case, the employer is deciding that the employee can’t work from home if they test positive* – which can happen even if the person isn’t actually feeling sick. It makes sense to tell someone who is asymptomatic that they can’t physically come into work if they test positive- but telling someone they can’t work from home when they don’t feel ill is simply the opposite of what you describe. The employer is still dictating who is “well enough to work” , just in the opposite direction.

          * And I’m not sure how the employer would know if the employee doesn’t ask for sick leave – are they going to require this employee to be tested upon returning from the vacation?

    3. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I was also wondering that. It’s of course bad if anyone gets sick with coronavirus, but some people have only mild symptoms such as an itchy throat. If coronavirus is very common where you are, it’s also possible that the tests are only given to people who have more serious symptoms (it’s the case where I live, but I live outside the US, so maybe it’s different?). If the employees work remote and don’t interact physically with people, it would be better if those with only mild symptoms can work, and those with more serious symptoms can take sick leave.

      Not that this changes the advice about the specific vacation plans, I just feel it’s maybe the policy that’s a bigger problem for your work place when it comes to unnecessary abscensces.

      1. Amanda*

        I’m not in the US either, but as I understand it, the government is paying for COVID leave, and giving small companies a lot of incentives to have their workers on leave while sick. It may be the policy stem from this company taking advantage of some of these incentives.

        Someting similar is happening in my state, and the idea is that if companies only get the incentives if their employees aren’t working, there will be less pressure from managers for truly sick people to keep working, and employees will be less concerned with reporting symptoms (especially the hourly ones).

    4. NYWeasel*

      Exactly. I most likely was an (almost) asymptomatic case. I had extremely mild symptoms (Covid toe and hives) so my doctor won’t test me until antibody tests are widely available, and I was never so sick that I couldn’t work. Yet despite being extremely mild, it’s been a huge bother to deal with as I keep cycling through mild symptoms weeks later, and I personally would tell friends that they are crazy to head out. But as a manager I don’t think you can truly assess the risk levels all of your employees are taking even in secure states. I see people every day in our “locked down” state gathering and hanging out. So I agree with Alison’s advice.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Here’s why I don’t take any of this seriously: Alison had a letter from someone who got denied ONE DAY vacation because the boss thought it was a waste of time to go to a video game tournament. WTAF????? This is why you don’t share vacation plans with the boss.

        I’m taking tomorrow off, not going anywhere at all, but I’m not telling anyone else that. (It’s my birthday, and other than Army Basic Training and WOCS, I’ve not worked on my birthday since I was 16). It’s none of work’s business what I plan on doing. And if asked, I’m going to ask why they need to know.

        1. Bella*

          ha, that reminds me of my first job- I had asked for ONE day unpaid off because I hadn’t accrued enough holiday yet to take a full two days off. Also relevant: I did the same exact job as 10 other people, we just worked on tasks together.

          We had a weird system of sending tasks to the manager, who would send tasks to the head boss, so my manager approved it then sent it to the head boss, who said “no, you can’t” which was ridiculous in itself… but then instead of sending the task to me, he sent the task to my my manager,

          who left it in her task box for A MONTH before sending it to me the *week of* my vacation, and all she said was “sorry, it wasn’t approved. I had just assumed it was approved because… duh?

          So I just replied saying “sorry, this notice is way too late since we’ve already booked everything. If there’s an issue, we can discuss it on Monday when I come in.”

          Lol no one ever discussed it with me or brought it up ever.

        2. Observer*

          I remember that letter. I thought of that right away, as well. I would be willing to bet anything that the boss in that letter believed that he was just as justified as the OP about this. Now, obviously there really IS a difference, but ultimately, it’s really out if line for employers to try to police what their employees do on their time off.

        3. Pennalynn Lott*

          I worked for a six-person company back in the early 90’s. I asked the owners in January if I could take a week’s vacation in May. They said Yes. I bought plane tickets, booked a hotel, booked sight-seeing activities, the works.

          Two weeks before my vacay, our part-time bookkeeper (who would be covering for me while I was out, and who was also a part-time travel agent) got her hands on a once-in-a-lifetime deal to travel to Tahiti for a week for just a few hundred dollars. The same week that I was going to be out. She bought her tickets, booked the package, and FedEx’d her money and signed contract to whatever company was offering the deal. THEN came back into the office and told the owners that she’d be in Tahiti during the week she was supposed to cover for me.

          So the owners called me into the conference room and told me that since I was *just* going to Cancun with my boyfriend, they were revoking their approval of my time off. And, look, Bookkeeper had bought her vacation as a surprise to her husband for their 30th anniversary, Tahiti > Cancun and, besides, poor Bookkeeper can’t get her money back now. (Neither could I for my plane tickets, but that didn’t matter to them).

          It was only after I made it abundantly clear that I was going on my vacation regardless of what they said and that I sincerely hoped I’d have a job with them afterward but that was a risk I was willing to take, that they backed up and decided that they could, indeed, survive with a temp office admin for five days, and therefore Bookkeeper and I could both be out at the same time.

          Lesson learned. NEVER tell your employer what you plan to do with your vacation time.

  7. Artemesia*

    IT guy — oh yes, start looking now, especially if they tell you ‘no’ without details. They will be lying. If they tell you ‘no’ and share how you fit into the outsourcing plan that is more encouraging. I would be looking as actively as possible and take a good offer with two weeks notice. You are smart to be observant about this. It is easy to be a wishful thinker and overlook signs that you need to scramble.

    1. LQ*

      Yeah, there is a kind of “no” that’s really reasonable. It’s got additional details. Something like a “we are going to be taking on a really big new book of business that I can’t say anything more about but we need to be fully geared up and ready to go and you won’t be enough to support them but you’ll have a big role in it.”

      A “no of course we aren’t, that’s about something else, how about that distraction topic?” I would definitely take as a concerning thing and start looking. A “No why were you looking at my calendar?” I’d take a start looking too.

    2. Annony*

      I would find it very odd that they are having meetings about IT without including or informing the only IT person they have. That definitely suggests that they are not planning to keep the OP.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        Yeah. I wonder if LW gains more by not speaking to the bosses vs. speaking to them about it. They’ll certainly clean up their calendars after realizing that LW can read them and figure out that a transition is coming. I can also see this impacting their transition plans for LW–maybe they speed up it because they know LW is likely job searching already.

        1. Saberise*

          My take on the letter was that he not only saw the meetings on the calendar but also opened them to read the body “and upon further inspection saw”. That may not make LW look real good and very likely will speed things up.

          1. A*

            Yes, this was the part the left me a bit shocked by the recommendation to mention seeing it on the calendar.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              If it’s Outlook (and probably other calendars) that’s a setting, and I’m guessing it’s left that way on purpose. It’s absolutely possible to set the calendar to just show free/busy times. (And even without looking at the details, “Review plan for IT outsourcing and timeline” is a pretty alarming subject line and worth asking about.)

        2. AC*

          That’s a very good point. I guess at that point it would be a matter of just observing their behavior after I confront them or one of them about it. That’s a great point to consider as well. But I guess I won’t know until it happens or I bring it up.

          1. myswtghst*

            It’s definitely worth being cautious how you bring it up. You can definitely limit it to “I noticed a meeting request with the title ‘IT Outsourcing’, and wanted to reach out directly to you so I wasn’t making assumptions”, rather than acknowledging that you opened multiple meeting requests.

      2. myswtghst*

        It really depends. If the meetings thus far have been more focused on cost and/or vetting vendors, it’s possible they felt OP’s time was better spent on other work. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be giving OP a heads up about any plans that may impact them, but it doesn’t hurt to go into a conversation with a manager in the mindset of this being an accidental oversight, as opposed to a purposeful exclusion.

        That being said, OP should absolutely privately assume they will be shown the door, and start job-searching. They’re just more likely to get useful information out of their manager if it feels like a question, rather than an accusation.

    3. AC*

      Thank you for your input! I really appreciate it! I think you’re right too. It will be them lying just to try and placate me to doing more work in the mean time, etc. Consider me actively looking. It was definitely wishful thinking, but I also couldn’t completely put it out of my mind.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Show up for the next “IT” meeting and assume they put it on a shared calendar because they expected you to see it and attend. /s

      More seriously though, they may envision you remaining on but only as onsite Tech Support, or this outsource company is a consultant to create a plan etc but you’d be expected to implement it…without any input in the planning. That would probably be a demotion for you and you’re right to find something more in line with your career goals.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      Ideally, the answer would be “No, but we will need you to interface/help manage this resource.”

      But you should have been consulted already if that was the case.

      Dust off your resume.

  8. Venus*

    Many places with WFH policies right now are overwhelmed with IT problems. Talk with your boss to find out if they are talking about your work, or a specific problem or project.

    1. AC*

      Right, and I’ve thought about that as well. But right now we’re actually slower than usual with requests because a lot of employees are “furloughed” and some have been laid off now. So that doesn’t make sense either at this point. I guess it’s still not impossible, I just want to resist telling myself “everything is fine” when it’s not.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Unfortunately I could see that outsourcing something like IT, when you’re the only IT person at your work, could be a cost-saving effort on company’s part. They won’t have to manage changes in workflow (if you’re slow, like you say, then they won’t be paying outsourced IT if there’s nothing to do), and obviously won’t have to pay out healthcare, time off, etc.
        Personally for me, I would talk to HR or your boss, because I’d rather know than just wait around to find out later. I think their response will definitely give you a good idea if they are telling the truth or just trying to placate you until they get everything in order.
        Either way, yeah—start looking for a job. Best of luck.

  9. Heidi*

    For Letter #3, I wonder why the boss wants to be bcc’d instead of just regular cc’d. If she wants to be in the loop, wouldn’t she want to be included on the reply from the recipient?

    1. Not All*

      My former manager insisted on bcc because he’d been called out by upper management several times about his insistence on being copied on every email. He was hoping to not get caught. I found out when I was having a discussion with HIS supervisor that I was job hunting because I couldn’t take the micromanaging along with the Chinese water torture misogyny any more & mentioned it as an example. (He only did it with women…along with many, many other micromanaging/treating us as children instead of mid-level professionals)

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I’m dying to know what happened when bcc boss’s supervisor found out he was trying to get away with being copied on every email after having been told it was a no-no. Did he got in trouble for that (I hope, I hope)? Also, did you find a better job and/or did things improve to where you felt okay staying? Please fill us in!

        1. Observer*


          I want to know more. And I would LOVE to hear that you got a better job and Micromanager got fired.

        2. Not All*

          I did find a better job (using grandboss as a reference instead of boss). I presume he got chewed out because there was a long closed door meeting and I suddenly had a lot of independence back but discipline there was very discreet. I describe him as my Chinese water torture boss because any one thing just sounded petty and silly but there were so many of them, constantly. I know grandboss had been working hard on him but the guy was pushing retirement age and I think was just far too set in his ways to change. It didn’t help that the entire agency had some serious cultural issues…make national news level issues…so grandboss was fighting an uphill battle & understood completely why I wanted out.

      2. Letter writer, bcc*

        Not all your boss sounds like a charmer!
        I guess it is possible that she (the manager in question) doesn’t get the difference between cc and bcc.

    2. Not Australian*

      That’s the part that confused me, too. I’d be tempted to accidentally-on-purpose cc her instead, just to see what happened.

      1. Letter writer, bcc*

        Not Australian I might just ask and see what the response is.
        I was under the impression from the tone that is was to catch out others and not me.

    3. Kanye West*

      Yes, I think Alison missed the difference between cc and bcc and didn’t address it (it happens). The reason the LW thought it is unethical is that when using bcc, it is hidden from the recipient that there is a third party reading the mail. When you write e-mails at work, you just accept the eventuality that someone higher up might read the mail chain later but I also learned that social protocol dictates that when someone is looped in you
      a) make it visible
      b) depening on the case explain why you looped her in

      In my estimation, it IS borderline unethical to use bcc, especially as the default

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, it’s good practice when extending the audience to say e.g. “I’m adding Fergus in case he has any comments about the new grooming policy before it goes live,” or “I’m copying in Carole, who is Joe’s new assistant.”

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          General von klinkerhoffen (think you are a fan of Allo Allo!) you aren’t doing that using bcc though.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            No, bcc is a totally different tool and I recognise your concerns about using it.

            But I think that the context of covid and school mean it’s less likely to be specifically concerning in your case at this time. I hope you can prevent it from occupying too much headspace while you’re under such strain.

