boss is forcing me to work while I’m laid off, office says “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you,” and more

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

1. My boss is forcing me to work full-time while I’m laid off

Covid has hit the tiny company I work for hard. The owner, my boss, has made terrible decisions at every turn, but somehow we were able to keep going. When I arrived at work yesterday, the other four employees, who report to me, had been sent home. The owner sat across from me and told me to go to our state’s unemployment website, and he would “guide me” through filing a claim.

Here is where it gets particularly noxious. He told me that the company cannot survive without me, and if I have any hope of returning to work normally (both me and my coworkers), I have to continue to work as normal while collecting unemployment. He will not be paying me, needless to say, but I am still expected to work full-time. If I did not agree, he will tell unemployment I quit, so I have no way to collect unemployment benefits.

I feel physically sick. Our states’s unemployment system is very backed up, and I keep hearing horror stories of people who filed in March still not being paid. As of last Friday (the date I was told to claim benefits for), I don’t know when I will be paid again. At least until unemployment is straightened out, I feel like I have to go along with this so he can’t screw with my benefits. After that, I am fairly sure I will just stop showing up, but that could be months from now.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know the owner is an absolute shitgoblin and I need to be preparing myself to look for a new job. But in the interim, if we get caught, who is legally responsible? I am not getting wages from my work, so I am not double-dipping, but it still feels super illegal on my end.

You’re not breaking the law; he is.

It’s illegal for him not to pay you. Track your hours and keep whatever documentation you can that proves you’ve been working during this time, and whenever you’re ready you can file a wage claim with your state department of labor. Of course, if the business has shuttered, there might not be money to pay you — but the company will be legally liable for those unpaid wages. You will not be legally responsible for the situation; the law rightly sees you as the victim, not the perpetrator.

Also, in regard to unemployment — if he reports that you quit, he’s not the final word! You’ll have an opportunity to contest that, and you can appeal if you need to. If you explain that he stopped paying you and you declined to work for free, unemployment isn’t going to consider that a resignation. No longer being paid is a qualifying reason to receive unemployment benefits in every state I know of. So he’s making an empty threat (and is a jerk). That said, you’re right that it could be months before this gets straightened out because of the current backlog, and those are months where you might not be receiving benefits (you should receive the money eventually, but that doesn’t help during those months with no money coming in). So you have to balance all those factors in deciding what to do.

(Also, be aware that if you receive unemployment benefits and then later win a wage claim against him and he’s forced to pay you for that period, you’d need to repay the unemployment you received for that same time so that you weren’t double dipping — but you’d presumably repay it out of the back wages you received.)

2. My office says “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you”

A few years ago, a director in my department started saying “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you.” This spread among all of leadership in the department, and later to most of the rank and file.

I found this irritating to begin with and did my best to ignore it, but after being rejected for a promotion, it now feels very uncomfortable. The position was on another team in my department, and the feedback that I got was that I was an ideal candidate but there were others who had more direct experience. I understand their decision and acknowledge that I would have made the same choices in their place. I have talked to managers in the department about developmental opportunities, and the response I get is that they cannot picture me doing anything other than what I currently do. The problem is that in my daily work, I have to work side by with the managers who are rejecting me, and their subordinates which include the people picked over me, and have to regularly hear them say: “I appreciate you.”

I think they mean well. In fact, I think they genuinely mean it. However, it hurts to hear “I appreciate you” over and over again when actions kind of feel otherwise. It then puts me in the awkward position of having to thank them and act gracious for the complement when it kind of feels like a gut punch.

I have mentioned my feelings on the situation to my own manager, but I don’t think she has done anything. My manager is the type of person who is very concerned with how “the brass” thinks of her, and I suspect she would not give them any negative feedback towards their own behavior. I have been thinking about mentioning in the moment to the person saying “I appreciate you” that it makes me feel uncomfortable. However, that comes with the challenge of possibly having to explain to people that I was rejected for the job, which the people who aren’t managers or above probably don’t know and I am laying some guilt that they don’t deserve. Additionally, I need to maintain a good working relationship with the managers who rejected me since I need them to accomplish my own work.

Am I taking this too personally? Is there maybe another approach I should consider? I don’t know if this makes a difference, but the reason I have not gone to HR is because I am in the HR Department, and the other team is the Employee Relations team.

Yeah, you’re probably taking it too personally. It grates because you’re thinking, “If you appreciate me so much, why did I get passed over for a promotion?” But they’re using it as a stand-in for “thank-you,” so you’re sort of having two different conversations. (Plus, they can genuinely appreciate you and still think someone else was the stronger candidate for the role you didn’t get. The two aren’t connected, even though it feels that way.)

To be clear, constantly using “I appreciate you” in place of “thank you” would annoy the hell out of me. But if that’s what it’s shorthand for in your office, you’re better off hearing it for what it means in your culture rather than taking the words literally. Telling people it makes you uncomfortable would be making too big a deal out of it; it’s just an annoying piece of office lingo. As for responding to it, if it’s really a stand-in for thank-you, feel free to respond with “you’re welcome!” (Responding to a thank-you with another thank-you would be unnecessary anyway.)

The real problem, I think, is that you’re being told your management can’t imagine you doing anything other than your current job. That’s a pretty clear message that you won’t get promoted there, and if you want to move up, you’ll need to look outside your company to do it. You can certainly explore that a little more — sit down with your manager and push about why that is and whether there’s a way for you to demonstrate your fit for higher-level roles — but this is an important message to listen to, and a much bigger deal than the “I appreciate you” language.

3. Asking back an employee but not his spouse

Earlier this year, I managed a small team of creative workers. Two of my team members were a married couple, we’ll call them Jim and Pam. I have always been pleased with the quality of work I received from each of them, but Pam has consistently shown a poor attitude by complaining about and ignoring deadlines, not communicating, and openly prioritizing work from her other part-time job over what she did for our company (“I didn’t finish that because I was doing stuff for my other job” is apparently a good reason to have not finished one’s work.)

My team had been working on temporary contracts and, when they were up, we extended the opportunity to return in the future to any interested team members on an as-needed basis. All, including Pam, have indicated that they want to return ASAP. That time is upon us, and I’m starting to decide who I want to come back and when.

Here’s my issue: I’d love to have Jim back. I don’t want Pam on the project anymore, at least not under me. We are a startup and I think she really prefers the more easygoing, low-pressure environment of her other job. On a personal level, I find that her attitude made her difficult to manage effectively, as she rarely seemed to take the work seriously. However, I feel horribly awkward asking Jim to come back and not asking Pam. Can you recommend a course of action? I really don’t want to cause drama or hurt any feelings, but I won’t compromise the project.

If you’ve explained you’ll be bringing people back as-needed but they understand there’s no promise that everyone will return, it’s possible you can just … bring Jim back and not contact Pam about returning. In some contexts that would be fine, and in others it would feel distinctly crappy. If it would be the latter, then the best thing to do is to reach out to Pam and say something like, “We’ve been revisiting our staffing and planning for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to offer you a spot back. I wanted to let you know as soon as I could so you’re not planning around us.”

That might be all that’s needed. But if Pam pushes about why, it’s okay to explain that with limited spots, one factor you looked at was past performance, including things like missed deadlines.

There’s no guarantee this won’t cause some sort of drama, but all you can do is be straightforward and matter-of-fact.

4. Job application asked about my sick days in the last two years

I am, like lots of people, job searching in the wake of COVID. I came across a role that sounded really interesting lately and started working on the application materials when I saw this question on the form: “Please state the number of days and reasons for absence due to sickness during the last two years.”

That gave me pause. I’m not a very sickly person, but in the past two years I’ve taken a handful of days here and there for colds and the like. Isn’t that normal? Should I be alarmed that a potential employer wants to know this about me? This also seems like it could be discriminating against candidates with long-term or chronic health issues – isn’t this in the same vein as asking a candidate if they’re pregnant? I’m in the UK.

Should I take this as a red flag? I’m getting so burned out by job searching I feel like I’m starting to lose sense of what’s normal or not.

I can’t speak to UK law, but in the U.S. it’s not a question employers should be asking. Both the Family and Medical Leave Act and the ADA prohibit discrimination against applicants who have exercised their rights under those acts. An employer can ask how many days off you took last year in general, but not how many sick days and definitely not the reasons for them. (I imagine the UK has similar protections, but you’d need a UK expert to answer that for you.)

And yeah, it’s a red flag. At a minimum, they’re signaling they cross boundaries when it comes to employees’ private medical info and possibly the law more broadly, as well as calling into question how accommodating they are of health needs.

5. How to list partial grad school on my resume

I’ve been enrolled in a professional master’s degree program for about a year, but the overall weight of life right now is causing me to take a pause, with the potential of dropping it entirely. I just can’t handle the added stress right now on top of COVID and everything else, and I figured that was something in my control I could drop to lighten my cognitive load. And let’s be real, I don’t see signs of it letting up soon.

Assuming I don’t finish, should I bother listing it on any job applications/resumes (where it’s relevant)? Would I list it as “graduate coursework”? I didn’t do poorly at all (two A-minuses over 15 completed credits), I’m just (possibly/probably) not finishing the degree, and I was hopeful I could get something out of it. (And yes, I know graduate certificates exist, but the only one nearest would require an additional nine credits, at which point I could almost finish the degree.)

Yep, you’d list it this way:

* Graduate coursework in turtle folk songs, Tortoise College, 2019-2020

Be prepared to be asked about it interviews — both why you went and why you stopped — but it shouldn’t be a big deal.

{ 468 comments… read them below }

  1. MissGirl*

    I’ve noticed, “appreciate you” is a regional and generational thing where I live. It really means thank you, but with more emphasis or feeling.

    I’m not sure why this is so grating when you fully say you understood why they rejected you.

    Maybe it is time you’ve moved on. You’ve reached BEC status with your management. Figure out where your real problem lies and go from there.

    1. Blaise*

      Yes, I was going to post that having worked a few jobs where I was either the only white person or one of only a couple white people, using “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you” is definitely a marker of African American English (where I live, at least). Not sure what the LW’s workplace is like, but this could definitely be a cultural/dialectal difference!

      1. valentine*

        “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you” is definitely a marker of African American English
        It is AAE, and not a simple substitution, but I’m surprised that it swept through the office and they’re sticking with it.

          1. Academic Addie*

            I’m a midwestern transplant to the Deep South, and “Appreciate you, baby” felt transgressive and overly familiar at first. After my first year here, it was part of my vocabulary, too.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I’m from Southern Oklahoma/Northern Texas and I hear people say” ‘Preciate ya!” quite a bit. There’s a lot of words where the ‘a’ at the beginning gets dropped off in casual conversation. Above sometimes becomes ‘bove, About becomes ’bout, etc. Another example – my aunt’s name is Alicia, but she’s pretty regularly called ‘Licia.

              So if you’re out to eat you’ll thank your server throughout the meal when they bring you things. Then when you’re finished up, you might say “Preciate ya!” to your server as you’re getting up from the table. It kind of becomes the, “Thank you, goodbye!” It’s casual and cheerful.

          2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

            And somehow “appreciate you,” sounds much better than “I appreciate you.” I don’t know if it’s because it’s more casual or because it’s a phrase I’ve actually heard used, but the latter gets my shoulders slightly around my ears while the former doesn’t even register as weird.

          3. Cj*

            For some reason “appreciate you” wouldn’t bother me, but “I appreciate you” would get on my nerves after the first couple of times. I have no idea why they hit me differently. “I appreciate that you did *whatever*” I wouldn’t mind, either.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Yup, all of that. It’s also a psyop: the idea is to make workers say “thank you” to management so management will feel appreciated and workers will feel thankful. It is very weird.

                When Alison said to respond like they’d actually said “thank you,” I was like LOLnope! because that does not go over well. They really do want to be thanked for thanking you, that’s why the accepted responses to “I appreciate you!” are either “Thank you!” or “I appreciate you!

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              Yep.

              “I appreciate your help/your doing this” is fine.

              “I appreciate you” is creepy.

            2. azvlr*

              Ah dang! I’m now second guessing saying exactly this to my boss yesterday. He has had my back repeatedly with a contentious client who dropped the ball on a project. My expression of appreciation was meant to convey more than just thanks for particular incident we were discussion, but for the overall situation. And that I recognized that he’s a good boss overall (I don’t ‘suck up’ as a rule, and I think a lot of managers don’t hear it genuinely either).
              He seemed to take it how I meant it, but it’s hard to know over IM.

              1. Cj*

                Said once, and sincerely meant, is not the same as making it in a replacement for every time you would normally have just said thank you.

                1. Akcipitrokulo*

                  Yes, this.

                  “Here’s the monthly report”
                  “I appreciate you”
                  is a million miles away from a one-off sincerely meant.

            3. Beth*

              Yeah, “appreciate you” sounds like a casual comment that could fit in the flow of conversation, but “I appreciate you” comes off to me as something you’d only say in the context of a heartfelt talk of some kind. It’s too much for daily life. Language is funny!

          4. Jennifer Thneed*

            Hah! This throws some light on an exchange I read recently in a short story where the main characters are African American young men in their late teens and early 20’s. The viewpoint character has gone to a party with his older cousin, and they both have spiffy new shoes. The older cousin greets some friends and and someone compliments his shoes. He says “‘Preciate it”, which I took to be a personal touch, but now I see an additional layer.

            (The younger cousin is also complimented on his shoes and says “Thank you” and then berates himself for being too nerdy and not “black enough”. Y’all will be shocked to learn that the short story collection is, in fact, called “Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America”.)

            1. Connie Meier*

              But in this context, ‘preciate it means something along the lines of thanks for the compliment or thanks for noticing my cool shoes. That’s a far cry from I appreciate you. Just my opinion about the comparison to the African American English phrase.

              I appreciate you goes way deeper, in my opinion, then ‘preciate it. I appreciate you sounds considerably more like corporate-speak. And not in a good way.

        1. The Rules are Made Up*

          That must be why me (being Black) read this and was like I don’t see the issue . I say it all the time. But yes, the OP is 100% taking this extremely personally. In this context it just means they appreciate whatever work you did for them. It has nothing to do with whether they are getting or should get a promotion or not. Telling them to stop would seem incredibly overblown and odd.

        2. Che Boludo!*

          “preciate ya!” is definitely regional. I used to work in Salt Lake City (a fery much not African American region) so I always associated it with Latter Day Saints (Mormons). I’ve heard it a feew times in my home state. It’s just a different way to say “Thanks!”

      2. Lk250*

        I came to say this as well! I live in the northeast and it’s definitely part of AAVE, at least in this area.

      3. somanyquestions*

        Knowing that changes my impression of the phrase a lot. I have heard a lot of corporate catchphrases over the years, usually signifying that everyone in management went to another seminar on colors or parachutes or something. Being told “I appreciate you” by a bunch of people that I most definitely know do NOT appreciate me or my co-workers would bother the crap out of me in that context.

    2. valentine*

      I’m not sure why this is so grating when you fully say you understood why they rejected you.
      The sting of rejection has turned the lit match of “appreciate you” into flames on the side of OP2’s face. OP is thinking, “If you really appreciated me, you’d have promoted me/would be helping me advance,” and it must be galling to hear colleagues say they “can’t picture” you elsewhere. It’s that backhanded compliment of “We ask you to change the toner because you’re so good at it!”

      But, OP2, you can’t be seen to fixate on hurt feelings. If most people don’t know how much “appreciate you” rankles, it would seem especially bizarre to spring it on them in this context. I’m not sure why you would want to take it to HR. You’d essentially be saying, “The lost promotion was the last straw and I want to overhaul the culture.” How would that work? Would there be a meeting or email telling everyone not to say it to you or in your presence?

      The dropped piece is your response to the “can’t picture” business. What if you had told them you very much plan to move on up and shared your vision with them? Do you think you can get your manager onside? Is employee relations the only other place you’d want to transfer?

      1. Bea*

        Deliberately switching from saying “thank you” to “I appreciate you” signals that you’re consciously prioritizing recognizing people for their worth, not just expressing perfunctory socially required gratitude for individual tasks done.

        The OP’s had a separate conversation with her leaders about how they value her, though – “we can’t picture you doing anything other than what you’re doing now.” They think she’s worth a lot in her current role, but they don’t think she has potential to be worth more in a higher level one. I can see how “I appreciate you” would rankle after that. It has to sound like, “Hey, I see you and I’m recognizing you for what you’re worth to me, which is less than you’d ideally like it to be.” It’s salt in her wound, but the real problem is the wound itself. They don’t think she has potential. She needs to move on.

        1. Wintermute*

          Honestly, I think “we can’t picture you doing anything else…” is a marker of two things, it could be that, but just as common (and stupid on management’s part) is them thinking that they will have trouble replacing them in their current role with someone as qualified and capable, so they won’t promote you so they can hold onto you doing the hard-to-replace work.

          Of course, the flaw in this logic is obvious: if someone is very valuable in their role they WILL be moving up sooner or later, the only decision you get to make as a manager is whether that will happen within your organization or within another one.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            It could also be a marker of one other possibility, that OP is very good in their current role, but they do not have the needed skills/experience to move to the next level. We have seen several letters here where a person is a great at doing xyz and they are promoted to a higher position that they are unqualified for. It seems that OP understands that they were not the best qualified person for the job, even if they do think they could do the job. It would be great if the company would help OP with their professional development, but some employers/positions just need someone who is really good and content with doing xyz.

            1. A*

              Agreed. More context is needed to asses if there’s actually an issue here. I have had to reject plenty of internal candidates that are rock stars in their jobs, but were applying for positions that are technically ‘one step up’ the hierarchy, but require different sets of skill sets they had yet to develop. Some positions we can move people to based on the assumption that since they were rock stars in their last position, we can teach them as we go – but that’s the exception and usually only for the lower to mid level positions.

              I think part of the issue is that our society constantly emphasizes the importance of career advancement, and never plateauing etc., in a manner where some individuals interpret it as “I complete Job A, do fantastic – and therefore get the opportunity to move into Job B – rinse and repeat through the alphabet”.

            2. Sam.*

              I think it if was simply a matter of not having the additional necessary skills, they’d probably be supportive of her acquiring that experience. The fact that they’re telling her they can’t see her doing anything else suggests they think either that she’s too valuable in her own role or that she’s not capable of growing in those ways. Either way, it’s time to start looking elsewhere. In the meantime, keep “thank you” in the work vocabulary, and I’d probably find a way to respond “you’re welcome” to colleagues, as Alison suggested. (Or, honestly, I’d probably say, “Just doing my job,” and leave it at that)

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I started telling people “I appreciate it”, it being what was done when it was something significant, because my email closing is “Thanks” and I feel like I use that word so much that its meaning is diminished if not outright eliminated.

          I have to agree it sounds like moving up means moving out, and it’s time to consider doing so.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, I will say “I appreciate it,” but appreciate you just sounds weird as a substitution for “thank you.”

        3. MassMatt*

          Yeah, there are a few things going on–LW is understandably hurt that they didn’t get the promotion, and the “appreciate you” therefore seems false. But the real problem is the decision-makers telling LW they “can’t picture” LW doing anything else. That is not just a signal–they are telling LW they will not advance there. It stinks but I think LW needs to start looking elsewhere, and start working on how to describe the experience with the current employer positively and without bitterness.

        4. Cj*

          In my opinion, if you replace every thank you with I appreciate you, it is no longer a conscious decision to recognize that you prioritize that person. Once it starts being said routinely, it loses that meaning.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        The thing is . . . these two things don’t necessarily follow each other. They can appreciate her but she might still have been–by her own admission–not the best candidate for the job. My supervisors appreciate me but that doesn’t qualify me for their jobs, and it never will, since I don’t have other professional qualifications I’d need to take their places.

        So, yes, she’s taking this too personally and reading far too much into it.

        (The part about “we can’t picture you doing anything else” is the part she should be mulling.)

        1. Mockingjay*

          That last part is often indicative of a company’s need. I’ve oft stated that companies hire for the job, which doesn’t always match an employee’s career path. (I think there was a similar letter earlier this week?)

          OP #2 is providing value to the company exactly as she is. The company needs her in that role and plans to keep her there. OP #2 wants another role. That’s not to say OP #2 can’t move up; she needs to demonstrate that the value added to the company by her moving up outweighs the pain of replacing her current role.

          Yes, good businesses are those that promote employee potential. But sometimes the best value for a company is to keep a well-performing employee doing a particular job. It’s happened to me; I worked for one company where I was really happy but couldn’t get promoted because I was extremely productive in my role and they wanted to keep me there for at least 5 years (contract duration). I got good pay raises, but I wanted to grow professionally too, not stagnate.

          1. Morning Glory*

            In general, companies who place that onus completely on the employee are shortsighted, because they’ll lose that employee anyway to another company.

            That’s not to say it always makes sense to give people more responsibility just because they want it. But in general it would be a bad business decision to not consider someone for advancement opportunities just because they are good at their job.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              But that still doesn’t mean the LW got shortchanged. It sounds here like they’re keeping her where they want her and she does need to move on, but if they hadn’t said that, it could also be that she didn’t have other traits they wanted and still wasn’t the best candidate in the end. A good candidate, but another applicant had a cherry on top. In a lot of ways, this is just another letter from someone who got too invested in being told they were a good candidate and jumped to the conclusion that they had the job in the bag, forgetting that they weren’t the only candidate.

