updates: friends at work, the higher-earning male coworker, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Am I allowed to have friends at work if I work in HR? (first update here)

I’ve so been enjoying everyone’s updates and thought I’d send my own in. The last time I wrote to you, I had just started a new junior HR role at a larger organization after I survived layoffs at the first one. Unfortunately, after two years, I was miserable. I was doing work way above my title/pay grade (think director-level responsibilities on an entry-level salary). My boss was giving me stellar reviews but there was zero growth opportunity and the culture was really really wrong for my working style. No one on the team talked to me (or each other) and I had employees yelling at me on the phone every week. I’d get mixed messages from upper management because communication on the team was a mess, and the benefits were outrageously stingy for the area I’m in. I eventually hit a point where I was having to take sick days once or twice a month because I was so stressed out at work that I’d be throwing up at the office. A tip for readers: don’t ever let things get that bad before you make a change. I left that job without anything else lined up, because I knew I had to get out of that environment at any cost.

The good news is that I had earned my PHR certification (as planned! passed on the first try!) and solidified the decision that HR was the right career for me in those two years. I really love answering questions, coaching managers, and building new processes. I had also learned what kind of culture I would thrive in, so I wanted to take my time finding the next thing, so I wouldn’t get to a point where I’d be looking again in two years. I took a temp-to-perm job at an amazing organization, but the company pivoted two months in – suddenly there wasn’t a full-time role for me to convert into, and I was unemployed again…right before the holidays. I figured things would be slow through January and I’d have something by February or maybe March, but then the pandemic happened, jobs started drying up, and the pool of very qualified people who were unemployed quadrupled in a week. I really tapped into my network, and amazingly, I was still getting interviews – thanks to your advice on what to put on my resume and how to write a compelling cover letter – and I actually got to a point earlier this month where I got to PICK between two great opportunities! I’m starting my new job on Monday and I’m just so excited to get back to work.

It’s funny to read my original letter, because looking back, I still had so much to learn about HR and what it encompasses. I’m now really active in my local professional networking groups and have a ton of non-work friends I can lean on. Also, the partner I mentioned in my first update proposed last year, and we’ll be getting married, one way or another, in the fall! He’s about to start a job hunt of his own, and he’ll be leaning on your site and books the same way I did, since he saw firsthand the difference it made for me. Thanks for all you do!

2. I now manage the guy who hired me — and I’m afraid he might quit over it (first update here)

Over the six months since I last wrote to you, things deteriorated for my team. We lost about a quarter of our contracts that were renewing during this period and only won a single new one. While halfheartedly job-searching during this time, I built out a strategic plan for renewing our product and recapturing market share from Tom’s company and other competitors, but had a hard time getting buy-in from my still fairly new VP/division chief, who was concerned about the topline revenue figures. My argument was that we weren’t going to beat a new competitor with out investing in a new version of our product! But VP and management spent too long in my opinion weighing all the options.

The coronavirus ended up making the decision for us. Management entered extreme cost-cutting mode, looked at the trend line for my product, and put it in maintenance/legacy mode. They laid off the entire team of 16, except for two product engineers who will continue to maintain the software during the legacy period with our existing clients. On April 15, I was out of a job.

Not a week went by when I got an email from Tom. His startup has been growing like crazy bringing in new clients over the past six months, and in response to the pandemic they built — in a matter of days — a new software product to help our clients streamline delivery of a big part of the federal relief funds. New clients are joining even faster than before. The company is now 100% remote and bringing on new staff and needed someone to bring some order to the behind the scenes chaos, so Tom recommended me to be head of internal operations (overseeing HR, purchasing, facilities, systems administration, that kind of thing — a role as in many startups previously divided between several executives who were now too busy and needed to focus on their core duties in engineering, design, sales, etc.). I started two weeks ago and have been loving it despite some 60+-hour weeks bringing order to the chaos. (Not to mention I got a big pay raise, equity, etc., and I get to keep working in my city indefinitely.)

I never expected that I would end up Tom’s peer again at another business, but I feel so grateful for the chance to build something new, and I am very glad I invested in keeping a good relationship with Tom despite the awkwardness of the situation last summer. It paid off!

3. My male coworker makes more money than I do

I wrote to you in 2016 (seems like a lifetime ago!) about finding out my male colleague made more than me, and wrote back with an update about pushing for – and getting! – a promotion and raise after he quit.