            UK parent of schoolchildren

      2. TechWorker*

        I’m pretty sure Alison understands the difference between bcc and cc…

        I can’t see it as unethical – your boss could equally ask you to forward every email you send separately or to look over your shoulder, neither would inherently be ‘unethical’ or a breach of privacy unless you work in an industry that has that expectation.

        If it’s ‘bcc me on all outgoing communications’ then boss would only not see responses that don’t get an additional ‘thanks’ from LW.

      3. EnfysNest*

        But the BCC doesn’t stay on there for responses, right? It’s not like the person responding is including the boss without knowing it. My office only really uses BCC for large group emails that they don’t want to cause a reply-all avalanche, since BCCing all recipients means they can only respond directly to the sender. So could the boss just be requesting BCC instead of CC so that they only get that first email and they’re not included in any back and forth for the rest of the chain? It’s still not great for the LW if the boss is doing this for micromanaging reasons, but I don’t see how it would impact the recipient of the email at all. It would be no different than sending the email just to the recipient and then forwarding the sent message to the boss to show what they sent, right?

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          Enfys nest and techworker my understanding that a reply won’t include the bcc name – but is that different if someone does “reply all”?
          I can’t see it is sinister for me, if manager wanted to stealthily supervise me, she would not have outed herself, surely.

          1. EnfysNest*

            Right, the only thing the boss would see is what you sent and then any replies should only go to you, even if they use Reply All (if they only hit the regular reply button, it would only go to you even if boss was regular CC’d anyway). So the only thing in play here is that your boss wants to see every email you send. Which isn’t nefarious or sinister, it’s just that in most cases, it would be seen as micromanaging, in that they aren’t trusting you to send emails correctly without checking every single one. I suppose there could be situations where they need to have immediate access to those emails, but in a lot of cases it would seem like too much. But I don’t think the BCC vs CC makes a difference, really, as long as it’s just to ensure the boss isn’t getting copied on the replies as well.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            No, the reply won’t include the manager even in bcc because it’s not included in the header. The recipient mailbox never got the information in the first place and they can’t extract it.

            That is, if Alina emails Bob and ccs Carole and bccs Deepak, Bob receives an email with a header that tells him Alina sent it to him and Carole was copied. Carole receives an email with a header saying Alina emailed Bob and she was copied. Even Deepak’s copy of the email doesn’t show who was in bcc. The only copy detailing the bcc is the one in Alina’s Sent folder.

          3. Observer*

            It won’t show up on the reply all either. It’s not in any part of the email that the recipient can see or access.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do indeed know the difference between cc and bbc :). But the recipient’s response won’t go to the boss, only the original message. As I wrote in the post, the content of the message could still make that a privacy violation, but it’s more likely to just be micromanagement.

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          Thanks Alison. I suspect that micromanagement is the case but it’s an ineffective way to go about it. I think?

    4. Letter writer, bcc*

      Heidi thanks for your reply. I understand many reasons for cc but using bcc seems off, unless there is a reason I don’t get.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Yes, it’s the bcc thing that would give me pause, unless it’s for a very narrow, properly-explained set of subjects / recipients. It feels like entrapment of some kind or at the very least micromanagement, of you possibly, or more likely of whoever you are regularly mailing.

        Then when you forget and the manager combs through your sent items – which might well happen – you could end up disciplined for not bcc’ing on anything. It’s unpleasant and feels quite sneaky.

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          Caroline Bowman to clarify, I have been asked to do it once (manager made a point of calling to ask that I do it) but the manager let slip that they’d asked others to do it.

    5. UK Teacher*

      It’s a school, and a lot of the time with schools the issue is ensuring that the outgoing messaging is consistent with the school’s approach rather than with being in the loop for information purposes. In my case, we bcc the relevant depute head teacher on certain emails so they can be sure that we are following the school communications policies and procedures. It’s more of a quality assurance process than anything else.

      1. UK Teacher*

        Didn’t see that soneone had used this name further down, sorry. For clarity, I’m a different UK Teacher than the one posting in the next thread down.

  10. Blaise*

    Alison, regarding letter #4, schools are so different than offices that this isn’t really unusual or overreaching at all. Dealing with parents is a completely different animal than working with clients (unless your clients frequently tell you how to do your job and call you a liar, in which case ok I guess they’re pretty similar lol).

    It is completely reasonable for a principal to want to be in on all communications with parents (which are pretty much the only emails that teachers ever send). This is because when a parent is unsatisfied with a teacher’s email, they take it to the principal. The principal needs to know what’s going on, and not just from some skewed retelling by the parent, and they would rather not wait for the teacher to have time to come in and talk about it (teachers are BUSY!) when they could have just had access to the email in question to begin with.

    However, I prefer to straight-up CC my principal on all parent emails- I’ve found that it cuts down on 99% of those parents who want to escalate things because if I’ve already told the principal what’s going on, the wind has been taken out of their sails. I can see a principal wanting to be BCCed instead, citing that they want the teacher to be viewed as the authority, but I’ve just seen such great results with CCing that I personally disagree. I can see where that principal would be coming from, though.

    1. Teacher*

      Teachers do not mainly email parents. Our emails are filled with messages from the Admin, our teaching partners, our paras, and the district emails. Parent emails are a small percentage compared to what we read/send on a daily basism

      1. UK Teacher*

        I agree – I very rarely email parents (even in current situation!). I mostly call them, and speak to them at pick up and drop off. (This may vary in secondary school?) My emails are from outside organisations, colleagues, senior staff etc. I would hate it if a manager insisted on being Bcc’d on everything. It would imply to me that they don’t trust me. I’ve been in the workplace for 15 years (both as a teacher and working in an office) – I know how to send an email!

        1. Letter writer, bcc*

          UK teacher, you are correct this is a secondary school. The manager is asking for bcc on selected emails only.
          Hope you are well and ready for the June 1st craziness!

      2. Letter writer, bcc*

        Teacher for me my role involves lots of in-school emails but also emails with parents and external “stakeholders”.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Yup. Teachers at my kid’s school receive all the above, and send out emails to each other, professional development providers, external vendors, hosts for field trips, and people who bring other resources into the classroom.

      4. Blaise*

        I should have clarified that I am a teacher. Out of the emails I send, the VAST majority are to parents. Of course I RECEIVE emails from all sorts of places, but we’re just talking about sent emails here so that’s irrelevant. I guess my bad for assuming that was the case with everyone!

    2. Rebecca*

      I’ve only ever had one director that asked to be copied on everything. Most of my directors are much, much too busy to have every parent email about every homework problem or class birthday cake land in their inbox. That one was definitely a micromanager and made our lives miserable. She would come back to question me if I was sure I wanted to let Susie bring in her birthday cake on Thursday instead of Wednesday. Every email was questioned.

      Generally, to solve the problems you mentioned, directors ask us to use our judgement about which parents we need them to be looped in on – and generally, everyone knows which parents they are! Because we are grownups, and professionals, and have that judgement.

      1. Letter writer, bcc*

        Rebecca I agree on the copying the principal in for everything. It just wouldn’t work.

    3. Letter writer, bcc*

      Hi Blaise, thanks for your reply. The manager in question is not the principal.
      I’m not sure if you are in the US but if I copied the principal into all my emails (to parents and otherwise) it would drive them bonkers.
      Also, work emails remain in our work system so there is always a record of what has been said.
      Glad our parents are not like the ones at your school!

      1. Teacher in the UK*

        If this is something that’s being expected only of certain staff and only for certain categories of email, I’d bet there have been previous concerns about their communications not following school policies and this is a way of monitoring that. I’ve seen similar things where staff have been inconsistent in their application of the policies and have caused difficulty for the school, by sharing inappropriate information or making promises on behalf of the school that should not have been made and could not be fulfilled. It’s vital that management have oversight of this.

    4. A Teacher*

      But that’s just not true… I will cc when I need to but most email? No. Administration is already swamped with email. There are 79 teachers in my building if we cc’d our 5 admins with every email we sent that would be excessive.

  11. AnonymousNurse*

    OP#4 when I put in to transfer to another department at work, my manager was given my application to “sign off on.” When she and I next worked together, she dropped major hints that she was going to be losing a good employee. I told her that this job would be a huge step up in terms of career and responsibilities. She just laughed and said “I was about to make you charge nurse though. I wonder what would happen if I didn’t sign off.” Quite obviously I was shocked. She continued to make veiled threats to block my application over the next week until I finally stood up to her. Long story short, eventually she did let my application go through and I interviewed and got the position! I never ran so fast out of there. That’s my horror story on why managers should not have to sign off on internal transfers.

    1. Mx*

      1: You said he works remotely. Do you mean from home ? Because if he can perform his job from home while in quarantine, that would be a waste to not let him work (unless he was sick of course).
      I agree what he does is reckless, but you shouldn’t police what people do in their own time.

    2. John B Public*

      What a horrible manager. Definitely one of those cases where I’d be likely to come up with an answer “What would happen? I’d quit!” …but hopefully not in-the-moment.

      Good for you that you stood up to her. Charge under her? Bullet dodged.

    3. Reba*

      I have also heard similar stories from friends in nursing… Maybe not lording it over their employees to the degree anonymousNurse describes, but actually supporting or at least neutral to the employee’s face, and blocking them when it comes to the system side, because it would be inconvenient for the floor manager to have to change their scheduling or hire. It’s punishing nurses who are good at what they do!

    4. Another manager*

      While there’s no written policy where I work on the transfer/promotion sign-off, it’s an informal practice that we observe. It’s bad for the organization and the employees. It only serves the interests of lazy, vindictive managers. If you can prevent it, you should!

      1. lindrine*

        Agreed. Manager here also. The issue we have at my place of work is managers finding out after offers are accepted internally. While I don’t think an employee should have to tell a manager they are looking at other internal roles, I also think managers should work together on transition plans in the best interests of the employee and the business. I know other managers in my company who act as if their employees are children who can’t decide for themselves whether an offer is good for them or not and get upset if the other manager doesn’t say something to them before an offer is made. Meh. I figure either they move up in the company or they might move to another company, so best support them. My team’s work is highly specialized so it can be really hard to fill in gaps, so MMV.

        1. AnonMinion*

          I agree. It is also a good idea to have the hiring manager connect with the current manager about performance. I had someone accept and offer and the hiring manager didn’t talk to me first. I had to break it to her that while the employee was very friendly and kind, she had a lot of performance concerns that were documented and would not serve her well in the next role. Not my problem anymore!

  12. LGC*

    …LW1, as a fellow New Jerseyan, I’ll be blunt: I think the risk of him catching COVID-19 at home is probably similar to the risk of him catching it on this trip. But this is a really specific answer to your situation – our outbreak is so bad (and is still so bad) that I think “being a person in NJ where we still have most of our social distancing rules” and “traveling to Georgia” (which I’m using as an example) are probably similar risk to him.

    It doesn’t really change the answer if you were writing from an area that managed things better got luckier was less extremely affected, but I think especially in your situation there’s probably little additional risk to him.

    (I am specifically focusing on the employee’s risk of catching COVID-19, which is what LW1 wrote about. I have extremely strong thoughts about the actual risk of this trip, but that’s not quite the question at hand here.)

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Without challenging your main point , I’d argue it’s not NJ, it’s the travel.
      Two or more airports with people who have been travelling. Rest rooms, chairs, tables, buttons and knobs are all surfaces which could spread the disease. Hours in an enclosed space with strangers, all of which have also been travelling.

      1. LGC*

        And that’s true! But also, like…we had really high community transmission rates (thankfully, it seems like things are coming down now, and I’ll admit that I have a lot of recency bias – things might look a lot better here next month and a lot worse where the employee is going). It’s not that traveling isn’t risky with regards to him catching COVID, it’s that just being around others here is kind of risky! If I had to bet, I’d say that he’s about as likely to catch COVID here before his trip as he is on his trip.

        For what it’s worth, I’m not endorsing his travel by any means. It’s just there are a lot of infected people here.

    2. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      I live in Jersey and my first thought was that the people on the other end of the travel should be the ones worrying about it.

      Are you going to tell your employee he can’t go to the Shop Rite? Because that is probably the same risk as flying out of state right now.

      I feel you LW. We are all on edge. Let this one go and make sure you keep this employee separate from all your other staff, as you are already doing now. #JerseyStrong

      1. Cairo*

        Not remotely the same risk. If you live in an area with very little outside travel, going to the store is in no way the same in terms or numbers or the outside area exposure people have had.

