firing someone during a pandemic, we have to say what we spent our bonus on, and more

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

1. Firing someone during a pandemic

I have an employee who was placed on a PIP starting in mid-October 2019 for, among other things, being argumentative with feedback and missing deadlines. A decision was made to terminate her from the company, with a date set in mid to late March, around the normal PIP-endpoint for my organization of 5-6 months.

When late March arrived, however, we were at the very start of a very uncertain pandemic. As such, I advocated to HR that I was not comfortable moving ahead on the termination. HR agreed and implemented a company-wide freeze on terminations through the summer.

Said employee has been on a PIP ever since, and the unprofessional, argumentative feedback responses and late assignments have continued. At this point, the PIP is nearly a year old. I can’t take her off of it (her performance is still unacceptable for her role), and it feels wrong to drag it out so long, but I am reminded of your column from last April, imploring managers not to fire anyone during a pandemic if you can help it, and to wait until you can do so ethically.

Is there any update or nuance to your advice on firing during a pandemic, given the length we are all looking at? Does your advice change if the performance challenges predated the pandemic, and have only continued as it progressed? Or is it morally suspect to let anyone go while we are in the midst of this, regardless of where they were before March? And if so, what do I do with this almost-year-long PIP?

I’m glad for the opportunity to clarify that advice since others have asked about it too. My advice there wasn’t intended as “you can never fire someone in a pandemic.” Rather, it was that you shouldn’t be cavalier about it (as that letter-writer’s HR department was being), and you should try to avoid it when you can (which won’t be always). You should also take circumstances into account as much as you can (like if someone always did good work but has been struggling with stress since the lockdown) and give more chances than in more normal circumstances.

But in your case, I would seriously consider letting this employee go, perhaps with one final warning that that will be the next step if you don’t see immediate changes. This isn’t someone who’s trying hard but just not cutting it; this is someone who’s been warned about behavior that’s within her control (like argumentativeness) but is still continuing it. It’s not cavalier to let someone go after a full year of warnings about problem behavior (that’s what the PIP is).

2. We have to say what we’re spending our bonus money on

I work for a small (>20 person team) start-up with a culture similar to what you would expect of a young, starry-eyed company. Most folks on our team are new to the workforce and the two founders are young, energetic, and excited about the company’s future. Having said that, after being there a year I am noticing some frustrating expectations coming out of our leaders, specifically surrounding work-life balance: calling employees to work 50-hour weeks despite low pay and lack of incentive (they expect everyone on the team to be as passionate and dedicated to our mission as the founders,) praising team members for working on their days off, using all hands meetings for required mental health check-ins, etc. etc.

This past week during our all-hands the founders announced that since we’ve had our most profitable month they want to award everyone a $200 bonus. This is generous — I’ve mentioned our pay is low — and I’m aware of how tight our budget is in general. What surprised (and concerned) me is that we were given this bonus with the instruction that we have to use the money for “something that makes us happy” and to share our purchases on one of the company’s Slack channels. This seems quite invasive, especially since we are in the midst of a pandemic and our team has already taken pay cuts so our company could pull through the difficult months. Isn’t it bizarre (and possibly illegal?) to require your employees to share what they spend their bonus money on?

It’s not illegal. It sounds like they intend this as a camaraderie-builder and morale-booster and aren’t considering that it’s really no one’s business what you spend your money on. I’d argue that the way they framed it, it’s less bonus and more akin to “here’s $200, go do something nice for someone and report back what you spent it on,” although in this case the someone is yourself. It’s boundary-violating and has a whiff of “we’re like family here” but I don’t think it’s the most egregious thing ever.

If you don’t want to play along, it should be fine to say if asked, “I’m private about money so would rather not share” or “Eh, I don’t like to talk about personal spending decisions.” But  that may make you look chilly and out of sync with their culture, and you’re likely better off just saying, “I’m saving it, and that makes me happy.” (Or if you want to subtly make a point about the low pay, say you spent it on bills, but I’m doubtful the point will land.)

3. My employee is pregnant — what next?

I have a staff member who started working for me during quarantine. We are still working remote, and will be for some time. She is doing great, though is still finding her way connecting with the team, who haven’t spent a lot of time “together” on Zoom, which makes it a bit tougher to get to know folks.

She recently shared with me that she is expecting a baby, and she said that she was worried that I or others on the team would be upset about her having a baby so soon after starting. I told her congratulations and that I’m excited for her and there is no reason to be concerned. I connected her with resources about maternity leave for our work place and let her know I’d follow her lead with when she wanted to tell the rest of the team.

