what to do when an employee’s spouse calls you

A reader writes:

I had to reject an employee’s request for specific dates for vacation leave. Then her husband phoned me to tell me that she will not be at work and she will take the leave! What can I do from here to prevent her husband from doing the negotiations on her behalf?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee gets upset if I reassign her work when she’s busy
  • My coworker takes too much time off
  • Odd interview questions
  • Is it OK to talk about our kickball league in interviews?

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    On #1 My org’s HR was open to communicating directly with my spouse about health insurance in the past, which I greatly appreciated. I asked first if it was OK with them.
    I know at the moment they sometimes do that with our partners of my colleagues.

    On #3 “At the beginning of the year, just for curiosity, I started a spreadsheet to see exactly how much time she took off.” – Don’t do this. Don’t do it.

    1. Lynn*

      I don’t really think that is a fair comparison; I would assume that HR was communicating with the spouse’s of employees because the spouse’s were covered by employee’s family plan, and so that made them a relevant party. Also, health insurance does not end up reflected in your work performance. This is only a half-step less embarrassing than if a parent did it.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yeah, health insurance questions are significantly different from demanding that your spouse be given time off to their employer.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In reality, there are a couple reasons a spouse can call in and talk to a spouses employer, the insurance situation is certainly one of them!

      But also the key here is to ask if it’s okay and not assume :)

      1. fposte*

        And even then show some judgment. Because you don’t want to talk to your manager is not a reason to have your spouse call, and asking first if your husband can call about vacation days isn’t going to erase the weirdness.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The shitty thing here is that most people with a spouse who would be this nervy is probably not in a relationship with boundaries wherein they’d be able to take any advice on what is okay and what isn’t okay to allow your spouse to do on your behalf :(

          It’s so wildly out of touch and controlling.

          1. Jenna*

            Yes! I wouldn’t 100% assume the relationship is abusive, but this is definitely a red flag and it sent a shiver down my spine.

        2. Artemesia*

          The elephant in the room is that apparently the worker is planning to take time off that was denied. So I would think in a normally functioning workplace where there is adequate vacation approved that the outcome here would be that the employee in question would be fired for not showing up after being denied leave. But of course a discussion with the employee is needed to indicate the inappropriateness of getting ultimatums from her husband and also to discover if she does in fact intend to not show for work during this period.

    3. Alli525*

      Your spouse discussing a health insurance issue is one thing. Your spouse calling your boss and saying “I don’t care that you said OP couldn’t take those days off, she won’t be coming to work and you *will* honor her request for PTO” is entirely another.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Right. The person asked, was given an answer, and it is not up to the spouse if the person gets time off or not. The answer was no.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Honestly, there would be a problem here even if the employee said directly that they would be taking the time anyway after being told no! Which is probably why they got their spouse to do it; they were hoping that somebody who wasn’t them saying it wouldn’t get them in as much trouble as if they said it themself.
          But they should get in trouble, if they actually meant what he told the boss they meant! You don’t get to just say “I am rejecting your refusal of time off,” unless you’re also quitting in the process.

          Obviously, all this depends on the premise that the employee does mean to do the same thing their husband said they did. If they’re asked about it and they wince and say “I’m so sorry — I told him not to do that but he didn’t listen. Of course I’m not planning to miss work those days after you told me it wasn’t feasible,” then there is no problem with the employee (and they simply have a husband who may be significantly more of a problem to them than he is to their boss). But if the employee backs up what their husband said when asked about it directly, this is a separate and serious problem independent of who brought up the subject to the boss.

      2. M-C*

        Actually, this one screams ‘domestic abuse’ to me. This is controlling way beyond normal behavior. I would pull the employee aside and discreetly ask if she’s OK, and refer her to a counseling service, maybe emphasizing that insurance will cover it and it will be kept confidential.. And ask if she needs help keeping some info confidential, etc. Take this seriously.

    4. Mad mad me*

      What would be the problem with just firing this person’s ass? The employee and her loony husband need to know that there are consequences to such behavior. The disrespect shown to the manager is outrageous. I can’t imagine that this relationship with such a controlling creep won’t last long either. I don’t even see how this is a dilemma–no company would put up with his interference–unless she’s scared this might be the type who would retaliate.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s nothing to indicate the employee even knows her husband did this. You don’t fire people without a conversation to determine what’s really going on.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          And you don’t fire someone for what their spouse does or says! She does not control what her husband says anymore than he controls what she says, and she should not be held responsible for something she does not control. Responsible for her own behavior? Absolutely! Responsible for her husband’s behavior (not to mention his extraordinarily poor judgment)? Absolutely not!

      2. Dancing Otter*

        It is actually not uncommon for an abusive spouse to try to interfere with the victim’s employment. It makes her more dependent on him, thus reducing her likelihood of escape.
        Whose side do you want to be on, the victim or the abuser? Because what you advocate sure sounds like you intend to victimize her further.

        1. AnonToday*

          Embarrassing me in front of my employers or threatening to was a HUGE part of how my ex kept me down for so long.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*


        1. It wouldn’t be fair to hold her responsible for her husband’s actions – seeing as he’s a separate person and all, and

        2. He’s probably abusive and hoping you’ll fire her in order to get her under more control, and there’s no reason to do what he wants.

  2. MayLou*

    You may not have any influence/control over this, Alison, but this post and at least one other recently at Inc has seemed to be missing paragraphs or the formatting is odd. Today it seems like part of the first answer is missing, and part of the fourth question, and the fifth answer repeats.

    1. Nitpicker*

      I seem to remember having this type of issues once, and people suggested reloading, which helped (for instance, on my side, I have no issue right now).

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Every time I try to read a linked article at Inc., I get a full page ad that I can’t bypass or skip and it doesn’t let me see the article at all. No “click to skip”, no “x” button to close it, no time countdown before seeing the page, there is just no way to read the article and the ad won’t just go away on its own. So I gave up looking at any Inc link.

        It does this whether using my PC, tablet, or phone.

        Tried again this time, like Charlie Brown kicking the football, and again get only the ad, with once again no way to access the content you linked to. I feel like an idiot for even trying, tbh.

        Inc. sucks donkey parts and its a waste of time trying to read anything there.

        1. Them Boots*

          For my phone, it looks like I’m stuck with the ad covering the page, but if you pretend there’s no ad and scroll down, the rest of the article comes up. The set up is odd, but workable

    2. Ellie May*

      Most of the time when Alison answers a question and links to Inc.com I just get a blank white screen.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I get that when I’m on my phone and can only look at Inc.com articles on my computer. I’m not sure why.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          I have difference experiences with different browsers on the desktop. Chrome works the most reliably, but nothing work 100%.

  3. Disabled Office Worker*

    For letter write 3, I dropped out of a hiring process when the interviewers went on and on about their fit and active office culture, and how the company loves running marathons, playing baseball, and doing other sports together. I am disabled, and it seemed like I wouldn’t be happy at a company where I would feel left out for not joining in on sports in my free time.

    I would leave it out of the interview process. You risk alienating qualified people who are either disabled or simply don’t like group sports. In my field, my ability to kick a ball has nothing to do with my career potential.

    1. Wintermute*

      On the other hand, you dropped out because you knew the fit wasn’t good for you. Things like this can help people have context about the environment they’re going into. It would have sucked to have been at the job two weeks and realized that everyone else is socializing outside work and you have absolutely nothing to talk about with them because your idea of water cooler conversation is a prestige TV show you’re watching and theirs is the volleyball game last weekend.

      1. Disabled Office Worker*

        The work has absolutely nothing to do with sports. People with disabilities should not be excluded because they cannot participate in your weekend baseball games.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          It actually sounds like a deliberate but deniable way to discourage people with disabilities from working there.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I don’t think it sounds like that workplace is totally focused on that team, mind you, only that that particular hiring manager has that interest. He might make it look as though the entire company is SPORTSY when actually someone with no interest might fit in perfectly well.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “He might make it look as though the entire company is SPORTSY when actually someone with no interest might fit in perfectly well.” This!

      3. Jessica will remember in November*

        People shouldn’t be made to feel that a workplace is “not a good fit” for them if they aren’t inclined or able to share the hobbies and outside interests of their managers or colleagues. That’s how you get discriminatory workplaces that lack diversity and tend to make ghastly screwups on things nobody thought of–because for years they’ve just hired people who think the same way. The idea of culture fit (when it’s not just a front for conscious or unconscious bias) is supposed to be about WORK culture–things like today’s other letter about the office where work is frequently reassigned among workers based on how busy everyone is–not personal stuff like whether you also like beer or kickball or going to my church.