        Travel itself is risky. Being anywhere with 1000 people from all over the place is different than somewhere with 100 people who have been at home for a month. That’s why a trip to the grocery isn’t comparable. If my grocery is in NYC maybe. It or it is in a town of 2000 who have followed shelter orders

        1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

          I’m being hyperbolic. You don’t need to explain COVID risk to New Jersey. We are second only to NY in cases and deaths.

          The point is that you can’t control the risks your employees take. You control how their risks affect your other employees.

      2. hbc*

        Some people in my company are making a similar argument about travel, and I don’t get it.

        The idea of all the lockdowns and precautions are to narrow down the circle of people we’re exposed to. The more we can limit the number of people *and* maximize the overlap in those necessary people, the more we slow everything. If the guy who hands me my pizza goes to the same cashier at the grocery store, then we’re all safer. It’s like the opposite of 6 degrees of separation–you want fewer people connected to you directly, and fewer to them, and so on.

        But if I pack myself on a plane with 100 people who have had 10-20 contacts with people outside my first few circles, I’ve massively increased my chances of getting and spreading it, nevermind getting to my destination and introducing new people into my first-degree contact circle there. Being a covid Kevin Bacon is risky for Kevin and everyone around him.

        1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

          I’m not arguing that travel is safe, hell, my family and I have been in tightly since the beginning of March and that’s not changing any time soon.

          Just, people are gonna do what people are gonna do. You can’t make plans for a company that are based on people complying with social distancing rules of their own volition. Jersey is falling some now but still hot. It’s naive to think that the one employee who announces travel is the fault point, when there may well be 10 other employees having drinks at a friend’s house on the weekend – when NJ people are absolutely a higher statistical risk than people from most other states.

          Set your business up so that whatever choices one employee makes is unlikely to affect the others. That’s what we’ve done at Wakeens.

          1. hbc*

            Yeah, but my very safest coworker who always wears a mask and keeps 6 feet apart and scrubs their hands is vastly increasing their contact level by getting on a plane and being 6 feet away from new people. My casual coworker who’s still close-talking without a mask and having “only” 17 people over to their house is vastly increasing their contact level by breathing all over a new set of people and whatnot.

            It’s riskier to travel, whether or not I know what else he’s doing in his spare time. I might as well not make guys wear their safety glasses because they might take them off when I’m not looking.

      3. BenAdminGeek*

        Agree- the greater risk is likely in him spreading it TO the place he’s going, not him getting it FROM the place he goes.

      4. LGC*

        I live in Jersey and my first thought was that the people on the other end of the travel should be the ones worrying about it.

        Are you going to tell your employee he can’t go to the Shop Rite? Because that is probably the same risk as flying out of state right now.

        …this is almost literally the original version of my comment before I deleted it, including the Shop Rite line.

        But yeah, like…I didn’t say it explicitly, but I thought that if anyone should be worried, it should be his family! And for what it’s worth, I’ve kind of thought of not traveling (and social distancing in general) as similar to wearing masks – in that we’re protecting each other more than protecting ourselves. If I were the employee’s friend, that’s what I would say.

        Unfortunately, I’m just a judgy guy on the internet. And LW1 is the employee’s boss.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      The real issue here is that companies have to be prepared if an employee needs time off for any reason – taking care of a sick relative, falling and breaking a leg, hitting the lottery and quitting, or the infamous getting hit by a bus scenario. His willingness to take risks to travel are none of their business. The only thing they can do is force him to stay home for 2 weeks when he returns to limit the risk to rest of the office.

      1. LGC*

        That too! I didn’t go into the weeds of it, but it seems like the time off in and of itself isn’t the problem, at least from how the letter is written, it’s what he’s doing with it.

        For the record, my non-tristate area answer would have been, “Well, yeah, it’s risky, but you still shouldn’t reject it.” (Or basically, what Alison said.) And it’s something I’ve had to do pre-plague – like, honestly, unless we’re REALLY going to be in a bind if someone takes off a couple of weeks, I won’t push back (and even then I’ll ask them to see if they can take off at a different time). I’ll make adjustments. Because – frankly – if we really couldn’t afford for people to take time off we wouldn’t offer time off.

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      This was similar to my reaction. There are a couple of red herrings in this letter. The biggest one is the concern over traveling to “a state that doesn’t have the same coronavirus restrictions that we do here in New Jersey”. What matters is the prevalence of disease in a given place, not the presence or lack of certain types of political policies. Those are irrelevant. New Jersey has the 2nd highest prevalence per capita of cases and deaths from COVID-19. That means that unless he is planning to travel to New York, he is almost certainly traveling to a place that is safer than New Jersey.

      This is why when the CDC makes its routine travel recommendations, it does so based on what diseases are present in what countries, not based on what types of policies certain countries have or have not instituted.

      I am not making a case that the act of traveling is safe; but what restrictions are present in what places is almost totally beside the point.

      1. LGC*

        I mean…I think the restrictions do matter to some degree. If he’s going to a state that’s lifted most of its lockdown measures, it’s easier to engage in risky behaviors there. And infections started dropping here as infections across the country were either plateauing or rising. But I don’t think health guidelines are more important than actual disease prevalence.

        Also: we’re being one of the more “responsible” states right now, but that’s mostly because we have no choice.

  13. Sara(h)*

    I regard to letter writer #1, do others think it might be appropriate to express to the employee that, while you are approving the time off, you also think air travel is in poor judgment under the current circumstances, and you could ask the employee whether there are any extenuating circumstances other than the cheap airfare that have led him to make this decision? Maybe something going on with his family? It doesn’t sound like there is, but you never know, and this way you could express your concern without actually saying, “No,” while also inviting the opportunity for the employee explaining his reasoning. (I’m not suggesting that there are circumstances that would justify air travel for family visits right now, which I do strongly feel is reckless, but nonetheless it might be worth having the conversation.)

    1. Scarlet2*

      I think it’s really none of the manager’s business. They’re not the employee’s guardian or parent. I agree that the employee’s being reckless, but I would have very strong opinions about a manager who would invade their employee’s privacy to that extent, no matter what the circumstances are.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Same. The employee is, presumably, an adult. What an employee does on his own time is not the company’s business in any way, so long as it is not illegal.
        And airports aren’t nearly the germ-laden petri dishes they normally are, at the moment. Not only are they cleaning better and more often, but fewer people are traveling, and most airlines are requiring masks. The grocery stores in Jersey are a higher risk

        1. Alice*

          So if you found out that someone on your team was doing something that is legal but unethical, you’d says, “not my business” and trust her judgment as much as before? If he travels from NJ through airports to a presumably less-hard-hit area, how is he guaranteeing that he’s not infecting others?
          I’m not saying that it’s a good idea for the manager to *tell* the employee in this case that he’s going to lose respect but personally I couldn’t trust his judgment any more.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            If I found out a co-worker was travelling right now I’d think they were stupid, and yes I’d question their judgment, but it’s still none of my business. And shaming someone into making a better decision is never the way to go. It’s my job to keep myself safe – it’s clear by the news that many people are being stupid – and all I can do is take the necessary precautions to take care of me and my people.

          2. Joielle*

            I agree, I think he’s taking a hit to his reputation by going on this trip, but that’s a choice he’s free to make. If I were the boss or a coworker, I’d think much less of him going forward and would be less willing to trust his judgment. But if he thinks that’s an acceptable tradeoff for a cheap vacation, then so be it!

            It’s none of anyone’s business in a direct sense – like, you can’t deny his vacation time or try to guilt him into not going. But it’s another data point in the universe of things you know about this guy. Maybe he’s a top performer and usually great person and this won’t make much of a difference in the long run. But if he’s a middling performer and difficult to work with… maybe it’s a bigger problem for him. He’s free to weigh those considerations and make the choice, and everyone else is free to judge him for it (privately).

          3. Allonge*

            I cannot judge, simply based on the fact that he is travelling, that he is doing something unethical. Risky, yes. Risky for others, yes. I can imagine several different scenarios where it is not unethical, or at least the least unethical thing to do.

            Employers should be very very limited when they prescibe what their staff does while on leave. There is just waaaay to much to go wrong there.

          4. Observer*

            Which is totally different that requiring the employee to share family circumstances as a condition of getting permission to take the time.

    2. Sally*

      I dunno, I think that’s getting into none-of-the-employer’s-business territory. I don’t think it’s a good idea to travel right now, so I wouldn’t, but if my employer tried to get me to justify my time-off plans, I’d be very annoyed.

    3. Sara(h)*

      Scarlet2 and Sally – I don’t disagree. I understand why this could very much be viewed as an overstep and not any of the employer’s business. That said, if my manager felt strongly about something like this, and was questioning my judgment, I would want to know. But I’m also in a role where I make a lot of key decisions, and I would be very concerned if my manager didn’t fully trust in my judgment.
      I do think this is different than sky diving or other high-risk activities that are really about personal risk only. But perhaps my perspective on it (that I would want to know my manager was concerned!) speaks more to my relationship with my manager (who is also a mentor to me) and my trust in him, also the type of work I do.

      1. Scarlet2*

        But most managers are not “mentors”. You’re quite free to give that kind of consideration to your manager’s opinion, but I would very strongly object to a manager who acts like they expect me to “explain my reasoning” for something that strictly concerns my private life.
        I also generally have issues with people who think making questionable decisions in one aspect of one’s life means someone generally has “bad judgement”. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who’s never made a stupid decision.

        1. Alice*

          Saying, “Now I question his judgment” is not the same as saying “every decision he makes is wrong and I never make mistakes.”

          1. Scarlet2*

            Saying you question someone’s judgement in general is pretty much implying they shouldn’t be trusted though. But there are many examples of people who make poor judgements in their private lives while being very reliable at the office. It’s just way more complicated than “this person makes a stupid decision, therefore I’m questioning their judgement”, which, again, implies that someone’s poor judgement in one area (private life) leads to questioning their judgement in another (work).

        2. Roscoe*

          Totally agree with the last part. Someone can make plenty of poor judgment calls that the manager never knows about, and it never affects their job. But now all of a sudden everything is up in the air because you know about this?

        3. TechWorker*

          It doesn’t ‘strictly concern your private life’ if the employee gets it and passes it around… early in the pandemic folks were being told that if they needed to quarantine after travel it would have to be done on their own time with PTO – I thought at the time that was quite unfair. But in this case where the employee clearly is aware of the risks and is doing it anyway… if the timing worked out s.t. the office was reopening I totally would expect them to use PTO for their quarantine.

          If everyone’s working from home the whole time anyway, then I agree it’s *more* ‘their private business’ but I don’t think that’s guaranteed at any stage due to how quickly everything is changing…

          1. Scarlet2*

            They seem to be working from home though, so they can’t pass it around to colleagues. And even if everyone is back in the office by the time they return, the obvious solution is to impose a 14 day quarantine before going to the office.

        4. Allonge*

          Yes, I would find it terribly unfair if my boss questioned my judgment on, say, financial management, based on my personal finances. It’s just not the same. And I could well endanger other people by being an irresponsible spender in my private life, and still manage company finances very well.

          In other words, I agree.

          1. Avasarala*

            Uh, don’t they do background checks for things like this thought? Not saying financial planners have to open up their checkbooks for inspection, but if you’re in serious debt based on poor choices, I think that does show poor financial management. Would you want your city bus driver to have several DUIs?

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Outside of any requirements to keep the office safe (like telling him he needs to stay home for 2 weeks after returning from the trip) there’s nothing for OP to say. And just because someone makes poor decisions in their personal life, it doesn’t automatically mean you need to trust their judgment at work.

      3. Observer*

        Most managers are not mentors.

        Also, to be honest, the OP is not concerned about the risk to the rest of their staff, because the travel does not present any risk to the rest of their staff, since they are all working from home. Their primary issue is that the company has a stupid policy that would force the employee to take off extra time even if he didn’t need it.

        If the only issue is questioning the employee’s judgement, I could see letting the person know SEPARATELY from actually dealing with the time off request. Simply because even if the person decides not to go after manager speaks their piece, that’s not really a sign that they suddenly got good judgement.

    4. LGC*

      I was going to say “no,” but…I’ll admit, I’d have an extremely hard time keeping my own mouth shut. To go into my concerns reading the letter, I worried more about LW1’s employee spreading COVID to his family (although honestly, that’s partly present bias – although our outbreak is still horrifically bad, the numbers have come substantially off peak, and perhaps by June things might be reversed).