I’m a pretty new manager and I’ve never supervised someone who’s had a baby before. Should I talk to her about this more to help reduce her worry or should I let her drive that conversation? As we get closer to her due date, I’ll work with her to plan who will cover for her while she is out, of course, but I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I know the entire team will be excited for her. Several of them had kids before I became the manager, so it’s not like they are unfamiliar with this in the workplace.

I tend to try to solve anxious feels with food or a gift. Would it be appropriate to give her a gift, like something you might give someone at a baby shower? Maybe I’m over-thinking this but I just want her to know that she is doing great and this won’t be an issue.

You already said all the right things. For now, leave it there and follow her lead — otherwise you risk making it weird and putting more focus on it than she wants.

At some point it would be nice for the company to give her a congratulatory gift if that’s something your company does for people’s life milestones … but you personally sending her food or a gift right after finding out would feel like a little much, I think. (Although you certainly can do it on your own once she goes on leave or has the baby if you’d like to. Just make sure, if you do that, that other people get similarly acknowledged for their own milestones.)

Read an update to this letter here.

4. How to check on collaborators when the world is (possibly literally) on fire

What’s the best phrasing to check in with someone who may be dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, fires, floods, and other increasingly frequent natural and man-made disasters? In my case, I hadn’t heard from a collaborator in over a week. Her city had been recently hit by a hurricane, and I didn’t know if her organization or home had been affected, but she is in a leadership position on my project, so I needed her feedback before I could move forward. I sent a brief message checking if she’d seen my previous email, but I feel like this is going to keep happening. Can you give us some scripts for checking in with collaborators (both those in superior and subordinate roles) whose worlds may literally be on fire?

A good basic formula is to acknowledge the situation, express empathy, explain what you need, and make it clear that you understand if events are getting in the way. For example: “Hi Jane, I hope you’re doing okay! I’ve been following the hurricane that hit your area and I hope you and your family are safe. I wanted to check with you about (project details). If you have your hands full with what’s happening in your area right now and need to push this back, I of course understand!”

If you actually can’t push back the thing very easily, adapt that wording at the end — you need to acknowledge that they might not be able to do it right now regardless, but you can tweak the wording to whatever fits. For example, maybe it’s “I’d been planning on finalizing this by Friday since we want to distribute it at the board meeting the following week, but if that just can’t happen right now, let me know and we’ll figure it out.” Depending on circumstances, you might need to add, “If I don’t hear from you in the next few days, I’ll figure you’ve got your hands full and will work on alternate plans.”

5. My boss won’t confirm I don’t work for her anymore

I need a letter from my former boss stating that I no longer work there. I am applying for financial aid at a hospital and have asked my former boss to send a statement and she won’t do it without knowing who it’s going to. I’ve asked her if she could address it “to whom it may concern” and she won’t. Am I obligated to tell her my personal financial business? Is she justified in withholding this?

You shouldn’t have to tell her who the letter will be going to. But crappy as she’s being, I don’t know of any law that would obligate her to write the letter. If she’s holding firm, your best bet may be to just tell her (unfair as that may be). But you don’t need to give her details — I’d try just saying “It needs to go to Jane Warbleworth, Washington Hospital, at this email address.”

If she won’t budge (which would be incredibly jerky), try explaining the situation to the hospital and see if there’s another way to meet their documentation requirements. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this stress in the middle of what’s probably already a stressful experience.

{ 361 comments… read them below }

  1. I AM a lawyer.*

    If I were OP #2, I’d be tempted to say I spent it on groceries or medical expenses and being able to pay for those things made her happy. I’m not suggesting that, though.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Great minds think alike. If they’re going to be rude by pushing on this, I’d be tempted to twist the knife a bit on the generally low pay. But I’m not always a nice person.

      1. SharonC*

        Oh, I would have had a fun response a few years ago when I got a bonus about this size. I own and operate a small online retail shop as my “side hustle”. The shop is intended to be my “after retirement” income and fun thing to do, so I’m building it up as much as I can to bring me a paycheck. When I got the little bonus I immediately spent it on a nice grid wall for when I participate in local vending events! “I spent your money on my side hustle, and that made me happy!”. LOL!