        1. Circe*

          Is it a slippery slope thing?

          For me, this falls in a similar category of a industry that emphasizes afternoons and evenings full of social drinking. Is it a required part of your job? No. Can you still work there without participating? Definitely. But will it greatly impact your happiness and quality of life if, say, you’re a recovering alcoholic or introverted? Depends on the person.

          Given that, I’d want to find out about things like culture fit while interviewing. But I can totally see where it can lead to discriminatory workplaces. Not sure where the line is tbh

          1. Snow globe*

            If the culture could potentially result in people of a ‘protected class’ self-selecting out because they know they would not fit in (or leaving once hired because they know they don’t fit in) then it crosses a line.

            1. Vina*

              Drinking def does result in people of protected classes self-selection out. One example: a LOT of Native Americans do not drink for reasons that should be apparent to anyone who knows US history.

              Now, that’s likely doesn’t come up a lot b/c this is less than 1% of the US population. But they are a protected class.

              So, yes, it is entirely possible.

              Every event or conference I’ve been to that was done by a band, tribe, or nation that wasn’t casino-related Did not have alcohol. Even at the casino’s, most events don’t have it.

              I’d also think here are some religious groups where liquor is banned.

              So, yes, having a lot of work socializing and networking time built around drinking is a problem

              1. Vina*

                PS It’s high time people start thinking about how things they take for granted, things they view as normal, things they view as desirable shut out large swaths of people.

                Me, I love Stout, Red Wine, and Bourbon/Irish Whiskey/Japanese Whiskey. I am not, however, ever someone who would setup any of my work related events around liquor. Because it just leaves out too many people.

                1. DefCon 10*

                  “It’s high time people start thinking about how things they take for granted, things they view as normal, things they view as desirable shut out large swaths of people.” Well said. We don’t always know what we don’t know, but we must learn.

                2. yala*

                  I know there’s been a push in the comic industry to move away from alcohol-focused “after parties.” Tbh, one of my favorite bits of a con I enjoy going to is hanging out in the bar, or crashing the big afterparty (I say crashing, I’m usually a plus-one). But the fact that so much networking and socializing gets done in those situations, especially for such a small industry, really winds up excluding a LOT of creators who don’t drink for various reasons.

                  It also, sadly, tends to provide a lot of cover for the creeps to creep. They probably would anyway, but it gives them more opportunity.

                  Fun’s fun, but work-related socializing should be accessible to everyone.

                3. Vina*


                  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about Ellis, et. al. And all the discussions about creeping going on now. I think you are right, this does give people cover b/c it’s a”all in fun”

          2. Zombeyonce*

            If your workplace culture actively excludes a protected class, it has crossed over the line.

          3. myswtghst*

            This feels like one of those “things as they are” vs. “things as they should be” topics, where there isn’t one easy answer.

            It’s true that people in one or more protected class(es) should not be made to feel that a job is not a good fit because of the culture, and if they do, that’s a pretty big red flag that your culture needs to change. And companies will absolutely miss out on talent and opportunities to broaden their company’s culture by seeking people who fit the culture as it is, rather than those who add to it.

            That being said, as a potential employee, I’d much rather find out about that culture before I accept an offer, so I can make a more informed decision.

        2. Colette*

          I don’t know. If the entire team plays volleyball or talks about reality TV every morning or hangs out at the bar on Thursdays or goes for smoke breaks together or collects troll dolls, that kind of thing does affect the work culture, and people who don’t have the same interests will have to work harder to connect with their colleagues. That will affect the work culture.

          Having said that, management should be aware that this kind of thing is cliquish and will negatively affect people who can’t or won’t participate, and make sure it doesn’t affect work. But it’s not as easy as “personal stuff shouldn’t affect work”.

          1. Altair*

            I don’t think it’s just “personal stuff shouldn’t affect work” but ‘will this shut people out of opportunities and advancement for demographic and other arbitrary reasons’. When everyone but Employee X plays a sport that Employee X can’t do because they’re disabled, or everyone is in a men’s sport’s league but Employee X can’t join because she’s female, that’s going to put Employee X at an arbitrary, unfair disadvantage.

            1. AMT*

              Yes to this. I think there’s a big difference between “our team [loves a certain TV show/has a book club/plays a lot of video games]” and “our team [is heavily involved in an intense sport/only hangs out at times inconvenient to parents/only socializes at venues with alcohol/prefers very expensive venues]. The first examples might not be appealing to everyone, but at least people have the option to join if they’d like (i.e. virtually anyone can buy a book or watch TV).

              It’s not wrong to enjoy *some* activities that are exclusive — because it’s almost impossible not to exclude *anyone* and there’s always going to be that one person with a deathly allergy to smoothies or Pixar films. However, I’d worry if the events in my workplace were consistently exclusive of large demographics, and especially if they excluded the same people every time.

        3. Kiki*

          Yeah, it is really cool to find common ground with your coworkers and sometimes things really do happen organically (e.g. “a few of us started playing table tennis together and we had such a fun time, the whole office joined in!”), but if most people on your team or at your company are all really into the same thing, it’s worth reflecting on the diversity of your company and whether or not such heavy participation is making those who don’t want to participate feel uncomfortable or obligated.

        4. CaliUKexpat*

          Reminds me of that LW who managed a team and built it around Friday happy hours -while dumping on one member who had been brought in to sort out the culture there. Whole team ended up fired after that lady quit iirc.

      4. JessaB*

        Would you think it was good if the person was self selecting out over race rather than able-ness? If all the disabled applicants are self selecting out, there’s a terribly discriminatory hiring practise going on. It’s the same as failing to hire disabled people because they are disabled. Even if the person doing the interviewing doesn’t realise they’re signalling how abelist the company culture is.

        And if they’re asked about the composition of their workforce the response will probably look like “We have no issue hiring disabled persons, but none of them apply/finish the process/ask for the job,” instead of “we scared them off.”

    2. Here to*

      In my last round of interviewing after leaving Toxic Oldjob, I’d read enough Miss Manners to state clearly what my boundaries were. “I will do exemplary professional work, interact with staff collaboratively and cheerfully, and give clients the best possible experience in our care. Off the clock I don’t have enough time for my own friends and family as it is; therefore if you need someone to be on your golf outings, join your softball league or attend co-worker’s weddings and showers outside of work hours, you need to hire someone else.”
      I got hired and colleagues were happy to extend invitations but understood my position and did not take it personally when I thanked them and declined. Win!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I was at a job interview once where the interviewer made a very big thing about how their team bonded by going on lunchtime jogs and ‘shared diets’. I felt like crying in the car afterwards because it felt like he was directly putting me down (disabled and fat self) even if that wasn’t his intent.

      Told the recruiter ‘no way’ for that job.

  4. Sir Lena Clare*

    1. Next steps if the employee didn’t come in for the time she would have been on holiday? Would you then fire her?

    3. Ugh time sheets to monitor the employees’ time in and out. Don’t do that! It’s never a good idea unless you’re their manager!

    1. Wintermute*

      regarding #1, I would give her a courtesy notice, but it’s not really a firing, it’s considered job abandonment, which is basically a very informal resignation.

      1. Mama Bear*

        At our office, three days without calling in is considered abandoning your post and you will be terminated. If this person went on vacation and didn’t call in, then they’d be without a job when they returned. If they don’t care, they should quit ahead of time and take as long a vacation as they want.

    2. SweetestCin*

      Right? Because with number 3, you never know what is between them and their manager! Or any number of other factors!

      I’ve had managers in the past who likely would’ve gone down the road of “and just HOW much time did you waste with this nonsense task that I did not request you do?” Rightfully so. I’ve also been the manager who has asked a very similar question of “…and how much time did you waste documenting that such and such was spending an extra three minutes on break every shift, and then putting it into a power point presentation?” Ah. Retail.

    3. fogharty*

      I had a former co-worker do something similar… if I left the office for any reason she’d run to our manager to tattle on me. Most of the time I was leaving the premises for a work errand that had been requested/approved by that same manager. The manager got tired of explaining that to Snitchy McSnitch and finally started saying “I’ll note that down.” which meant they’d note it down against her, and Snitchy would go away happy in having done her (perceived) duty.

      1. Pennyworth*

        What a pity your manager didn’t tell Snitchy McSnithch to get back in her lane and stop wasting time on something that was none of her business.