      I wouldn’t discourage him from taking the trip, which is kind of what that wording sounds like (especially asking about his family – that’s prying into his personal life without good enough reason), but LW1 can probably get away with saying that she’s not wild about planes or travel in general right now. But even that might not be advisable.

      (As for his choice of travel: honestly, I think plane is probably the best of bad options. If he drove, he’d be making stops along the way (this is a trip that’s long enough for a flight). The train is like the plane, but with even more exposure. As problematic as planes are, at least they’re only a couple of hours and point to point for the most part. The real answer is that he should stay home, but I’m not that upset about him flying in June compared to everything else.)

    5. Caroline Bowman*

      Yeah, it’s really not the manager’s business. It does seem like poor judgement on the part of the employee and I’d file that away as a manager, that this person might not always demonstrate good judgement generally, but unfortunately personal time is personal time. He’s not breaking any laws apparently, so explain about the quarantine thing and leave it at that.

      If he asks what you think, have at it though. But let him ask first, then you are clear to say ”wow, selfish much?”.

      1. Allonge*

        I would not advise starting with ‘selfish’, even if asked. Sure, there will be people travelling for fun only. But do you want to risk calling someone selfish when they travel to see a dying parent, or assist in some kind of family emergency, their own or others’ wellbeing, etc? I would say especially not as a manager.

        1. Lancelottie*

          I second this. If the employee is a conscientious enough person to be impacted by your statement, they’ve likely given this extensive consideration and have pressing reasons for their travel plans. If they’re genuinely traveling for fun right now, they will brush off your statement as delusion or fearmongering—after all, they have access to the same information about the global situation as you do; they just happen to also have additional information about their own situation and thoughts. If calling them selfish has any impact at all, it will be to make a person in a difficult position feel worse.

    6. Allonge*

      I would say exactly because this is an unprecedented situation, with a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty on all sides, it’s not for the managers to say anything. Presumably employees noticed that there is a pandemic going on, and if they decide to travel regardless, they must have their reasons. I would prefer that managers treat people as competent adults.

        1. No Name*

          It is a massive overstep to comment on their vacation choices. If the employee is not breaking the law, it is none of the managers business what they do. It is also an incredibly stupid. Other employees will see how you treat this employee and if they see you giving a hard time to people, they will lie about how spend their time off. Instead of everyone being upfront and getting tested before returning to work (perfectly reasonable), you simply won’t know until it is too late.

    7. Roscoe*

      I don’t think its appropriate either way, because its not her concern to “make him think about what he is doing wrong”. It comes off very parental as opposed to a professional situation. He has the time, he can take it and use it how he wants.

    8. Observer*

      Stay out of it!

      For starters, if you really think that there is NO justification for travel to see family, then what would be the value of having a discussion? At best, it’s disingenuous, and at worst it’s dishonest and really bad management. Because it reads like trying manipulate the employee into backtracking on their request or abasing themselves to “beg” for permission.

      It’s also really not the place of an employer to judge the risks other people take. Nor is the place to force people into disclosing personal stuff – and if someone is traveling to see their family in this mess, odds are really high that something is up, and it’s quite likely to be something that someone is not comfortable sharing. Forcing someone to share this kind of personal stuff so that their employer can judge them for it is …uch.

      1. Lizzo*

        “…odds are really high that something is up…”

        Maybe, but there are also plenty of selfish people making selfish and reckless decisions because isolating at home is “hard”, or they’re “bored”, or they “miss seeing family SO MUCH”, or they’re “young and healthy” and aren’t worried about getting sick.

        News Flash: none of this is fun or easy. We’re doing the hard thing now so that we don’t have to do harder things later. Also, **it’s not about you.** (That’s the royal you, not you specifically, Observer.)

  14. AcademiaNut*

    For #4 –

    Generally allowing managers to block promotions/transfers is likely to hurt the business in the long run, as good employees will need to leave for professional growth, rather than progressing in the company. It also makes it easier for bad managers to manage badly, if their reports are stuck with them.

    It may be a good idea to have some structure around internal transfers, though. For example – how long does someone need to work in a new role before a transfer is allowed? Someone transferring after a couple of years in a role is different than hopping after a few months, before they’re even finished training. Do internal positions need to be advertised internally giving multiple people a chance to apply? That could address issues of favouritism or discrimination that come from a more secretive process.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      OP# 4: I agree with Alison that allowing managers to block internal transfers means employees seeking advancement will look elsewhere. While I believe that workers have value well beyond their monetary cost to a business, there are some business leaders for whom the bottom line is more persuasive. Therefore, you might want to point out to the business that this proposed strategy heightens the probability that the business will lose the time and money it has invested in training employees who leave for advancement elsewhere. If the business doesn’t know what it spends on training, you likely will be able to calculate that cost to show what the business actually stands to lose, in both time and money, through employee turnover.

  15. Mme Defarge*

    OP1 – consider your employee may have a compelling family reason to travel. I skipped a booked flight just as everything was locking down and now I don’t know if I will see my mother before she dies. Whatever choice I might make once (international) travel becomes possible, I could do without my employer sitting in judgement on me.

    1. Allonge*

      This, unfortunately. And even with employee saying it’s a great price that is the reason – there may well be things that make the travel a lot more necessary than is obvious. Best not to judge. (I mean, internally, judge as much as you want, but that should not be visible on the surface).

    2. LDN Layabout*

      I’m so sorry.

      Those of us with family located long distance travel (not drivable) away are really having to weigh up/resign ourselves to some really horrible scenarios right now.

      It’s very easy to say ‘only domestic and local travel this year’ when the people you care about are in one geographical location.

      I’m not likely to see the bulk of my family until next year. If I get lucky I might see my immediate family since I can get to them via direct train/work from there once I’ve quarantined for two weeks. But I’m still not counting on being in a position to do that if the risks are too high.

      1. Anon Anon*

        Agreed. My family almost all lives internationally. My last surviving grandparent just died, and I already am not going to have the opportunity to be with my family or be at her funeral.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          I’m so sorry for your loss.

          I have one remaining grandparent and I really worry about how it’s going to affect my father if something happens to her (he’s got a severe case of eldest son responsibility, so even if he paid and arranged for everything from abroad he still wouldn’t feel like he was doing enough)

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          I’m so sorry, this must be excruciating. Best wishes to you and your family.

          1. Anon Anon*

            Thank you. It sucks. But, I won’t wait until there is a vaccine to see them again. Mentally I just can’t (as I am less optimist and I think a vaccine is probably at least 1-2 years away).

        3. Pippa K*

          I’m sorry about your grandparent, Anon Anon. Our family are located in more than one country and widely dispersed in the country where we live, so my husband and I have talked about these scenarios – what will we do if your mother becomes ill? What will we do if Nana dies? And the answer is that we can’t be there, even if we want to go. I have a lot of sympathy for people who are already facing these situations. I hope you’ll be able to have enough contact with your family while you’re all mourning.

          1. Anon Anon*

            I think that is’s great that you have made that decision. I cannot foresee myself making the same one over the long-term. I also think that there are lots of other factors that matter. Like how close you are to specific family members, if you are part of a “we” versus being an “I”, and the duration of all of this.

            For someone like me, who is single, super close to their family, and is afraid this could take years, I won’t make the same decision. I will take the risk.

    3. Caroline Bowman*

      that is absolutely horrendous and you have my very sincere best wishes that you do in fact get to see your mum. I do think (clearly as the arbiter of everything in my little brain!) that there should be exceptions for this kind of thing, but of course it’s hard to prove and very difficult to oversee so I appreciate why there is a blanket ban. I just cannot imagine how rubbish it feels though.

    4. Drag0nfly*

      I’m sorry about your mother. I have family overseas, too, and several of my relatives are advanced in age. There definitely shouldn’t be a blanket ban on air travel, or any other kind. OP1 needs to trust that she’s not the only adult in the room.

    5. hbc*

      I’m sorry about your mom and travel plans. I wouldn’t say anything about someone making that judgment call. However, I can’t say that I’d be as…supportive of an employee who got sick making a “cool, low cost flights due to pandemic, the deal is worth the risk” trip versus “last chance to see this relative” trip. It’s kind of like the difference between overlooking someone coming in late because they were up with a sick friend versus telling me they were out all night partying.

      1. Lizzo*

        +100. And if the travel were motivated by a sick relative, surely the employee has enough self-awareness to say so (in a limited fashion, of course, to protect privacy) instead of talking about low cost flights as the motivator.

    6. Sunflower*

      I am so sorry for your situation but thankful for your input. OP has no idea what is going on in this employee’s life- and it’s none of her business. If things go forward the way they expect, things will quiet down over the summer and spike back up in the fall/winter. It’s possible this person is thinking if they want to see their family in the next year, this is the safest time to do it.

    7. AndersonDarling*

      So sorry for your situation.
      This is the kind of situation that I was afraid the Manager in this question was walking into. From the letter, it sounds like the opinion is that the employee is just going on a big ‘ol vacation to have fun, but my thought was that they are connecting with family that needs them. I wouldn’t immediately assume the employee is being reckless and ignorant of the situation, I would assume that there is such a compelling reason to travel that they are willing to risk their own health and will do their best to protect the health of others.
      If I chose to visit a dying relative and my manager denied my request and lectured me on how dumb I was…that would scar me for life. There wouldn’t be any coming back from that interaction.

      1. Kiwi with laser beams*

        The thing is, would you say “I’m going because the flights are cheap?” Or would you say something like “I don’t want to get into details but I have an emergency/family situation/etc.? People are reacting to the fact that that employee directly said “I’m going because the flights are cheap”, and that’s reasonable. Unfortunately, hiding behind a blasé statement isn’t likely to have a good social outcome when it comes to something that carries risk during a pandemic, because for every person who’s saying something blasé to cover up something serious, there are a bunch of people who are being genuinely blasé, and a pandemic isn’t the time to say “let’s assume everyone who says something blasé is just covering up something serious”. The fact that this is a workplace affects some aspects of this and I think the majority of people here have said that it’s not the LW’s place to deny this employee time off. But if you say blasé things about a pandemic, people will assume you’re being blasé about a pandemic and that’s a reasonable reaction.

        1. pentamom*

          I can envision a situation where cheap flights makes possible a trip that would not be possible, even if it was a thoroughly reasonable thing to do. There are people in the world who, even in more normal times, don’t get to see their parents that last time, or go to their funerals, because the money just isn’t there.

          Not saying this is the case here, but the fact that the flight is cheap doesn’t necessarily diminish the worthiness of the trip, it just might make it more feasible.

    8. ASW*

      I’m sorry about your mom. I’m feeling the same way with this letter. My dad has cancer. The prognosis is good, but not guaranteed. If I feel the need to travel the 1500 miles to make sure I see him again, I’m going to do it. I’m not necessarily going to tell my employer that is why I’m going. It really grates on me that doing so could cause my manager to question my judgment as it pertains to my job.

    9. Mockingjay*

      Yeah, my family is 500 miles away and my husband’s is on the opposite coast. My mother-in-law is at home under hospice care and my elderly father-in-law is taking care of her. I would be out there to help now, but I’d have to self-quarantine for two weeks after I got there, which defeats the purpose.

      There are no easy answers. I do agree with @Wakeen’s Teapots; you can’t control your staff, but you can mitigate the effects of their actions on other employees. The employee is already working remotely; after his vacation he can continue to do so in self-quarantine.

      And honestly, I’m a little envious. I am way overdue for a vacation; I’ve spent most of my PTO the last 18 months taking care of various family members and I was exhausted even before this outbreak. I’d love to drop everything and just GO someplace, regardless of the risk.

    10. Joielle*

      That makes perfect sense, but if I was the employee in that situation, I’d say something to the manager so it doesn’t sound like I’m just going on a trip for fun. No details, of course, but “family emergency” or “ailing grandparent” or something vague would go a long way to ameliorate any negative impression.

      It’s likely that I’ll be in this situation soon – I actually do have an ailing grandparent in another state who’s not expected to recover from her illness – and I will tell my manager that I’m traveling for a funeral. It’s not her business, exactly, but I want to protect my own reputation.