Well, it’s been a long few years since then. To keep it brief: I was eventually fired from that job (as in, walked out by building security on the spot) after approving pregnancy accommodations for a direct report, and then refusing to fire her. For being pregnant, specifically. Those bosses really do still exist, it’s mind-boggling. (She didn’t end up getting fired, thank goodness, but it didn’t take her long to find a better place to work, either.)

From there I worked as the office manager for a lovely, tiny temp agency, where my 4 wonderful coworkers restored my faith in humanity, the workplace, and myself. I will forever be indebted to them for getting me back on my feet. (If you’re reading this: Stay fresh, cheese bags!) In working for them I ran across an opening at a local nonprofit that really fit my skills and interests – so they put me up for an interview with their full support and blessing. (They consider the job I was in to be a stepping stone, so they don’t expect anyone to stay there for more than 6 or so months. I stayed for a year.)

I’ve now been with the nonprofit since last July.

The people here are absolutely lovely, and leadership is extremely conscientious in how they treat their workers. Our CEO moved to working from home almost immediately after the outbreak started, even though she has historically been really opposed to it. They’ve been super flexible with the parents on our team to accommodate their caretaking responsibilities, AND have been explicit about extending that same flexibility to any non-parents who need it. I’m currently conducting 1 on 1 interviews with everyone in our 20-person team to understand what the team needs and wants in terms of flexibility and support as we start considering a return-to-office plan. It’s a really intentional, thoughtful, inclusive environment where someone is constantly jumping in to say “Soandso is really underselling the work she did on XYZ, she was instrumental to the project and did an excellent job on suchandsuch.” I feel very fortunate to have landed where I am.

Oh, and several of us are AAM fans. :)

Thank you, always, for the wonderful work you do and the incredible community you’ve built.

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. Pigeon*

    OP3, in my industry, I honestly thought I’d seen it all, but my jaw dropped. Even though being fired had to be rough, I’m so happy you and your former employee got out of there. And I hope their immoral and illegal practices catch up to them.

    1. OP3*

      Thank you! It was definitely a hard few months, but every time I tell someone about that place I realize a little more how truly toxic and abusive that environment was. I’m glad to be out – and in a way, that experience has helped me really understand the value of a place that treats its people well.

      They have definitely continued to make poor choices over the years, according to some of the folks I’m friends with that are/were still there… somehow they’re still limping along, but from what I hear things have only gone more and more downhill since I left. (Though I’m sure I can’t take ALL the credit for that, haha.) The manager that fired me is in charge of the overall office, and he has a very… Trumpian managerial style. I’ll let you draw what conclusions you will from that ;)

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I read “overall office” as “oval office” at first, so with the inclusion of “Trumpian” I thought you were hinting at your employer for a second there.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          To perpetuate the tangent, I know the federal government’s exempted itself from a lot of employer law; is the ADA part of that?

          1. ToS*

            No. ADA applies to a lot, especially employers with more than 15 employees. There are additional regs for federal agencies, so if you call the EEOC first, they *should* help a federal employee find them, if the federal employees cannot locate them within HR websites/employee handbook.

            1. ToS*

              Federal agencies have protections for people with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which pre-dates the 1990 ADA.

              Regarding the pregnancy matter, both manager and pregnant employee should report the employer on a state level so there is awareness if someone else encounters this downstream. Both might have a case, however lawsuits are another level of stress that make it a tough path.

      2. JessaB*

        Sometimes you don’t realise quite how bad it had been until they do something totally over the line and you look back and see all those red flags waving behind you. Glad you found better.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This is how legal codes get complicated…. who’d have thought that we might need to specifically make it illegal to fire an employee who is obeying the law!

  2. NJAnonymous*

    Oh my gosh please tell me you or someone with receipts reported those guys for discrimination!

    1. OP3*

      I did, but of course they fought it and tried to pretend that I was fired for legitimate performance issues (that apparently over my three years working there weren’t worth raising until days before I was fired…interesting timing there). That’s also the second time I’ve reported them to the EEOC – first being the situation that prompted my original letter.