        1. Ariaflame*

          Given the ‘tired of explaining that’ I doubt Snitchy would listen. If they want to dig their own work grave that’s on them

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Seriously. I do not have time for that kind of nonsense in my day and would shut it down immediately and completely (even if “completely” meant Snitchy no longer worked for me). My HR liaison also would not be impressed with either the tattle-taling NOR the refusing to knock off something your manager’s repeatedly told you to.

  5. Not one of the boys*

    For the last letter writer….

    I don’t think it’s a problem to mention in the context of office culture, but make sure if it’s something mentioned that it’s something the interviewee can participate in.

    When I was interviewed form my last job the interviewer mentioned a few company teams and said they participated in them. He said they weren’t competitive and mostly just a social thing people enjoyed doing together. I’m not athletic but expressed an interest in one of the teams as I was new to the area so I was looking for some social things to do.

    Fast forward to sign ups for the next season and all the new hires in my department are being asked to join in except me. So I expressed an interest and was told that unfortunately I couldn’t participate. Why? It was a men’s only league and our company didn’t have any female sports options (I think do to lack of interest)

    1. Lynn*

      This is super shady and sounds like discrimination. It sounds like you don’t work there anymore, and I hope that’s true.

    2. Katiekaboom*

      That is an issue. Having a group that is one-gendered could lead to only men having extra access to superiors, and therefor leading to preferential treatment. We all know the expression about “deals happen on the golf course”. Alison has covered this in the past, I just can’t remember the specific letter.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Recently was getting ready to raise Cain over this with an industry organization. Literally, “Men’s Only Doubles” was the title of a NETWORKING event. Inquired if I would be able to attend. Told it was “Men Only”.

        Then Covid happened.

    3. The Vulture*

      gahhhh that is horrible. My company only has a softball league, which they don’t at all talk about at interviews, that is coed, and has a 2/3 men 1/3 women ratio, basically, and can have a hard time getting women, but seriously come on with that shit. I am sorry, but you don’t get to have ANY workplace leagues, even for fun (or for no fun at all), even on people’s personal time, that only 50% of people can participate in (and obviously if you have significantly less than 50% in your workforce, hey, you’ve revealed another, more important problem, not at all related to your sports leagues!), whatttt even are they thinking.

    4. hbc*

      I’ve never seen a men’s sport that didn’t let women participate. Sounds like a load of bull, especially for a low-skill, socially-focused activity.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I mean, I am usually the reason that an ice hockey team winds up “Co-Ed”. There’s typically not a co-ed division, it just “is”.

      2. Vina*

        “Let women participate” is not the same thing as “make welcome” or “really want there”

        I’ve been involved with co-ed leagues since Nixon was in office. There’s a huge difference between a co-ed league that’s for fun where women are valued and a men’s league where women are tolerated b/c the dudes don’t want to come out and admit they are sexist b/c then they’d be told to stop.

        But even 100% co-ed, women-positive (non-male gendered positive as well), should not be something that’s really the sole or one of the critical work-related extra-curriculars. It excludes some people who are elderly, pregnant, those with disabilities, etc.

        It rests on an assumption that everyone is “able-bodied” or able to participate. A HUGE chunk of the US population just isn’t.

        So “being tolerated” isn’t “being welcome” and even then, it’s problematicly exclusionary.

      3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I had it happen with a rec league (not varsity or JV) basketball team run through my school in high school. I told the coach I wanted to play, and he told me it was only for boys. I had great fun beating most of the team (I was friends with a lot of them) at HORSE over the summer and then telling them I’d tried to join the team and been turned down for being a girl after they asked me why I wasn’t on the basketball team. I graduated and went off to college, and I assume they complained to the coach the next year at school. No idea if he was more open to girls on the team after that.

        To be fair, I don’t look like a basketball player (built more like a football player, which I also was not allowed to do growing up) and didn’t dress like a “sporty” kid at school. On the other hand, I grew up with a basketball half court in my backyard and spent hours doing trick shots from all over the yard throughout my childhood and playing one on one basketball with the neighbor kids, most of whom were boys and older than me, and it’s not like the guys on the rec league team were exactly NBA material either.

      1. MassMatt*

        It’s interesting how different this can be at different organizations. I am not into team sports and especially not baseball/softball but played a few games with my company’s softball team. It was a coed rec league, and if a team did not have at least 2 women players they would forfeit the game. This happened occasionally, also sometimes the teams with the bare minimum female participation it was clear the women were kind of an afterthought to make the quota. Whereas on our team we had pretty close to 50% male/female and 3 women were easily among our top players. A League of Their Own, indeed!

    5. HS Teacher*

      That’s such BS (them telling you that you couldn’t play.) I worked at a place where they had a basketball team. Yes, it was a men’s league, but I was permitted to play on the team. I didn’t make a big deal about it; I just mentioned I was captain of my high school team and had also played at the collegiate level. I’ve never seen a men’s league that specifically excludes women.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        But in a workplace environment, why make women have to ask to join the “men’s” league, rather than just having an office basketball team?

    6. Not one of the boys*

      Just adding a comment here to clarify :)

      There was not a power dynamic issue because it was mostly people at the same level on the team.

      I was always invited to any pre and post game festivities (as well as the games as a spectator obviously). I did go to some and some other employees (mostly women but some men) also spectated as well. So it’s not like I was completely cut out.

      I work in a VERY male dominated industry, so I genuinely think that they’d never had any interest from a female before. Could I have pushed back my second year and tried to get them to join a coed league? Possibly. But the town the team was in doesn’t have a coed league. Also even if they did I would have felt compelled to make sure I made it to every single game (even though this was something I wanted to do as a “just for fun” when I could activity).

      Did it kind of suck? Yeah! Especially when I was first told I wouldn’t be allowed to play because it was something I was looking forward to. Was it also totally fine in the end? Also yeah. I didn’t miss out on any extra time with management and I still got enough of the socialization to realize it probably wasn’t for me even if I was able to sign up.

  6. Batgirl*

    OP1, I think the employee’s attitude towards their spouse speaking for them is a really key factor. Ideally you’re going to get ‘Wow, I am mortified and I will handle it”. If however you get “We are one soul and it’s totally fine with me”, then it would be a kindness to spell out that it makes her look incompetent if she’s encouraging or allowing someone else to speak for her. Equally, if there’s any possibility of this being a controlling relationship, any signs of that will be in her response to hearing about it when the line about non disclosure to spouses will be read as reassuring.
    Alison’s advice is perfect for all scenarios; its a good idea to sound really dispassionate, brief, cut calls like that right off with formulaic words like ‘It’s not possible for me to discuss employees with non employees’ and ‘I’m going to have to end this call since I can’t give out any information to you about our staffing decisions’. Treating them like they don’t have any more input than any other kind of crank call will take away all the power from it.

    1. Catwoman*

      I’m glad you mentioned that this could be a sign of a controlling relationship. I would encourage the manager to at least keep this in the back of their mind and be on the look out for any other signs that the employee may be in a dangerous relationship. I would encourage the manager to ask the employee some open-ended questions about what led the spouse to make this phone call.

      1. FionasHuman*

        That was my one concern with Allison’s answer. The male spouse sounds controlling, which could be part of a larger pattern of abuse. It’ snot the manager’s job to provide counseling on this issue, of course, but asking a few questions and providing resources so the employee has resources to leave this relationship would be a good thing.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        Yes, it could be a sign of a controlling relationship. It could also be the sign if a couple who are trying to get away with something they know would get shot down if the employee herself said it. This is where you really need to watch and listen to the employee’s reaction when you bring it up… it has the potential to be a bunch of different problems, most of them pretty bad but with wildly different appropriate responses.

    2. DefCon 10*

      I would also reiterate that the time off is not approved, and possibly mention the disciplinary consequences if she doesn’t report for work as scheduled.

    3. Jojo*

      Literally, there is a law called “privacy act”. It literally is illegally to discuss an employee with an out party or to give out private information such as an address or phone number. It is a federal offense.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          The Privacy Act itself is Australian (hence Jojo’s use of the word federal, the EU is not a federation). The EU has the GDPR and some other data protection regulation, but it wouldn’t generally prevent an employer from talking to the spouse. That’s independent of whether it’s good business practice.

          1. Jojo*

            Privacy act is very heavily stressed in American military and military contract. Assume it applies to civilian sector also. Just nobody gets told about it.

            1. Beth Jacobs*

              Nope, the American Privacy Act only applies to federal agencies. Literally a 30-second Google search.

