a questionable mug, unpaid volunteers at a yoga studio, and more

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

1. Is this mug inappropriate for work?

I want to bring my favorite mug into the office—it’s a silly mug with a picture of a cat with a pentagram that says, “Puuurrraise Satan,” but my mom (she works in another branch of the same company) cautioned me not to bring it into the office or even use it on video calls because our CEO is older and deeply religious and would take offense.

The thing is, I never see him as I rarely have calls with him and he doesn’t come into our office, so I feel like it’s not a big deal. Also I feel like the mug is clearly a joke and even if not, is it inappropriate to have a “religious” mug? I imagine a mug with a proverb on it would be fine, so why not mine?

Some people are going to find it inflammatory and/or offensive, and probably not just your CEO. You might decide you’re okay with that, but if you don’t feel strongly about the mug and/or your right to have it, I wouldn’t spend the capital; I’d just find another mug.

To be clear, that’s not the advice I’d give you if the mug reflected your religious beliefs, but it doesn’t sound like you’re actually a satanist. You’re legally entitled to keep religious items in personal work areas that aren’t regularly open to the public to whatever extent you’re allowed non-religious expression there. (In other words, they can’t have different rules for the religious stuff than they have for other personal things, so they couldn’t allow a mug promoting the NFL while banning a mug with a bible quote on it.)

But it doesn’t sound like this is a religious item for you; rather, you described it as a silly mug. And generally it’s not worth causing professional tension over silly mugs.

2. Should I tell my yoga studio their unpaid volunteers are illegal?

You answered a question similar to this in the past, but this is a different take and I’m curious what your response would be.

I belong to a small yoga studio. There is one owner, three teachers, less than 100 students. It is definitely a for-profit business. I like the environment and the owner.

A small handful of students (less than 10) volunteer to help with tasks. They water the plans, sweep the floors, restock the bathrooms, and do the laundry. They have a special name for this group, “Karma Queens” (the implication of karma is icky to me). They get public, sincere thanks for helping, but are not paid at all. There is a blurb on the website soliciting volunteers for this group.

As a student, what is my obligation to raise this as (most likely) illegal, since for-profit businesses are supposed to pay anyone who works for them? On the one hand, it seems like most of the volunteers are pretty close to the owner and thus are doing this as a favor they would probably do anyway. However, seeing this as an explicit volunteer group is kind of off-putting, especially with the implication that these people are garnering “karma.” If it was under-the-table, I probably wouldn’t have such a problem with it, and these are all adults who can make their own decisions.

I also really like the studio, it has been one of the most positive yoga experiences I have had in the past decade of practicing. A case could be made for letting the teacher know so that she doesn’t get in trouble in the future. So: What obligation does a client have to a business who is using unpaid labor?

Aggh, yoga studios. They love doing this, and yes, it’s illegal.

I don’t think you’re obligated to speak up as client, although that would change the more you felt the volunteers were being exploited. The less well positioned they are to assert themselves (which could be the case because of anything from, say, youth/inexperience to language barriers), the more I’d think you had an obligation to say something.

But there’s also an argument for it being a kindness to let the studio know that if this gets reported, they could be fined and ordered to pay volunteers back-pay for their time — which I’d bet they’re currently oblivious to. (The ubiquity of this kind of arrangement means people are often totally shocked to learn it violates the law.) That said, you’d want to be prepared to be treated as on some level hostile to the studio’s well-being for raising it … which is obviously ridiculous, but is a thing that can happen.

3. How much heads-up should I give my boss about a COVID-19 scenario?

My sister is a front-line health care worker. She always has been my hero and my best friend. Back at the onset of the pandemic, I made her a promise: if she and her partner were to contract COVID and became too ill to take care of their two, preschool-aged children, I would come to their house to care for them. If this happens, I don’t know how much time I would need off of work: presumably a few weeks to take care of my nephews, and then if I contracted the virus myself, another few weeks — hopefully just a few. At any rate, there is no one else in my family who could step up, and it is the very least I can do to support my sister, after all she has risked and sacrificed.

Back when I made this promise, I decided I would not tell my boss preemptively. She’s very level-headed and compassionate, and I’m pretty sure she’d support my decision. But I work for a small nonprofit in a senior leadership position; we’re a tightly run ship, and I’m currently leading about half a dozen projects at the moment. Telling my boss back in March of a possibility that I could be out for a month without any warning would just add to her stress level without giving her any real outlet for contingency planning. I mean, what could she do? Shelve all my projects until there’s a vaccine?

Up until this point, my sister has found a low incidence of Coronavirus among her patients, and her risk of exposure was low. Then she learned yesterday that one of her colleagues, with whom she had spent multiple hours, has tested positive for COVID. She won’t know if she has contracted the virus for a few more days — she has to wait to get tested, and then wait to get the results. I’m terrified for her.

I’m wondering whether this is the right moment to tell my boss about my promise to take care of my nephews, or if I should (a) wait to see if her test comes back positive, or (b) wait to see whether her test comes back positive and she and her partner experience symptoms so severe that they need me to step in. My gut is that the answer is (a), but incidence of Coronavirus is rising in our state and I have a feeling that even if my sister dodges a bullet this time, what was once a vague possibility is now a much more likely scenario.

I’d actually say B — wait until her test comes back positive and she needs you to step in to help, if that happens. That may never come to pass, so giving your boss a heads-up now isn’t really actionable info for her. It’s likely to stress her out without being useful in any practical ways. Cross that bridge if and when you need to. I hope you won’t need to!

4. My old boss keeps tagging me in LinkedIn posts

This is a fairly low-stakes question, but it’s bugging me. My boss, the head of our department, left my organization back in December and has recently decided to try and become an independent consultant. He is posting quite a bit on LinkedIn, and keeps tagging me (and the rest of his former employees/my current team) in his posts, asking us to weigh in. I suspect he is actually trying to get us to like or comment on his posts so they receive more visibility. I didn’t like my boss when I was working for him, in part because I found him to be smarmy and self-serving, and being tagged in his posts really aggravates me. So far I’ve just been ignoring his posts and hoping he’ll stop tagging me, but he’s still doing it. I’m probably tagged in 1-2 posts a week. Should I just keep ignoring him, or is there anything I can do to get him to stop?

Yeah, if you’re not engaging back, at some point this is a form of spam. But you can stop him from doing it! LinkedIn has a setting where you can prevent people from tagging you. (It’ll prevent everyone from doing it, not just him, but you could always change that setting back in a month or so once you’ve —hopefully — broken him of the habit.)

You can also remove individual tags from individual posts if you want — which is a more passive-aggressive way of doing it but might be satisfying.

Of course, there’s also the option of asking him to stop, but “stop tagging me” can feel like a petty thing to say (at least to anyone who’s never been annoyed by this kind of campaign), so you’re likely better off with one of the two options above.

5. Who do I address my cover letter to?

Who do I address a cover letter to if I don’t know who is in charge of hiring?

This is directed towards a small/medium sized law firm (about 8-10 lawyers). There is no indication that they have a formal HR/hiring department.

Would it seem presumptuous to address it to the name partner who is the principal or head of the office? Or do I go with a generic greeting? Normally I would try to track down and find who to address it to, but again, it’s unclear which of them is going to be doing the hiring.

“Dear hiring manager” is fine. No one sensible cares whether you take the time to track down a name or not. (But don’t do “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam,” both of which are dated.)

Also, apropos of very little, let this serve as my periodic reminder that the hiring manager isn’t the person who manages all the hiring for an organization, but rather the person who will be your boss if you’re hired for the job.

{ 583 comments… read them below }

  1. D3*

    Would the yoga arrangement still be illegal if the “volunteers” were receiving free or reduced price classes in exchange for their help running things? Because I used to do some office work at my daughter’s dance studio in exchange for (at first) a discount and later, as I took on more responsibility, free classes for my daughter.
    Honestly never occurred to me it could be a problem, and OP might not know if that’s the case. None of the other dance moms at the studio had any idea.

    1. Reba*

      I worked in an arrangement like this at an art studio type business — I worked in exchange for access to the equipment and some supplies on off days. I actually learned a ton and loved my time there. In-kind agreements like this are common in a lot of creative and community-minded places.

      Several years after I left there was a DOL investigation, which I learned about when I received a check for back wages.

      1. Seal*

        I did the same thing years ago with an improv theater, where I got to take classes for free in exchange for working at their box office and concession stand. Never occurred to me that might be illegal, although in retrospect it wouldn’t surprise me, given all the corners they cut and how abusive they were towards many of their students. I too learned a lot there, but interestingly it was less about improv and more about the less-attractive parts of human nature.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Was the theater a nonprofit organization? Many arts organizations are (if they’re not, they should register as one), and nonprofits are allowed to use volunteers.

            1. Seal*

              Not to my knowledge. They did (and still do) a significant amount of business with improv-based corporate workshops, which made up a good chunk of their revenue.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            Hey! Not sure if you saw the answer to this below but in case you didn’t – she was saying that whatever the “volunteer” (employee) is getting in exchange needs to have a clear monetary value assigned, and it needs to be reported to the IRS and taxed, so I think free classes wouldn’t cut the mustard.

            1. Ego Chamber says eat the rich*

              No, that’s exactly the issue: if the company is compensating employees with goods/services instead of wages, the value of the goods/services still need to be reported and taxed. (This varies by state. Some specify that wages must be cash, others don’t disallow a barter system. But taxes are required.)

      2. YA Author*

        Oh! I had no idea. In college, I worked for a fancy gym for a while in just this sort of arrangement. I unlocked the doors and checked in guests on Sunday mornings in exchange for gym usage and a few personal training sessions.

        I did a lot of homework at that desk at 6 am, and I still associate Shakespeare with the scent of chlorine and a particular sense of exhaustion.

      3. Amity*

        Wow, that’s really interesting! I wonder though–if the studio is required to pay back wages, can they collect in exchange for equipment usage/rental, or for the supplies?

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I highly doubt it. The two aren’t really connected in this case, and there wasn’t any pre-existing agreement such as “If you don’t volunteer, the market rate for these supplies you’re using would be $xx per week.”
          But you’re right that as that business, you’re losing out on both ends. (Understandably, that’s the cost of breaking the law, but still.)

    2. Verde*

      I was wondering this, as well. My mom (and me when I was old enough) did work-study at the dance studio in echange for classes. It was a nonprofit, though, so I wonder if that’s part of it.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Yes, nonprofit companies are allowed to use volunteers. For-profit businesses are not, for reasons related to the history of profiting off unpaid labor.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Nonprofits (in the US, at least) can have volunteers, although I don’t know what are the specific guidelines. For-profits can’t. I work for a nonprofit academic library and we routinely have retired academics as volunteers. We’re very careful to keep things above-board and these are the kinds of people who would care that things were done legally.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          Same. And we have to be careful about what we have the volunteers doing. We have paid student workers as well as paid full time employees, and we can’t use the volunteers to “replace” a paid employee. So we have students scanning photos. We can’t have the volunteer scan just any old photos. But our “bird expert” volunteer can scan and identify bird photos that the students would not have the expertise to identify. We have had volunteers doing a lot of work with maps, and other more technical things. Not sure how much of that is required by the campus and how much is law, but…

    3. Aphrodite*

      My town has a yoga studio that does this. They periodically post on CraigsList that in exchange for cleaning, etc. the “volunteers” get a certain number of free classes. People must come and go because it’s a semi-regular ad.

      1. MK*

        If by “my town” you mean some kind of local goverment authority, there are usually special rules for those.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          Not to put words in Aphrodite’s mouth (hands?), I assume she meant “the town I live in” rather than “the town government of the town I live in.”

      1. Working out for free is almost never worth it*

        This is really enlightening and I wonder how it’s become so commonplace in the fitness industry? I did a “work exchange” at a studio for a very brief period but quickly went back to being a paying customer. Interestingly, the work exchange folks were limited to specific classes. Paying customers got first pick, then other instructors. So that left very few spots available and they were always at crappy times. So really it wasn’t worth it.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          A bunch of the original companies to run gyms/rec centers were nonprofits (the YMCA, YWCA, YJCC, Boys and Girls Clubs for kids, etc.) I’m guessing that as for-profits entered the field later, they copied the precedent the nonprofits had set without thinking the implications through all the way.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            This would make sense but honestly, I think the more likely explanation is that people don’t know about this law, it doesn’t “seem” like free labor, and both parties feel that it’s an even (enough) exchange, without thinking that minimum wage, labor law, taxes, or anything else factors into it.

            I think it’s just the casual nature of some transactions intersecting with people’s common sense/intuition, which happens to be incorrect in this case.

      2. NYWeasel*

        What if it’s positioned as a barter arrangement? I didn’t think those were illegal (though I’m really leaning on info a friend told me 15 years ago so…subject to error!)

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It would still be subject to taxes (which can’t be paid in trade) and the value would still need to equate to at least minimum wage, so there would need to be some actual cash involved at some point.

    4. Pennyworth*

      If they are getting a benfit with a monetary value it would much better to pay them for their work and let them use that money to pay for the classes.

      1. dawbs*

        And you can give steep employee discounts, if the reality is that someone wants to spend the money there.

        I’ve worked for crap wages when one of the benefits was ‘significantly discounted/free classes for people in my household’
        (I think works out more or less the same for the business, but it means taxes are paid and it’s on the up-and-up. If they pay minimum wage and employee classes cost the same amount they’re paid, wouldn’t it be close. But more paperwork. But more legal!)

        Although I do wonder if it’s legal when the ‘company store’ thing that happens.
        I know a hobby shop that paid employees $x, but paid them $x+10% if they basically treated their checks as script spent in the hobby shop. It never rubbed right for a few reasons.

    5. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I don’t live in the US and I don’t think this type of arrangement is illegal in my country, so I find the topic quite fascinating.

      I’d be interested to know what prompted this legislation. Are people who love being at the yoga studio so much that they would rather sweep floors and water plants, than go home or go to a movie, significantly at risk of being exploited?

      Are they more likely to be exploited than unpaid volunteers for a non profit, and is there any legislation governing this setup?

      Does it make any difference if the unpaid worker is getting discounted classes or access to the studio in off hours, or some other non monetary compensation?

      Would the whole problem go away if the owner simply paid the volunteers a token amount every week? Or would they have to be formally registered as employees?

      1. Barbara Eyiuche*

        They would have to pay them minimum wage and they would have to be registered as employees, for taxes.

        1. PollyQ*

          Yes, it’s not that there’s specific anti-yoga-volunteer legislation, it’s that all people who work for a for-profit business need to be paid in actual money.

          1. JKP*

            Paid in actual money, because the IRS wants their cut, and the IRS doesn’t accept free yoga classes as payment.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              In my country you can receive payment in kind, but it is taken into account for taxes, and it cannot take you more than a certain level below minimum wage.

              So as a hugely oversimplified example, you work full time at a big theme park and are accommodated on site. Minimum wage is $10/h and the value of your accommodation is (40×$3) per week. Your employer still has to pay you at least $9/h and you’ll be taxed as if you earned $12/h. The value of the perk doesn’t affect the minimum they can pay you in actual money; it only affects your tax liability.

              I have never heard of the kind of arrangement described by LW so I suspect it is similarly illegal here.

              1. Katrinka*

                This sort of arrangement is not uncommon here. Things like college RAs, live-in nannies, estate caretakers, etc. The worker still has to be listed as an employee of the company/person and the housing has to have a monetary value placed on it, then that gets included as part of the employee’s compensation. And gets taxed. And the total compensation can’t fall below minimum wage.

            2. NerdyKris*

              It’s not because the IRS wants their cut, its because that system of being paid in things you can only redeem at the company you work for was a way of keeping slavery going. Mine owners would pay in company scrip to ensure that their miners could never leave. It led to bloody, violent strikes and actual military engagements.

              We have laws about paying everyone in cash because unscrupulous people will take advantage of it otherwise, not because the IRS wants money.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Yeah, this. The yoga studio is a nice gentle example, and in this specific case these volunteers could probably walk away from the arrangement if they weren’t happy without significant repercussions. But that’s not where these laws came from – the history of laws like this is one of companies treating people abominably.

              2. EPLawyer*

                Well not only because the IRS wants money. The main reason is as you stated — to keep workers from being exploited. But the IRS always wantts their share.

                The laws were designed to keep businesses from having “volunteers” while the company kept all the profit. Then the volunteers of course had no money to buy things like food and housing.

                Even the yoga studio is getting SOME benefit from this unpaid labor which helps maximize their profits. While the workers get nothing but the warm fuzzies and probably some sense of superiority over the members of the studio. The whole Karma Queens thing just gives me the willies. Want to be they are first in line for popular classes? Which is a whole other problem. If the ones who volunteer gets special advantages people will leave that studio because they don’t want to deal with the in clique getting all the goodies.

              3. Smithy*


                This is also how a lot of modern-day domestic slavery functions in the US. The employer/trafficker has paid for their domestic slaves to enter the country or travel across state lines and provides ongoing room/board. The “wages” paid are explained as compensating the employer/trafficker for their initial expenses, and the debt can continue to increase for ongoing necessities (i.e. soap, shampoo) or medical care.

                Those who arrived from abroad are kept in the shadows out of legal fears or having their traffickers hold their passports. But often these dynamics happen with fellow citizens that are young family members, naive, or vulnerable in other ways – such as teens who might otherwise be homeless and see this as the only way to get off the street.

                So while yes – these yoga/creative studios may truly not be engaging in any wildly inappropriate abuse of power, there are plenty that do. It also brings to mind how many companies ended up using “internships” as a way of getting free entry-level staff. This is hardly just about the IRS, and also still very relevant today.

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  Yeah, this. With labor rules, a lot of time the person with less power can’t volunteer to waive the rule – I discovered early on that I had to take a lunch break at a job, even if I would rather have worked through it. And that’s how it should be, because if it’s possible to allow someone to volunteer, there will be plenty of times when power dynamics mean that someone is pressured against their will to work without appropriate payment.

              4. IL JimP*

                exactly look up the history of the Pullman company and the history of the company store to see why this was outlawed

            3. Littorally*

              I mean, that’s the cynical side of it, but the other side is the long history pre-labor regulations of workers receiving payment in company scrip instead of cash. That’s fundamentally the same as getting paid in free yoga lessons.

              1. wittyrepartee*

                Extra fun when you use your company scrip to pay for your company housing’s rent.

                1. JustaTech*

                  My brother was working at a cash-only business and renting an apartment from his boss (don’t do that!) when his boss paid him in counterfeit bills. My brother tried to deposit the money and the bank was like “no”, but the boss still wanted to be paid rent, even though he had essentially not paid my brother his wages.

                  (And then the boss wanted my brother to lie to the Secret Service about the counterfeit bills. Yeah, even my doofus brother isn’t that dumb.)

                2. dawbs*

                  yup, that whole ‘you pay us out of your wages’ is tricky.

                  I ‘know’ a local businessman who I have heard described as a slumlord.
                  He owns a lot of rather lousy rental properties (I have been in them. Family members lived in them) and his tenants are inevitably his very low level employees (many of whom are members of vulnerable populations).

                  I’m not sure he takes money directly out of the paychecks (he might), but the buildings get worse and worse and the employees don’t dare make complaints to their bosses or to the city because of the repercussions to their job or housing situation.
                  It’s kinda awful and kinda an open secret and I don’t know the solution.

            4. Observer*

              It’s not just about the IRS getting it’s cut- that can be dealt with. The bigger issue is that in the vast majority of cases these arrangement mean that the worker is being paid far below minimum wage. And that wage legislation exists for a reason.

        1. NerdyKris*

          It’s not illegal because of taxes, it’s illegal because it prevents the employee from being able to leave without being penniless.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Well, subject to local laws and exceptions.
          I am in the UK and am aware that there are a very small number of situations where it can be legal to do unpaid work – unpaid work trials as part of the recruitment process, some forms of internship where they are part of a college course are the ones I am aware of. There may be others and presumably other countries may have their own similar exemptions.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If I recall correctly, it is written broadly because it addresses a wide range of historic abuses from unpaid labor to ‘company scrip’ payment practices.

      3. Georgina Fredrika*

        this sort of arrangement is fine and great until someone gets injured or something with liability and then it’s a very tangled mess!

        In my limited experience, for-profits can sometimes be more exploitative by nature of what they can offer? (Like you’re more willing to do more because you perceive a greater gain)
        Gyms, yoga studios, bakeries etc. can give you useful stuff… what can you get from a non-profit cat clinic? Cats?

        But I don’t think laws are in place for this sort of thing anyway

        1. Sister Michael*

          “…what can you get from a non-profit cat clinic? Cats?“

          That is the dream! The beautiful, impractical dream.

        2. TL -*

          I used to volunteer at a non-profit dance/culture center for class and activity hours (dance, language classes, and movie events.) It’s still my favorite volunteer experience, and I loved being able to take classes for ‘free.’