      It’s a sad fact that I don’t have the money or emotional bandwidth to hire a lawyer and keep fighting them on it. But hopefully the complaints I’ve registered will not be the only ones, and maybe someday someone will be able to take them down. Assuming they don’t collapse under their own malice and incompetence in the meantime.

  3. KoiFeeder*

    I guess all the people talking about sending your resume to Tom were absolutely right.

    1. Heidi*

      It’s incredible how that situation righted itself in the end. But I guess being professional is a long game. I’m happy for OP and Tom.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        This was a very satisfying update! Tom and the OP both played this very well and sound like outstanding people :) You’re right, being professional IS a long game. You never know what might happen down the road.

        1. electric boogaloo*

          I was just going to say the same thing! So satisfying! I am so happy things worked out for OP2

    2. Anonys*

      Yes! Everyone on the original post was gushing so hard over Tom and OP and hoping they would work together again. Have to say, I myself am fangirling a bit over the fact it actually happened (I clearly care too much about advice blogs). This is like AAM fanfic come true.

      So glad you both got out of your previous company!

      1. Mama Bear*

        Tom sounds like a savvy and classy guy and obviously had more of a problem with the company than OP. Sounds like a win-win on several levels. Congrats, OP, on the new job!

    3. 867-5309*

      I just want to be his friend – he seems so highly ethical. I would follow Tom to any job and I don’t know him.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Right? OP is Tom hiring? There are many of us who would like to work with someone as awesome as him (and, since you learned from him, and based around how hard you fought for him before he quit, you as well!)

  4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Re: LW and the Cheese Bags. I too was offered a position in a temp agency because they liked me and we got along well. I was there for close to a year, being sent on my choice of cool jobs as well until a call came in that changed my career and my life. So quick shout out to your and all the great agencies out there!

    1. OP3*

      Heck yeah! I know there are definitely some terrible recruiting and temp agencies out there – but man, the good ones are just really, really good. I wish they could all be like that.

  5. Just Another Techie*

    Wow, each of these updates was a rollercoaster of its own to read! Congrats to all the LW’s who ended up in better situations!

  6. AMT*

    I predict that “stay fresh, cheese bags” is going to become one of our mystifying in-jokes like “quack quack” and “Wakeen.”

      1. Heidi*

        Also, is Tom now the opposite of Fergus?

        I love that Tom has this fan club of people who don’t know his true identity. This must be what it’s like to live in Gotham City.

      2. RB*

        I’m torn. Do we call that letter the Hawaiian Rolls letter or the cheap-ass rolls letter? Either way, that was a good day.

          1. Snuck*

            Can we have some levity… I think you’ve done a version of the “Most satisfyingly funny posts” at some point, but if you haven’t….. I’d love to see them all in together. Or a “Ask a Manager – All the laughs and nick names” mash up….

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      No, you can’t have it! It’s already the in-joke of a librarians’ Facebook group!

      1. OP3*

        That’s the one!! A coworker texted me that, I joked that we should make it “a thing” in the office, and then…. we did, lol. It’s a six-person office so it didn’t take long to catch on. We even got the owner/bossman in on it.

        One of the things I’m proudest of is that I put together a gift basket for the office when I left… and the centerpiece was, indeed, a box of extra-large Stay-Fresh Cheese Bags. :D

        I also received an amazing going-away gift from them… a canvas print of a cat in a blue wig a la Katy Perry (Kitty Perry, if you will), inscribed with the words “Stay Fresh!” and a signature from all my coworkers. It hangs in my kitchen to this very day and I think fondly of them whenever I see it. :)

      2. Dina*

        Immediately saved to be shared in the work group chat at the end of the workday today XD

    2. NRL*

      I don’t think so – we have no idea what it means and it’s someone else’s in joke (that was the point)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        It’s actually from a meme I’ve seen on Facebook: someone found a food storage product called “Stay-Fresh Cheese Bags,” and said it was going to be their new line when leaving a party, or something. I have used it myself!

    3. Amber Rose*

      Too late, it’s already a mystifying in-joke of meme lovers across the internet.

      I’ve been using it for months to the great annoyance of my husband.

    4. Kate*

      I know the history of all these in jokes except ‘Wakeen’, please enlighten me? Thank you

      1. allathian*

        There was a letter a few years back about someone who didn’t realize for that Joaquin (written) and Wakeen (spoken) were the same person. I’m not quite sure why he’s become an AAM in-joke, though.

