fake resumes and false references, coworker was in an adult film, and more

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

1. Nonprofit tells trainees to falsify their resumes and use fake references

My sister has trained, for free, in the IT field with a nonprofit. I’m very happy that they’re helping her with this career change and believe this is a critical service for women in a male-dominated industry. The problem is that toward the end of the curriculum, their training got … weird. They shifted focus to ensuring all applicants landed a job versus job training. She was advised to burn all social media and then make fake profiles and a false resume reflecting 7-10 years in the field. They coach how to lie in interviews, and the company even employs a fake reference answering service to verify the false resume experience!

I’ve spoken to my sister about why this is a bad idea and she agrees, to a point. When she pushed back, the nonprofit vilified her and then confusingly ended up hiring her themselves. That’s one way to get actual job experience, though don’t even get me started on their illegal hiring (they want to pay her under the table so she can continue to receive unemployment!).

What is my responsibility now that I have this knowledge? Should I be reporting this organization, which is government-funded, for their practices? They’re only 1-2 years old, so I have a sense they’re doing this to maintain placement numbers and continue to receive funding. Or is this none of my business because it’s not me they provided these unethical directions to?

These are horrible practices and could get their applicants in real trouble — they could end up getting fired and/or blacklisted from fields they want to work in. The organization could even be liable for fraud if a deceived employer wanted to pursue them on the fake reference service. They aren’t helping their trainees and they deserve to be exposed and shut down.

But how does your sister feel? In theory, you have plenty of standing to report this organization if you want to, but if your sister is now working for them, you’d be reporting your sister’s employer — which probably isn’t something you want to do. (And since she recently complained about their practices, there’s a risk it would look like she’s the one who reported them.) So the question here isn’t just “should I report an organization committing fraud?” but is also “should I report my sister’s employer?”

The best option might be to work on getting your sister out of there — this is not a job she should want — and then report them afterwards.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My coworker once appeared in an adult film

Recently I was made aware of the fact that one of my female coworkers once appeared in an adult film. I haven’t seen this film. I was told about this during a conference call with another company where the guy I was talking to was surprised we had hired her since she attempted to get a job there, but they withdrew the offer when somehow the discovered this during their background check. Should I tell management? Or should I ask her first to confirm? Any suggestions?

She does do her job well. My concern is some of our clients are very conservative and they might disapprove. It’s of course possible management knows about this prior to hiring her.

Good lord, say nothing. First, it might not even be true — but even if it is, it’s none of your business! Your company may know and not care. If it comes out and they do care, they’ll deal with it then. But it’s not your job to harm this woman’s reputation and potentially cause her to lose her job, just because she did adult film work in the past. If you ask her about it or report it, you’ll be perpetuating a stigma that shouldn’t exist and which disproportionately harms women. Forget you heard it and leave it alone.

3. Do I have to say I was fired?

I’m really scared that the first job I took after college is going to mess up my career. It’s a campaign job, and the campaign isn’t doing well. I’ve heard through the grapevine that some people in the campaign are looking to replace me with someone with a different background in the part of the campaign I work in. (Think of it like I do traditional campaign fundraising, that hasn’t been working very well, the person they want to replace me is from an old family in our area, and he can bring in donations from his personal connections).

I’m obviously worried about losing a job during a pandemic, but I have a strong support network and mentors/contacts who will help me in my job search. What I’m worried about is always having to check a box that says “yes, I was fired.”

Campaigns are obviously really different from corporations, and I know this kind of shake-up is common. My mentors have told me that if this happens, I shouldn’t feel like someone who got fired from her first job. But wouldn’t I actually be fired from my first job? It’s not really a layoff if they replace me, but it’s not like I’d be fired for specific performance or character issues, just because they want to change the toolset they’re using. So should I quit before it happens? But I also don’t want to be someone who quit her first job and I would like the ability to get unemployment benefits! If I do get fired, should I talk to them about mutually calling it a layoff? Is that ethical? I’m worried this might have repercussions that will last me for life.

It sounds plausibly like a layoff to me. Look at it this way: They’ve realized that the role as it’s currently constructed isn’t quite right and they need to change it, and they’re replacing you with someone with a different skillset, to do a different type of work. That could easily be considered a layoff, and you absolutely should ask them if they can frame it that way in your employee records (which a campaign may not even have) and to future reference-checkers.

Either way, you have moral standing to think of it as a layoff and to explain it to future employers that way. You’d want to make sure any references from this job aren’t saying something different, but campaigns are often so loosey-goosey (and often don’t exist past election day anyway) that you’ll probably be able to just informally touch base with your reference before they’e called and make sure you’re on the same page.

But don’t quit. That’ll stop you from getting unemployment benefits, which you’re entitled to.

4. Asking my boss to give me more positive feedback

I am lucky to have a generally fantastic manager — she is supportive, kind, crazy smart, and creative. We work in an industry that is in high-demand during COVID (think telemedicine) and we’ve been putting in incredibly long hours and producing great work. My manager is not the type that praises often. I’ve surfaced this miss on behalf of my team and we’ve added a lovely part to our regular all-hands meeting where anyone can offer “virtual high fives” and it’s been well-received. How can I ask for that for myself without coming across as an emotionally needy, insecure person? Sometimes I need her to tell me I’m doing a great job, especially during these challenging times. That sort of thing is hard to ask for even in an intimate, personal relationship — is there a way to do it in a professional setting?

You can often elicit positive feedback from a manager by asking for feedback in general — like “how do you think things are going in general?” or “can you talk about the X project — how did you think it went?” or even “I’ve been realizing I’d really like to hear more about what you think is going well — especially right now when things are so stressful.”

And if you want it in the all-hands meetings specifically, you could say, “Any chance I could ask you to talk about the X project when we’re doing high-fives in the next all-hands meeting? I’d love for more people to know how well it went.”

5. Changing my name back after getting a divorce

I’ve been with my team and company for three years now and recently went through a divorce and reverted back to my maiden name. However, I don’t really want to discuss this with my coworkers (we all work remote and have for years) nor bring it up during work. How can I gracefully change my last name for my email address and/or in LinkedIn without getting bombarded with questions or sympathy? Or do I just wait until I change jobs/managers/companies? Even though we all work remotely, I am one of the more well-liked people on my large team, so unfortunately I will get questions or sympathetic comments, and would rather just avoid the whole thing.

People will take their cues from you, so the more matter-of-fact you are about it — even upbeat — the more likely they are not to make a big deal of it. I’d just go ahead and change it in the all the places you want to change it. If anyone asks about it, just say cheerfully, “Yep! Reverted back to my maiden name a while ago and just got it updated at work.” (Adding in “a while ago” might also ward off some expressions of sympathy. Make it sound like something that you’re barely thinking about these days.)

If anyone probes for details or gives you sad eyes (fortunately you’re remote so you may not have to see those), you can say, “Nothing to worry about! Everything’s good with me.”

Also, if you want to specifically mention that you divorced so coworkers don’t keep asking about your husband in the future, use the same matter-of-fact tone to say, “Dorian and I split up earlier this year” … and then, if necessary, “I’m fine! We’re both good.” Follow it with an immediate subject change and most people will get the hint.

{ 452 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Deviant*

    I changed my first name in work and no one batted an eye. Alison’s advice is solid- be matter of fact about it, move on when you’ve mentioned it, done.

    1. Not Australian*

      I changed my middle name (long story) and had one colleague say dismissively “It won’t change who you are!” Maybe not, but it made me feel a he** of a lot better about myself every time I had to say or write my full name.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I guess tone of voice is everything on this one. I took it as, “It makes no never-mind to me, you are still the same competent cohort that you have been right along.” But yeah, it does sound ambiguous written out like that.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I think it’s the inclusion of “dismissively” – with that descriptor, I read it as a “what a strange thing to do, you are still Your Name” versus without it “You can go by whatever you choose, you will always be competent in my eyes”.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      LW2: leave her alone. Really, just let this women live her life and stop gossiping about porn on work conference calls. Is this how you spend your time?

      1. Amaranth*

        It sounded like the person at the other company instigated the whole topic and OP was caught flatfooted. OP doesn’t indicate their response, which I hope was ‘I’m sure, even if true, this is none of our business.’ But yes, OP, MYOB. Sadly, this guy might now be going around his own company saying ‘can you believe Company B hired a porn star?’ – but you don’t need to be the person spreading it around.

    3. MicroManagered*

      When I changed my name back, the most common thing was an acknowledgement that my name had changed. “Oh I didn’t realize this email was from you because it was from Jane Smith, not Jane Jones.” I just didn’t acknowledge that at all–there’s nothing to say.

      I got a couple “Congratulations!” from people who thought I’d gotten married. A quick, upbeat “Nope! The other way” set them straight. If they switched to “I’m so sorry” or something, a cheerful “Why? I’m not.” I’d say 90% of the people I interact with at work have never said a thing about it and it was old news in 2 weeks.

    4. Divorced Young*

      Agreed. I’m fairly young and a few people assumed I had gotten married, not divorced. When someone said, “Oh you must have gotten married, Congratulations!” I would respond with, “Oh, it was actually a divorce, but I’ll still accept the congratulations!” Most people really will take their cues from your reaction about it.

    5. Winifred Tigerlily*

      Wish we could stop calling a woman’s birth name her “maiden” name … so many old fashioned and outdated connotations.

      1. alienor*

        I always say “birth name” for that reason, but it sometimes makes people wonder/ask if I’m adopted. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, and I wouldn’t make a secret of it if I had been, but it does create an extra layer of explanation to go through.

      2. Captain Raymond Holt*

        I use the term birth name too. Maiden name feels like a gross thing to say to me.

        Birth name just means the name you were born with. I changed my birth name (first/middle not last) and I call it that.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            If a hypothetical person uses “maiden” name would they still call it that if a man changed his name (on marrying or otherwise)?

        1. NotTheSameAaron*

          I use maiden name for some older relatives, even though it isn’t quite accurate in their cases, since it was the style at the time.

    6. Rainey*

      Seconded. I changed my family name and not for the purpose of getting married. Our local office is small enough that while no one really knew the reason, they also all knew I was single and had never been married. A couple of people did ask about it when we were in one-on-one conversations, but always with the caveat that I didn’t have to respond if I didn’t want to. But most people were just like, “Cool, congrats!” and then asked questions about the actual process of changing your name without it being related to marriage.

    7. bluexmas*

      Agreed! Only two people – one coworker and one outside vendor – directly asked if I got married. I cheerfully said – “No. opposite!” and then further clarified, “it’s a good thing!” and that was that. LW#5 – most people are too wrapped up with themselves and their work to care that much.

  2. Observer*

    #1 – Get your sister out of there and then report them. You always have standing to report blatant fraud and malpractice to relevant authorities, even if you are not the person being defrauded.

    And be clear – what they are doing is not just “shady”. It is flat out fraud and they are absolutely committing malpractice in how they are advising their trainees.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Paying her under the table sounds like tax fraud. That will go badly for anyone caught up in it.

      I wonder if the hiring is an attempt to create blackmail material on the sister. If she speaks out about this organization, they will make sure to take her down with them.

      1. Artemesia*

        First thing that jumped out at me — they ‘vilify’ here than they hire her? They are setting her up — once she is paid under the table they can blackmail her. She needs to file complaints first to protect herself.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this was odd. And Alison didn’t address the paying her under the table issue in her answer. I have a really, really, really bad feeling about this.

          1. LGC*

            To be fair, she did, just not specifically. Oddly enough, while paying LW1’s sister under the table is far worse than telling trainees to fake their resumes (mostly because I don’t think faking your resume is illegal), it doesn’t change anything about the answer (that this organization is run by evil bees).

            1. Cj*

              It should change the answer because the sister should quit. She apparently already drawing unemployment, and since they are paying her under the table, quitting won’t change that.

              Funny how the sister is all up in arms about the organization committing fraud, but doesn’t seem to have a problem committing fraud herself by drawing unemployment while working, and not being taxed on what she’s earning. Both are fraud.

              1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                She may not fully understand that it is fraud. If the company is some sort of job retraining corps, they may have convinced her that this is legal, and she may have assumed that it is legal because they told her so.

                This is how the powerful take advantage of the less powerful and less informed.

              2. LGC*

                But the sister isn’t writing in.

                I guess what I should have said is that LW1 shouldn’t do anything different.The sister should quit for MULTIPLE reasons, but it’s ultimately a situation that affects her most, not LW1.

              3. Tupac Coachella*

                In all fairness, OP said they *want* to pay her under the table. I took that to mean that they offered to pay her under the table and the sister said no. That was an assumption, I could be wrong, but OP could have just included that information as further evidence of the ethics of this organization. The sister isn’t necessarily complicit at this point (beyond taking a job with them-what the what?).

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  If you reject a “reasonable” job offer are you no longer eligible for unemployment benefits in the US? Does “company seems shady AF” count as a valid reason to reject it from their POV?

              4. Observer*

                So, firstly, Allison’s answer is to the OP not to the sister.

                Secodnly, even from the letter it was not clear that the sister was actually going along with it. And, the OP already responded that in fact sister is NOT going along with it.

            2. LCH*

              she should definitely just quit and keep getting unemployment while finding a new job. and then report them.

              1. OP*

                To be clear, she did not do that. She protested, and the company then asked her to wait to start until her unemployment ran out before starting work.

                1. Creag an Tuire*

                  So wait, does she not actually work there yet?

                  If not I wouldn’t hesitate to nuke them now, especially since I wouldn’t trust them to keep their word on hiring her.

        2. MK*

          My thought was that they are trying for “all our clients land jobs after our program” and they hired her to help their numbers. Or to stop her reporting their practices.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Law schools are notorious for faking their “student employed nine months after graduation” rates this way.

              But students are sophisticated consumers who know better than to trust self-reported numbers, according to the courts, so it’s not actually fraud.

              Flames … flames … on the sides of my face …

        3. snowglobe*

          If she’s paid ‘under the table’ she can (and should) still report the income on her tax return, to protect herself legally. If she continues to work there, she might need to make the choice to pay ‘self-employment tax’ on the income or to report that she was an employee (which would get the company in trouble), but either way, she would be in the clear.

          1. snowglobe*

            Missed the part about continuing to collect unemployment. She definitely shouldn’t do that.

            1. Troutwaxer*

              She doesn’t have to give the unemployment office all the details. Since a later message revealed that she’s being paid as a contractor she probably doesn’t even have to lie. She can simply say, “I’ve gotten a job now, I’m being paid as a contractor, please stop sending me money.” That’s probably enough as long as she makes sure to pay her taxes.

              1. Thatoneoverthere*

                In some states its as simple as not making a claim for the week and then just stopping claims all together. Where I live you had to log on each week, and submit a claim. Saying how much (if any) money you made for the week and provide the name of at least 3 companies you applied to. If you wanted to stop unemployment you simply stopped making claims.

                She should absolutely stop claims. This could come back on her, if the UE office found out she was making money and still submitting claims each week. I am not sure of the legal ramifications but at the very least she would have to pay back the money paid out to her.

                1. old curmudgeon*

                  And depending on the state and on how punitive the ALJ feels like being in the hearing, she could wind up paying a penalty on top of paying back the benefits, PLUS in some states she’d be disqualified from opening a new claim for months or years in the future. So definitely not something to gloss over.

                  States tend to have far less liberal interpretations of what constitutes a contractor relationship than many businesses do, so even if the business describes her as a contractor, she may be an employee in the eyes of the state. For example, does she have a home office and her own equipment? Does she perform the same type of work for other clients? Does she have a TIN? Does she have control over how and when she does her work? Does she advertise her services? Does she bear the risk of non-payment for inadequate work? In many states, most or all of those questions must be answered Yes in order for a person to be considered a contractor. And many so-called “contractors” are employees in the eyes of the state labor agency as a result.

              2. Cj*

                She might not legitimately be a contractor. She would need to use her own equipment, set her own hours, etc. to be classified as such.

                1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  There’s a tax reporting mechanism for people who have been falsely identified as a contractor. They pay as a contractor, and I believe check a box/fill out a form that says, “I was incorrectly classified as a contractor,” and the IRS will handle it from there.

                2. Troutwaxer*

                  Their state might feel differently. But the important thing is that they should not be defrauding unemployment!

          2. sometimeswhy*

            I paid taxes on a job that paid me under the table when I was a teenager. I was guileless and didn’t realize that I wasn’t “supposed” to. I was on the public floor when the auditors arrived. The next year, everyone filed. The turnover there was really high and I was never identified as the person who brought it all down around their ears.

          1. MarsJenkar*

            Or just report the income you’ve made; that might be enough by itself (depends on what state you’re in; it was true for Illinois, where I lived when I was unemployed).

      2. Anon Accountant*

        From working for a very shady boss I completely agree. The organization is evading payroll taxes and if someone turns them in they’re set up to take employees down with them.

        And you nailed it on calling it blackmail. “Turn us in Jane but you’re going down then too”. Ugh!

      3. AcademiaNut*

        That’s actually surprisingly plausible. In that case, I would say that the sister would be best off reporting them herself, as protection against going down with them for committing unemployment and tax fraud. (This assume’s she’s agreed to the illegal payment method. If the job hasn’t started yet, she really needs to refuse and accept being fired if that’s the result).

      4. Willis*

        Yeah, I think Sis would be better off turning down the “job offer” and just collecting unemployment. Then OP and/or her sister could report them. I have a feeling whatever type of employment or pay they may be offering her is not worth the risk of being caught up in their unemployment fraud.

        Obviously I don’t know what kind of government funding this org gets but I work with federal grant programs for job training that are run through cities and if the grant manager at the city level heard about stuff like this the org would likely be defunded pretty quickly. I know the OP thinks it’s good to assist women break into male-dominated industries and I agree, but that funding needs to go to orgs actually dedicated to that vs this sham. So, don’t feel bad if they end up closing!