  7. Liz*

    Ugh #3. I had a boss who did that; she’d come in late, leave randomly during the day for this appointment and that one, take very long lunches to “run errands” as in a couple of hours, and leave early as well. I am convinced it was because she didn’t wnat to use her own personal time for anything that wasn’t “fun”

    We are all salaried, so “technically” as long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter if it takes you 25, 40 or more hours. And my company is really very flexible about leaving early, etc. but most people don’t abuse it like she does. But it really got to be annoying, esp. since she’d sometimes be gone the same amount of time as a half a day of PTO, yet would seemingly never put it down as such, and at the end of the year, would always make it a point to say she had SOOOO much time she had to take or lose, and also carry over a ton. She’d make a huge deal out of it. When in fact, while we didn’t track it, or have access to her time sheets, we all knew that she wasn’t reporting her time accurately, and was taking more than she had available to her. And it was frustrating becuase WE all played by the rules and didn’t take advantage, and she did.

    1. SDSMITH82*

      I had a coworker who did it- and again- we were all salary. She claimed the boss told her too, but the boss always said “NO I DIDN’T” and she proceeded to keep doing it. It was one of so many reasons that lady should have been fired, but never was (I’ve discussed her many times). It made zero sense. That work place was one of many toxic ones, and I still have remnants from that work place that effect how I do things. It’s taken a few years to understand that my current boss respects what exempt actually means, and undo the damage.

    2. Anonymous Admin*

      I have a coworker like that, too. She goes on and on about how much time she needs to take or lose. She was doing it one day in the break room and I said “Why don’t you just take the whole month off? Things run just fine when you are not here and you’ll get to take all that PAID time off so you don’t lose it! You could go on vacation or spend time with your grandkids or just hang around the house and relax! It’ll be GREAT”. She didn’t do it . She kind of brings it on herself because she shows up 1.5 hour earlier than everyone else (no reason to, seems like she just wants to be the first one in) and will routinely show up when she is off, such as if she actually takes a few days to go see family she’ll “drop by and check on things” as she is leaving and when she comes back. Goes out of her way coming home from a road trip to “check on things” at work and never, not once, has anything been wrong that she needed to address.

      Yes, our coworker’s schedules should not concern us unless is impacts our work, but, it can be a morale hit to see someone regularly flouting the rules and know that if we did the same, we’d get called on it. I don’t what it is, but some people can suck at their job and break all kinds of norms and never get in trouble for it. The part about her “fudging” her time sheet makes me think this is not an arrangement she made with management, but she is lying on her time sheet to get paid for work she didn’t actually do and make it seem like she is at work more than she actually is.

    3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I guess that’s annoying that she made a big deal of not using all of her vacation time, but what you are describing has been the norm everywhere I’ve ever worked. For someone who is salaried, and at a level where they are managing salaried workers, there is usually a lot of flexibility. It depends how high you go in the organization, but one of the perks of upper management is usually that you don’t have to punch out to go to the doctor. At a certain level, nobody cares whether your butt is in a seat. They care about whether you are generating revenue or meeting benchmarks. Honestly, I would like to see that attitude filter down, rather than butts-in-seats mentality filtering up.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, and a lot of time managers spend their evenings and weekends answering emails and doing other work.

      2. DefCon 10*

        All of this. Lots of high-level folks also have family responsibilities, and they adjust their schedules accordingly, leaving early to spend time with family, then working late into the evening when the kids are in bed. I’m fighting the butt-in-seat culture at my workplace as we discuss reopening after mostly working remotely since March. Also, I’ve worked with people who were always in the office and still rarely accomplished anything worthwhile. Results are what should matter most.

  8. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    If I were LW 1 I would be concerned that my employee has a controlling (or worse) spouse. I would make it clear (in a conversation completely separate from this incident) that my door is open for anything she wants to discuss, and I would keep a caring eye on her in the future.

    I wonder what happened to that employee between the original letter and now…

    1. Rebecca*

      I wondered right away if the employee had a controlling spouse who basically said, we’re going here or doing this in X time frame, even if you lose your job, so whether you get time off or not, you won’t be at work. I know we shouldn’t armchair diagnose, but this is what my brain ran to when I read this. I too would like an update.

    2. SweetestCin*

      That was my initial concern thought process too. The sheer nerve of someone thinking that they had the absolute right to override my staffing decision (from the point of management) would make me wonder WHAT else they felt they had an absolute right to do.

    3. Persephone Underground*

      This sounds like a ploy to get her fired and give the abuser financial control over her. It very much could be, and because of that I’d likely err on the side of some lesser discipline if she actually didn’t show up to work, if at all possible. Plus some separate effort to direct her towards the EAP or other resources.

      1. LunaLena*

        Totally agree that it’s a controlling spouse, but not necessarily a ploy to get her fired. To me it sounds more like “she’s too timid about asking for things! I bet she asked meekly and retreated as soon as the boss said ‘no,’ but you have to be forceful to show them they can’t just push you around! I’m going to go in there and demand the time off like she should have in the first place!” I would say this is doubly true if the OP is a woman – there are plenty of guys out there who think they are “tough guys” and can intimidate any woman into capitulating to their demands. I got to talk to many of them when I worked in a call center and they thought they could bully me into bending rules/corporate policies/the law for them.

        1. andy*

          Practically speaking, over time, it is likely to get her fired. And also, I doubt that he treats his own employer this way and keeps long term stable job.

          1. LunaLena*

            Yes, it might very well get her fired, but I doubt that that’s this man’s main motivation in doing this. In my experience, people who are controlling tend to think that things will simply go their way if they push hard enough, and if they don’t, it’s because the other person is a jerk. So if she did get fired, I would expect his reaction to be “your boss has issues and you’re better off not working there anyways,” or maybe “I don’t see why you need a job anyways, most bosses are jerks.” And I wouldn’t be too sure that he isn’t like this at his own job either – there are plenty of examples on this very site of managers who are too hands-off or timid to rein in problem employees and just let them run rampant until they become a missing stair.

  9. Forrest*

    I think it’s really interesting that Alison seems to assume that #4 is fishing for the answer “I’d stay late if necessary”! I observed an interview where a similar question was asked and the “right” answer was definitely, “manage customer expectations so they know it won’t be possible to action this until next week”. answering that he’d do whatever it took to get the job done was regarded as one of two black mark against an otherwise stellar candidate.

    (The other was his frankly painful handshake: they decided to offer him a job in the end but wrote a note to take him aside and teach him how to shake hands before he was allowed near any clients.)

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      That’s still a terrible question even if the “right” answer is to manage customer expectations. It is a loaded question that most people would feel was intended as some sort of trap or test.

      1. ExcelJedi*

        Absolutely! A better question would be something that gets right to the chase. Something like “How do you manage internal customer expectations when you know a task will take longer than they expect?” or something like that.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      I also assume that #4 is fishing for the answer “I’d stay late if necessary,” because I have filled out job applications that included the question “Are you willing to work overtime?” and I had to check either the box marked “yes” or the box marked “no.” There was no room to write anything like “occasionally” or “when necessary” or “in an emergency” or “Mondays through Thursdays, certainly, but not on Fridays.” I knew that checking the box marked “no” meant that I wouldn’t be considered for the job.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      The thing is, the “whatever it takes!” answer is what a lot of employers are looking for. If the candidate is trying to tell them what they want to hear, this is the best guess. Personally, unless I was desperate for the job I would take this as a test of the employer. I would give the honest answer, which is to find out more information, particularly whether this is genuinely urgent, and act on that information. Sometimes emergencies genuinely come up, and I am prepared to power through the real ones. But a thought popping into someone’s head on a Friday afternoon doesn’t qualify. I see two potential bad responses from the interviewer: either that “whatever it takes!” is the only acceptable answer under any conditions, or annoyance that I am answering the question with a question. Both would be useful information to me.

      1. Forrest*

        But what if you want to find candidates who prioritise their own boundaries and expectations, and exclude ones who tell the employer what they think they want to hear?

        1. Marny*

          Then you tell the potential employee that your company values boundaries and work-life balance, etc. instead of asking that question with no context and forcing the employee to guess what the right answer is (unless you are interviewing for a job as a psychic).

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            This. It is like a badly written test question, where the test-taker has to divine the test-maker’s ideology in order to figure out what is the “correct” answer.

            1. Forrest*

              So there’s a whole thing about whether you see interviews as a game where you win by successfully adapting to what the employer is looking for (player) or whether you stay true to yourself and success is finding a role where your values and those of your employer match (purists). I guess if you see interviews as a player, then this is a bad question, but this is a very successful graduate employer who does tons of outreach and invests a huge amount in communicating their values to students and trying to sort for students who authentically share those values, so they presumably find this question useful and important.