      Plus, I understand there are people who don’t want to share any personal details, ever, but I don’t think that’s the situation in the letter – the employee already gave an explanation (cheap plane tickets) that makes him look pretty bad. If there is a more understandable reason for the trip, I imagine he would have said that.

  16. Mystery Bookworm*

    Confused about letter four — it says the employee would NOT be able to say “you can’t have my person” – so it sounds like it is about notification versus sign-off? Am I reading this wrong?

    1. Liane*

      I just used the report an ad, tech or typo issue link for this. It’s right above the comment box.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I was wondering about that part as well.

      I do agree with AAM and the comments saying that the new leader should be able to talk to the employee before talking with current leader.

    3. Deanna Troi*

      I agree with you. The LW is saying that they want to let the boss know first, but that the boss won’t be able to block it. Which I think is appropriate – it prevents the boss from being blind sided while at the same time not giving them the power to tank someone’s growth. Many of the comments are responding as though the LW said the boss COULD block it.

  17. A keen bean*

    At my workplace, managers need to sign off on internal transfers. However, if they block a transfer, they need to provide an solid business reason as to why that employee cannot take the transfer. And importantly – they cannot block a transfer that is a promotion or a pay rise in some way. We have an underlying principle that a manager cannot prevent an employee from earning more money if the opportunity arises to do so internally. However, an ‘at level’ transfer can be blocked because theoretically the employee isn’t ‘losing anything’.

    1. Not today*

      I was once up for an internal transfer that wouldn’t give me a pay rise but would have substantially improved my chances of promotion, work on other projects, and employment at a higher level in other related organisations. Manager denied the transfer. They had to give a reason. Reason was “Does not meet service requirements” and that was enough!! They didn’t have to say what the service was, what the requirements were, or provide any evidence supporting it.
      I had a few horrible years until I managed to get out.

    2. EPLawyer*

      a vindictive boss can ALWAYS find a business justification for why they won’t allow a transfer. By using the sign off system, the boss has ALL the power over the employee. It is a system ripe for abuse.

  18. MMD*

    I work at a hospital. Front line. They in no way restrict our travel plans. They don’t even ask. They credit us with enough sense to be very careful.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I agree not to restrict travel plans but I was back to work for just one week and, though I credited my coworkers as sensible and educated people, that week taught me I was wrong.

  19. CastIrony*

    After reading comments fo OP#1, I think people who are travelling may want to give their employers their reasoning as to why. Not too specific, though.

    But for OP#1, they should act like their report getting infected/quarantined is a certainty and find coverage for their report for the whole time immediately. Better safe than sorry, you know!

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      I’m all for contingency planning, but I don’t see why OP shoukd find coverage for this one report in particular. The other employees could get sick too and so “better safe than sorry” would apply as well.

      1. CastIrony*

        I think it may be a good preventative measure to at least have something like coverage planned because this situation can turn particularly bad. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, we would just have to worry about coverage for the vacation time.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      I think contingency planning for illness right now is a good idea universally, not for this particular individual. Unless employees have shared their own practices with others, no one knows what they’re doing in their off time. They could be wandering around crowded public places locally without a mask, not washing their hands, etc. We’re in a pandemic that could affect anyone.

      1. CastIrony*

        I agree. It should apply to everyone. But I’m thinking more in the lines of “every employee who is travelling out of state” versus “everyone in the company”. Of course, people get sick no matter what, and it would be a great idea for employers to brainstorm what they should do in case too many people and/or key people get sick. Do they reshuffle workloads? Do they close their doors until enough people can return?

        On another note, I really need to stop posting when I’m exhausted. I just think OP #1 should have a plan in place in case they lose their employee for a month or so. If they don’t have to use it, great! If they do, then at least there won’t be nearly as much stife when push comes to shove.

  20. Allonge*

    LW1 – I used to work at an organisation that intentionally recruited from all over Europe. We had people from 20+ countries at any give time. Pre-pandemic, the understanding was that there is no limit to being able to go home and visit family (except personal finances of course – paid leave days, this being Europe, were not a concern for most).

    Now, if they tried to regulate what anyone does on their holidays, they would quickly lose over half of their workforce, as people want to see their families (albeit with different levels of urgency). The company regulates what they can: two weeks of quarantine after return before people can go to the office (but mostly they WFH, so no issue as such), PPE for those who cannot WFH etc.

    And, uh, their staffing level is calculated to cover absences, including due to illness. I mean, was it a problem when half of my unit was out with the flu or whatever bug was going around? Sure. Was one person getting sick an overwhelming problem? No.

  21. Bindu*

    I have prior experience of working in a tremendous corporation in internal recruitment, and now as an HR business partner in a small CGP company.

    In the large corporation, the policy we had in place defined who could move internally. If the person did not fall into those criteria but the business believed they could be of value, we would take sign off from the head of that function. The employee had to formally clear interviews to land the position. If they decided to take up the position, nobody could stop them – we practiced a ‘notice period’ of maximum 3 months in which the manager had to find a replacement for the employee.

    I think I can understand the dilemma you have as I face the same in the smaller company I’m currently working in. The (inadequate) workaround we have for this is that the hiring manager takes input from the HR business partner on the person’s interest in the role & movement. If the HR partner indicates the interest, a formal discussion commences with the employee, while keeping their manager in loop. That way everyone is clued in. All internal movements for a certain level and above are discussed by the management team to ensure there is no favouritism or thwarted ambitions.

    Allison is absolutely right – you need input, yes but sign off no.

    1. Another manager*

      Bindu, your experience here intrigues me, probably because mine is such a contrast! Where I work, there’s no formal rules about internet transfers, but the informal practice is for managers to compare notes about them.

      The fair-minded managers who advocate for their employees are no problem. But they are in the minority. Too many of us don’t want to have to replace anyone who promotes out (particularly now, since our revenues are down and hiring is discouraged. If I lose somebody in my unit to an internal transfer, I probably won’t be able to replace that employee). Some of us are, sadly, vindictive bullies who don’t want our employees to be able to get away from us, because it gives us more power to abuse them.

      It’s a nasty set-up, and it results in some of our best people being lost to other organizations.

  22. Letter writer, bcc*

    Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your reply. Wow that sounds horrible.
    This is only for selected emails…so far.
    It would be hard to do that with UK employment law but I’ll bear it in mind!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      This is meant more as a joke than a serious solution but I had a manager years ago who wanted to be bcc onto anything our department sent that was related to our work with customers. So we did that, first he complained about the banal ‘oh have you talked to x or looked up y yet?’ emails he was getting, and then he complained that the sheer volume of emails meant he couldn’t read them all. Finally he said his inbox was too full to work and we could stop doing the bcc.

      (We were IT support. Pretty much everything we did was related to customers and we knew it. Malicious competence I think we’d be labelled with now)

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, one option is to take it to the extreme. I had also a boss several years ago who wanted to be cc-d on everything going out of our department. Luckily I was in the position to ignore this partially and eventually we refined it to everything out of our department where she needed to know.

        Considering that it was such a pain to get an answer from her for any question via email, even this was too much for her inbox, but… that part was not my problem.

        Bcc can look a bit weird, but at least cuts the boss out of all follow-up back-and-forth, so that part may just be a natural defence in an organisation prone to overdoing reply-all… I don’t think it’s any more unethical than cc.

  23. Letter writer, bcc*

    Kanye West yes that chimes with what I understood to be the etiquette of emails.
    Thank you for understanding what I was trying (not very effectively) to say.

  24. Letter writer, bcc*

    Thank You Alison! So grateful that you wrote a reply and thanks to the commenters.

  25. Gytha*

    OP3, I am a teacher/assistant head of department at a UK upper school (so years 9 to 13) and I do bcc my manager (HoD) on a variety of things. To keep him in the loop on projects being done by the teachers that I performance manage, to make him aware of things which may become issues either for my time or in terms of raising complaints or needing his input, so that I have given context when I go to him for advice on dealing with a situation and a variety of other things, including he needs to know about the email but doesn’t need to get the email storm of replies that I know I will be getting. On occasion he and his predecessor have asked me to bcc them; usually on a known issue that I had asked for their support on, and which I was handling in the knowledge that they would be the escalation path.

    I also bcc the various support/sen specialists/pastoral team in the school in similar situations, where they need to be aware but do not need to get involved in the conversation at the current time.

    It does sound as though I email parents quite a bit more than you do – I assume from your comments that you are in primary as I am sending a lot of emails home at the moment as it is the main way that I can contact students and parents in the situation.

    I might concerned by a request to bcc my manager on everything, but if there was a concern or reason that they were asking me to bcc them on a specific email it wouldn’t worry me at all.
    I don’t think that bcc is breach of email etiquette; this also happened in my professional non teaching jobs before I made the career switch at 35. Any email that you send could be forwarded to someone else separately from the main email chain and email users should always be aware of this.

    1. Letter writer, bcc*

      Gytha, thank you. We are in very similar roles and phases.
      It was not me saying I didn’t email parents much, but another commenter.
      I, like you, am emailing parents more than usual at the moment.
      It helps me to understand that it is a way of seeing the original email without having to witness the blizzard!

  26. cncx*

    re OP2, i once saw plans for my position in a shared calendar and when i mentioned it to my boss, i got told i was making things up, and then called into HR where they gaslit me further about how there were no such plans for my position etc. it was in more detail than what op saw. i would tread carefully if it happened to me again, i would just start looking for jobs and assuming the worst- because the worst has already happened to me.

    1. AC*

      Advice taken to heart. Thank you for sharing your similar experience and I’m sorry that happened to you. :( Being gaslit doesn’t feel good either.

  27. Harper the Other One*

    OP1: as a human you can question whether your employee is doing the right thing (and I
    understand why you are.) But you really don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of approving vacation based on the activity. As a boss, what you can do is ask yourself if the business can honestly afford for your employee to be away at that time, and stipulate conditions regarding the return to the physical office.

    Tell your employee that you will require a 14-day quarantine from the office after travel – no stopping by, no meetings, nothing. If you get an answer like “but the critical llama grooming meeting will be two days after I get back” then reiterate he won’t be physically there, and he can call in – or he can decide on different vacation plans.

    And whatever you decide now, make it policy and let all your other employees know it will be in effect until they are informed otherwise.

  28. Hotdog not dog*

    LW4, my former job had this policy, and it was terrible! I once had another manager try to block me from hiring someone because she didn’t want to be short handed. Long story short, the employee was the one who applied for the new job, but wasn’t required to ask permission ahead of time because she was in her old job for more than a year. When I made the “courtesy call” to her manager, the manager said the offer was invalid as far as she was concerned because “her people” are not allowed to interview internally. It ended up in a huge mess, with HR involved. Ultimately the transfer happened, but then in a subsequent reorg I was moved out and my whole team ended up reporting to that manager.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      At my former job there were planned layoffs, our positions were guaranteed until 31st March 2011 but there was no guarantee of funding after that and the decision on it kept being postponed. In the first few weeks of 2011, some of us managed to obtain internal transfers to another department. While our manager had been telling us for weeks that if we saw another job we should go for it, she didn’t like it once people actually started finding new jobs that wanted us to start before March 31st. At one point she was threatening someone’s paternity leave, saying things like “I haven’t written your reference yet, you know”, and trying to cancel someone’s approved day off for a specialist medical appointment for her son purely on the grounds that she had given in her notice (there was no business need to rescind the leave that day. Another manager and HR intervened in the end on these). It just left a nasty taste all round at the time. The fact that since we all found new jobs ourselves actually saved her from laying anyone off in that area seemed to make no difference.

  29. Matzoh Ball*

    OP1, I am in a neighboring state and have noticed a significant change in attitude towards stay at home orders since the warmer weather late last week. Friends and people on social media are ready to take their shore or beach vacation. The videos from the Ocean City boardwalk and a roof concert in Avalon or Stone Harbor from the weekend without any social distancing or masks were alarming.

    I am supposed to visit family, in a state that has opened back up, at the end of June. I’m not ready to use rest stops yet and definitely not ready to fly, so am preparing to tell them I need to postpone this trip. But I would still be upset if my employer told me I couldn’t go see my family.

    Given the relaxing attitudes of NJ residents and tourists/second homeowners coming in from other states, I’d be more inclined to focus on the policies your company has in place and reinforce those amongst all employees, while reiterating one on one with this employee.

  30. EvilQueenRegina*

    And that employee could very easily have just requested time off without mentioning travel, and OP may well never have known about it, or equally the employee could stay local and still get sick anyway.