        3. Arabella Flynn*

          Well, I can’t speak to yoga studios, but I volunteer at a dance non-profit that compensates volunteers with free classes and studio rental time. I’ve gotten a lot of VERY expensive specialized dance training for little or no money. A year of professional flamenco classes totaled $50, I think. (That’s not even counting the rehearsal space I use, for which I would otherwise owe them several hundred dollars a month.) So if the services they offer amount to education you can use outside of the non-profit, the arrangement can be pretty lucrative.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            It’s also very typical for non-profit fan conventions to offer free memberships for volunteers in exchange for a certain number of volunteer hours (these cons sell memberships instead of tickets), but that’s coming more from a place of “it’s not fair to make you pay money to come to an event that you’ll be spending 16-20 hours of behind a desk and won’t really be able to see most of” rather than as compensation. (These events run entirely on volunteers, so there are a lot of positions that aren’t particularly “fun” that need coverage. I’ve spent shifts running the manga library at the local anime con or shifts working the lost and found/ops desk at an SF con, for example.) Some cons do make you buy memberships (often at a discounted rate) in order to volunteer, but most comp volunteer memberships at this point.

            It feels less sketchy when you know that no one, from the convention chair on down to the person washing dishes in the con suite, is getting paid.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Although it’s kind of fun being Badge Guard at the huckster room and saying hi to Larry Niven!

      4. TMP*

        I don’t think this scenario is so much about exploitation as it is about the government getting their cut with payroll taxes. If they exchange services for labor – the govt is cut out of the equation. Plus, there is the “what if” side. Such as what if they get injured in some way while performing the work – if no official record of them “working” there exists then there is no workers comp insurance to cover medical expenses.

    6. fhqwhgads*

      The premise of the originally referenced yoga letter was about volunteering in exchange for free classes and the answer there was nope, illegal, so I’d assume free and/or discounted classes are still a no-go. Unless the dance studio is a non-profit.

    7. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      Would the yoga arrangement still be illegal if the “volunteers” were receiving free or reduced price classes in exchange for their help running things?

      Remove “reduced price” from the equation. Wouldn’t this then be considered a barter situation? The “volunteers” are giving their time and labor, not in exchange for money but in exchange for something of value (free classes).

        1. JKP*

          The link you provided actually says this:
          “The idea behind bartering is that an independent contractor offers a business owner goods or services in exchange for something from the business….Because no employer-employee relationship exists, these arrangements are not generally subject to minimum wage laws.”

          So does the minimum wage requirement hinge on whether the person bartering could be classified as an independent contractor or would need to be classified as an employee?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right. The article addressed two different scenarios: if they legally qualify to be treated as independent contractors, or if they don’t (in which case they must be viewed as employees). In the OP’s example, based on the description of their work, the volunteers wouldn’t meet the requirements for independent contractors. Thus, the minimum wage obligations.

            (But yes, if they could be legally classified as independent contractors, they could in theory barter, but the value of the goods or services received would need to be reported to the IRS. It’s not the case here though.)

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Presumably that would be more like if an interior designer revamped the studio and accepted a year’s classes as payment.

            2. cmcinnyc*

              I bartered yoga classes in exchange for setting up a database for a yoga studio. I was freelancing exclusively (all my income reported on 1099s, not W2s), filing/paying quarterly taxes, and worked mostly independently for a variety of clients. I think that scenario was legal because of the type of work I did. Sweeping up and watering plants is hard to sell as freelance work unless you are running a cleaning service. If you were indeed a freelance or small biz owner who did cleaning and maintenance for gyms and yoga studios, you could probably get away with this kind of trade.

              1. Georgina Fredrika*

                You filed the barter with the IRS? ” they could in theory barter, but the value of the goods or services received would need to be reported to the IRS.” That seems to be the key.
                Getting away with something (which happens often) isn’t the same as it being legal

                1. cmcinnyc*

                  In-kind donations yes. I had and made in-kind trades and my accountant tracked it all so I don’t have a total grasp on the rules. Honestly, barter kind of sucks. I would always rather get paid and pay in cash. But “get away with it” meaning–I don’t think I would have gotten in trouble nor gotten the yoga studio in trouble, even if we didn’t do it perfectly, because we clearly set out to do a legal, documented trade of services.

        2. schnauzerfan*

          A friend of mine owns a dog training business. She provides the building, carries insurance, teaches some classes herself. Other people teach classes in her building. You know this is Heather’s Puppy K class, or Jens Rally Class. The instructors design and schedule their classes, advertise their classes, and carry their own insurance. Friend will also advertise the classes, and keep track of registrations, collect the money, etc. She gives the instructors their “cut.” She keeps a percentage for rent on the building and overhead. If the instructor wouldn’t make minimum wage on the classes, class in canceled. She hires a service to clean. People complain because she’s hard nosed about it. But I think she stays on the right side of the law.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            It sounds like the instructors are being treated like independent contractors, so the way she’s doing it seems like the right way.

    8. Alice's Rabbit*

      Nope, not legal. Not only do you need to be making at least minimum wage (which I doubt those discounts add up to) but the income needs to be reported for tax purposes as well.

    9. lost academic*

      Fascinating – I will say that the example and Alison’s response made sense to me, but then I considered that every single stable in the known universe operates in this fashion – there are always people who do various chores in exchange for free lessons or a lower board rate. I’m fairly sure the entire economy around barns requires it.

      1. urban teacher*

        I was going to chime in with this. But given how the equestrian community tends to be problematic in employee relations, (see Safesport issues) I am not surprised that many barns still use this model.

      2. doreen*

        They made sense to me also – but now I’m wondering about a common arrangement where one tenant in a small building ( say 2-8 apartments) gets a break on the rent in return for sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling the snow and putting the trash out. It’s not being the super- it’s literally those three things. Although I suppose it might be OK since it’s only a couple of hours a week and the discount probably amounts to at least minimum wage.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I’d be interested to see if that actually works out to minimum wage, but either way it would be illegal because employers can’t hit minimum wage in in-kind donations/services, it has to be money… What they do on top of that is up to them I guess. But any kind of income (cash and in-kind) needs to be reported to the IRS as income, so definitely what the landlord is doing in that context is illegal.

    10. M2*

      I did a similar thing back in the day when I was in college in the UK (so the laws may be a bit different). I couldn’t really afford the yoga classes so in exchange for a free class I signed up for some cleaning and other tasks. The class was 90 minutes and the work was under 60 minutes. I appreciated it at the time because minimum wage after taxes would have not covered the yoga class as this studio was quite expensive.

    11. Meredith*

      Yes. In fact, my food co-op has investigated this extensively. Essentially, you don’t NEED to volunteer there if you’re a member, but if you do, you get a 5% discount on all purchases (for 6 hours of work each year). The determination was that because it was a way for volunteers to participate in the working of the store, but NOT a replacement for actual paid work (a paid employee would not be brought in to fill in if a volunteer shift wasn’t filled) that it was probably not a DOL violation, although it’s kind of vague. Also, the discounts absolutely cost the co-op more than paying someone starting wage would for those hours, lol.

    12. Nic*

      I’ve heard of riding stables doing this too – ever occurred to me to question whether it would be illegal, because payment-in-kind seemed like an excellent way to help people access classes (dance, riding, whatever) that were otherwise unaffordable.

      1. Ezri Dax*

        I just want to throw my two cents in here, as a registered member of the Satanic Temple. I would find a mug like this delightful, and I think many other Satanists would too. Most Satanists actually identify as atheist or agnostic; the figure of Satan is more of a metaphorical rallying cry than a figure of worship. And for many members of the Satanic Temple, specifically, poking fun at religious symbols is a deliberate and intentional part of their “practice.”

        1. Catfeinnated "Satanist"*

          Hi! Mug owner here–I actually am a member of TST! And I do identify as agnostic.

          Previous commenters are correct–I found the mug on amazon when I was looking for the mug Gilfoyle uses on Silicon Valley (“Drink Coffee / Praise Satan”).

    1. Ping*

      Some people get upset when you tell them to dial it back. They think trivial things shouldn’t matter. And they shouldn’t. Except…

      Capital is like money. You want to spend it on useful things, not silly junk. And you certainly want enough saved up for emergencies.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        And it doesn’t even sound like OP wants to use capital on this… and it’s hard to take a principled stand on the right to have a mug joking about a religion you don’t share. It’s not just the CEO, presumably people like that hire people who they can relate to, so many of your coworkers may share his beliefs.

        There are so many great mugs out there. Swap out your mug and save your stand for when your non-Christian colleague wants their holiday recognized, or something more meaningful.

        1. Observer*

          It’s not necessarily the CEO hiring people like him, but many types of people could find it offensive. In fact, I could see an actual Satanist finding it offensive, because it’s essentially making fun of the religion.

          Religion is a touchy subject, and it’s a good idea not to joke around about it with people you don’t know well and with whom your entire connection is professional not personal.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            LW1 stated on the previous thread that they are a member of the Satanic Temple and another member stated they wouldn’t find the mug offensive. (Samesies and samesies for me btw.)

            Seems like identifying it as “a silly coffee mug” has confused people. It’s silly in the same sense that my super religious grandma used when she saw a Xmas card with a nativity scene that was mice, meaning the art was silly not that the person thinks the religion is silly.

      2. MK*

        Life is composed mainly of trivial matters. And what counts as trivial is up for debate, which I think is the issue here: to the OP this is trivial because she is not Christian, to some Christians this would not be trivial, but a mockery of their religious beliefs.

        1. Annony*

          I agree. It is up to the individual to decide whether this trivial thing is the line in the sand where it is worth putting up a fuss, spending political capital and dealing with any potential fallout. As an isolated event, using or not using a silly mug really is trivial. But I can see how a person who is in an office that is full of religious people who have bible quotes and proverbs everywhere who is sick of religion being low key pushed on them all day every day feeling like it is worth it to draw their line in the sand and use their “silly” mug regardless of how it would be viewed. Based on the tone of the letter that isn’t the case here but I could see it happening.

        2. Catfeinnated "Satanist"*

          This is correct. I was raised in a non-religious household, so it’s a bit of a shock to me how seriously people take “satanic” things. I am a member of TST, so I don’t literally believe in Satan, but I believe in what he represents: free will, questioning authority, etc.

        3. Ego Chamber*

          I must be misreading this. It seems like you’re saying that a Christian could reasonably interpret a coffee mug referencing another religion in a humorous way as a mockery of Christian beliefs? That is just all kinds of yikes, bordering on “I’m offended that you have a different religion” (and yes I have worked for a place where that was a thing).

      3. LifeBeforeCorona*

        That’s a good way to put it. You can bring in the mug, but Fergus is going to remember how offended he was even if he doesn’t speak up at the time. A year from now, Fergus doesn’t recommend you for a project because he feels your judgement is lacking. Unfair? Yes, but such is office life.

      4. EPLawyer*

        This is such an awesome way to explain it:

        “Capital is like money. You want to spend it on useful things, not silly junk. And you certainly want enough saved up for emergencies.”

        This is not the hill to die on, or even bother wandering up the trail. It’s a mug that you are not particulary attached to. Resisting some very good advice from your mother (hey good parental advice FINALLY) will just harm you in the long run. It’s not worth it to show “I do what I want.”

        1. Smithy*

          This has been a couple weeks of “get your parents out of your professional life!” – but this is a great example of a parent giving good insight on enough aspects of the workplace culture. Now maybe mom works in the CEO’s office, and the OP works on a warehouse loading dock where there’s more room for very different cultures within one workplace. But that aside, I do think it’s good enough insight to know there might be enough of a conservative workplace vibe where this is just not worth the capital.

          Now if over the next few weeks you see all sorts of cheekier/adult humor among other colleagues personal office decor – maybe it’s worth reassessing. But a quality 30 minutes on Amazon, Etsy, CafePress. etc. will give the OP a wide wide world of mug options to tickle their taste and never having to worry about it.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        The flip side of “trivial things shouldn’t matter” is “trivial things shouldn’t be this hard for you to give up”.

        If it’s the kind of humor where you might need to read the room, leave it at home. If you don’t think it should be a big deal to you coworkers, it shouldn’t be that big a deal to you, either, and you should choose a different mug.

      6. Anne Elliot*

        Let me also add that, as a manager, I would not be offended by the mug, but I would question the judgment of the person who brought it in. In the vast majority of work spaces in the U.S., this would be a provocative thing to display or visibly use, and I would wonder at the motivation and/or good sense of someone who brought in something they should either know or suspect will offend at least some, and maybe many, of their coworkers. To me, this is bringing in a sharp stick to poke people with, and I don’t have to object to the stick in order to conclude its bad judgment to bring it to work.

        Some people will be offended by this mug. You do not need to use this mug at work, you could use a thousand other, unobjectionable ones. So for me this strays into “I do it because I can, and I don’t care how others feel about it” territory, and I think that’s a really bad look in an office.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. I am completely areligious and am not offended by it personally, but it’s provocative and you’d have to be in exactly the right workplace for that to be well-received. It’s a low-value thing to waste capital on.

        2. Daffy Duck*

          You said what I was thinking. Displaying an item at work that doesn’t have significant meaning to you but may offend or inflame others sends a pretty strong signal you don’t mind stirring the pot for amusement. That isn’t the type of person I want to put in a management role or have interacting with clients. If you are happy staying where you are, go ahead and spend your political capital on this – but don’t be surprised if you aren’t cut a break later on with something more important.

      7. Witchy Woman*

        I’ll also point out that trivial is in the eye of the beholder. As a Celtic pagan, I’d be annoyed at this mug. Probably not enough to say anything, but it would definitely inform my opinion of what kind of person you are. There is a long history of people conflating the pentacle with Satanism (pagans don’t believe in Satan, Satan is a Christian deity) and we get tired of correcting this misconception all the time. And I don’t find it particularly kind to make dismissive jokes about a minority group. It’s the definition of punching down.

        In short, you’d be flagging yourself as someone happily ensconced in an oblivious bubble, who is not likely to be in the habit of practicing empathy or self-examination when it comes to how you handle interactions with people who are different from you.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Does your opinion change if the person using the mug is a Satanist who wants to poke fun at the popular misconceptions surrounding their own beliefs, rather than intending it as an insult to pagans (which only makes sense if the person using the mug was confused about 1) pentacle vs pentagram 2) pagan beliefs)?

          You might also want to educate yourself about the Satanic Temple. They do some impressive charity work and advocacy for marginalized groups.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP1 Don’t use it. Even if you mean it as a cat joke, the humor is pointed at the Christian belief in Satan. You don’t have to MEAN offense to CAUSE offense, so using this is gambling that no one walks in who will be offended.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I’m not religious, but I would negatively judge somebody who thought bringing an item like that to work was a good idea. If you can’t reasonably consider the costs and benefits of that, where else is your judgment lacking?

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          That’s kinda where I come down. In general, jokes about sex and religion don’t belong in the workplace, so even if they don’t particularly bother me personally, I’m gonna side-eye someone who doesn’t seem to realize that. There was a … letter? open thread comment? I forget which, a little ways back someone asking if they could carry a bag that said “Good Grammar Is Sexy” or something similar to work, and I believe I responded about the same way to that – it doesn’t offend me, but it’s definitely going to make me question your professional judgement. (Found it – open thread, 20 September 2019)

        2. Delta Delta*

          That’s kind of where I am with this mug. There are plenty of other good mugs that are fun. I also think the fact OP is asking is enough that OP realizes this might cross a line whereas a mug with a cat that says “I hate Mondays” isn’t apt to be at all objectionable.

        3. Georgina Fredrika*

          I wouldn’t bring in this mug unless I felt actually prepared to have discussions about religion, because it sort of opens the door to that. And that’s a whole nother can of worms.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          I’m not religious, either, and take no offense at references to Satan, but I would think this was a juvenile hill to die on and would suspect that somebody who would bring this mug to work had a potentially-annoying shock jock streak.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My office novelty mug is an old Sun Microsystems “JAVA loves you” mug. Our department techie, who knows all too well what a bumbler I am with computers, loves it.

          2. always in email jail*

            You put into words what I could not. 100% agree with this comment. 1. It’s a juvenile thing to waste capital on and I would question your judgment for that choice and 2. the shock jock thing

          3. AKchic*

            That’s how I feel about this too.

            It’s a great mug, but it’s not a great at-work mug. I have a mug for work that says “world’s okayest employee”.
            Not once have I ever brought the “there’s alcohol in here” mug to any of my offices. Some things just aren’t meant for the office. Religion, politics, sexual innuendos, violence, alcohol/drug use, and industry-specific issues (I’m pretty sure nobody in an NFL team office reps another team in the office, for example).

      2. The One True Church of Ecucatholicism*

        Yeah, hide the mug. I’ve speculated on the reason – childhood religious instruction? Personal bad experience with cultists? Etc? – but every so often I’d encounter a person who had *really* *serious* problems with anything that hinted of Satan or magic or the supernatural. It’s kind of freaky because it’s not like someone being offended because you told an off-color joke; it’s more like seeing a pentagram is a “Triggering event”. Just me, but it’s not a hill worth dying on.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          I think this is a very good point. At least some of the people who won’t like the mug are going to truly loathe it, and want little if anything to do with the person using it. Some Christians consider Satan the embodiment of evil (consistent with Biblical teachings) and would never knowingly or voluntarily so much as speak to a person they thought dealt with Satan. Nor would they ever consider Satan or Satanism something to joke about. So at least some of the people who would be offended by this might be SUPER offended. You could permanently damage your relationships in the office, which may or may not be something you care about.

        2. lilsheba*

          I’m an atheist/secular witch, and so probably wouldn’t have a mug like this myself, BUT….I do have things that reflect my witchyness including a mug that says “magic school” on it, and I will and do display those however I like. IF I was part of the satanic religion I would use that mug. Frankly I’m of the opinion that I am going to use whatever I like, and I truly don’t care how it “appears”. I”m sick of people being too concerned with appearances. It’s not important.

          1. allathian*

            Eh, it depends. I wouldn’t go out of my way to potentially offend people at work, either. We need to be able to work with all kinds of people, even some whose opinions we may profoundly disagree with. Sometimes ignorance is bliss and it’s better not to know too much about people’s opinions and attitudes.
            In my country there’s an extreme right-wing party that has something like 20 percent support. So it’s more than likely that some of my coworkers vote for them, but if that’s the case I’d honestly rather not know. One of their MPs got in trouble a few years ago for comparing asylum seekers with invasive species, implying that both need to be eradicated, and in a speech in parliament at that. Last week, they had a vote in parliament to decide whether or not to lift his immunity from prosecution for hate speech. Sadly, they didn’t get the necessary majority (5/6). I would find it hard to behave professionally with someone who I knew without a doubt agreed with that hateful opinion.

    3. CTT*

      When I first started at my current job, I used a Poorly Drawn Arsenal mug that depicted the time that former Arsenal and Chelsea coaches got into a sideline fight, and a few people thought that the man being punched was Trump (they are poorly drawn but not THAT poorly drawn, but I suppose they had him on the brain) and I had to explain who it really was which confused people even more and it was just a lot of energy being devoted to a mug, so I now drink out of it exclusively at home.

      If your mug is going to potentially provoke a reaction other than “I like your mug,” it’s probably best not to bring it to work.

      1. juliebulie*

        I had a similar experience with a Church of the Subgenius mug. Someone wanted to know who BOB was and what was in his pipe etc. and I’m sure it was genuine innocent curiosity, but I realized that it was a lot of work to avoid saying “my mug represents a parody of your religious beliefs.” I keep that one at home now. (Well, OK, right now all the mugs are at home, but you know what I mean.)

      2. Observer*

        If your mug is going to potentially provoke a reaction other than “I like your mug,” it’s probably best not to bring it to work.

        That’s an excellent way to evaluate it.

    4. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

      I’d be unhappy about this mug, because cats have a hard enough time without an association of evil.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I have to respectfully disagree cats are absolutely evil satan spawns when they want to be. But my little guy is cutest evil satan spawn I have ever seen, I love him dearly and he gives the best cuddles.

      2. voluptuousfire*

        Eh…I’m wondering where this OP got the mug because I want it. I adore cats and whenever my cat is sitting in the middle of the hallway cleaning behind, I call it summoning the Dark Lord.

        Then again, my day to day handbag is a tote bag that has a John Waters quote about if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t sleep with them. The latter is the not-so-nice word for sleeping with someone and it’s bleeped out. My sense of humor is a bit off-kilter and while I may have offended someone with this, overall I’ve gotten many compliments on the bag and people even taking pics of it. I’ve brought it to work a few times when I didn’t want to deal with my backpack but no one even noticed.

      3. Catfeinnated "Satanist"*

        OP here. I got the mug not because I think Satan/cats are evil–quite the opposite. I asked the question because I wasn’t fully aware that people would take that much offense to something mentioning Satan and thought my mom was overreacting. I have been well corrected on that front.

        But, if you think of Satan as “evil”, I suggest you look into The Satanic Temple. They’re classified as a religious organization, but they’re more humanist than anything and members are generally atheistic or agnostic. Satan, for TST, is a symbol of free-will and resisting authority when it’s wrong. Also, even biblically–Satan was put in charge of hell, but he’s a prisoner there and his only sin was disobeying god and giving free will to humans. Doesn’t seem so evil to me.

        1. SarcasticAndSassyReverend*

          OP, this makes me so happy. Some of my favorite work has been with TST, and honestly have found it to be a great group.

          Granted, I’m also the chaplain who is constantly explaining exactly what you just did about Satan in the Bible.

          Keep being awesome. I can’t answer as to whether or not that mug with fit your office’s culture, but if you were my co-worker I’d be impressed with your mug choice.