        1. MK*

          That’s assuming she is collecting unemployment now, which might not be the case if she hasn’t worked before. Also, if she got into this program through her unemployment agency, they might report she refused a job, which could also stop her benefits.

          1. Willis*

            The OP explicitly says the org wants to pay her sister under the table so she can continue getting unemployment. I don’t think it would make sense for them to say she refused a job since they would essentially being exposing their own scam. And I wonder how many of their other employees are also on unemployment…

            1. Eva Luna*

              Yeah, I’m pretty sure that refusing or quitting a job because the employer wants her to commit fraud against the government would not disqualify her for unemployment benefits. She should get as much in writing about their proposal as she can and talk to an employment attorney who is knowledgeable about whistleblower protections.

      5. OP*

        They’ve actually told my sister they’d sue her if she reported them. I don’t recall the full conversation I had with her, just that they didn’t trust her after her comments and said something along those lines.

        It looks like they hired her just to have the satisfaction of firing her. Also perhaps to make her minimize her statements if she does report them? As if she’s just a salty employee with a grudge? She’s worked with them for about a month now and they act like she doesn’t know what she’s doing–which, well, they trained her…. She didn’t agree to to the under the table payments, but did agree to be a contract worker despite needing their equipment to work and having set 9 hours shifts with no lunch break. She spoke with the owner several times and he insisted that being a contract worker with no health benefits was “in her best interest” and she could claim all shorts of little extras on her taxes.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          What a hot mess.

          I hope you explained to your sis that this is NOT how jobs are supposed to go. They will continue to tell her that she is bad at her job so she does not look around for another job. These people are so manipulative it’s stunning.

        2. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Sounds like they’re trying to scare her off – I very much doubt they even CAN sue her for this. And if they try I want pictures of the judge’s face.
          Seriously, what are they going to say? “We lost business because she reported us for trying to commit fraud” (referring to the offer to pay her under the table – I have no idea what the resume falsifying would fall under, if anything)?

        3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          What standing would they have to sue her? It’s such a wildly thrown around comment under which they have zero legs to make work. Thing like that *cost money* first of all…

          As others have said, I would do everything possible to get her out of there. Everything about that place is terrible and exploitative, and she would do herself and her future job prospects a world of good by being that person who was able to bring down a shady non-profit. As dark as things might seem now, and as scary as not having a job in and of itself might seem…it’s worse the longer she stays with this place. Especially if she loses her job because someone else caused the non-profit to be dissolved. Then she’s simply out of a job.

        4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Your sister needs to consult with a lawyer for her own protection and get the heck out of there. If I were her I’d be more concerned that I could get into legal trouble for being complicit in fraud then the company suing me.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            This x 1,000! She absolutely needs to get all her legal ducks in a row, find out what her rights and potential liabilities (for possible complicity in fraud) are – like, yesterday! Getting out of there now would be an excellent idea; the longer she’s there, the more her name will be linked with that agency. When (not if, WHEN) it comes crashing down, the more distance between your sister and that hot mess of a fraudster-collective the better.

          2. Ashley*

            I would strongly encourage this as well. It sounds like she is in over her head so if she comes forward the damage is usually less. Granted working for cash isn’t really illegal until you don’t report it assuming you are a contract employ on your taxes but if she isn’t reporting it for unemployment that is a bigger problem.
            The second part kind of negates the fake reference thing as far as your sister goes. I don’t know your state but if your attorney general is half decent this is something that they should be involved with shutting down on multiple fronts and an attorney could help you sister become a whistle blower potentially.

          3. Amaranth*

            I used to work for a nonprofit that heavily relied on grants and the people funding them will definitely be interested in their lack of ethics and fraudulent practices . There are plenty of places that want government funding without risking scandal. If she consults a lawyer she should ask them for advice on reporting without getting accused of defamation, but there are whistleblower programs to report grant fraud.

        5. Thatoneoverthere*

          Any place that pays someone has a contractor has to send out a W9, at the end of the year for tax purposes. So if they are “paying her as a contractor” and don’t send a W9, they could face consequences. Not sure what those are #notalawyer. But I did work for a small non-profit that would occasionally have contract workers. Every year I was the one responsible for getting w9s out.

          1. Dancing Otter*

            Actually, the report of earnings as a contractor goes on a 1099-NEC; the W-9 is the form to get the SSN or TIN to put on the 1099. (Which is the least of the issues here.) The IRS instructions for form 1099 state: “If any failure to provide a correct payee statement is due to intentional disregard of the requirements to furnish a correct payee statement, the penalty is at least $560 per payee statement with no maximum penalty.” Not filing at all gets into more serious fines. Further, the annual report of nonprofit organizations, form 990, includes a statement that 1099s be issued if required, which would incur major penalties including loss of nonprofit status and monetary fines if they lie (and get caught).

            She should definitely track what they pay her for her own records. Even if they issue the 1099, what odds do you offer that it would be accurate? If they falsify their grant reports (highly probable), they won’t want to get caught because their 1099s don’t add up to what they report there or on their 990. I bet their listing on the IRS charitable organization listing would make interesting reading.

        6. Jaydee*

          This makes me absolutely furious. They are taking advantage of your sister’s vulnerable situation in order to further their own shady dealings.

          If nothing else, encourage your sister to contact her local legal aid program to get advice about her options. They deal with these types of programs (unemployment, job training, etc.) and know the rules that apply to them. And they also know and understand the various pressures that people face when they are in a precarious financial situation. They can assess whether there is any actual basis for this company to sue your sister (I highly doubt it) and help her understand the actual consequences of each possible choice she has.


          1. OP*

            This is amazing! I’ll definitely pass this to her, because I know she was very concerned about being fired but not being able to afford an attorney.

            1. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

              It is worth noting that many worker-side employment lawyers will take cases on contingency because the statutes they’d sue under require the “losing” side to pay the others’ attorney’s fees. It is common to pay a nominal amount for a consultation $30-40 and then sign paperwork regarding how things will get paid. The National Employment Lawyers Association has services in most (or all states) to provide a list of members who might take the case. She can then meet with one or all to decide what she wants to do.

        7. Insert Clever Name Here*

          At this point, I think your sister should report them herself because 1) what they’re doing is wrong as hell and 2) if she DOES wind up fired, she may be able to get some consideration on unemployment if she can give a solid case that she was fired for reporting fraud (others with more knowledge of unemployment may be able to correct me there).

          1. OP*

            She calls me almost every day in tears, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to convince her to report them. She’s also going through some personal difficulties, so I imagine she’s feeling overwhelmed.

            Once they do fire her (because I honestly think they will), I’d like to report them.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              What a terrible way to start a new career. I am sorry this happened to your sister. We had a training company in my area that offered something similar (“helping to write a resume”, company employees serving as fake references etc.) I admit I almost signed up for their training classes (which to be fair were legit classes taught by people with knowledge in the field) out of desperation, when I’d first arrived in the country. But that all was in the late 90s and I didn’t even know companies still did this in 2020, when everything is extremely easily verifiable. They’ll be out of business really soon. Hopefully you’ll be able to speed up that process by reporting them once she’s out of there (also hopefully soon).

            2. JSPA*

              There’s likely more money for her for turning them in for a percentage (and yes, this is a thing, when you report tax fraud) than they could ever be paying her.

            3. Zombeyonce*

              What JSPA said! If this company is committing tax fraud your sister could benefit by turning them in. This is straight from the IRS website: “The IRS Whistleblower Office pays money to people who blow the whistle on persons who fail to pay the tax that they owe. If the IRS uses information provided by the whistleblower, it can award the whistleblower up to 30 percent of the additional tax, penalty and other amounts it collects.”

              If they’ve been doing this for a couple of years, it might not be an insignificant amount. That might be enough of a motivation to get her to report them.

        8. Ama*

          Honestly this sounds like they are exploiting the fact that your sister needs a job and is not familiar with a standard work environment (no shame — I was also paid as a contractor illegally in my first job out of college, which I didn’t realize until I had a salaried job where I worked with (legal) contractors and got trained on the actual classification standards). I bet she is not the first person they’ve done this to by a long shot.

          As soon as she’s safely out of there, I’d drop a hint to any local media that this nonprofit that’s supposed to be helping women is actually exploiting them.

        9. Quill*

          She needs to leave NOW. The longer this goes on, the more involved she will be in the future investigation, and as it is now, she’s probably on much better ground with “I discovered that there were several illegal employment practices going on and quit” than she would be in another month or two.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Yes – this. They probably hired her to get their placement stats up. But do not rule out having hired her to make sure her hands are dirty too.

        10. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Please encourage your sister to consult with an employment attorney immediately. None of this is legal and she can probably be protected as a whistleblower.

        11. Observer*

          They’ve actually told my sister they’d sue her if she reported them.

          I hope she got that in writing. It’s an empty threat, but it’s great ammunition for a retaliation claim. And I can imagine someone like a DOL investigator salivating over something like this.

          As a contractor, she’s not doing anything illegal, but they most definitely ARE.


      6. MassMatt*

        Tax fraud AND with the intention of scamming unemployment as well. Very sleazy. If this is how they operate it’s only a matter of time before they get shut down. Scandal, indictments, and possible prison sentences are likely to follow.

        Do what you can to get her out of there, when this explodes a lot of people will get hurt.

      7. EPLawyer*

        Sounded perfectly normal to me. Law schools are infamous for hiring new grads for jobs in the law school for a few months after graduation. So they can report that 95% of graduates are working in the legal field (law schools count as the legal field) within 6 months of graduation. Amazingly, these jobs disappear shortly after the reports are due.

        Sounds like the same thing here. They knew she wouldn’t lie, they wanted to keep their stats up, so they hired her. Nothing more sinister than that.

        But yeah, sister needs to get a new job ASAP. Then burn the place to the ground — figuratively speaking of course.

        1. Amy Sly*

          I would love to see schools held to the same auditing standards as stockholders and other investment products for their reported statistics. If borrowing money is involved, that makes it an investment, and the fraudulent manipulation of rates of return (starting salaries and employment rates) that schools regularly do to entice students would get any Wall Street executive jailed.

      8. JSPA*

        This. They want to leave her holding the bag, or at least, a corner of it. At minimum, they can fire her and call her a disgruntled ex-employee.

        Oldest trick in the book of shady operators. Sorry she fell for it.

        You’re not protecting her by keeping her there. Better to have her be an informant and help take them down; there are other groups to do the (limited) good work that they’re doing. The disservice that they’re doing to their students (and the students’ employers, and to the very concept of a training program for underserved minorities) far outweighs those benefits.

        Terminate with extreme prejudice. This is desperately not OK.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Yeah, that struck me too. It definitely sounds like your sister is being set up and I hope she doesn’t fall for it.

    3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I do not agree with Allison’s advice. Your ethical obligations don’t change just because your relative has a job. While the LW waits for her sister to find something new, a lot of other people are going to get defrauded and hurt.

      Plus, is it actually doing the sister any good to go from victim of the scam to perpetrator of the scam? To be paid under the table by a place that is scamming the government? If this place comes under investigation, the fact that she’s working somewhere else now won’t help her. She will still be in trouble. If the sister reports this herself, now, she should at least have whistleblower protections.

      1. biobotb*

        Well, I think they do change, in so far as the LW now has to balance her ethical obligations to society with whatever she feels her ethical obligations are to her sister, given that her decision to report this nonprofit will likely directly impact her sister. Different people will do that calculation differently.

    4. TeapotNinja*

      Not defending the company’s practice, what they’re doing is ridiculous.

      However, lying on your resume is not illegal in most cases. Unwise, counterproductive and stupid, yes, but not illegal or fraud. There are obviously roles, Government jobs mostly, where lying about your credentials is fraud, but that’s not universally true.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Do NOT do this. Unless you are very very very very sure of your state’s wiretap laws. You going to jail will not spur a deeper investigation into the organization. It will literally allow them to claim nothing is going on, it’s one person trying to make the organization look bad.

      1. Greg*

        I would contact a whistleblower attorney. Unless these practices are exposed they will not stop.

      2. JM in England*

        Agreed. That said though, it would be a lot easier for the OP’s sister to do this if she lived in a One Party Consent state….

        1. OP*

          She does! I do imagine there’s piles of emails and “training” documents about how to falsify the resume and how they wanted to pay under the table, but they’re also incredibly meeting heavy so perhaps it is all verbal.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I can totally understand why she doesn’t want to start what will likely be an long mess. Here’s two bits of advice.

            1. If she just wants to put her head down and get out of this.
            a. She needs to play the game without implicating any knowledge (outside of what she learned as a participant and her first hand experience with her hire).
            b. Actively search for a new job
            c. Concentrate on gaining as much usable experience as she can during this employment
            d. Document as much as she can both on her personal experience as an employee and their unethical and illegal practices
            e. Once new job is secure move on to #2

            2. She can start this now while still employed but can also happen after 1.d
            a. Contact local DOL about hiring and illegal employee status
            b. Contact IRS about illegal employee status
            c. Contact Congressperson about gov’t funded non-profit and shady/illegal practices
            d. Contact the state attorney general’s office about illegal practices

  3. Storie*

    #2–Definitely say nothing. I’m actually wondering if the letter writer has a moral issue with this, otherwise why he so anxious to tattle. Are your conservative clients very likely to do a background check on your employees and discover this fact? I’m struggling to imagine that, unless if you google her name it pops up. She’s doing a good job in her role, let her live her life and have her career without your interference.

    1. NoRealy*

      Right? “ She does do her job well.” I’m trying to figure out the issue.
      She had sex at least once. And…??

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Thank you for this comment. I also picked up this vibe and am really hoping I misinterpreted the tone.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            I didn’t pick up that vibe, but I definitely think it’s really, really important for the LW to keep her mouth shut. First of all, it might be malice on the part of the person at the other company who reported it to her. Second, it might be a case of mistaken identity. Third, people do change. They get educations, undergo moral growth and arrange better jobs for themselves,* sometimes at great personal cost. This is a very positive thing and it should be encouraged. Fourth, if the LW reports it and turns out to be wrong they could find themselves on the wrong side of a slander suit or might simply get in trouble for “lying about their coworker.” The very best strategy for the LW is to simply pretend it didn’t happen.

            * Note that I’m not being sex negative and I have nothing against sex workers, but we shouldn’t forget that other people make changes in their lives, consider those changes to be improvements, then become very hurt and hostile when someone brings up the past, particularly when the revelations might damage them.

            1. Jim Bob*

              Good grief. Have we really become so sensitive that we have to consider sex work and professional office work to be equivalent career tracks? I don’t think anyone, including sex workers, is offended when you say making a move upward to a more stable, less exploited career is a good thing.

              1. Troutwaxer*

                My main reason for being careful with the above post was to make sure the discussion didn’t get bogged down in that particular irrelevancy. (I don’t have any problems with sex workers either, but the world is full of people who will make a mountain out of a molehill.)

              2. Smeralda*

                It’s not about being “sensitive” it’s about being respectful to women who work in a ridiculously marginalized and stigmatized field.

              3. HoHumDrum*

                Actually there are sex workers who love what they do and have no interest in moving to other careers. Assuming that sex work is inherently a lesser career (“move upwards”) is a judgment that not everybody holds, and it’s something a lot of sex workers are advocating we change our mindsets about. Mistress Matisse speaks a lot about this issue, for example.

                I’m not trying to change your mind about how you personally feel about sex work, but your last sentence simply isn’t true.

                1. Jennifer*

                  Usually people from more privileged backgrounds hold that stance. Many sex workers end up doing it because they don’t have other options. I can’t believe the white liberal tone deafness in some of these comments.

                2. HoHumDrum*


                  A person saying “not all sex workers hate sex work” isn’t saying “everyone loves sex work”. All I responded to was Jim Bob’s statement that “nobody” would be offended by the suggestion that moving away from sex work is always preferred and a move “upwards”. That’s not true, and something I’ve seen expressed by many sex workers from all walks of life, including workers trying to leave the industry is that statements like Jim Bob’s aren’t particularly helpful. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just was speaking to the validity of Jim Bob’s point.

                3. JSPA*

                  Like an athletic career, most performers age out of demand well before retirement age (understanding of course that there’s a small niche for older workers).

                  Unlike an athletic career, there’s (so far as I can tell) no unmet, highly paid demand for talent scouts, coaches, trainer, commentary, team management, niche-specific nutrition & clothing to parlay into a job for one’s mature years. (In contrast, staging / production / marketing are open in both fields.)

                  So in that sense, most of the people who participate will be getting out at some point, if they want to maintain their income, let alone grow it.

              4. Paperwhite*

                A little sensitivity is better than running roughshod over people and never questioning our own assumptions.

              5. Anonymous for this one*

                I have a friend who did sex work as a career. And I use the past tense, because she invested wisely, was able to pay off her house at 30, and when she retired at 40 bought herself a new BMW, which she paid cash for.

                I am not a sex worker but I am absolutely offended when you suggest that an office job is always a ‘move upward’.

              6. Crivens!*

                Former sex worker. I know plenty of sex workers who would be at least a little offended because they like their jobs and want to stay in them.

                1. cody*

                  Doing sex work because you want to is a huge privilege. The majority of sex workers do it because they don’t have a choice. I’m as sex positive as anyone else here, but sometimes these “sex work is empowering!” attitudes can be really dismissive of the people who are either trafficked into it or are in a desperate situation.

                2. Crivens!*

                  Cody, the sex work I did was coerced. Believe me, I understand that there are people in the industry who desperately do not want to be there. I’d appreciate my point not being dismissed as “woo woo sex work is so empowering” when I’m simply pointing out that going in the opposite direction and saying it is always abusive or terrible is wrong.

                3. HoHumDrum*


                  Nowhere did Crivens! say “sex work is awesome!”. All they did was point out that it’s not true that everyone agrees moving away from sex work is the goal. Feels like you’re projecting things onto Crivens! comments that aren’t there, and are kind of outside the scope of the question.