        2. Cj*

          I had a job while I was in college as E-Type Center at a company that produces business card, wedding invitations, etc. I was promoted to group leader after only a few months, when a person that had been there for 15 years would have liked to have had that position. The problem was she could type 120 words per minute. I could probably type about 60, and wasn’t that great of a proofreader. But I had good relationships with the people on both the day and night shifts and could keep track of the workflow and priorities and assign work to the appropriate people as needed. So her ability to do the actual job I had been hired for way better than I could no doubt hindered her ability to advance.

          On the other hand, there was some weird stuff going on between the day and night shift, and even on between people on different “lines” that I never understood, and refused to get involved in, so that may have prevented her from becoming any kind of a later anyway.

      3. A*

        “But, OP2, you can’t be seen to fixate on hurt feelings. If most people don’t know how much “appreciate you” rankles, it would seem especially bizarre to spring it on them in this context.”

        Agreed. I also think OP2 could potentially be inadvertently opening up a can of worms. If one of my reports, especially in HR, came to me with this complaint I would be concerned that they are holding resentment over a fairly common occurrence in the workforce. The vast majority of people will experience rejection at least one, and yes it is challenging when it’s internal – but it comes with the territory. And as OP2 noted, it’s not personal, there was just a better fit available for that specific position (putting aside the ‘management only sees me doing the same thing I do now’ issue, which is important but a different conversation).

        It would plant a seed in my mind of OP2 not appropriately filtering their emotional reactions, and not recognizing that this is really not something that should be made other people’s issue to contend with.

        Not trying to sound harsh, I just really do think this would be turning a mountain into a mole hill – which could be especially disastrous given that they’ve expressed a desire to advance.

    3. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

      I started using some variation of “I appreciate you” in my emails and notes as all the COVID-19-related insanity started hitting, both in the workplace and in my personal life. There were a lot of people being really awesome and helping to keep things going, and I also felt a different appreciation for my friendships and personal relationships. And I definitely meant (mean!) it, although I don’t think I used it as a straight substitute for “thank you,” but made a point of sending people notes of appreciation when I felt the need to let them know that they/their work meant something special to me. I’m not quite as explicit about it right now as I was a few months ago, but it was a phrase that saw a lot of use early on in the pandemic.

      1. Sam.*

        I think this is different – the occasional “I appreciate you” to a colleague you work with closely seems fine, and of course it would be ok in personal life. It’s using it all the time that cheapens its meaning, in my opinion.

    4. RecentAAMfan*

      Question: when they say it, do they hold your hands and look intensely into your eye? Probably not. But that what I envisage. It would annoy the hell out of me too.

    5. Morning Glory*

      Personally, I am nowhere near BEC at my job, I actually like it a lot. This would grate on me.

      It’s the same as other unnecessary variations of common phrases, like ‘have an extra-special day’ instead of ‘have a good one.’

      If it were a regional or cultural difference, I’d try to adjust my mindset of course. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here though, it sounds like one exec started using it and others followed suit.

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Even if I hadn’t been rejected for a promotion, being told “I appreciate you” instead of “thank you” would irritate the hell out of me too. It’s obnoxious. It doesn’t mean the same thing as simply thanking someone for what they’ve done, and to me it sounds condescending and phony. To me, it’s equivalent to saying “Bless your heart”.

      1. MissGirl*

        She’s allowed to be irritated but if the OP acts on that irritation in the way she mentioned above, she will be self-sabotaging herself at this company. We don’t and shouldn’t act on each feeling we have. Her manager hasn’t mentioned this to the higher-ups because her manager knows this would reflect poorly on both of them. She fully admits there was a good reason she was passed on for the promotion.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I didn’t say she should act on the irritation. I was just saying that even without the context of the rejection, IMO the phrase is obnoxious and reeks of phoniness.

      2. paxfelis*

        It does come across as rather like patting a child on the head and trying to console them by pointing out that they’re likeable some other way, doesn’t it?

      3. KayDeeAye*

        We just have to accept that there is more than one way of saying “Thank you,” and for the people in the OP’s office, one of those ways is “I appreciate you.” I would find it slightly grating, too, but it is almost certainly not personal. It truly is simply another variation on the same theme of “I have noticed that you did this thing, and I am grateful to you for doing it.” That’s it. Analyzing it for hidden nuances or condescension or anything is, IMO, a mistake.

        It’s almost always a mistake to examine well-meant stock phrases too closely. “Good morning!” doesn’t mean “I order you to consider this a good morning,” even though I have known some dedicated “Good morning!” haters contend that it does. All it means is “I am saying something pleasant to you at the start of the day.” In exactly the same way, “I appreciate you” does not mean “I cherish every single thing about you” and it doesn’t mean “I appreciate you so much but we’re not going to promote you, so neener, neener, neener.” It just means “Thank you.” That’s pretty much it.

        Around here the slightly grating stock phrase is “Thank you for all you do.” I don’t mind hearing that when I’ve done something above and beyond, but when I’m being thanked for something ordinary, it is kind of grating. But they mean well, so I try to let the irritation go, and usually I’m successful.

        I do think (as others have noted) that the OP needs to take a long look at “We can’t picture you doing anything else.” That does need some clarification. Does it mean “We will never promote you ever,” does it mean “We might consider promoting you if X, Y and Z changes,” or does it mean something else? That’s what the OP needs to think about.

        1. Clisby*

          Oh, yeah, “Thank you for all you do.”

          One of my children went to two schools where it seems like all the teachers must have been told to close any communications with parents that way. I’d be thinking, “Well, I did send in some hand sanitizer at the beginning of the year, but it’s no big deal.”

          When I hear “I appreciate you,” my mind goes right to Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec. I don’t specifically remember him saying it, but in my head I hear him saying it.

        2. Emily N.*

          “Thank you for all you do” really grates on me. In my environment, it clearly means, “we want to say something nice, but we actually have no idea what you do”

        3. Cj*

          If you’re trying to find a different way to say thank you for I noticed you did this thing then say, I appreciate that you did this thing. That makes a lot more sense then I appreciate you, which to me sounds way more personal, and not in a good way.

        4. The Rules are Made Up*

          LOLLLL at ““I appreciate you so much but we’re not going to promote you, so neener, neener, neener” but yes agreed on all points. There are a lot of people (in the comments included) taking this simple phrase super personally. If her coworkers started responding to normal work tasks with “I love you” or with “Wow you are AMAZING (which is something people in my office actually do. It’s dramatic as hell for me just doing my job but it doesn’t really bother me). Then okay lets talk about how weird and creepy that would be but “I appreciate you” is just a pleasantry. It does not require this level of simmering resentful analysis.

      1. Sparrow*

        I grew up in Texas and would not be surprised to hear that from a family member or in a casual setting. I would, however, probably find it jarring in a professional setting because I left the south before I had experience in that kind of environment, so I very much associate it with family.

        An occasional, deliberate, “I appreciate you,” or “Thanks for your help on this – I really appreciate it” at work would be ok. Hearing it all the time would make me internally roll my eyes like OP. It’s sounds like this feels particularly performative and fake, and on top of pre-existing frustrations, I think it’s put OP into a BEC place. It’s a sign that it’s time to move on, if possible.

    7. TardyTardis*

      Being appreciated for the job you’re doing and not getting a promotion often means you are so valuable in the job you’re at that you will *never* get promoted. Unless you leave.

  2. EduProgramming*

    The I appreciate you stuff started creeping in to my work, too. Where I work it’s almost always used as a piece of performative silliness when the person saying clearly doesn’t appreciate you, such as requesting a last minute 100 hour job that needs to be done in a week.

    I can’t prove it, but I suspect that some “management” speaker suggested using it and it caught on.

    1. Ancient Alien*

      This.
      It was suggested above that this phrase is part of AAE and I do have AA colleagues that use it. However, i think that is a different usage. I suspect what the OP is referring to is some new “management trend” usage of the phrase and it does grate the nerves for the very reasons you have stated. I hear this at my workplace as well and it comes across as incredibly fake and obnoxious. (To be clear, I am from the south and have heard the AAE usage my entire life. That is not what I’m talking about here.)

      1. Mainely Professional*

        Double this. It’s weird management speak nonsense not AAE. And it’s crept into this office. I hate that stuff the way I hate “share” has moved from 12-step program language into general usage.

      2. Jojo*

        Yes. I live in Mississippi. For the last 20 years. Appreciate you and thank you are 2 different things. It is difficult to explain. My boss appreciates the job i did this week. Thank you is he asked you to do something and you did it. But the difference is suptle. It is how it makes you feel.

    1. Kate*

      Agreed, I was in HR in the UK. My employer asked this question to, it was a particularly shitty employer, for other reasons, but we rarely made a decision on this. It was just a hang over from the HR processes which were about 25 years old. Its such a strange questions too since in the UK you must register for a doctor near your home basically forcing people to take sick days to visit a doctor when a person may just need something minor.
      I would look at other things at the business before making a decision based solely on this, a handful of sick days is not going to seem strange.

      1. Kate*

        Also meant to say that it is illegal but companies ask it anyway, you have to have a terrible HR for this to still be round. Also if a person answered and said that they took a lot, the company would be in very serious legal danger if they made a decision based on this or was ever perceived to make a decision based on this.

      2. Miss Is Not My First Name*

        Blimey.
        Almost every single place I’ve applied for has asked for my number of sick days. Never occurred to me that it wasn’t on!

        1. Batty Twerp*

          It’s a hangover from old recruiting practices and apparently not that uncommon. It can also link to some working mentalities where you’re not “off sick” with a cold, you’re “working from home”, in order to keep your instances down. Some companies do still have policies regarding excessive numbers of sickness absences (excluding chronic or longterm illnesses) as a means of tracking abuses of the system – one company I worked at fired an employee because he took nearly every Friday off with ” nausea and headache”. He’d go out drinking on a Thursday and be too hungover to come in the next morning. It was couched as a performance issue, but it was the HR records that started the ball rolling.

          In reality, the only time I’ve ever seen this at application stage was applying for admin-level civil service jobs, not known for speedy updates of their decades old application systems.

          Since we get SSP it can also sometimes feature as part of smaller businesses (too small for a full HR department) where you’d go straight to SSP without the company paying any “sick pay”, do not pass go, do not collect for the first 3 days of illness.

          1. Lady Heather*

            Is it the norm to call in sick for a cold? I’ve literally never heard of people doing that except on the internet.

            1. Violet Rose*

              I think it depends on the office – I’ve called in sick if I felt too groggy/phlegmy to focus, or when I was sneezing all day and worked in an open-plan office. When I worked as a delivery courier, I was more likely to grab some tissues and hand sanitizer and power through unless my lungs felt affected.

            2. Lena Carabina*

              Really? If my cold is bad enough then yeah I take time off.
              I mean…it can be pretty bad and I don’t want to infect my coworkers, or pass it on to clients.

              One of my colleagues ALWAYS comes in when she has a cold. If she stayed off it wouldn’t spread around the office and knock people down one by one for weeks.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I use to work for a die for the Emperor place where working with a 101 temp was a badge of honor. I have seen someone sent home for being during year end only once, and she really should have had her lungs X-rayed by the sound of her. Fortunately I also worked for a better place, doing taxes, where the manager was hardcore about making sure sick people stayed home.

                I didn’t do taxes this year, and with covid, it was a really really good thing, since my husband has a Underlying Condition sticker on his chair.

              1. UKDancer*

                Likewise. If I have a cold I often find it’s the commute in and out of London that is the most draining and difficult thing rather than the working. Also I work in an open plan office so germs spread fairly rapidly and I don’t want to infect my colleagues. So if it’s just annoying rather than absolutely debilitating I will work from home.

                If I feel really bad I find I can get over it faster if I take the day to recover, drink chicken soup and stay warm so I will call in sick and my company is supportive of this.

                1. Mongrel*

                  To add, as a UK office worker;
                  A ‘cold’ is a generic catch-all for a large slice of ‘minor’ respiratory tract infections
                  People may react differently to the infection, especially if there are underlying issues.
                  Most UK office are open plan for the lower levels, if one person gets an easily spread infection then many people are probably going to get it
                  People never seem to work as well as they think when they’re ill, if you’re not running up against deadlines and you have a detail oriented job you’re probably better off taking a day or two off.
                  Anecdotally, I have an easier time of it and recover quicker if I can take a day or two off when it’s at it’s worst.
                  And most importantly, the rest of the world cringes when we hear about the US sick leave & vacation policies.

            3. Turtle Candle*

              I always do kind of wonder about this because IME a common cold is a good solid week to two weeks of visible symptoms (sniffling, sneezing, coughing, throat clearing, congestion). Colds that resulted in dry cough or serious sinus congestion could drag on longer just as the sinus irritation dragged on, even when the infection was gone.

              I have historically gotten 1-2 colds a year during “cold and flu season” and I don’t think I’m super unusual. Friends who are parents or otherwise have human Petri dishes at home tend to have it worse.

              My company has good-for-the-USA sick leave, three weeks accrued on a rolling basis, and even so, I’d run out very year if I took all the days that I was symptomatic, vs just the days I felt too crappy to work. Colds last a while for all we’d rather they didn’t, flu longer, add one stomach bug and maybe a headache and you’ve blown well through a week.

              During Covid, yeah, just stay home if you possibly can, but IME in the old normal… i knew hardly anyone who could actually stay home for the week plus it took cold symptoms to actually go away.

              1. StrikingFalcon*

                I think this is what most people do if they take off for a cold – just take off for the 1-3 days they feel the worst. You get over it much faster if you can rest those first few days.

                Hopefully after the pandemic, mask wearing will be normalized enough that it will become the norm to wear a mask when sick, which will reduce transmission.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  Agreed on all counts!

                  I think I’m reflecting on the Before Times, when wfh for illness wasn’t super common and yet people (including/especially here) were pretty vehement that if you were coughing/sniffing/sneezing you should stay home because a) gross and b) contagious. A and B are both true, but before The New Normal I never actually had a job where you could wfh for seven to ten days just because you were still snortling.

                2. UKDancer*

                  Yes, I don’t take the whole time off when I have a cold but I also find if I take the worst day or two off then I usually get better faster. I should say I work for a UK company with a fairly generous approach to sick absence management and I know this puts me in a privileged position.

                3. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Yeah, I usually take off a day or two if possible. I feel *much* worse on day 1-2 than I do on say, day 5.

                4. Kelly L.*

                  Yeah, there’s really only 1 or 2 days of a cold that I’m actually miserable.

                  Those aren’t actually the days I sound worse, though! So I’ll be feeling totally fine a few days later but have a nagging cough or my voice sounds “off,” and that’s when everyone wants to fuss!

              2. Green great dragon*

                A couple of years ago there was a cold that went round and everyone would call in and say ‘feeling vile, off today, probably back tomorrow or day after’. And then they’d call in a couple of days later and go ‘I… still feel vile! Thought it was just a cold. Must be *that* cold. Staying in bed.’ (UK)

                Which is to say, I’ve never heard of anyone taking the whole of a cold off, but when it’s bad, you’re better off staying in bed. And ‘cold’ can be much more than a sniffle.

            4. Wintermute*

              “cold” can cover a wide range of symptoms, and every workplace is different. I had a “cold” that was fairly mild except for an intermittent violent cough that was sometimes hard enough I nearly blacked out for being unable to breathe– I took a few days off for that one. I would presume if people are taking time off for a cold it’s beyond sniffles and a light cough.

            5. babblemouth*

              I didn’t use to, but it’s been my big 2020 learning – a cold that might be benign for you will be hell for someone else, so if I am feeling just a little bit unwell, I will work from home at the minimum, and let myself take a day off if I feel quite bad – recovery will be faster tis way!

              File it under “things that should remain changed even after COVID”.

              1. Anon Admin*

                We never worked from home before COVID. We did for 3 months (late March- early June) and now that we know many of us can WFH without issue, I wish our company would let us do so if we have a cold. Sometimes I feel too ill to commute and work in the office, but I could work perfectly fine from home. We have an open office plan and this little bit of flexibility would help the domino effect.

            6. doreen*

              What I only see on the internet is people talking about taking a week or two off sick for each cold. Someone in another comment mentioned 1-2 colds a year and a week or two of symptoms for each cold. That seems about right to me- but it also means most people would be taking 1-4 weeks off sick each cold season ,and I don’t see that happening. A day or two if you feel particularly ill, yes, but that’s really all I’ve seen.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                That’s… bizarre. I’ve never known anyone, online or IRL, to claim they took off a week or two for a cold.

                1. doreen*

                  I think it’s bizarre too, – but I’ve seen people online claim they do it and more who say they believe other people should stay at home until they are symptom-free , in addition to people who say X amount of sick leave is not enough because two colds will use up ten days of it. I don’t know that I believe all these people would actually take a week off for a cold – but if someone says ten days* of sick leave is not enough because two colds will use it up, then they’re implying they would take a week off for a cold.

                  * Ten days might not be enough, but it’s not because two colds will use it up.

            7. Annony*

              It really depends on how bad it is. If I’m running a low grade fever I absolutely call in sick. If I’m just sniffly I usually work though it (although right now that isn’t an option).

            8. Jaid*

              If I have a fever plus the other symptoms, I’ll take at least two days off. Three days requires a sick note :-(

              But my co-workers appreciate it, for sure.

            9. schnauzerfan*

              LOL. I just don’t get colds when I need to work. I’ll get the sniffles the afternoon of the last day before vacations, then collapse into a feverish, sneezing, coughing mess for the duration of my time off. If I have Labor day off, three days of misery. If I plan a weeks visit to a friend I get the seven day type of cold. GOK what would happen if I took a long vacation. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to debate “is this cold bad enough to stay home for?” It’s a blessing for my sick leave balance and a curse for my ability or willingness to plan a vacation.

              1. AnonPi*

                omg I’m the same way! Like 9 times out of 10 when I plan to take off I get sick. It’s like my body knows “oh hey she’s not going into work, we can collapse now!”

            10. ceiswyn*

              Would you not call in sick if you were hallucinating while unceasing rivers of snot flowed from your nose?

              I never called in sick for a bit of sniffling, but ‘a cold’ covers a large number of viruses with very different levels of severity.

              What annoys me is people who call in sick with ‘the flu’ when they actually have a bad cold. It makes employers inclined to be less understanding when people have the ACTUAL flu, which makes you much sicker for much longer.

            11. Cj*

              I’m working from home today with what is probably just a cold. But at this point we aren’t to come in to the office if we are sick at all. I realize that’s only the last few months, not the last two years.

              But previously, I would call in sick with a cold the first couple of days if I had a really sore throat or such. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stay home for the whole two weeks or more that the congestion, etc. can hang around.

            12. A*

              1) If you aren’t able to WFH and don’t call in sick with a cold, I will absolutely resent you. Keep your germs to yourself if at all possible. Understood that unfortunately not everyone has this option though – but I generally don’t take kindly to people gambling with others health. At my last employer, my coworkers brother-in-law (they all owned a house together) missed out on a double lung transplant because he caught a mild cold that my coworker caught in the office despite us having had strict requirements that people stay home if they even suspect being sick. Luckily he went on to receive a transplant a few months later and is doing extremely well – but just an example of how you never, ever know what the trickle effect may be.

              2) Depends. I almost always choose to WFH if I suspect I might be coming down with something just to err on the side of caution (and much appreciated by all), but I only take a full sick day if I truly feel I’m unable to make it through the day or I feel like my cognitive abilities are compromised. More likely to call out if I’m up against a day with high dollar contract negotiations, major project decisions etc. that require me to be on the ball.

              1. A*

                Just adding on that I’m referring to taking 1-3 days off in the beginning of a cold/maybe-cold during the worst of the symptoms / when you are contagious. Not taking multiple weeks off for the duration of the lingering symptoms, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone in the places I’ve worked doing that. You’d need a doctors note to take that much time off (assuming we are talking about truly taking the days off vs WFH) and I think that would be hard to get for ‘still sniffling’.

                I’ve had the same approach at all my employers, but it definitely has been easier at my current where we don’t have a limit on sick days – it’s based on an honor system. It was more challenging when I was in a position that couldn’t WFH and the employer only offered 5 sicks/year – and I remember at one point having to take several days unpaid to avoid potentially spreading whatever I had, and I ended up having to do some side gigs on the weekend after I recovered to recoup the lost wages…. so I recognize that I might prioritize this higher than most.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  (Caveat that I am talking here about “regular” colds, not influenza or coronavirus.)

                  One of the complicating factors is that it actually isn’t really true that you are only contagious for the first few days of your cold. It *is* true that you can be contagious before you show symptoms, which really nobody can do anything about, but you can and often will remain contagious throughout the duration of symptoms, well more than the first 1-3 days. The idea that you’re only really contagious for the first couple days and are fine despite still sneezing/coughing after is a bit of a myth.