        2. chickaletta*

          OP, I was with you until your second paragraph. Your explanation isn’t wrong, but it ignores the fact that many people do actually associate Satan and pentagrams with evil. It’s like arguing that the swastika is an ancient Indian symbol of luck while dismissing the other meaning it holds.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Except that the Satanic Panic was a bunch of made up bullshit started by Evangelical Christians to weaponize an unhinged conspiracy theory against various oppressed groups to further push their own fringe religious beliefs. Following your stated logic, the Christian cross shouldn’t be displayed in polite company because it’s been co-opted by an apocalypse cult and holds that meaning regardless of its original history or the intent of the person using it.

            The pentagram was a symbol that was unwillingly associated with those who were being targeted by the extremists. When else would you tell someone not to use religious iconography that represents their own religious beliefs because it might be misinterpreted by the ignorant? (Catholics sometimes have this issue with the cross of Saint Peter, which uninformed people will call “a Satanic cross.”)

            1. Taniwha Girl*

              LOL the Satanic Panic was about rock music. Satan as a concept of the embodiment of evil is much older than the 80s.

              Look, The Satanist Temple stands for good things, but they chose Satan as their symbol for a reason. They didn’t pick Shiva or Buddha or make up a new wind spirit with the body of an eagle and the head of a snake. They specifically picked Satan. So it’s pretty disingenuous to say “WeLL iT’s JuSt sATan” when you have to work with devout believers of the religion whose character you borrowed.

        3. lilsheba*

          Exactly! It’s not evil, and people who think it is really need to be educated, and pay attention. I’m seriously considering looking into The Satanic Temple because I love what they stand for. The free will, resisting authority, and indulging in pleasure instead of considering it a “sin”. It sound amazing.

        4. Agathafan*

          Yeah, giving free will to humans is not why he was sent to hell. At least not according to any Bibles I’ve read or churches I’ve visited.

        5. Jackalope*

          This is coming a bit late since I was offline for a few days, so it’s possible no one will see this, but just in case. As someone who is Christian, the understanding of Satan that I got growing up (and still have) is as the incarnation of evil. He represents and embraces hatred, cruelty, torture, genocide, brutality, abuse, and destruction. Someone else posited that this is related to the Satanic Panic from the 90’s, but the view of Satan as the embodiment of evil (or a representative of evil, depending on the era) has been around off and on for hundreds of years.

          I hear you saying that you have a different understanding of who Satan is, and that’s what you are proceeding with in your personal life. To give you an idea of how your mug would be perceived by someone with my background, however, the best example I can come up with is if you had a cute cat/teddy bear/other critter wearing a t-shirt with a Confederate flag and a swastika and with a quote bubble over its head giving a cutesy rewording of an MRA quote. You could try to explain all you want to that Satan represents something else to you and I would try to listen, but given the centuries of Satan as personification of all evil (as described above), it would come off like the people arguing that their confederate flags are just a sign of their culture and have nothing to do with racism. This might sound a bit extreme, but you said you didn’t know about how people feel on this issue, so wanted to give you the best example I could.

    5. Loux in Canada*

      I have a mug with flamingos on it that says “no flocks given” that I used at work before we started working from home! No one ever seemed to mind it; if anything, they found it amusing. But again, this is a know your office thing. Despite working for a government agency, my office is fairly chill.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        I feel like that’s on the safe side of cheeky for most offices. Winks at inappropriate language without crossing the line.

      2. Fleezy*

        Mine says “Oh for {graphic of a fox} sake”. I work at a dental office and have been complimented on it by coworkers and one laughing patient who managed to see it behind the counter, and once it was stolen for the day by a visiting specialist. But one time I had a meeting with the head honcho of my corporation and unthinkingly used it as we were talking. I kept seeing his eyes flick down to it and didn’t make the connection till later. He never said anything and we still have a good working relationship so I still use it, but the conversation was about some new protocols and to this day I wonder if he thought I was using it as a silent commentary!

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I wouldn’t risk it with any kind of religious, or anti-religious, mug, either. Not worth it and bound to upset a lot of people.

      I had a Shakespearean Insults mug that I used in the office. It was with me at my old job, then traveled with me to my current job, and received of compliments at both places. I guess because it was Shakespearean and had his portrait on it, it came across as high-brow enough that nobody cared about it literally being covered top to bottom with insults. (It is now in my home, as we are working from home until at least early fall.) But that mug was as far as I felt safe to go in an office setting. I’ll post the link to it in a reply to this comment.

      1. Oldbiddy*

        I have that mug at work right now and agree that it’s safe for most offices, between being Shakespearean and having so many insults on it that none in particular stand out. I work at a university and could probably get away with most of the ‘Effin birds’ ones (I’d draw the line at the ones that are directed insults). But even I would save OP’s mug for home use and take something more neutral for work.

    7. kittymommy*

      Like others, this is not worth spending political capital on. I’d also be concerned about the possibility of offending a co-worker who was a practicing Satanist. It is a recognized religion that is practiced but as it might not be the most understood religion, you may have colleagues whom are and do not let it be known. and they may find this as lowkey mocking or turning it into a joke.

      Just overall it’s not’s worth it for a “silly mug”.

      1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

        This. I’d be less concerned about offending a Christian and more about making a joke of a legitimate religious belief of Satanists. It’s just not a good look for the workplace.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Lol at all the people concern-tr0lling about potentially offending Satanists. O_o Weird projection. Not everyone’s so precious about how their religion is portrayed.

          I’ve started dozens of pleasant conversations with self-identifying Satanists because I had a pentagram or baphomet or similar iconography visible at the time but the only people who’ve been offended enough to say something were Christians.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            (I know they were Christian because they said so. That was their full reasoning for why I shouldn’t be allowed to express my religious beliefs in public: because their beliefs are different than mine, so mine need to not be visible to them. (I’ve never displayed Satanic iconography at work because I know for a fact it would lead to religious discrimination, since this is the kind of thing I got in the grocery store.))

          2. Taniwha Girl*

            Yeah, wonder why people are trying to be sensitive about someone else’s religion. Especially since you are up and down this thread correcting perceptions of Satanists, which sure proves they’re not sensitive about portrayals of their religion…

    8. revueller*

      Agreed. People can get weird about Satan. Best not to find out who’s like that if you don’t have to.

      That being said, on a company-wide Zoom call (think 50+ people), I forgot that I made my tea in a mug that said “Was your a$$ forged by Sauron? Because it looks precious!” Thankfully, no one noticed because my zoom camera flips everything. Still, wouldn’t have been a great look if one of my coworkers’ kids wandered into the meeting.

      1. Hazel*

        Yeah, I think we notice ourselves and our stuff more than others do. I’ve been using my (bright red) mug with “Canada” and a giant maple leaf on it on Zoom calls, partly because I was curious if anyone would notice/mention it. No one did.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      I really want the one that says “I am a goddamned delight.” But not for work, lol.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I have that one at work! My office has a high tolerance for profanity; it’s not an issue there.

    10. SkyePilot*

      I never knew there would be a site where I needed to buy ALL THE THINGS. I love it! Also, 100% behind that statement. I am not one of those people who is more productive working from home. I am one of those people who is constantly harassed by my spouse, the child, and the dog and who gets nothing done.

    11. Mama Bear*

      My spouse has a mug with several curse words on it. In my old office, it would be considered funny and the boss would just say not to let the client see it. In my current office (much more stereotypically professional), it would raise eyebrows.

      I would leave it home and find another hill to die on. There are a LOT of other mugs you could bring instead.

  2. Thankful for AAM*

    Re #5, for me, “dear” anyone feels outdated (indont know them, they are not dear to me). I always put, “Hello!” Unless the directions are specific about how to address the letter. But I am not applying for very conservative or high level jobs.

    1. Melody Pond*

      I do typically use “Dear hiring manager” per AAM, but I’m with you about any “dear Soandso” greeting feeling a bit outdated, too. Lately I’ve thought of cover letters as being pretty similar to what I might write in a rather formal email to someone I don’t know. And if that’s what we’re emulating, I would rather use “Hello!” as you mentioned, or perhaps “Greetings,” to kick off my letter (but I’m too worried about it seeming weird, and so I keep sticking with Alison’s advice).

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        I love using “Greetings!” but someone told me once that I sound like an alien writing an email and I couldn’t get that out of my mind!!

    2. Mid*

      I’ve used “Dear Hiring Manager” but once I know the name of the people I’m talking with, I switch to “Hello [name].”

    3. CoralGirl*

      Hello! Seems very conversational and too casual for a cover letter in most industries. I think it’s fine for emails though. Although if I was sending a cover letter via email, I would write Dear X for the initial email.

    4. KayEss*

      “Dear Hiring Manager” is the only place I use “dear” because I feel the same way—that on its face it’s too intimate for my personal comfort—but I accept that it’s the established convention for formality in the cover letter social ritual.

      Routine work correspondence I only use “Hello” or “Hi [name]” and I will… maybe not DIE on that hill, but at least camp on it long-term and get very disgruntled about leaving.

      1. JanetM*

        @KayEss wrote, “I will… maybe not DIE on that hill, but at least camp on it long-term and get very disgruntled about leaving.”

        This is a lovely sentence / image, and I would like to sit here and admire it for a while.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      “Dear” is standard. “Hello” is way too casual and breezy, especially for a cover letter.

    6. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I usually wouldn’t use “Dear…” in most cases, but here I agree that writing “Dear hiring manager,” is fine if you can’t find a name, since cover letters are somewhat formal. I’m glad the advice here is that using this greeting is okay if you just don’t have a name to address your cover letter to. There is so much advice out there that would have you believe that you’ll never even be considered for the job if you don’t spend hours going to the ends of the earth to figure out the right name to address your cover letter to, even if you’re the most qualified candidate.
      Of course, it’s best to use a name if you can find it relatively easily. But if that information is not readily available, “Dear hiring manager,” is perfectly acceptable.

      1. WellRed*

        But with the name, what would you use for the salutation? You wouldn’t just start the letter with “Percival Pendexter”

        1. Taura*

          I still usually use “Dear Amy…” or if that feels too casual “Dear Ms. Smith…”, but then, I live in Texas. If I “know” the person – they manage another dept in my company or something – then I might replace “Dear” with “Hello” or just drop it altogether and just start with their name.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I use “Dear Ms. [or Mr.] Warbleworth” if I know the name, and “Dear Hiring Manager” if I don’t.
          On LinkedIn, they often have the recruiter or manager’s name listed as the job poster and I address it to that person if I’m applying through the platform.

        3. schnauzerfan*

          After a lifetime at an engineering university, I default to a memo format in most things.

          To: Hiring Manager – Working Dog Group
          From: Schnauzerfan
          Date: 6/26/2020
          Re: Schnauzer Wrangling Position

    7. Gustava*

      That would be far too casual for anywhere I’ve worked. I’m, in the UK though, and we definitely expect more formality in these things. To whom it may concern, or Dear, would not be at all unusual or noteworthy here. Hello would immediately make people think you were American.

    8. Vermicious Knid*

      I work an industry where being warm and approachable matters A LOT (I’ve heard many, many people who work in it say, “You can’t train someone to like people if they don’t”). I always start cover letters with “Hello!” and it has never been an issue. But I also think it depends on the industry. If I was applying for say, a finance job or position in a law office, I might change my approach.

    9. a clockwork lemon*

      I think that’s way too informal for a law firm setting. Honestly, even “Dear Hiring Manager” seems a little informal to me if the application is for an attorney position. I still use “To Whom it May Concern” unless I have a direct contact for the hiring attorney. The profession as a whole is still pretty conservative, and nobody will bat an eye if you’re too formal but being too informal can absolutely work against you.

      1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

        Same. I’m a lawyer and I was surprised at Alison saying that “To Whom it May Concern” is outdated. But law is famously (notoriously?) conservative and old-fashioned, which is why Alison’s advice of knowing your industry – and particularly paying attention to its specific norms if your industry is an outlier – is always applicable.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          I’m also in the legal field and I still use “Dear Madam or Sir” which I guess means I’m a dinosaur. (I am a dinosaur.)

          “Hello!” is too casual for the legal field. I’ve seen a couple resumes with the Hello! salutation and I always cheerily say “Hello!” or “Hi there!” back to the page.

          1. Roberta aka Bertie*

            I agree with the comments in this sub-thread – I’m in law and on the “hiring committee” for my small firm, and I think Dear Sir/Madam, To whom it may concern, and Dear hiring manager are all acceptable. Dear Sir/Madam is old-fashioned but so is law, as a general rule. Also, starting letters with “Dear” is super, super, super common in law. The only alternative to starting a letter with “Dear [Name]” is just “[Name]”. I would never use “Hello [Name]” or “Hi” or similar as an intro to a formal letter, though same conventions don’t apply to emails.

          2. Jojo*

            In doing professional correspondence i default to Gentlemen or Madam. Because in professionalism, yes, it matters. I would never use Dear in a professional letter. Because i do not have a personal relationship with them. Dear is personal. Like your spouse or grandmother.

        2. nodramalama*

          I’m in the legal field and was shocked that Alison said nobody would care if we didn’t know who the hiring manager was. It’s been so drilled into us applying for clerkships that if you don’t know the hiring manager, you call the firm and find out.

          1. Andrew*

            I was surprised by that too. I’m a partner at a firm, and the leader of a practice area. It always creates, for me, a more favourable impression if the candidate invested the literal ten seconds it takes to go to the website, click on the “Our Team” tab, and address the letter to the person at the top of the list. Obviously applications this don’t do this aren’t binned, and it’s not a big deal – but to me it takes so little effort these days that I’m sometimes surprised people don’t do it.

        3. allathian*

          On cover letters here, a salutation is not expected but a complementary close is. It’s odd, but there you go.

    10. Eukomos*

      “Dear” is formal, it’s nothing to do with whether they’re dear to you when used in that context. I use it strictly for formal communications, which are generally to people I know only through work and usually not well, so of course they aren’t dear to me, but they don’t think I’m suggesting that they are. When I call my partner “honey” I’m not suggesting they’re a condiment or sweetener, either.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I like what Grammarly says about why, “the phrase is old-fashioned and stuffy. (If you concentrate, you can almost hear it spoken in an affected posh accent, can’t you?) It’s a remnant from a time when business correspondence had a much more formal tone. These days, however, we aim for a natural, conversational style.”

      1. Fafa Flunkie*

        My office manager subscribed to Grammarly, thinking it would improve my tendency to get witty in my Emails to clients and suppliers. (She didn’t need that, trust me! I figured that out for myself.) I was so thankful when Outlook decided to disable that plug-in, as it was slowing my machine down to an even slower crawl than it normally is! It has a tendency to be too picky, drawing red lines on a sentence it thinks is “too wordy” when I couldn’t possibly re-word it to placate it!

        1. Blue Horizon*

          My assumption on Grammarly is that if it was any good, they wouldn’t have to spend as much on YouTube advertising as they apparently do.

          (That said, I can’t really fault its advice in this case – but it’s forced me to click ‘skip’ too many times for me to ever willingly use it for anything).

    2. allathian*

      This is at least true for the US. I followed Lynn Gaertner-Johnson’s business writing blog for years, but she retired a few months ago and sold her blog. The new one is much less personal so I’m not sharing the link.
      It’s possible that to whom it may concern may be OK elsewhere in the English-speaking world where they’re more conservative. It might work in, say, a company in India where the working language is English. This is just a feeling, though, I’ve no evidence either way.

      1. Lurker*

        I disagree with “To Whom It May Concern” being dated. I think it depends on the overall tone of the letter and the industry. For a law firm, I don’t think it would be considered dated. Overall, I think it’s better to err on the side of formality instead of casualness. If I got a cover letter with a salutation of “Hello!” I wouldn’t necessary reject it, but I’d think they maybe don’t understand cover letter norms. But absolutely no “Dear Sirs”!

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          Yes, for a lot of the law firms in my city, anything old-fashioned and stuffy would be fine.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Stuffy and stiff. As someone points out above, there could be a few industries that like stuffy and stiff (hello, law) but in general it’s old-fashioned and not how people talk.

      1. Aphrodite*

        That would be a great name for a law firm (Stuffy and Stiff, Attorney’s-at-Law) or maybe even a band.

      2. Melody Pond*

        Serious question here. Is it still old-fashioned or outdated if enough people still use it regularly in their cover letters?

        1. Melody Pond*

          To be clear, I legit wouldn’t have known not to use “To Whom It May Concern” if I hadn’t stumbled across Alison’s advice on this years ago. I’m sure I would’ve continued using it otherwise. I have used “Dear hiring manager” ever since discovering AAM.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If it were still as widely used as it used to be, I imagine it wouldn’t feel so old-fashioned! It’s because it’s fallen out of use with so many people that it feels dated.

          1. Melody Pond*

            Interesting! I would have assumed that it was used more widely, because, well, if I’m just going off my own experience, I never had anyone tell me (before you!) to use anything else. Makes me wonder how I missed the memo, before AAM came along. :)

      3. Hannah*

        That’s so weird to me. I just see it as polite and respectful in a professional way. It’s the standard use here.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Same. It doesn’t feel old-fashioned to me, although it’s clearly not in common use elsewhere – but I just think of it as the standard way to open a cover letter.

          “Dear Hiring Manager” sounds very strange to me. I can’t see myself using it, but I might use “Hello,” (without the exclamation mark), depending on the situation.

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

        Old fashioned? Tell that to the ESL people in India. And to my former English teachers too. XDDDD

      5. Elizabeth West*

        I think it sounds a bit frosty, like you’re about to lecture somebody. “To whom it may concern — just because someone’s name is not on their lunch does not mean you may help yourself. Signed, Mr. Fergus Monocle, Esq.”

      1. Katrinka*

        I use it if I’m sending a complaint, because it always makes me think of my Gram, she used to say it in a posh voice and made it sound very condescending (“to WHOM it may conCERN”). To me, it shows my slight disdain while also being perfectly acceptable.

      2. Cheluzal*

        Agreed! When people are going to the stores and work in their pajamas, maybe a little bit of formality is not so bad anymore.

    4. Cat*

      I can’t imagine caring about this and, in fact, I can’t remember a single salutation on any cover letter I’ve ever reviewed, which has been many. I guess if it started with something like “what’s up!” I’d remember it.

      1. Kewlm0m*

        But “What’s up?” can sometimes come across as a tad more formal/less conversational… I like to go with ” ‘S up?” /s

      2. snowglobe*

        I would agree – it may sounds stuffy if you stop and think about it, but I would guess that 99.999% of hiring managers would neither notice nor care. I can’t imagine it impacting the hiring decision one way or another.

        1. Katrinka*

          You’d be surprised, especially the higher up in the company you go and/or the older the hiring manager is. The norm for business correspondence is that formality is inversely proportional to the closeness of the person you’re addressing. So, if you’re sending something to someone you don’t know, you would be more formal and “proper,” for lack of a better word. If you’re sending an email to your coworker that you work closely with, you could use “Hey Jim” or any other greeting that’s work-appropriate (so no “Hey butthead” or the like.

      3. Quill*

        I only remember the fax that printed out that ended “sent from my iphone” that claimed a resume was “Attached”

    5. KayEss*

      “To whom it may concern” has always struck me as the letter salutation equivalent of posting a passive-aggressive note in a common area. Like “you know who you are.”

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I would definitely expect to see it at the head of a snooty note about the correct use of communal bins.

      2. Katrinka*

        To me, it’s saying “I don’t know who you are and I’m not going to bother finding out.” But there is definitely a subtle “eff you”vibe sometimes too, depending on the rest of the letter.

        1. BPT*

          On the other hand, I always get annoyed when someone applying for a position tries to find out on their own who to address the letter to. First, they’re almost always wrong if they do it by a cursory glance at the website. Second, there probably isn’t one person in charge of hiring. Third, it makes me think that they don’t have good judgment about what they spend their time on. Unless it’s stated in the job posting, there’s probably no way to find out for sure who to address the letter to, so why even bother.

    6. Paperdill*

      I think this could be, in part, a bit cultural, both industry and country cultural.
      I’m Australian (working in health care) and my husband is a lawyer and neither of us have ever seen anything but “to whom it may concern” or “dear sir/madam” on a coverletter (besides an actual name).
      My husband (who’s done a fair bit of hiring) thinks “Dear Hiring Manager” is weird and even a little childish (like a “Dear Mr Policeman” sort of tone).

      1. Fiorinda*

        I’m also Australian and used to teach business writing, and our guideline for usage was that ‘To whom it may concern” was only to be used in situations where the letter writer had no way of knowing who the letter recipient was going to be – for example, when writing a generic reference letter that a job applicant could submit with any number of applications. We taught that if the letter writer knew the name of the person they were writing to the salutation should be “Dear Firstname Lastname” (or other culturally appropriate name format for the recipient), and if they didn’t it should be “Dear Job Title” or even, if no other option was available (eg for a job application), “Dear Company Name”.

        We taught that “To whom it may concern” was inapproprate because it gave the impression that the letter writer considered the recipient interchangeable with any other, which is rude, and “Dear Sir/Madam” was inappropriate because neither “Sir” nor “Madam” is a title in everyday use in Australia except in a highly restricted set of circumstances – and in those circumstances, you’d write “Dear Sir/Dame Firstname Lastname” instead.

        1. I can only speak Japanese*

          You would address a cover letter to “Dear BMW” or “Dear Tupperware”? That seems even stranger to me than “Dear Sir or Madam” – but I’m not a native speaker of English at all.

          1. Katrinka*

            I think “Dear [Department Name]” is more common here in the US. So, if you’re writing a complaint or a commendation, it could be “Dear Customer Service,” or “Dear Design Team.”