                  We know nothing about the colleague LW is writing about and their experience in sex work, or how they perceive it, and also it doesn’t particularly matter as far as what LW needs to know, so let’s not assume.

          2. Mystery Bookworm*

            I understand people’s reactions here, but look: OP paused and wrote in for advice.

            She didn’t immediately share the news, which is what we would expect from someone who was truely “thrilled” at being able to ruin someone’s life. So clearly she’s open to the idea that sharing is wrong.

            1. Mookie*

              I just have a hard time believing most people would ever be able to muster the nerve/gall/whatever to broach this topic with their co-worker, but here is the LW, sincerely asking if they should do that. That’s fine, I suppose, but it suggests an unusual mindset that leads them to believe they are well-served by continuing to care about or be scandalized by this information about their colleague. Also, they are a touch blase about how they happened upon this job history, a gossiping man who appears to find sex work disqualifying.

              1. Mystery Bookworm*

                I know someone who was in an adult film and pursued a unrelated career, and I’ve absolutely witnessed people with the nerve/gall/whatever to broach the topic in completely inappropriate circumstances. I’m also lucky to know a lot of people who would never even think to broach or consider it any of their buisness.

                Where we have the most room to influence, to my mind, is people who are stuck somewhere in the middle category. Sort of vaugely aware that it’s not their business, but also feeling very heavily the weight of the societal norms and faux-‘virtue’ they’ve absorbed on the topic.

                1. chewingle*

                  A friend of mine did multiple adult films as a way to make money to escape her abusive family and go to college. (Though she did actually enjoy working in the industry, she had a dream career she was after.)

                  Let people live their lives, LW, holy shit.

              2. Troutwaxer*

                My reading was that the LW felt they needed to know about workplace norms around having a colleague who might have been a sex-worker at some point, and I don’t think this was an inappropriate question, (though the LW might want to examine their assumptions about sex work.) While I have strong feelings about how the LW should and shouldn’t behave,* I also get that this is a difficult problem for some people. Let’s not assume facts that don’t exist.

                * LW should keep their mouth shut about unconfirmed gossip, and not believe that their contact at the other company was truly giving them the facts. If the issue ever comes up and someone criticizes the LW for remaining quiet, they can simply say “I didn’t know whether the information I was given was accurate, and I didn’t know what the motive might be for passing me the information, and it seemed very unfair to hurt someone’s employment record with unconfirmed gossip.” (A reputation for keeping one’s mouth shut is always a good thing, IMHO.)

              3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

                I have a bigger problem with the fact that this is all based on gossip. At my last job I was personally involved in a rumor created by assumptions. I went out to lunch with colleagues, and while waiting for the light to change, we witnessed an accident. They got out to help, and I pulled the car over and waited on the side of the road. Apparently someone saw me standing there, and by the time I got back to the office, a bunch of people were coming up to me asking if I was okay because I had been in a bad accident. First, OP shouldn’t assume that was what was said to her is 100% fact, and second, even if it is, it’s none of OP’s business.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Names are not unique. (There are at least 18 of “me” in Facebook.)
                  Lookalikes exist.
                  Vengeful exes exist, along with revenge porn, exploitative situations, and the technology to merge images and video.
                  And some people change their lives, with or without help. (Mary Magdalen anyone?)

                2. JJ*

                  Gossip WITH A CLIENT. 100% not cool, OP you should have shut that down right away, like “wow, I’m not sure why you’re telling me this, but Jane is an exemplary employee. Let’s stick to safe-for-work topics.”

                  Porn is fine, sex work is fine. We all have jobs in our past that have nothing to do with our current career and thus don’t warrant mentioning, treat this like that.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Agreed, LW asked for advice before proceeding. That tells us something.
              I read it as, “Do I have to tell my company? If I do maybe I would rather talk to her first.”
              I can kind of see that especially with a peer who is likable and doing their job. It’s might be easier to think of talking with them and warning them that this news is out there and may come around. I know I have had several “watch your back” conversations. My overall approach was, “I have no idea if this is true or not, nor do I care. But you might want to know that [blah, blah, blah].”

              But mostly to me the letter felt like, “I have never encountered something like this before and what do I do? And what do I have to do ethically?”

              OP, don’t forget you can push back when someone tells you something like this. You can say, “I don’t really need to know this stuff and there is nothing I can do here anyway.” Some people relate these stories for shock value OR to show off how much they know about what is going on. It’s always good to consider the source of the info and try to estimate what their motive is for telling you.

              1. Mockingjay*

                “Some people relate these stories for shock value.”

                That’s exactly what this is. The guy is hoping for juicy gossip. It has nothing to do with professionalism; in fact his bringing it up is unprofessional. My response would have been to completely ignore the salacious tidbit as if it had never been spoken.

                If Gossip Guy ever brings it up again: “We don’t discuss our hiring practices; our company values each of its employees and respects their privacy at all times.”

                1. Rachel in NYC*

                  I agree. And since personally I wonder how someone doing porn would come up on a background check (maybe it does- but unless it’s gov’t work, that is a really thorough background check that someone then shared around the office. So a good office to not work in if that’s the case.)

                  It sounds more likely that someone in the office saw Coworker and thought she looked like someone from an adult movie. I might be more prone to respond that (1) we don’t discuss our practices and (2) I also really don’t need to know your porn habits.

                2. tangerineRose*

                  Yeah, how did the guy find out?

                  If the conservative clients don’t watch adult film, are they ever going to find out? If they do watch it, then maybe they shouldn’t complain.

              2. Mystery Bookworm*

                I also 100% know people who were raised in enviornments where the messaging would be: “X is immoral. If you know someone who is engaged in X and you don’t move to stop them, you are just as immoral and culpable as the person engaged in X.”

                Even if you move out and move on, it can be incredibly difficult to re-program that messaging.

            3. Tuckerman*

              Good point. If we want to encourage people to pause and seek advice before taking action, it’s worth considering how our comments help/hinder that.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I did not pick up that vibe from anyone other than the guy from another company that had talked to LW. Good lord, I would love to know the name of that other company so I never accidentally apply to work for them. (I know it cannot be disclosed, just dreaming out loud here.)

          4. Anon for the Day*

            Not sure how this will nest, but whether or not moving out of sex work into a more mainstream job as a “Step forward” shouldn’t be the issue the OP focuses on. Whatever their feelings on sex work, the information simply isn’t relevant to their work today. Does the fact (if it is in fact true) that this person performed sex acts in a movie some time ago have any bearing on their job today? No, because unless she’s filming new movies in her office on company time, it simply doesn’t matter (or shouldn’t, IMO). Nor should her reasons from moving from port to the mainstream work world. Her reasons from moving from sex work to IT (or whatever) are her business.

        2. Emily*

          I picked up the same vibe. It’s not like she has a history of assault or embezzlement. I understand the stated concern about the “very conservative” clients (I’m sure there would be lots of performative pearl clutching if they found out, though I would bet good money most of them have seen an adult film), but it seems like the person from the other company who shared the information with LW did it to be gossipy. LW needs to stop the gossip by not letting it go any further.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            Yes, and really stop the gossip. Don’t repeat it to anyone, not your work bestie, not just one time at happy hour, not at some weird industry event where “no one knows her.” Don’t tell anyone. This is 100% her business and hers alone.

          2. EPLawyer*

            Concern about conservative clients is so coded. Clients don’t get to be misognynistic just because they are clients.

            1. EverybodyHasOne*

              If the clients are so “conservative” how are they going to know she did sex work, unless someone tells them? Aren’t they too “conservative” to be watching porn? Or are they just hypocrites?

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Also, anyone who is truly horrified about adult films should be thrilled and supportive when an adult film actor moves on to something else.

              2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

                And would those conservative clients also refuse to work with a man who’d viewed one of those “adult” movies? No, I didn’t think so! Adult films wouldn’t exist if there weren’t viewers who paid money to see them – so how does that make the actors / actresses in those flicks any worse than their audience?! As if no “conservatives” ever sneaked a peek at a XXX-rated movie!

                LW, please shut down the office gossips on this subject (taking a bored “I don’t know and I don’t care” attitude should do it) and do your best to stop this inane chatter before someone gets hurt by it.

            2. Joielle*

              Yuuuuuup. “Oh, *I* would never care, it’s just that our *clients* are so conservative, what if our *clients* find out?? Maybe I should tell a bunch more people just in case??” Classic concern trolling.

              OP, if you’re reading this, I’m glad you didn’t give in to the impulse. I imagine you have things in your past that you wouldn’t want all your coworkers to know about, so imagine that this woman feels the same way.

      1. MK*

        OK, I agree with everything commenters say about this, but being disingenuous about equating some variation of sex work with just having sex isn’t helping anyone or anything.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          TW: Rape

          The thing is that it is very possible that this (if it exists and does actually feature her, which is questionable) is not actually “some form of sex work” that she chose to participate in, but rather revenge porn or something even worse than that – there is a story going around Twitter of a woman who has had to campaign PornHub for YEARS to try and have a film of her being raped removed from the site. Literally the only thing you *can* say from this is that at some point she has had sex and somebody, somewhere has filmed it and put it online – she may not have been paid, she may not have consented to have the film put online or known she was being filmed, and she may not have consented to the sex at all.

          (To be clear, she does not need to be a victim in order to justify the existence of the film and if she chose to do sex work that is also completely legitimate. She should be left alone. But the point is that you don’t know why or how this film came to exist, and the answers could be very sad and distressing for her.)

      2. JSPA*

        Yes. If that’s even her, you know that a) she had sex once and b) there was a camera. That’s literally all you know, as far as what, why, and how.

        In context:

        Things that reflect badly on someone’s honesty (like stealing or cheating) are far more work-relevant; yet we don’t generally consider someone unhirable for life because they shoplifted makeup with friends as a teen, or they and their whole fraternity were involved in a cheating scandal.

        Driving drunk leads to actual deaths and dismemberments, yet people generally don’t consider someone unhirable for all time because they failed a breathalyser test.

        Why on earth would we penalize someone more than that for an adult video?

    2. Ravenahra*

      If they have a moral issue then that’s even more reason to leave the woman alone. It sounds like she left the adult film industry and wanted to work in a different field. So, how is she supposed to do that if no one will let her work outside of the adult film field.

      So, if the lw has a moral objection to the adult film industry then why is he or she trying to force someone back into it by removing job opportunities that would allow her to leave it.

      It just annoys me how many people condemn women for being in the film industry and, at the same time, want them fired if they get a job outside the industry.

      Just leave her alone and let her get in with her life especially since the lw has no clue about the circumstances that led to her being in the film and leaving the film so the lw has no basis to judge…and, of course, those circumstances are none of the lw’s business.

      Unless the coworker is making the lw’s job harder, then the lw needs to just keep their nose in their own business.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        So much this. What do you want her to do about her past work history now? If she’s good at her current job, then what she did 10 years ago in a different industry is of absolutely no import. Getting her potentially fired from a job she does well, because she did something in a previous job that was not illegal or immoral or wrong? Makes no sense to me.

        People are allowed to have sex. People are allowed to have sex on film. People are allowed to have sex on film and get paid for it. You don’t have to consume or like or approve of adult films. It doesn’t make it wrong to have been in one — or several! — once.

        1. Al*

          What she did at a previous job in another industry is irrelevant even if she’s bad at her job. It’s just not relevant.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is such a great point.

        OP, I was talking about pushing back when people tell you these things and this is an excellent point.
        You can say something like, “Well i guess that is over now. And how is she going to get different work, if everyone at every work place judges her?”

        1. Green great dragon*

          I see where you’re coming from but it would also be OK if it wasn’t over (perhaps with exceptions for a very few careers), and this feels like it’s running a bit close to the redemption narrative discussed further down. I’d definitely agree OP should have a script ready in case it happens again, but I’d rather it was rooted in ‘so what?’ than ‘it was all in the past and she’s changed now’.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        THIS! So . . . condemn people for working in industries like this, but then don’t give them an avenue out? What do you even want, people?

        Also, I never hear complaints about a pay structure that makes it hard for people (and even harder for women) to earn equivalent money doing “respectable” work. If you don’t want women to do this kind of thing, pay them well enough as waitresses/janitors/veterinary assistants/cashiers/whatever that stripping or blue films are no longer the best options.

        1. Oaktree*

          I mean, what they want is for people who have the temerity to have had sex for money (or who were forced to do so, or who have had sex in literally any way they don’t approve of) to be punished for it, on an ongoing basis, until they get bored of this particular iteration of moralism. They won’t admit it, but that is generally what they want: an object of scorn through which to perform and by which to underscore their own supposed moral superiority.

          Whether the coworker in question was coerced into sex work, whether it was a career she loved, or whether it was a sex tape that was leaked by a vengeful ex (or whether it never existed in the first place!) is totally immaterial. There is no point in continuing this rumour by gossiping about it. LW needs to let it lie.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, I said something similar before I saw your post. If it’s awful that anyone would make adult films, support them when they find other work.

    3. Al*

      Exactly. Lots of people have worked in adult films and or sex work.

      It’s not a big deal. People have different jobs over their lives. Move on. I know everything is closed due to COVID but it’s time to get a hobby, because you’re devoting too much emotional energy to this. There are bigger problems out there.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        She might not even have had sex on film – we have a celeb who technically appeared in an adult film (for a series is which he did things he’s never done before, which included going on a metal cruise, ghost hunting, and babysitting). He played the actress’s brother who didn’t trust the boyfriend.

        1. Not Australian*

          MTE; just being *in* the film isn’t indicative of anything but needing the money at the time.

          1. JM in England*

            I concur. Perhaps she badly needed the money at the time and there were no other job opportunities that offered the same salary

    4. PollyQ*

      Agreed with what everyone’s saying. I also think there’s a distinct possibility that the report is a flat-out lie. Obviously it might be true, but it has the feel to me of someone who was romantically rejected and is out for revenge.

      1. Junger*

        I certainly wouldn’t trust their judgement or moral integrity.
        Reasonable people don’t base their hiring on irrelevant details and then maliciously gossip about it to third parties.

      2. Helena1*

        Exactly, OP hasn’t seen the film. Do they actually know that the film exists, and that their colleague is in it?

        This could be a) a total fabrication, or b) somebody else entirely. I assume they weren’t using their own name in the porn film, or their porn name at their office job. Or c) revenge porn, if the film is a diy effort rather than a proper movie. She may not know she’s in it, or have consented to it. There are so many stories of ex boyfriends photoshopping heads onto existing porn films and sticking it on Pornhub, and the victim losing their career over it.

        Unless the colleague is literally Stormy Daniels or some other famous porn star, you have to assume this isn’t true, wasn’t them, or there is potentially a lot more to the story than you have heard, and keep your mouth shut.

        If your coworker is actually Stormy Daniels, well that’s an interesting fact to know, but she is entitled to move on with her life just like everyone else.

      3. JJ*

        Agreed, I mean OP should not need any more info/context before they shut this whole thing down, but it’s worth reflecting that she might be a revenge porn victim. Pretty sure this sort of thing doesn’t show up on a regular background check, and even if it did, the audacity to share it with your vendor is super suspect.

        Again, it’s still none of OP’s business even if she filmed several box sets’ worth of material, but you don’t know if this is even real, so let it go.

    5. Anonymous and Appalled*

      First, I’m glad the letter writer wrote in to ask what to do and hesitated. Because to do this to a co-worker who is good at her job based on a tawdry rumor about her past, true or not, would be just heinous. Thank you for not going through with that.

      It makes me mad that this woman may have already had a previous job offer withdrawn for reasons that had zero to do with her qualifications and everything to do with judgments about her past that have nothing to do with the job. This kind of stigma can needlessly punish someone for life by impairing her from making a living.

      Whether or not she was in an adult film in her past, which could just be malicious gossip, makes no difference. Saying something to management would victimize a person who has done nothing wrong in her job. If you were my co-worker and I found out that you had done this to another co-worker, it would make you seem like a deliberately vindictive person. And therefore a pariah in my eyes.

      1. Scarlet2*

        This. Also, “should I ask her about it first and confirm?” errrr no, because it’s none of your business and seriously, how does LW envision that? “I heard this second-hand gossip that you were in an adult movie and I want to confirm it with you so I can report you to management and you can lose your job over something completely innocuous you might or might not have done ages ago and IS TOTALLY NONE OF MY CONCERN”?
        And I agree with other commenters that LW seems suspiciously eager to go off and destroy someone’s life.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Taking it from another angle…

          “Hey so a weird comment was made to me yesterday and I just wanted you to know about it. FTR… I’m not doing anything with this other than letting you know and don’t expect you to comment on it to me one way or another because it’s not my place to care about it.

          Joe from ACME co mentioned in a conference call that you had applied there and they did not offer the job to you because your background check came back that you had been in an adult film.

          The only reason I’m telling you this is so that you are informed of what is being said and by whom. Do with this information what you want but please know as far as I’m concerned it’s now information that has been passed on and will not ever be thought of by me again”

          1. SomebodyElse*

            ETA… I would want someone to tell me if they had knowledge of this information being shared, regardless if it was true or just rumor.

            Professional reputations are important. There is no gain to the coworker by LW keeping this knowledge from them. Even if the LW doesn’t say another word about this to anyone ever… the first company is obviously not keeping the information to themselves, so it will get out to others.

    6. NotJennifer*

      I just can’t get over the fact that her previous employment in an unrelated field would be at all relevant. WTF. They are treating this like they just found out that she had been in prison, or done something else illegal/disqualifying. It sounds like, if it is even true, she had a job that some prudes think is icky, and want to let that overshadow anything relevant. The immorality here is their judgment, not her undisclosed job history.

    7. MassMatt*

      I agree that the LW should drop it but I’m just amazed someone evidently did porn under their real name. WTH, she really was “Misty Bottoms”?

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Or maybe she just happens to share a name with a porn star – even if they all have such obvious alias names, people name their kids the weirdest things.
        Unless the person who brought it up actually saw a thumbnail or poster or even watched the video and could clearly identify her, there’s no way to tell it was actually her.
        And in case anyone wonders: no, I do not encourage looking it up to confirm.