                  Because of this, I seriously hope that ‘wfh if you even might possibly be contagious’ remains a significant thing even after the Covid crisis is over, because without that wfh option, essentially no one who isn’t self-employed or independently wealthy can stay home until they cease being contagious. Stay home when they are most uncomfortable/least able to do their job, sure, but not until they cease to be contagious.

                2. Amethystmoon*

                  Some companies only allow 1 day a week for working from home under normal circumstances. That also includes having colds. A lot of managers just don’t trust people to actually work when they can’t be seen working. I doubt that will change with Covid, but you never know.

            13. Autumnheart*

              I’ll WFH if I’m germy enough to stay home, but well enough to work. But yeah, sometimes a cold can really knock you out for a day or so. Plus, taking a day to rest and take it easy (working or PTO) can help a lot to speed recovery.

          2. Bridget the Elephant*

            I had this at my last job, as a teacher. Should have been a super red flag for ‘We expect you to keep working literally until you drop.’ I ended up working days when I literally couldn’t talk, my throat was so sore – you can imagine how much that helped my ability to manage my pupils!

        2. CopywriterNotCopyrighter*

          I’ve been asked this too, and never thought anything of it! I’ve never had long term sickness though, so never appreciated how it might put someone at a disadvantage, (hello privilege). Good to know that they shouldn’t be asking. I’ll remember that!

        3. Jojo*

          I do not know how many sick days i took. But i do know how i can sell back if the job ends.

        4. MassMatt*

          Wow, after reading about 100 threads where Brits and other Europeans cluck disapprovingly at US employment practices (“You don’t have CONTRACTS?” “You don’t get 6 weeks of vacation a year? I’m shocked. SHOCKED!”) as backward and barbarous, do we finally have a case where the shoe is on the other foot?

          I have never been asked how much sick time I have used, let alone for what reason, and would find it a bizarre and intrusive question. An employer is going to decide who to hire based on who had the flu last year? Beyond dumb.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes it’s very silly. As has been pointed out it’s illegal to do it and you can report it and indeed you should if possible.

            Unfortunately the fact things are illegal doesn’t always stop people doing them. This is why we had 121k employment tribunal cases brought last year and why my friend who works as a shop steward is kept pretty busy.

          2. Batgirl*

            I’ve said this a couple of times on those threads: Some UK employers comply with things like unlimited sick leave very, very grudgingly. As you see.

          3. Apatosaurus*

            In my experience, it’s common in retail here in the UK. Taking days off sick is also seriously discouraged, either implicitly or explicitly, in retail here.

        5. Ponytail*

          I could have written that exact comment ! Right up until 10 years ago, I was still working with people who would comment that they couldn’t leave their current role as they’d had too much sick leave for a new employer to ignore. I hadn’t realised that this wasn’t allowed any more.

      3. Thistle Whistle*

        I’ve never been asked this in the UK. And if I was I would answer “less than the national average”.

        1. Mongrel*

          Never been asked either in the UK.
          We do run with the Bradford Factor for “The manager may want to look at this” so I do know how many days I’ve taken off, or can find out easily if I forget as we track everything on a web-portal.

        2. Bagpuss*

          No, I have never been asked, and have never asked the question when recruiting (all other considerations aside, if you ask and then don’t select that person, you risk the appearance of discrimination. If you don’t ask, you avoid that risk)

        3. ampersand*

          That’s a great reply. I can’t imagine any reputable employer in the US asking this question, but should I ever need a response to the question I’m using this!

      4. Amethystmoon*

        I was wondering if maybe it was a strange new way to screen whether people might have had COVID-19 and who might have antibodies.

    2. GingerHR*

      Technically it’s not illegal to ask in the UK. What is illegal is to make decisions based on absence where this could be related to disabilty and therefore putting someone at a disadvantage.

      It’s stupid to ask, but if you want to base recruitment decisions on whether someone had a cold, you can.

      It’s more usually seen on references, but it’s also usually ignored by the referee.

      1. Dramatic Squirrel*

        And who remembers exactly how many sick days they took 2 years ago? I am UK HR and a company can ask if there is anything which could prevent/impede you doing the job but should not specifically be asking about sick leave/disability/children etc.

        1. ickykisstea*

          I have been asked the question at interview in the past. That was before the time of the Equality Act that Lena Carabina posted above. Since then in the run-up to interview I’ve always checked how many sick days I’ve taken. It has never occurred to me that I don’t actually need to do it any more!

        1. Boo*

          Not in the UK from my understanding. Can you please provide some sources? I can certainly be mistaken but it seems a bit bold to make a blanket statement like that in light of all of the comments and resources linked saying otherwise.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m giving serious thought to my list of references now, given that 2 of them HAVE told prospective employers the amount of time I had off ill during my employment there and I know it’s caused me to not get a few jobs.

        1. MassMatt*

          Wow. I’m very surprised this would come up in a reference call. I mean, that either the employer would ask it or the reference would have the info ready to volunteer. As the expression goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Oh, there’s a lot of companies here that believe that if you have more than 3 separate instances of sick leave a year then you’re not worth paying/hiring.

            1. MassMatt*

              What are they? Letters? As in, paper? Wow again. I haven’t seen that for many years, outside academia, which IMO proves the point.

        2. Lena Carabina*

          There are some exceptions and I think asking in a reference might be ok, and it had to be phrased a certain way – I’ll copy and past the guidelines later (I’m on my phone now).

        3. Lena Carabina*

          Quote
          “Pre-employment enquiries about disability and health
          10.25
          Except in the specific circumstances set out below, it is unlawful for an
          employer to ask any job applicant about their disability or health until the
          applicant has been offered a job (on a conditional or unconditional basis) or
          has been included in a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job when
          a position becomes available. This includes asking such a question as part of
          the application process or during an interview. Questions relating to previous
          sickness absence are questions that relate to disability or health.
          10.26
          It is also unlawful for an agent or employee of an employer to ask questions
          about disability or health. This means that an employer cannot refer an
          applicant to an occupational health practitioner or ask an applicant to fill
          in a questionnaire provided by an occupational health practitioner before
          the offer of a job is made (or before acceptance into a pool of successful
          applicants) except in the circumstances set out below.
          10.27
          This provision of the Act is designed to ensure that disabled applicants are
          assessed objectively for their ability to do the job in question, and that they
          are not rejected because of their disability. There are some limited exceptions
          to this general rule, which mean that there are specified situations where such
          questions would be lawful.

          Exceptions to the general rule prohibiting disability or health-related questions
          10.28
          There are six situations when it will be lawful for an employer to ask
          questions related to disability or health.

          Reasonable adjustment needed for the recruitment process
          10.29
          It is lawful for an employer to ask questions relating to reasonable adjustments
          that would be needed for an assessment such as an interview or other process
          designed to assess a person’s suitability for a job. This means in practice
          that any information on disability or health obtained by an employer for the
          purpose of making adjustments to recruitment arrangements should, as far as
          possible, be held separately. Also it should not form any part of the decision-making process about an offer of employment, whether or not conditional.

          10.30
          Questions about reasonable adjustments needed for the job itself should not
          be asked until after the offer of a job has been made (unless these questions
          relate to a function that is intrinsic to the job – see below at paragraph 10.36).
          When questions are asked about reasonable adjustments, it is good practice
          to make clear the purpose of asking the question.

          Example:
          An application form states: ‘Please contact us if you are disabled and need
          any adjustments for the interview’. This would be lawful under the Act.

          10.31
          It is lawful to ask questions about disability or health that are needed to
          establish whether a person (whether disabled or not) can undertake an
          assessment as part of the recruitment process, including questions about
          reasonable adjustments for this purpose.

          Monitoring purposes
          10.32
          Questions about disability and health can be asked for the purposes of
          monitoring the diversity of applicants. (For information on good practice on
          monitoring, see Chapter 18 and Appendix 2.)
          Implementing positive action measures

          10.33
          It is also lawful for an employer to ask if a person is disabled so they can
          benefit from any measures aimed at improving disabled people’s employment
          rates. This could include the guaranteed interview scheme whereby any
          disabled person who meets the essential requirements of the job is offered
          an interview. When asking questions about, for example, eligibility for a
          guaranteed interview scheme, an employer should make clear that this is the
          purpose of the question (see Chapter 12).

          Occupational requirements
          10.34
          There would be a need to demonstrate an occupational requirement if
          a person with a particular impairment is required for a job. In such a
          situation, where an employer can demonstrate that a job has an occupational
          requirement for a person with a specific impairment, then the employer may
          ask about a person’s health or disability to establish that the applicant has
          that impairment.”
          End quote

          Looks like references are not on there then!

    3. Alanis*

      The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the UK. It has a standard application portal and sick days is not asked for on application. But, if you get a job offer, number of sick days in the last 2 years (but not reasons) is definitely on the form that references fill out.
      But the NHS tends to have very structured sickness management policies.

      1. NuHuSs*

        Came here looking for a comment saying this – it’s standard on NHS applications to request that references state how many sickness absences you’ve had. And the ‘very structured sickness management policies’ is a very diplomatic way of putting it – until recently, more than 4 absences in 12 months was a ‘trigger’ (yes, that was the actual language used) for a health review meeting with manager and/or to ensure you understood the policy and number of allowed absences that you’d exceeded…

        It’s switched up a little lately and is now badged as being more of a tool to support staff who might be experiencing workplace-related ill health, but for a while it definitely felt pretty draconian and unreasonable. I know some people take no sick days at all, and others need more, but 4 instances in a year really isn’t a lot by the time you’ve had a migraine or two, flu and toothache – not to mention needing days for mental health…

        1. No Tribble At All*

          Confused American here. The National *Health* Services only allows 4 sick days a year? What if you’re a nurse and you get something contagious— don’t they want you to stay home? Also, 4 sick days a year is some American level of benefits.

          1. ihatelogins*

            Snort. Healthcare is the most inhumane industry I’ve ever seen. My husband (in the U.S.) is a physician and for the past five years he literally had 0 sick days available. (Now he has two weeks of sick leave available if he gets COVID, but I don’t think he gets sick leave for any other reason.) Management has historically encouraged its doctors to be sick on their vacation weeks, which are scheduled 18 months in advance. Honestly, four sick days a year feels pretty progressive to me, particularly because you don’t automatically get fired for going over that number.

            1. MayLou*

              I did some midwifery training in the UK as part of the NHS and we often wryly commented that we were advising pregnant and new mothers to take care of their bladders and stay hydrated, while we were working 14 hour shifts without time to go to the toilet or have a drink. I dropped out of the course because I have a chronic health condition and they couldn’t (wouldn’t) accommodate it.

            2. Anon Anon*

              I so agree. The worst place I ever worked for time off was a hospital. They gave me 20 days of PTO for the year, which sounds reasonable, until you realized that you had to use PTO for all federal holidays, so it reality you got 12 days of PTO a year.

          2. Bagpuss*

            Not 4 days, 4 instances. So if you were off sick for a month, that would be one instance, but if you were off for 1 day, then off for another day 3 weeks later, that would be 2 instances.
            Further complicated by the fact that if the absences are all for the same thing (eg you come back too soon and go off almost straight away) it might still only count as one..

            1. Liz*

              Yes, I’ve heard of this policy really messing people about. If you catch something and miss a few days, you might try and go back, but wind up having to take time off again for the same issue. That’s now 2 instances of sickness rather than 1 and you’re actually worse off than if you took the whole week. It’s a very silly system. Generally I think penalizing people for being ill should just…. not be a thing.

              1. Obelia*

                When I hit the trigger (most recently), one of the things my manager flagged was that I kept trying to come back to work too soon and having to go off sick again, rather than taking enough time off to actually recover.

          3. Akcipitrokulo*

            Abscences – which can be several days. Not nhs but know those who are – I don’t think it’s a ban so much as “meeting to discuss”.

      2. Batgirl*

        It’s also on standard forms for educational roles within my council. Actually in every region I’ve taught in. Never came across it in my previous field which was private sector and more cover letter-and-cv type hiring.

      3. Obelia*

        4 instances may be a “trigger” for a review, but as noted above that doesn’t mean you’re only allowed 4 absences, it just means the employer needs to talk to you about whether there’s anything that needs further support, intervention from occupational health, etc. It’s not supposed to be punitive, though of course how it’s handled will always depend on how good your manager is. I’ve both hit the trigger myself and managed people who have and it’s been a supportive process but i know others who have had quite different experiences. (Incidentally, sick pay in the NHS typically starts at 1 month full and 2 months half pay and goes up to 6 months full and six months half pay.)
        I have however regularly been asked about sickness absence on reference request templates. We just don’t answer that question, or indeed any questions except for start and end dates to confirm employment.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      UK also. But shocked to hear this. I’ve had previous employers state in my references how many sick days I’ve had off during my time with them and it’s torpedoed a few prospective jobs (I’m disabled, and can’t predict flare ups) but I assumed this was all legal.

      Additionally I’m currently looking for work and have been asked that question several times within the last few weeks!

      I assumed it was their right to make sure they wouldn’t be hiring anyone who’ll be taking excessive time off, and it was my problem to sort not theirs.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        It’s not technically banned, I believe … but it’s inadvisable and leaves them open to legal issues under equality act 2010. It’s along lines of asking if you have kids.

        Good answer I saw on a site was “sickness has not been an issue” … but… it’s still feeding into thr equality act issues.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          I am wrong. It is specifically banned by Equality Act 2010 – they may not ask this.

      2. Batgirl*

        I don’t think referees are allowed to say anything about health under GDPR so very possibly.

    5. Clodagh*

      Very surprised to hear it’s a question that shouldn’t be asked as it’s a standard question when applying to a council or arms length organisation (in my experience)!

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Me too. It’s not that common but I have been asked that for professional and admin jobs. It doesn’t seem to have ever made any difference, though.

    6. Peter*

      Reed Recruitment have a useful Q&A on several things on their website, including this question.

      They suggest if asked:
      How you could answer: ‘Sickness was not a problem in my previous role’

      What they could ask: ‘Do you have any specific requirements in order to perform this job effectively?’

    7. Caroline Bowman*

      I was just going to say, I am ex-UK so 2-3 years out of date, but was HR when I was there and NO YOU CANNOT do something like that.

      It’s a flat no. Very intrusive.

    8. OfficeWorker*

      I’m UK based and have been asked this in all my professional roles but (so far) it has not been a red flag in terms of either sick pay or being one of those horrible workplaces where two days off triggers a review meetings. It may or may not be an issue but I wouldn’t worry too much unless there are other red flags.

      In terms of legality, I’ve usually seen this with a bit of blurb saying something like “Please exclude any absences related to any disability or protected characteristic” so is on slightly shonky ground if it doesn’t have something like that.

      1. Asperger Hare*

        Agreed, I’m in the UK and have been asked this for all job roles, so I wouldn’t have previously thought of it as a red flag! That’s really made me rethink things.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think on a strict reading of the Act 9(as opposed to the guidance) it isn’t illegal to ask, because the illegality is discriminating based on disability.
        “A does not contravene a relevant disability provision merely by asking about B’s health; but A’s conduct in reliance on information given in response may be a contravention of a relevant disability provision.”
        But is is stupid and pointless.

        there are exceptions – for instance to check that an application would be able to carry out action which form an intrinsic part of the job, and specifically in cases f national security, so if you are applying for a job with GCHQ presumably they are allowed to ask…

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Section 60 seems to ban asking it at all (except for few cases – things like “job requires standing for X hours/carrying X kg weight – are you able to do this?” I think are ok.)

    9. Anononon*

      This is so interesting because it seems like, from many of the answers here, this isn’t uncommon in the UK. I’ve never been asked that in the US nor have I ever heard of it as a potential question.

      1. schnauzerfan*

        Years ago, on a list of suggested questions from HR, there was something like “if I were to ask your references about your attendance in a previous job, what would s/he say?”

        It always got interesting answers, but we don’t ask it anymore because it seemed intrusive.

  3. EPLawyer*

    LW1 don’t be prepated to start looking for a new job do it. Start now. Your boss is not suddenly going to start making good decisions.

    As we oft say here if he can’t afford to pay employees he shouldn’t be in business. If the business will fail without you then he shouldn’t be running the business you should. You owe this jerk no loyalty. Protect yourself now.

    1. Anonys*

      Yes, 100% look for other work.

      Also, with regard to him threatening to claim you have quit: As Alison said, you get to respond to that, and considering he ad to lay off 4 other employees at the same time you supposedly would have “quit” I don’t think anyone will have a hard time believing you. All the evidence/logic is on your side here.

      So, if you want to, just stop working for him and put all your energy in job searching. You aren’t getting paid either way, and as people have pointed out, back wages might not come through if the company goes bankrupt.

      Of course though, I would also fully support this asshole actually getting in legal trouble for not paying his employee. He deserves it.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Given the fact that unemployment is so backed up in your state, I’d simply stop working for this jerk and put my energy into job hunting. I’d also file a formal complaint with the state–the labor board and the unemployment office. Hell I’d write to my City Councilmember just to get the sleaze on record. What is he going to do? Not pay you? By the time the state works around to you and he claims you quit, you contest it, and you wave the copies of the letter you sent back in early July. This guy’s business is going down the tubes. Don’t do work for him. He’ll never be able to pay you, and even if he got back on his feet, here’s your warning that he’ll expect you back at half wages or something like that. Can’t survive without you? Can’t survive. Drop this flaming turd.

    2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      Yes – and also OP if you can try and confirm as subtly as you can your conversation in writing, perhaps superficially acting as a “team player” and emailing boss with a summary of conversation/their request.

      They may confirm the understanding, they may be wily enough to not respond, but its evidence and a paper trail and lack of employer shutdown of working and claiming will be damning – Im not HR expect/lawyer but hopefully can assist with whether this will help OP or not. So sorry you have to deal with this at this time.

      1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

        Argghh not enough caffeine yet – I meant hopefully someone else with expertise can assist with whether this kind of email trail is helpful or not

      2. Wintermute*

        In general, yes, it’s good practice to do this and get confirmation, but when your boss is doing something baldly illegal it’s probably just going to set off red flags in their mind. A situation like this is already so adversarial that it’s best to get as much proof as you can BEFORE they’re tipped off, when they will no doubt start obstructing any and all attempts you make to get any evidence on them. So while you still have access to your time cards, your punch-in/out records, and so on.

        The evidence I’d be looking to gather are things like that. when you have a few weeks of that then you would file unemployment, attaching that evidence up front. AS SOON AS someone is assigned to your UI claim, you’d call in and say “my boss was extorting me to keep working without pay by threatening to file baseless unemployment objections, I want you to be aware beforehand, here is my proof in advance I’d like it on the record”.

        Then ideally when he attempts to fight you, the initial determination goes your way.

      3. RecentAAMfan*

        You could email under the guise of asking some details about the unemployment application. But sneak some of the other bits in too

      4. Amethystmoon*

        If nothing else, you should be able to send a “per our prior conversation on xyz date” e-mail with a summary, and make sure you print that e-mail out and keep it.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          This is a good idea, regardless of whether he responds or sends something back arguing what he said.

          Also, I know Alison is generally not in favor or recording conversations, but IF the law allows (and only if), this may be a circumstance that calls for it. I mean, it’s not like you are getting paid or anything as it is. Failure to do anything besides do exactly what he has told you means you are probably already done at this job anyway and the reference is likely burned so IMO, you don’t have anything to lose.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I have had luck telling people I recorded conversations that I actually didn’t record. You need to be able to roll a better than decent bluff-check but when it’s to prove the other person is doing something this illegal, I don’t see any legal or ethical harm in claiming you have proof you don’t have.

      5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I had a boss ask me to do something that was a regulatory issue and I shot him a confirmation email. He wrote me an email, “I approve all purchases to rectify this issue.” Then he called me and told me that under NO circumstances could I buy that item, and called his admin to say that he did NOT approve any spending and that she was to block any spending requests I submitted.

        So on paper, it would look like he gave me permission to buy the safety equipment and I failed to do so, when in reality he forbade the purchase.

        Sleazy bosses are sleazy.

        1. boop the first*

          True, but then you had it in writing that you could purchase safety equipment, so. If words are more powerful than speech, then what are you to take from that conversation? Maybe he’s sleazy, but he’s not smart.

          1. leapingLemur*

            In the long run, sleazy isn’t smart. It’s going to come back to bite him, sooner or later.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, not to mention that there’s probably some record of which purchases the admin has approved/disapproved and which purchases they’ve actually made.

          3. Ego Chamber*

            I think you missed part of it? Daria was told to buy safety equipment, the boss refused to approve, she wrote an email trying to confirm next steps, boss emailed back she needed to buy the equipment, then told her verbally that it was actually not approved and it would be canceled if she tried to order.

            How does it help Daria to have a paper trail saying she’s responsible for buying approved equipment and no proof that her boss is cancelling the orders? That sounds like the opposite of what she wants.

        2. Hills to Die on*

          I have had bosses do that me, deliberately but not as blatant as what you just described. It sucks. I think I replied back and said, ‘I understand your email here but you also just called me and told me to do X, so I have conflicting instruction from you. I will proceed with what you have sent me in writing until you respond over email differently’.
          This whole blog shows me how many really toxic places I have worked at. I didn’t realize it until I started reading it regularly. At least I know now.