            1. Fried Eggs*

              I tend to split the difference and write to a “team,” e.g. “Dear Siemens communications team,” or “Dear SmallStartUp team,”

              1. Anecdata*

                Yes! (In the bay area/tech- & tech- adjacent fields, so definitely on the more casual side), I use “Dear UX team at Ford”, etc. “Dear Hiring Manager” always felt a bit off – I think because the team probably often refers to themselves as such (“Hi, I’m part of the UX team at Ford”), while the hiring manager only identifies themselves as such at the beginning of interview calls – if that often! And also because I assume my resume/cover letter will likely be seen by someone other than the hiring manager.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            I saw on reddit recently someone shared an email they had sent to The Onion many years ago, and it started with “hello onion”

            I am not sure why but it struck me as very funny.

      2. magnets*

        I agree from a UK perspective, I use Dear Sir/Madam all the time in formal letters (I write a lot of formal letters) but to whom it may concern would be equally acceptable. I agree that dear hiring manager sounds odd to me, like you think it’s their actual name.

      3. Hannah*

        Yes! That’s what always bugs me about “Dear hiring manager”, and I hadn’t been able to put it into words. Childish, exactly! I’d be very put off by receiving something with that salutation, and that’s why.

        Definitely cultural difference ther

    7. Meißner Teapot*

      English is my second language, so I learned it in middle school back in the 90s, but even then we were taught that “to whom it may concern” is a really stiff and kind of odd-sounding phrase to start any letter or email with. Funnily enough, we were taught to use “Dear Sir or Madam” instead, which is problematic for different kinds of reasons (excludes nb folks, clashes with “Sir” and “Madam” actually being proper titles in some places, etc.)

      Never knew about “Dear Hiring Manager” until I read AAM though, nor that Hiring Manager =/= person in HR responsible for hiring. My school’s and university’s career centers always taught us that it’s imperative to track down whomever that letter will be addressed to and that that’s the person in HR who does the hiring paperwork.

      1. Washi*

        I’m in the US, and I think I would actually giggle if I saw “Dear Sir or Madam.” Madam is just so…old timey. Like I’m at the haberdashery deciding on bonnet ribbons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a cover letter.

        Whereas “to whom it may concern” just evokes like…someone who still types two spaces after their periods. But I use it sometimes when I want to convey that vibe, mainly if I am making a complaint!

        1. Katrinka*

          I use “Dear Sir or Madam” all the time at work when I am sending a letter where I don’t know who will be reading it. My bosses typically want something more formal and don’t want me to spend much time tracking down a name (although I will try to some extent, while also verifying what address to use). One of the secretaries insists on using “To whom it may concern.” It is the hill she will die on. But she is so darn good at her job and with the parents, no one minds.

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          Anybody else automatically think of the occasional typo, “Dear Sir or Madman”? That’s usually what I think when I read one of those letters, and I chuckle.

          Come to think of it, I don’t usually notice how people start those kinds of letters, with two exceptions: I have occasionally seen someone address the letter as “Dear Adult”–using last name only looks kind of strange, and I associate it with an ESL issue. Also, the person who referred to my boss as “Mrs. Smith.” We’re not a title place, but my boss kept her name after marriage, so she’s definitely not “Mrs. Smith.” I made a note to correct the person before introducing them!

    8. BPT*

      Yeah, totally disagree with “To Whom It May Concern” being outdated. “Dear Hiring Manager” feels weird to me, using “Dear” feels very unprofessional. Also, I really chafe at addressing a “hiring manager” because 1) the letter probably isn’t going straight to the hiring manager, it’s probably going to HR or a recruiter first, and 2) there may not be one hiring manager, it may be a group or panel. I’m sticking with “To Whom It May Concern.”

      1. Mama Bear*

        My last cover letter I used Dear Human Resources because HR was who you were directed to contact.

    9. Joielle*

      In addition to everyone else’s good points, it just…. doesn’t make a lot of sense? You know who is concerned with your letter, it’s the hiring manager. It’s like lawyers who still do the whole “Now, therefore, in consideration
      of the foregoing, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, the parties hereby agree…” thing (and I’m a lawyer, so I get to make fun of them). Overly stuffy language is old fashioned, plain language is the way of the future.

  3. Sal*

    I have happily defaulted to Dear Hiring Committee for many law jobs that were not directed at a specific person (e.g., the judge). A lot of firms/non-profits do in fact have several
    people doing hiring for the organization, so it feels more accurate.

    1. Rock Prof*

      This is what I’ve used when I’d applied for other academic positions, since it’s always a committee. That said, having served on such committees, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed what others have used.

      1. Joielle*

        The only time I’ve ever noticed was when someone used “Dear Mr. Hiring Manager” and was rejected on that basis. The posting said who to direct materials to and her name was Janet. The entire group of people doing the hiring was women, the actual hiring manager was a woman, and the head of our whole office was a woman. Just no reason at all to assume “Mr.” was appropriate except sexism. That person was roundly mocked and resume promptly tossed.

    2. Roberta aka Bertie*

      I like this way better than “Dear hiring manager” for some unknowable reason!

    3. CG*

      I like this a lot – and hate “dear hiring manager.” In addition to the practical reason you note, “dear hiring manager” just always sounds to me like a template where you forgot to fill in one of the blanks. (Like “dear [hiring manager]”)

      1. Nonprofit Lifer*

        I am going to stay on Team To Whom It May Concern. Fight me.

        * “Dear Sir or Madam” — you want to talk dated? Like, the person reading your resume couldn’t possibly be GNC? Check your assumptions, applicant. (I’m not even going to get into the likelihood that even if the person reading your resume is cisgender, it’s probably more appropriate to be “Dear Madam or Sir”…)
        * “Dear Hiring Manager” — 99% of the jobs I’ve had when I was reviewing resumes, my title was Director or VP. It’s almost subconscious to me, but I’d say you’re skating on thin ice to demote me in your very first words. Also “Dear” coupled with title is just weird.
        * “Hello” — that’s kind of abrupt and casual at the same time.

        Everybody’s mileage varies, and if I get kicked to the curb because I use a dated salutation, that’s probably where I would be headed anyway because ageism.

  4. TicTac*

    Letter one, would the same go for a swearsy mug or stationary? My old boss gave me a gift of pencils that have things like “getting sh*t done” on them but im not sure it’s a good idea to take them to my new office (government).

    1. Seal*

      One of my staff members has a Battlestar Galactica mug on her desk that says “frak” on it, which I love. Only fans of the show would get that, though.

      1. KayEss*

        I feel like “frak” isn’t as subtle as people think, but maybe I’m just too in tune with nerd culture.

        1. Alex*

          I think even for people who aren’t into nerd culture or never heard of BSG, “frak” is still fairly obviously a substitute swearword. Same goes for “frell”, from Farscape, or “smeg” from Red Dwarf. Especially with context in a sentence, those words are easily identifiable (they have to be, that’s why fans of the shows know what they mean). But personally I don’t see that as a problem – they’re substitutes, not actual swear words.

          1. Jay*

            So the linguisticy aspect of this, I think, is that “frell” and “smeg” are not noticeably identifiable as swears, at least on the level of the f-word; there are too many soft, long l’s and m’s for them to be swears.

            “Frak” is . . . super obviously a swear. As a BSG fan, I’ve sometimes mentioned the swear to people and they know *immediately* what it stands in for.

            That said, people may not care. A loved one of mine who doesn’t like any swearing whatsoever has no problems with “fork,” which I feel is also pretty obvious even if you haven’t watched The Good Place.

            Sometimes plausible deniability and/or nerd or fandom culture is enough to make something that would otherwise cause tension fly in a public office.

            1. Amy Sly*

              “Fork” is a pretty common euphemism. Can’t remember if I first heard it in an “edgy” cartoon or in “Mystery Men,” a criminally underrated superhero movie.

              The mention of “frak” reminds me of a conversation with my sister some years ago. We were talking about gas prices. I mentioned the impact of fracking; she didn’t know what I was talking about, because a BSG swear didn’t make sense in context.

            2. jenkins*

              This might just be in British English, but smeg is – well, not the f word, but it’s not a made-up swear either. It’s short for smegma.

            3. AIM*

              Yeah, I’ve seen “frak” before and didn’t even know it was a BSG/nerd culture thing, but I still knew what it MEANT just from context. I do feel like anything, in a context where there would normally be a swear, is easily identifiable as such though– “frell” doesn’t read as a swear on its own, but if someone had a mug that said “What the frell?” or, I don’t know, “Thank Smeerp it’s frelling Friday,” I would know what they meant. (I also wouldn’t find them offensive, because they’re just silly words and honestly what’s the difference between that and subbing in “fudge” like a lot of people do when they’re in non-swearing environments, but some people might, who knows.)

          2. Quill*

            If it starts with an F and ends in a C or K it doesn’t take a ducking genius to figure it out.

    2. ChaosGood*

      I’d wait a bit before bringing in anything not small-talk-with-my-grandmotherly in style. My current office would be fine with sweary stuff, provided it’s not customer facing, my last place gave a mug with my dog’s photo the side-eye. People are weird, and I’m not about inviting drama before I get a feel for the culture and boundaries. It’s not an amount of time thing, it’s getting a feel for if my “Beware the smiling dungeon master” mug is going to hurt feels. If I’m not totally sure, I wait for a day when I feel adulty enough to answer questions and maybe take it back home. It’s not worth hurting/upsetting people at work to have my coffee in a mug proclaiming I spend a lot of time imagining killing my friends. ;)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I would be surprised if that mug hurt people’s feelings! Am I out of touch about people’s reactions to Dungeons & Dragons in 2020?

          1. Lancelottie*

            When I was a (admittedly pretty sheltered) 24-year-old with little to no awareness of tabletop RPGs, a man asked me to come to his house because he was a dungeon master and wanted me to play a game with him. It can be a little misleading to the uninitiated.

            1. MissGirl*

              Oh, wow, you’re right. Without context that sounds like you’re going to straight-up get murdered.

            2. Environmental Compliance*

              I am 100% snort-laughing at this, because I can totally see one of my very sweet, somewhat naive male friends saying this and totally not getting how it could come across and then being very horrified that it came across this way.

          2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            There will always be one who does! And one who thinks “Smegma” for smeg. And someone who wants to rant about fracking for the other. Cuz, well, people.

            1. jenkins*

              Yeah, that is actually what smeg means in Red Dwarf. Robert Llewellyn says so anyway.

          3. New Jack Karyn*

            Yeah, I think it’s more about it being mistaken for a BDSM reference than fears about Dungeons & Dragons.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          There are still some older coworkers and bosses who bought into the Satanic-panic rumors about D&D. So again, it’s a “know your workplace” thing. I have had to explain it to numerous family members and coworkers over the years.
          I’ve basically summed it up as: remember playing “let’s pretend” as kids, and inevitably the game would devolve into some squabble like “I shot you!” “Well I have bulletproof armor.” “But I have armor piercing bullets” “No you don’t!” “Yuh huh!” “Nuh uh!”
          D&D is just a group playing “let’s pretend,” but with clear rules to avoid arguments, and one person vaguely in charge of keeping the story moving.
          That has helped calm a lot of fears.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Thanks! I had to explain it to my own mother, actually, when one of my younger siblings was invited to play in a campaign. Mom wasn’t crazy or anything, she just hadn’t heard anything about D&D except the negative, so she wanted more information before making a decision.
              I also told her that a campaign being good or bad depends completely on the group of people. Awesome group = good campaign. Creepy group = not so good. The game itself is just a rule book, neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Like anything else, how your group chooses to play is what makes the difference. So Mom needed to analyze what she knew of the players and who would be running the campaign.
              And if she still wasn’t sure, she could always sit in on a few sessions and yank the kid out if things got objectionable.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I was vaguely aware of the whole satanic panic thing when I was a kid, but no one in my life took it seriously so I paid it little mind. It wasn’t until I got older and read up on it that I realized how far it went in some towns and how seriously some people took it — and that a lot of people had their lives ruined over it. It’s really quite heartbreaking.

            1. juliebulie*

              The moral outrage thing shut down both of the groups I played with – and I was DM of one. And this was in a relatively moderate New England city. At the mall, while looking at DM modules, I was accosted by a woman who loudly asked if I worshiped Satan. (Nope, too lazy.) For my in-school group, our faculty sponsor simply didn’t want to waste her own political capital defending our activity. For my at-home group, three of my friends pulled out because their favorite pro wrestlers’ pastor say it was “playing with the devil.” (I’ve been called many things in my time…)

              And I was heartbroken.

              Some people may get weird around D&D stuff. I keep a D20 on my desk just to see if anyone reacts.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Yeah, the stuff you mention is the kind of thing I was somewhat aware of, but only a little. Gimlet did a limited series podcast, “Conviction,” which got into the darkest parts of satanic panic — false accusations of child abuse, parents winding up in jail, etc. It’s hard to listen to (a lot of difficult subjects), but a good and interesting series.

        2. Katrinka*

          I would never have used it when I worked in a church office, too many little old ladies who would be convinced I was consorting with satanists. I do think, however that a lot of it depends on whether you are client facing or not. Back in the 80s, my boss gave me a mug that said “You know it’s a bad day if you put your bra on backwards and it fits.” I used it every day because it fit the culture of our department (fraud and security) perfectly. When I was asked to go help in hte President’s office, though, I would never take it with me there. Bankers and Lawyers are the stuffiest of the stuffs.

          1. pancakes*

            There are variations in culture, as there are in any other industry. The culture in a cutting-edge quant fund office in Irvine is not going to be same as the culture in a community bank in Philadelphia. The culture in a multinational law firm’s NYC office is not going to be the same as a the culture in a small firm’s Charleston office.

        3. EPLawyer*

          It’s still associated somewhat with “those weird people who stay up all night playing a game.”

          I for one would not want to have to deal with people making cracks about staying up all night to play a game every time I came into work a bit tired.

        4. Archaeopteryx*

          Yeah, I don’t think that Dungeons & Dragons has had any kind of dark stigma since the early 90s at latest, and now it’s popular enough that it doesn’t even really have nerd stigma, since nerd stuff is popular. Anyways D&D is awesome and you should be able to use your mug!

        5. Ellie*

          I’ve seen true crime shows (produced in recent years!) that use the suspect’s interest in D&D as ‘evidence’ for them being the killer. So I think there is still some of that going around.

          I say this next part as someone who played D&D thru high school and has maintained an interest long into adulthood. I think in 2020 it might have swung back too far the opposite direction, ie “D&D has swallowed this person’s whole personality and they keep trying to force it onto other people”. I remember a recent-ish D&D-related Captain Awkward post where Captain had to put a caveat in the comment section telling people not to convince OP to give D&D another try, find a new group, watch streams of others playing it, etc.

          1. Quill*

            Reminds me of the NCIS episode where the dude playing an MMORPG was supposedly evidence that he couldn’t tell fiction from reality.

            As pointed out when I saw it with my dad, it was more likely evidence that he was about to get fired for clogging up the entire internet capacity of the ship he was stationed on.

        6. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I worked with someone whose ex outlawed Harry Potter because it promotes witchcraft.
          The kids knew not to even ask about D&D. That’s current…they’re not even 20 by now.

      2. 'Tis Me*

        Why did the dog mug raise eyebrows?! Unless he was e.g. licking his member, that makes no sense!

      3. S-Mart*

        I had to smile at this. I’m wearing my shirt with the same message today. :)

        I suppose it’s moderately more appropriate than the “Dungeon masters don’t kill characters… no wait, that’s wrong, we do.” one.

        I *could* wear either of them to my office, and they wouldn’t bother anyone. I don’t only because I prefer to dress a smidge nicer at the office (but working from home – all bets are off).

    3. Helvetica*

      My work mug has a picture of a fox and you can use that to read out the sentence on it, “For fox sake”. Nobody has ever cared but a) I’m in Europe so certain American rules don’t apply and b) I’m also in the government! I don’t take it to meetings with outside people but in my office, nobody cares. I’d love some pencils which say “getting sh*t done”.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Pencils seem like a relatively safe way to express less professional sentiments, as one has to have it in one’s hand in order to read any words. So long as you don’t loan out your pencils, no one has to know what naughty things they may say.

      2. Ophelia*

        People in my office regularly refer to someone’s “GSD quotient,” meaning “ability to get shit done” and I would also love those pencils, hah.

    4. Loux in Canada*

      I’ve got a mug with flamingos on it and the caption “no flocks given”! It’s cute and harmless. Fwiw, I work for a government agency and no one has ever seemed to mind my mug. (Perhaps because when it comes to my work, I do give a lot of “flocks”! :) )

  5. KayEss*

    LW2: I would not say anything unless you are prepared for it to thoroughly destroy your relationship with the studio. It’s stupid and it sucks, but they will absolutely not take kindly to being called out on this, just because it’s so accepted as a fundamental part of how those operations run. It will almost absolutely be perceived as an existential threat to the studio, because they likely could not survive financially if the work was paid for. I don’t think there’s any phrasing gentle enough to make the subtext of “did you realize your business only survives because of illegal work” not chill your relationship with anyone you say it to.

    1. allathian*

      That may be true… Still, if a business model is such that the business can’t survive without breaking the law, then I think that it doesn’t deserve to survive. Even if it means that dance and yoga studios have to charge 500 bucks a month for membership and only the very rich can afford it. That Karma Queen stuff sounds iffy to say the least… YMMV

      1. KayEss*

        I agree in theory, but the LW sounds like they enjoy being a customer of this studio and wish to maintain friendly relationships with the people there… and the chances of the response to raising this being “Wow, thanks for telling us! We will change our behavior immediately with no resentment or backlash toward you!” are VERY slim.

      2. ...*

        Then everyone would be up in arms about how its classist and discriminatory that classes are $500. I’d seriously let this one go especially if you like the studio and want to stay there

      3. Cat*

        Yeah I kind of disagree that we’re better off with yoga studios for the rich. I mean sure this could be exploitative which is why it’s illegal. But we all know that someone volunteering to clean a studio in exchange for a free class is not in 99% of cases.

      4. PollyQ*

        I don’t know how common volunteer/barter labor is in dance & yoga studios, but I have trouble believing that all studios run this way, and that without that unpaid labor, they’d go out of business or have to charge exorbitant rates to stay afloat.

        1. MayLou*

          For one thing, presumably the volunteers would then be paying for their classes using the money they’re paid for working, so it wouldn’t be a total financial loss.

      5. Hmmm...*

        Saying it “doesn’t deserve” to survive is pretty strong language. It’s one thing to say it “shouldn’t” survive if it’s business model is dependent on breaking the law, but law and ethics are two separate considerations, and saying any business who does this doesn’t deserve to survive is placing unwarranted judgment. I agree with Cat below that the world would not be better off with yoga studios that are only for the rich.
        This law is meant to protect people from a practice that could be exploitative, but sometimes laws are not as nuanced as they should be. It seems that in many if not most cases, this type of bartering work at yoga and martial arts studios is community-building and, in some cases where people are learning to teach classes, overlaps with an instruction/mentorship type of situation. Perhaps the law should have some nuance to allow for this. Perhaps not. I don’t believe it’s right to break the law, but saying that none of these businesses “deserve” to survive is an overreach.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, in retrospect I agree with you, shouldn’t survive is a better wording.

          Something like this happens here too, especially in stables. People can get cheaper riding lessons for mucking out stables, feeding the horses, etc. Usually, the riders are minors but they’re so mad about horses that they’d do literally anything to spend more time with them and learning to care for the horses is a bonus. Obviously they also need to be supervised at all times by experienced employees.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know enough about the typical yoga studio business model, but I’m curious about whether it’s likely true that most couldn’t survive without volunteers. I’ve always had the sense to that, at least to some extent, a lot of them see having volunteers as part of the work they do to create a community there — that in some ways they see themselves as similar to nonprofits in that they have a mission and serve the community. (The IRS doesn’t see it that way, of course. These aren’t actually non-profits, at least in most cases.) I could imagine them feeling like volunteers reinforce that vibe — they’re giving people the opportunity to contribute to a mission they care about. As an example, my mom used to volunteer at her yoga studio, not for the free classes but because she saw it as a way of being part of a yoga community.

      Anyway, if that’s right, maybe they’re not dependent on volunteers to survive. This is all speculation though — I don’t know if any of it is correct, but maybe someone more involved in yoga knows?

      1. KayEss*

        I don’t know about yoga, but my experience with a martial arts studio was similar in that a lot of the higher-rank students acted as volunteer teachers or teaching assistants, helped with events, and occasionally performed small tasks like light cleaning or filing because we thought of each other as family and enjoyed making those contributions. We were generally acknowledged with reduced or waived fees. The student who acted as essentially the office manager and taught a fair chunk of solo classes was probably eventually paid (I’m recalling 10+ years of her position evolving, she wasn’t doing all that right from the start but grew into it), and at one point I was assisting with so many classes that they started paying me (I was in high school at the time, so I think they also may have wanted to give me a leg up on my college applications/future resume). But I was in a position to overhear quite a few conversations indicating that even with a thriving student base of people actually paying for classes the whole enterprise was barely enough to support the head teacher.