        1. Helena1*

          Are you confident you could identify a coworker reliably, from their naked body ten years ago? I’m certainly not.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          One of my best friends has the same name as a porn star. Let’s just say I was VERY SURPRISED back in the the day (early 2000s) when I first googled her out of curiosity.

        3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          When my sister was pregnant she ended up taking a name she really liked out of the running because she Googled it and it was already in use in the porn industry. Not every parent thinks to do that (and there are lots of us fogies who were born before Google still out here looking for jobs!)

          1. 'Tis Me*

            *quickly Google her 3 children* Awesome – my eldest who is 5 wants to be a doctor and shares her name with one!

      2. Jack Be Nimble*

        This may be a recent shift in the industry, but a lot of modern adult film stars don’t use outlandish, porn-y names. Most pick names that sound a little unusual, but wouldn’t be completely bizarre as a given name.

        My high school boyfriend shared a name with a then-famous adult film star. His first and last name are both among the 100 most common in the country, it just so happened that someone else was performing under that same name.

        1. KaciHall*

          My high school boyfriend’s little sister’s name was Crystal Hart. His older sister (not related, bunch of half-siblings in that family) asked when she was going to start stripping because it was a perfect name for it. His older sister was a stripper at the time. If his mom had the slightest idea she’d have been horrified.

    8. LCH*

      if the clients are really conservative, i assume that means they don’t watch porn. so they would never find out!

      1. alienor*

        This reminded me of being mocked at a pool party in sixth grade because “Your bathing suit came from K-Mart.” I asked the girl who said it how she’d know unless she’d been shopping in K-Mart herself, and she made up some story about buying school supplies. (Note: it was a cute bathing suit and there’s nothing wrong with K-Mart.)

    9. Nanani*


      “But our ~conservative clients~” is such a convenient cover for personal bigotry isn’t it?

    10. Greatye*

      And imagine that it was revenge porn or that she was tricked into participating in an adult film and got abused like the vast majority of women in porn do. It’s not her fault.

    11. LifeBeforeCorona*

      There is also the possibility of revenge porn. Someone close to her could have posted the video without her knowledge or permisssion.

  4. Peppa Pig*

    #2 If any of your conservative clients recognise her (and mention it), they will be calling themselves out.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. It’s a huge industry, bigger than standard Hollywood and gaming combined. I just hate the double standards of people who are perfectly happy to consume porn but vilify the people who actually make it possible for them to do so. Besides, the LW hasn’t even seen the film concerned, so how is he so sure the coworker even appeared in a film? I don’t think being involved in the porn industry is shameful, as long as the people involved are in it voluntarily and nobody is being coerced into it, but this LW is relying on second or third-hand information.

      1. Scarlet2*

        “I just hate the double standards of people who are perfectly happy to consume porn but vilify the people who actually make it possible for them to do so.”

        Not to mention the added double standard that female performers are WAY more vilified than male performers.

      1. Jaw Drop*

        Agreed! Stop the cycle LW2. Leave this colleague be. Don’t share this with your management, not the clients, and don’t make this workplace locker room talk. It’s one thing not to mention this to management, but don’t be the one spreading the wildfire amongst your colleagues, too. If you were her supervisor, your leverage may be different. But as it stands, just try to be a decent human being and stop the spread of gossip. How awful.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      Yes. The woman caught in adultery scene, where if you recall the Mosaic code for prosecution, heavily implies that her accusers were in on her adultery. Recognizing a porn actress from her work means her accuser knows her work. So, put down those stones.

      LW2, is there a *legitimate* reason to care about her old life? Do you have reason to believe she’s an Allison Mack (a mainstream actress, granted)? Or recruiting minors? If not, let her move on and reinvent herself.

      Also curious, what exactly is your end goal here? If you’re against the adult movie industry that’s fine, but what isn’t fine is to be like those hate mobs you see on Twitter, who reject the very concept of forgiveness and redemption. Did you *not* want people in the sex film industry to leave it? Why make it difficult to leave?

    1. Idril Celebrindal*

      Good point. I realize that I too assumed that the LW was a he. It was a combination of calling the coworker “female” right off the bat and the patronizing vibe of “this female does her job well despite the suggestion that she had sex on camera, *pat pat pat*”

      But yes, women can be just as judgemental and patronizing about this subject as men, so I shouldn’t assume. Either way LW2, please stop policing your coworker’s body, she’s gotten enough of that already from the company your guy friend works at, at the very least.

  5. Bex*

    LW2 – whether or not your colleague appeared in an adult film, it’s no business of yours. I’m struggling with how to put this into words, but this feels very much like deciding you don’t like the idea so they should be punished.

    If your conservative clients find the video, guess what? That means they were looking for those kinds of videos.

    Also. Let’s just acknowledge how skeevy that contact who shared that information is. On a conference call. Who else was on the call? Who else now has this story and idea (regardless of the veracity of the tale)? That’s gross. Absolutely gross.

    I’m coming down hard on this and it might not be okay, but you REALLY need to do some serious self searching and try to figure out why you were inclined to report it, or even think that was a reasonable action.

    This reeks of punitive action, and that’s not okay.

    1. Ravenahra*

      And if it is punitive then it’s ridiculous punitive since it’s basically – women who star in adult films are wrong and need to be punished and their punishment should be never being allowed to work in any other industry.

      It’s a catch 22 situation and punitive action like this is completely not right or kind or being a good person. Especially since, as has been pointed out, the lw doesn’t even know if it’s true. It wouldn’t be the first case of mistaken identity. Maybe the skeevy guy that brought it up thinks the coworker looks like an adult film actress but it’s not her.

    2. Bex*

      Coming back to this because I can’t edit comments but want to lay a few other things out too.

      1. Discussion of adult films on a business call? Inappropriate, highly so. At a minimum, I would think it would be something to immediately respond to with “that’s not an appropriate topic for a business call, and I’m going to need you to stop discussing this, and not bring it up again. At all.”

      2. Conservative clients don’t (or shouldn’t) get to dictate the lives of employees. “Our conservative clients might get upset” is the same type of reasoning used to not hire unmarried pregnant women, or LGBTQ+ employees, or any of a score of other items.

      Seriously. This profoundly bothers me.

      The only thing that should matter as regards your colleague is whether she does her work well and on time, and behaves professionally.

      Example of unprofessional behavior? Considering spreading gossip that a coworker appeared in an adult film.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        This x1000. I actually think Allison was too kind to LW#2. The urge to gossip and get a coworker fired (and lose her livelihood/ ability to buy food and shelter) for legal out of work activity because it has to do with sex is not a good look. Hope LW#2 does some soul searching.

      2. Idril Celebrindal*

        Yes, this, thank you. The cognitive dissonance in our culture between “woman was in adult film back in the day and should be blacklisted from every industry ever”, and “man raped woman he had power over and should be forgiven and how could people ever consider not welcoming him back with open arms because he gave a half-assed apology” is so discouraging, and it makes me want to rage at everything.

        Just be like Elsa and let it go, LW2

        1. Scarlet2*

          +1000 This attitude is sickening and I find it so depressing that we’re still at this point in 2020.

      3. FriedGold*

        Yesh I saw a similar situation when working for a small software house in the UK.

        One of our clients was a high religious publishing house, which as a condition of working for them insisted that all our employees had to sign declaration’s that we hadn’t indulged in many things, including that we had never had an abortion.

        At the same time, one of our other clients was a another publishing house specialising in homosexual erotica!

        We where a small company who couldn’t afford to turn down business, so we all agreed to sign as a box ticking exercise but where never held to it and we also decided not to mention our clients to each other!

        1. UKDancer*

          Wow, I’d love to know how the religious one thought you’d be honest about it or how they’d ever know if you had done these things. I mean if I were asked that sort of thing I’d just say “no” to everything regardless because it’s none of their business. I’m glad you took the same approach.

          I think they have a lot of nerve trying to get their suppliers to abide by their own rules.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’d not have been able to sign that declaration and I wonder how they’d reacted? Demand I be fired or no business? Those kind of clients in my experience end up being the ones you fire in the end.

          (Memories of a client who demanded they visit every day(!) to ensure we were not doing anything against their religion. We were a software company)

      4. Mystery Bookworm*

        “2. Conservative clients don’t (or shouldn’t) get to dictate the lives of employees. “Our conservative clients might get upset” is the same type of reasoning used to not hire unmarried pregnant women, or LGBTQ+ employees, or any of a score of other items.”

        Yes – I often find that this “our clients are conservative” is used to justfy all sorts of shardy behaviour on the part of companies.

        1. Junger*

          And strangely enough, it never works the other way around.
          Nobody goes around hiring minorities and improving work environments to pander to “our progressive clients”.

      5. Lord Peter Wimsey*

        +1000 to your comments Bex and others on this thread, particularly about the person who shared this information on a conference call. Skeevy, petty, malicious…. I can think of a lot of words to describe this. Ugh.

      6. tamarack and fireweed*

        If this conference call contact is a recurring work counterpart of the LW I wonder if they shouldn’t be advised to say something like “I thought about what you claimed the other day. Apparently nothing of concern showed up in *our* background check. There’s a whole lot of scope for mistaken identities and reputational harm to our co-worker, who is doing excellent work. She might just as well be followed by malicious rumors. Being sure of such a thing would require our team to sit in a conference room viewing pornography, which is a ridiculous proposition. And I’d wonder how anyone would know other from their own viewing choices! This is not a topic I want to revisit.”

        It’s probably hard to get this across better than what would result from pretending it never happened. Maybe if the partner brings up the topic again.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      If your conservative clients are the righteous people they claim to be, they won’t find the video. If they do find the video, they’re hypocrites and their views on this are irrelevant. (Actually, their views are irrelevant, anyway.)

    4. I'm just here for the cats*

      Also, What if it’s not this person at all?!? I remember a while ago, I dont remember if it was Ask A Manager or another site, but someone said that they have the same name as a porn star. This could be a case of mistaken identity.
      Or another thought, maybe that creep is making up stories about this person because she wouldn’t date him or something?
      Letter Writer it doesn’t affect her work, or you, so just leave it alone. I kind of want to give the girl a heads up but i dont know if LW could do it without being judgy.

  6. MN Auditor*

    To LW #1

    Depending on how much funding they receive from the government they may be required to have an annual audit. This is absolutely information the auditor would want. If they are required to have an audit, they will usually engage the same firm to perform the tax work necessary for filing their 990 informational return. 990’s are publicly available information and you should be able to identify the audit firm based on who is listed as the preparer.

      1. Underemployed Erin*

        This sounds not unlike a thing that is happening where I live, but the thing that is happening here is slightly different.

        There is an organization set up in the model of a code school. It pays people hourly to attend, and they get government job training dollars.

        However, you have to go through some very bizarre and drawn out application process because so many people are trying to get in. They make it needlessly high stress.

        Even with that process, most of these candidates end up working for the company because they don’t have the experience to get a real tech job.

        Essentially, they make students go through a lot of the exercises on https://www.freecodecamp.org/ and submit the solutions as part of their application.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      To add to this – they may also be required to have an A-133 audit, or a Single Audit which is specifically over the grant money. These are also publicly available through the Federal Audit Clearinghouse.

  7. Heffalump*

    A coworker of mine years ago was very open about the fact that he’d been in both gay and straight adult films. The nature of the business was such that it was a nonissue.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, but this is also a gendered issue. As usual, women who are involved in the adult film industry are usually judged a lot more harshly than men. Unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is.

      1. Courtney*

        I think you’re right about it being a gendered issue, but I also think it hugely depends on the company & culture, the clients, and general field (with fields like law and finance being more conservative than fields like video game development and magazine editing)

  8. Jean Marie Downing*

    I’m guessing letter writer five just couldn’t get past that picture her husband kept in the attic.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It’s a reference to the response, hopefully the LW will get a chuckle out of it.

  9. GammaGirl1908*

    For LW3, especially in a parting like you are describing, it is very possible to discuss with your employer what they will say when you have someone call for a reference. You can agree with them that they will say that they needed to make some staffing changes through no fault of yours, and that you were a good employee and departed the position on good terms.

    I was fired from my first job out of school, mostly for sucking at it, and then for having made a big, fat, last-straw mistake. I asked to be allowed to resign, and they agreed to give me a neutral reference. I knew I was on thin ice, so I wasn’t that surprised by getting let go, and I was already looking for something new. I temped for a couple of months until I found a new job. The lady at the temp agency confirmed that indeed, when she called my previous job, they said nice things about me. They didn’t want me unemployed and broke forever, they just didn’t want me working THERE anymore. They were perfectly fine with me finding a new job that was a better fit, and were happy to facilitate that.

    1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      There’s a difference between being given a reference, and being told you’re ineligible for rehire as well. People can just have bad goes and be bad fits for hundreds of reasons but that doesn’t mean they were a bad employee. They were just not-compatible for current needs. Plus, you can be strategic about your references as well.

      In regards to this specific industry, however, it’s almost a badge of honor to be chucked off a campaign. It’s so common that most people won’t blink an eye unless it was for gross misconduct. It will probably be known that a campaign switched a great number of their staff at a certain point in the campaign, depending on how high profile it is, as well. The nature of campaign work is that you get recycled a lot—even if your work is top notch. Sometimes you’re just not the special spice that the campaign manager wants.

      1. OP3*

        Thanks to both of you for this response! Good to know a rocky start isn’t a death sentence, and I know I’m joining legions of campaign staff who’ve been axed in a switch up.

      2. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I think campaign work is known to be short-term. And an employer can pretty easily look up that Joe Schmoe lost his campaign for congress and that you may have been a casualty. This sounds more like a layoff than a performance-based firing.

        And even if you get fired…you can recover. I was fired from a job for just not being a good at it. I found the key was to negotiate a neutral reference and be straightforward in my responses to fellow interviewers (and to avoid the kind of work I was fired from). It hurt at the time, d on’t get me wrong, but now it’s just a distant memory.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        I agree that this is not at all like a peformance-based firing. A campaign for office is more of a “proof is in the pudding” situation – you can try a whole range of things with people very competent at each of the options, but you don’t know beforehand what will work (maybe nothing will!). If someone asks I’d frame it as “The campaign realized they needed to shake up their approach to [fundraising/whatever it is], brought in someone with a different skill set and eliminated my position”. If you’re the national campaign manager or squeamish about saying that because the new person has the same job title, you can say “my job”.

        Make sure you get on the same page as your reference before they’re called, if you apply for jobs outside politics. If your next job is in someone’s legislative office I’m sure they know what it means. Someone who would blame the fortunes of a political campaign on a campaign employee in their first job and count it as a strike against the applicant when a campaign replaced them isn’t someone you’d like to work with anyway.

        And maybe you aren’t getting kicked out anyhow!

        1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          Maybe not a legislative office, but a campaign adjacent position in the hundreds of non-profits that litter the Acela Corridor. It gets you out of the insanity of campaigning while maintaining your contacts on both sides of the divide.

          The most important thing is managing your references, like how tamarack said. Know what will be said about your work, and that they’re an appropriate person to call. This goes for all jobs and references.

      4. Politico*

        “Campaigns are obviously really different from corporations, and I know this kind of shake-up is common. My mentors have told me that if this happens, I shouldn’t feel like someone who got fired from her first job.”

        Your mentors are correct.

  10. Carrie Oakie*

    #2 – Dear Lord indeed! She allegedly appeared in ONE adult film. Do you know many adult films are made per year? (I know how many my area does and it’s…quick math…480.) This woman, for all you know, consented to be in an adult film. Their background check must be insanely thorough or she listed her representative as a company she worked for (some talent does) – even if it were an amateur title she wouldn’t use her full legal name. That information is guarded and taken very seriously if released. (I know we’ve had to deal with that.) I have questions about that background check indeed. which leads me to a few thoughts.

    A) the person who told you either knew themselves or someone at their office watched her movie enough to recognize her face. (Which can be hard because of the amount of makeup often used) and decided it best not to work with a “porn star.”

    B) you’ve decided that a person who appears in an adult movie is not capable of doing a good job. Even though it appears she’s doing just that – a good job.

    C) judging a consenting adult for a choice they made for themselves that has exactly zero impact on your life is not ok.

    It’s 2020 & in this pandemic there has been a HUGE influx of people out of work who have decided to turn to a variety of model friendly platforms to perform various acts deemed “adult” to make some extra cash. (Topless = adult. Foot fetish? “XXX.” Eating provocative fruits & veggies? Yeah, people pay to see that for one reason, which makes it an adult category.) I mean, A LOOOOT of people are doing this. And it’s not businesses or studios paying them, it’s everyday people like you and me sending them $10 here, $20 there. Just let people do what they want to do (as long as they’re not hurting anyone) & you do you.

    1. PTACR*

      It’s not that I have anything against people working in adult film, it’s just that working in an adult film shows bad judgement because some people might look down on it and be biased against them, so I’m going to look down on it and be biased against them.

      1. Scarlet2*

        So because “everyone” looks down on some people and are biased against them, you automatically join in on the stigmatization? Wow…

          1. Mookie*

            I think the comment neatly capture the two-step a lot of people in the LW’s position* partake in, where they carefully assign power and decision-making to a hypothetical hivemind’s hypothetical negative reaction to avoid seeing whether it’s just their own unexamined biases they’re tripping over. Other people might care? Well, yeah, sometimes that matters and sometimes other people are wrong, misguided, or reflect a niche attitude we don’t need to be governed by. It’s not enough of a justification for taking action, unless you’ve already decided to take action but don’t want to own that choice directly and instead prefer to cite your involuntary fealty to an imaginary judgmental public. Just because somebody tells you this as he hoods his nose doesn’t mean what you’re smelling is bad. Exercise some free and rational thought about what you can reasonably do, what you want to happen, and what will be the actual consequences in the real world.