              1. Shad*

                Part of the reason it’s like a badly written test question, from my perspective, is that it telegraphs the potential value readings so strongly (“I’d do whatever it takes” vs “I’d take 10 minutes tops to manage expectations/delegate (if it’s shift work where that’s an option)/kick out a quick solve”) that it’s very difficult as the person hearing it to not assume it’s a read my mind question. If you really want to get a true opinion, you don’t make it so obvious that the question *has* a right answer, even if it takes mind-reading to figure out which one the interviewer thinks it is!

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Interesting that they saw this “whatever it takes” answer as a black mark but (I infer) didn’t probe any more about that in the interview, unless they did and you just didn’t mention it? I’m curious how the conversation about that went from there, if you are willing to share!

      1. juliebulie*

        “Doing whatever it takes” might well result in doing something that management would never have authorized. If the employee is not in a position to verify the customer relationship, and that their account is in good standing, and that the company has agreed to do this kind of work for them, it’s very possible that the “client” is taking advantage of employee’s ignorance.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Oh I can totally see why it’s seen as a black mark! Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was curious why, even though this interviewer (rightly in most places) saw this as a red flag answer, whether they pursued it any further to talk about why the candidate might have answered that etc.

          1. juliebulie*

            Yeah, that’s a good question. There are so many reasons a person might answer that way. Unless there’s a good reason the interviewee should know the right answer, this should be a conversation.

            I can see why it might be an automatic disqualifier in some industries, though. Especially if the question was more detailed and specific than described here.

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

              Yeah, especially with hypothetical ethical/compliance issues such as (ask me how I know!):

              if your software that powers your main website (which makes money for the company) went down and couldn’t be fixed in the short term, and there isn’t a disaster recovery plan, should/could you bring up the website using a “development copy” of that software which is only licensed for software trial/testing purposes and prohibited in its license from being used in production?

              … Not an interview question I’ve come across, but was an actual scenario. I would be really interested to see what interviewees (for relevant roles obviously) would answer about that!

            2. Forrest*

              It was “Your client has significantly shortened the deadline for the project you are working on, and you will no long be able to deliver to the original spec in the time available. What will you do?”

              To me with 10+ years’ experience that very clearly signalled, “we want an answer about how you handle changing circumstances / unrealistic client expectations”. To the (very able, but inexperienced) graduate answering the question, it was a “tell us about how you heroically go above and beyond to get things done”!

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

                Yeah, that seems like a clear negotiating/setting expectations scenario, because “client has significantly shortened the deadline for the project you are working on”. That’s a much easier problem!

                1. Forrest*

                  I think one aspect of it was that it’s a commercial awareness question. This was a graduate role and it’s all very well pulling an all-nighter or even three all-nighters in a row to get an assignment done. But if the client is requesting a month’s work to be delivered in fourteen days’ time, it’s not in the company’s interest to meet that expectation. (Or maybe sometimes it is! but it’s not up to the brand new grad to decide that.)

                  The “heroic” answer might be the right one in a corporate law firm where the contract is millions of pounds and it needs to be delivered by Monday and that’s just how it is. But in other settings, it can be deeply egotistical or commercially unviable.

      2. Forrest*

        They did–the specific question was about a client moving a deadline back, and you no longer have time to fulfil the original spec. What would you do? The candidate kept repeating that he would find a way to make it work, that he gave 110%, that he’d never missed a deadline in his life, that he’d worked all-nighters before and could do it again, etc. They asked him several times if he could see any alternatives, or what he would do if it simply wasn’t possible to make it work to the original spec, and he kept insisting that he could do it. It was extremely obvious to me that they were digging for a realistic appraisal of the fact that work can’t always be done to the timescale and budget that a client demands, and in the discussion afterwards they said they would have been happy with either a technical answer about looking back at the spec to check which were the core requirements and which were nice to haves and offering them to the client, or with going to their manager and the rest of the team to explain the problem and ask for support, but no matter how many times they tried this candidate stuck to his guns!

        It was a for a graduate role, and the candidate had the strongest technical skills and soft skills of anyone else present that day. They decided that this mindset was a developmental issue and something they would work on with him as part of their training programme, but it was something they would need to see clear improvement on if he was going to pass the programme.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Read and understood – And now I’m so curious as to whether he was able to let go that mindset and ultimately succeed in the program!

          1. Katrinka*

            In my experience, moving a deadline forward usually means making it sooner, whereas moving it back means delaying it.

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          Oh God, I hate this about interviewing. You get one question with a mismatch between what the interviewer thinks they’re asking and what the candidate thinks they’re being asked, and often neither side has the mental flexibility to even realize there’s a mismatch.

          I lost out on a job once because it was being advertised as a straight software engineering position, and the interviewer asked me a question about how I would change the company’s internal routing and networking to achieve certain results. So I thought he wanted to test my networking knowledge, and I was just like, “well, ya got me. I don’t know much about networking”, expecting it was a nice-to-have extra or something. But he kept pressing me, “well, where would you begin though? If you had to. What would be your first step? If you did get that assignment.” No matter how many times I repeated that I DON’T KNOW.

          I found out later, the point was to test where I would start if asked to do something I don’t already know how. So the right answer was something like “I would ask my co-workers if they knew how, and if so, I would ask them to teach me. If not, I would read Routing for Dummies and do whatever it said.” But he was so sure he was testing that, he didn’t think of asking how I would do something else. And I was so stuck in “you made your point, can we MOVE ON ALREADY” that I couldn’t think that “OK, he knows I don’t know networking, what else could he be testing?”

    5. Aquawoman*

      Any question that makes people guess at the office culture is ridiculous. It’s not like there are two types of people, those who will work until every question is answered and those who clock out at 5 on the dot. One of my jobs as a manager is to help people figure out how to manage their priorities.

      1. hbc*

        I don’t think it’s ridiculous to try to suss out what kind of office culture the candidate would best fit into, but this is more of a procedural question than anything else. As in, I can’t answer the question until I know what the manager wants me to do. I’ll stay late if that’s what you want me to do, or I’ll take their info but strictly hold to our close-of-business time if that’s preferred, or I’ll use my judgment on how serious their issue is if your policy is for employees to use their judgment. I can’t answer the question in a vacuum.

      2. Forrest*

        Hmm- I work with a lot of graduate employers who come onto campus to do talks, publish lots of information about their company values, the strengths they are looking for, etc. Many of them also offer internships and insight events, or mini-mentorships with current employees once you’ve passed the initial screen. I could tell you off the top of my head a couple who would be looking for the, “I would stay at work for 48 hours if that’s what it took to get it done” answer (and I talk to my students about seeing GHDs and hairdryers in the loos there!) and which ones are looking for, “solid high-quality work isn’t about heroics, it’s about a realistic commercial assessment of what can be done to what standard in the time and budget available.”

        To me, that’s not about asking people to “guess” at office culture, it’s about making sure the candidate and the employer are on the same page about their values and modes of working, and most of the successful grad recruiters would see that as absolutely fundamental.

    6. saby*

      I’ve definitely done interviews (on both sides of the table) where there was a really specific scenario question like this, and in my experience it’s usually about how good your judgement is so it always helps to start with something like “I’m sure there are policies in place for dealing with (overtime hours, client wait times, etc.) but without knowing them I would…”

      Then again, we hire summer students every year and we have a very specific scenario question like this based on something a couple of our student have done in the past. In this case it’s pretty obvious what the “right” answer is and I’ve never heard anyone give a “wrong” one, but I don’t know if that actually translated to them never doing the “wrong” thing if the situation actually comes up. So I don’t know how helpful these questions actually are!

    7. R*

      Yes – I’ve worked in places that have *wildly* different expectations regarding overtime, from ‘if a client calls at 4:59:59, you better get on that’ to ‘never work overtime ever.’ Plus a lot of in-between where it’s not clear and you just have to *guess* whether a situation merits the OT, and hope you guess right. It’s basically an impossible question to answer unless you’ve already been working there (or like.. it’s in an industry where you know OT is standard)

      (I also would be suspicious, if it was hourly, that they were screening for people who were willing to work off the clock)

  10. Angelinha*

    For #4, because it’s local government, I would bet the answer they’re looking for is “I would tell the customer I could not do it until Monday, because government employees are prohibited from exceeding 37.5 hours per week.” It’s an awful question but I bet they’ve gotten into trouble having people work overtime, since most governments can’t pay overtime but also can’t have people work without pay. I also feel like local govt hiring practices are (in general! not always!) unnecessarily rigid out of this idea that rigidity is the only way to follow their laws and policies, so I could definitely see this question being added as a backwards way of getting to “will you follow the laws that are in place about municipal employees?” without actually telling you what those are.