      6. JM60*

        I suspect that the boss had the OP come into the office to tell them face-to-face specifically to avoid putting it in writing. I think putting it in writing, while BCCing your personal email address, is a great idea.

    3. Dagny*

      Exactly. It’s not the taxpayers’ job to pay the wages he does not want to pay.

      I think the best course of action here is to continue accepting assignments from him, then rescind your unemployment claim (because you are being given work). Then if he refuses to pay you, file a wage and hour claim.

      The problem with fighting the ‘quit’ is that it’s a battle of documentation and stories. The thing about filing a wage and hour claim is the questions are simple: did you work and were you paid for that work?

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Yes, if the boss wants to fight it (and who knows with this one). In my experience, a lot of businesses just pay out what they owe because if they pay you within a certain timeframe of being notified, the lawsuit is dropped and they avoid steep financial penalties.

          Either way, LW should keep a copy of their timestamps, or work emails showing times/dates worked if they don’t have a formal timekeeping system. They’ll need this for both unemployment and the DOL.

      1. Observer*

        A wage and hour claim is going to take a lot longer to deal with AND the OP is going to have to go in unemployment anyway.

        Don’t rescind your unemployment. Document everything you can, and prioritize looking for a new job, starting NOW.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        My experience (in California) with appealing a rejection from the EDD is that the appeals judge was *very* much on the employee’s side. (It’s reallllly easy for a company to give wrong information by mistake — in my case, it was because someone in my former employer’s office mis-typed the SSN.) If OP tells the judge “he tried to force me to keep working while collecting unemployment benefits” that is NOT going to go over well.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Unemployment offices sometimes know who the sleazy employers are, too. I once lost a long-term temp job months ahead of schedule, and had my unemployment denied.

          I appealed. Once the guy from the unemployment office saw who my ex-employer was, he immediately reversed the denial and got me my benefits. I didn’t even have to go to a hearing.

          He said the ex-employer had a policy of automatically contesting all unemployment claims, regardless of their legitimacy. The unemployment office responded to this by automatically overturning *all* of their denials on appeal. Apparently it’s sort of an unofficial punishment for the company’s scummy behavior.

    4. Another name*

      Since he is no longer paying you and you are officially laid off, I would consider him your ex-boss. You don’t need to keep working for him for free!

      Good idea to document your employment status in writing, and send him an email confirming your conversation. You might need that later.

      1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        OP may not have other job options, and may feel they need to leave the door open in case nothing else materializes.

        However, consider this, OP: a toxic boss like this might never bring you back on, even if the business opens again, and even if it does you may be offered a significantly lower salary. Plus, this behavior suggests other toxic aspects of the job that perhaps you were willing to tolerate but which are corrosive in the long run.

        Do more than preparing yourself to look for a new job: go full out. Use the great advice on this site to create a killer resume and good, targeted cover letters. When interviewing, learn how to tell a good match from a bad one. It’s an awful time to be job switching, but there are folks on this site reporting success.

        Good luck to you. The best revenge is to DTMFA and find a job where you are treated with respect and paid appropriately.

        1. LunaLena*

          OP, please listen to this. I once ignored the red flags and worked for someone who totally would have pulled the same thing as your boss, and had to learn the hard way that having a toxic job was worse than having no job at all. In the end I never even got paid for the month of work I did for him, and in fact he threatened me with a completely bogus lawsuit when I quit.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            …he threatened you wjth a lawsuit for quitting? On what grounds? I’m really curious what he thought was illegal about quitting.

            1. calonkat*

              Sleazy people often keep a lawyer of equal moral quality on retainer. So it doesn’t cost them much to send legal letters to scare the crap out of people. I can think of a couple of things off the top of my head that wouldn’t hold up, but would worry many people, such as threatening to sue because you stole work secrets/processes, telling you that you can’t seek employment in anything vaguely related to the area you worked in within a 250 mile range, claiming you damaged the business in some way…

              I may have lived in a small town with a garment factory as a major employer. And I had one job try the employment thing on me when I was their receptionist that they turned into the HR department with no training or pay increase. When they went under (only my fault because I couldn’t also do sales across a three state region with no car AND sit in the office) they tried to tell me that I basically couldn’t work without moving! Luckily, the internet existed then, and a lawyer kindly looked at their letter and told me it was b***

              1. Hills to Die on*

                Speaking of sleazy people with sleazy lawyers, I see you have met the Ex-Mr. Hills to Die On.

                Also, I love that OP called her boss an Absolute Shitgoblin and I cannot wait for the opportunity to use this.

              2. LunaLena*

                Yep, you guessed right! He threatened to sue me to “stealing his property,” aka his company logos that he gave me because he hired me to do graphic and ad design for him. I wasn’t really worried about the lawsuit itself because it was such a bogus claim, but I was worried about my reputation especially since I lived in a very small town in the Midwest where I was one of about five Asians living there. That was also the reason I eventually decided not to sue for what he owed me – a few hundred dollars wasn’t worth having to get down in the mud with him.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  Did this sleazy boss design real estate websites? Because I worked for that guy, and when I stopped working for him and deactivated my info from his hosting account, he sicced his sleazy lawyer on me too. I fulfilled what the lawyer said to do. What a shock! I never got paid.

                  So I created a file of ALL our correspondence, took him to small claims, and won. Took me a while, because I had to scrape up the money for the filing fees once I found other employment, but I took a photo of that check. Wish I could’ve seen his face when the court seized the money from his bank account.

                2. Autumnheart*

                  Wonder if that was the same dude I had to deal with? Real estate websites. tl;dr: I created a file of all our correspondence, including the sleazy lawyer letter, took him to small claims, and won. Of course, he still didn’t pay up, so I escalated the case, and the court seized the money from his bank account. That was a wonderful day. Wish I could’ve seen his face!

                  A few years after that, it warmed my heart to observe a bankruptcy notice for the dude in the local paper, with assets around $19K and debts of about a million bucks. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!

        2. boop the first*

          Yeah, ESPECIALLY since he found a way to never pay employees again. If now, why not forever?

        3. Willis*

          And guess who is going to reap any profit that is generated while the OP is working for free…which could be a good bit more now that he’s reduced his staff salary expenses to zero? Sorry, but a tiny company that just laid everyone off and is now operating illegally is going to fold. He’s just trying to get all the money he can out of it before it does.

    5. Jojo*

      That boss should be applying for PPP instead of asking the employee to help him break the law.

      1. Nea*

        This boss is so sleazy that I half wonder if he DID apply for PPP, is pocketing it, and planning on using any work records during the time when the employees weren’t paid as proof that there were no layoffs.

        1. JM60*

          He’s almost certainly doing that. There seems to be lots of shady businesses pocketing PPP money in shady ways.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yep. People who wring their hands about welfare/unemployment/disability fraud are worrying about the wrong grifters.

            I bet we’d have a lot less fraud if all future economic stimulus spending went directly to individuals, not businesses. Business income ultimately all comes from consumer spending, so the money would filter up.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Or at least limit how much goes to corps vs individuals. I mean, if corporations are people, WalMart should have only gotten $1200 to make it through this like the rest of us, right?

  4. IT Relationship Manager*

    Asking about sick days is such a trap question. They have no right to know how many days you took off at your old job. They don’t even really have a right to know why you take sick days at their company.

    One of the few times I would mention possible sick days is if I had a chronic issue or took care of someone who had health issues. And only after I was hired. As long as you’re reasonable and can do the job you’re hired to do, this shouldn’t be a problem.

    This company is a huge red flag and I would be concerned that they would make taking sick leave difficult.

    1. Avasarala*

      Not US or UK but I have definitely seen questions like “how often do you get sick?” and “do you get headaches/stomachaches/diarrhea” (yes I was asked this) as code for “can we treat you like a robot, or are you going to be a problem?”

      There is no reason for a reasonable employer, with a reasonable system of time off and a reasonable understanding of workforce/workload planning and staffing, to ask a question like this. Because they understand that everyone needs time off and that attendance is not the most important indicator of how talented one is at their profession.

        1. Avasarala*

          Yes, it was definitely inappropriate (also why specifically diarrhea, just… what…). Not every company here asks as explicitly as that one did, but the “are you going to be a good little worker” attitude is still very prevalent here, and as I am learning, around the world. I am very interested to see how this evolves (or doesn’t) in the aftermath of the pandemic. What interesting times we live in…!

          1. Casper Lives*

            What do you even say? Do they treat you like a liar if you start having migraines?? That’s odd.

            1. Not Australian*

              “Do they treat you like a liar if you start having migraines??”

              My working-for-other-people experience is mercifully a couple of decades in the past now, but I lost count of the times I was told that ‘migraine is just a posh word for headache, and if I can work through a headache so can you’. My recollection is that, while you may not necessarily be treated like a liar for having migraines, you are likely to be treated with suspicion and a total absence of understanding. I could tell you some seriously grim stories, but I don’t want to derail the discussion!

              1. PeanutButter*

                The irony is that my migraines don’t actually have (or very, very rarely have) any headache/pain associated with them at all. I just can’t see anything that requires focusing closely through the auras. I know a lot of fellow sufferers who don’t get pain with their migraines! It’s soooo not “just a headache.”

                1. Autumnheart*

                  Chalk me up as another not-very-painful migraine sufferer. They used to be much worse when I was younger. I started having migraine auras in my 30s, and if I use that as an early warning system and quickly pound a migraine cocktail (caffeine, glass of water, couple Advil) then I usually wind up with just a dull headache, or no headache.

                  I’ll call in or take a break while the aura is happening, because yeah–big blind spot in the center of my vision. Not a good time to be driving or trying to read text.

              2. New Jack Karyn*

                Man, I had one migraine (or a headache that felt like what I’ve read migraines feel like). It was so bad, and yet, in a weird way, I could feel there was the capacity in there for it to be worse, if that makes sense.

                So much empathy for regular migraine sufferers.

            2. Random Commenter*

              If I desperately needed the job, I’d just lie. If I get sick later, they can’t prove whether or not it happened in the past.

      1. Lady Heather*

        “No, I am more prone to constipation – thank you for asking. How is your menopause/BPH?”

        1. ukrep*

          UK public sector trade union rep here… the “how many sick days” question is still unfortunately common on public sector application forms and I agree, is likely a hangover from older recruitment processes. Using past sick leave as a reason not to employ someone would potentially be a breach of the 2010 Equality Act if the employer was aware that this related to a protected characteristic eg disability.

          I have seen quite detailed medical questionnaires which ask all manner of questions around common conditions such as migraine – again these seem to be particularly popular with local government jobs – but these are typically post-offer and I suspect are a rather clunky mechanism for establishing reasonable adjustments.

          Agree that this is poor practice and off putting for many good candidates!

          1. Bagpuss*

            Post offer it is I believe legal.(although withdrawing an offer based on the replies would be unlawful *if* the absences were due to a disability.
            I think you are right that this is a public sector thing and not automatically a red flag about the employer in general, more about old and clunky processes not being brought up to date.

          2. MayLou*

            I was sent an incredibly intrusive questionnaire about my health when I signed up to an agency once. It was so egregious that I reported it to the agency that monitors these things in the UK (I don’t recall who that is any more, I had to search online for it). I returned the form without completing those questions. A few weeks later I was sent another one which had removed that entire section and replaced it with a question which was legal.

          3. Batgirl*

            Yeah that’s just the sense I get; “Why change a form that has served us well since 1950?” rather than nefarious intent. They also dont care about your GCSE results, but the box needs ticking. It’s why my school still has paper filing cabinets.
            It’s the bane of my life tbh. I don’t get sick for ages and the year I want to switch roles I get three types of death flu. It’s never stopped me getting work; my anxiety must be a pale thing compared to the chronically ill.

          4. Gerry*

            I’ve had such questions asked in the pre contract medical but the doctors are a third party and the only information they are allowed to give the employer is “is this person medically capable of performing the duties of this role (yes/no)”. In my opinion the company shouldn’t want to have any more information than that as they can’t then be accused of discrimination. As others have said it may well be old practice from before having independent medicals was a thing.

    2. Esme*

      “ They don’t even really have a right to know why you take sick days at their company.”

      This doesn’t translate to the UK, here we do share the reasons. Sick days aren’t seen as just another benefit to use as you please.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Indeed. Though I think most places will accept fairly generic reasons (I think one of ours is ‘medical appointment’).

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. I’ve just checked my company’s sick leave recording system. If you are self certifying you have to give a reason but there are a range of fairly broad categories to record it under as well as a free text box. So while you can be specific (and I had one member of staff who told me far more than I ever needed to know about his ailments in the free text box) you can just pick from the list.

          I tend to put things like “cold” or “stomach upset.” If you’re sick for longer and need a note from the doctor then they tend also go for fairly vague things in what they record, judging from the ones I’ve seen from my staff.

          I had a staff member previously have cancer where she needed longer and we had a discussion around reasonable adjustments, the amount of time she might need off for different types of treatment and how to record and manage it but that was unusual. To be honest my main concern was making sure she didn’t try and do too much because she was very worried we’d consider she was slacking off if she took time off to recover from chemo sessions.

          Medical appointments we don’t have to take sick leave for and as we have flexible working policies, people just have the appointment and then make the time up.

          I have to say I’ve never seen a problem with putting the reason down in broad terms on the system, it’s just a thing I’ve had to do in every company I’ve worked for so it’s fairly normal.

      2. TechWorker*

        Not everywhere. I would usually give my manager a vague description but there’s nothing required beyond ‘I’m sick and can’t come in’.

        When we enter sick time in the HR there *is* a category field but it’s optional and I’ve never filled it in.

        1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          I’ve had to fill out a form when I return with an explanation, but it’s generally very vague. The only reason they want to know is that there are potential safety repercussions since I work on construction sites. For instance, if I sprained my ankle they’d want to know I was safe to be back at work, or if I’d had some issue where I might be prescribed a narcotic painkiller that could cause drowsiness. But I could have put something like “head cold” or “personal, not contagious” and it would have been fine.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes my company is similar. I’ve a colleague who drives as part of his job and he has to notify them if he takes anything that will impede his ability to drive safely.

            Also if you have something work related such as asbestosis or vibration white finger the employer needs to report it to the Health and Safety Executive so they can see if there’s a wider problem with the company or the sector.

      3. Cambridge Comma*

        Sick days have a completely different flavour in countries where you can access a lot of them. I think I would have had nine months at full pay at my last job before having to access long term benefits. So in general Europeans accept a little more intrusion in return (although doctors notes don’t say what you had so you do have some privacy).

      4. Carbondale*

        That’s crazy that you have to give a reason for taking even a single sick day. That would make me really uncomfortable. And its even crazier that your sick days can follow you to your next job.

        1. doreen*

          Depends on what qualifies as a reason. I have to give a reason for a single sick day -and “I’m not feeling well” is good enough. I can’t just call in and say I won’t be in today if I want to use sick leave ( which is separate from all sorts of other leave that doesn’t require a reason but does usually require advance notice)

        2. Green great dragon*

          I think it’s the flip side of having near-unlimited sick days. If someone is taking a lot of time off (like several days a month) for serious treatment, that’s fine. If they do that for ‘feeling unwell’ you might start to enquire more deeply.

          (Our office is also keen to know how much is back pain, stress, or other things that might be partially related to working environment).

        3. Akcipitrokulo*

          It’s really vague though. “feeling unwell” is fine.

          Few years back when I had enough to have a review it was to see if there was anything that could be done by employer to help – it was “nope, just unlucky year” “ok, then, let us know if there is an issue”.

      5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        For example, if your sick days relate to a protected characteristic such as disability or pregnancy, they may need to be counted and coded differently.

        So you could have an employee who has time off for her disability AND time off for Monday morning hangovers, and in order to discipline her for the latter you have to know which is which.

        I had an encounter where I did not want to disclose the nature of my sickness. HR advised that I could decline to state, but I would be eligible for statutory minimum sick pay only, not the employer’s enhanced. I’m not sure how totally legal that was, come to think of it.

    3. Jenny*

      I’ve never been asked it in the US. I find it a bizarre question because I frankly couldn’t answer it without looking through my past timeshares. I have no idea if I took a couple days off two years ago. Why would anyone be able to accurately recall that?

      1. Batgirl*

        I never can either; but in the public sector you have to fill out a ‘return to work’ form after sick leave so the details are usually in my emails.
        Think of the bureaucracy encountered by Prince Caspian on the lone islands and you’ll have the right context.

    4. Batgirl*

      “They don’t even really have a right to know why you take sick days at their company”
      That only really applies in places where you get sick leave as a benefit; here it’s given out to those in need.
      So, yeah you’re expected to say why you’d need it in the UK, even if just vaguely.

      1. Minnielle*

        In Germany you don’t have to tell why you took sick days. It is also not shown on the doctor’s note. At my work I need a doctor’s note from the 3rd day onwards (quite typical here). For 1 or 2 days I can just say I’m sick and that’s it, no further details needed. But if you do it very often, the employer might require a doctor’s note from the 1st day on. For all sicknesses with a doctor’s note the health insurance would know the reason but the employer would not. In Germany there is a law that if you are on sick leave for the same reason for more than 6 weeks, your employer will not have to pay you salary anymore but you will get money from the health insurance instead. The employer can only ask the health insurance to check whether it has been the same reason but even then they don’t have a right to know the reason.

  5. AirKule Prott*

    I’m in the UK and whenever I’ve applied for a job or completed a reference, usually dates from and to, job title, salary, potential employers do ask for the number of sick days taken, although not the reason for the sickness, so I don’t think asking for the number of days is unusual. I work in the public sector, so I can’t speak for any other sector.

    1. Mid*

      What good would knowing how many sick days be? All I can think of is -discriminating against people with chronic illnesses or -discriminating against people with ill family members

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        You typically aren’t supposed to use sick days for others’ sickness in the UK (probably because there are separate provisions for caring responsibilities). Surprising how often parents are sick the same day as their young children though.

        Agreed that the question sucks.

        1. Esme*

          Indeed, this would not be appropriate use of sick leave.

          Absences for disabilities or chronic illnesses shouldn’t be counted at all

        2. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I don’t get the question either. Like this year I’ve taken the most sick days I’ve ever taken, like 2 1/2 weeks because I was in the hospital and had emergency surgery and wasn’t able to come back for 2 weeks. If I had to answer I would rather say, “oh usually a few days but unfortunately I had gallbladder surgery that kept me out for 2 weeks. Luckily that is over so no more gallbladder problems!”

    2. Casper Lives*

      But what’s the stated reason? I had a temporary, serious illness and used a lot of PTO one year. Normally I use less than average. There’s no way to predict these things unless someone has a chronic illness to estimate time off.

      I only see discrimination against people who use a lot of sick time as the outcome…

    3. Jane Plough*

      Yes this is a routine question in the UK, but like you I’ve only ever seen this on the reference form/pre-employment paperwork and never on the application form (it cannot influence the recruitment decision and employers can’t withdraw a job offer solely on the basis of this information). Sometimes it’s asked as “have you taken more than ten sick days in the past year” which I assume has something to do with our statutory sick pay system but I’m not HR so that’s just a guess.

      I don’t think it’s a red flag about the company to ask the number of days – plenty of healthy companies that treat their staff well also ask this question. I’m surprised they asked for the reason but this is not necessarily illegal as long as it doesn’t influence whether the applicant receives an offer.

      1. Kate Godfrey*

        I’m UK also and employment law. It’s not illegal to ask at application but bad practise. Post-offer isn’t unreasonable because the offer couldn’t be withdrawn without potential liability to a disability discrimination claim, and they can’t do much with the information. It’s a sneaky psychological tool rather than anything – they want you to be worried about sickness absence in general.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yuck.

          I’d hoped the pandemic would at least make employers realize forcing people to work sick is terrible.

      2. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

        Where there is an application form (as opposed to CV and covering letter) I have never not been asked about number of sick days – it’s a totally standard question. Whether it should be or not is a different issue but it’s very normal.

      3. AirKule Prott*

        Yes applications are made electronically and the question isn’t there but reference paperwork often does. I returned to a previous employer a couple of years ago and my referee was asked how many sick days I’d had. I sent her a screenshot of my absence record.
        I don’t think it makes a difference as I have had people on long-term sick being employed elsewhere no problem.

    4. LDN Layabout*

      I’ve worked both public sector (NHS even!) and private sector in the UK and NEVER seen this question, so I don’t think it’s that normal?

        1. LDN Layabout*

          A few people have said charity sector which is unsurprising from what I’ve heard from friends in the sector.

      1. Alanis*

        All our applications have been going through the NHS jobs website for well over a decade, probably since we switched from paper forms. It’s not on that standard form so you would have to add it as a special question.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          I’m at an ALB currently, so didn’t apply on NHS jobs (though I am in the midst of an application – fingers crossed!) and yeah, especially since referees are taken in advance, they’d have to ask at application and it’s not there.

          1. Alanis*

            Good luck! When things like the current crisis happen I’m so thankful to be working in the NHS. It is in no way perfect, but I have so many protections that others don’t. Plus I love what I do!

            1. LDN Layabout*

              Thank you!