  7. NeonDreams*

    I’m happy to hear all three of you landed in places you are happy in. These updates made me smile.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    *seal claps* I knew Tom wasn’t going to be mad at you and that this would turn around, it’s a Rona miracle. Very rare when it’s otherwise a murderous beast of destruction but that’s what makes it extra special.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Tom and OP 2 both sound like great people and I wish them nothing but good things from here out.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Agreed. And I can personally confirm that you can find really good people even within the walls of dysfunctional poorly ran organizations.

        I also hope these happy endings will give people who are struggling right now some hope.

      2. Fibchopkin*

        thirded! OP2 – I was so happy to read this update! I’ve thought about you and Tom from time to tie since that last update and I’m so glad to hear the serendipitous way it all worked out.

      3. Snuck*

        I love this update!

        It’s surprisingly mutually satisfying also when you realise that you have a co-beneficial relationship with someone – something that could have gone sour and you don’t just turn it around, you become the go-to person they think of. He knows what it is to work with you, under you, and over you… and vice versa, and now you can be work professional buddies if you want for years to come. Shows he really respects you. Very very satisfying!

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

      I was going for “professional cinnamon roll”, but “gem” is more fitting.

  9. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #2 what a lovely update! You really did handle the situation as best you could and it certainly did pay off for you. Hope the new gig is still going well.

    This whole thing is evidence that people who can’t change with the times are going to be left behind. I have a constant struggle with this where I am and it’s so frustrating.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP3; I’m really sorry to hear that such horrific employers still exist. I thought they’d all learnt better in the decades since I last saw such behaviour.

    (Long story short: boss heard coworker was pregnant, and instantly started demanding she do heavy lifting and carrying then trying to fire her when she refused. Luckily our HR department stepped in)

    1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      An old coworker of mine was pregnant in the mid-90s. Company was unhappy but hands were tied due to law. She miscarried. They fired her once she returned to work after the miscarriage – can’t have her getting pregnant on company time again. She complained to the labour board but because she was no longer pregnant, there was nothing anyone could do.

      Except call her friend at the revenue agency and flag tax filing issues. And the issues to boot were legit.

      But recently a friend of mine was told she could not be accepted as an applicant for a job, a temp one within the firm, because at the time she was pregnant and leaving in three months and the temp term was over eight months long. They didn’t have to pick her, as there was more than one candidate, but for goodness sake, don’t say it’s because of the pregnancy!

      1. Perpal*

        Have to admit, I’ve never really thought about it in terms of temping but it does seem strange to apply and/or accept someone to a short term gig when there is a reasonable expectation they will not be able to actually do the full job; better I suppose if it’s the kind of thing that can be easily covered by someone else?

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I turned down a big promotion during and because of my first pregnancy (before declaring that pregnancy). Ironically enough, it was being offered to me because the incumbent was heavily pregnant.

          It did occur to me afterwards that I’m not sure where the law would have fallen, as I could have done several months of the job, and carried on after my own maternity leave. It just happened that certain key dates fell during a period I was absolutely definitely going to be absent.

        2. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          I also felt it was strange to apply when she could not reasonably fulfill the entire term of the temp position. But during those three months she would have earned eight percent more and that would have been reflected in her mat leave benefits from the government. And she wanted the experience.

          I get why she was not a good fit due to how long she’d be able to do the job but just don’t say it’s because of the pregnancy – it’s not a good look from HR.

      2. Batgirl*

        Oooh that’s a good one. Money shenanigans often follows general skullduggery. I might tell this to my friend who lost her job when she refused to share a hotel room with the boss. After many a skeevy comment about her legs. She was a contractor so there was nothing she could do legally.

      3. Just Another Techie*

        I had a manager I really didn’t mesh with at my last job. I tried my best to make it work for two years, but it was rough. And then the day I returned from maternity leave, he slammed me with the worst performance review I’ve ever received, including specifically calling out my work hours, which I’d discussed with him multiple times as a needed accommodation for my sleep disorder, now that I was pregnant and could no longer safely take my medication. I never formally said the words “accomodation” or “ADA”, believing that he’d be reasonable, as every other boss I’d had at that company was. I stayed another year, trying to make it work, but after that, I was just completely disengaged and demoralized, so after the next review cycle, where I got a good, but not glowing, review, I left. I still miss my friends there and the good managers I had, but golly, I’m so much happier at work now.