    1. kittymommy*

      This is going to be dependent upon whether or not they are exempt or non-exempt. Most of our IT workers are considered exempt (save for some admin staff) so the 37.5 would not apply.

      Here the question would likely be trying to evaluate 1. how you would determine whether or not the issue needs to be taken care of right then, either by them or the on-call person; or 2. how you would push back on the colleague to wait till the following week.

    2. Nikara*

      As someone who works in local government, the answer I would expect would include mentioning workplace policies, and determining if there was a way to escalate an issue to get permission for overtime if it was really needed. Government employees get pretty used to following rules, policies, and procedures on this sort of thing, and doing unauthorized overtime is a big no-no. If the position were exempt, that would be different, but if the position is hourly, I’d definitely look for an answer that acknowledges that overtime is rare, and based on the specific authorization of management.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Yes, and if you’re IT in a municipal government, chances are your clients are in the same government, so they wouldn’t be calling you at 5:00 on a Friday anyway. Unless the server is blowing up and it’s your job to fix it, it’s pretty unlikely that a call like that would even happen.

        In any case, I think there is a good middle of the road answer here, which shouldn’t get you in too much trouble either way. You would prioritize based on who the caller is and the urgency of the request, and then either drop everything and scramble, or politely tell them that you’ll get back to them first thing Monday.

        There are always outliers – in some places the correct answer is going to be “of COURSE I stay until all the work is done,” and in others the correct answer is “I don’t answer the phone because I’m already out the door.” But those places tend to be pretty unreasonable in lots of other ways, so if either of those is the expectation I would take that as a red flag in any case. I can’t imagine too many employers marking it against you if you tell them you’ll take two minutes to analyze the situation before you decide how to respond.

  11. Anon here*

    I was once the “assistant” interviewer on a particular occasion (I would have been the day to day team leader of the person being hired, but didn’t have the line management authority myself at that point, so my boss was leading the interview).

    My boss asked the candidate a question that was essentially (I paraphrased it): Task X’s deadline is time-critical for fulfilling a client contract and Task X will take 2 days. You can’t speed up Task X by splitting it up among additional people. The deadline for delivering Task X is tomorrow. What do you do?

    I still don’t know what was the ‘right’ answer my boss had in mind here (and stupid me didn’t think to ask!) At the time in a toxic environment I would have answered “you have to find a way to make Task X possible in a day even if that means working 24 hours straight, cutting corners or not doing all the testing or thinking up a totally new way to do X which hasn’t been tried before”.

    The real answer for me, with a more mature perspective now, would be along the lines of figuring out why X will take 2 days, is there anything legitimately that can be cut out of it, e.g. can we send the client a draft version that meets the deadline and then follow up with a final one later, can we supply a “cut down” version (e.g. we can deliver 35 teapots in full and the other 15 a day later). Talking with the person responsible for that client to communicate “it isn’t possible to do X because of B and C, but here are options Y and Z that we are able to do, and I would recommend Y because…” etc.

    1. Anon here*

      Nesting fail, I meant to reply to Forest above: I think it’s really interesting that Alison seems to assume that #4 is fishing for the answer “I’d stay late if necessary”! Sorry.

  12. Buttons*

    If they do not show up to work after you denied their vacation request they are fired.

      1. Vina*

        This. Failure to show up without pre-approved leave is constructively quitting unless there’s an emergency, illness, etc.

  13. MollyG*

    #3 There are times when tracking a co-worker’s hours and time off is appropriate: when you suspect there is discrimination going on. If a worker or workers of a particular protected class were getting more leeway in time off then others, then tracking it yourself may be the only way to document it. This is probably a rare saturation, but I just wanted to put that out there.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I had a boss who was not doing his job (coming in late, long lunch breaks, leaving early) to the point it was causing problems (not doing his share of coverage-jobs so they were just uncovered, not breaking coverage staff who needed bathroom or legally mandated meal breaks, just flat-out not doing the bulk of his job) and ultimately the people working with him ended up having to track his time to report him to his boss to move along the PIP -> termination train.

      Part of the reason he got away with it was a lot of the people he was working with were shift-based coverage themselves, so he could come in at 10, the AM shift would leave at 1, and then he could tell the PM shift he got in at 8 so he needs an extra-long lunch/is going home early/etc, then he could come in at noon the next day and tell the AM shift that he’d been in until 10 the previous night. The coverage-shuffle caught up with him in the end, because eventually someone ends up changing their schedule to help out because someone is sick or on vacation or is handling a special meeting/event and then puts 2 + 2 together and realizes he’s working 5 hour days when he says he’s working 10…

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I think they mean if a POC was not getting the same vacation time rights as a white person of a similar level. Or of a man was constantly leaving early or taking time off but a woman with the same job was not allowed to, or made to stay late, etc.
        It doesn’t get I to a gray area because it could look like person A is getting special treatment but in rality they company has to make legit accomodations.

        1. momofpeanut*

          I’d read the comment again. It certainly smacked of “protect against reverse discrimination” to me.

          “If a worker or workers of a particular protected class were getting more leeway in time off then others, then tracking it yourself may be the only way to document it“

          1. MollyG*

            There was no intention on my part to comment on reverse discrimination. I mistyped if it came across like that.

            1. momofpeanut*

              I appreciate you saying that. I firmly believe it is not okay to track anyone to see if they are getting more than you. Gathering evidence of discrimination AGAINST protected classes would be an acceptable variation

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                Remember that “protected class” applies to the dominant group as well as the marginalized one(s) — finding out if the men or the white people are given more leeway in time off is still tracking stats for a protected class.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Right, the co-worker could be taking FMLA, but the LW doesn’t know because HR and the boss have probably chosen, appropriately, to not talk about it. Things like that are supposed to be confidential, as far as I’m aware. I had a coworker who chose to tell the entire team that she was on FMLA because some people were gossiping about her being absent so much. It wasn’t their business, but jealousy happens.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Sorry, I guess I didn’t read the whole comment. But there are times when people can be out for more than their PTO length, and as long as HR approves it, it is perfectly legal.

  14. Ellen N.*

    OP #1, I would be concerned about my employee. Her husband “told” you that she would be taking the time off as opposed to explaining why this time off was important and asking you to reconsider. This raises red flags for a domestic abuse situation.

    For the record, it’s inappropriate for a spouse to involve themselves with any workplace negotiation in any way.

  15. Buttons*

    Uh… Mind your own business. If they were my coworkers I would take a lot of time off too, they sound like awful busy bodies.

  16. Ellie May*

    1. Alison says, “I’ll need to speak with Jane directly.”
    This implies the conversation is continuing when really, the conversation is over; the leave request was denied. Let’s not let Jane or her husband think this is up for discussion.
    Perhaps it is more direct to simply say, “This isn’t a matter I can discuss with you and I’ve already spoken with Jane about it. Good-bye.”

    1. Altair*

      I was just thinking nebulously about that aspect and here you’ve pointed it out concretely. *nods agreement*

  17. BrendanM*

    Letter 3: I have an employee who works on the late end of our core hours (10am – 7pm). She’s a night owl and she had been the one doing child drop off in the mornings. There were coworkers (not my direct reports) who tried to imply that she wasn’t working a full week. I wanted to tell them that she does more work in one day than they do all week. I did tell them, “So, she’s not available to answer a question at 9am. You’re not available to answer my questions at 4pm. We all have to deal.”

    1. Buttons*

      I had to have that same conversation. Why do people care so much about someone else’s schedule? The person in my office also works 10-7. We have flexible hours and we all have direct reports or managers who work in different countries and time zones! I know that my employees in western Canada aren’t going to be available to have a 9 am /7 am call. They also know that unless it is an emergency I won’t be available at 4 pm their time.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        People get jealous about dumb things. The thing is, they may not realize that they’re being jealous over someone who may have a serious medical condition, or children with serious medical conditions, having to wrangle child care and transportation, etc.

        1. yala*

          I’ll admit, I kind of wanted to start keeping notes when my whole department would leave 15-20 minutes early, but I’d get reprimanded for coming in 5 minutes late.

          But it’s a rabbit hole that’s not worth going down.