  31. Boomerang Girl*

    Re: LW5, if the employer tried to move her/him back to salaried once business picks up in order to avoid overtime, could that not create some risk for the employer?

    1. BeenThereWouldn'tRecommendIt*

      Yes – there are some rules about that – such as that the change has to be permanent (3 months or longer), and apply to everyone in the same role, and that salary not be tied to hours worked. Sometimes when employers switch back and forth they are found to be playing it both ways, and in the worst case scenarios they have to pay retroactive overtime to the affected employees for up to 3 years before they started the reclassifying game.

  32. Roscoe*

    #1. Yes, this is definitely an overstep IMO. The fact that you even pushed him when he requested the time he has is an overstep. But if he wants to go someplace to visit family, and he is already remote, this really isn’t your concern. If you are stretched this thin, than that is a you issue, not a his issue. His vacation time shouldn’t be approved or not based on something that may or may not happen. That is kind of how interstate travel works. Also, why don’t you trust that he knows. how to best manage his own health, even if you don’t agree with his choices.

    3. While I wouldn’t like this, I see nothing unethical about BCC. Unless the information is very sensitive. But realistically, if you or any employee is sending this info via email, the bosses have access to it. So whether she is directly copied or not, the informaiton is already available.

  33. Ana Gram*

    OP 1: I’m not wild about the employee’s plans for his free time but…my employer is probably also not wild about what I do in my free time. I’m a volunteer EMT and, frankly, I could give it up without impacting service. Your employee and I are both making choices about how to conduct ourselves. Arguably, I’m likely at higher risk than he is when you compare EMS and a vacation, but if I ever heard a peep from my employer about it, we would be having a very serious discussion about where their right to decide what I do ends.

    My point is that you have no idea what your employees are up to. Adults make the choices they think are best and you can’t control what they’re doing in their free time. Tell him not to come to the office for 2 weeks after he returns; that’s completely reasonable and fine. But not to go? It’s just not your call.

  34. White Peonies*

    #1 You don’t get to dictate bad outside of work judgement, approve the vacation. Use this judgement to fight for more work from home time for your teams safety. I live where COVID has not hit hard but is hitting us more steadily now, and the amount of people who believe this is the same as getting the flu or that this is a hoax is astronomical. But this is showing their true care for the people around them, believe their actions they are showing you. As an office we are aware that 2 employees at our small open office have spouses with stage 2 &3 Cancer, and another employee with a new preemie baby that spent February in the NICU with under developed lungs. Even with that we have employees in our office fighting to reopen our office and to have everyone back in. There is no need for us to be in the office we do finance work, and even before this all collaborative work was done video or conference call.

  35. It's mce w*

    OP 2: I would also suggest taking screenshots and/or print outs of these calendar notes to keep for your records. I don’t know where you’re based but if you’re let go, it could help with unemployment claims or other issues.

      1. AC*

        Thank you both for your opinions and advice! I did take some photos of the calendar appointment with my Phone. I will keep those for record.

  36. Philly Redhead*

    OP1, am I understanding this correctly?

    “We are working remotely for the time being so we don’t risk exposure to other team members, but our policy prevents anyone who contracted the virus from returning to any work duties until they have a negative test and a doctor note.”

    So, if he tested positive, he wouldn’t be allowed to work — even remotely — until they have a negative test and a doctor’s note?

    1. Angelinha*

      This jumped out at me too! I don’t think it’s fair to say anyone with the virus isn’t allowed to do work duties from home! Plenty of people contract the virus and have little or no symptoms. Why wouldn’t you want them working if they’re infected, but not sick?

    2. Reba*

      This probably refers to the Federal leave that is available under one of the Covid relief legislation packages (FFCRA). It’s different from whatever regular sick leave the employer might offer.

      Interestingly, the act also has some provision for leave for childcare or family care due to Covid closures.

      1. Philly Redhead*

        The FFCRA doesn’t require people to take leave, though. It only requires employers of a certain size to offer it. As stated in the letter, this is an employer policy.

    3. Rebecca*

      I thought that was odd, too. I’m hoping the WFH policy stays for a while, at least, and in the future I’ll be able to work from home if I have a bad cold or other malady – right now, our company has only 5 paid sick days per calendar year, and many people use those days in the first few months of the year when the flu sweeps through.

      I cannot fathom if someone has mild symptoms, and is capable of answering emails, doing computer work, joining conference calls, why that person can’t perform their work from the isolation of their own home. And for pity’s sake, a doctor’s note? Doctor’s offices are overwhelmed as it is! I’ve been waiting for 3 months for a simple checkup, it keeps getting pushed back, and I finally got a video call appointment that was for today, but got pushed back again to Thursday. Add to that the issues here where I live, where people have been reporting wanting to get tested, but don’t have “enough” symptoms. This seem so odd.

  37. CupcakeCounter*

    I’ve seen manager input on an internal transfer go very wrong. Its one thing for a manager to say “the timing is terrible to lose Anna right now, could we delay the transfer until after X project is complete/busy season in over?” but at old, old, old job there was a manager who took each request for a transfer to a different department as a personal attack. I know of at least 5 people who had transfers blocked because of her and all 5 of them left the company within a year. A good friend (and great employee) had been asked by at least 2 other teams to apply for open roles in their departments but after seeing how she blocked other people’s transfers and then subjected them to really poor treatment he decided to look outside the company – she also wouldn’t promote anyone so if you ended up in her department you would be staying at the same level the whole time. Almost 20 years of customer knowledge and relationships lost because of a power trip. The VP of our area ended up getting involved when a few other managers complained. She wasn’t fired but she lost the ability to block transfers and the courtesy of being in the loop on the hiring process. Now she wasn’t told until an offer had been extended and accepted – she would have some input on transfer dates but she would have to make a case as to why it couldn’t be completed within a 4 week time frame.

    1. LQ*

      The range on this covers well intentioned but not broadly thinking managers on the best side to vindictive managers like this one on the bad side. The population of managers who cheerfully shove their best (and only their best) employees out the door into other positions is small enough to be not worth the risk. You’d have to have 100% of managers behaving in the best possible way all the time, never promote someone who gets overwhelmed and scared by the job, never hire anyone who focuses solely on their team, never bring someone in who avoids conflict and passes off bad staff to someone else. It’s so risky to let managers block.

  38. Ancient Alien*

    #4 Internal Transfers
    As others have pointed out, allowing managers to block internal movement by their direct reports might temporarily delay the issue, but will force the best employees to leave. I’m currently living this right now. I’ve been a top performer in my role at a 250K employee organization for over five years now. I’m one of a handful of people that is “qualified” to work the biggest, toughest assignments that come through my department and have had an excellent performance eval every year. I had never worked for an organization of this size before, but the main attraction for me was being told in my interviews what a vast cornucopia of opportunities to move around there would be after 3 years in the role. For the last 2 years, I have repeatedly been blocked from even interviewing for lateral roles (not even promotions, just opportunities to get additional experience in a new area), by higher level management. So, i suppose being blocked has kept me in the role for an additional year or two, but it’s a very short-sighted approach, because once the job market improves a bit, i am out of here and most likely never to return.

    1. WellRed*

      That’s awful. I’m curious if (at least, pre-pandemic) if you’ve ever told the blocking manager (or someone higher up) you’ll leave? I wouldn’t recommend this approach for everyone, but as you. are a high performer…

      1. Ancient Alien*

        My immediate manager is awesome and would be fine with it (well, i think she’d hate to see me go but seems to value me as a person and knows that i need to grow my career). It’s the 1-2 levels of management above her driving these decisions and they barely know who i am (massive multi-national company with offices everywhere and i’ve never even met my own manager in person), much less do they care about my career growth. Additionally, I don’t think these higher level managers view my eventual leaving as an impediment to the business because they know that, when push comes to shove, my manager will just have to fill the gap herself until a suitable replacement is found. I totally hear you and have even considered taking my case directly to HR, but honestly, I don’t feel like i have anywhere near enough leverage to even make it worth trying. It really comes down to a choice between fighting my current company tooth and nail for even modest opportunities or channeling that energy and effort into just looking elsewhere.

  39. Amethystmoon*

    #5 sounds bizarre. I’ve rarely been busy literally all 8 hours of the day in any job, and I have been hourly for most of my career. I am an office worker. But there are times in most jobs where there is down time, and there are times when there is busy time. If one is physically at work at one’s desk, it seems like punishing overly simply for having nothing to do, which isn’t the worker’s fault. I’ve never been told ever in my entire career that I must not be paid for the down times. Maybe it is just me? Isn’t many industries not having business right now why people get furloughed instead of outright fired?

    1. WellRed*

      I suspect the owner is either trying to save money in general because of the pandemic (fair enough), or isn’t a huge fan of WFH and doesn’t trust his employees not to take advantage.

    2. Oh, rats! I'm a sugar pot*

      Obviously nobody works the full eight hours straight through, but there are probably fewer teapots being produced and not a lot of good choices when less money is coming in. It does suck though; if it’s a severe cut, a furlough would be better. Does anybody know about unemployment, if your pay is cut by 50% but you still have a job, are you qualified for any benefits?

      1. That'll happen*

        I think it depends on the state. Typically, partial unemployment makes you whole – you’re paid the difference between what you’re earning and your unemployment benefit amount. So it would have to be a pretty significant cut to qualify for unemployment. Plus, in my state, if you’re working full-time, you’re not eligible for unemployment. So if you got a huge pay cut but were still working full-time, you’d need to quit and hope the pay cut qualifies as constructive dismissal.

      2. WellRed*

        You have to be below a certain threshold each week when you file (at least in my state). I have a coworker who’s hours have been temporarily cut to 20 and she does not qualify for unemployment. And I don’t think she was earning extravagant pay.

  40. Emilitron*

    Re #4, looks like others have covered the “current manager’s permission” aspect, but backing up to the first half of the question, LW4 mentions leadership being able to approach an employee in another department to recruit them. That’s also a policy worth clarifying.
    At my workplace, while the current manager is of course contacted for references-type discussion, they don’t get any kind of veto or “let me keep this person” leverage – BUT the employee has to apply for a transfer of their own volition, a team lead is not allowed to approach (poach) them. There are good reasons for that policy, but of course it’s not perfect. It relies on publicizing openings so that people can apply, and assumes your best candidates are actually reading postings. As in any self-nomination system there’s bound to be reinforced biases. And as a non-manager, the way I’ve experienced it is my team lead saying “you work with Fergus – if they ever seem at all unhappy with Jane’s management you be sure and tell them that our team needs programmers”. So do I recommend it? I don’t know. But I do recommend knowing what the policy is and making sure all managers agree on what is and isn’t fair play – for encouraging employees to transfer to my team, as well as for forbidding/delaying them from transferring away.

  41. Megumin*

    OP #4 – Please push back on requiring consent from the employee’s manager. There are so many reasons why that policy can go sideways. I can guarantee you most, if not all, employees will just leave the company. At most, I would allow the person’s boss to have input on a transition plan. That is how my current boss and my old boss handled it – they talked about how I could transition over to my new position within one month, and then I provided my consent. I was given the chance to negotiate or veto the transition plan if I wanted to.

    If I had to get consent to even transfer…or wasn’t able to veto the transition plan…I probably would have just left. While my old boss wasn’t the worst, the department was terrible, I hated the work, and the exec director of the department was a huge jerk. If I wasn’t going to leave for a transfer, I was just going to leave, period.

    1. Deanna Troi*

      The letter said they don’t need consent from the current manager. I actually think the policy they have is a good one – the manager is notified so they aren’t blind sided, but they can’t block it.

  42. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    OP4 –
    I say this with the caveat that this is government, and there are lots of other rules surrounding this:

    Except in very limited circumstances, we require internal postings for all openings, which of course allows eligible candidates from other business units to apply. If you plan to interview someone from another business unit, we encourage the business unit leads (that is, director/executive level) to communicate this. This does not always happen for a variety of reasons, however job being in jeopardy is not one of them as, again, government. We DO require that, if the candidate of choice is from another business unit, that the business unit leads communicate and reach out, if for no other reason that to coordinate transition plans, if necessary. There also may be other things in the pipeline for said employee so this allows us to plan (and possibly present the employee with additional options).

    Because we work with an eligible list system that has very strict parameters, one business lead blocking a promotion/transfer of an employee can often mean that the other business lead cannot hire *at all.* Even if that is not the case, we typically will encourage managers to work it out as it is better to lose a good employee to a different program in the agency than to another agency entirely (where there are not such conventions).