            *nb not saying the LW is doing this themselves

      2. Ravenahra*

        So….you’ve never made bad judgements? And if you have then your judgement should continue to be questioned forever even if you have removed yourself from the situation that resulted from your bad judgement?

        1. virago*

          I hope that PTACR’s comment is ironic.

          For a long time, a similar attitude kept gay people from being hired for any government job that required security clearance. The thinking (so to speak) was that gay people were vulnerable to being blackmailed into giving up sensitive information because being gay was perceived as abnormal and sick and they’d do anything so that people wouldn’t betray their secret.

          The idea that if being gay weren’t treated as sick, then there wouldn’t be anything over which to blackmail them — us, as I am bisexual — didn’t take hold for a shamefully long time.

      3. WFH with Cat*

        LW #1 – It’s not clear whether or not your sister agreed to be paid under the table while receiving unemployment — but, if she did, she could land in some serious trouble. At the very least, she could end up having to pay back every dollar of UEC that she received while double-dipping. I hope she gets out of there soon!

      4. tamarack and fireweed*

        You cannot be driven by what other people might be biased against – that’s a straight path into moral cowardice. Everyone needs to develop their own moral compass as well as a clear sense of what criteria are relevant to some function in society (here: employment) and what belongs into the realm of privacy,

        Sizeable numbers of people are biased against all manner of things: having no religion; having the wrong religion; being a devout practitioner of a religion; not voting; being childless; having too many children; having an abortion; not choosing abortion for a child that is born disabled; getting a divorce; being a woman in a physical or technical job; frequenting nudist beaches; being gay, bisexual or otherwise queer; wearing one’s hair short as a woman; pushing a child to precocious high performance in music or sports; being a member of a punk band; surrendering a pet at the shelter; being overweight; having too many pets; writing or reading romance novels; eating meat; being a vegan; not having a college degree; having a college degree from a school one considers inferior; having a degree from a school one considers too snobbish …. Some of those I personally have a negative bias against, some I consider as neutral, and for some I want to be all rah-rah. But none of these should IMHO be impacting hiring decisions or opportunities to develop one’s social status.

        People who star in some sort of adult video product are very common AND there’s a high risk of misidentification and malicious rumor-mongering AND the usual way a conservative client would know would be from his personal porn consumption. So in the absence of any existing impact on the workplace (she isn’t leaving adult casting call leaflets in the break room, is she? or decorates her cubicle with outtake stills?) for me this is clearly something that belongs behind the veil of privacy.

      5. LifeBeforeCorona*

        A lot of women are coerced into adult film work against their will. Compassion works better than joining the mob and condeming them.

  11. Heidi*

    For Letter 4, I’m not sure I understand what “surfaced this miss” means. It seems to imply that not offering a lot praise is some sort of horrible failing that others need to compensate for, which (if true) seems a little unusual to me. If the boss is excessively critical, that’s not great, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case here.

    1. MK*

      As someone who cringed about the virtual high-fives and who thinks constant praise feels empty, I confess the OP did come across as somewhat needy. If the boss never praises anyone, even for going above and beyond, that’s an issue. If she only offers praise occasionally and for more excellent work, that’s normal.

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      I understood it to mean the boss is great in many ways but never gives positive feedback (or once a year or something), that not giving positive feedback is a morale issue for the whole department, the OP raised (or surfaced) this issue, and the solution was to create a time to focus on positive things during meetings. It does not sound performative, its an option, not a requirement. And it does not sound constant.
      And it sounds like the boss never includes the OP and her role means the boss is really the only person who is likely to praise the OP’s work. The OP may be particularly needy re positive comments or not.

        1. JSPA*

          Or you could just point out that any group’s jargon blocks communication outside of the very small group of people who use that jargon.

  12. T-Dog*

    I find the answer to #2 very surprising. While I am sympathetic to anyone who makes a mistake they later regret, the idea that only irrational stigma could explain anyone’s unease about a colleague producing or appearing in pornography seems wildly off base. Isn’t there a happy medium between thinking people deserve a second chance and denying there is any issue here at all?

    Would Alison say the same about an actual pimp or prostitute, as opposed to someone who did the work in front of a camera? Again, I am not saying a former hooker shouldn’t be able to work in any professional jobs – but I do think something other than unreasonable stigma might make people think twice about it. If it’s an IT role for a trendy media company, it’s probably not important. But what about fundraising for a religious non-profit? Hell, for the latter it may even be an advantage if twinned with a sincere story of repentance, but what it’s not is a non-issue!

    1. Scarlet2*

      If you don’t see any moral difference between a pimp and a sex worker, you really have no idea what you’re talking about.
      And no, I don’t think shaming women (and let’s make it clear, it’s largely women who are vilified for that kind of thing) is a “happy medium”. Seriously, if you learned that one of your coworkers was a former “hooker” (to use your terminology), what would “make you think twice” exactly?

      1. Anon for this*

        I’d think that she probably has some experience that doesn’t reflect on her resume that could end up being very valuable. Conflict deescalation and resolution, budgeting…

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      It is not a coworker’s purview to dig into another coworker’s past looking for dirt.

      If the company cared enough, they would have done a background check. Presumably everything checked out with this coworker. It is NOT OP’s business.

      OP doesn’t have to like it, but they do have to respect their coworker’s privacy. They don’t even know for sure that it’s true, it’s a second hand rumor that came from a client that obviously has a less than ideal sense of propriety and tact. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that he made it up because he hit on her at the interview and she slapped him down. If he’ll gossip like that on a conference call, I wouldn’t trust him further than I could throw him.

      End of the day, personal opinions on sex work are irrelevant here. No one is in danger, no one is being harmed. This is none of OP’s business, they need to let it drop immediately.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Yes there are SO MANY ways this story could be untrue (could be revenge p*rn, could be a faked video, could be something more innocent than your picturing, or as others have said, a woman with the same name or a similar appearance), and you really do NOT want to be digging around trying to “get to the bottom” of this “scandal” OP – just assume it’s an error if the idea would offend you.

        And no need to go concern trolling that “other people could be offended.”

    3. PollyQ*

      OK, but what IS the issue? “Think twice” about what, exactly? If you don’t approve of someone’s morals, well, you don’t, but the question here is “How does it affect the way she does her job now?”

      I can absolutely guarantee that you’re having commercial interactions every day with people whose life choices would seem immoral to you if you knew about them. This includes colleagues, bosses, customers, vendors, servers, etc. etc. etc. And of course, they might find you to be immoral if they knew your choices.

      None of that should impact how, or whether, someone does an unrelated job some years down the road. (Or even right away, IMO. There’s got to be some first “legit” job.)

      1. Mookie*

        Yeah, generally your personal prejudices are not something your employer needs to know about and, further, you shouldn’t weaponize the power your employer has over a colleague in service of your prejudices. None of this is work-related. You can call your objection over sex work a moral one, but that just makes any meddling here all the more dangerous, unethical, and unprofessional.

    4. BritAnon*

      … why though?

      Person had a job, which some people disapprove of. Person now has different job. Person is doing just fine at their current job. What about this is a problem?

      If you’re suggesting that having been a sex worker makes a person more likely to display inappropriate work behaviour – maybe take a look at the AAM archives? Having a poor sense of office norms transcends every social category.

      So yeah, it is a non-issue, for all the reasons discussed upthread.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, I’d say the same thing about a former sex worker. Because there’s nothing shameful about it and, again, the stigma you’re propagating here disproportionately targets and harms women. What exactly is your objection here? That she had sex and money was exchanged? Truly, why on earth would you care or consider it any business of yours at all?

      And it’s not even about deserving a “second chance.” Second chances are for people who messed up in some significant way. She didn’t do anything wrong to begin with.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Allison, I want to thank you for stating this so firmly. Comments like this are part of why I love this column!

      2. Cj*

        My objection would be that being a pimp or prostitute is illegal, whereas being in an adult film is not.

        1. UKDancer*

          Prostitution is not illegal in a number of places and I recall a very interesting interview on this site with an Australian lady who worked as a receptionist in a legal brothel. Laws really differ in this respect.

          1. Natalie*

            And regardless, if the metric is “did something illegal” pretty much everyone is going to be found wanting. We may be socialized to think of traffic laws as no big deal compared to drugs or prostitution, but they’re still laws and IMO have a much greater public safety impact. Yet nobody ever suggests you not hire the person who chronically speeds because they’ve done something illegal.

        2. Lepidoptera*

          Being any kind of sex worker (not pimp) shouldn’t be illegal, just because there’s a capitalistic incentive to keep porn being made doesn’t make it somehow morally superior in any way to the work done by other sex workers. The fact that (some) workers in the porn industry get any protections is also capitalistic incentive (there’s a lot of money invested in these people so making sure they’re healthy and safe is adding to or protecting the investment).

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Yep. Prostitution is illegal because people consider it immoral, and then they use the argument that it’s illegal to “prove” that people who do it are immoral.

            There should be changes to sex work to ensure people are safe and not exploited, and most of those would involve legalization so that people can get assistance without fear of being arrested.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I seriously doubt you’d want to report a coworker for smoking pot years ago, so this isn’t about the legality. It’s about the perceived morality; it’s about judging women for what they do with their bodies. Ask yourself why this “crime” and not a whole bunch of others.

          Plus, sex work is legal in many places.

      3. Environmental Compliance*


        Thank you, Alison. Especially for the second paragraph there.

    6. IOCTL*

      The only one who made a mistake according to the info in the letter is the blabbermouth on the conf call.
      There’s nothing inherently bad or a mistake to appear in a sex movie.

    7. Allonge*

      I think if anyone has an issue working with a former (or current!) sex worker, adult film participant etc, they get to resign and judge the company from afar. It’s a free world.

      You get to be concerned or whatever. But own your moral-based choices, don’t expect other people to be fired ot shunned for them.

    8. Quoth the Raven*

      It IS a non-issue, or at least it should be. Someone being a performer in an adult film, a model for adult content, or a sex worker does not tell me anything about their professionalism and their character, and their past, present or future should not be a “story of repentance”. The person whose character I would question would be the one who is trying to use this information as a weapon to harm someone, or who so casually throws words like “hooker” around, or who cannot see the difference between a pimp and a sex worker.

      Furthermore, while a. this might not be the LW’S coworker’s case and b. there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone who participates in pornography or sex work willingly and knowingly, a not insignificant number of people, mostly women, have had this type of material spread without their consent, under coercion or while being victims of crimes, to the extent that several adult websites have come under legal fire these past months for facilitating this content. This is yet another reason, but never the only reason, you should not judge anyone for this.

    9. Paperdill*

      Can you cite an example other than for a fund-raising religious non-profit where it is not a non-issue for reasons other than “unreasonable stigma”? I am genuinely struggling to think of a reason that doesn’t come down to unreasonable stigma. If it always comes down to “well, some people may have an issue with it”….that’s just not enough reason to deprive a good employee of any livelihood for the rest of their lives.

      Another issue is that many many “workers” in the adult film industry are victims of coercion, violence, drug dependence, human trafficking and a whole stable of other horrors. What if that was this woman? To have it all thrown back in her face and deprived of future employment because of that?? That is a horrific response.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Right? LOTS of things might potentially be issues for certain jobs, but many of them aren’t issues for MOST jobs. If she was running for president, sure, she should get out in front of this thing, but if she’s doing IT consulting, it’s really not necessary.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        ITA, and your second paragraph is a really good point. I also would add that a lot of “adult films” that end up online are not professional productions but are actually people’s personal videos that have been posted without their consent, aka revenge porn. It is notorious difficult to get certain sites to take them down and it is done in an attempt to ruin their lives in ways like, I don’t know, having it follow them around their industry and maybe get them fired. For all OP knows, even if this rumour is true and it isn’t a lookalike or something completely made up by a pissed-off coworker, it could also be something she did not even consent to being made public. (To be clear I think she should be left alone regardless and she does not have to be a victim or ~repent her past in order to live her life, but OP should be aware of what they are potentially playing into.)

      3. Natalie*

        Shit, some religious non-profits would make that employee’s story a centerpiece of fundraising campaigns. (With their own weird redemption arc gloss, but still.)

        1. LCH*

          oh yes, i’ve definitely met women church leadership who were formerly sex workers. it was considered praiseworthy that they moved on to follow another path.

          so… same with this employee.

          1. Carrie Oakie*

            There is an entire business that attends the adult trade shows looking to “save” performers. They’re a religious organization who are anti-adult, actively recruiting adult performers, because it strengthens their cause and fundraising abilities. It’s fascinating at a distance.

      4. Nonprofit Nancy*

        YMMV, but I find that “other people may have a problem with it” is almost always used for cover when the speaker is the one judging it but knows they shouldn’t come out and say that they feel that way.

    10. FriedGold*

      Why does it have to be ‘a mistake’? What can’t someone do it, move on but have no regrets about their past?

      1. UKDancer*

        Indeed. I’ve a former colleague who was an adult model. She needed the money while at university, it paid well and she has a great body image as a result. She has no regrets about doing it and views it as a thing she did rather than a mistake.

    11. Scarlet Letter*

      Why are you deciding that this woman’s past action was a mistake? You don’t know what led her down that path. You don’t get to pass judgment on her decisions, which by the letter writer’s own admission, is a rumor at best and at worst a gross invasion of privacy by all other parties involved.

      Grow up. It is, in fact, a non-issue.

    12. Not So NewReader*

      In my mind a religious NPO should be the FIRST people to look beyond the previous actions of a person. It’s called living one’s beliefs.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes! Obviously not all religious orgs are Christian, but, say, for the sake of argument – the views expressed by Jesus on this exact matter* are pretty clear!

        *No, there was no mention of movies. Slight adjustment to the times.

    13. Crivens!*

      When I was in college, I modeled for several alternative soft porn sites. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life: I travelled across the states and internationally, made amazing and lifelong friends, learned a ton about myself, and built confidence.

      Later in college, I had this misfortune of dating an extremely abusive man who coerced me into sex worker. It was demoralizing and scarred me emotionally for years, because it took me years to realize the shame was on him, not me.

      Can you explain to me, in specific detail, why I should be judged or punished for having a fun experience that hurt no one?

      Can you explain to me, in specific detail, why I should be judged or punished for being abused and doing anything I could to avoid further abuse?

      I considered being anon for this but no. I’m owning this. I have no reason to hide.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*


        Thank you for your courage in sharing your personal perspective and experience. I’m so sorry that a horrible person abused you in such a way. I’m also glad you had a great experience modeling, and I don’t judge you in the slightest for either.

    14. MassMatt*

      You are missing some huge issues.

      1. Porn is a legal industry. Maybe you don’t like it, but it is. You are comparing it to prostitution, which is ILLEGAL in most jurisdictions. This is a false equivalence. And pimps are parasites.

      2. People should be judged based on their ability to do a job, not (legal) things they used to do before that have no bearing on their ability.

    15. Jennifer*

      I get where you’re coming from. I think people are focusing on how things SHOULD be as opposed to how they actually are. There are people that have lost their jobs because of things like this before because clients have complained after seeing provocative pictures or videos of someone online. I don’t think reporting it is the right thing but I understand the OP’s inclination to give the company a heads up so they are prepared in case this comes up in the future. I just don’t think it’s worth putting this woman’s business out there right now.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        If the OP just has this woman’s best interests at heart, why are they even contemplating going to management without discussing it with her first? The whole tone of letter is such that I just don’t buy that OP is looking to just give the company a heads up, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing for people to be clear about why it’s such a shitty thing to do. Sometimes people need to hear that.

        1. Jennifer*

          Maybe they don’t know the best way to go about helping her? I would want to know that something like this was said about me in a meeting with multiple coworkers present so I’d know to watch my back.

          I just think there’s a lot of virtue signaling going in the comments.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Again, I just don’t believe that OP is particularly concerned about helping her. Gossiping on a conference call about her, considering reporting it to management without consulting her first, the disingenuous “oh I’m just thinking of our conservative clients” – nah. Maybe it’s virtue signalling to tell OP to mind their own, but in that case I suppose I’m a horrid virtue signaller.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yes, the only thing OP should consider is giving their company a head’s up that an employee of a company they do business with was expressing extreme prejudice about women in general and named a person (who shall not be named in OP’s report) at OP’s company in an attempt to get the person fired for participating in a legal business. OP’s company may not want to be involved with a representative who acts so maliciously.

          1. Anna*

            Wouldn’t be a stretch to call that conference call guy out to your managers/his management for sexual harassment on a conference call. He was way out of line.

      3. Paperwhite*

        Among other things, though, this assumes the ‘report’ is even true — all we have is the word of a gossipy dude who’s willing to bring up porn movies on a work call. Regardless of what I was told in such a manner I think the way the information was given to me would discredit it right there.

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s a good point. It could be someone that looks like her, not that it matters.

          It’s so strange to me. Obviously, someone there SAW the video. So why is it acceptable that people look at it but unacceptable that someone was in it?

          1. DarnTheMan*

            Often because of a gendered double standard; men are supposed to be sexual creatures so them watching porn isn’t viewed as a bad thing, whereas women aren’t so the idea of them owning their sexuality by appearing in porn or even just enjoying sex (for those women who’s videos were coerced or supposed to be private) is somehow wrong and therefore deserving of punishment.

    16. Amtelope*

      Of course it’s none of your business if one of your coworkers is a sex worker. Your moral judgments about what other people do with their bodies don’t belong in the workplace.

    17. JSPA*

      The only way for someone to know for sure what that hypothetical person did, is to have patronized her services. So even if you happen to think sex-for-pay is intrinsically morally wrong, literally the only fully informed opinion would be from someone who has no standing to judge, by that very same yardstick.

      And if you’d judge on this, you should judge every porn consumer and sexworker client just as harshly.

      Could there be rare situations where “we heard you looked at porn at some previous point in your life” is disqualifying from a job? (Maybe? Somewhere?) But in any normal job, exactly nobody is going to say, “when he was 18, he was put on probation by his religious university after his roommate reported him for watching porn, and it was reported in the student newspaper. He’s 28 now; should we hire him for the analyst job, or is that too great a burden of shame?”