    2. alienor*

      My company allows start times between 7 and 9 am and finish times between 4 and 6 pm, and there are definitely those who feel like that means everyone should be available during all those hours. The early birds will be mad if the night owls can’t make a 7 am call, and the night owls will grumble about how the early birds leave right at 4 every day. Which sort of defeats the purpose of flexibility, but people are weird.

  18. NerdyKris*

    Is anyone else unable to find the original post for this question? I’m always curious about the comments, but searching for the title or parts of the question only return this post.

    1. juliebulie*

      It looks like this might be made out of multiple posts put together. If you search for them individually you will have more luck. Link to follow

    2. fogharty*

      The original post is over at Inc.com (see link in the header). You go there to read the Q&A, then come back here to comment.

      1. NerdyKris*

        I meant the original original post. Inc.com posts are typically reprints of posts that have appeared on the Ask A Manager site. You can usually find the original by searching for the title and looking for the earlier post.

  19. Lahey*

    For me, the answer to question #4 would depend heavily on the company’s expectations. It seems like a good question to turn back on them to find out more about their culture and policies, but I would be irritated if an interviewer thought there was one “right” answer and expected prospective employees to already know what that was.

  20. MsChanandlerBong*

    #2 I have a similar problem with one of my team members. She will never tell anyone when she has too much to do, and she is kind of cagey about how much she has on her plate. Ex: The other day, she said she had “a little bit to go” on a 15-page report. To me, a little bit to go would have been two, maybe three pages. It turns out she had nine pages to go. It gets to the point where she keeps taking on more and more work and saying she has time to do it, but then she misses deadlines or does sloppy work. If you tell her you’ll give a project to someone else, she gets upset and says she can do it. I think Alison hit the nail on the head; she thinks that not being able to do 100 things reflects poorly on her, so it stings her ego when we say we’ll give a project to somebody else. She is a people pleaser of the highest order, and we can’t seem to make her understand that we’re more pleased when she takes on a reasonable amount of work and does it to a high standard than when she takes on way too much and then has to rush to get it done.

  21. Andy*

    It might be bias, but if partner of worker calls like that, I would suspect that the partner is pushy jerk. It clearly shows lack of boundaries . As in, the employee might not have full control over his behavior.

    It is something to consider if incidents repeat. If that happen, he might be trying to alienate her from work. Which is still something for her to solve and deal with, but it would still changed the way I communicate.

    1. MarchwasMay*

      Yes — I got a partner-abuse dynamic from the letter, too. Some of my friends have had financially abusive relationships, where the then-husband didn’t want the friend to keep her job and have the opportunity to be both independent AND interacting with other people who could give a reality check.

  22. Quickbeam*

    Re: #5, the sports league thing…..I would find that tremendously off putting in an interview other than a quick mention. I’m disabled and the thought that your star in the organization depends on your participation would be frightening to me.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Same – not disabled but zero percent interested in sports or any kind of athletic activity with coworkers. If it seemed like a big part of the company culture I would note that I would probably not be a good fit.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’m disabled AND have little interest in sportsball. It would definitely be off-putting if it was mentioned any more than “We do have several office sports and fitness options. I personally enjoy the speed badminton team.” Anything more than a couple sentences and I know that the whole office was full of pushy fitness people who would be forever full of “suggestions” for how I could meet their fitness goals, and nope straight out of there.

  23. Information Goddess*

    I have been asked a version of that off interview question in an interview for an internal “promotion” (from part time to full time) it was asked as if my supervisor was asking me to do a task Friday at 4:30 and I knew it would take a long time and I was going on vacation. It took me off guard and I turned to my current supervisor who was on the panel and blurted out that “my supervisor would never DO that!” And then ended up scrambling for an answer which was basically I could explain what was possible and what was not and trying to work out something that would work well for all of us. I thought it was the stupidest question. Glad to have confirmation on that.

  24. Fabulous*

    Odd interview question… I don’t have any advice, but I have a perfect situational example to Alison’s amended question, “Tell me about a time when you were given a last-minute work request and didn’t have much time to handle it in.” I design training presentations for a sales organization, and we had been tasked with putting together a comprehensive participant version of around ten or more (habitually incomplete and ever-changing) PowerPoints. Normally this would take about 2-3 weeks turnaround time, but I essentially had 3 days to put it together. Put in a lot of overtime that week but it got done!

  25. Wintergreen*

    #2 – The LW isn’t clear on how much she has talked to the employee about workload, feelings about workload, or employees processes.
    Truthfully, I am 1000% more productive if I know my workload for the day is heavy. I am better able to sit down and focus. If my workload for the day is light I end up taking many “mental breaks” during the day and my productivity suffers.
    You mention that you review her reports and reassign them as necessary. Are you talking with her before reassigning? I get them impression from the letter you are just looking at the report and reassigning without ever actually speaking with her. Could it be that she is upset because she had 90-95% of the background work done on the report you just reassigned (meaning she just wasted hours of time)?
    Also, I am very process driven; even if said processes are self-directed. And I plan my week/day around what I have on my desk with room to handle what may come in during the day. To have Y & Z taken off my plate without warning would totally throw me off balance.
    And last, part of this is my personal anxiety but, if my supervisor just started assigning my work to someone else I’d be worried about getting fired, not that she felt I was overwhelmed.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I agree with this as well. My bosses often ask us for status updates on certain assignments to gauge how much we have left to do. Even so, I sometimes get an email along the lines of “hey, Spencer, I’ve reassigned X so that you can focus on Y,” where X was something I was doing fine with and Y might actually be beyond my ability (so if it had been up to me, it would have been the other way around!).

  26. MarchwasMay*

    Letter #1’s husband sounded like it was an abusive situation to me. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s just the vibe I got. Anyone else?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I thought that too. Or at least very controlling. The employee might not even know that her husband called in!
      If I was LW I would have a conversation with the employee, but I would act concerned, not angry or upset.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      At a previous job, a co-worker gave two weeks notice. One day, her husband called and told the office manager that his wife didn’t feel like going to work that day. The office manager angrily told him to tell his wife that her employment with the company had ended, effective immediately. Neither the office manager nor I thought that the situation was abusive. We just thought that she just didn’t feel like calling in, and her husband said, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll call in for you.”

  27. Lizzo*

    LW#1: You can handle this one of two ways:
    1) Lead with prompt consequences: the employee will no longer be your employee (fired/quit due to “abandonment of job/duties”/etc.).
    2) Lead with empathy: the employee is potentially in a bad situation at home with a controlling and/or abusive husband. Figure out a way to help instead of hurt.

    Option #2 is going to be much harder to do, but may be the better choice in the long term, assuming you want to keep this employee as part of your team. Now’s the time to flex and grow your management muscles, and find that delicate balance between being firm and being kind.

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      This is…a little strong, and a little unfair to the OP. Many workplaces have firm policies about job abandonment or similar, especially in this particular situation where leave has already been requested and denied. OP’s hands might well be tied, and it’s important to also note that the OP doesn’t provide us any other context to automatically assume domestic abuse. This is a bad situation, let’s not make the OP out to be the bad guy.

  28. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    > Then her husband phoned me to tell me that she will not be at work and she will take the leave! What can I do from here to prevent her husband from doing the negotiations on her behalf?

    You can’t do anything to influence her husband, you can only manage how you treat the current situation. So if she takes the time off anyway… what would you do?

    I can see two possibilities here. Either the husband is controlling and/or abusive (as others have touched on), or somehow she has been screwed over in the past with leave and feels powerless to deal with it herself.

    Which is it?

    Many years ago, I (a cis female) was about ready to contact my (now ex) husband’s work because of situations like this, where he just wouldn’t. I had heard all sorts of stories by that point about how things came out when people had the temerity to request time off (“you need to make sure your shifts are covered” etc, but there was no-one who could take on any more overtime because there was already a shift member off on long-term sickness, so that had to be factored into PTO) … he urged me not to, because it was his to deal with, and he was right.

    (ultimately the way of dealing with it was by saying I quit and not looking for anything else, but still!)

  29. Auntie Social*

    LW2—when I managed legal secretaries/paralegals I’d say “Debbie doesn’t have enough to do, what do you want to do LEAST, and what do you really want to keep?” That helped my work hoarder be the one who decided, and she was very un-defensive that way. Eventually I got a sense of what she really liked to do.

    1. Can’t think of a name*

      That sounds like it sticks Debbie with all of the least desirable tasks.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I didn’t interpret it as always being about the same person, but rather that on one occasion, she would ask John what he wanted reassigned and give it to Debbie, then on another occasion ask Debbie what she wanted reassigned and give it to Mary, etc.