        1. Mary*

          Yes – my kid is deep into karate and the culture is definitely that as you progress you are expected to volunteer hours. You cannot progress to a black belt or degrees on those black belts without a certain number of hours (which is tricky now with restrictions!). It’s done as a leadership training program at our dojo, which eventually turns into paid instructor positions but certainly pre-pandemic they could not have run classes without the student volunteers. In some cases the kids helping out are technically too young to work.

          I think there are a lot of industries – especially those teaching something – where the norm is for all clients (students) to help with certain tasks. Japanese school kids doing janitorial services come to mind. At an adult level most people aren’t going to submit to that norm without some kind of perk, and honestly I think the reason this law is so frequently broken is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense in these contexts.

          If one class of students costs more to teach, why shouldn’t they be charged more? Why should everyone pay more to have someone learn to teach? If teaching discipline and some of the other soft skills can be done while keeping the dojo clean at the same time – that’s smart use of resources; not just a tax dodge. And definitely there is a strong desire to build a particular culture that tends to be baked into the practice of martial arts in particular. I don’t do yoga except via community centre and that type of class seems quite different to me in expectations – here at least it’s less a lifestyle than it is just another exercise class- but it’s my understanding there are yoga studios out there that are similar.

          I have no idea whether our dojo’s setup is technically illegal in our country (not the US) but I do know that if it were and someone were to report it the outcome wouldn’t be “I now get paid and everyone is happy”. They might succeed in getting the norm changed but the student:helper ratio would go up dramatically and fees would go up for everyone. I can’t imagine it being a comfortable place to come back to.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Yeah, I think it’s a thing where it’s illegal because codifying it as allowed would cause people to take advantage of the system. So… we all politely look the other way as long as any particular company doesn’t act abusively.

      2. Perfectly Particular*

        That’s makes sense! I think it provides a sense of security to the owner as well, to have someone working there that shares (at least to an extent) their passion for the art and it protects them from the high turnover that often comes with minimum wage jobs. It got me thinking though … what makes unpaid internships ok, but this type of bartering not-ok?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Unpaid internships are only legal in for-profit businesses if the intern is the primary beneficiary of the arrangement and the internship provides educational training. (Although this is another commonly violated law.)

          1. Harper the Other One*

            I think that rationale may be part of how the martial arts studios work – theoretically a high level belt is supposed to be a teacher, not just a practitioner, so assisting in classes etc. would be viewed as educational. Does that make sense?

            1. Smithy*

              In that regard, you may find better examples of how teacher training works. When a university student is doing their “in-class practicum”, what does that model look like? When is the student gaining course credits switch to being compensated? What does the work load look like? And additionally – what additional training, teaching, coaching is the other teacher expected to provide to the university student.

              The Alison’s point about internships – it certainly does become an abused model because the concept of “just being allowed to be inside the offices of fancy media company/top fashion house/ movie studio is a learning experience even if all they do is make coffee and pick up lunches” is certainly held by some.

              1. Jack Russell Terrier*

                Going back to yoga briefly. The studio where I did my teacher training in the US had practical hours to fulfill – and this was finding your own students to teach outside of the studio. There was no mandate about whether they should be free. I did them free because I wasn’t qualified. I now actually teach students I taught as part of my practical.

                Any students taken on to teach at the studio when they qualified were paid. The studio also relied solely on bartering staffing the front desk for checking people in and sweeping etc after class for free yoga. I did this one day a week for about a year. Until today it never occurred to me it was illegal, although it makes total sense from the ‘company store etc’ point of view.

        2. Georgina Fredrika*

          It’s been a while since I was an unpaid intern but I think they’re not even allowed to do the work a regular employee would? Like you’re not allowed to get an unpaid intern and just give them the work you would have given a full-paid individual. It’s really about training & experience in the workplace, no one gets paid in free classes.

          Also a lot of unpaid internships (at least 7ish years ago, probably still) are set up as “for class credit” so that you “get something out of it” (AKA you pay to work, ugh) which seemed to be the preferred way of getting the law off their back

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        When I was a teen, I took riding lessons at a barn, and there was a whole group of us hanging about and, ultimately performing quite a bit of unpaid labor. Labor was part of the deal with taking lessons – be there half an hour before the lesson and prepare (brush, clean, saddle etc.) your assigned horse, and take care of it afterwards. We did of course a lot more, and not even with a formal “in exchange for lessons” agreement, though of course we did benefit by getting to be around when something exciting happened, occasional free riding on an ad-hoc basis, and in general building social capital … and skills. And even though some of it was typical stable labor, there’s also the aspect that some people pay for the privilege alone (eg. in a summer camp that’s a farm/garden program). So the line between getting to do something that other people have to for and performing labor that other people benefit from can be very very blurry when the situation is linked to one’s hobby.

        Now this *was* a non-profit club (though connected to a business that owned the premises, I am pretty sure), and also in Germany, where laws are different. OTOH, some barns can be incorporated as an LLC and it wouldn’t necessarily change the social norms around participating in the activities. Even though there probably should be a line. But should it be at the for-profit bit? What about employee-owned structures, co-ops… it’s not an easy question where the ethical line is, so let’s follow the legal one.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Hmmm, the horse barn example is an interesting one! Technically barn maintenance is not part of your lessons but also if you ever actually want your own barn you need to know about horse feeding, grooming, vet care, etc.

          Also, your description reminded me of spending happy hours in the barn when I was a kid. I stopped riding in my late teens – the barn was turning into a very competition-based program and I really just wanted to ride for fun – but I still miss the smell of hay and petting the horses.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          This is interesting because I’m looking for horse riding lessons. Apparently there are many horse-crazy kids around who are willing to muck out stables for the chance to be around horses. The kids aren’t paid and the temptation to use free willing labour must be strong.

          1. allathian*

            Yep. I went to a three-week riding camp one summer where my parents paid for me to muck out stables and feed the horses and brush them, clean tack etc. as well as for the riding lessons. I enjoyed it at the time, but not enough to continue riding afterwards. My sister got bitten by the horse bug. She rode once a week but would hang out at the stables almost every day after school. She also had a named horse she’d care for once a week when she was a bit older. She continued to ride well into her forties until a couple of bad falls and concussions (in spite of a hard hat) made her stop.

        3. Delta Delta*

          I think some of this is different. Being expected to groom and tack your horse properly before and after riding is… part of riding. As is appropriate care of the tack.

          1. Katrinka*

            But they’re talking about more than caring for the horse before and after you ride. What they’re talking about is shoveling the manure, lugging around heavy bags to feed the horses, changing out the hay on the floors, etc. It’s almost always fairly heavy manual labor. I’ve known kids to do it to get a reduced price for boarding their horses too.

            1. lost academic*

              Everyone does it, not just kids, but of course at bigger barns there’s always a ton of kids who want to absorb what they can by being there, and there’s an added benefit that your volunteer help can defray what are substantial costs for lessons, boarding, and competition. I mentioned above – I don’t know any stable that could survive without some sort of labor/reduced service cost exchange. Stables don’t make money on boarding in general – the profit comes from other services, but you generally can’t get enough of those in the door without boarding.

            2. yala*

              It really seems like everyone SHOULD do it, because manure and feedbags are also part of owning a horse.

              Riding lessons really *should* include all levels of care, since a horse is a living creature.

        4. EPLawyer*

          Wow, now I am remembering as a kid, I volunteered at the local stables just for fun. I got to go on the trail rides ocassionaly. But yeah, a lot of tacking up and cleaning for the trail rides that day, then feeding horses at the end. Unpaid, of course,

          Then there is Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue. People volunteer to feed the cats. They miss holidays with their families to feed the cats. Even during the pandemic, the cats are getting fed although Carole says the Rescue is “struggling.”

          1. Smithy*

            Technically, I think that Big Cat Rescue is a registered nonprofit – and therefore can rely on volunteer labor. Regardless of any of the other ethics around how that works.

          2. ieAnon*

            BCR is a non-profit (and a highly rated one at that) and a decent number of the volunteers are either college kids or local residents with a longstanding relationship to the sanctuary. I’ve been there multiple times for tours and lived nearby for several years. That “documentary” was 95% horseshit.

          3. Black Horse Dancing*

            ANimal rescue is almost always non profit. And every animal rescue, unlike many human non profits, struggles. One big vet bill can destroy a year of donations.

        5. Anonymous Rider*

          I was also thinking about this in terms of horse stables. I’ve taken lessons or leased horses at eight (for-profit) stables in the US over the past fifteen-ish years, and at all of them students or boarders have done work, either in exchange for reduced fees, or just to help out. (I’m referring here just to general barn chores- cleaning stalls, sweeping aisles, feeding and watering- not caring for or cleaning up after a horse you own or ride.)

          On the one hand, this is great- it allows students to learn about caring for horses, opens up riding to many more kids, creates camaraderie among the people who share the chores, helps owners stretch their funds during rough financial patches, and ensures that the horses will be cared for if a paid employee is sick or leaves.

          On the other hand, this “volunteer” work helps to support a system in which people who are employed in barns are paid little, and rarely receive benefits (including health insurance) for work that is physically taxing and sometimes dangerous. Many are undocumented immigrants, and therefore less able to advocate for better pay or working conditions.

          On yet another hand (should have said hooves, since there are more than two of them…) if all work in barns were done by employees who were compensated fairly, many people would be priced out of owning/riding.

      4. hbc*

        I think these one-off studios (yoga, martial arts, etc.) tend to operate pretty close to the bone. They obviously don’t *need* people to water plants to stay in business, but it very well could be that the owner/operator/teacher doesn’t have the bandwidth to teach as many classes as would keep the place afloat if also try to do all the housekeeping and/or paperwork for “employees” who do a total of 1.5 hours a week.

        Personally, as long as it’s small potatoes and roughly mutual, I’d let it go. It’s not too far from the spirit of the law, and I have a hard time reconciling it being okay to pay a CEO of a non-profit 7 figures or to volunteer at a megachurch and this studio situation being illegal.

        1. Jennifer*

          +1 Let’s go after the billionaires and soon to be trillionaires getting out of paying taxes, not small neighborhood yoga studios.

      5. Important Moi*

        Late addition.

        I used to patronize a yoga/pilates studio. There was high turnover. After being there awhile I asked why. The answer was that many were volunteering until they obtained enough educational credit to be employed. The problem was that the volunteers never earned enough credit to become employees no matter how long they stayed, so they left. It seemed to benefit the owners and no one else.

        I stopped going there.

      6. Joielle*

        Anecdotally, my dance studio (which also offers yoga classes) has people who do tasks like this (front desk shifts, cleaning, taking out trash, answering the phone, etc) and they’re paid minimum wage plus class credit to bring it up to something resembling a fair wage for the work. Seems like a good way to comply with the law, avoid being super expensive for the business, but still be attractive enough that people want to do it.

        Plus, if you’re an actual employee being paid actual money I feel like you’re more invested in actually showing up and doing good work. I’ve been to dance studios in the past that were all volunteers being paid in only class credit and people were always flaking out.

  6. The Rat-Catcher*

    The ad placement on my phone on #3 made the question all kinds of confusing. It ended at the “positive” in option B, and I reread that part about five times before finally making it below the banner and having the “aha” moment.

    1. Cat*

      So if you’re applying to be a lawyer at a law firm, hiring managers aren’t a thing. The term is hiring partner, who is the partner in charge of hiring. I doubt anyone would care but since the LW is asking.

      If you were applying for the accounting or HR department of a law firm, hiring manager might. E correct.

  7. ChaosGood*

    LW#2 You might face fewer repercussions by phrasing it as “a thing I heard” in a conversation with the owner/one of the employees. I might start with, “I had heard that a business that was using volunteers got in trouble lately. I am glad it wasn’t you!” It kind of gives you an out from the weird thing that happens where you point out that something could be a problem if that authorities learn of it, and the listener hears I’m going to tell authority about this. It’s softening, and therefore has a greater chance of being dismissed, but might preserve the atmosphere for you, while gently alerting the owner that there may be an issue.

    1. JayNay*

      The LW could also phrase this as „I just wanted to let you know that you could get in trouble for this“, given that it’s on the studio‘s website. If they raise it, it might help to frame it as „I wanted to let you know, and it’s up to you what, if anything, you do with that information“. It could even be framed as „I’ve so enjoyed doing yoga here and I would hate for you to get in trouble for this“.
      But the LW knows her studio best and knows whether it’s worth it to say something.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Or even contact them anonymously. Most of us have a throwaway email address we use for junk we don’t actually want in our main account (like grocery store rewards cards). Send an email from there, where it’s completely unconnected to you. Or even create a new account just for this, if you’re really worried.

      1. Person of Interest*

        I was thinking the same – why not just snail-mail them an anonymous note?

      2. Colette*

        Because they’d feel threatened (who’s going to report me?), and that’s a pretty crappy thing to do.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          It’s really not. It’s a kindness, letting them know there’s a problem so they can correct it.

    3. Calanthea*

      The phrasing is probably really key, make it clear that you’re concerned about the repercussions on the business rather than suggesting they’re exploiting the volunteers. They should probably check with a lawyer (or Alison) but if they don’t have anything written down on their website, and it’s just a group of people who have unofficially set up a whatsapp chat to go water the plants in their own time when they feel like it, it’s a bit different?

      I also think the anonymous suggestion is more likely to come off as a threat than a conversation where you make your motives clear!

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Unfortunately, my experience says the opposite. Having this conversation in person is only going to make OP into public enemy #1 at the studio. Anonymous is the only way to inform them without losing the ability to continue attending the studio.

  8. higheredrefugee*

    #5: if the firm is that small, I’d see if any of the partners has in their bio that they are at least the Managing Partner. Address it that person, with whatever their proper title is, etc. Even if they’ve delegated further, you still did more work than others who apply. Or ask a contact at your law school career services, they are likely to know if it is a local firm. If I didn’t know when I did that work, I usually shot my contact an email to ask and would be able to get back to you quickly.

    1. Neyla*

      The point is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve never worked with a good manager who would care either way.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, in any firm I’ve worked in, it will get to the person who needs to see it regardless of whose name is on the envelope. In this case, it would never even cross the senior partner’s desk but would go straight to HR from the mail room.

    2. Cat*

      You’d look for the hiring partner not the managing partner usually. But nobody will care.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      I’m often bemused by cover letters addressed to someone up the hierarchy who has nothing to do with the hiring. Or the managing. Academia (although not an academic dept), so hiring goes through a search committee and the hiring manager is not on the committee.

  9. PollyQ*

    LW#3 — I agree with Alison, and I would recommend you not worry about the fact that you’d made an previous agreement affect your choice. After all, if your sister had suddenly fallen ill or been injured by something other than COVID, you’d probably go & help with her kids anyway, without any advance notice, right?

    I hope your sister and her family stay healthy!

    1. F as in Frank*

      Agreed, the best thing you can do for your organization is make sure you are top of all your documentation of your projects so that someone else could pick them up if required.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Both of these! Making sure that everything is clearly documented and that documentation is easily available is good practice anyway. And of course if your close family member with young children gets really ill, you’d help – some things are surely taken as read?

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Exactly. I mean, OP could get in a car crash and end up in the hospital for a month herself. Things like that happen every day. So it’s important to have your documentation as up-to-date as possible, and easy to find, just as a matter of course.
          (Not wishing ill luck on OP or anyone else. Just an example of something that could suddenly put her out of reach for a long time.)

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Frankly, in the Plague Times it’s good practice for everyone.

          When I came down with Covid, it hit fast. I was well enough for a (remote) HIIT class in the morning, and by about 2pm I was pretty much delirious in bed, and couldn’t do *any* useful work for a month.

          1. OP #3*

            Yeesh! I hope that you are feeling better now. To your point about organizing my work for others to take over: in an organization of 10, there’s not a whole lot of redundancy. So, yes, all my stuff is saved on shared drives, including project plan materials, but if I were to be out for a month, I don’t think the organization could absorb my work. Things would have to be tabled.

      2. Geek*


        Agreed with keeping documentation up to date.

        Beyond that, what action are you wanting your boss to take?

        What happens if the organization faces a tough choice and needs to eliminate a position at your level? The choice is between two peers. I suspect you don’t want that choice to be influenced by a hypothetical situation that may never occur. If your boss is thinking they’d be in dire straits by losing one person, imagine how difficult it would be if they lost one person and then the other one had to leave to take care of family?

        If you’re a small enough organization where FMLA doesn’t apply, it may not matter. But if you can use FMLA, you’d have some guarantees if you follow that process.

        I’m a big believer in not dumping problems on my boss’s lap. If you can’t think of a couple different actions, then bringing the problem may be premature. It may not even be fully formed into a problem yet, and I think that’s the scenario here.

    2. Mama mingo*

      LW#3, getting sick while trying to care for my preschooler is one of my main fears of getting COVID, especially if my hubby gets sick along with me. Your sister is lucky to have someone like you!

    3. Atalanta0jess*

      Yep, this is what I was thinking. My guess is that this isn’t REALLY a covid specific situation, it’s just more on OP3’s mind because of covid. It sounds like they have a close relationship and OP3 would step in during any kind of crisis. Bosses basically should assume that each of us could at some point have an emergency and have to step out for a bit. Whether it’s our own emergency or a family member’s. Cause we’re humans!

    4. Beanie Counter*

      PollyQ has a great point.

      Also, the majority of the Covid-19 cases have mild symptom and do recover, (but it does kill even healthy young people). Hopefully if your sister tests positive, it’ll be mild experience and she recovers without any lasting complications. You’re a great sister.

      1. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

        Those that “recover” often have hidden damage. It’s been known for a long time that non-covid infections can cause organ damage, and so little is known about the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, as it is qualitatively different tahn other coronaviruses. Not saying you are doing this, but too many people think oh I’ll get a mild case and recover, without realizing it may not be that simple.

      2. Dahlia*

        My province has a very, very high testing rate and apparently here, 20% of people who test positive are asymptomatic.

    5. JSPA*

      Does anyone have clarity whether OP has more rights (employment-wise) if taking care of the kids in OP’s home, rather than sister’s home? And whether it would be smart for sister to use an online notary to set up documents giving sister both limited Power of Attorney and designating her at a temporary / conditional guardian for the kids? This could all be “springing” (conditional on sister’s incapacity). Might be well worth the effort.

      1. OP #3*

        Oh wow. I really did not think that far ahead or at that level of detail… I have kids of my own (and also a spouse), so my plan was to stay in my sister’s house, and if I got sick, convalesce in her house, so that I wouldn’t infect my husband and children.

        1. Dahlia*

          Honestly it might be something to think about. In general, even. Like absolutely knock on wood against worst case scenario, what if your sister and her husband are both too sick to make medical decisions for your niblings if THEY get sick or injured?

          Might be worth talking to a lawyer. Best case scenario you never need any of it.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            It’s always good to have one person who does not live in your house with the legal ability to make important decisions if you’re unreachable or incapacitated. Just a safe thing to do. Hopefully you will never need it, but it’s there if problems arise.
            Until my younger siblings came of age, I had a power of attorney for their care, just in case. Before I grew up, my aunt and uncle had one for us.

  10. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #2 I think you should send an anonymous letter plainly stating that what the yoga studio owner is doing is illegal. She can then act on it or not. This way you don’t damage your relationship with the studio. As well, probably the owner does not realize what she is doing is against the law. Letting her know would be a kindness.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I don’t think sending an anonymous letter is necessarily a kindness. It would make me paranoid if I got one.

      1. Barbara Eyiuche*

        Usually I don’t think it is a good idea at work, but in this situation I assume actually talking to the owner would sour their relationship.

        1. Ellie*

          I agree. I think an anonymous letter might be the only way to handle this, without destroying the relationship. If they phrase it right, it is a kindness… as in, “I’m sure you’re unaware – I love your studio and I don’t want to see it shut down… but volunteers need to be paid minimum wage, you may end up having to pay backpay’, etc. might get them to address this.

          I can’t see any way of saying that in person without the studio hearing, ‘things were just fine until OP complained about it’.

          1. PollyQ*

            All of this. People certainly do have a “shoot the messenger” attitude, but given the risk that any volunteer could go to the DOL at any time, passing on this information is actually doing the studio a favor.

      2. Batgirl*

        I think the fact they are advertising the practice online mitigates this. They clearly think it’s legal and OK, and are expecting some kind of response from strangers. They’re not going to wonder if they’re being watched or ‘How does she know?!’ They could become paranoid about the letter writer’s future intentions but this could be allayed with a friendly tone.

      3. JSPA*

        Depends on the wording.

        “Even though it’s something common in yoga and something that springs from lovely, kind motivations, it’s unfortunately illegal for a for-profit business to allow unpaid volunteer work. I debated whether to say anything. Adults are allowed to assume risks in life, and there are worse risks in life than being suddenly forced to pay back-wages to volunteers and some IRS fines. On the other hand, so many people don’t know this is illegal. If I were in your place, I’d want a kind person to let me know. Especially as the practice is described on the website, where someone from outside our community could notice it, and choose to make trouble. I’m giving you this anonymously, along with some documentation, because as far as I’m concerned, my karmic duty only requires a one-time heads-up. Anything further is yours to decide upon, and I will respect whatever choice you make.”

    2. Asenath*

      Sending an anonymous letter is likely to sour the relationship of the studio owner with many if not all of her customers. Even if she checks out the advice, finds it’s good, and follows it, she’s going to wonder which of the people who are so nice to her face didn’t respect or like her enough to address the issue with her, face to face, and what else they think or know about her and her business are they keeping secret?