    18. drpuma*

      Okay, I feel compelled to weigh in as someone who used to review background checks for delivery workers.

      Legally we could only consider convictions that were relevant to the job we were hiring them to do. So, for someone who is going to a customer’s house – a burglary conviction for example would be a no-go. Anything to do with fraud/honesty or theft was problematic. Past drug convictions were not. Even if someone wants to lean on “but sex work is illegal!” I have a hard time seeing how it could be relevant to interacting with the public. As others have said I think a former sex worker would be quite good at responding to difficult customers. A former pimp on the other hand, or a conviction for engaging in sex trafficking, involves a problematic level of manipulation and disregard for other people. Doesn’t pass the smell test for honesty! No good.

    19. Anon for this*

      I was outed at work for participating in consensual, legal sexual activities; I was slut-shamed publicly and denied opportunities at work. I continue to engage in these activities and dabble in sex work, since I am an ADULT and can do what I f*cking want in my spare time. I don’t “regret” anything I do, because I don’t have anything to be ashamed of. The people who outed me are responsible for their behavior–they were in the wrong, not me. Sexually active adults and part-time sex workers and former porn actors are, in fact, allowed to have a decent job and all of the things that come with it–housing, food, health care, etc. People don’t get to deny us this just because they disapprove of our personal lives.

      Also, your language is antique, to put it nicely. Please update your vocabulary.

  13. Lady Heather*

    LW2, I get “I disapprove of sex work” vibes from your letter. Which is fine.

    Please remember that by penalizing people who did sex work in the past, you are (society is) making it a lot harder for people to leave the industry.
    If you disapprove of sex work, hiring former sex workers really is the way to go.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, the first thing I saw was a sense of peer-pressure as in, “Here’s some info and I think YOU should do something about it.”
      OP, it’s fine to ask people, “Why are you telling me this?”
      The person who told her could have looked for proper channels if they really thought there was an issue. I think the caller just wanted to stir the pot and left OP thinking, “Now what do I do?”.

      I have even told people, “There’s nothing I can do about that.” or, “I am not in charge of caring about that.”. I pick my words to match what is said and HOW it is said.

      1. irene adler*

        Good take on this.
        My first thought was “Yeah, and…?”

        I had a coworker whom I got along with very well. She was a very interesting person, having lived in other countries, travelled etc. Always an interesting conversation!

        One day she mentioned something about a tattoo on her head (scalp, specifically)-which she showed me. Apparently it was there as a protection during her term in prison (not in USA). She had killed a man.

        I was stunned. But this didn’t change a thing between us.

        She used me as a reference when she moved to another city and was job hunting. It never would have occurred to me to mention this to any one- not even to a reference checker, or in something akin to #2 above (during a meeting). As far as I am concerned, she was a delightful person who picked up skills in the lab very quickly and enjoyed her work.

        Boy, what I would have missed if I’d decided to not get to know her over something she did in her past.

  14. Elle*

    I agree that Alison’s advice is solid… I had the same situation with my last name post-divorce and, as a teacher, people call me my last name ALL THE TIME and, since I was super militant about having them switch to my married name in the first place, it was quite the shitshow to switch back. I ended up changing it in my email signature, making an announcement to my team (“I’m reverting back to my old name, please adjust accordingly”)–and trusting them to spread the word for me. By the end of the first week, just about everyone had gotten the memo! :)

    1. Summer Anon*

      It is great advice.
      When I changed my name I was so worked up about it and not one person said anything. My manager was aware of my situation and very supportive and I asked her to run interference if she encountered any chatter. Only my closest co-workers knew what I went through and I’m sure they also had my back if anyone asked.

      It is so common these days for people to keep their maiden names or to revert back.

      1. Generic Name*

        Yeah, I remarried fairly soon after my divorce, and decided not to change my name again because it was such a pain in the butt.

      2. Captain Raymond Holt*

        I changed my first name recently and most people said “cool.” They didn’t think about it too hard.

  15. Hope*

    #4 – I had a boss for five years who rarely gave me feedback – either positive or negative – and it bothered me *deeply.* During the early days of the pandemic I read Playing Big by Tara Mohr and found her chapter on praise, feedback and validation incredibly helpful. Here’s a sample: https://www.taramohr.com/inspiration/hooked-vs-unhooked/

    PS this is not to say you’re not right to ask for feedback – do! Bosses should be giving feedback. But your boss might just be the sort of person that finds it difficult to give feedback (my boss acknowledged once that it was just who he was – he found it difficult to show appreciation) and if everything else is good, then there are things you can try to help yourself deal with it.

    1. Girasol*

      I had a boss whose policy was, “If you’re not doing well, I’ll let you know. If I don’t tell you anything, you’re doing fine.” I found that unnerving in my first year on a new job. I found it surprisingly inaccurate at annual performance review. He had issues with things I’d done on projects months ago that I might have corrected at the time had I known. I don’t mean to be insensitive to a boss who’s uncomfortable giving feedback, but if I had it to do over I’d make a much greater effort to wheedle out some constructive criticism in real time and hope to get some positive feedback along the way.

  16. Paperdill*

    LW2: Not only should you not say anything to anyone else but, on the off chance that anyone should bring it up again you should actually be stopping it at it’s source: “That’s not appropriate work conversation”. Don’t engage in the conversation, show interest or take the information “on board”. Shut it down. It’s not relevant to work.

    1. cleo*

      Yes! This. Shut it down. Bonus points for acting surprised that anyone cares.

      I’d have been soooo tempted to tell that guy on the conference call that it was his companies loss for being narrow-minded because female colleague is awesome at her job.

    2. Emi.*

      I agree, but if the original source tries to bring it up again, it might also be worth telling the coworker that he’s deliberately attempting to spread rumors about her and undermine her.

    3. JustaTech*

      Frankly it is beyond creepy and weird that the client even brought it up. I mean, that’s a work inappropriate conversation that *he* started. It feels very boundary-pushing and sh*t-stirring.
      I have a hard time believing that the client brought it up out of the kindness of his heart. At best he wants to create drama, at worst he wants the LW’s coworker fired, possibly over nothing.

    4. mynameisasecret*

      I agree. The fact that the client even brought it up feels really sexual-harassment-y to me. The only outcomes are sabotaging her, or pushing further into sexual harassment territory via any sort of discussion or thought process that takes place. Having been in an adult film isn’t job-relevant, like remotely at all, so you are literally just discussing your coworker in a sexual light for no reason, and it’s definitely harassment territory.
      Like this is gonna bug me. The client should be reported to his own company’s HR for sexually harassing this woman by bringing this up in a work context.
      I really see no difference between this and the client saying “I slept with Coworker ABC and [horrible comment about their body and/or sexuality], isn’t that interesting?”

      1. mynameisasecret*

        Plus, if anyone on the call was uncomfortable that he brought up adult films on a work call, that’s actionable as sexual harassment as well. Or even if someone just overheard him saying it who wasn’t on the call.

  17. KoolMan*

    LW2 : – What the heck ? Are you a busybody ? None of your business. Why want to stab someone in the back for no reason ? Let your firm handle it and it is none of your business.

    1. Generic Name*

      If they are unhelpful about it, they’re being jerks. To add some helpful advice here, I changed my last name due to divorce a couple of years ago, and it was really a non-issue. Be prepared for your company to ask for official documentation showing the name change. In my state, it was the divorce decree. Most places took my word for a name change and didn’t require documentation. One place required a certified copy of the decree. And don’t forget to update your beneficiary info!

      As for people offering unwanted sympathy, most people took it in stride about my name change. One colleague offered congratulations (I assume he thought I got married) and I just said, “thanks!”. Lol I was a bit more open with coworkers I’m close with, so they knew the story, but coworkers I’m friendly with but not close to just took it in stride.

  18. Helvetica*

    LW#5 – in my organisation, name changes are announced in organisation-wide e-mails on Fridays, to make sure everyone is aware that they’d need to change the addressee and not be surprised to see a “new” person in a specific position, etc. It never states the occasion and I would never think to ask someone why they changed their last name, as it seems incredibly invasive. Just recently, one of my co-workers reverted to her maiden name, and I only know because she’d volunteered that her ex-husband was going back to our home country (we’re posted abroad) and that she wanted to revert because her maiden name is very rare and meaningful for her. But she volunteered that information in a social setting. What I’ll say is…don’t ask people why they changed their names so they wouldn’t have to figure out graceful ways to inform you of the reasons unless they choose to do so.

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      This. Don’t ask and don’t assume, just take cues – if there are any – from the person who changed their name. I’m responsible for completing name changes in my organization, along with IT, and I only offer congratulations if they TELL me they just got married. Otherwise, it could be a divorce, it could be a legal name change to avoid a stalker or unstable family member, who knows. Seems like marriage is the only positive reason.

  19. rudster*

    Maybe the commenter was just trying to into the the judgmental busybody’s head, rather than stating their own personal opinion. At least I hope so.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, that is kind of how it read to me.
      When I was new to working, people could make me feel like I had to “do something” when I actually did not have to do something. I knew for a fact that I did not understand what the limits were for my job. It was very nerve-wracking, because as we see here even asking the question “what do I do?” causes people to jump up and down and make assumptions about what the LW thinks.

      We have people assuming that the LW themselves is a judgey person.

      I have found it very helpful to remember that if a person asks a question that means they already figured out that something is Not Right here. People who think everything is okay usually just proceed without asking anyone. Unfortunately, when people start making assumptions, that can cause people to stop asking questions.

    2. Jennifer*

      That’s how it read to me as well. I think people are assuming the worst of the OP, which is unfortunate. I think the OP knows how terrible people can be and wants to protect this coworker and the company. Maybe they are just going about it the wrong way.

      I remember here there was a huge scandal because it came out that a teacher was a burlesque dancer at night. You would think she’d murdered someone the way people reacted. If they really are as “conservative” as they say, it could really become an issue if it came out.

  20. JustDon'tDoIt*

    #1 Yes, you need to get your sister out of that place and then report them!! While the majority of people know not to falsify information on a resume I don’t think most know how damaging or how such a big deal it can be!

    For example: Should an employee file a lawsuit against an employer after having been fired and the employer finds out during the course of litigation that the employee lied on their resume the employer can use the “after acquired evidence doctrine” which can severely limit the damages awarded to the employee.

    1. Violet Fox*

      Not to mention that it also just sets up people to apply to jobs they aren’t qualified for in the first place, and puts them in positions where they likely won’t do very well, which will very much harm the people trying to change fields into IT. That and if people in organisations or across organisations talk to each other, it is very likely that anyone coming out of that nonprofit will be blacklisted. Part of the point of entry-level jobs exist for good reasons. It takes time to learn things outside of school/training.

      Stuff like this is also why a lot of IT jobs, even higher level ones have skills tests.

        1. Arvolin*

          Whether you can fake it depends on who you talk to. Non-technical staff can be easy to fool Someone in IT can figure it out fairly fast by asking specifics and drilling down for more specific details.

          And, yes, I’ve had skills tests. One that struck me as particularly odd was when I was asked to write something trivial on the whiteboard (as in I’d expect LW#1’s sister to have no problem). I stood there, waiting for the next thing, and was asked to sit down. If they tested for that level of knowledge, they really must have had some people coming through and lying about their experience.

  21. Titta*

    Is it praise you are missing from your boss, or feedback in general? Or do you want specifically get public praise from your boss?

    Getting public praise is of course nice, when it’s sincere. But getting public praise isn’t something I would consider an essential in a job or in an employee-employer relationship. I think it would be a bit tone-deaf to ask for it yourself.

    Of course, if the problem is that Boss isn’t giving you any feedback then you should ask for it, as Alison suggested. I have a boss who doesn’t provide feedback, even when I ask for it. It is frustrating!

  22. Musereader*

    #2 was a plot point in a TV show, House found out that Wilson was in a porn movie while in college, Wilson defended himself saying he did not do any of the sex and did not know it was going to be a sex movie until after he saw it, he was doing a favour for his dorm mate who was a film major and truly thought it was his college project he was helping with. But it was not an issue and it was never even implied that he might lose his job, it was a joke.

    While I am not saying fiction is the same as real life, it is a reflection of cultural attitudes to life and a TV show based in reality can make a joke about a man being in a porn movie unknowingly with not even a hint of a hit to his reputation then it says something about our society.

    To the LW, if it bothers you that much just think to yourself that she might have a similar explanation – unknowingly tricked into it by a ‘friend’ so that you can feel sympathetic to her and move past it yourself (to be clear I think you should not hold it against her whatever the reason, but if having a possible explanation makes it easier for you to not hold it against her then do that)

  23. Jaid*

    LW #2, I would hope to have the thought to say to that man that it was their loss…you have a great co-worker!

  24. triplehiccup*

    LW 3 – I’m curious if you plan to continue campaign work in the future. My understanding is that this kind of unpredictability and “toolset” changes are not uncommon, and it sounds like it is really stressing you out. (It would bother me too!) If you want to continue in the future, you may want to actively work on accepting that this is part of it and planning accordingly.

    Also, people omit jobs from resumes all the time. A relatively brief stint at the beginning of your career, especially with something as impermanent as a campaign, would be easy to drop.

    1. OP3*

      To be honest, I’d rather not because I’d like health insurance and job stability, lol. I know this is part of the job — and I took a campaign job because I graduated just as the labor market collapsed — but what is most stressing me out is how to have credibility with employers when this is the only post college experience I have.

      1. Stephanie*

        I think there are lots of valuable skills gained from campaign work that could translate into other industries! Budgeting, marketing, fundraising, legal compliance (campaign finance laws come to mind), meeting tight deadlines and shifting priorities, etc. It may take stepping away from it and looking at how you can make it more broadly marketable.

  25. Bookworm*

    LW3: As someone who has worked in similar/related fields: this is “normal” for your field. Campaigns do this sort of thing all the time (for good or for ill, and as you know it’s common). If the campaign is not going well, that’s not on you and people within your field will understand the precarious nature of your position.

    If you’re asked about it in an interview in an unrelated field, you can always do a quick explainer that the campaign itself was not going well (esp. if the candidate does end up losing) and it was part of a reshuffle, which is common (just think of the news where “big” hires or shakeups happen within a campaign) and highlight this as a reason why you left campaigns and are now here interviewing for this particular job, any positives you learned from the experience (how to work in pressure cooker…), etc.

    Win or lose, I wish you the best of luck. Only you know but I might be prepping your resume anyway, because even if your candidate does pull it off you may not be in a position to be brought on as staff with them if you think your position is tenuous now.

    1. LGC*

      Yeah, isn’t that just politics? Like, honestly, a prominent campaign manager told one of his first clients that she won by mistake (he miscounted the votes). And that’s the LEAST of his sins!

      1. OP3*

        Hi! Yes, I know these things happen all the time on campaigns, especially troubling ones. I appreciate the encouragement — just wanted to know if the term “fired” would maybe apply here, especially when I change fields.

        1. its a fast, messy business but i love it*

          “Fired” is not the right term. Think of it as a layoff and explain it to non-campaign people as a reshuffling or change in direction. People have read the news where there is a “campaign shakeup” and they’ve watched West Wing, they get how campaigns are. As others said focus on what you learned and how you dealt with a hectic environment, and say that you are looking for somewhere to do long term work / more established projects / whatever.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          When people use a verb like fire or lay off they usually have a prototype of a job in mind. And that’s a private sector job that’s hired for on an indefinite schedule. In the US you’d normally not have a contract, but would be expected to have a job unless EITHER the business makes changes (downsizes, restructures, closes entirely or partially) OR you perform substantially below expectations / mess up in a major way. The first would be a layoff, the second a firing. (There are some companies in the tech sector that have an explicit “everyone’s job is always on the line” culture, but they’re known in the industry, and being cut by one of them is not something that’s going to jeopardize rehiring elsewhere, or even by the same business.)

          Your situation, should what you expect happens, is not like either. Campaigns come to natural ends. They are notoriously unstable and can turn on a dime. Your situation is more like a pub owner who hires a musician for entertainment and after a while decides that another form of music (a different style, a larger band, a karaoke machine?) would fit the patrons’ preferences better. They might still sing your praises about your particular strengths as a musician despite having swapped you out.

          So it doesn’t make much sense to obsess too much over the technical applicability of the label “fired”. If someone absolutely wanted to apply it, sure they could… but on the other hand your situation is pretty far away from the prototype that people think of, and it’s in your interest to stress as story that highlights the difference.

    2. Malarkey01*

      I’ve been around campaigns for most of my life and we joke that that it’s like carnival workers only less steady because the jobs are so short term and so seasonal unless you are hired on to work in their office after a win. If you stay in the same area you’ll see that everyone knows each other because you keep swapping on and off campaigns and sometimes you work with someone, sometimes you work against them, and sometimes you work against and then with someone all in the same election. A campaign shake up doesn’t have the same connotations as other work layoffs. Honestly, if it happens talk to others on your campaign about how you should talk about it and if this is a smaller campaign where people move in and out of campaigns while also working more traditional jobs ask them how they handle their resumes (different areas of the country have different norms around campaign experience and short term gigs, and really for more minor roles in industry no one would bat an eye at multiple moves).
      As an aside, I knew one guy that worked on 4 different campaigns one year as he was really good but kept picking lousy candidates. As one campaign folded he’d get picked up by the next, and repeat. We called him the bad penny and he is wildly successful.

  26. Rockin Takin*

    #1- These companies are more common than you think, at least in IT. I have several friends who got their first jobs in IT this way. They look for people who might need a sponsorship or have other difficulties breaking into the field. They make a whole resume for the person, and sometimes will even do phone interviews pretending to be that person. I didn’t really like it when I was told about it, but my friends insist that it’s super common in IT and it’s not a big deal.