              Yeah I’ve been lucky, I’m on the data analysis side so I’m working safe at home but I feel like what I’ve been doing supports the ongoing effort and it helps you get through the dreary lockdown to know what you’re doing is important.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        I’ve seen it mainly from smaller companies that are probably using the same template they picked up years ago.

      3. AirKule Prott*

        If you work in the NHS a record is kept of your absence; this is essential in calculating entitlement to OSP and SSP. If someone leaves one NHS Trust and goes to another their absence record is transferred electronically, along with other information. The new Trust needs this information to ensure sick pay is accurate.

        1. Batgirl*

          Ah yes this makes sense. They’d have to work out statutory sick pay between education authorities too.

    5. Turtle Candle*

      This is baffling and wrong to me but also kind of refreshing that for once I’m like “wait the UK does what stupid thing that the US can’t/doesn’t” instead of the other way around.

      1. TechWorker*

        The equality act posted above does make it sound like it actually is illegal though (even though some companies do it). So might be sadly ‘about the same as the US’ :p

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yep, was mostly replying to the fact that this is apparently common despite being illegal (vs have never seen this question in the US).

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        British history is full of boneheaded ideas, we’re oddly proud of it sometimes!

    6. Rosie*

      I’m also in the UK and I’ve seen this a fair bit – but exclusively in the times of my career during which I’ve had to temp (also exclusively in the private sector). I’ve usually laughed and said something like ‘I think I took a few days when I had a bad cold last year, does that count?’ and we’ve agreed something like four days in two years, and whether or not that is accurate is none of their business. People delight in giving new starters rope to hang themselves with. To register with a temp agency last week I was sent a form asking not only my date of birth (super illegal) but also how many dependents I have (so illegal it’s ridiculous). I left both parts blank and the recruiter didn’t press. You have to know the laws for yourself.

    7. Metadata minion*

      Is it usual in the UK to keep track of your sick days so you know what to put down? I know I take at least a few sick days every year, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how many without going into my employer’s timekeeping system, which I would no longer have access to if I were unemployed, as the original LW seems to be.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Wouldn’t have the faintest idea beyond ‘not more than a few days here and there’.

      2. Ponytail*

        Yes, in my experience. We have an online leave system, so I can see how much sick leave I’ve taken in the last 24 months – and I assume it’s a running total for exactly this sort of situation, so that when (not ‘if’, unfortunately) I get asked about sick leave, I have the number to hand. A lot of places also use the Bradford scale thing to calculate how your sick leave affects the workplace, so again, having a running total helps with that calculation.
        And for the previous posters who mentioned the NHS… I worked in one medical organisation where we had terrible sick leave numbers in my department. In a team of 22, 15 of us had breached what the employer had said was acceptable. And yet…when you looked at the organisation as a whole, our team was almost the lowest number of sick days taken. It was a very unhealthy organisation…!

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes, my current company and my previous company both had online systems to record sickness absence and annual leave so it’s viewable while you’re an employee of the company. It allows you to also monitor how much annual leave you’ve taken.

          1. SmithSmithSmith*

            And then some employers go slightly mad.
            I worked for one of the Big Four accounting firms when I slipped on black ice and broke my arm so badly I required surgery and time off while waiting for surgery (lots of broken limbs that year), recovering, and regaining full use of my arm. I was sent to counselling for having 22 days off sick. despite the fact that 19 were in a single block and HR had had various paperwork.
            I was not impressed. Neither was my boss.

  6. Thornus*

    #1 Go to a plaintiff’s side employment attorney and ask for advice. His asking you to file for unemployment while actually working is definite fraud territory. An attorney should be able to answer questions regarding that, what kind of documentation you might need for a future wage claim, answer questions on whether the owner himself is personally liable for backwages if the company shutters (some states hold business owners personally liable for backwages even if the company is incorporated as a separate entity), and other issues that might come up. You are in a precarious legal situation; get advice.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I want to underscore, since the OP specifically asked about it, that she is not in any legal jeopardy. It’s the owner who’s breaking the law. (I don’t want “you are in a precarious legal situation” to lead her to think otherwise.)

      1. Lisa*

        Would an employment attorney in her state be best able to advise her *how* to file so she’s not at risk of personal liability? For instance, on our weekly claims, we state how many hours we worked and how much we got paid… So she’d say she worked 40 hours and got paid zero, and be personally in the clear?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Again, she is not at risk of personal liability! She’s not the one breaking the law.

          She could certainly consult with an attorney for guidance on the best way to handle the unemployment piece in her state if she wants to. But there’s no legal risk to her here (unless she eventually collects back wages and doesn’t square that with unemployment when that happens). Her question in the post was, “In the interim, if we get caught, who is legally responsible?” and the answer is the owner, not her.

          1. Casper Lives*

            I think what Lisa is saying is that OP could be at risk of breaking the law if she does exactly what the boss says to do. Some states require you to certify how many days you weren’t working. If OP responds truthfully, she won’t get UE. Then no income (unless she wins lost wages) because her boss won’t pay her. If OP certifies that she isn’t working and collects UE, then she committed fraud. The penalties are so state specific that consulting an attorney is likely in her best interest.

            I feel horrible for the position OP is in.

            1. Diatryma*

              But *she is not breaking the law* and even if she’s performing work, she’s not getting paid, so she’s not working. There is no possibility for her breaking the law.

              1. Casper Lives*

                She is *breaking the law* if she is working and fraudulently tells UE that she is not working. Whether or not she’s getting *paid* isn’t the question. It’s “is she working?” The definition of work in the legal sense, not the colloquial one. All of those government forms have the person filling them out sign a statement that they know everything in the form is truthful, under penalty of perjury. Just because it’s unfair doesn’t mean it’s not the law!

                1. Lisa*

                  Yes exactly, it varies by state but generally you have to attest to some pretty scary paperwork and if I were in OP’s situation it would make me very nervous. If answers perfectly truthfully “Yes I am working, and also I am getting paid $0” she might be legally in the clear but it 1) won’t go along with the bosses fraud scheme if she actually wanted to do that 2) is likely to get flagged as an irregular claim by the UEI department in her state. The difference between a regular and an irregular claim can be between getting a check by Friday vs. getting a check in three months. But it sounds like the boss wants her to say she is NOT working, which requires her to commit perjury on her filing forms.

                2. squidproquo*

                  LW1 here. This is not something I had considered. Thankfully, the claim inquiry asks how much I was paid, not how much I worked.

                3. MollyG*

                  Yes, the question is if you are getting paid. You must fill out how much you make each week when you file. So she just puts down $0.00, which is the truth.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s going to depend on how your state words their questions when you file, but in a lot of states you’re going to be asked whether you worked, how many hours, and how much you earned — you’d put $0. In other states, you’re not required to report volunteer work at all.

              1. Heather*

                But if the LW is planning to file a wage claim for the time worked after having collected unemployment, that would be double dipping. The state would see a wage claim for time where LW certified they were NOT working. I know that NY has and will file criminal charges against people who fraudulently collect unemployment and require it gets paid back.

                1. Mid*

                  Which has already been addressed—if OP files a claim for back wages, they’d have to pay back their unemployment.

                2. Lilyp*

                  What would happen if she wins the claim for back wages but the company is bankrupt and can’t actually pay them? Would she still possibly be expected to repay the unemployment money since she wasn’t actually unemployed?

                3. Autumnheart*

                  I’d have to think that it would definitely affect the company’s bankruptcy filing, if the company didn’t report owing wages to employees as part of its liability.

                4. Ego Chamber*

                  @Lilyp | I’m guessing this varies by state but I know someone who had to pay back benefits they’d received after they won a wage claim but the company dragged on paying out the judgement and ended up going bankrupt instead of paying it. The logic is if you owe Person A money and then receive a judgement saying someone else owes you money, that doesn’t affect the money you owe Person A even if it’s the same money.

                  This is why I think LW’s better off getting a copy of their timesheet (or whatever other proof they have that they worked for the past X days), then quitting and looking for a new job, collecting UE until that happens.

      2. Lauren*

        I agree with Thornus, get a lawyer just in case. OP can’t afford to not get the money in the end. Her best bet is to find any other job near her salary range. Even if a new job gets cut, she will at least have hope not all business owners are jerks trying to pull this illegal stuff like this.

        OP would be part of the fraud if she was the one filing the unemployment claim. Her signature, her social sec #, her fraud. She knows what he is doing is illegal so how isn’t she an accessory to the fraud at the very least? Let’s face it, all the documentation in the world won’t matter if OP is assigned to an overworked unemployment case worker who only sees her name attached to it all as the one committing fraud. I can practically hear OP being told – “was a gun to your head when you signed the clause saying your claim is truthful?”

        This won’t end well. Real possibility is:
        1) OP doesn’t get $$$ from unemployment for months cause of backlog
        2) claim denied for some technical reason, throwing her back to the bottom of the pile
        3) claim denied because she admits its fraud
        4) appeal not heard because she admitted fraud
        5) appeal denied because they only heard ‘this is fraud’ not who the fraud was being committed by
        6) basically nothing happens to the boss, and OP has no money for months while being unavailable to work elsewhere

        1. MollyG*

          A victim of wage theft is not an accessory to the crime. He was clear that she will not get paid, thus she has a clear claim for unemployment. She is not part of any fraud, she is the victim.
          1. Not all states have backlog, PA does not anymore, as claimed by the head of the UI office on a town hall meeting two days ago.
          2. If she fills out the form right (which is not hard) she will be fine, they don’t reject for technical reasons, they have guidelines to follow.
          3. It is not her fraud. She is not being paid and she will be deemed eligible.
          4. They can not decline to hear and appeal.
          5. He is not paying her, she will easy win.
          6. This is a good reason to tell the boss to stuff it and not work for free.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          You have a really incorrect understanding of employment law and a similarly incorrect understanding of how unemployment works. Fraud is a serious crime and the victim is not an accessory. GTFOH with that.

          I’ve never been able to afford a lawyer just for fun, I email the DOL (it takes a few days but they do get back to you on questions like “Can my employer legally do this?” and “How do I make them stop?”).

    2. Delta Delta*

      As a lawyer, I always welcome people asking for advice if it’s something they don’t fully understand. I am not in any way suggesting OP is doing something unlawful, but it may be helpful for her to understand the scope, context, details, ins-and-outs, etc. of the process. It’s not always clear and often a lawyer can help.

      This has been my advertisement for lawyers.

      1. Vina*

        yes. Also, a lawyer can tell her if she’s better off filing the unemployment and cutting and running or trying to file the wage claim.

        One thing that jumps out at me is this: you can’t get blood from a turnip. If the boss has no money to pay LW now, he won’t have money if a claim is filed.

        Either boss has the money and is being cheap OR he doesn’t and is asking LW to work for free. If it’s the former, she might get her money. If it’s the latter, she won’t.

        In most of the US, a lawyer will either give you a short 20-30 minute consult for free, or will do it at a fixed rate ($150-200). It’s usually worth it to understand your options and to figure out what is the best way to proceed.

        It’s great to tell her that she’s not breaking the law, but that’s not enough. There are legal implications of taking the unemployment route v. The wage claim route. I’m not int hat area of law, so I don’t know what they are. I do know they are there. I do know this will vary greatly from state to state.

        Another example is whether one files personal injury claim in court v. Worker’s comp. Some states allow recourse to the courts. Others make it a WC only case. No one – not even a lawyer- should be advising on which route to take based on the scant info we have here.

        LW really should either go to a lawyer and pay a hundred or so for advice or, if she can’t afford that, go to legal aid.

        1. Not Legal Advice*

          While this isn’t my area of law I would be concerned that filing for unemployment while working (and this would not be considered volunteering because the OP is expecting to get paid and working for a for profit entity) would mean she would be deemed not eligible for unemployment at all.

          The unemployment office may decide that she is not due unemployment because another entity is responsible for her salary. They may interpret unemployment as being for those who do not a legal right to wages during that time period (she has a right to the wages as I do not think she can legally volunteer for her own job).

          In my opinion there is a risk that Alision’s interpretation could get the OP in trouble or at least lead to hassles. I would advise her to consult the unemployment agency or a lawyer who works in her jurisdiction and who is knowledgeable about the law. Many places have law societies that will refer people for a low cost or free consultation.

          1. MollyG*

            I disagree. She is not getting paid for the “work”. Unemployment is based on what you make, not if some guy says you are “working” for free, and not what you should be making. If she files she will have no issues.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              But he is legally required to pay her, that’s the point. If you’re owed wages that aren’t being paid, you can’t collect unemployment while you’re waiting on the unpaid wages to pay out, you have to file a wage claim to get those. Some states will ask questions if you report doing volunteer work: this kind of shit is why.

              Realistically, LW’s probably better off telling him she’s not willing to work for him for no pay and threaten to file a wage claim if he fucks with her unemployment.

    3. lawyer*

      I practice a different kind of law, but I would like to chime in to say that most lawyers’ favorite things in the world to do are to write stern, snarky, condescending “cut it out” letters to assholes who are doing things flagrantly illegal.

      Go see a lawyer.

      1. Vina*

        Oh, yes, I love those “attorney letters.” Honestly, they are a time-sink for very little pay. But they are so worth doing when someone’s being a jerk.

        My two favorites: (1) The people who wanted a parrot they sold to my client’s back b/c the new owners named the parrot some normal name (think Bob, Roger, etc.) that just happened to be the name of the old owner’s cranky uncle who they hated. Sorry, jerks, you didn’t make the name a condition of sale. So stop harassing my client and trying to parrot nap. I also arranged for a visit from the local sheriff to explain the concept of theft of animals to them. (2) The idiots who came in and bought the local radio station and tried to impose a flagrantly illegal no-contest clause that would be backdated sic months and cover a three state region. The author of it was the co-owner who was a real estate attorney in another state entirely. My state doesn’t allow any no-contest without consideration. (Can’t be backdated without $$$$). Also, there were no less than three state supersede court decisions on a reasonable time, distance, and area of work limits. He violated ALL of them.

  7. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2, you could be coming off as oversensitive, touchy, and tone-deaf.

    Complaining about “I appreciate you” could mark you as not a good cultural fit and/or not a good team player.

    1. Jojo*

      They appreciate her enough to give her all the scut work but not enough to promote her. Time to job search because there is no room for her personnal job growth here.

    2. Batgirl*

      It’s a terrible phrase. Smarmy and lazy. She could probably write a show to rival The Office just off that one line.

    3. Amethystmoon*

      Never heard of this but I live in the Midwest and we were recently bought out by an East-Coast company.

  8. Jennifer*

    Re: Masters – I know it’s hard to think straight right now. I’m taking some really difficult classes myself right now, I don’t have kids or any other responsibilities like that other than working from home which is light over the summer, and I still can’t get my brain to function some days. But I force myself to do it and I know I’ll feel so accomplished when I’m finished.
    If you do have a ton of other responsibilities, like child care or a heavy workload, then I understand. But if it really is just the sadness and anxiety of Covid weighing on your brain, please stick with it. Having something else to focus on will ease the anxiety and you will feel so much better that you didn’t waste this time stuck at home. Try to get a friend or classmate to help motivate you on the days or weeks you just can’t seem to find the energy.

    1. Sew done with everything*

      I am also definitely experiencing the depression/stress brain fog. It’s so hard to do basic tasks and remember things and feel that quickness of mind, or that energy you get from solving a hard problem or helping someone.

      Sometimes pushing through is helpful because it shows me, hey, I did it though! and I can use that energy to work through the rest of the list. But sometimes it’s helpful to take some stuff off, let my brain rest and recharge, just stare at a wall and daydream for a while. We have so many background programs running in our brain right now that the main programs are starting to slow down too.

      I had a big sewing project–I’d promised a loved one I’d make it for them, and I cut out all the pieces and was midway through it. Then the Coronanation attacked, and I had to repurpose my desk for work, and the sewing project moved to the floor. It got gross and bent from being on the floor. Because it was in the way, I couldn’t vacuum easily and the house got dirty; I couldn’t easily move the table so I could exercise. And every time I looked at that damn project I felt so awful and guilty, because I’d promised I’d make it, but I was just so tired. Why was I so tired from lying around all day, everyone else was making sourdough so I must be some kind of failure.

      Finally I realized how much this one half-finished project was impeding my mental health and my life as a whole. I picked it up and threw it in the garbage. My loved one did not mind. My life is much lighter and I can always start the project again if I want to in the future.

      So OP–if you can’t “force yourself” to finish it, don’t worry! A lot of us are right there with you, and maybe hitting pause on one big item in your life will free up some brainspace for other things. Don’t forget that we are still trying to work and live while sheltering in place in an unprecedented global pandemic. Best of luck to you.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Second this. I’ve been retraining for a career change. I work part time from home and my husband’s job is flexible, so in a way when the kids got sent home from school it was no big deal. But mentally it was! I struggle with the constant sounds in the background and with never ever being alone. And I could have pushed myself through 20 hours a week of coursework but I would have been a mess.

        OP, you’re probably the best judge of whether or not continuing to study will rejuvenate you or drain you. Either is possible, and don’t be ashamed of either. And people, I think, will understand in future if you just say “coronavirus.” Heck, the year 2020 alone may fill in all the gaps they need.

    2. MK*

      Also, I am not convinced that Alison is right about it not being a big deal. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but for a lot of employers it would definitely be a black mark against the candidate, especially if you cannot point to a specific circumstance that made finishing the degree extraordinarily difficult but has now been resolved. If you can explain that you were dealing with children at home and an increased workload, plus the stress of the situation, so the degree had to take a back seat, that’s understandable. But the weight of life is unlikely to go away and Covid doesn’t look like easing up anytime soon, and if you are applying for a high-stress job, a hiring manager might wonder if you will be able to handle it.

        1. MK*

          It may be cultural but in my country not finishing a masters is not a good look. Granted the overwhelming majority of programs are part-time and very accommodating, both about personal problems and the demands of your job.

        2. TechWorker*

          While I was studying I started an online EdX comp sci course that required a reasonable number of study hours. I got 2/3 of the way through but didn’t complete it because I had to focus on finals. One interviewer *definitely* saw that as a negative even though I explained why (well you dropped out so you can’t be *that* interested).

          (In the end I talked them into giving me a job offer but then accepted one somewhere else with a higher salary.. still here 6 years later, was in fact interested in the field :p)

          1. Annony*

            If the OP has no intention of ever finishing the degree, it may be better to leave it off. If it is just a break, then it is easy to explain: “With everything so uncertain in education right now I didn’t feel like I was getting as much out of it as I had hoped. I’m waiting until it is either safe to have classes in person again or they have worked the kinks out of remote learning.”

            However if the Op does not want to finish ever, they need to be prepared to talk about why it isn’t worth it to them. Did they change career goals and the degree will no longer help? Were they working full time while also taking classes and decided it was more important to prioritize work? There are many good explanations, but unless the classes are very relevant to the job they are applying to, it may be easier to not open the door to those questions.

      1. Kara S*

        Is the pandemic not reason enough for OP to have stopped attending? There are many reasons why someone would not complete school during COVID-19: being high risk, living with someone who is high risk, loss of income, childcare, no desire to do a partial or full program online, and severely impacted mental health to name a few. It would strike me as odd that an employer would count this against someone given what is currently going on in the world.

        1. MK*

          All the things you list fall into the “specific circumstance” I mentioned. Pandemic-related reasons are one thing, the pandemic itself not so much. If you can’t handle the stress of an online masters program during Covid, I doubt you can handle that of my job under the best circumstances.

          1. Metadata minion*

            That seems like a really weird comparison. For some people it would be true; for others absolutely not. Grad school can take over your life in a way that a decent job shouldn’t unless you’re quite high-level. Work often has much more granular goals and is more collaborative than many master’s programs unless you’re in a lab setting, so it’s easier to keep motivation going. And paid employment has the obvious motivation that it gives you money while many graduate programs only pay a stipend or cost significant amounts of money instead.

            1. MK*

              It is high level (and high status), extremely well-paid and it does take over your life to a significant degree. But our experience has shown that unless you have the ability, either innately or by training yourself and adapting, to handle the stress and the workload, the compensations won’t help you power through, at least long term.

              I get that this won’t be an issue in all jobs and with all employers. I just bring it up as a possibility, as we don’t know what the OP’s field is like. She might be better off leaving the attempt at a masters off her resume altogether, especially balanced against how relevant one year of grad school is likely to be. That’s also field dependent; in mine (law in a small EU country) one year of grad school coursework is not going to enhance your resume.

              1. No Tribble At All*

                Ah okay, Law is pretty binary “do you legally have the qualification or not.” OP, in my field (engineering) I know half my coworkers who’ve started Masters programs have dropped. One because of work getting in the way, one because he failed out… mine is another 10-20 hours a week on top of a (45) hour work week. I completely understand getting overwhelmed. Some classes are better than no classes! It’s okay!

          2. MCL*

            I don’t think that’s a very generous perspective. Online students have other pieces of their lives that are totally up-ended by COVID. I advise students in a master’s program who have suddenly had to figure out child care, the loss of their or their partner’s income, illness of themselves or a family member, just like everyone else. If all that were going on in my life right now, I think one of the things I would do would be to cut out stuff that is taking up even more mental energy and money. I definitely don’t blame them for re-prioritizing!