      And if I were in her position, I wouldn’t trust any information provided anonymously, and probably wouldn’t even look into it to find out if it was true. There’s no credibility in it since I don’t know how well-informed or accurate the sender is.

        1. Asenath*

          She’s not just saying “I saw this on your website”, she’s saying what she saw is illegal. And the owner of the business has no idea whether someone who writes anonymous letters actually knows what’s legal and what’s not, because she’s anonymous. Moreover, knowing someone in the group is choosing to reveal her concerns anonymously will make the recipient suspicious of all customers, and destroy any sense of community she may be trying to foster among her customers since she doesn’t know which are really friendly and which are pretending to be friendly, but sending anonymous letters.

          1. Colette*

            Exactly. If the OP feels strongly that she needs to point this out, she should do so directly. If she’s not willing to do that, then she can’t report it.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I think the point was if the theoretical anonymous letter opens with “I saw on your website you advertise for volunteers. You must not realize this, but as a for-profit business that’s illegal.” blah blah blah link to official source indicating as much. It could be framed as a concern from a potential new client. No reason to make the owner suspect it was an existing student rather than someone who checked out the site and was noping out while trying to give a head’s up.

            1. Asenath*

              But it’s anonymous! Even if it says that its from someone who read the website, the recipient doesn’t know if it’s from a potential customer instead of a current one! They don’t even know that if the writer claims to be a potential customer who happened to look at the website – with an anonymous letter, the recipient has no way of knowing if this is the truth. It’s a great way to make the unfortunate recipient suspect every person around her.

          3. Batgirl*

            No it’s entirely possible for a stranger to see the website solicitation, know that the request is illegal and send a warning in. It doesn’t have to be from a customer at all!

      1. Recreational Moderation*

        Absolutely agree with your first paragraph, Asenath. My experience is that an anonymous letter, even when sent with the best of intentions, casts a shadow over everyone in the vicinity.
        No, I didn’t send one myself. I was part of a monthly book-club-type group (but not a book club) that offered interesting conversations and much laughter.
        Somebody in the group sent an anonymous letter to all, about an issue that was actually pretty minor. Had it been addressed out loud to the whole group, the problem could easily have been resolved. Instead, the anonymity caused such suspicion and side-eyeing, wondering “Which one of us dunnit?”, that the group dissolved within a month.
        I guess there are instances where an anonymous letter would be appropriate, but I think it generally does more harm than good..

      2. Alice's Rabbit*

        I disagree completely. And unfortunately, I have experience on my side. People do not react well towards being told they’re doing something wrong, and have a strong tendency to lash out and resent the person who told them. Especially if that person turns out to be right.
        A politely worded, anonymous heads up is the only option here.

        1. allathian*

          There’s always the option of contacting DOL directly, but that would probably mean the end of the studio and I doubt the OP wants that to happen.

    3. Georgina Fredrika*

      maybe there’s a way to leave a letter without indicating you plan to turn them in if they don’t comply? The trouble with this sort of letter is that it doesn’t convey intent. This could be a well-meaning person who, literally, wants to inform them that it’s legal and *someone* (not them) could eventually report it…

      it could also be, say, a rival business owner, a disgruntled client etc who is REALLY saying more like “I hope you know this is illegal…. ;) wouldn’t want someone to REPORT you for this!! :( hope you don’t have to pay all that backpay!!!!” (passive aggressive, “stop doing this or I’ll turn you in”)

    4. Jennifer*

      That would completely creep me out. Even if it’s not explicitly stated that the studio was going to be reported, if I were the owner, I’d be super paranoid. Be an adult, use your words, or be quiet about it. Those are the best options. I’d opt for being quiet.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Madam” is dated to the point of being weird in the U.S. It’s really doesn’t belong in modern business communication anymore.

      1. TiffIf*

        It’s weird, but even though “Ma’am” is a contraction of “Madam” I don’t find “Ma’am” nearly as dated.
        If I found something addressed “Dear Sir/Ma’am” I’d find it a bit overly formal but not entirely out of place, but put Madam instead if Ma’am I’m likely to think it’s a scam more than anything

      2. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

        Madam to me conjurs up images of a manager of a house of ill repute. Sir and madam are far more outdated than to whom it may concern. In this era, nonspecific references to sex/gender should just be avoided.

        1. Your Obedient Servant*

          What a strange way to think! Ill repute?! They are the correct form of address for people with certain titles, and not using them would be incredibly rude and insulting.

          One addresses the Queen as madam!

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            We rarely address the Queen in the US. As a Southerner who was taught to call everyone “sir” or “ma’am” regardless of age or station (and remember being told “no ma’am” by my mom when reaching for something as a quite little child), I have only ever been called “madam” one time in an extremely fancy restaurant. I hear it much more frequently in TV shows when the episode has dealings with a brothel when referring to the woman in charge of the establishment.

            1. doreen*

              There are two different pronunciations – one I hear when the word is combined with a title , such as Madam Speaker , or when referring to a woman who runs a brothel. The other, the one I hear in fancy restaurants is pronounced a little differently – it might actually be the French “Madame” but I’m not certain.

              1. Batgirl*

                Not in Britain. It’s just ‘madam’ regardless of whether you mean the brothel kind or Madam Speaker in the House of Commons.

                1. doreen*

                  Sorry , I wasn’t clear. In my experience, in the US those two usages have the same pronunciation. It’s the waiter in the fancy restaurant who pronounces it differently.

          2. Lady Heather*

            I thought the Queen was ‘ma’am-rhymes-with-jam-NOT-calm’? That’s what Michael McIntyre told me..

            One thing that I occasionally like to get worked up about – my apartment does not allow dogs, but the lease didn’t say anything about pet peeves – is ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. Ladies are nobility and gentlemen are gentry. Nobility are people with a title (and, at least historically, the political power that comes with it), (landed) gentry didn’t need to work and lived off passive income.
            If you want to be equal, ‘Gentlewomen and gentlemen’. ‘Lords and ladies’. ‘Gentlefolk.’ (Non-binaries might like that one.) ‘Hey, people.’
            The person who came up with Ladies and Gentlemen, back in the 15th-16th century – did he (let’s face it, it was probably a he) feel the need to make the women feel better for ‘only’ being a woman? Did they speak at audiences where women were only allowed if they were of a certain social status, with the threshhold being lower for men? Oh, I’ve got lots of theories, and none of them are good.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Wasn’t it “Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen” originally for that reason, or did I hear it in a period drama and assume it was accurate? In the book “What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Knew” the chapter on precedence mentions the discontent among ladies of the nobility that while their male counterparts with an inherited peerage had a distinction in address from the Sir William Lucases of the world (who were merely granted a title for life), they were not so lucky — Lady Catherine and Lady Lucas have the same address, but vastly different ranks within the nobility. And I believe there are times, if not in Pride & Prejudice then in some other Austen novel, when someone respectable would say something about “the ladies” when referring to a group that did not include noblewomen (her questionable characters might make a mistake in address, but her respectable ones wouldn’t).

              Of course this is completely separate from the discussion at hand :)

            2. Batgirl*

              It is. Ma’am is much more formal than madam in the UK. Basically reserved for the Queen and female military officers. Though you’ll only hear madam said to judges in certain courts, possibly in super posh hotels. The term madam isn’t everyday at all; though it does live on in formal letters when you don’t know who you’re addressing. It’s honestly worth making the effort to find out who as it strikes the ear as oddly formal even here. Few women are used to being addressed as madam.

              1. allathian*

                Indeed. In retrospect I find it amusing that in the UK, female teachers are addressed as Miss, with a very audible i, regardless of marital status (I lived for a year in the West Country in the mid-80s and went to a comprehensive school). I wonder if that’s because teaching was one of the first professions that became available to women and that women teachers were by definition unmarried? They’d be forced to resign if they did marry. As per Wikipedia, in Ireland the marriage bar for female teachers was abolished as late as 1973!

          3. Onyx*

            “House of ill repute” = brothel
            This isn’t some weird personal association–“madam” as a noun (rather than title) meaning “the female head of a house of prostitution” (Merriam-Webster definition) is one established usage of the word. (Similar to how one definition of the word “mistress” is a woman with whom a married man is committing adultery, which coexists with the other “respectable” definitions.)

            1. Environmental Compliance*


              Also, we really don’t ‘address the Queen’ here in the US, nor do we have a whole bunch of people running around with noble titles, so there’s a minimum of people that you’d likely run into in your daily life in the US who would be offended by not calling them Sir because Titles.

              And also, the Royal UK website even says “ma’am” rhymes with jam, so there’s that. https://www.royal.uk/greeting-member-royal-family

          4. Clisby*

            I thought you addressed the queen as Ma’am. Assuming we’re talking about the Queen of England – I have no idea how to address the Queen of the Netherlands or the Queen of Spain.

            1. allathian*

              You do, but it’s pronounced to rhyme with jam, rather than the way American school students address their female teachers.

              1. biobotb*

                I’m American, and the only way I say Ma’am rhymes with jam. What’s the other way Americans pronounce it?

          5. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

            Not strange at all, surprised you have never heard this. No queen in the US, and Madams were owner/operators of brothels for the longest time. Google it.

            If you have been knighted by the queen or something, by all means insist that people use your formal title. For a cover letter? No.

            1. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

              There is a tv show I love called Madam Secretary, about a woman secretary of state here in the US. That is the appropriate way to refer to her, as is Madam Speaker for Nancy Pelosi. There are other correct uses for Madam other than brothel operator, LOL. Sill sounds awkward on a cover letter, I wouldn’t use it. I’m 64, probably considered old-school, yet I wouldn’t use sir or madam. Too high a chance of offending someone, and for no reason.

              1. Batgirl*

                Even then, I imagine it’s “Dear Madam Speaker” which has a very different flavour to “Dear Madam”.

            2. allathian*

              A knighted woman is a Dame, as in Dame Judi Dench. The male equivalent is Sir, as in Sir Patrick Stewart.

      3. Passenger Seat Anxiety*

        I still occasionally see Madam, Ma’am, and Sir in my mother’s home country (former British colony). I would definitely say it differs from location to location.

    2. rubble*

      it’s not gender neutral, for one thing. but yeah, as allison says, the “madam” especially is not really used anymore in a work environment.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes indeed — but it was also already feeling old-fashioned even when there was a lot less awareness of that aspect of it. So it’s not just that, although it’s that as well.

      2. Queer Earthling*

        Although amusingly, my nonbinary spouse recently addressed themselves as “SIR OR MADAM!” in a fit of frustration.

      3. Joielle*

        This! Why use a phrase that may be offputting to the person receiving the letter, when you could just… not. Personally, I’m a woman, but I’d still be turned off by the phrase. It makes it seem like (at best) it’s never occurred to the applicant that nonbinary people exist, which doesn’t reflect well on them.

        1. allathian*

          To whom it may concern is at least gender neutral and includes people who identify as non-binary.

    3. Asenath*

      I still use “Dear sir or madam” or sometimes “Dear madam or sir” when I have been unable to find the name of the person. I might also use “To whom it may concern”, although less frequently. That’s for use when I think my email is going to many people, none of whom I can find a name for. But I’m not in the US, and if I started off “Dear hiring manager”, the response would probably be “What’s a hiring manager? I don’t think I’m one, whatever it is.”

    4. Jack be Nimble*

      It’s probably somewhat industry/region dependent, but I think of it as pretty stiff and old-fashioned — I don’t judge people for using it, but my impression is that they’re slightly out of touch and/or anxious about Being Professional In Business Correspondence.

      Again, it’s not a negative judgment, but it’s not positive, either.

      1. Anon100*

        Perhaps slightly off-tangent, but I still use “To Whom It May Concern” when I have to write formal business reports to clients or regulatory agencies. Sure, in the email I may write “Hello, [Name}], here is the report you requested” but in the actual letter writing “Dear [first name]” is just too… casual. And I’m trying to avoid using Mr./Ms.[last name] theses days because 1) I don’t always know their preferred pronouns; 2) sometimes the formal letter is for the entire division; 3) I personally have an “ethnic” name and I don’t like being addressed by the wrong pronoun + last name so why inflict that pain on someone else?

        I don’t know many people who still use “Dear sir or madam” or anything these days – I see it maybe once a year on the most formal of letters?

        1. Jack Be Nimble*

          Definitely! I don’t think ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is always out of place, but I think it looks pretty formal in most day-to-day business correspondence.

          I triage a team account for inquiries, and every time I get an email that opens that way I feel a little bit like I’m being invited to take supper at Netherfield, you know? It comes across as somewhat old-fashioned. Definitely not a strike against someone, but you don’t necessarily want to be remembered as the person who sends the formal emails.

    1. Sir Lena Clare*

      Yes, me too :)
      I have used it, even recently, in my job search. Now I’m second-guessing myself.
      I’m in the UK though, and wonder if the norms are different here or if I’m out of touch :/

      1. londonedit*

        I think ‘To whom it may concern’ and ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ are more broadly used still in the UK. From what I’ve read here, I think UK cover letters are much more formal than US ones, and while ‘To whom…’ and ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ do seem a bit old-fashioned to me, I don’t think anyone would really bat an eyelid if they received a cover letter that opened with either of those (unless it was a super-cool creative industry or something). Personally I usually try to use the name of the person who’s in charge of the hiring (in my industry there are often instructions in the job ad about who to send applications to) but if not then I probably would default to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. I definitely wouldn’t use ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ – that’s not something you see here.

      2. Elizabeth*

        The norms are definitely different here. You’re fine! The US uses mentioned here would come across as unprofessional and far too casual, verging on rude. The UK generally expects a higher level of formality and politeness.

    2. Calanthea*

      I coordinate hiring processes for a few of my teams, and noone has ever commented on TWIMC or Dear Sir/Madam. There are occasional wry comments when the cover letter is addressed to me, because my contact details get pulled through for jobs sites, rather than the people actually doing the hiring. Maybe it’s stuffy, but it would be weird if someone held that against you in a cover letter.

    3. David*

      I’ve always used “To whom it may concern” as an opening in any sort of business letter if I don’t have any specific person to address it to. I get that it seems rather formal but I can’t come up with any alternative that I like better. Besides I think virtually everyone jumps to the contents of the letter and ignores the greeting. Unless the envelope itself is addressed that way which would require the letter to be reviewed to determine where it has to go I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.

      “Dear Sir or Madame” has always sounded particularly odd and old fashioned to me.

    4. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

      LoV, I do too and will continue to use it. No need to know anything aboyt sex/gender/position. It’s perfect!

      1. Cheluzal*

        Agree, I will continue to use it! I don’t know who is in charge of dictating that words became stuffy but I guess when texting came along and everyone started getting too relaxed it would appear stuffy in comparison.

    5. Clisby*

      I do, too. I’m in the US, but not a hiring manager. I can’t imagine being put off by it.

  11. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP1, I would leave the mug at home. It sounds hilarious, but depending on your workplace you may
    1. Run the risk of offending people
    2. Appear to have questionable judgement about what is workplace appropriate

    While I personally wouldn’t find your mug at all offensive, I would lean towards wondering about your understanding of workplace norms.

    My specific workplace is very laid back, tattoos and piercings are quite acceptable, many people wear jeans and Ts, etc. But it’s not culturally homogeneous as many “creative” places are perceived to be.

    I have several very religious colleagues who would be offended by this, although they may not say anything, just as they do not talk about their religious beliefs at the office.

    Disclaimer: I’m not in the US and culturally we are pretty different, from what I understand.

    1. pcake*

      I’m in the U.S., and I’d say it’s the same for everywhere I’ve worked, all casual work places.

  12. Analyst Editor*

    For LW2: Whom would it benefit to bring it up that this is Illegal?
    A lot of laws aren’t perfect, or fair, or work well for situations they weren’t designed for. I think this sort of exploitation is not what the people writing our labor laws had in mind. Yeah, you could warn the owner, if only because one day a busybody will come along who *will* report it, but definitely don’t do such a thing yourself.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      It benefits the studio to bring this up, so they don’t go bankrupt if they get reported to the authorities by someone less kind than OP2.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      There are plenty of laws that I think are unjust and in fact *should* be violated, but I also want people to know when they’re breaking the law rather than find out when the police show up. The studio almost certainly doesn’t know that they can’t legally use volunteers, and this way they can make an informed decision as to whether to keep doing it, and whether they should maybe be advertising it less openly if they do.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Yeah. Civil disobedience requires a willingness to be punished for breaking the rule to be an example of why the rule is wrong. Otherwise, it’s just scofflawism.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah, if you’re going to break the law, do it knowingly since ignorance of the law is not a sufficient defense. Maybe the yoga studio continues to operate the same way even after they find out, but at least then they know what’s at risk.

    3. Lovely Day in the Pandemic*

      It would benefit taxpayers who pay more because some workers don’t pay at all.

  13. 'Tis Me*

    I am curious about the karmic implications of warning the studio ;-) I think I come down on the side of warning them being good karma though?

    Incidentally, can I please check if anybody knows how this applies to riding studios? Because isn’t horse care a standard part of the procedures? I thought it was very common for people to e.g. Muck out stalls in exchange for riding time, and grooming the horses before and after lessons reasonably normal? (I don’t ride and never have done but went through phase where I read loads of books about people who did)

    1. TechWorker*

      I looked up the UK law here out of interest (which is fairly similar to US on this topic) and found: https://equestrianemployers.org.uk/guide-to-the-national-minimum-wage

      I can’t see why it wouldn’t apply, but in the U.K. there is a bit of a loophole for work experience (you can ‘work’ for free at a for profit company if it’s mostly in your own interests and there are no consequences of not showing up).

      I also don’t know where the line is with tasks that a company needs doing (eg, grooming horses) but some would want to do? Eg if you sold it as a ‘have a lesson and groom your horse experience’ lol then how is anyone being underpaid? (I guess that lines up with them being able to leave/no show without consequence?).

    2. angstrom*

      Where I go, grooming/tacking up/post-ride cleanup for the horse that you’re riding that day is part of the lesson. It’s clearly stated that one of the objectives is learning about horsemanship, not just riding.
      Students are not expected to groom other horses or do other barn chores not directly related to their lesson.

      1. Delta Delta*

        This. Often the lesson includes overall horse and equipment care, which are as important to know as keeping your heels down.

      2. lost academic*

        That’s certainly true almost everywhere when it’s YOUR lesson horse, but horses need to be groomed regularly (and fed, and mucked) even if they aren’t in a lesson that day (or in lesson programs at all). Plenty of boarded horses might be off that day, on stall rest, not suitable for lessons, in training, etc. They still need care. It never ends at a barn!

        1. NapkinThief*

          Of course, but it sounds like legally the barn needs to hire paid staff to take care of those other horses, unless they are a nonprofit.

      3. Me Myself and I*

        Exactly – a HUGE part of horsemanship is learning to communicate with the horse. Grooming, feeding, cleaning stalls, etc. builds a relationship that teaches you about the horse’s personality and teaches the horse that you are a human who can be trusted. I have ridden my whole life and would not personally feel comfortable getting on a horse I hadn’t gotten to know from the ground first. If your goal is to eventually own your own horse and/or barn, learning maintenance before you get into something you weren’t ready for saves a ton of heartache (not to mention money)!

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      It’s very interesting, as I grew up with horses and it’s so, so common to have lessons paid off through working at the barn. Heck, I did that all through high school – and I learned how to run a stable through it. Would I ever want to? Heck no. I do not want that drama. But I feel comfortable owning a barn & managing it for my own horses.

      I’m curious now if the barn I worked at stopped having that kind of help because they looked up the implications, because I think at that time (I went to college, so I stopped because of that) they were expanding their business and working more with legal help.

      It would be one thing if you had to groom & tack up *your horse* (which was part of the riding camps I went to), but I did mucking out, fence repair, moving around the horses between pastures, catching the stray cats to bring in to neuter/spay/vaccinate, shooing around the rescued roosters, picking up pastures, chucking hay bales up into the barn loft… and I imagine the line is if it’s directly related to the lesson/that lesson horse, and if you weren’t taking that lesson that day or stopped lessons, would still happen otherwise (i.e. other lesson horses).

      I’ve also ran into boarding barns that required the boarders to all sign up for weekends to take care of all the horses, and I’m curious if that would technically be allowed or not – would that be considered hours that would have to be paid? There was no ‘payment’ for it, you’d still pay full board price.

  14. Seitan*

    OP #1: Seconding what Alison said. Please don’t claim religious exemption unless the item is actually religious for you (not that you said you would, but just emphasizing it here). I actually belong to The Satanic Temple which is a federally recognized religion in the US. I had a sticker for the organization on the inside corner of my personal use laptop in a non-client-facing office. My manager tried to force me to remove it despite other people in the office having personal items all over their desks. I had to fight tooth and nail for my right to have my tiny sticker just because my manager decided my religion offended him.

    1. Paperdill*

      I’m glad you are responding to this question, because I was wondering if such a mug could be construed as actually mocking a religion and not only be offensive to, say, conservative Christians but also to those religions that use pentagrams and venerate Satan.

    2. Think but not positive*

      I’m not a con law lawyer, but I don’t think it’s true that a business must allow religious personal items to the same extent they allow secular personal items (e.g., the Bible verse mug vs. the NFL mug). As long as a business prohibits all religious personal items (regardless of religion) and the employee cannot show the item is necessary for them to practice/express their religious beliefs, there is nothing illegal there.