    1. Another manager*

      Your organization must have a healthier culture than the one I work in. In too many cases here, if one my direct reports applies at another division, I am told about it. I can then say, “Wow, I’m surprised that loser had the initiative to fill out a job application. Please, take him off my hands” …

      That way, I won’t have to do all the work it would take to hire his replacement. Also, if I am vindictive and petty by nature (some of us are) it’s emotionally satisfying to keep unhappy employees under my thumb.

  43. Mad Woman*

    So I feel a little like LW1 right now – my partner and I have to move by August 1 across the country. He got a nationally awarded postdoc where the entire point of the experience is to be in person (and they are in a state that is opening back up, so he will be expected to be there in person when the lab is opened) – so we can’t just stay here and work remotely. Our current lease is also ending August 12 and there isn’t a short term option due to the weird housing market we live in. We have to be gone from this state (which has been in strict lockdown, and we have abided by it, although we live in a very rural area). We are looking into leasing some place remotely and just driving to the new place, but it makes me very uncomfortable to pick someplace sight unseen, especially with this being a new city/state and not knowing safe neighborhoods. The leasing market is also very tight, to where you need to be there in person with a check to secure your place. I am planning to fly down there for a few days and pick something. Mask on, sanitizer, no extraneous adventures. I feel bad but we leased our current place sight unseen and it has not been ideal. Am I an awful person?

    1. Reba*

      No, not awful! You’re just in a bind. All the tasks you describe would fall under “essential” and you should do them. It’s just risky and that sucks.

      Your partner should be able to get advice on neighborhoods, where to look from their department.

      I’ve also rented sight unseen before so I understand the stress!

      If apartment brokering is a thing that’s done in that market, it could be worth looking into.

      Good luck!

    2. Temperance*

      That’s much, much different than someone visiting family because they feel like it. Plus, NJ is a virus hotspot; he’s a potential outbreak in the making.

    3. Spearmint*

      It’s not ideal, but I’d consider finding a place to live to be an “essential activity”, so no, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

      We don’t know why the employee is traveling, but if it’s just a fun trip or non-essential family visit just because he got a good deal, yeah I’m side eyeing that employee. Not because he might catch it, but that he might spread the disease himself (either he has an asymptomatic case and spreads it where he travels, or brings more back to his state).

      (However I don’t think that I’d the managers business as that doesn’t effect business operations.)

    4. LGC*

      …you’re essential, you’re good.

      I think the issue with LW1 is that it doesn’t seem like the employee needs to take this trip now. You…actually do. You need a place to live in August. And if it’s that tight, then it’s worth taking the risk. And that’s probably the question we really should be asking ourselves – not so much if it’s risky to do something (spoilers: it’s risky to be a human in the Plague Times), but if it’s worth the risk to do something.

    5. BuildMeUp*

      I think that’s different than just traveling! You don’t really have a choice – you need to move, so you need to find a new place to live.

      Also, many leasing companies are offering more options for leasing. In my area, they’re doing virtual tours – either a video you can view of the unit or doing a Skype call where they walk you through the unit and you can ask questions as they go. You might try doing this before you travel so you can narrow things down and only go view a few places in person.

      1. Mad Woman*

        This is what I plan to do ahead of time. We’d really like a house though, and they lease so quickly they don’t have to offer tours. I guess I probably won’t get what we’d really like in this situation.

    6. That'll happen*

      So I’m moving across the country in September. I will be renting an airbnb for the first month I’m there to allow for time to house hunt. I don’t want to rent something sight unseen either. Might this be an option for you? It would eliminate some travel.

    7. Kiwi with laser beams*

      Apples and oranges. There is a HUGE difference between your situation and “I’m going because I got a sweet deal on plane tickets”. If the employee had described a situation like yours, a lot of people’s reactions would probably have been different.

    8. Lizzo*

      Are there any local contacts you have at the new place who would be willing to help you out? Or maybe a realtor locally there who handles rentals and could give you a virtual tour? I know real estate agents in our market here are doing virtual tours (recorded or live) so that people can see places without the risk of personal contact.

  44. AMT*

    For LW #5, just remember that if your hours are cut significantly, you may be eligible for partial unemployment depending on your state/pay rate/etc.

  45. agnes*

    Managers at our company cannot block an internal transfer, but neither can they go poach other department employees. Employees have to give 30 days notice for an internal transfer, and we think that works to make sure that the division they are leaving isn’t left in the lurch. We send out internal opportunities to everyone in the organization and applications are kept confidential.

    1. AMT*

      Does that mean that managers can’t talk to employees in other departments they think would be a good fit and let them know there’s an opening? If so, that seems a bit short-sighted. It’s basically saying, “We’d prefer that you stay with our company *if* you’re actively looking for a new job (and therefore looking at our internal job site and/or asking around), but if not, we’d rather you not find out about internal opportunities you might be interested in.” I’d imagine that it’d be in the company’s best interest to have the largest talent pool for each position, even if that means the chosen candidate’s department has to find a replacement.

      1. agnes*

        The hiring manager lets the HR partner know if they think someone is a good fit and the HR partner reaches out to them–not to say “so and so” suggested you, but to say, there is some thought in the organization that this might be a good opportunity for you if you are looking.

        1. AMT*

          I’m not sure how that’s different from “poaching.” What’s wrong with the hiring manager reaching out directly — that is, what are they trying to avoid by using HR as a go-between?

  46. Anon Anon*

    For OP1, I think that you have to let the employee weigh the risks, especially if he/she is not exposing others in your workplace.

    The reality is we don’t know how long we will be in this state of flux. How long it will be until we treat travel as we did in 2019. I think it could be years. Not everyone has family that is within easy driving distance. For some of us the only way to see our family is by flying. Should those of us who have family across the country or in other parts of the world not see them until all this is over? When we have no idea when that will be and it could be a few years? There does come a point where you have to assess the mental health impact of preventing someone from being with their family or friends. What happens if things are as bad if not worse at Thanksgiving, Xmas, etc.?

    I think all you can do is ask employees to take sensible precautions while on their vacation and/or ask that employee to quarantine for two weeks after they return. I think that is all that is reasonable.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      At this point, I do feel that we’re going to have to forego whatever mental health benefits we might get for seeing our relatives for NOT getting so sick that we die or have horrible consequences for the rest of our lives. If you love someone, you shouldn’t see them in person. I know that’s harsh, but…. yeah, I won’t be seeing anyone I love for years, probably, and mine aren’t even a plane flight away. The consequences are just too high.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I’m glad you can make that decision. I won’t make the same one. I can and will manage in the short-term. But, I won’t go for years without seeing my family. And as they all live in one place and I live in another I will have to be the one to travel. I think at some point we are going to have to figure out how to adjust. So perhaps I can travel, but i have to have COVID test at immigration, or i have to agree to self-quarantine for 14 days, etc. The current situation is not something that I think most people in the developed world can manage over the long-term.

        1. Scarlet2*

          This. Not to mention that there’s what *you* can live with and what your family can live with. I could probably go for a couple more months without seeing my mother, but she’s pretty isolated and I don’t think she can stay alone for a lot longer. I wish people would acknowledge that we all have to make choices based on family circumstances, health status, etc., not forgetting that mental health is also a major issue. For some people, mental health is about “taking care of yourself”, for others, it’s a matter of life and death.
          Also, based on what I read, we might never have a vaccine for this. It needs to be sustainable long term for a large chunk of the population.

      2. Observer*

        That’s a decision you do NOT get to make for others. Mental health is not some little thing that you can just “forgo”. For many people the lack of those mental health benefits can lead to long term problems, often significant. And sometimes the those benefits can make the difference between life and death, either to the traveler or the person being visited. This is not hyperbole – there is a TON of well documented information about the effects of isolation on the one hand, and presence in various types of situations on the other.

        If the balance works for you, sure, go for it. But for some people it is nowhere near that black and white.

        1. anontoday*

          This is my own, very personal situation:

          In July, I will be flying with my toddler from our home in the Southern US to visit my family in the Midwest. My husband and I live in a very rural area; in the current situation, we are one another’s entire support network. The stress is getting to both of us. I am unable to get my normal treatment for PTSD and MDD. I have a history of depressive psychosis and dissociative fugue, and my relapses can happen very rapidly when I am overwhelmed. If I do not get some “mental health benefits” in the very near future, I will be in danger and I don’t know how that will impact the child who currently relies on me for everything.

          I hope everyone remembers that they have no idea what another person might be grappling with. OP1, please don’t make too many harsh judgments about your employee based on this decision; my situation isn’t something I’d share with the boss, and he may similarly have a situation he is keeping to himself.

        2. Ramblin' Ma'am*

          Yes. This, exactly. I live alone and my family and I are very close. There may never be a coronavirus vaccine or it may take years. At some point the “new normal” will have to accommodate the basic human need to be around other people.

      3. noahwynn*

        The point is, we are all adults and can make that decision for ourselves. You weighed the risks and decided the consequences are too high for you. That doesn’t mean everyone will make that same determination.

        I’m going to see my sister in mid-June. We spend enough time apart since we live several states away. Honestly, I’ve contemplated suicide many times in the last six weeks as the world has changed substantially. I live alone and have been primarily working from home, rarely getting to see or interact with people in person. No matter what anyone says, a phone call or Facetime is just not the same.

        I canceled a vacation I had planned for my birthday this week, I’m not canceling a trip to see my family right now. It is literally the one thing I’m living for.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      This is pretty much where I am. When I thought it was going to be 2-4 weeks of shelter in place to “flatten the curve”, that was one thing. But it’s been 10 weeks, and there’s no end in sight. Are we supposed to keep this up until there is vigorous testing and contact tracing? Or a vaccine? What if that takes six months? Two years? What if it never happens? At some point, “sit in your house indefinitely” cannot be the only responsible path, and some amount of going places is going to have to be acceptable.

  47. Buttons*

    Lateral moves and moves across business units are good for the company. As a person moves up into leadership the broader view they have of all areas of the business the better they will be strategically. Managers need to stop thinking they have some kind of ownership on employees- part of your job as a manager is to develop people and help them move and grow, if you don’t do that, they will leave for a company that does.
    HR- your role, within the high-potential process is to make sure it is fair, to make sure people are being assessed and measured by the same benchmarks, criteria, and definitions. Once that has been done, you are to help managers find the best candidate for their position.

    1. Another manager*

      I work in an organization where internal promotions/lateral moves are subject to an informal practice that if any manager receives an application from an employee in another division, that manager notifies the manager of the division the applicant came from.

      Sometimes, this doesn’t prevent the transfer, but too often it does. Vindictive, lazy managers don’t want to have to replace their employees, and if they can keep them from leaving, they don’t have to give them raises or approve their days off.

      If I were designing the process from scratch, I would forbid the manager who receives the application from notifying the current manager of the employee applicant.

      1. Buttons*

        It creates a really bad culture. Our CEO actively talks about lateral moves and having multiple positions within a company. It is looked on as a great thing and is highly encouraged. We have a high retention rate and our leaders have a better understanding of the entire business. It is so much a part of our culture that managers will tell their employees about opportunities. We discuss openings in our weekly executive meeting, and as the HR exec in the room I will project the high-potential list and we will talk about who that business leader should consider for their opening!
        This is a healthy culture that makes employees trust their managers and HR to help them grow in their career.

  48. Batgirl*

    You’re securing a place to live. Shelter is right up there with getting food; there are still other risks to health and wellbeing than Covid. Getting a roof over your head sounds like essential travel to me. That’s why we have to halt as much non essential travel as possible; to make as much room as possible for those who are for whatever reason compelled to travel. It would obviously be less risky to have just one journey but I assume you’ve looked into the possibility of that as much as you can.

  49. blink14*

    OP #1 – I can see where your employee is coming from. I live in the Northeast, and I will be traveling soon to a state with far less cases. This trip has been planned for months, and I’ve carefully weighed the risks. I’ll be driving to the location and the rental property I’m staying hasn’t been rented out since the beginning of March. I’m bringing cleaning supplies and paper products with me, and plan to do one grocery shop when I get there and some take out orders. Now, had this trip not been planned and already fully paid for, I wouldn’t be thinking of going, but it has been paid for, I don’t have a good chance of getting my money back, and after analyzing all my risks, it’s not a huge difference between me staying where I am now.