          3. Ben Marcus Consulting*

            There is no way a reasonable hiring manager is going to falt someone for pausing or discontinuing online coursework during the pandemic. Education is almost a luxury when you can be sure where the funds for your next month’s rent is going to come from.

            We need to be better people than this statement of gatekeeping shows us to be.

      2. Kait*

        (LW) I was definitely concerned about this, but I think I’m going to take her advice, with the ultimate guide of “If an an employer cares more about that than anything else, that employer is going to be unlikely to make humanistic decisions I will approve of in other areas as well.” Failing out would be one thing, but evaluating something while you’re doing it and making a decision to discontinue an approach that’s not working should be a boon, not a demerit, to the eyes of a good employer.

    3. Justme, the OG*

      I’m in an online grad program. I work full time and I’ve also been educating a middle schooler. I kind of feel that “a sense of accomplishment keeps me going” is crap. I urge OP to take time off if they need to. Rethink it in a semester. Life doesn’t end if they decide not to do it any more.

      1. MK*

        It’s not crap, it’s just not universal. Some people might indeed be energized by feeling that they are powering through despite the chaos the world is in, others might find their energy sapped and their attention wavering.

      2. EPLawyer*

        A sense of accomplishment has led to so much stress right now. Soooo many people bragging about learning a new language, baking bread, taking up painting, etc. while other people are all I got out of bed today. The latter feel like failures because they aren’t “bettering” themselves during this time.

        You can only do what you can do. If dropping the Master’s is the ONE thing you feel you can control right now, do it. If you change your mind later, you probably can come back to it. Heck Dr. Brian May dropped his Ph.D back in the 70s/80s. He went back to it in 2000.

    4. Lena Carabina*

      Yes, yes, yes, to all of this!
      I also really love the idea of studying turtle folk songs at a tortoise university ♡

      1. Teapot Librarian*

        Me too! Now I know what I want to go back to school for, if I decide I need a third graduate degree in a completely different field than my first two.

    5. Kait*

      Hi Jennifer!
      Master’s LW here. I very much appreciate your support and kind words! My motivations for not sticking with it were more about answering “How do I want to spend my free time?” I have a full-time (WFH) job, in addition to freelancing and (absolutely non-revenue-producing) hobby projects, as well. As the degree went on, I found myself shrinking my world down to work, school, freelancing … and then running out of time. In the 1-week (at most) break between classes, I’d try to cram in a book or two, but it was difficult to even find time to walk every day to get some exercise.
      I finally reached a breaking point after my last class, which had zero days break between it and the next. I realized I was a) not enjoying the actual work of school, b) doing things (assignments) necessary for the degree but not really enhancing my understanding or skills, and c) paying money, to boot, on top of all the mental weight of COVID.
      I have always wanted to be a person with a master’s degree (smart people have master’s!), but I realized I’d much prefer to learn those things on my own, in my own way, at my own pace, and spend more of my time being happy. I’m fortunate that my field (software development) supports and in some way encourages self-learning, and sees it as at least roughly equivalent to a degree. So I’m not giving up on learning, just not worrying about the piece of paper at the end!

  9. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP3, please don’t let Pam’s performance influence your desire to bring Jim back. That would be punishing him for his wife’s horrid attitude and performance.

    OP4: Run far far away as fast as you can!

    1. Casper Lives*

      Yep don’t punish Jim for Pam! That said, I’d be listening carefully to see if Jim gives pushback for not hiring Pam back. If Jim asks why Pam wasn’t brought back once, say you just didnt have the room. Or tell him you know they’re married but you don’t talk about other employees. If he keeps asking, it would get tedious.

  10. Lisa*

    LW1, If the company really is at risk of going under, then it could be an uphill battle to get back wages if they are refusing to pay you. A few factors I’d be inclined to consider, were I in your predicament: 1) how blatantly can you get your boss to participate in documentation of the fraud he is asking you to help him commit (which is what is happening), such as moving most conversations on the topic to email rather than verbal. 2) how clearly can you document any ongoing work that you do decide perform, such as bcc’ing your personal account on work emails, making screenshots during the work day, taking geotagged photos of you being physically in a work-related location, or keeping phone records? Do you have clients or coworkers who would vouch that you were still working those hours or weeks? 3) look as closely as you are able to how your state is managing unemployment, including PUA, overall. For instance, my state has been heavily backlogged, but action has been taken, with top-level staffing changes and governor-level pledges, and I’ve been able to see improved systems come online. I’ve also been able to see an overall compassionate attitude in play here (which hasn’t always been the case in the past) where they appear to honestly just trying to take care of people as quickly as they can. I recently received checks for two missing weeks from April. I know someone who had a difficult situation that couldn’t be filed online and she spent several weeks redialing the number, while taking her dog on long walks. She eventually got through and got approved. It was a lot of work, but it just sort of became her new part-time job for a while, and was less stressful than working for a boss who wants you to not pay you and commit crimes. This varies by state and media coverage can be spotty but if you ask around your local contacts, you will find people with useful anecdotes. Maybe your state agency are being awful people about it, it just really varies. 4) When you worry about losing income, think less in terms of cash flow than in being made whole over time. This mindset has been my saving grace. Mortgage, rent, utilities, credit cards, insurance companies… everyone is potentially prepared to make concessions. Again, some are being better about it than others. But if you reach out to your various creditors and agencies now, you could find out hypothetically what would be available to you if you needed to live lean for a little while. It’s not normal times. I’m technically a “self-employed small business owner” right now, and frankly, in five years owning a business and 20 years owning a home, I have never had more access to cheap credit and flexibility than I have in the past four months. 5) Consider that the $600 weekly PUA bonus expires in just a few weeks, so even a short delay could cost you most of that. 6) I’m so sorry your boss is an a**. Get a new job when you can, no matter what! Good luck!

  11. grainne6*

    It isn’t illegal in the UK to ask about the number of sick days but it isn’t a question employers should ask.
    As a general principle, it is not permissible for an employer to ask a job applicant any questions about their health or disability until they have been offered a job other than to determine if the employee can perform functions that are key to the position (eg the job involves heavy lifting) .
    The number of sick days you have taken isn’t protected but if an employer turns down someone with a disability after asking this question (even if they didn’t know about the disability) they could leave themselves open to a discrimination case. It is legal to reject a candidate simply because they took a lot of sick days in their last position as long as they do not have a disability/chronic health condition.
    I have been asked this a few times in application forms and interviews, it’s not unusual in the UK unfortunately.
    It is worth noting that in the UK the legal minimum holiday entitlement for full time workers is 28 days and many employers pay for 7 sick days a year on top of this. There are a lot more legal protections for employees here but many employers see employees taking one off sick days regularly as a problem.
    For the OP, the employer won’t care about a couple of days for a cold but if you have taken, maybe 5 days off on hour occasions then that might hurt your chances.

      1. QA*

        cite your source, please? Which law makes asking illegal (not discriminating on the basis of the answer, which is Equality Act territory, but the mere act of asking)?

        1. momofpeanut*

          Well, here’s the language of your Equality Act Code of Practice, which seems pretty straightforward

          Pre-employment enquiries about disability and health
          10.25
          s.60
          employer to ask any job applicant about their disability or health until the applicant has been offered a job (on a conditional or unconditional basis) or has been included in a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job when a position becomes available. This includes asking such a question as part of the application process or during an interview. Questions relating to previous sickness absence are questions that relate to disability or health.
          10.26
          It is also unlawful for an agent or employee of an employer to ask questions about disability or health. This means that an employer cannot refer an applicant to an occupational health practitioner or ask an applicant to fill in a questionnaire provided by an occupational health practitioner before the offer of a job is made (or before acceptance into a pool of successful applicants) except in the circumstances set out below.

          1. JSPA*

            Highlighting, from this,

            “Questions relating to previous sickness absence are questions that relate to disability or health.”

        2. Esme*

          Yep. As above. My source is the Equality Act 2010 section 60 which makes it generally unlawful to ask questions about disability and health.

          Your comment relates to asking about some protected characteristics. Not about disability and health on which the law is more specific. Hope that helps

          1. Esme*

            From the actual legislation:

            Enquiries about disability and health

            (1)A person (A) to whom an application for work is made must not ask about the health of the applicant (B)—

            (a)before offering work to B, or

            (b)where A is not in a position to offer work to B, before including B in a pool of applicants from whom A intends (when in a position to do so) to select a person to whom to offer work.

  12. Jaybeetee*

    LW1: Honestly, if you can live with the risk of it, this sounds like a “quit your job and start driving for Uber immediately” situation. Just, this is so terrible and toxic, if there is a way for you to literally not spend another minute with this workplace, do it. Your boss is absolutely a shitgoblin.

    Also, glassdoor the hell out of that company when you go. Assuming they’re still in business.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      If you do so, he deserves for you not to give notice at all. Let him know after the fact “my last day was yesterday.” Or ghost him. And definitely don’t leave any sort of instructions for how to do your job. Leave him in the lurch.

      *Maybe* you might want to try to preserve the reference, but I doubt someone like him is going to give you a good reference no matter what you do.

      Depending on the nature of the business, you might also want to let clients know you’re leaving and just so happen to mention exactly why.

      Why yes, I am vindictive…

      1. Colette*

        If he’s not paying the OP, no notice is required- she already doesn’t work there.

        1. Willis*

          This!! I’d probably file for unemployment and argue that I was laid off rather than continue working for this guy. (And presumably all OP’s co-workers are filing for unemployment too, right?) This business sounds super unstable and this guy is obviously a fraud, so pretty unlikely they’re going to be in any position to be re-hiring their workforce in a few months or to pay the OP’s back wages. He’s just guilting the OP with the “oh, I need you to keep working so the rest of the team can come back….” Better to spend the time looking for a new job, and I agree with other people who suggested contacting a lawyer for direction on your unemployment claim.

        2. Jojo*

          And if he tries to deny her unemployment she can list the other employees as references that he laid everyone off.

  13. Gazebo Slayer*

    OP1: in addition to everything Alison said, I wonder if directly telling someone who works at your state unemployment office what your boss is doing might help. He is attempting to commit fraud, which is a crime.

    Sadly, you definitely aren’t the only person whose boss is doing this. I’ve seen at least one other letter to AAM in recent months about a very similar situation.

    Also, in some states (ok, at least one state, Massachusetts) nonpayment of wages is a felony. If your job is in Massachusetts, your boss could go to prison.

    Oh, and I love the phrase “absolute shitgoblin.”

    1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      I was thinking this, and also this might be one of those times where going to local news media might be in your best interests OP. If you already know you aren’t going back, napalm the bridge. Plus it gives you a handy paper trail for unemployment!

    2. old curmudgeon*

      The unemployment agency in my state has a fraud unit, and they welcome (and investigate) reports about things like this. Even if your state’s labor agency is overloaded and way behind, OP1, I would still recommend that you try to contact someone in their fraud unit to raise the alarm.

  14. KeysToTheKingdom*

    #4 – it’s not illegal for them to ask you this question, but it IS illegal for them to make a decision based on your answer (much like other random questions on forms, such as sexuality, age, race, etc.)

    Furthermore, if you share the information with them, you have the right in doing so under the impression it won’t be shared. If you feel it’s being shared without your consent, **even within the company**, this can violate some of your rights under the Data Protection Act. You can mitigate it by adding an extra note in this part of the application – “I exercise my rights under the Data Protection Act for this information to be kept undisclosed from other parties within the business without consent”, or so on.

    All of that being said, from experience, this is a red flag. Wanting to know something as specific as how many days you were off sick and the reasons for this are quite invasive and though the U.K. generally has quite a good sick day policy by law, needing to know the minor details is going a bit too far.

    1. Esme*

      Lots of people posting without actual knowledge – it is ABSOLUTELY NOT LEGAL to ask about the number of sick days on an application form, could people please stop misinforming the LW?

  15. OP4*

    Letter writer #4 here! Thanks for the perspective – this was a job in a charity/nonprofit sector which I haven’t worked in before, so it does sound like this is more typical in that field. I’m also not from the UK (I moved here from Canada 2 years ago) so I’m still learning some job-search conventions.
    Happily I was offered another role this week, just as I was made redundant from my current job, so things have a funny way of working out. I’m excited to get back to work after a long furlough.
    Hope everyone is staying safe and socially distant!

    1. Esme*

      Hi. Congrats on the job! Phew and yay!

      You’re getting some comments that are really poorly informed telling you this was ok – it really isn’t. I’ve posted a link to the Equality Advisory Service below – please report this to them, for the sake of the next person who applies!

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Congratulations :)

      It does seem to be one of those things that a lot ask automatically but really shouldn’t.

      In new job, main piece of advice – I don’t know how different it is in Canada – join a union.

      If your job doesn’t have one, or if you just want to window shop before you join, the TUC has a useful tool to find ones that cover your sector www (dot) tuc (dot) co (dot) uk/find-union-you (or google “tuc find union”). Then pick the one you like :)

      (I’m in Unite which is the largest catch-all union – I’m in IT. They are pretty good with getting back with advice and have some nice benefits.)

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely join a union. Most of the big companies I’ve worked for have had information at the tea points about the unions represented but as Akcipitrokulo says the TUC website can help you find one if not.

        I know different countries have different views and perceptions on union membership but I think if you can it’s a good thing to do in the UK context in most places. It’s also a good way to meet some of your colleagues and build networks.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          I’ve tended to find in my jobs – smaller/medium companies – it’s not widely publicised, especially if you’re the first! Last job had about 100 employees, and to my knowledge, 5 union members.

          It is still worth it. You get employment issue advice any time you want, legal backup and representation if necessary. They’ll send a rep in to accompany you to any disciplinary issues, help resolve discrimination or harassment issues and, if appropriate & needed, pay all legal fees for tribunal action.

          Not that I’d expect you to have to use any of that! It’s like wearing a seatbelt – it doesn’t mean you expect to be in a crash.

          I do like my discounts though ;)

          1. UKDancer*

            Ah ok, I’ve mainly worked in fairly large companies so maybe that’s why. The tea point has posters for the union, the chess club and sundry others. Not that I’m anywhere near it due to Covid at the moment.

            I agree about the discounts being great. I got my will made for free and a really great discount on some shopping vouchers. Fortunately I’ve never needed the legal advice.

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              Yeah – when I worked for one of utilities companies (3K+ employees) I think about half were in unison and there was more info around.

              I made bad mistake of letting membership lapse when on maternity leave… then didn’t have backup. Never again!

  16. Esme*

    I’m in the UK and can answer question #4 for you. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, they can’t legally ask this question – it is unlawful to ask questions about health or disability (other than on a separate, anonymised equal opportunities monitoring form) before either shortlisting you or offering a job.

    I would urge you to report them to the EHRC and whatever jobs site posted the vacancy.

    I will post a follow-up comment with links.

    1. Esme*

      Link to relevant explanation: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/employercode.pdf

      See page 126 which says:

      Pre-employment enquiries about disability and health

      10.25 Except in the specific circumstances set out below, it is unlawful for an employer to ask any job applicant about their disability or health until the applicant has been offered a job (on a conditional or unconditional basis) or has been included in a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job when a position becomes available. This includes asking such a question as part of the application process or during an interview. Questions relating to previous sickness absence are questions that relate to disability or health.

      Link to report them: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/contact-us/equality-advisory-and-support-service

      1. Peter*

        Esme.
        I am not a lawyer but you have missed subsection 3 of paragraph 60 – you only quoted a commentary on subsection 1.

        “A does not contravene a relevant disability provision merely by asking about B’s health; but A’s conduct in reliance on information given in response may be a contravention of a relevant disability provision.”

        I think that anyone basing their actions on your advice, whilst morally correct, is likely to discover they have been legally naive.

        This is a poor piece of legislation, but asking the question is not illegal. However, candidates do not need to answer this question in full.

        1. Peter*

          60Enquiries about disability and health
          (1)A person (A) to whom an application for work is made must not ask about the health of the applicant (B)—
          (a)before offering work to B, or
          (b)where A is not in a position to offer work to B, before including B in a pool of applicants from whom A intends (when in a position to do so) to select a person to whom to offer work.
          (2)A contravention of subsection (1) (or a contravention of section 111 or 112 that relates to a contravention of subsection (1)) is enforceable as an unlawful act under Part 1 of the Equality Act 2006 (and, by virtue of section 120(8), is enforceable only by the Commission under that Part).
          (3)A does not contravene a relevant disability provision merely by asking about B’s health; but A’s conduct in reliance on information given in response may be a contravention of a relevant disability provision.
          (4)Subsection (5) applies if B brings proceedings before an employment tribunal on a complaint that A’s conduct in reliance on information given in response to a question about B’s health is a contravention of a relevant disability provision.
          (5)In the application of section 136 to the proceedings, the particulars of the complaint are to be treated for the purposes of subsection (2) of that section as facts from which the tribunal could decide that A contravened the provision.
          (6)This section does not apply to a question that A asks in so far as asking the question is necessary for the purpose of—
          (a)establishing whether B will be able to comply with a requirement to undergo an assessment or establishing whether a duty to make reasonable adjustments is or will be imposed on A in relation to B in connection with a requirement to undergo an assessment,
          (b)establishing whether B will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned,
          (c)monitoring diversity in the range of persons applying to A for work,
          (d)taking action to which section 158 would apply if references in that section to persons who share (or do not share) a protected characteristic were references to disabled persons (or persons who are not disabled) and the reference to the characteristic were a reference to disability, or
          (e)if A applies in relation to the work a requirement to have a particular disability, establishing whether B has that disability.
          (7)In subsection (6)(b), where A reasonably believes that a duty to make reasonable adjustments would be imposed on A in relation to B in connection with the work, the reference to a function that is intrinsic to the work is to be read as a reference to a function that would be intrinsic to the work once A complied with the duty.
          (8)Subsection (6)(e) applies only if A shows that, having regard to the nature or context of the work—
          (a)the requirement is an occupational requirement, and
          (b)the application of the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
          (9)“Work” means employment, contract work, a position as a partner, a position as a member of an LLP, a pupillage or tenancy, being taken as a devil, membership of a stable, an appointment to a personal or public office, or the provision of an employment service; and the references in subsection (1) to offering a person work are, in relation to contract work, to be read as references to allowing a person to do the work.
          (10)A reference to offering work is a reference to making a conditional or unconditional offer of work (and, in relation to contract work, is a reference to allowing a person to do the work subject to fulfilment of one or more conditions).
          (11)The following, so far as relating to discrimination within section 13 because of disability, are relevant disability provisions—
          (a)section 39(1)(a) or (c);
          (b)section 41(1)(b);
          (c)section 44(1)(a) or (c);
          (d)section 45(1)(a) or (c);
          (e)section 47(1)(a) or (c);
          (f)section 48(1)(a) or (c);
          (g)section 49(3)(a) or (c);
          (h)section 50(3)(a) or (c);
          (i)section 51(1);
          (j)section 55(1)(a) or (c).
          (12)An assessment is an interview or other process designed to give an indication of a person’s suitability for the work concerned.
          (13)For the purposes of this section, whether or not a person has a disability is to be regarded as an aspect of that person’s health.
          (14)This section does not apply to anything done for the purpose of vetting applicants for work for reasons of national security.

          http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/60

          1. Hrodvitnir*

            Having not read all of that, this is impressively poorly written. A simplification based on my reading:

            (1) An employer “must not ask about the health of the applicant.” The quoted part is obviously verbatim. It’s not unclear, the wording is “must not ask”.

            Subsection covering not asking applicants regardless of whether you are specifically planning to hire that specific person right now.

            (2) Contravening (1) is unlawful.

            (3) Just asking about an applicant’s health does not contravene (1), but acting on it does.

            1 and 3 seem completely, clearly, directly contradictory. Good god.

    2. Alanis*

      However, if you are applying for public sector there will likely be a section that asks for all kinds of questions that might seem illegal like gender, ethnicity, relationship status, religion and whether you have a disability. I just checked our application form and it clearly states that the info is collected separately for anonymised monitoring purposes. As a hiring manager we never see any of that and we also do not see any identifying information like names and addresses while shortlisting.
      I understand that some organisations may be different but it’s not always sinister.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Agreed on the monitoeing questions – they help to monitor diversity and highlight trends or hiring/applicant pattern issues, especially in larger companies (“what is wrong with our hiring processes that people from (group) don’t apply?”).

        That doesn’t include the sick day question though.

    3. Batgirl*

      I’m going to try that Esme with one of our authority’s catch-all forms. I bloody hate that question and I dont even have any health issues.

  17. Polo*

    4 – I (from the U.K.) got the same question from my job and didn’t think of it as a red flag at the time (new to job searching as I am). The company is fantastic for disability accommodations and sick leave etc. – all the more so with the coronavirus. So I wouldn’t be super concerned about it being automatically a bad sign.

    As far as I’m aware (and I could absolutely be wrong) it’s illegal to ask a candidate before the interview, but is okay to ask after being interviewed and given a conditional offer. Then it’s illegal again to withdraw the offer based on disability reasons. So if they did try and discriminate it would be pretty easy to prove it, as you’d already have the offer and have specified that your absence was for disability. They couldn’t pull an ‘oh we just have a better candidate’ excuse.