      1. mayfly*

        My work mug has my church’s name on it. I have been considering a mug with a verse from Habakkuk (“Oh Lord, Revive Thy Work”) because I personally find the “revive=coffee” play on words amusing and i like the reminder of the greater importance of my daily work. But, because it may be seen as trivializing scripture, I wouldn’t take it to my workplace, even though I work with mostly non-religious people.

  15. andy*

    L1 We had new manager coming from another company noting things like your mug and using it against people to devalue them when they disagreed with her in professional matters. When people had no funny mugs, she found something else. Usually behind back. Politically and socially, that particular manager is not exactly respected nor trusted now. Why would I trust whatever she says, when I have seen her doing the above?

    All of this depends on company culture, but people who decide to create professional tensions over mugs seem to be shooting themselves into the leg. The act of doing that, flexing the power like that, is making others around not to trust their judgment.

    So, if your company is not toxic overall, I would not worry about mug. If the above manager would fit right in and raised, you need new job.

    1. Katrinka*

      Nope. People can and are often offended about things without it creating a toxic workplace. In your example, it’s not that your manager objected to one thing on one person’s desk, it’s that she sought out things to complain about for each person. There’s a big difference.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Agreed. I would also never say something about this mug, but it would color my view of the mug-bearer, depending on the office. I wouldn’t go around accusing OP of being unprofessional based on it – I wouldn’t have to. It’s often not that overt or obnoxious. Social capital is subtle. You see its loss when a boss’ eyes glaze over, or someone subtly steps away from you or people don’t rise to your defense when you make an error, your words are misinterpreted or you weren’t given credit you were due. People are generally not so confrontational in my experience as to say “I think you’re stupid for bringing this to work!”

        1. Andy*

          The whole “you are not attributed proper credit because I was subtly offended over something like this” sounds to me like toxic ot at least bad workplace – in a passive aggressive way but still.

          I am not exaggerating here. If your social credit is that weak, of other peoples social credit is that weak, then I am very happy to work in place where it is not so.

          And I am saying that as woman working in male dominated workplace. Because there is no way I would make it if the work credit and social standings were so fragile. The signaling matter, but the more it matter and in the more subtle way it matter, the harder for anyone nor exactly like others it is.

    2. Observer*

      It sounds like this manager is toxic. But, totally not relevant.

      Most people do not “decide to create professional tensions over mugs”. What they DO do is use the information that the mug seems to be giving them and draw their own conclusion, or at least raise question marks in their minds. It’s not unreasonable.

      1. Andy*

        Alison answer specifies professional tension specifically. People subtly change opinions on all the interactions. Every single of other ones. I am not wearing makeup and it does damage too in some people, more then outrigjt provocations do, but all in all in caring about this stuff is not worth it.

        I think that manager matters, because she is the prototype of person or culture that push things like this to prominence. She could be more skilled in her actions and it would be less apparent.

  16. Audrey Puffins*

    LW1: honestly, even if it were a mug covered in pastel-coloured doves, if it’s your favourite mug, then don’t take it to the office. Your office mug should be one that you wouldn’t be sad about being broken or list or stolen or used by other co-workers.

    1. Bring on the Allergy Meds*

      This, don’t bring things into the office you would be sad if they disappeared or were broken. Favorite Mugs, Special(fancy/expensive/sentimental) Pens, anything expensive or sentimental doesn’t have a place at work.

    2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      This is my take. I wouldn’t take it in because I wouldn’t want it to get lost or destroyed.

    3. Arielle*

      Or inaccessible because the pandemic stay at home order comes through on a weekend and then you get laid off after two weeks of WFH, leaving your personal effects inaccessible and sitting for months in the office of a company you no longer work for. Just hypothetically.

  17. Sir Lena Clare*

    So can I clarify, would that mug be ok if the OP were a Satanist, as an expression of their beliefs, similar to having a mug with a Star of David on or similar?

    1. andy*

      If I understand it right, the issue is not that the mug is wrong. Issue is the fear that someone petty or someone with bad judgement or someone on power trip might use it against you, maybe.

      Therefore, it the letter writer is really satanists, we can not tell her/him to put mug away as it is deeply religious thing.

      But if it is not deeply religious thing, then you are having mug for fun. If that happens and someone petty takes objection, you are possibly seen as the one causing issues, not the person with the bad judgement. Given the warning about CEO, that is not unreasonable guess.

      1. Colette*

        I don’t think that’s the entire thing.

        Some people will find the mug offensive. That will affect the OP, even if they never say anything about the mug. (My thought would be that it’s odd, and … not funny. So I’d assume that the OP has a sense of humour I don’t share, and I’d keep my distance somewhat.)

        1. Sir Lena Clare*

          Yes, that isn’t quite it, I agree.
          I don’t think the OP should use it if she isn’t a Satanist because it is mocking another religion (why would people assume it is a “joke”, as they claim, just because it has a cutesy cat on it?)
          My question is more around defending the choice of mug if she is a Satanist? Like, this will still be ok, under religious antidiscrimination or something?

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes, the difference is, even though people will understand that this is a joke, a lot of people would take this as either a joke mocking their own religious beliefs, or trifling with something they feel should be taken very seriously (that is, the devil). It’s not the equivalent of a Jewish person having a mug with a Star of David on it, and it’s also something that comes across perhaps more seriously if you take it into work than if you just had it in your own house and someone was coming over for coffee and disagreed with it.

  18. Anononon*

    I use “Good afternoon” for things like cover letters where I don’t know the person’s name. I find that it sidesteps that issue entirely, and I don’t think it’s a huge deal if, say, the letter is read in the morning.

    1. Jay*

      I have done this w/ emails, opening w/ “good morning!” or “good afternoon!” and I LOVE it. Greetings that address a person by name are way tougher than you’d think, and I love getting around it.

      1. Fafa Flunkie*

        That’s my go-to salutation on almost every email I write! The only exception is that I omit it when the email is trying to chase down a deadbeat client who’s ignoring my repeated attempts to get attention from them for unpaid invoices. (We’re talking pre-COVID here; I’m much more lenient now given the circumstances.)

  19. RosenGilMom*

    LW#5, I guess, looking back at a recent cover letter of mine, ‘Dear Future Colleague’ may have been overly optimistic…..Although I was trying to set a specific tone …..

  20. Astrinde*

    For OP#2: The word “yoga” stems from Sanskrit “yuj,” which has one meaning of “to yoke,” and the ultimate aim of such practice is to encounter/awaken the Divine within by yoking oneself to a series of disciplines. As such, there are many aspects of Yoga practice, only one of which is the physical exercise taught in yoga studios; one path or aspect is Karma Yoga, “karma” meaning “action.” By doing one’s duty, and performing selfless service without being attached to the results, the yogi/ni learns to move beyond the ego and to perceive that everyone and everything is Divine. In popular culture, the word “karma” has come to signify a sort of transactional thinking, something like, “I do good so that I receive good in return, and I avoid bad so that nothing bad happens to me.” But its real meaning is the exact opposite of self-interest.

    You know the culture and teachings of your yoga studio better than anyone here, but I wanted to offer the above as a gentle suggestion that the name “Karma Queens” might signify “this service is part of a Yoga path,” rather than “we sweep floors to uphold our end of a cosmic bargain where we get lots of stuff and nothing ever goes wrong.” :) (And my apologies for the ramble, especially if the above is already well-known to you or if you are certain that this group has no such mindset.)

    1. Katrinka*

      And that would be fine, if that’s what was happening here. But in this case, the studio is actually asking for volunteers on their website, not offering this as an opportunity to advance on a path. And if a studio did have such a program, it would need to be spelled out explicitly in any literature, handbooks, etc. It’s always best to check with your lawyer first.

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      I feel like combining Karma with Queen undercuts that argument a bit. “Queen” doesn’t really connote selfless service in the pursuit of the divine – if anything using it trivializes any spiritual significance “karma” was supposed to add. Queens seem closer to an “in” group with privileges and authority over others.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          Sure, but Astrinde gave a statement about what karma means and how the practice of this studio might really be able selfless service in search of the divine and a call to action, rather than a transactional relationship. If we’re going to read into it, it seems fair to say that posting it on the website and and the phrase “Karma Queen” don’t really lend itself to that.

    3. OP3*

      First of all: As I stated, I have been a yoga student for a decade, so I know that “Karma” does not mean what everyone thinks it means. The problem I have is using an actual religious term that others use seriously in what may or may not be read as a “cutesy” alliteration.

      Also, my mother didn’t raise a fool – the studio actually uses a different name for the group, similar to this, but not exactly “Karma Queens”, because I don’t need to rumble myself and the studio.

      1. OP2 (actually)*

        UGH. I’m OP2, not OP3. That’s what I get for replying on a phone. Fat fingers.

  21. Kate*

    LW 2 – I would highly suggest checking out the podcast “Yoga is Dead.” This series explores a lot of the exploitative things yoga studios do and may help place this more in context if you decide to push back a bit. Having been a former fitness instructor myself and seen how fitness studios get around paying people (e.g., we had to pay to be trained (what other employer charges you to then work there?), the front desk people got free classes instead of a paycheck), it’s incredibly frustrating to me the passes we give to these types of employers – whose clientele are usually already in the very upper income brackets.


  22. Delta Delta*

    #5 – I was on a hiring committee at a mid-size law firm. About 10 years ago we posted a job for a paralegal. We received a cover letter that opened, “Greetings, Friends at XYZ Law Firm!” Of the 4 people on the committee, 3 found this charming. I found it bizarre. He was ultimately hired, but fired within about 8 days of hiring for a string of bizarre behavior including, but not limited to, displaying a collection of lacquered squirrel skulls on his desk.

    The point is, maybe stick with something like, “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To the Team at XYZ Law Firm.” Word choice sends messages.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      ” … a string of bizarre behavior including, but not limited to, displaying a collection of lacquered squirrel skulls on his desk.”
      If that was what he was displaying at work, what was on display at home? I shudder to think.

    2. Starbuck*

      I had a chuckle at this, because where I work bringing your lacquered skull collection to work would be a strong bonus – we can use those sorts of skills! Still, you definitely need to know your audience for that sort of thing.

  23. blackcat*

    LW3, I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that the majority of people under 40ish get “mild” COVID.
    My husband and I had it at the same time, and we have a toddler. For both of us, it was like a bad bout of the flu–extreme exhaustion, terrible headache, terrible body aches, intermittent fever. I had some pretty bad shortness of breath but I was treated outpatient (I have asthma, so this is more likely).

    Neighbors dropped off food. The toddler watched a lot of TV. We primed a bunch of new toys and books for him. I spent an embarrassing amount of money on stupid apps for him. He was bored. He learned the “tuck mommy and daddy in under blankets” game. The only impact COVID had on him was that he slept extra for a few days in a row, which was really a blessing (since we needed the rest!).

    Don’t get me wrong, it SUCKED. We were quite sick (I was on the edge of needing to be hospitalized), but we were did not require anyone to risk exposure to help us (though the food from neighbors was tremendously helpful). And I think I was sicker than the average 30-somethings who get it tend to be. I know multiple people who got it whose experience was much more like a cold and they were better within 5-7 days.

    So all I’m saying is that there’s a very good chance that even if the whole family gets COVID and even if they get quite sick, they may still be fine on their own. As it is, it was actually easier for us to care for a toddler with COVID than it was to care for a baby when we had The Great Norovirus Disaster of 2018. I think it’s just part of parenting that you cope with illnesses. There are lots of ways you could help without risking exposure (by doing grocery runs, finding the kids some new toys to keep them occupied, etc). I would not give your workplace a heads up, because it is very likely you will not need this time off.

    1. blackcat*

      Oh, and also! Incubation periods mean that it’s entirely possible that the illness will be staggered enough that there aren’t many days where both parents are totally knocked out. For us it was maybe 3 days of overlapping illness that were really bad, and this corresponded to when the toddler had it and was sleeping extra. Part of why I ordered so many damn apps and toys was that my husband’s employer expected him to get back to working from home ASAP. If he had been able to take more than a week off of work, things would have been much, much easier. As it was, I was still quite ill and needing to keep the kid entertained so that my husband could work.
      (Just as a rant: part of what makes the US’s terrible response so infuriating to me is that when Americans get sick, they can’t take enough time off of work to get well. I feel “lucky” that my medical bills for the treatments weren’t too high. But the value of the PTO my husband and I used + medical bills were the entire amount of our stimulus money.)

      1. OP #3*

        Thanks all – these stories are really heartening because, although the data support what you’re both saying (that symptoms are usually “mild” for people in their 30s and 40s) the anecdotes that come through the news seem much more dire. I think that I would want to step in to help my sister, even if she could technically manage on her own — but maybe there are ways to do it (dropping off food, buying more distracting toys for my nephews, cleaning their house with heavy PPE on) than actually moving in. I don’t know. I also have a husband and children of my own, although they are tween-aged and pretty easy to manage. There’s a lot to think about. Most notably, that I want to strangle her colleague who wasn’t wearing a mask while he traveled with my sister all over the city as part of a mobile outreach team, and then tested positive a day later.

        1. Clisby*

          “… anecdotes that come through the news seem much more dire.”

          That’s because news, by definition, is unusual.

          We haven’t made the news with “Parents and 18-year-old son so far haven’t gotten sick or killed each other while isolating” because we’re the typical case.

        2. Cheluzal*

          The news is only reporting the very small percent of bad cases because all the people who barely have symptoms or don’t even know they have it just isn’t exciting to report. Just keep that in mind. I only know two people secondhand who tested positive and neither of them even knew they had it!

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            Agreed. We had it, and it was rough on me, as I’m asthmatic, and on my toddler. But for my husband, it wasn’t much more than a sore throat and fever. A couple days of chicken soup, and he was fine; he didn’t even take a full day off working from home, because he just didn’t feel that bad. Our eldest barely slowed down at all.
            So food is good. Toys and new movies for the kids are good. And check in a few times a day, via phone or internet. But unless they get hit hard, everyone is probably better if you avoid exposing yourself to the plague.

      2. Imtheone*

        Folks need to remember that rates of illness and death are much higher in certain communities. It was reported in the New York Times that a survey showed about 1/3 of Blacks knew someone who had been seriously ill with Covid-19.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this is true. Even in our local Somali community, death rates have been higher than for the average population across all age groups except in children, there hasn’t been a single COVID-related death here for the under-20s group. I dread what may be happening in Africa, where testing simply isn’t available in most areas. It’s significant that South Africa is showing the highest rates of infection, because they have better access to testing.

          I wonder how much the population disparity is due to the fact that minority groups tend to have less access to healthcare (particularly in the US) and to work in the service sector where you really can’t work from home and they also tend to have higher rates of unemployment and layoffs than Caucasians? And how much is due to genetic differences that make some people more likely to get seriously ill than others?

    2. D3*

      I thought our family was the only one who named things! We have similarly named times of family sickness and also The Great Paint Disaster of 2004 (when a poorly lidded 5 gallon bucket of paint fell down the stairs and splattered EVERYWHERE.) and The Soy Sauce Incident We Do Not Discuss.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        We had The Cursed Can of Yellow Paint, which exploded open while shaking to mix it on three separate occasions before a flood finally destroyed it… by opening it and spreading it all over the basement along with the floodwaters. Really, a great time all around! :)

        1. nonegiven*

          The Vectra Incident. One of the cats freaked a little when we gathered up each one by one to treat for fleas. We chased her around a little but gave up pretty easy, she was the only one that hadn’t been treated, yet. So the next day, DH grabbed her as she went by so he could pull it out of his pocket and squirt it on her neck. She screamed like she was being killed. After that, we always did her first so she wouldn’t have time to get freaked about it.

  24. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #2 – If you had said the owner was a good friend and you were concerned that they’d get in trouble for having these volunteers, I’d say let them know that it’s illegal. But that’s not the case so I’m not sure what your stake is in this. It kind of sounds like you just want to “warn” (i.e. lightly threaten to expose) them that they could get into legal trouble because you’re sick of the karma talk.I’d suggest you keep your nose out of something that isn’t your business, unless it’s affecting you personally (outside of just being annoyed).

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        How is what I said an attack on the OP? Sorry if my directness offends you, but if someone is butting into business that isn’t theirs, I’m going to mention it.

        1. blackcat*

          You seem to be interpreting intent into the letter that I don’t see. It seems like OP2 is concerned that a business she likes is doing something illegal. That could jeopardize the business! It’s a kindness to warn them!
          Just because she’s annoyed by the karma talk doesn’t mean she’s out to get the business.

        2. Observer*

          You’re telling them to “keep their nose out” which is not just direct. And you are claiming that they are actually intending to threaten them, which a total stretch.

        3. WellRed*

          “butting their nose in” never sounds less than attacking and hostile. As well as implying the OP wants to get them in trouble.

      2. MicroManagered*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily an attack. I had a similar read on #2.. that the LW was more just annoyed by the whole thing than truly concerned for the studio’s labor compliance. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to give yourself a “lane check” when you start to feel the urge to involve yourself in a situation that otherwise doesn’t have much to do with you.

    1. Jennifer*


      Not an attack either, but the whole letter felt a bit petty to me. Of course, the LW doesn’t have to believe in karma if she doesn’t want to, but I think the Karma Queens things is just a silly name and she may be reading too much into it. I highly doubt anyone is worried about getting bad karma if they don’t help sweep the floor. The “volunteer” role is open to anyone so it’s not like she picked her special clique for these roles. They may just view it as helping out a friend. Everyone’s happy. No one’s being exploited. Why would someone need to report this? What purpose would it serve? Who’s being helped?

      1. Jennifer from 12:01 pm*

        Oops, I didn’t see your name before I commented below! Just to be clear, I am a different Jennifer.

        1. OP2*

          I absolutely find it annoying and it makes me cringe seeing it. It’s a part of the whole package of problematic things about this situation, but I think that the name is a secondary issue to the unpaid work part if nothing actually predatory is going on.

    2. OP2*

      I’m happy to clarify! I live in a small community and there are only a small handful of yoga studios, and most of them don’t offer classes in the particular kind of yoga I enjoy. This studio does, and so I have a (kind of selfish) interest in helping them stay successful and remain successful.

      I also personally like the owner, I think she is a good person with a very good heart who probably doesn’t know the legal ramifications of having volunteers in a for-profit business, and if I were making a kind of big legal misstep like that in a business I owned, I would definitely want someone to let me know. I don’t know if she already knows its illegal.

      My question arose out of the conundrum of what would help the owner, and the students/yoga community, and what are the ethical ramifications of contributing to a business using free labor (which I consider something that is my business, and effects me personally), and where do my obligations lie. I don’t know that that’s an easy question to answer, or if there is one right answer, and I’m certainly glad there are lots of people with different perspectives so I can see many different points of view before I decide what to do.

      But yeah, definitely not sticking my nose into things just to cause trouble :)

      1. MicroManagered*

        I work in payroll (so this question is right up my alley!) and I have had similar conversations with small business owners when it comes up.

        I think, with a yoga studio or any kind of fitness-related business, there is kind of a fine line between students “cleaning up” (wiping down the area or putting away equipment, for example) and “free labor.” At the very least, I think getting the request off the website is what needs to happen here.

        I think your mention that you find karma “icky” might have been what gave some people (myself included) the impression that you had other motivations (such as being annoyed by the “Karma Queens”), but I think it’s good information for you to have as you approach this, because now you know it has the potential to seem that way. :)

    3. Alice's Rabbit*

      Wow, you have to have a wheel to put that much spin on this letter.
      OP is concerned about the studio going bankrupt if the get caught doing this and suddenly owe thousands in back pay. She’s warning them out of the goodness of her heart, because she enjoys the studio and wants to see it stay successful.
      There are no threats, implied or otherwise.

  25. mdv*

    #2 – if you don’t want to say something … I’d just print a copy of the law, highlight the relevant sections, and leave it in their mailbox, or even spend the cost of a stamp to mail it anonymously.

  26. Butter Makes Things Better*

    Re: #5 — fwiw, and it’s only possibly of any worth in journalism, if that, I never addressed my cover letters generically or went through HR or online application tools for initial contact for reporter/writer/editor gigs. I always researched and wrote to specific editors using their correct titles. I can’t speak directly to how much they did or didn’t care about that, but I can say I landed terrific jobs at well-known publications and my response-and-interview rate was nearly 100%. The ability to research and nail down detailed information was a mandatory skill for all of those positions.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Interesting you mention this. I never managed to get a job in journalism, but I DID use my journalism education to get a job in prospect research at a nonprofit organization, and we have similar respect for people able to track down detailed information. I personally don’t much care whether people address me by name or as “dear hiring manager” when I’m hiring, but my own boss has a pet peeve for the latter, and really wants people to look up the person to whom they should address their cover letter. The only time when “dear hiring manager” irked me was when the person applying for the job was an existing member of my team who knew darn well that I was the person hiring for the role!

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        Hahaha, omg, why? Did they get the job despite that?

        A major benefit to tracking down the right editor was that I could then tailor my cover letter specifically to them, based on stories they’d written or departments they oversaw. I got glowing feedback on those letters.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          No, they didn’t. I don’t remember much about the cover letters I got for that position, but the interviews were interesting. One of the internal ones turned out much better than I’d expected, and the external ones were…bad to mediocre, frankly. I guess my workplace attracts good people.

  27. Cat*

    So if you’re applying to be a lawyer at a law firm, hiring managers aren’t a thing. The term is hiring partner, who is the partner in charge of hiring. I doubt anyone would care but since the LW is asking.