  30. Leela*

    OP 3 – delete the time tracker and all traces of it. If your manager finds out that the company has been paying you for what wound up to be spying on your co-workers, EVEN if it turns out that you are completely correct, you will be casting yourself in a very bad light, in a way that’s very hard to undo.

    This is going to be hell on you if you ever fall behind on/have a failed work item, even if it’s not your fault! If you give them hard proof that you’re spending time logging a coworker’s hours, and anything at all goes wrong for you, it’s just going to look terrible. And they’re going to wonder what else you’re spending time doing that’s 1) not what they’ve asked you for and 2) probably going to cause interpersonal problems if it comes out. You’re making yourself into way too much of a liability for doing this. And every manager who touches you here will be wondering what message it sends if they give you a raise after it somehow publicly comes out that you spent your time tracking someone else’s hours when that’s not your job. Are their other staff members going to start thinking that tattling on each other is rewarded with raises? What if you don’t get a raise, and it’s not related. Will that send the message that if you come forward with anything that looks bad, you’ll be punished? You’ve just added some complicated variables to that decision for them.

    I actually think that bringing forward something you’ve heard a person say like “I am fudging my timesheets because HR messes up sometimes” is something I’d like to know. However this is second-hand, and I myself have been called in by managers who came down hard on me for something I “said” and it was so out of sync with anything I’d said I actually had to ask for several rounds of context to even know what we were talking about, so I could recall that conversation and say what I’d actually said, it was so divorced from what was being claimed I’d said and got morphed by the long office game of telephone. Those managers never wind up apologizing properly for their behavior. But they do look humiliated, and based on the looks on the faces of the people who “clued in higher ups to what Leela had been doing” looked pretty humiliated and upset after getting called into the manager’s office so I have to imagine that those talks didn’t go very well for them, either.

    Seriously. Delete the tracker, and don’t tell *anyone* at work you did it. Secretly tracking is for ongoing harassment you need to report, not guesses you’re making, even if you feel they’re educated. Even if they ARE educated. I wouldn’t go further than bringing up to the manager that you sometimes notice X if you really, really feel compelled to, but presenting them with a tracker is going to harm you in ways that will be very hard to undo.

  31. mdv*

    The situtation in #1 is obviously wrong-headed, but I’ve always wondered (completely theoretically), if you wanted to *surprise* your spouse with a trip somewhere, whether or not it would be appropriate to contact their supervisor in secret far enough in advance to tentatively clear the days off their schedule… assuming of course that I have a healthy relationship with my spouse, reasonably expect them to want to go on the trip, and “gift” it with enough notice that they can themselves confirm the time off with boss. (e.g. not the same day we’re flying to Europe).

    1. Koala dreams*

      Why would you do that? It would be much better to plan a staycation with your spouse, and sometimes after they get the vacation request approved, you say “Surprise trip!” (Provided they are a person who likes surprise trips.)

    2. LGC*

      Eh, it’d be a bit weird, although not as glaringly offensive, IMO.

      I’m not going to lie, I’d probably be down to conspire because I am at least slightly chaotic, but it feels a bit patronizing? Like, on the scale of 1 to Edward watching Bella sleep in her bedroom, it’s a 3 or a 4. If you’re gifting your SO a surprise trip with appropriate notice, then you’re likely giving them enough time to get things squared away to begin with.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      I think a happy medium could be to tell your spouse that you’d like to surprise them with a vacation and just not give the details, but say to ask for a week off in April (or whatever) and prepare for a Thrilling Adventure.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Personally I’d consider the damage I’d do to my husband’s reputation at work to be greater than the joy he’d get from the holiday. But, that’s in my specific life where I know he’d get constant jokes from his boss afterward for being ‘under the wife’s thumb’.

  32. LGC*

    I like the script for #2 – I have an employee that reacts similarly when her work is reassigned (we have tight deadlines, I’ve been clear about this being an issue to everyone, she works a non-standard schedule), so I might use this myself.(We’re clerical workers, and we do one assignment at a time, so it’s slightly different – she’ll start something and someone else will finish it so it can proceed through the process).

    For #3: Like, I read Alison’s response and noticed that she left out that the manager can likely see her time off requests. In fact, often, it’s the manager signing off on time off requests. If the manager is half-way competent, I don’t know what LW3 was thinking she’d get out of it.

  33. Story for Number 1*

    Way back on a Friday in the beginning of the year, owner of the small biz I work for cut our hours because work was slow. One of my co-workers found out her husband called the owner to ask why all of our hours were cut. (Husband was pretty proud of what he did, standing up for his “little lady” and she spent all of following Tuesday groveling to my boss that she had NO IDEA he was going to do that. I would have assumed she would have told Husband in small words that that was not acceptable but.

    Husband doubled down. He showed up after his wife had left work but the owner was still there, and Husband and Owner had a chat in the parking lot. I had gone for a walk after work and I came upon the two of them in the parking lot – whereupon Husband ask ME how I felt about my hours being cut and how “I was just telling (Owner) that it’s not y’all’s fault his poor business planning lead to financial trouble of all of youse.” (His words pretty much exactly).

    I was gobsmacked, and furiously told Husband that he was not to speak for me, ever. Fortunately, the owner found it funny – both Husband’s insistence on commenting on something HE HAD NO BUSINESS DOING and also my ferocious yelling at this clueless dude. He’s dang lucky his wife didn’t get fired over it.

  34. Anony-Mouse*

    #3 you know nothing about your coworkers situation or what arrangements she has with management. Perhaps she has her own different/special arrangements and that’s why she says HR is getting it wrong.
    I negotiated more time instead of more pay. I know I look like I take way more time off than allowed, but that’s because I get way more time off than my coworkers… in exchange for less pay…

  35. Garnet74*

    Oh I could have been the subject of a co-worker like LW #3. I had an adapted schedule for a few months that had me coming in late, d sometimes leaving early, and not necessarily working a 40 hour week all the time. Co-workers would not-so-subtly ask if gee, my hours had changed and management just “forgot” to tell them. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them were tracking my arrival/departure times. It was, and still is, none of their business that I had medical stuff going in or that I had daily treatments scheduled. And it’s nobody’s business but mine and my managers whether I’ve been (again) working my butt off with so much overtime that they okayed me coming in a few hours later the next day or cutting out early at the end of the day to compensate. Frankly, those are the perks when you start logging 10-12 hour days during the week or come in to work a Saturday to keep projects on track. Eyes in your own paper, Nancy.

  36. Wouldn't let me be anonymous*

    This person could have been me from your description. Make sure you have had a big picture conversation about it and make it clear that it is a problem. If you have only addressed it in passing comments she might not actually realise that it is a problem, evwn though you have told her. Also make sure she feels she can trust you to tell her if she isn’t doing enough and make sure you are giving her feedback more generally – part of my problem was a fear that by admitting I didn’t have capacity I would be seen as unhelpful or incompetent and trusting that my manager would raise any issues they have was a big first step to overcoming this. And then my manager also suggested time management training: we realised that I didn’t actually have a good enough idea of how long different tasks would take me to enable me to give an accurate answer as to how much I had on my plate (being used to getting everything done at all costs hadn’t really encouraged me to take time out to plan how long work was likely to take).

    1. Wouldn't let me be anonymous*

      Sorry that was supposed to nest. Comment intended to relate to #2

  37. Vacation Vicky*

    #1 – Am I the only one who wants to know more details around the vacation request? How far in advance was the vacation requested and why was it rejected? I don’t agree with husband calling wife’s employer, but the answers might provide some context as to why they were so upset.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I think it doesn’t matter why they were so upset. LW said they ‘had to’ reject the request, which sounds like there wasn’t enough coverage, or it was during a blackout time because it’s their busy period, something like that.

      They might be upset for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t change the advice.

  38. Penny*

    I feel #3’s pain. I have a co-worker who repeatedly exceeds the company allotted PTO and its frustrating as anything. We work for a large corporation with a clearly documented PTO policy. He qualified for the base allowance of 20 days. He exceeded the 20 days this year in March with multiple instances of just calling out. He did the same thing last year and the year before that. Its annoying because we have to repeatedly cover his work without any forewarning and he never thanks us when returning. We also get new work based upon when we are in the office. So my co-workers and I get more work because he is out more often and have to cover his previously assigned work.

  39. ResuMAYDAY*

    I’m dying to know if LW1’s employee took that vacation! If so, LW1 should accept this as job abandonment.

Comments are closed.