  18. Esme*

    #1 I think in your shoes I would document the fact you’ve been told you’re being laid off / not paid, file for unemployment, refuse to keep working and look for another job. I would not do the work.

    I am surprised Alison says there’s no liability for you if you keep working and file for unemployment – aren’t you then knowingly making a false claim? (Here in the UK that’s a criminal offence.) I think if you’re going to claim you must stop working, end of.

    1. TechWorker*

      I think Alison pointed out above that if no money is changing hands then it might not count? I doubt it’s illegal to volunteer and claim unemployment?

      (And yes, it’s not legal to volunteer at a for profit doing your own job… but that would be on the employer not OP)

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      She wouldn’t be making a false claim if he’s not paying her. The legal aspect of this situation is 100% on OP’s boss, not OP.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I think a big difference in the UK is that your former employer has nothing to do with your benefit claim and could not scupper it in the way OPs employer is threatening to do.
      I am ont sure that OP would have a problem even here, as they would be able to state honestly that they were not in employment and were available for work (since if they were working unpaid there is nothing the employer could do if they left without notice to take up a new job, or to go to an interview)
      But working and not getting paid at least minimum wage would be illegal here as well.
      Probably the biggest risk would be that they might not believe that you were working for nothing, and assume instead that you were getting paid cash in hand, in which case you might wind up being investigated for tax evasion and benefit fraud

      1. Batgirl*

        “could not scupper it in the way OPs employer is threatening to do”
        I suppose not. They’d need evidence of the verbal and written warnings going back weeks pre-firing, whereas OP probably has loads of evidence on her email to the contrary.

    4. Batgirl*

      It’s not benefit fraud if you’re working for free. It’s only illegal if you’re getting cash under the table on top of benefits and even that would clearly be by the employer’s design – not paying legitimately etc.

  19. Green great dragon*

    #2 – I’m not commenting on the wider picture, but I wanted to say I appreciate my team. I appreciate the ones who are on their way to higher things and may be managing me someday, and I think I appreciate even more the ones who aren’t, who I wouldn’t recommend for promotion but who do a fantastic job every day and know far more about the details than I ever will (and cheerfullly fill me in when I pop up to say how on earth does situation x come about and what do I have to do about it).

    I’m not saying you are one of those people! But appreciating what you do doesn’t necessarily have lot to do with whether you’re the best person for a different job.

  20. Retail not Retailns*

    Op4 and for all those answering – what if you can’t remember (especially after the chaos of 2020) or if this entry level?

    This year I finagled a few sick days into vacation/personal since we have more of those. And one week I worked 2 different days to make up for it. Also, is it a sick day if it’s retail and unpaid?

    1. Polo*

      For me, for an entry level job, I contacted my university and asked them what days I’d missed. We had a bad system at uni where I often forgot to bleep my card and prove I’d attended, so I had a lot more missing attendances than actual sick days. I consulted with my housemates to figure out which were legitimate, then submitted that number and specified that they were the days I’d missed for sickness, which is true. Didn’t have any issues with that or get asked for further details.

      From what I remember from the specific detail they asked for, they wanted days that I would have spent off while I was unemployed/not in school too. So if I wasn’t working but would have been too sick to work, I had to include that. But yours might not be asking for that specifically, I don’t know.

      1. Retail not Retailns*

        Wow! That attention to detail reminds me of my federal background check – and they still didn’t get that personal! (You were unemployed for a month and living at X – provide a name to prove unemployment and residency.)

    2. Alex (UK)*

      I’ve generally gone with an estimate – a couple of days per year that they’re asking about. Whether it’s accurate or not I don’t know, but it sounds about right and if a company wants to not employ me because I’ve taken a reasonable amount of sick days, then that’s on them and I’ll be glad not to work for them. As far as I know it’s never actually been checked in my case, although I do remember a manager getting a reference request for an ex-colleague once where the question was asked of her. She declined to answer.

  21. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I think another reason that “I appreciate you” is grating is that it’s different from the norm. Your brain just slides right over “Thank You” as it’s the normal response and you don’t have to spend energy on it. However “I appreciate you” is not what you’re used to, you don’t know the next part in the social equation by heart like “You’re Welcome” to “Thank You”.

    It’s like how in my retail job I get tired of being asked “how are you” but at least I know what to say, when someone asks it in a ‘clever’ way like “How’s [my name] today?” it feels like I’m supposed to have a different response than normal and struggle to think of one.

    the different interaction burns more spoons.

  22. Bob*

    LW1: I don’t know if you have done the application already but either way don’t just collect evidence that your working illegally, create it
    Next time you speak to him record everything with your phone (using an app and assuming one party consent is all that is required for your location). Have it running in your pocket or purse and make sure by testing with someone else that it will record what you and another parson in the same room are saying while not in the open. Or leave it on the table recording if already an normal place you keep it.
    Tell him your concerns that this is not allowed and that making you work otherwise your job and everyone else’s job would be gone is a lot to put on your shoulders.
    He will rationalize and whatever. Just say ok, i see. Save your recording as soon as you leave and now you have him hanging himself with enough rope to take to the authorities.
    Save a backup copy.

    1. Liane*

      Why do people keep suggesting “Secretly record them”? IANAL but this isn’t a helpful suggestion. Among other things, many states legally require both/all parties consent to recordings.

      1. Eillah*

        …Because some states, such as New York, do not have that requirement. If she’s in a state where only one party needs to know about the recording, then it’s good advice.

      2. Bob*

        Because its direct evidence and i did say “assuming one party consent is all that is required for your location”. And in many locations it is, but of course double check with the Google.
        If the OP wishes to speak to a lawyer first before doing anything thats a very reasonable idea as well.

      3. EPLawyer*

        In this case, I totally would if the OP continues to “work” there. Presuming it is a one party state. Normal work place issues, nah no need to get that deep. THIS. Where fraud is being committed and the employee is basically being extorted by her boss (thank you whoever up above characterized it as this, it is exactly what it is)? Heck yeah.

  23. Project Manager*

    LW2 – I am in a really similar situation. I’ve been working as, effectively but not in name, Alice’s deputy for almost two years. After some personnel moves, the department created a new position taking on a mix of duties of one of the people who moved and Alice’s duties – including a couple of specific ones that I was performing. It was a promotion and was effectively the work I was already doing, so I applied for it. They picked someone else. I understand why, and honestly, I’d have picked him over me as well, but despite that, there’ve been a couple moments when Alice asked me to take on a task, and I’ve thought, “Isn’t that something YOUR DEPUTY should do??” So I definitely get having that internal reaction to a statement that really wasn’t meant that way and needing to manage it in the moment.

    The difference in our situations, though, is that Alice and the manager both separately sat down with me and told me that while this position didn’t work out, they still think I have a lot of potential, and they offered me some specific new work that would help me build my skills up to be ready for the next opening. It sounds like your management did pretty much the opposite of that. Unfortunately, you may need to consider moving.

    1. Formerly in HR*

      This. I read the comment from management that they cannot see anything else the LW should do as ‘there is nothing to improve, there is no requirement of the promotion job that you’re not already meeting’. Rather than ‘we cannot see you doing another job than the you have right now‘. I have heard the exact same wording at times and it only made it more awkward for the rejected candidates to know there was nothing they should or could improve to increase their chances for getting that desired job. It felt like there no chance of it happening.

  24. Perpal*

    OP1 – if you can manage it go ahead and file, and don’t “work” (volunteer) – apply for other jobs. Either way it sounds like boss isn’t going to pay you right now, you are the mercy of the unemployment system’s speed, and at least this way you don’t have to deal with sleezeboss anymore and can focus on applying to new places. Definitely document the conversation if you can, though, and report it.

  25. Wintermute*

    #1: a lot of people are intimidated by the UI system and for good reason, but most states work roughly similar– you file a claim stating the reason that you are seeking and they make an “initial determination of eligibility”, your employer is contacted and they can dispute that if they wish (in my experience they almost always do, grounds to do so or not), at which point they will either make a revised determination or go right to having a hearing.

    Another thing that people often fail to realize is that what your employer is contemplating is a felony in every state I know of. Bad faith disputes are often hard to prove, and rarely prosecuted, but this isn’t a case of someone fired and they say it was for routine incompetence but the boss claims it was malicious (most states if you’re fired for just being bad at your job you are still eligible, you’re only ineligible if you are fired for attendance, insubordination, malicious actions or a crime) but this isn’t like that, your case is SO cut-and-dried (he isn’t paying you and wants to pretend he is) that if he does go through with this,
    You may want to ask to speak to the fraud department if he files a bogus dispute. It depends on your state whether the fraud department would take over handling your dispute, whether they would run parallel to the normal UI determination hearing, or whether you’d have the hearing first and when you’re found in the right and his claims are found to be a lie then the fraud department could get involved.

    There are some things you can do to protect yourself by setting yourself up in a good position to win the initial determination and any redetermination before a hearing. First, if you’ve already gone past when you should have gotten a paycheck, make sure to file an unpaid wages claim with the state, and be absolutely sure to put unpaid wages/failure to pay as the reason you are seeking unemployment on your UI forms. This means when he gets a chance to dispute what he is disputing is not “quit or laid off” what he is disputing is “paid or failed to pay”. If they ask him “have you paid him for all hours worked?” and he says “he quit”, that doesn’t answer their question. The evidence UI will be looking for is not evidence of a layoff, but evidence of payment for hours worked. If you can get proof of his threat that would be absolutely golden but I wouldn’t hold out hope unless you’re a one-party-consent recording state and you can have the conversation naturally somehow.

    Also, it’s possible to get out in front of it, have evidence of hours worked, have evidence you failed to receive a payment (time sheets or other proof of work, if you don’t have time sheets then make sure to record what you did and when yo udid it, if you can’t do any of that you may need witness statements), you may need to provide bank account statements as well, anything you can that prove the situation. File your wage claim at the same time you file UI, provide the wage claim case number to the UI agency. The MOMENT a human being is assigned to your claim, and you have a claim in the UI system, call in, you will be on hold forever, but talk to your case manager, tell them your boss is attempting to extort you for unpaid labor by threatening to lie to them, tell them you have documentation you would like on the record, ask what you can do to ensure prompt handling if he files baseless claims. Tell them you have an open unpaid wage claim with the dept. of labor or your state’s equivalent as well.

    Good luck. I know this is scary but you can fight this, you can win, and there’s a good chance that if you press it you can make him face real consequences for his callous and cruel behavior. And remember, you’re already not being paid, this guy is probably going to go under anyway so any promise of future restitution (without a court ordering it) is a lie to keep you on the hook and working for free, any delay in UI he causes you will be no worse than if you kept working for free, this is worth fighting, and fighting is likely the only way you will ever see a dime.

    1. Liane*

      Regarding Wintermute’s suggestion to contact you UI department’s fraud division.
      It’s a great idea, probably the best suggestion (besides “leave this toxic waste dump boss”) in the comments. But Fraud Department will most likely be slow to respond as well. In my state, their phone line and webpage now have messages that those employees are helping with the many regular claimant calls only. There is an email address given for fraud issues, but I wonder when the people tasked with checking/responding have time to do so.

      I also wish you luck, OP.

      1. Liane*

        Please don’t take my comment as meaning “Don’t bother reporting to UI Fraud division.” It is just a caution not to expect a fast response.
        Do report it to UI Fraud (& maybe your state’s Attorney General) when you are ready; “shitgoblin” should pay for (trying to) pull this scam and dragging you into it.

      2. Persephone Underground*

        I think it’s still worth it, just useful to know that they are likely backed up just like the rest of the office. I think it might help the OP’s peace of mind to be able to say she left a message/sent an email reporting the behavior right away (she should keep a written record of it somewhere safe), but didn’t feel comfortable risking defying her boss at the time. That way she has proof she wasn’t complicit to cover her worries about getting in legal trouble herself. Alison is correct as far as I know (not a llama), but it might make her feel better to have that as backup to prove she didn’t willingly go along with it.

    2. Batgirl*

      “They can dispute that if they wish (in my experience they almost always do, grounds to do so or not)”
      I’m old enough to know better but why?! What business is it of theirs at that point to make groundless complaints?!

  26. nep*

    re #5–Glad to see that. This is what I’ve been putting on my resume, ‘Coursework.’

  27. Colette*

    #3 – If you bring back some of the team, no explanation required (but you could give one if you want). If you bring back everyone but Pam, I think you do have to explain.

    1. Snuck*

      I had to scroll HUNDREDS of comments to find some love for #3! Hurrah!

      My thinking is that if you are hiring back all but Pam you’ll need to have a chat with Pam… face to face is probably best given her husband works with you, and for greater team morale.

      If you are bringing back less than 80% of the team, then I’d contact the “not yet” ones and tell them (phone call please!, follow up with email confirming your messaging)… “Thanks, we know you were keen to come back, but due to current project deliverables, skill sets, previous performance and the new way we are needing to move forward post shut down we won’t be needing you in the near future, and possibly not at all. Please act accordingly on your end, and we will reach out if we need you, but right now it’s looking like we can manage this without you and for business security in the long run that’s what we’re going with.”

      And then contact the “yes come back” group. Schedule Pam for a call first. Schedule Jim for one later in the same day. Schedule them with an email meeting appointment “Hi Pam, Can we please chat about your request to return to **Business at 10am on Tuesday” – send one of these to EVERY person if your employees are under 20. Make them 15minute time slots, and if people want to go over that for longer say “I’m really sorry, I need to talk to everyone today, can we make a time to talk more tomorrow, I have another call I need to make now.”

      If you are bringing back all but one or two… then you really need to make the NO calls first. And give them half an hour and have feedback ready for if they ask why they haven’t got the job. Also have laid out before the call what you can offer them – references, any severance pay they are entitled to that you might need to pay, if your team is safe to do it maybe even a group farewell lunch (depending on COVID etc in your area). If they want…

      Do not do ANY of this via email blast. Even the YES people deserve a call, and the NO ones in particular.

  28. Persephone Underground*

    My last office had some use of “I appreciate you”, and I actually loved it, though it was used as a bit more than “thank you”. It became a bit of a happy in-joke that there was one particularly tough/serious woman who used it. If she said “I appreciate you” it meant you really did something big! I never knew it was more common among African Americans, which someone mentioned above, but that office was heavily black women so it fits that pattern (the woman in question was a tough black woman, very well respected no-nonsense type).

  29. Dagny*

    LW3: maybe pointing out the obvious here, but a married couple would usually prefer to have one income rather than zero incomes. Not that their finances are really your business, but it’s important to remember that you aren’t helping them by bringing neither of them back. If Jim feels slighted that you won’t hire Pam as well, then he’s more than capable of making the decision to leave and find something else.

  30. LGC*

    LW3 – so wait, your team had a married couple working together?! I feel like that’s reason enough to at least try to get Pam on another team.

    LW2 – In addition, I think it’s kind of a variation on saying “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” I’m a chronic apologizer, and I’ll often say “I’m sorry” when I mean, “I understand this is an inconvenience to you, coworker.” (Instead of how a lot of people hear “I’m sorry,” which is, “I made a mistake, coworker, and I regret it.”)

    Also, this is going to sound nuclear, but I’d consider getting out of your job, or at least re-examining where you’re going. This sounds like one of those letters where there’s a MUCH bigger question under the relatively innocuous initial question – it sounds like missing out on this promotion hit REALLY hard for you, and it still stings. (Which is fine!)

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      #3 – as long as one wasn’t reporting to the other, there’s no major issues with a couple working on the same team. Maybe not ideal, but there’s no conflict of interest. OP just needs to be honest with Jim and Pam – they have a legitimate reason for not wanting her back. And if Jim is mad about the job not being offered to his wife, he can decide to say no.

    2. t*

      Oh hah, I’ve got 3 married couples and a mother/son combo all on my (60 person) team. It happens. None of them manage each other and we assess their work independently. I would have no problem letting one half of either of those pairs go if they weren’t working out. It’s not personal, it’s business.

  31. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP4 – UK here – yes I have been asked in past, and yes it is a dodgy question.

    Charitably, it may be a holdover from when it was a done thing and no-one has thought to question its continued inclusion. It leaves the company open to legal action under Equality Act 2010, in the same way as asking a woman if she intends to have children would.

    You could just leave it blank on application form.

    It might also be worth finding out if there’s a union that covers your area that does unemployed memberships?

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Clarification on “dodginess” of question…

      It is illegal to ask this.

      Equality Act 2010, section 60.

      (Learned this today as had been under impression was merely very stupid that left employer open to action.)

      Dropping a line to EHRC to report would be useful!

      Reporting form for “report pre-employment health questions” is here…

      ehrcweb.wufoo.com/forms/qiy7vch1sz9016/

  32. Scarlet*

    What the actual F OP#1. My jaw literally dropped. Isn’t this extortion or something? Can you get a recording of him or something making this threat so you can forward it to the proper authorities? I can’t believe someone would do this to people during a freakin pandemic and national economic emergency.

      1. Scarlet*

        I meant more like “this is crazy” rather than “I cannot actually believe this”, but yeah, I agree 100%. Sad that people take advantage of others in a time like this. I seriously hope karma is a thing and comes back around on them.

  33. Love AAM community*

    OP3, don’t bring up Pam at all. Just offer a job for Jim.

    Hey, what about Pam?
    ‘ I am only able to offer Jim.. Unfortunately we can’t bring Pam back’.

    So when can you bring Pam in??
    Unfortunately we can’t bring Pam back’.

    Why?
    We are going with the right fit for the job and the Team.

    Note: In future, As a manager, you have to be very specific that employees / contractors cannot bring Their past time work or personal work to their full time job. (1. they are getting paid twice for their time (when it’s the same company) 2. It messes up with your Team productivity and timelines and 3. You are paying for their time and not getting any value in return) I’d have fired them after one warning.

  34. EnfysNest*

    Is it still valid to include credits towards a master’s program if it wasn’t that recent? I did some graduate coursework for a semester in 2013, but didn’t complete the program because of a few different things including the departure of multiple professors I’d planned to work with, finding out that my advisor had misled me on the program (it was supposed to be an accelerated program, but it turned out that no one had actually completed it in that time frame without coming in with outside credits to apply), and some non-academic personal situations. I would of course find a better way to word my reasoning than all of that if I was asked about it, but is it better just to leave that semester of work off altogether to avoid being asked about it?

    1. No Tribble At All*

      (Speculating here w/no personal experience) depends how relevant the coursework was. For example, if it was Intro To Llama Grooming but you’re applying for a Teapot Painting position, leave it off. If it was Llama Grooming II and you’re applying for Alpaca Grooming, and you feel you still remember information from and & it’s relevant, sure, list it. It sounds like it was only for a semester, so I don’t know how specialized the classes would be.

      When I transferred colleges in undergrad I listed the old one as “Teapot Institute, 36 credit-hours earned, GPA blah/blah”. Since it was my freshman year there weren’t any specific classes that are useful ;) but I’d list those as “Selected Courses: Advanced Llama Grooming, Ungulate Foot Care”

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Unless you can point to clear and specific reasons that the coursework applies to the job, I’d leave it off. This is probably dependent on industry and the grad program.

    3. Generic Name*

      I’d say it depends on how directly relevant the courses are to your field of work. Like if you work in accounts receivable and your graduate courses were in accounting, then yes. But if you work in AR but the courses are say 17th century French literature, not so much.

    4. EnfysNest*

      Thanks, that all makes sense. They are relevant as long as I stay in my current field. My bachelor’s is in architectural engineering and the master’s would have been structural engineering – two of the courses were directly about structural analysis and design and one was a math course (finite element method) that was a prerequisite for later classes. (Plus a 1-credit communication class, but that doesn’t matter as much.)

  35. Grey*

    The answer to #1 makes me a bit nervous. I wouldn’t suggest working while collecting unemployment. “I’m working but my boss stopped paying me” isn’t a legit reason to file for unemployment, so you’d have to lie about it. Also, unemployment typically requires you to certify every week that you are not working, you have not declined work, and that you’ve been looking for work. You’d have to lie about that too.

    Sure, the penalty might only be that you have to pay back the money, but I’d be sure of that first.

    1. Grey*

      Another thought: You might have to pay back the unemployment even if your boss can’t afford to repay your back wages.

    2. Grey*

      I see that this was addressed further up because I didn’t read all the comments first, but I still think lying to collect unemployment is a very bad idea.

    3. Observer*

      If boss is not paying, that’s a totally legitimate reason to collect unemployment. Especially since boss explicitly said that he’s not paying. Not “delaying payment” but NOT PAYING.

      The OP doesn’t need to lie about anything. All they need to do (and they should do it regardless) is to start hunting for a job.

      1. Grey*

        I think you misunderstood what I was saying, “I’m working but my boss stopped paying me” is not a valid reason.

    4. Batgirl*

      Its not work if you’re not being paid. OP doesn’t have to worry about being extorted for free labour (I mean she does, but not about whether it means that she’s a perpetrator)

      1. Grey*

        Yes, it does count as work if you’re not being paid and the boss would still be legally required to pay her for that work.