    2. RB*

      $200 is not really enough to buy happiness, at any level. If I get that amount, it’s going to go toward restocking my pantry, buying other necessities like light bulbs, motor oil, antifreeze, yard and garden supplies, and home improvement supplies. Those things don’t make me happy, any more than checking a chore off your list makes you happy. It’s not even enough to hire a handyman or get new tires (maybe really cheap tires).

      1. Jackalope*

        Whenever I get a bonus I try to splurge at least a tiny bit and get a new book or two. I love reading so for me that is a way to get myself a bit of joy for little cash. That’s probably what I would say. (For the record, I often read on my breaks and lunches so my co-workers would likely believe that I was serious…)

      2. AcademiaNut*

        If you’re comfortable financially, in a job that pays a living market wage and has decent benefits, $200 to spend on fun could be lovely – I’d hit up the Kindle store for some books, maybe get a new video game, and splurge on some gourmet treats. It’s not deep happiness, but it’d be a lovely weekend.

        If you’re being payed below market wages with crappy benefits, and are worried about things like rent and utilities, and your instinctive reaction to a bonus $200 is that you can finally go to the dentist, demanding that you spend it on something fun and frivolous is going to be really grating.

        I think the owners are likely just being thoughtless – they’re in this for the promise of future rewards, and don’t really understand that their employees are exchanging work for money to live on, and aren’t going to reap the benefits of getting paid less to make record profits.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Exactly. If I’m not worried about the bills or my savings account, $200 would be a really nice splurge. But it sounds like most of the people working for this organization might have reason to be worried about the bills and/or their savings accounts.

      3. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        “It’s not even enough to buy tires” Is my new go-to quantity descriptor. It’s specific and yet inexplicable.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          As someone who once combined a work bonus from an underpaying job with the eBay sale of a necklace given to me by an ex-boyfriend to, well, buy tires, I was literally getting on here to say this.

      4. Alli525*

        I mean, I bought a camping hammock for $50 that brings me great joy. Ditto for my $75 waterproof bluetooth speakers that I take with me literally everywhere I go (paired with my $10/month Spotify Premium account). A jumbo jar of Nutella is $8.

        As someone who grew up without a lot of money, I know for a fact that you can buy SOME measure of happiness for way less than $200.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          We had plenty of money until my father died when I was 10….then it got tight because Mom wanted to be sure she could send me to college without losing the house. SHE relaxed when she had the finances straightened out, but I continued to calculate things in terms of the hours I had to work to pay for them.
          At minimum wage, it takes 27 hours to earn $200 (longer if you want to count for taxes).
          That itself buys a fair bit of happiness.

          1. Free now (and forever)*

            Luckily, here in Connecticut, at minimum wage, it now takes only 16.66 hours to earn $200 (if you don’t count the pesky tax thing.)

        2. boop the first*

          Heh, same! Garden supplies and home improvement supplies would definitely make me some kind of happy! Otherwise, what’s the motivation?

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          Same! I could finally invest in a pair of trail running shoes and a quality hydration vest for $200, and that would definitely increase my happiness because right now I’m wearing my road running shoes and a vest that was clearly made for a large man (I am a short woman) to run the trails. Not awful but could be better.

          It’s so gross that the company is acting like this is such a wonderful magnanimous thing they’re doing for their employees in light of everything else going on there. Ugh. Sounds like they’re just trying to convince y’all that they’re really an awesome employer instead of a garbage one.

      5. Quill*

        $200 is “oh good, now ‘fix the air conditioner’ is no longer an outstanding item on my monthly budget” money.

        Yeah. That’s basically what it cost to fix the AC last month. Took 30 minutes and a capacitor.

      6. Yorick*

        Using money that didn’t come from your regular budget to update or restock something can make a person feel happier. I was super excited to use the $1200 covid money to get closer to paying off a small debt.

        And I don’t know what you’re talking about anyway, $200 is plenty of money to buy yourself a gift. I could make $20 work to buy myself a gift, so it’s pretty silly to say someone can’t at $200.

    3. My Dear Wormwood*

      I’d fantasise about saying I spent it on a long-delayed gynecology appointment…

      …perhaps I’d have the guts to say I spent it on a long-delayed dental check up. “I’m so happy to know I don’t have new cavities” would probably go down better than “I’m so happy to know I don’t have cervical cancer.”