    Once I get back, I’ll be isolating for 2 weeks, and my job is going to be remote for at least the next few months anyway, so going in to work is not a problem. Yes, there is a chance I could get sick, but there is a chance I could get sick just going to a local grocery store. And FWIW, I have several chronic health conditions and have been isolated to almost an extreme the past 2 months.

  50. mark132*

    For me the take away for letter 1 is don’t tell your manager where you go and what you do while vacationing, if they give you and your coworkers grief about what you do and where you go on vacation.

    I own my vacation, its my time.

  51. I Love Llamas*

    Op#1 – it is disconcerting to learn an employee is taking vacation to do something you aren’t comfortable with, however, as the consensus has said, there isn’t much you can do. To look at the employee’s side, you don’t know the family dynamics – perhaps a family member is ill or having a rough go of the current situation. In my case, my uncle passed away (non-C19, simply old age) and an aunt was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer with a short prognosis. Both are in the same state, 12 hours away. I am probably going to drive up for the uncle’s memorial service in August (in a very remote area) and at least drive by my aunt’s home for a wave through the window while there. It will mean the world to my elderly father. Will my employer be happy? Possibly not, but we already have had a brief discussion on vacations since another coworker is planning an out-of-state trip the same month and we all have been in the office as an essential service throughout. The thought was let’s see how things look as we get closer – the situation is too fluid to make any firm decisions. Good luck, stay healthy.

  52. Observer*

    #1 – You’ve gotten a lot of good comments. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see on issue addressed, which is your company’s quarantine policy. As much as I question this guy’s judgement, you have no standing to complain about a possible effect of the situation which is TOTALLY on your company. That is, the policy that forbids someone from working till they get a doctor’s note. Now, if people had to come in to the office, I would ABSOLUTELY be cheering you on – no one wants someone who is sick and contagious coming in to work and infecting others. But why on earth do that to people who are working remotely? There is just no good reason for that.

    1. LGC*

      I think it’s in some sub-threads – basically, for the employer to be eligible for COVID sick leave, the employee might not be allowed to work. Or at least, that’s the explanation I saw.

      1. That'll happen*

        Right, but if the employee isn’t sick enough not to work they don’t need to take the leave. The covid leave is up to 2 weeks but that doesn’t mean the employee has to take all of it or any of it at all. This argument makes no sense.

      2. Observer*

        Yes, I saw after I posted. As That’ll Happen says, the argument makes no sense.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I wondered this as well. I was exposed and quarantined for 14 days, but as a remote employee I was able to work as I saw fit. My boss was explicitly clear that I needed to take off if I had symptoms – or if I just wanted to have some time off! – without using PTO. Working for those 2 weeks was the only thing that kept me from going absolutely bananas, especially since I never developed symptoms and I live alone.

  53. agnes*

    It’s a false assumption to think that your coworkers are making similar choices to your own when they are not at work. If you start denying people vacation time based on how they are using it, all you are going to do is drive people underground. Same with other behaviors.

    we are all going to have to get used to the people around us having different levels of comfort with risk. People are more likely to be honest about their behavior when they aren’t getting lectured or judged or yelled at about it. We need that honesty from them so we can make informed decisions about our own behavior–for example, I need to know that you are going to work every day using public transport so I can decide how much interaction I am comfortable having with you. Not to judge your choices, but to protect myself.

  54. Fleezy*

    I have a similar question to #5, in that my company changed people in my position from FT salaried exempt to PT hourly. The decision made sense because we were closed due to the pandemic and people in my position were the only ones working at all and there wasn’t enough to do full-time. But then they brought us back to FT hourly last week and said we’d be going back to salaried exempt at the beginning of the pay period. When that got close, we got another email saying that since most of our offices hadn’t been able to resume normal operations, we have to stay on hourly for the rest of the month and go back to exempt on June 1st (when our shelter-in-place order is presumed to be lifted). Does anyone know if they can swap us back and forth like that? If it matters, I work in dental and my counterparts are all the same position in other locations.

    1. That'll happen*

      Switching back and forth is definitely frowned upon, and can lead to problems for your employer. They need to keep documentation as to why they’re making this change. Do your job duties actually qualify you to be exempt?

      1. LizardOfOdds*

        Came here to say this. While employers do have some wiggle room here, I don’t think they can swap someone from salaried exempt to hourly non-exempt without some job duty changes. This type of change would require a job reclassification.

        Last I checked, “we’re hiring financially” is not an acceptable job reclassification reason. If the role responsibilities, complexity, and scope didn’t change, but the person is working less hours – that’s not a reason to reclassify the role (and then reclassify it again).

  55. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    And here’s why you don’t want to know people’s vacation plans!

    One of our very important managers takes long motorcycle trips for vacation. He’s also a casual rider. I’m terrified when I see him come to work in the summer because I lost my uncle and others in bike accidents. But. It’s life and people take a risk every day they wake up.

    I slipped outta the shower and was out for a week. My boss got a nasty GI bug while on an international trip and got stranded there for almost 2 weeks.

    You really cannot dwell on people’s decisions outside of work. If you were working from the office, then naturally you have to take precautions with the 2 week quarantine. So these days in that situation, lots of places are asking about travel plans and having people be up front due to the risks involved to the entire company.

    Please don’t hitch your cart to one pony, it’d suck if we lost anyone for a length of time but we have backup plans and depend on no one person that much that 2 weeks out sick after a vacation is going to actively harm us as an organization!

  56. goducks*

    Regarding #4. I’m coming from the point of view of a manager who has had a strong reputation for hiring exceptional people for clerical/admin roles. At my former company, it got to the point where whenever someone wanted an admin, they’d just try to take my people from my small staff. Which was frustrating as all get-out. I’d have a hire for six months and that person would be seen as competent, capable and a real asset to the company, and another manager would have an opening that was a tiny step-up, and would rather recruit my staff than look outside the organization for a quality candidate externally. It was awful, because the fellow managers would get a known superstar who already knew the company and the culture and all the computer systems, and I’d have to begin the arduous task of hiring and training. I never blocked an employee from getting a step-up in their career, but I was really frustrated with fellow managers who made their need to go through hiring and training into my need to hire and train. It fostered ill-will internally after awhile.

    1. Important Moi*

      May be offer to help other managers spot a good employee?

      I am glad you don’t begrudge you employees carrier opportunities.

  57. Quill*

    I love to climb but I have very limited ability to do so. Though I think for a bit there it was the next “barefoot running”

  58. LW #1*

    Thanks Alison and commenters!

    I have approved the PTO request. My employee thanked me and then asked me to keep the details he provided me confidential and said he understands the sensitivy of the situation. He said that if anyone asks him what he is doing during his time off, he will only say he is taking care of a personal family matter. He previously told me he will comply with social distancing and that he will wear a mask the whole time.

    Do I have an ethical duty to inform HR to see if we can enforce a 2 week quarantine in the unlikely event that we have in-person company business within 2 weeks of his return?

    He is generally my most conscientious employee, but he seems to have blind spots in his personal life.

    I still don’t feel good about it but I will keep my opinion to myself unless asked.

    1. Allonge*

      “Do I have an ethical duty to inform HR to see if we can enforce a 2 week quarantine in the unlikely event that we have in-person company business within 2 weeks of his return?”

      I would say you have a management duty to ask this question in general, without names, to HR and your management. You don’t have to say why this occurred to you – it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Set up a policy, now. Not for this one employee, for all of your employees, BEFORE they all go wherever they want to (or can).

      For the recurd, a reasonable-ish version of this looks like: If travelling X distance from your workplace, you will be asked to quarantine yourself for 14 days before coming to the office. You can still WFH and spend your quarantine in WFH. If there is a specific, real, non-made-up need for you to come to the office during these days, you need to take leave for that day (as you cannot actually come to the office). Make a good faith attempt to make this work. And, you know, good for you to ask about this (seriously) rather than just acting based on instinct, that is a sign of an excellent manager.

  59. Mayflower*

    RE: Manager wants to be bcc’d on emails

    BCC has one and only one (!) ethical function: to protect the inbox and identity of the BCC’d recipient.


    * Protecting individual recipients from reply-all when copying a large group of people
    * Protecting client-attorney privilege when copying a client on an email to a 3rd party
    * Protecting medical information when copying a patient on an email to a 3rd party
    * Protecting newletter subscribers inboxes
    * Protecting a VIP’s email

    In the context of school, the administrator should be CC’d – not BCC’d. Parents and other third parties should not be “recorded” without their knowledge and consent. It’s eavesdropping at best.

    In any case, why hide behind BCC? It’s easy enough to have an email signature explaining that school administration is always CC’d as a matter of policy.

  60. Dagny*

    LW4: Here’s another problem with that policy. If the current manager is harassing an employee, creating a hostile work environment, or a very bad match for a good employee, you don’t want to block an employee from moving. (Legally, you are required to move the offender, not the victim, but if the victim wants to take a promotion in another department, that’s also a good solution.)

    This isn’t hypothetical; I had a manager who refused to sign off on my transfer and told me I had to stay and endure the harassment. They did not like the lawsuit that followed.

  61. DataQueen*

    I’m really surprised by the people saying it’s somehow unethical to BCC your manager! A third party outside the company, sure, but anyone internally? Especially your manager? No way!

    I BCC my manager all the time! Anything ranging from “I want you to know this happened and might forget to tell you later” to “I want you to know this happened but not have to deal with all the thanks emails” to “I’m sending this sternly worded email to a low performing staff member and want you to know about it in case she goes over my head to fight it” to “Fergus in shipping is being a butthead and i want you to know it’s happening because i might need to bring you into it later”.

    I agree that insisting on it is micro-manager-y, but i don’t think there’s anything unethical about it.

  62. JustMePatrick*

    Regarding #4. Uh, what a Mess. Here is how the company I work for handles Internal Hiring.
    We have an internal Job-Opening System website that posts open positions within the company. This is entirely controlled by HR, with opening posted according to Manager’s need for a given department. Job’s that are basically lateral moves don’t require interviews. Jobs that are basically promotions require interviews.

    Noninterview positions are chosen based on not having an active written warning, length of service (seniority), and how long you’ve been at your current position (you must stay in your current position for at least 6 months). Persons accepting the move have 2 weeks to change their minds and go back to their old department (they are required to stay another 6 months before applying for another position).

  63. DimmieD*

    On LW1, I hope I’m not too late to the game to ask a follow up question on a related subject.

    Can an employer fire a customer facing or non-remote employee , or otherwise reprimand them, if they are engaging in high risk activities without face masks, but only on their own time.

    Specifically a friend and I were talking about the people protesting wearing masks. These protests get enough media coverage, and the people involved seem pretty active on social media anyway, thus it’s pretty plausible that an employer would find out if someone was doing that in their own time. However, I’d say the same would apply to anything similar. Like an employee who decided to resume their recreational tackle football league, or man a kissing booth for charity, etc.

    What rights would employers have if they knew their employees were engaging in high risk activities in their personal time ?

  64. nnn*

    #1: I absolutely agree that your employee is being reckless and shouldn’t take this trip, but I’m not sure that you have standing to deny vacation time on the basis of how the employee plans to use it. I don’t think we want to set the precedent of vacation time being granted only for things that the employer deems acceptable.

  65. toxic avenger*

    I once worked with a client who instructed her reports to BCC her on every email sent to my team. It was incredibly disconcerting to see her chime in at random times. Granted, her department was notoriously difficult, distrustful of anyone outside their team, and had a very us vs. them mentality. My role had endured a ridiculously high turn over (4 people in 4 years) because they were so difficult. My team always tried to pin it on whoever in my role “just wasn’t working out.”

  66. Anon for this one*

    OP2 (outsourcing) – I would be inclined to indirectly bring up the subject without explicitly asking about “IT being outsourced” or mentioning the calendar entries. Depending on what you find out prepare for a job search.

    Asking about this directly is more likely to generate a “no” answer and a lot more ‘private’ meetings entered in the calendar and then you have lost visibility of them.

  67. Cassie*

    I rarely ever use bcc – to me, it feels like I’m trying to be sneaky. If I need to loop someone in, I will cc them. The only time I use bcc is if I want to copy myself (or another one of my email addresses).

    As for supervisors or other coworkers keeping up to date on the goings-on, I’d suggest using a shared mailbox and just cc’ing that email address. That way, everyone won’t get copies but will be able to read the emails if necessary.

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