    Are you sure the company your sister is dealing with is a non-profit? She might do better to just quit and cut her losses.

    1. MassMatt*

      That’s disturbing, but Encouraging and instructing her to fake her resume was the least of the issues with this company.

    2. Colette*

      I’m in IT and I’ve never heard of that. It seems like a good way to get people from an organization automatically rejected.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        They were contract companies. So like they would sponsor the employee who needed sponsorship then get them hired in a contract IT role somewhere.

        1. Colette*

          And then when the person can’t do the job (because they have much less experience than advertised), the company who hired them is eventually going to figure it out and stop working with the contract company.

          1. Brett*

            Companies like this try to just keep a firehose of employees going. Some will work out, some won’t. Some will be very good (especially ones needing visa sponsorship) and some will flame out in a few weeks.
            The variable quality is what keeps the company going for a while on a contract, and they try to shove as many employees and hours through that contract as possible before it flames out and they move on elsewhere.

            Here is where it gets really fun though:
            They start subcontracting to other contract companies. So they find a contract company with an established relationship with other large companies, and they subcontract out to that company. If even that stops working, they form a new company and role their contract employees over.

          2. Rockin Takin*

            In my friend’s situations, they were skilled but didn’t have a good enough resume. None of them got fired or anything. All of them now have very good IT careers and many years experience.

    3. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I work in IT and I have never encountered this. Apprenticeship programs and boot camps, sure. But falsifying your resume? That would certainly disqualify you at my employer, and I imagine at most others too.

      I mean, I suppose you could get away with it. God knows I’ve met IT people with many years of experience who were total incompetents, so lack of skill won’t immediately out you. But it’s playing with fire. Besides, do you really want to become known as the person with years of experience who acts like a wet-behind-the-ears newbie? An *actual* newbie gets cut a lot more slack because it’s expected they will learn over time.

      1. Brett*

        I’ve encountered it quite a few times. Normally it looks like bad recruiter practice of shoving in keywords, but sometimes you can figure out that it is outright falsification.

        They use contract companies instead of direct placement, because a lot of large companies will not follow up references on contract employees. You can tell when you interview though, and the interviewee is incapable of answering any behavioral based questions with specific examples, even though there are specific examples right on their resume.

      2. Rockin Takin*

        With sponsorship, I think a lot of these folks have limited options and use these companies out of desperation. Especially during the last recession it was REALLY hard to find companies that would be willing to sponsor you. I know someone who lost his IT job due to layoffs and was forced to go back to school just to be able to stay in the US (he’d already lived here 10 years). In the end, he was forced to go back to his home country but later moved to Australia and became a permanent resident there.

        These contract companies know how to abuse the system and prey on desperation.

    4. mynameisasecret*

      How does this service benefit people, though? Either I’m going to notice when I phone screen a candidate that their communication style doesn’t sound like their resume, or I’m going to notice when they come in for an interview and seem like a totally different person than the one I talked to before, or I’m going to notice when I check their references that they are vague and wishy-washy and don’t really seem to remember the person, or I’m going to notice when you start work and have no idea how to do your job. EVEN IF they were able to hustle so hard that they learn everything on the job without anyone noticing, it is NOT fun to do that – it burns people out trying to maintain the illusion of experience.
      So even aside from how this is unethical, I don’t even understand what candidates get out of it.

  27. MmmmmmMMMmm*

    This does actually bring up a question for me, regarding #3, being fired from a job.

    I’ve been working in my field for about 5-ish years. My very first job when I was 15 I was let go from (Three call ins and you’re let go). Obviously, I’m not super proud of it, but I was also a teenager. Additionally, that’s not my field of work, nor has it been since I left.

    Do I still need to check the “Have you even been fired from a position” box?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think what happened at age 15 “counts”. I’d answer no to the question. Think of it this way, if what we all did at age 15 mattered that much probably half of us would be unemployed right now.

    2. Important Moi*

      Not So NewReader, you may not think it counts, but have you looked at some the comments here and other places

      Many people quietly pass judgment on A LOT of things and are just waiting for a chance to issue retribution….

    3. What the What*

      I was fired from a sandwich shop before college and I check the box. I hope people will ask because it’s kind of a funny story in retrospect and it helps break the ice. A low stakes firing also gives a neatly packaged answer about mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve grown.

      1. Carly*

        Do you always get asked, or do employers sometimes not touch it? LW3 seemed so stressed out about like never getting a job again because of the box, but it seems to me that enough people get fired from jobs that it’s can’t be like an immediate career-ender—especially if employers don’t even always ask about it.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nah. It’s never going to come up in a background check or be considered relevant. Wipe it from your mind as we should many things from adolescence.

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      I hate that this box exists. So, so many people have been fired from jobs for many reasons, good or bad. Plenty of people even get fired for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, or because they refused to do unethical or illegal things.

      There’s been a widespread campaign to “ban the box” – asking about non-relevant criminal or arrest records on job applications. Can we start a campaign to ban this box too?

  28. Jennifer*

    #1 I’m frankly shocked that you are considering reporting them while your sister is still working there. We are in a pandemic facing the some of the worst unemployment numbers in history and you would risk your sister’s employment? What’s more important right now? I don’t understand why people don’t look at the bigger picture sometimes.

    Also, I get what this organization is doing is terrible but it speaks to a larger problem. I don’t know a lot about the IT field specifically, but in general it’s really difficult for people switching careers mid-life with no experience to get a call back on their resumes. Many employers require experience they don’t have. Until that changes, people are going to do this. This seems to disproportionately affect women.

    Again, I’m NOT justifying what this organization is doing.

    1. OP*

      I also know that her not working during a pandemic wouldn’t be ideal, but … she’s been unemployed since February. She’s already given up her lease and moved in with family. Her becoming unemployed now wouldn’t end with her living in her car.

      Also, she did have another job offer, but choose this unethical establishment instead because she was swayed by the idea of advancing her career quicker than she has the skills or experience to back up. In my eyes, her working there is going to be short term whether or not they company is reported, because I do feel they deliberately set her up to fail and are going to fire her.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        They’re just setting her new career up to crash and burn. Take it from a woman who’s worked IT in very male dominated industries: your record has to be even cleaner than the men if you want to succeed.

        Which is of course sexism in the workplace and should be fazed out…but currently that’s the situation.

    2. LGC*

      …I don’t agree, mostly because I don’t think any job is better than no job. Honestly, LW1’s sister is in an inherently toxic situation, so it makes perfect sense why she’d consider reporting them. Even in the middle of the pandemic.

      I’ll admit my privilege, though! And honestly, LW1 should probably vet it first, although this is a really bad situation.

      1. Jennifer*

        If you have no savings or family money to fall back, yes, any job is better than no job, unless you’re like a hitman or something.

        Personally, I’d hold off on reporting until the unemployment numbers have improved and I could confirm the details, but that’s just me.

        1. LGC*

          Details that OP provided aside, I don’t think it’s shocking, though! I think you’re well meaning, but it feels like you’re saying that living in a house with black mold is better than living out of your car.

          And I’m not sure if letting the organization just continue on because of the pandemic is serving anyone. In that time, they’ll continue to harm other desperate people.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I walked out of my last job with no savings, no rich family, straight into unemployment because I was at the stage of crying every day over how immoral, revolting, lying, illegal behaviour etc the people there were. No job is worth that.

          1. Jennifer*

            I’m glad you were able to do that. Not everyone is able to. There are plenty of people who stay in horrible situations because they have no other options. If you could afford to cover all your expenses on unemployment or have a partner that could help with that, that’s awesome. I personally don’t know anyone that could.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I never said I found it easy. I suffered, and still suffer for that decision. I’m still unemployed for a start…

              But staying in that job and following their advice WILL kill her career stone dead. Nobody will let her progress in IT if she lies about her skills. So, is a job that kills your new career worth it?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d love there to be a little less of ‘be grateful you even have a job’ or ‘any means to have a job at the moment is fine’.

      It’s an exceptionally bad idea to lie about your experience, especially in IT wher that kind of information tends to be found out very quickly. It’s not ever something that should be done. I’ve never done it, it would be too risky to get found out and that information to spread. Personally I’d prefer unemployment to a job where I’m told to lie, cheat, do other immoral stuff. Better for my stress levels.

      (Am female, changed careers from virologist to IT specialist, no qualifications in IT. Just for background).

  29. Pen keeper*

    LW5 – I don´t know how big your team is, but if it is not too large and you feel that you have a good connection with them I would consider sending out a brief message/email along the lines of “Hey team! I just wanted to let you know that I recently changed my name to Ginny Weasley so you don´t need to wonder who that is.” and if you feel comfortable mentioning your divorce add it in as a sort of “No need to worry about me, I´m in a very good place in my life” (but probably phrase it better, sorry, non-native speaker here). That way you get it over with, and if people do have questions you can field them immediately instead of wondering if they are going to notice and ask. But of course it is down to your office culture and how comfortable you are with addressing it.

  30. BusyBee*

    Wait, so you’re on a conference call with someone outside of your company, and when they hear your employee’s name they start sharing all these background check details? Man, I don’t know if I would even believe that. I’d be really concerned this was a controlling ex-partner or someone that knew your employee and was trying to start something. It just seems like such a strange thing to mention to someone that isn’t in your organization. Either way, I think the right thing is to pretend like you never heard it, but I’m just feeling like I wouldn’t believe it.

    1. JustaTech*

      I would also mentally mark the client who said these things as someone with questionable judgement. Like, who (outside of the adult industry) talks about pornography at work? With outside vendors?

      If there’s any working relationship to be reconsidered here it’s with this guy, not the LW’s coworker.

      1. BusyBee*

        Yes! Right?! It’s not appropriate to mention. Even if it were true, that’s something you keep to yourself. I would seriously side-eye this guy.

  31. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2 – you should absolutely say nothing to anyone else, and be absolutely clear in your own mind that this is nothing to do with work. At all. Not an issue.

    *IF* you feel able to do so in a non-judgmental way, it might be worth considering letting your colleague – and ONLY your colleague – know that people are being unprofessional and spreading nasty gossip* about her – and that it has affected her previous job searches. She would probably want that information.

    But please bear in mind this would very much be “hey, can I alert you about what some creeps are doing with info about you?” and in no way criticising past career paths.

    * “nasty gossip” is about how they are treating it, not the facts themselves.

    1. Ali G*

      Thank you! I do think the LW should let this person know that someone in the field is so cavalierly tossing out this “information” about her. If the LW can do it in a way that’s “hey Jane, I thought you should know, Bob from Teapots Inc. told me out of the blue that they didn’t hire you because you were in an adult film. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t care, but I thought you should know” then they should.
      Then she can decide how to handle this, if she wants to at all. I would want to know regardless if it was true or not.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Made a similar comment up top somewhere… I’m actually kind of shaking my head that this wasn’t part of the initial response/advice from Alison. I can just imagine this surfacing later and the coworker thinking “WTH, this was being said about me openly and nobody thought to tell me it was going on?!?”

        Give the woman a chance to manage this hit to her professional reputation. Because right, wrong, or indifferent it is a hit to her reputation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This LW doesn’t sound like he’s well positioned to respecftully and discreetly inform the colleague, so no, I’m not going to suggest he be the one do that.

      2. nnn*

        If LW wants to have this conversation (I can’t tell if they’re in a good position to do that or not), maybe a better framing would be something along the lines of “Bob from Teapots Inc. is spreading rumours that they didn’t hire you because they thought you were in an adult film. I thought you should know that he has this weird fixation on trying to sabotage you.”

        I’m sure that wording could still be improved, but the point is more emphasis on “Bob is trying to sabotage you in a way that might be kind of creepy stalkerish” and a bit less emphasis on “it’s plausible that you were in an adult film”, without going as far as “Obviously you weren’t in an adult film because that would be bad and wrong”.

    2. JSPA*

      OP would have to be very clear that there’s no judgement coming from them. Nor should there be. Paid adult film work is “using your body (more than your brain) to make money,” but so are any number of other jobs that we don’t penalize: lifting boxes, mowing, shoveling snow. Unpaid adult film work is anything from a hobby to a political statement to “having been exploited” to “deep fake harassment campaign.”

      None of those are relevant to, “reliable, honest person who does good work with one’s brain and is an asset to the company.”

      Remember, the only way to know for sure that she (as opposed to someone with a similar name) is the actress in question is to have watched the dang video(s).

      If the conservative clients have a negative opinion on that basis,

      a) they’re raging hypocrites and

      b) current events should warn them that it’s dangerous to be a raging conservative hypocrite with hidden interests in the things you loudly decry.

      “People you interviewed with at [corp] noticed that someone with the same name as you worked in adult films. They assume it’s you and they are being weird and gossipy about it, which reflects badly on them, not on you. I thought you’d want to know, in case it’s worth your while to try to shut it down” is probably safe (?).

    3. Jim Bob*

      If LW is in fact male, there is no way he should bring this up, ever, even to help the coworker. There are far too many ways that could go wrong or be misconstrued, and if there is a vengeful ex, she likely already knows.

  32. Mack*

    #2 This upsets me. There are many reasons young women work in the sex industry and a lot of those decisions are made due to being in a vulnerable spot in life. Whatever her reason was, one should be given the grace and compassion that so many conservatives preach on Sundays.

    I spent some time in my career working with Thai women formerly working as “bar girls” (aka attractive yet from poverty, therefore sent to the city to feed a family of 15 back home). So interesting that the most **judgement** they faced were the very demographic that paid them for services. It really angers me!

    So, should your conservative clients be outraged, one wonders how they would even know if you didn’t speak?

  33. Jules the 3rd*

    LW1: Is there any chance that your sister can help push the company in a better direction?

    A *lot* of the big tech companies are getting interested in alternative entry paths, increasing diversity, and just generally expanding access to tech jobs. Things this non-profit (NP) could do to turn this into a sustainable program:
    – Develop partnerships with companies that already do apprenticeships, where NP does training for skills that the company specifies and places X per year with those companies
    – Reach out to companies and non-profits that do internships and ask to work with them to develop an apprenticeship path.
    – Work with state / local governments to develop an apprenticeship path
    – Look for surge opportunities for short-term employment – campaigns this year; emergency situations in future (2020’s got a ton of emergency situations…).

    In general, start with the diversity person in HR.

    They’re clearly a… creative company, but they’re taking the easy route, and it’s going to bite them *hard* when employers realize the common link in their bad hires is this non-profit.

    For anyone just interested in the apprenticeship trend (and for LW1’s sister to use with her employer), Wall Street Journal did a big story on it in January, it’s the first result I got when I googled “tech company apprenticeship”. They name “Bosch, Barclays and IBM ” but I know Cisco, Pinterest, and LinkdIn also have programs.

    1. OP*

      This is great! I’ll mention it to her. She’s feeling so terribly about the work they’re doing and their behavior towards her that she’s started considering throwing in the towel on this career change. I would be so sad for her if she did, because she worked extremely hard to learn. She was studying full time not only this entire pandemic but also much of last year to get a certification in the field (something separate from this non-profit). And she passed!

      1. Reba*

        Ugh, I hate this organization for gathering up people like your sister (experiencing hard times, ready to work and learn) and is really screwing them by setting them up to fail later.

        At the very least you can confirm for your sis that this is not normal, she can get a job with a company that does things honestly and would reward her for her actual work.

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I don’t think trying to push the company in a better direction is a good idea. This isn’t a case of them edging over an ethical line; they shot across that line in a Formula 1 racer and are now receding over the horizon in a cloud of fraud and malfeasance. They’re doing this to inflate their job numbers so they keep their government funding, right? I don’t know exactly what crime that constitutes, but I’d bet my next paycheck that it is one, and that organization is going to end with people being arrested.

      This is not an organization LW1 or their sister should waste any time trying to salvage–the goal should be to get the sister out of there ASAP and find her a job with a non-criminal organization.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It’s more a putting it out there for LW’s sister to do to feel better while she’s hunting. And maybe a line on jobs for LW’s sister to look at.

        But LW, tell your sister congrats on the certification, and I hope the next job comes soon. If it’s a programming language cert, there’s often open source projects that she can use to build a portfolio. If it’s dbase admin or the like, small non-profits can often use help with stake-holder dbases. They don’t pay, but can give a real edge in applying for paying jobs in the field.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          This is absolutely true. In addition, Open Source projects need people to write documentation, create art, manage big communities, manage projects, etc. The Open Source world is a really good place for lots of different career paths to get experience.

  34. HannahS*

    #2: Even if you, your organization, and your clients frown upon sex work, it’s important to remember that employing former sex workers allows people to leave the industry. If someone who wants to leave sex work can’t get jobs in other places, they will be pressured to remain in the industry. Let the past be the past. If a colleague brings it up to you again, you can say, “Jane is an excellent llama groomer (or whatever her job is) and I don’t care to gossip about her.”

  35. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #5 – I did a similar thing. Divorce and then the name change three years later, and did not want to discuss either event at work. We all worked in the office together though, and were one of those teams that are like family, parties every weekend, my now-ex and I had hosted a few of the parties, so I worried it was going to get awkward at work. I only told two people in the office about the divorce initially; my boss and a close friend. With everyone else, I just never mentioned it, basically following Alison’s scripts. I think a few more people found out later on. One person seemed hurt about not having been kept in the loop, but the rest were completely fine. Not a single person cared one way or another about the name change, somehow. I think they were relieved, because my maiden name is a lot easier to spell and pronounce than my married name was.

    Just remembered, I did have one coworker get all nosy on me, but she wasn’t part of the team or the friend group. A few of us were chatting about jewelry and she asked, “why aren’t you wearing your wedding ring?” I was caught off guard and told her I was in the middle of a divorce process. She showed up at my desk the next day with stories of how she and her husband had worked through their conflicts, and recommendations for me to reconcile with my ex. So that was weird. But, honestly, if I’d just said “it doesn’t fit anymore” or “I took it off the other day and forgot to put it back on”, (which, IMO, are both proper responses to someone who’d ask this in the first place), that would’ve been the end of it.