        If you work and you don’t get your paycheck, you report your employer to the labor board and they’ll force him to pay. You don’t file for unemployment if your working.

        If you want the unemployment, you stop working. Then, if your boss denies your claim, you contest it by reporting his refusal to pay wages.

  36. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 – just be honest with both of them. You have a legitimate reason to not ask Pam to come back – you can’t prioritize another job over your full time one (I mean, you can, but don’t expect to get away with it for very long). If it causes drama within their marriage, that’s not your concern. If it causes drama with Jim at work, then you shut it down. If Jim decides not to come back because you also didn’t bring back Pam, that’s on him. Do what’s best for your company.

  37. Sara without an h*

    OP#2, you’re focussing so hard on your irritation about the silly phrase — and I agree with you, it’s silly — that you’re missing the big red flag they just waved in your face: “they cannot picture me doing anything other than what I currently do.”

    Your senior leadership has just flat out told you that they don’t want to promote you, and you’re upset by “I appreciate you”???

    Let them “appreciate” you all they want, but you need to update your resume and LinkedIn profile and start looking for another job. Alison posted a guide to her archived job search advice a couple of days ago. Scroll down the page until you find it, then start looking for another position. It will take some time, under present circumstances, but it can be done. You’ve essentially been told that you’ve gone as far as you can go at your present firm, and there’s no use hanging around.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yes. “We can’t picture you doing anything else” was just about the worst thing they could have said (to someone who wants to learn and grow) short of “you’re fired.” Run away and don’t look back.

  38. Person from the Resume*

    I found this irritating to begin with and did my best to ignore it, but after being rejected for a promotion, it now feels very uncomfortable.

    I seems clear to me that the “problem” is not the verbiage. The problem is not being promoted, being told that they never plan to promote the LW, and then working with these people everyday. That’s the major frustration here. It’s time for the LW to move on. I don’t recommend leveraging a counteroffer, but you got to wonder if the only thing that might get her a promotion there is telling them she’s leaving and getting a “what can we do to keep you” response. And then the answer would be, you should have allowed me growth and supported my request for growth and more responsibility.

    It really does sound like “appreciate you” has replaced “thanks” and has become just as perfunctory in this office. Which I’d probably find to be a minor annoyance or grating for at least a while, but I think the LW wold be feeling this if they were thanking her as often as they say “appreciate.” Getting them to say thank you instead is not going to solve the hard feelings.

  39. Cordoba*

    For #5: When I was going to grad school my plan if I had to quit for any reason was to just list the courses I took as though they were personal enrichment type stuff rather than in pursuit of a degree.

    My thinking was that saying “I took these graduate-level courses in robotics and systems design at Big Name School because I thought they looked interesting and relevant to my work” sounds better than “I did half a grad degree and then dropped out for whatever reason”.

    You took the classes, you learned the stuff, you’re under no obligation to disclose that it was originally done as a way to get a degree that you didn’t attain.

  40. SpaceElephant*

    As a white woman who has worked in a few different majority-black workplaces, I’ve found “I appreciate you” is a phrase that is definitely associated with African American culture. That said, it’s become fairly commonplace, with the rise of social media as an influence on language and culture, for AAE phrases to be adopted by white communities in ways that are far from intentional and, in some cases, respectful. There’s a really interesting conversation around cultural appropriation when it comes to language, when you see white folks saying things like “bae” and “yaasss queen” and talking about “spilling tea” or “receipts.” (https://www.feminuity.org/blog/using-bve-as-a-non-black-person-is-appropriation)

    I’m not saying your office is appropriating culture, if it’s a majority white office. And I’m not saying you’re racist, if the makeup of your office is not majority white. I have no idea about the makeup of your office (or how you identify) at all. I just want to offer that sometimes what we see as a simple “I’m annoyed by this phrase” can have much more significance based on context. It’s always worth the time to check ourselves to see what’s really happening when something so seemingly innocuous seems grating. In this case, the context has a lot of work-related frustrations and disappointments wrapped up in it, which I get. But I’d encourage you to take a closer look at the origins of the phrase, both globally and in your office specifically, and think about how that plays out in the office dynamics.

    In my experience, the reason why “I appreciate you” is meaningful is because it signifies something deeper than thank you, it’s seeing and acknowledging someone who might not always be seen or acknowledged by others or in other parts of their lives. It sounds like that might not be the case here, but again context is so key. But if the usage here IS culturally significant, then tone policing it is probably inappropriate. And again, white woman here, so I’m only speaking from my experience in these spaces and the research that I’ve done on my own. But I encourage everyone to take a deeper look at these kinds of issues.

  41. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP4 – and anyone else who has been asked this in UK – it is illegal, and Equality & Human Rights Commission has guidance and form to report violations specifically for this issue.

    …………..

    www(dot)equalityhumanrights(dot)com/en/advice-and-guidance/how-report-questions-about-your-health-or-disability-you-are-offered-job

    …………..
    How to report questions about your health or disability before you are offered a job

    Employers are not usually allowed to ask questions about your health or disability before you are offered a job. These are often called ‘pre-employment health questions’. If you are asked this type of question, you can report it to us.

    What are pre-employment health questions?

    Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 makes it generally unlawful for you to be asked questions about your health or disability before you are offered a job (on a conditional or unconditional basis) or before you have been placed into a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job when a position becomes available.

    This is to prevent information about your disability or health being used to reject your job application without first giving you the opportunity to show that you have the skills to do the job.

    There are some exceptions to this rule. You should contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) for information and advice on when the rule does not apply.

    How do I report them?

    If you have been asked a question about your health or disability when applying for a job we are interested in hearing about it.

    We may take the matter up generally with the employer but will not disclose any of your details to them.

    We will not be able to advise you on any individual claim you may wish to bring against the employer. You should contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) directly if you need further advice or support.

    Please complete the form through the link below if you are reporting a pre-employment health question or questionnaire. If you have a copy of the job application form containing the health questions you can upload it or cut and paste it into the form.

    This applies only to applications in England, Scotland or Wales.

  42. Bopper*

    Sick days:
    I wonder if they have been burned by someone taking too many sick days (either legitimately or not).
    Maybe ask why they need to know this information?

    1. Metadata minion*

      How is someone taking sick days they’re entitled to being “burned”? If you offer me 10 sick days per year, I assume you’re going to be ok with me taking 10 sick days if I need them.

  43. Exhausted Trope*

    I’ve always wondered how best to list my graduate work on a resume.
    Thanks, Alison!

  44. Flower*

    Related question to #5. I mastered out of a PhD program. For education I figure I list the degree (MS) and under job I still have Graduate Research Assistant, but should I mark that it was a PhD program somehow? Should I have “PhD candidate” alongside Graduate Research Assistant? Should it be part of my task descriptions somehow? (“Advanced to candidacy” or some such?)

    I needed to deal with some health crises and then covid hit so I’m just now finally job searching a bit more than half a year.

    1. Generic Name*

      Unless you’re looking for jobs in research or academia, there’s a good chance employers won’t even know what that means, let alone care about it one way or another. If it doesn’t strengthen your candidacy, it’s best to leave it out. I think it’s fine to list your MS degree, as long as it’s relevant to jobs you’re applying to.

      1. Flower*

        Not in research or academia, but research-adjacent jobs, more in science communications/advocacy. Half the job listings I see that interest me are “Masters required, PhD preferred.”

        My master’s in the sort of field where usually you don’t get a masters degree, you just go straight for the PhD. There aren’t many programs in the US for just a masters’; mine didn’t give an interim MS and you only got one if you were leaving after advancing to candidacy for “compelling reasons.” Not sure if that changes things?

        1. Bubarina*

          In this case, I would indicate that you’re ABD in your education section. I’m an academic, but I work with many academic-adjacent researchers, and the job postings always say they would prefer the PhD like you said. When choosing between two candidates, it’s unfair, but an ABD person would have a leg up on the masters-only person if all else were equal. Don’t do anything else to draw attention to it, like sign emails with “Flower, ABD” (it gets a lot of eye-rolling). But I definitely would consider including it somewhere if you’re in a field where it gets you an advantage during hiring.

          And for anyone else reading, this only applies because Flower has confirmed she was an official PhD candidate and had passed her exams. If she were still at the student stage when she dropped the program, I would say to do none of this.

          1. Academic Addie*

            But being a PhD candidate and being ABD isn’t the same in all fields. In my field, it’s pretty common to do a proposal and be admitted to candidacy in the second or third year. It’s not uncommon to still need to do some amount of coursework after that (often low-effort seminars or reading groups), but some candidates might be done at that point. Effectively, the way this is used in my field is exactly what it says: if you filed your dissertation and did your defense, there would be no procedural reasons to withhold the degree.

            My employer recently did a search, and we did look at their graduate handbook and check that they did appear to be ABD, and the letters all reflected this. But we are academics, and we did need someone who would have their PhD in X by Y date, so that’s a corner case.

            1. Bubarina*

              That’s interesting and clearly indicative of the wide variations within PhD programs. Thanks for sharing. In my field and in the adjacent fields, a candidate is always equated with being ABD.

              So I guess it would depend on what’s common practice within Flower’s field.

    2. Agnes*

      You weren’t necessarily a candidate, just a doctoral student. Some places you’re not a candidate until you pass your qualifying exams. Most people won’t know or care about this, but if you apply somewhere familiar with your program, it could look like you’re padding.

      1. Flower*

        I had passed my quals; to get a master’s when leaving you had to have advanced to candidacy already.

        I even got the tiny raise associated with advancing.

    3. Academic Addie*

      I probably wouldn’t. I’m in a field where a terminal MS is a perfectly fine degree to find work, though many PhD-granting programs don’t offer a direct-admit MS.

      If it looks like your MS took really long relative to normal in your field, you might be prepared for some questions on that. In my field, anywhere from 2 to 4 years is completely reasonable for a US MS degree. I know someone who left with an MS at 6 years, and another at 8. They had some explaining to do on their searches. Otherwise, I think you’re OK.

      1. Flower*

        Thanks, that’s helpful! I left my program in my third year so it doesn’t look very long.

  45. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    OP #1, all of Alison’s advice is spot-on, and my only addition is for you to take some time to educate yourself on your state’s unemployment process and law. Read the claimant handbook carefully, use the resources on the website to educate yourself. Even though it’s probably not “easy reading”, don’t think that it’s too hard to understand! If you take a little time to actually go through it, you’ll have a much better idea of how things work, and you will likely feel more confident about your rights/responsibilities. (Your employer is the worst, by the way!)

  46. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW1 It may be worthwhile to reach out to your laid-off co-workers and see what story they were given by the boss. Are they laid off or furloughed? Is he disputing their unemployment claims? Have they been quietly asked to work for free also?

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! I too, was wondering what the co-workers experience was regarding their layoff.

      Did the “the company cannot survive without me” line work for them?

      Or was the OP the only one asked to “volunteer” to continue working?

  47. Phony Genius*

    For #1, since the writer did not mention that they themselves manage anybody, I will assume that they don’t. However, if they did, and that person were also working without getting paid, then in some states, that person could sue the company for back wages and name the manager as a co-defendant. As a manager, you cannot knowingly let somebody you manage do work for which they will not be paid. (This will vary from state-to-state, but this is my understanding of how my state works.)

  48. blackcatlady*

    For OP#1: I think this entire community is hoping for a happy outcome update. Do not work for free. Please start applying for jobs as of yesterday. Do not feel you have to give notice. This business is probably doomed. We are cheering for you!

  49. Paris Geller*

    Regarding #4: I saw a job I was interested in, started the application, and ran into a very similar question (except it asked for the number of days off in the past two years, the date, and the reasons! Sick and vacation!).

    I did not continue the application.

  50. Corp Dreamer*

    OP2 out of curiosity, is the director who started saying this Black? I noticed that typically we say this phrase more than other groups of people (even myself). Something I didn’t realize I do until a coworker asked me about it. lol

  51. CW*

    #1 – Not only is your boss breaking US law, but forcing you to work for free after being laid off or furloughed just rubs salt on the wound. Don’t stay. You owe no loyalty to this jerk. If he can’t pay his employees and can’t survive without any of his employees working during this tough time, he shouldn’t be running a business. Period.

    Start looking for a new job immediately and don’t look back. Your mentality will thank you for it.

  52. Time_TravelR*

    OP3 – I was in a position to hire the spouse of one of my employees. She would have been a great fit for my team and for the position but what happened in your case is exactly why I didn’t. It was easier to explain to my current employee why I declined to hire their spouse than to have to deal with potential drama if there were a issue. I feel like, in your case, the drama will be mostly at their house though (unless Jim declines to come back because you won’t hire Pam, but that still isn’t drama for you)

  53. boop the first*

    1. If your boss isn’t paying you, and unemployment won’t kick in for some time, then that’s an income of $0 no matter what you choose to do, here.

    What would you rather do with your time, since you are earning $0 no matter what? Job search? Take some long walks? Spend time with your family? Live your LIFE? Or just give it all to your jerk boss so that he can make money off of you?

    If you are integral to the company, then there’s no reason why you should be afraid he would later hire a new employee instead of you. You are the path of least resistance. Why hire someone who knows nothing and is probably less willing to cater to his every whim?

    Why would you want him to rehire you, after he just figured out how to avoid paying you wages forever? Why would he ever go back to writing checks, if this is somehow an option? I mean this in the nicest way possible, but my goodness, I want to shake you and tell you you’ve ALREADY LOST! He can’t take anything away from you now because there is NOTHING to take! He has nothing to offer! Billions of people in the world, but you’re so intent on sticking by the worst one.

  54. Beanie Counter*

    LW #1, keep in mind that if you file a wage claim after you collected unemployment benefits (and you’re okay with paying those back), you may be dealing with two different entities, and the state may demand the unemployment money back, regardless of the status of the wage claim. And if your employer goes under and doesn’t have the money to pay the wage claim… I’m not so trusting that the state will forgive your unemployment benefits just because your wage claim hasn’t been paid. :|

    I’ve filed a wage claim before. The government can seize funds from their bank account, so take note at which bank the company has their account(s) and get the name that’s on the account if you can. If you have access to the account number, even better. With a company as small as yours, a payroll check will probably have everything you need. If the government decides to investigate your case, and decides in your favor, they may ask you for more information, such as the above. Good luck.

  55. Dave Palmer*

    I started grad school, completed all my coursework, and got started on my thesis (which was related to, and funded by, my job). Then I changed jobs, so I had to find a new thesis topic. I also got married and had kids, so the thesis kind of went on the back burner for a while — five years, to be exact.

    Later, I started applying for other jobs, and wondered why I was always being rejected. A friend pointed out that the non-completed graduate degree could suggest that I don’t finish what I start, which is obviously an undesirable attribute. She recommended that I simply take the graduate coursework off of my resume.

    “What? But I did the work!”

    “Then finish it.”

    I took her advice, and it was one of the best professional moves I ever made. I strongly recommend making a plan for completion. Even if you can’t do it right now, make a timeline. Don’t just leave it hanging.

  56. Observer*

    #1 – I want to emphasize something here. Your boss is making a totally empty threat. He might claim that you quit, but the reality is that he laid off the other 4 workers! If at all possible get something in email (and forward it to your personal off site email account) that confirms that he’s not paying you.

    Even in notoriously employer friendly / employee unfriendly states, “not paying you” *IS* a firing or furlough. Nothing to talk about.

  57. SD*

    LW3: Whatever you do, don’t not ask the husband back because you don’t want to ask the wife. Many years ago my husband and I took a class together at university. The class was in my major; I was a sophomore while he was a senior. I was an excellent writer of term papers. He was good, but I was better. We both wrote our papers and he got a B+, but the professor, who I had had classes with before, gave me a B+ too. I was and am convinced that he didn’t want to give the young wife a better grade than her new husband. I was pissed. My paper deserved an A on it’s own and should not have been graded as an adjunct to my husband’s. Nearly 50 years later, this still sits badly. (We’re still happily married BTW.) Offer him the job and consider her case on its own merits, not as an adjunct to his.

  58. Nanani*

    #3 Just make sure you’re not discriminating on gender here.
    Sure, you have a legitimate reason not to want to bring back Pam, but you do need to make sure you’re not like, bringing back all the men and none of the women. Even if you can find a legit reason for each individual case. Patterns are real and unconscious bias is a thing everyone deals with.

    If it just ~mysteriously~ happens that you and other people on your level want to ask back all the men and zero women (or all group X and none of group Y along other lines) you need to have a hard think about why.

    1. Observer*

      That’s a really huge leap. The OP asked about ONE person. And the behavior they present is NOT the kind of thing that generally gets judged in a gendered way – missing deadlines and prioritizing a different job doesn’t go any better for men than for women. So jumping to a “pattern” of discrimination against women is really out of left field.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh stop it. The person has absolutely valid reasons to not bring her back, stop spinning out thinking that it may be a “pattern” and “sexism”.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If someone is rubbish at their job it actually doesn’t matter what gender, race, disability, religion, height…etc. they are. It just means they’re crap at it and you can get rid of them/refuse to hire them.

    4. Letter Writer The Third*

      Can you please point out the exact places in my letter that I used sexist or anti-female language? This is a wild take on what I wrote.

    1. Phony Genius*

      And I’m looking into continuing education courses at Tortoise College. Do you think they have a financial aid program?

  59. Skeeder Jones*

    I have learned about all sorts of career options I didn’t know about. If only I had known I could be an expert on turtle folk songs, a teapot designer and a llama groomer when I was choosing my career!

  60. cheeky*

    LW, you need to look for another job and not look back. Do not give one minute of time to this man.

  61. Susana*

    “Turtle folk songs.” Oh thanks Allison – it’s been a rough week and I needed that!

  62. Quimby*

    To the sick leave request in regards to a reference.

    It does seem to be normal in the UK to request that. I have applied to many a job over the past few years and it’s seems to be a big standard question.

  63. Autumnheart*

    LW3: If asked about it: “We’ve decided to go in a different direction in regard to Pam’s position. We wish her well!”

    I don’t know that it’s really necessary to rehash Pam’s performance or whatever, since, to use a line from LW1, she’s already gone. What you’re talking about now is hiring. If it seems like Pam is just going to argue about whether she should come back or not, I’d just try not to engage. Same as an applicant who wants to argue about why they weren’t hired.

  64. Not sure about anything*

    I know a very nice man who is a total corporate world white VP type. He went to some management conference or series of classes. (He was a management consultant for a while) There, they taught him to say I appreciate you. And they made a point to teach not saying, for example, if someone did something for another person, “I appreciate what you did”. But rather, “I appreciate you”. It was total corporate speak in this group’s culture. I can’t remember if it was called the Forum, or what, but it was totally white and very management consultantish, sort of like the EST of corporate consultancy land, and this was their recommendation. And he speaks like that in his personal life to this day.

  65. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m still shook from the time someone requesting a reference actually asked me about the number of sick days that someone took while working for us. Now I’m extra annoyed that this is on applications, somewhere in the world, even though it’s not in my home country.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d love to give you my ex-boss’s details so you can get more ‘wtf?’

      (He’s the one that gives out, in writing, details of the number of absences I had per year. Which until this post I thought was totally normal and ok in the UK.)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’ll tell someone straight to their face that they’re grotesque and their practices are archaic. This isn’t the industrial age anymore, suckersssss. I’m so over this inhumane treatment of workers.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’d be cheering you on mate.

          Now I’ve had a night to sleep on this I am ANGRY.

  66. MBK*

    What happens if OP1 gets unemployment, makes a claim for back wages, gets them awarded, and is then unable to collect? Would they still be on the hook for repayment of the benefits received?

  67. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

    Llamas, chocolate teapots and now turtle folk songs?

    Allison with all due respect, this is amazing. How did you come up with these and where can I get me some of that turtle folk song CDs?

  68. Letter Writer The Third*

    Hi, I’m Letter Writer 3!

    …and I’m a woman, to whoever accused me of being sexist by not wanting to hire Pam back. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of female-identified people, really!…but I don’t believe anything I wrote indicated sexism. Just because she happens to be a woman AND a bad employee does not make my assessment gender-based. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk!

    Thank you to everyone for their advice and opinions. I appreciate all the time people put into their responses! There are a lot of poor upper management issues at play here (not only did they hire a married couple, they insist on hiring friends and family of current employees yiiiiiikes) but ultimately I am the one who has to take the heat either way, so again: thank you all.

    Anyways, as of yesterday, Jim has been brought back for some work. I stressed that my boss was asking him back (she asked for him specifically!) He was perfectly happy about it and didn’t mention Pam at all. However, I contacted Pam about a separate issue (related to some work she had submitted incorrectly; I need to clarify what she meant to do before I can proceed) and she’s blanking me, so I guess she is a bit miffed. :(

  69. Tan*

    In response to point 4- the UK you can ask that question and I understand that is surprisingly common. However good employers wont ask it, as if the candidate has disability they can easily claim discrimination- the fact that the question was asked will shift the burden of proof to the employer to show that it had a non-discriminatory reason for rejecting the applicant.

Comments are closed.