  11. Hiya*

    OP#3 that company needs to be reported. Trying to fire someone for being pregnant is illegal

    1. Phony Genius*

      Yes. But is it also illegal to fire somebody for refusing to fire someone for being pregnant, if they ultimately don’t fire the pregnant person? That is, are supervisors protected by law, or only the pregnant employee?

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if at least in some places, it is illegal to fire someone for refusing to do something illegal.

        1. silverpie*

          Actually, refusing to do an illegal act (or to stay quiet about one) is the one cause that Tennessee specifically says you can’t be fired for (federal causes also apply, of course).

        2. tangerineRose*

          I would hope that usually it would be illegal to fire someone for refusing to do something illegal.

      2. Blarg*

        In the US, termination for refusing to illegally discriminate is considered retaliation by the EEOC. Lots of settlements where both the people in the class, as well as bosses and coworkers who spoke up or didn’t take illegal actions, are included.

  12. WantonSeedStitch*

    Wow, what a roller coaster ride for Tom and OP #2! I’m so happy for both of you.

  13. H.C.*

    Got deja vu with 2 of the updates (turns out it was from a June 5 update post that’s no longer live on AAM – but still on google cache)

  14. Myrin*

    Coincidentally, I thought of OP #2 while showering yesterday, so I’m especially delighted to get yet another update to the whole situation.
    And, like with the original letter and the first update, I still think that Tom sounds like an incredibly gracious, upstanding, and professional person, as does the OP, so I’m really, really glad that these two are reunited once again, and under much better circumstances as well. Huge congrats to both of you!

    1. school of hard knowcs*

      Totally agree. OP#2 I hope you let Tom know that he has a ton of fans, gracious is so cool. You did some great work in a difficult situation. I am in on the fan club.

  15. Not a Blossom*

    I gotta say, I’m kind of in love with Tom. He seems like a really good egg, and I wish all the best for him in the world. I’m also really happy for the OP!

  16. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    Re: #2 in reading the original letter I felt so bad for Tom being passed over for his promised promotion. But it was the best thing that could have happened for him! It was the catalyst for ending up in a much better place.

  17. RJ*

    OP#2, we could all use more Tom’s in the world. That was a great update and I’m glad it all worked out for you both in the end.

  18. Aurion*

    Absolutely. I’d like to clone Tom and spread them throughout the workforce at large. You don’t find people like that easily, both in the workforce or out.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Yes! As soon as I started reading it I thought, “This better be good news about Tom!” And it was good news on two fronts! Yay! Happy Friday!

  19. Laura H.*

    Go OP2 and Tom!!

    I hope your work together is fruitful for you both and that you do your best.

    I’m currently smiling like an idiot!

  20. KuklaRed*

    I just love the update posts! They inevitably make me smile for hours. This was a particularly good batch.

  21. HarryBadger*

    Regarding 1) I wish I’d read this chain 10 years ago. I was in a kind of admin/support role in a small part of the company I was working for at the time. The rest of the company was reasonably modern but this one section had my team specifically to handhold the team manager population with the duties TMs in other parts of the company did for themselves. Whilst this should have meant we were just executing decisions and handling the grunt work, it had bred some managers who relied on us to basically do their job for them.

    I had friends in other parts of the business and they thought it was weird I didn’t have any friends in my area besides my immediate colleagues. I felt bad about this for a long time but my reasoning had always been that I processed a lot of their personal information and in many cases provided a lot of the HR functions. Whilst I often wasn’t the decision maker I had a lot of influence in many cases. It just felt wrong advising a manager what their next steps were in preparing a PIP with a view to letting someone go, coaching them through the process and then preparing the leaving docs, then going out for drinks with the staff member in question.

    I’m glad it worked out for Op1 (and congratulations).

    3) Tom is the MVP.

  22. TrailingSpouse*

    I have never commented here before, but the story of Tom is heartwarming and encouraging. Good guys sometimes DO finish first…and bring people along…

  23. Elbe*

    Tom is the absolute best.

    I’m sure his fan club here will be very happy about this update. I’m glad that it worked out well for the OP, too!

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