  36. What's with Today, today?*

    My BFF’s sister-in-law did adult films when she was 18 trying to make it in Los Angeles and partying pretty hard. She’s 40 now with two kids, two degrees and a wonderful person. I’m sure her videos are still floating the internet out there, and I’d hate to have that harm her now.

  37. LaDeeDa*

    The worst thing about busy-bodies is that they try to disguise it with “concern for the company and conservative clients” but it is always about gossip and stirring up drama, even if they don’t recognize it.
    Leave the woman alone and let her do her job.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Yup. I get that work is boring and this is *really* fun to talk about. I get that revealing “scandalous” information to someone new gets you lots of attention. But… maybe just don’t? Join a book club or something.

  38. Phony Genius*

    On #5, a high-level manager here got divorced and changed her name. It was apparently so contentious that as soon as it was official, she had IT change here e-mail with specific instructions NOT to forward her e-mail from her old name’s address. She kept all information about her personal life secret, so nobody knew any of this. So when we were trying to e-mail her, they all bounced back with no explanation. We also started receiving e-mails from an unfamiliar name who was talking as if they were in charge. Apparently, she expected everybody to “just know” that she changed her name and would not answer to her old name at all. From what I heard, she got in some trouble for this since she pulled the same stunt on the executives above her.

  39. Raine*

    Regarding #3 – Is having been fired such a death blow to future employment prospects? I was fired only twice, both in the same year, and both for things so ridiculous that I can’t feel shame for them. (The first was in retail, fired for not selling enough rewards memberships, and the entire extended company went bankrupt a year later; the second was a temp agency that expanded into payroll processing, then botched the first payroll and fired me – the receptionist – as a scapegoat.) It’s been fifteen years since then.

    I’m currently working for myself, but recognize that I might have to job hunt again someday in the future. Have my prospects up until this point – and onward – been so devastatingly doomed by those two firings to warrant such fear?

    1. What the What*

      I happily bring up my firing from the sandwich shop in interviews. I’ve never had a problem.

      I apparently really sucked at making sandwiches at 17. My boss sat me down to talk about my inferior sandwich skills and for some reason asked me where I saw myself in 5 years. I replied, “I don’t know, not here obviously.” That was apparently not the correct answer because she said she needed employees who cared. I said, “Well, I don’t leave for college for 2 more months, so I can stay while you find someone else.”

      I really didn’t get it. She did not take me up on my offer to stay and asked me to return my uniform… which kind of weirded me out. Was she going to give my used sandwich uniform to someone else? Or was she worried I would wear it around and ruin the reputation of the sandwich shop?

    2. OP3*

      I hope not. It’s just that this is my first job out of college, so it’s not like I have a track record of ten years of successful positions. And I know decades down the line, this will be like a sandwich shop story for me, but right now it’s my only real job! And this is a crazy labor market! So I am having a little trouble being comforted knowing it’s not a big deal in the long run.

      1. Raine*

        Those two firings didn’t keep me from getting (and keeping!) two jobs in my chosen career field that I kept for eight years, before I moved across the state and switched fields entirely. I’d like to believe that something like checking a “fired in the past” box would only really hurt your chances with terribly managed companies, but I also know that so much has changed in the world of employment in general (especially as digital applications become more and more common).

        Really, I want to say “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine!”, but I lack the standing to do so. Instead, I might be in the same boat. :(

        1. voluptuousfire*

          Technically speaking I’ve been fired two or even three times (one time was a gray area. Retail, gotta love it). It’s never affected me getting a job. Two firings were first jobs out of school and one was in 2013 and it’s not impeded me a whit.

          Unless it was a huge thing like stealing or punching out your boss, you’re likely fine.

      2. Hi, I just got laid off too*

        I can sympathize, OP. I too am looking for work as of yesterday for a very similar reason (they decided to change the position due to COVID and needed some skills and experience I didn’t have when they hired me and certainly didn’t develop while working there in the pre-COVID world). I made headway in a niche field which I’m now trying to pivot into something different (while laid off in the middle of pandemic) so I’m feeling very vulerable and afraid.

        But think of it like this: no one is ever going to forget what this year was like. You lost your job in the middle of a pandemic — just like A LOT of people. If Prospective Boss years from now looks at your resume and decides to throw it in the bin with everyone else who lost their job in 2020, that’s gonna be one full bin and one silly boss. I know it also might feel like a very personal rejection of who you are and what you do, but it’s really not — it’s not you, it’s the job.

        You also mention you may not work in campaigns again. It’s possible that will make it happen even less. Whether or not you were a good fit on this campgain will likely matter very little to the hiring manager who is looking for entirely different things and for whom the idea of being a good fit for a campaign is completely foreign.

        As a practical self care tidbit: anxiety is a reaction to danger. It’s supposed to spur you to some sort of action but in modern times where we aren’t running into tigers all the time, it misfires, makes us freeze up, give up and feel sick. So just keep acting, in whatever capacity you can at a given time — your body and brain want that. Whenever you make a decision on what you’re going to do in response to the danger, you will feel a little better, even if the outcome of your action is still uncertain.

  40. SMH*

    OP #1
    I think they offered your sister a job so she wouldn’t report them. Once she works there her reputation will be tied to them. I would report them but only if you can convince your sister to leave ASAP. It’s not worth the damage and she will never be able to use them as a reference once their outed.

  41. Full Stack Kenmare*

    LW #1

    Definitely report the non-profit to your state’s Attorney General and Board of Education. Most states actually have charity regulator or tax agency. It will be a long process, but the school might be disciplined in some way.

    I went through a similar situation. A non-profit in NYC was offering “free” training in coding. It’s free until you get a job and have to start income-based payments. It was a terrible program:
    — Told students to list the non-profit as “work experience” instead of education and list job title as “Fellow.”
    — Continued to tell students to list the non-profit as “work experience” and job title as “Fellow” for the 3 years post-program support.
    — Told students, “You’re not a student. You’re a developer. This is not a school.” Yeah, right…
    — Focused more on getting students to act competent rather than actually teaching them how to code.
    — Relied on volunteers for a lot of the program. The reliance was so heavy that many students almost didn’t graduate on time because a non-profit wanted a volunteer to grade student tests and assignments. I know, doesn’t make sense.
    — Cuts costs by hiring former students to be teaching assistants (as freelance employees), class managers, and even lead instructors.
    — And it goes on.

    The NYC non-profit actually changed it’s name 2 years ago, which effectively wiped the slate clean on it’s reputation. They changed their name, but didn’t change their practices. They haven’t been sued yet because they target poor people who can’t afford an attorney.

    The non-profit also alienated a lot of students after it admitted that it’s “Pay It Forward” income-sharing model was actually an investor driven model. Yes, the non-profit somehow has investors. Students were told the “Pay It Forward” money was helping to fund future students. Now, the non-profit is trying to gaslight everyone by saying it was all a misunderstanding. When students started refusing to pay due to deception, the non-profit threatened to reports students to credit bureaus and collections agencies if they refuse to pay.

    It turns out the non-profit is actually violating state law by operating without a license.

    1. Brett*

      Yes, the is exactly the schema I have seen a few times. And the non-profits often target either women or a specific ethnicity. An additional practice on top of what you outlined is to create a coding sweatshop. Train people minimally on how to generate code (but not on higher level concepts of CS) and then pay them dramatically undermarket wages while contracting them out at slightly under market wages; e.g. something like paying the employee $10/hr while contracting them out at $50/hr.

      If they get a job while contracted out, or straight out of the boot camp, they have an income share built into the contract.

  42. Esmeralda*

    #1: I understand the OP’s concern for her sister, and AAM’s advice to work on getting your sister out, then report.
    I understand it, but I don’t think it’s right. The sister now knows her employer is unethical –OP can share the info re fraud and illegal — but took a job there. In other words, is knowingly participating in unethical and fraudulent behavior. What if the sister doesn’t want to leave? Does that mean the OP should not report?

    In the meantime, the clients are being told to engage in unethical behavior which could cost them the very jobs the nonprofit is training them for and the nonprofit is defrauding the government (whether federal, state, or local — that’s not free money, it comes from taxpayers who reasonably expect it to be used wisely), and it’s likely funded from a limited pot = some other nonprofit is not getting money. Plus they are engaging in illegal hiring and payment in order to facilitate unemployment fraud.

    OP, I would advise you to share the info from the commenters with your sister, ask her to commit to finding another job asap (I know, hard in this economy), and then *very soon after* report this organization. Very hard to possibly put your sister out of work, but also, hard to let this organization harm its clients and to continue engaging in so many illegal and fraudulent practices.

    1. PennyLane*

      I agree it does not look good that the sister is ok working for a company she knows is unethical. Honesty and integrity are things a lot of GOOD employers look for.

      And puh-lease, they are not going to sue her- that would expose their misdeeds even if there was something they could sue her for. That’s just a scare tactic.

  43. employment lawyah*

    1. Nonprofit tells trainees to falsify their resumes and use fake references
    Have your sister call a lawyer, who should be avle to help her get out without loss of salary/references.

    2. My coworker once appeared in an adult film
    So what? Nobody cares in 2020 at most jobs. Ignore it. Don’t bring it up. If people bring it up to you, say “don’t be an asshole” to them, and move on.

    5. Changing my name back after getting a divorce
    How can I gracefully change my last name for my email address and/or in LinkedIn without getting bombarded with questions or sympathy?

    Well, they may or may not even notice. But as AAM says, they probably won’t care unless you make it a big deal, and you can easily communicate that it isn’t their business.

  44. quinnieduck17*

    OP 1! I work for a workforce development organization and this is SO shady and also government funding for this is so competitive; I feel so frustrated thinking that a group could be doing this and keeping funding from legit organizations that work so hard to achieve high job placement rates through Measurable Skills Gains, industry recognized certificates, workplace practicums, etc etc etc! (It is a key deliverable of most funding for obvious reasons). Report, report, report! Workforce development and job training is such a rewarding place to spend a career. There is nothing better than helping someone overcome their fear to enter an industry that excites them to their core (even later in life), or working with new immigrants and refugees to help them find a pathway forward to provide for themselves and their families in a position they will love and offers dignity and respect. But this non-profit is actively lying to beef up their numbers for grant reporting. Expose them today please!

  45. Artctic*

    OP2 the only response if this ever comes up again is “Oh, Tracey does great work here and we are happy to have her with us.”

  46. Anon 2.0*

    If the guy on the phone at another company is not a personal friend and was willing to out your coworker he will do it again. He isn’t going to stop telling people about what he knows and passing his judgment and his ‘concern’ that your company hired such a person and his did not. I’m not sure where he expects former sex workers to work if no one will hire them except the entertainment industry.
    If you have a relationship with this woman I would invite her to coffee/lunch off site and tell you that you don’t want to say this and there apologize up front but you want her to know what this man is saying. Say it directly and briefly and explain “I am not asking you to confirm or to explain yourself. It’s none of my business. But I would want to know if someone said this about me true or not. I will leave it to you to handle as you see fit. I will not discuss this with anyone at work or outside of work including you unless you approach me about it in the future.” Give her the option to leave or if needed you leave just to give her space.

  47. SomebodyElse*

    Allison, curious why you didn’t advise the LW #2 to discretely inform the coworker of what the other company said about her? Don’t you think it’s important for this person to know what is being said about her?

    1. Observer*

      I can’t speak for Allison, of course, but my guess is that it’s because the OP is going to come across as concern trolling.

  48. WFH with Cat*

    LW #1 – It’s not clear whether or not your sister agreed to be paid under the table while receiving unemployment — but, if she did, she could land in some serious trouble. At the very least, she could end up having to pay back every dollar of UEC that she received while double-dipping. I hope she gets out of there soon!

  49. Observer*

    #2 – What exactly is the issue you see here?

    Is she doing anything illegal? No

    Is she doing anything unethical? No

    Is she doing anything dangerous? No

    Is her behavior having any impact at all on your ability to do your job? No

    Is her job performance bad in a way that affects the company but that her manager is not able to see for some reason, but you cna? No

    In other words, none of the usual reasons for going to management apply here.

    If your management really believes that staff’s personal history can pose a legitimate threat to the business, then it’s on them to investigate people’s history. It’s not your job.

    1. Observer*

      I just re-read your letter and realized that you have no way to know if ANY of this is true – not if she actually ever worked in adult film nor if there ever was a job offer. The only thing you know is that he’s trying to get her fired by questioning your decision to hire her.

      Unless she needs high level security clearance, and it does not sound like that’s the case here, this is just not relevant information. So I would have to wonder how something like this was found out in a background check. Which just increases the shadiness of doing anything with this price of gossip.

      Realize this – you do not have INFORMATION. You have GOSSIP. And acting on gossip is generally a really bad idea.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        And the only reason it would be relevant if she needed a high level security clearance would be if it made her blackmailable. I knew folks in the service (intelligence, requiring high level clearances) who had sexwork in their past and they were asked directly about it in that context. It’s not the work that would make someone unsuitable, but the effect the work might have on their ability to be leveraged as an asset. “Oh, ha, no, you couldn’t blackmail me with that. My mom did my taxes all those years because they were COMPLICATED. Of course my family knows.” was satisfactory.

  50. Jimming*

    For LW1 I’m wondering how do these people get thru a technical interview? That’s not something you can lie your way through – you have to know how to code. Maybe it’s another type of IT? Either way it’s so unethical and a disservice to the people they’re teaching.

    I agree with Alison. Get your sister out and report them.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yeah, I’d be real concerned that the free education at the non-profit isn’t at all up to par with industry standards and they are counting on faked resumes and fraudulent references to get their “graduates” in a job, because otherwise they wouldn’t have any marketable IT skills.

      1. irene adler*

        That can’t go on for too long.
        The local companies will get burned and make sure not to hire graduates from that institution again. At least not without thoroughly checking the skill set. And, people talk. So the word will get out before long that the grads do not possess the skills needed.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Yes and no. Once someone has an employment history and references (in this case completely fraudulent), employers are less likely to care or notice a candidate’s education. That happens with for-profit universities too. I just don’t know how anyone still thinks a diploma from U of Phony-ix is a good investment of either their time or money, and as Alison has stated a degree from them might actually hurt a candidate more than it helps…and yet it persists.

  51. Jennifer*

    #2 I also think this guy should be reported to his bosses whether you tell the coworker or not. What he said was not okay.

  52. agnes*

    I’d much rather hire someone who worked in the adult film business than one who has entertained himself with the adult film business to the point that he can recognize specific actors.

  53. boop the first*

    #1. Ha! So many educational places base their marketing on % of graduates who are successful at finding work. But what real schools do, is they send out a survey, and if you’re employed anywhere at all, even if it’s fast food, even if it’s the same job you had before you went to school, you automatically count as a graduate who successfully landed a job, so now they can say 90% of their graduates are now employed. It’s that easy! This place in letter 1 sure is doing it the goofy way.

  54. voluptuousfire*

    How would someone’s adult film work come up in a background check? Most adult performers have a stage name, so outside of someone spotting them in a film I don’t understand how this would come up in a routine background check. Am I the only one confused about this? I can’t imagine including this on their resume, considering the stigma in most places about sex work/whorephobia.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        I’d imagine the production companies also may have a DBA alternate name so that any videos or subscriptions that were bought via credit card, the adult company name wouldnt come up on your statement.

        Also performers sign contracts like “Jenna Mazzoli aka Jenna Jameson” and I would gather are independent contractors vs. W2 employees but may be different in California, after a quick google search.

  55. Tidewater 4-1009*

    #1 – Back in ’99 I was supporting a floor of programmers working on Y2K. More than once I set up a new programmer with equipment, etc. and a few days later he was gone.
    It was because they lied about their abilities. It quickly became obvious they couldn’t do what they said they could do, and they were fired.
    I don’t know if they were also blacklisted, but many of them worked for consulting companies so they probably lost any shot at other jobs with those companies also.
    The thing for a beginning tech worker to do is be honest. There are entry level positions for them where they can get experience and don’t have to lie.

  56. Amaranth*

    LW#4 shine your own light! Yes, ask your manager for feedback, but in take those high-5 sessions as an opportunity to share your victories. “I’m really proud of how x,y,z went last week, and that the teapot analysis was finished two weeks early!” Take the congratulations of your peers and enjoy them!

  57. Argh!*

    Re: positive feedback

    There’s a thing called bias toward the negative, so I totally agree with trying to shake a boss loose from that. HR trains people in how to manage performance in a way that avoids lawsuits (also a bias toward the negative there), so they train in documentation of performance issues, not documentation of performance excellence.

    And if you try and you can’t get anything but a perfunctory response, you know that you won’t get a bonus or a merit raise or whatever goodies that the teacher’s pets get, and that when / if layoffs come, you won’t be protected.

    The more you know about your boss’s true feelings the better! Also, by asking them to think of positives, you’re neurologically reprogramming them in your favor, which is also a good thing.

  58. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

    The weird thing about telling the trainees to lie about their experience is that it likely won’t result in getting them hired, just waste people’s time. Tech interviews include some form of skills testing; white boarding, practical test project, or both. The former tends to just test your thinking process, they want to see someone who has a senior level conceptualization of their work, but you’re doing it with your interviewers sitting right there. The latter is usually on your own, but there isn’t enough Stack Overflow to fake 10 years experience. It will be a horrible, humiliating waste of time.

  59. MamaSarah*

    Cheers to LW wanting to use her maiden name again! Seems like a healing and empower thing to do.

  60. Anya*

    To LW #2, I’d let the woman know that there’s a company telling people this out of the blue. Like it or not, doing an adult film can damage a career a lot, more so if hiring companies are actively spreading this information around. If she hasn’t already distanced herself from it, she should be given a heads up to do so – it’s very possible she has no idea that’s why she wasn’t hired. Or worse, it wasn’t even her, but her twin or something. It’s awkward, but she needs to be aware.

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