    If you were applying for the accounting or HR department of a law firm, hiring manager might be correct.

    1. CTT*

      I was thinking about this too! It’s usually unlikely that the hiring partner will be the person you work for in a law firm (which is good for me, since the hiring partner at my firm is a medical malpractice trial attorney and I do real estate and literally have never been in a courtroom. That would have been a real surprise if I was actually working for him.)

      1. Cat*

        Yeah. I do think it would be somewhat tone deaf to send a letter to a law firm for a lawyer job and address it to the “hiring manager.” But hardly a deal killer. It’s just not how law firms work.

    2. LawLady*

      I’m not sure “Dear Hiring Partner” even really makes sense. That’s the partner who oversees the recruitment program, but the cover letter is likely being reviewed by a variety of folks, many of them other partners. And it’s not quite a parallel, since the hiring partner often won’t be the person who oversees the applicant’s work.

      I’d just default to “to whom it may concern” across the board.

      1. Cat*

        I’m at a small firm so the hiring manager is the point person for all attorney hiring so I wouldn’t bat an eye at it. But it might make less sense at a bigger place.

        1. LawLady*

          Ah, yeah, I’m at a huge BigLaw firm. The hiring partner for the office oversees our recruiting department’s efforts, coordinates some of on-campus recruiting, and sends out emails reminding people not to look sloppy while we have interviewees coming around. I think my instinct to default to “to whom it may concern” comes from only working for behemoth companies, so I just assume there’s some complicated set of processes and people I’m sending an application to.

  28. No Tribble At All*

    #5 — thank you Allison for the reminder that “Hiring Manager” is “the Manager for this role, who would hire me”! I thought it was the opposite.

  29. Geek*

    Alison wrote, “the hiring manager isn’t the person who manages all the hiring for an organization, but rather the person who will be your boss if you’re hired for the job.”

    That’s a good reminder. My last job hunt was about 8 months ago.

    I interviewed with a fairly small organization that outsourced HR. They did not volunteer this information, but I found out from looking at LinkedIn information for the people with whom I spoke.

    The HR person did the initial telephone screen and general recruitment pitch. I no longer remember specifics of what I asked, but I asked something she didn’t know. I told her that was okay, I would bring it up when I talked with the hiring manger.

    “Oh. *I* am the hiring manager here.”

    I apologized and clarified that I meant the person to whom I would report.

    On an entirely different note, I’ve been with my new company a little over 6 months, and just last week, I received a rejection letter from an inquiry I made 8 months ago. :)

  30. Bookworm*

    #5: Thanks for asking this question and I’m glad Alison agrees that trying to hunt down the name isn’t that big of a deal. If they have a name or if there is a name attached to the job post I think it’s good practice to add it (it’s right there!) but since there’s a very good chance the hiring manager isn’t going to be involved much with actually working with you, this is silly.

    1. Elenna*

      As Allison says, the hiring manager is actually the person who will be the boss of whoever is hired, so presumably they’ll be working with you a lot! But regardless, I agree it’s not a huge deal on the cover letter, sensible companies don’t expect you to do a bunch of detective work just for one opening salutation.

      1. allathian*

        Unless they’re hiring journalists or other professionals who are expected to be good at researching details like that.

  31. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    Re LW #4: I have a strong dislike of tag spam. Unless I want to maintain a relationship with the tag spammer, I tend to go straight from zero to nuclear, and block the schmuck. Otherwise, I may simply remove the tag.

  32. AngryAngryAlice*

    Re: LW4-

    I’ve never related to Alison more than when I read this passing suggestion about getting someone to stop tagging the LW in LinkedIn posts: “You can also remove individual tags from individual posts if you want — which is a more passive-aggressive way of doing it but might be satisfying.”

    I have no problem with confrontation when it seems like the best way to solve a problem, but sometimes the passive-aggressive solution is just. so. satisfying.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      And sometimes it works! Or at least it did when my sister kept tagging me in stupid MLM crap on Facebook and I just untagged myself about 10 times until she realized it, and finally stopped tagging me in stuff.

      (Yes, I asked her to stop, but she’s not great at listening. She did leave the company she got herself signed up for, but unfortunately it was after they got her to spend a couple hundred on “setting up her business”.)

  33. Mimmy*

    #5 – What’s the convention when you’re submitting a cover letter through a company’s HR portal? I imagine it’d still be “Dear Hiring Manager” since the application presumably gets routed to the hiring department if you get past the application system.

  34. JenJennifer*

    I “volunteered” as a “sewadar” at my local yoga studio in exchange for unlimited classes. I was expected to open and close the studio, clean spaces, welcome and direct students, answer questions about the studio, process payments, etc. I was actually worried about this from my own compliance standpoint–how would I report this income on my own tax returns? Ultimately I quit after a few weeks for several reasons.

    First, calling volunteers “sewadars” made me super uncomfortable because the term is inherently religious. My practice of yoga is not religious, although I respect its origins and those who do practice it in a spiritual or religious fashion.

    Second, the owner was an intense micro-manager of her instructors and volunteers. She could also be verbally abusive if you didn’t follow her instructions *to the letter.* She once berated me in front of other students for making tea incorrectly. No one needs that kind of abuse, much less someone who is volunteering.

    Third, if you have a full-time job or familial obligations, you can’t really take advantage of a sufficient number of classes or opportunities to make this gig worth it.

    Finally, some speculation. Although I do believe that the studio saw volunteers as part of the work they do to create a community there–hence the sewadar term–I doubt that the profit margins were sufficient to enable the studio to pay its sewadars for their labor. The system seems to depend on a churn of unpaid labor to stay afloat.

  35. Robin*

    about inappropriate whimsy- I wanted to get my lab tech husband a lunch bag for the hospital that read “Human Organ Transplants”. He said, while hilarious, please don’t.

    I feel like the boundary is where the other party could get in trouble.

    I have a purple Tshirt with the text of the Raven, the poem on it. I wear it when we have purple Fridays for the Ravens, here in Baltimore. People always comment- hey Robin, are you a Raven’s fan? NO, No I am not, I am a RAVEN fan. Still whimsy, but not dangerously offensive, just a tiny bit obnoxious.

    1. Joielle*

      Hahahaha omg the raven shirt is amazing. I think it’s a perfect level of obnoxiousness.

    2. Sister Michael*

      I’m a new transplant to the area and I do think I’ll be looking for one of those shirts!

    3. Adultiest Adult*

      Years ago, a friend got me a bag for Christmas that has a Big Bang Theory quote on it: “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested!” She thought it was funny because I work in mental health. I said, thanks, but I can literally never use this!

  36. More Coffee Please*

    That’s interesting about the yoga studio – I didn’t realize it was specifically illegal, but it makes sense. In college I held a job as a receptionist at a yoga studio (which came with light housekeeping duties). Going in, I’d expected to just be doing the work in exchange for free classes and was pleasantly surprised when I realized they’d actually be paying me!

  37. Chronic Overthinker*

    I had a hand-knitted plush Cthulu that I brought to work as decoration. In hindsight, it may not have been the best to have on my desk. It was surprisingly cute though. I definitely agree that knickknacks and “humorous” coffee mugs should be given a slightly more critical eye when brought into the office. It’s all about boundaries and respecting others and knowing the culture. Cthulu was the perfect mascot for that office; pure chaos. LOL

  38. Brett*

    The yoga letter makes me wonder if there is a way to have students instruct in for-profit fitness classes without going through formal employer-employee or employer-contractor relationships (either barter or pay).

    This is a situation that comes up frequently at MMA gyms. Because there are so many disciplines involved, it is common to have students who are experts in specific disciplines while the paid employees are the general experts in training and class instruction, e.g. the gym I go to has students who are also trained yoga instructors, former all-american wrestlers, jiu jitsiu black belts, and champion kick boxers. The students are there to learn the disciplines they are not experts in, but generally the idea is that the experts share their expertise as part of the class.

    Is there a way to enable these students to provide short-term expert instruction (e.g. demonstrating in class or even leading a class) to other students without paying them? Or will they have to be paid as employees?

    1. Starbuck*

      I think the answer is yes, they have to be paid – especially if the business is charging for the classes! Demonstrating a specific technique in a class someone else is leading is one thing, but leading a class is work that needs to be paid.

  39. lazy intellectual*

    #1: Now I want that mug.

    #2: If the volunteers are getting in-kind compensation in the form of free lessons and even instructor training I might leave it? Some people benefit from this even though it’s illegal. The “karma queens” thing is creepy AF though.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      FTR I think it’s still illegal even if they give students free classes, but I’m wondering if students might miss the free lessons if the studio was caught and cracked down on.

  40. Jennifer*

    This is irrelevant in terms of practical advice to the yoga studio letter, but the whole idea of “Karma Queens” is squicky to me. “Karma” is appropriative, and “Queens” is gender normative, especially when we’re talking about sweeping! Would we call the volunteer maintenance workers the “Karma Kings?” Ugh.

    1. allathian*

      The OP specified above that she didn’t use the real name the studio uses for the volunteers.

  41. somebody blonde*

    Thanks for telling us about your hilarious mug. I have a little calendar page at my desk that has a very cute image of a girl and some animals over a pentagram that says “not a traditional demon summoning circle, but it’ll do”. I’ve never had any comments on it, but probably my office would think it’s funny. I’m religious and find your mug funny, but you definitely have to know your office.

  42. Nessun*

    My large mug is CalamityWare – not immediately anything but a new style for a blue willow print, until you see the aliens and the tentacles and the giant monsters around the pagodas and rivers. It’s amusing as all hell, and always reminds me of their catchphrase, “things could always be worse”!

  43. Scott M.*

    OP#1 – I can appreciate the humor, but yeah, it’s not appropriate for work. I REALLLY wanted a bright yellow mug that said “I am a ray of f*****g sunshine”. But my wife talked me out of it for the same reason

    1. allathian*

      LOL. I literally giggled when I read that. At a former, somewhat toxic job (although nowhere near as bad as some I’ve read about here), my boss used to have a mug that said “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.” From what I understand, he never got any flack for using that mug and his team loved it. My boss was great and very successful at protecting his reports from the total chaos at the top of that org, and when he left, his entire team of 10 resigned within six months. After that, I decided to switch careers…

  44. Betty (the other betty)*

    #3: You don’t need to tell your boss that you might be out in the future. It’s information that doesn’t help her in any way, and it doesn’t benefit you to mention an agreement that may not ever need to be used.

    You have an agreement to watch the kids, but that might not happen. If you didn’t have an advance agreement, it still might have happened if your sister got sick and needed your help, or you had some other family emergency that required you to miss work.

    It might help your stress level to take extra care to document the work you are currently doing, in case you need to be out for a week or two. Nothing too rigid, just write down any key information that is only in your head. (I call this being kind to future me, not relying on my memory if I have to step away from a project for a while.)

  45. Catfeinated "Satanist"*

    Hi! Mug owner here. Thanks for the answer! I honestly thought my mom was being a bit of a prude when she said that and didn’t expect you to agree. I forget that people are genuinely offended by anything remotely satanic. I will definitely err on the side of not rocking the boat and bring in a less controversial mug, like one I have that just says “namaste.”

    Also, re: the end of your answer: I’m not a Satanist in the usual sense of the word, but I am a member of The Satanic Temple, which is classified as a religious organization in the US but is more of a philosophy/way to challenge areas where church/state are not wholly separate.

  46. PlainJane*

    Aargh, on 5.

    When I was in college, I sent an inquiry addressed to “Dear director” (or something of the sort) and got back a sarcastic note saying “Dear prospective job seeker” followed by “In case you didn’t know, it’s totally unprofessional to not address people by name. We’ll shred correspondence like that in the future.”

        1. PlainJane*

          Do you know, literally until I posted that, I didn’t realize that they were in the wrong and I was actually being reasonable? I thought I’d done something so terrible that it was worth never forgiving, because I’m so bad at the interpersonal stuff.

          1. Mayor of Llamatown*

            OH WOW. Let me assure you from the bottomest bottom of my heart, that they were completely in the wrong.

            I had experiences like that too as a young professional, and they really hurt me as well. You are not alone in having experienced something like that, although I never had anyone act quite so cruelly.

    1. allathian*

      Looks like you dodged a bullet by not getting through their screening process… That person sounds like they would be totally unprofessional as a manager.
      College students are still learning and often get bad advice as we’ve seen on this blog (career centers seem oddly out of it at times). But that snark is totally uncalled for.

  47. Batgirl*

    So….’Madam President’: would this title be used if a female American leader were elected? (I’m sure I saw a dramatization where it was). If so, does that reflect how super duper formal that title is? Or would it be a horribly outdated address?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Ooh, interesting thought! I’d assumed ‘Madam President’, but maybe not. ‘Mrs. President’ sounds wrong to my ears, but that could just be ingrained habit of thought.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Mrs. would be weird, IMO, maybe Ms. President? Though I guess Madam President sounds more in line with the formality of that title. And it’d be keeping in the same style as Madam Speaker or Madam Chairwoman.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, Madam President sounds more likely than Ms. as a form of address, the female equivalent of Mr. President. Mrs. President sounds oddly out of place, like you were addressing the First Lady. Of course, in the US this wouldn’t be done, you’d address her by her title and name. But in an older English mystery book (can’t remember if it was an Agatha Christie or not), the wife of a medical practitioner was addressed (or referred to) as Mrs. Doctor. What would the male equivalent of a First Lady be? The President’s Consort? First Gentleman sounds odd and First Lord is completely bonkers.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Yes, that would be the correct form of address should we elect a female president in the future. It’s also the term we use when addressing female presidents of other nations.

  48. New Jack Karyn*

    This may have been covered but–what if someone at the yoga studio who’s doing these light chores gets hurt while doing said chores? Especially if they don’t have health insurance themselves?

    A more likely example (from chance of it happening and risk of injury being more severe) would be the horse barn example. Someone mucking out stables for a break on lessons could get hurt. Is it workman’s comp? Would the stable’s insurance cover it? A lot of those places must run on a shoestring, and a bad outcome in a case like that could bury them.

    1. allathian*

      The insurance that protects you if you have an accident while riding also covers related activities like saddling the horse, etc. For many competitive sports you can’t get a license to compete unless you also have some kind of accident insurance. Our medical bills are rarely as exorbitant as in the US, because our healthcare system is organized differently.

  49. FionasHuman*

    Another take on the Yoga/volunteers issue (and apologies if someone has already said this). This kind of arrangement is really common in places I’ve frequented (a Yoga retreat, martial arts schools) and I don’t see a problem with it depending on the school and the vibe. It’s common in spiritual communities for students to support a teacher in this way — I spent at least 4-5 dozen hours doing the fundraising, and working on, replacing roofs at the Yoga retreat, and never wanted or expected pay other than consideration on lodging or classes if I ran into trouble affording them. This arrangement makes it easier for the community to welcome people who can’t afford to pay while helping make it possible to pay the people who work there full time.

    I get that there are all sorts of shades of gray here, verging into situations where people are actually taken advantage of. But Yoga and other disciplines that are all or partially-spiritual in nature are perfect places for a bit of Karma Yoga. (FWIW I volunteer at my Christian church several hours a week as well, and have never heard I should have been paid for doing so — the idea that what is happening at this Yoga retreat is to be condemned because it’s Yoga and thus supposedly not religious is kind of offensive.)

    1. Starbuck*

      Obviously volunteering for a church is different because they’re non-profits. There’s no issue there, volunteer to your heart’s content.

      But I do think there’s something icky about taking advantage of someone’s spirituality (in the case of yoga) to profit off their labor, assuming those retreats are run as for-profit enterprises. Seems kinda wrong, no? If the place was really concerned about making the retreat accessible to those who couldn’t afford it, they wouldn’t be operating it as a profit venture – non-profit yoga institutions do exist. Then they’d be able to solicit grants and donations for scholarships and other funding opportunities to lower the cost.

    2. Talia*

      It’s not being condemned because it’s yoga – if the business had non profit status these volunteers would be fine. Using volunteers is being condemned because in a for profit business, this is illegal and if the wrong government organisation found out about it, the back wages would have to be paid which could bankrupt the business.

      Your church is not a for profit business. You’ve never heard you should be paid for your volunteer work there because there is no requirement in law for a church to pay volunteers. If the owners of the yoga studio want to use volunteers, they need to set up as a non profit.

    3. Koala dreams*

      I thought spiritual organizations were supposed to be non profit organizations in the US, not businesses? The advice is based on the assumption that the yoga place is a for profit business, not a church or other spiritual organization. Presumably your church isn’t a for profit organization.

  50. Noneofyerbusy*

    #2. You aren’t their parent. They are adults. Assuming that they aren’t capable of making this decision themselves (despite whatever languages they speak or however young they might be) is paternalistic.

    1. Starbuck*

      I’m strongly disagreeing that informing someone of their rights is paternalistic here. It’s knowledge that empowers them to make the best possible decision for themselves.

  51. Harvey JobGetter*

    I realize the yoga studio thing is the law, but it would be an absolute disaster for almost any pro-profit educational institution if it were. Most classroom settings involve some sort of cooperative work toward the educational purpose of the class. If you teach me driving school and ask the classroom to answer a question, and I raise my hand and answer, do I get paid for teaching the other students? If I’m in a yoga class and my classmate has a question, and I help them, do I have to get paid? What if I’m in a group workout class and I spot a classmate? Or adjust a weight machine for them because I’m stronger?

    It’s hard to write a law like this and it wasn’t intended for any of these scenarios or the one described by OP. DEFINITELY DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS. Do complain about their obnoxious use of “karma” in conjunction with it, though.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      Your examples don’t relate to the situation at hand. Those are part and parcel of participation in any class.
      Janitorial, receptionist, or teaching work (not answering the occasional question or helping with a demonstration, but actually being expected to be there to teach the class) are not. Those are jobs, and must be paid.

    2. allathian*

      In many martial arts, you can’t get a black belt unless you show that you can teach less advanced students. It’s part of the philosophy.
      It’s even a part of Tai Chi, which doesn’t have belts or tests, but the expectation is that those who are more experienced teach those with less experience.

      1. I am Jack's Something-or-Other*

        Good point. My martial arts school is like that too, except you can become a teacher much sooner as long as the material you’re teaching is two full belt levels below yours. I didn’t even think of that. I taught for a little while too. There was no pay and no discounts or anything.

        Some of the most advanced students even participate in filming with the chief instructor so he was able to sell DVDs, promote the school on the local news, and build an online distance learning site to gain further reach. Dude, they should definitely be paid! I’m going to tell them.

  52. Hmmmyeah*

    Yeah, for the child care / COVID situation, play it by ear…. she could very well have really mild symptoms. If it does happen that she needs you, it’s no different than if, say, you suffered a head injury on the way to work…. yeah, it might happen, and you might have a plan in place, but it’s not necessary to warn them it could happen (if it comes up organically, sure). I have two backups for the same reason (and not even close family members because everyone is high risk / living with high risk people – literally a friend and an ex). I know they haven’t told their bosses, because there are just too many things that need to align for it to happen – both parents contracting it, both being too sick to care for the kids, ten contracting it as well). Yes, the chances are high she may get it, but less so that her and her husband will both have severe cases that reach peak severity at the same time. And even then, you may not get it right away, in which case you’re just letting work know you’re providing child care for family like so many of us. If you can’t work from home it might be worth a quick check in to say you’re a family member’s contingency child care in case of severe illness and will either need leave or to work from home in the event that happens…. but even ten, I’d wait til it’s obvious she has it before making it a thing.

  53. nodramalama*

    sometimes reading this blog is like seeing an entirely new world. I genuinly cannot fathom anyone being offended by that mug. I can’t imagine anyone Christian being offended, I can’t imagine a Satanist being offended and I can’t imagine a cat lover being offended. I wonder if this is a thing that is primarily a concern in the U.S.

    1. Hmmmyeah*

      I think it’s more distasteful than anything. Like wearing a t-shirt with an obnoxious expression on it – it’s just not very professional and not in any way necessary, so it doesn’t reflect particularly well on you even for people that re

  54. I am Jack's Something-or-Other*

    I volunteered for about 6 years at an organization that was For-Profit. They called it their “Assisting Program” and there were many different ways to “assist”, many different roles you could play. In retrospect, that law might explain why they were always so defensive against using the word “volunteer”. The courses are also expensive and assistants didn’t get discounted rates, either. No financial perks at all.

    In addition to helping them sell/fill registrations, there were all kinds of ways to directly assist around the weekend programs: door greeter, printing handouts, answering phones, taking attendance, impeccably re-arranging chairs between sessions, fetching water, working the sound system, and prepping the course leader’s meals – which was considered a most honored assignment. (The days were long and the leaders’ worked during all the breaks, so they did legitimately need that kind of support). Even the foreign language interpreters volunteered.

    Alison, could there be a “free training and development” angle/loophole in the law that they’re using?

  55. CanadianHiringAdmin*

    The “Hiring Manager” statement isn’t necessarily correct. I work in Government hiring, and for us, the Hiring Manager is the one who is running the competition, but is very often not going to be the supervisor for the new employee. It can be anyone from a HR or Hiring specialist, to a manager, to an admin worker. The title “Hiring Manager” just means the person who is coordinating the administrative part of the hiring on the end where they need a new employee, and liaising with the central Hiring branch to have everything processed.

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