      1. Quiet Liberal*

        Yes, “Pap Smear or mammogram I’ve been putting off for lack of income”. Super snarky, but gets the point across. I probably would chicken out and not say this, but it is fun to think about. Sorry your employer is so tone deaf, OP.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        At VeryOldJob, my insurance was fairly good, and would cover most everything no questions asked. But dentristy? Yeah, good luck with that. I put off removing my wisdom teeth for almost 2 years because the cash just wasn’t there, and public dentists are a rarity where I live.

        So OP, if you want a less embarassing medical option for shaming your employers’ low pay, feel free to use this. I cannot tell you how happy I was to finally not have tooth aches anymore!

    4. Heidi*

      For Letter 2, this seems like the kind of situation where the bosses wants you to make them feel good about themselves and their largesse. Saying that paying rent makes you happy doesn’t really do this because it reminds them that you’re doing this job because you need money and that they don’t actually pay you enough. I’d say I spent it on an experience rather than a physical item that they might expect to see photos of. Fancy dinner or something.

      1. Not A Manager*

        I agree with this. The cost of being passive-aggressive is too high, and the benefit is too low. Pick something that you spent about $200 on that could be considered “happy,” and report on that. I would stay away from “now Tiny Tim finally has his new crutches.” Splurged on dinner, bought a coat, had a massage, purchased craft materials.

        If the pay is too low and you want to get out, that’s legit. But poking them in the eye won’t help you find a new job.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, it’s annoying, but there are far worse “presents” companies can give.

          LW, if you want to save it, buy a big piggy bank at a thrift store or amazon and then take a picture of yourself hugging the piggy bank. It’s cutsey enough that they’ll probably go for it.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I like this a lot.

            OP, you could simply say, “undecided”, also.

            You have to go with what you are comfortable saying. For me I would be sorely tempted to say food/vet bills/other practical thing, because that is what I would actually do with it. I am not going to lie about what I did just to make them happy.

            I think my final answer would be to watch what others do. If no one is replying, then that I’d go with that. Why make myself stand out like a sore thumb when the silence says everything?

          2. RecentAAMfan*

            there are far worse “presents” companies can give
            Good point. They could’ve spent it on giving everyone Patagonia vests they don’t need/ want

          3. Just J.*

            Or take a picture of yourself holding an envelope mark in big letters “Vacation Fund!” or “House Down-payment Fund!”

            No one can slight you for saving for a big event. (And then spend the $200 however you want, like, on food, rent, utilities.)

            1. Amaranth*

              Thats a good idea or a cookie jar marked ‘mad money’ and mention so far you bought a hardcover book.

              1. TardyTardis*

                That hardcover book should be Piketty’s CAPITAL–that’ll tell you where all the money in our society is going!

          4. Emilia Bedelia*

            Yes, I think this is a good opportunity to (pretend?) to have some fun with it. Use silliness to your advantage.

            Take a picture of your kids and say “college fund!” Take a picture of your dog and a bag of dog treats and say “he’s so excited about his treats!” Post a picture of an enormous mansion and say “Saving up for my dream house!” Take a silly picture at the grocery store with a full cart and say “Shopping spree!”

            This seems like a misguided attempt at generating a fun conversation. Unless the money weirdness continues I think there are easy ways to avoid a conflict here. Save capital for something really important, like advocating for a raise.

          5. KayDeeAye*

            I could of course be wrong, but I strongly doubt that the founders are expecting employees to share their deepest desires (that can be purchased with $200 :-) ). It’s a frivolous question, and I think all it deserves and all that’s really expected is a frivolous answer.

            So, OP, don’t sweat this. You can come up with something you’re planning to buy, fun or otherwise – I mean, I’d personally have no problem saying “a winter coat” or “groceries,” but that’s me – after all, eating makes most people pretty happy. But if you don’t want to do that, just say something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what I want, but I’m looking forward to spending it!”

          1. Smithy*

            With most things, I think the way it’s said will make this passive aggressive of not. Saying you spent the money on “bills, shrug emoji” is different than “one step closer to being credit card debt free!!!!” Also, the suggestion of taking an envelope and writing “vacation fund” of something similar shows engages with the game.

            This isn’t something the owners should be doing and if the OP was in leadership, would be doing the right right thing to push back. But this is may not be where I’d want to immediately spend my capital at work if I were more junior.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Is it passive aggressive if it is 100% factually true statement?

            Yes. Passive aggressive simply means hinting at what you mean, rather than saying it. But the hint can still be truthful. “Oh good, now I can get that dental work I needed” says I’m desperately broke (and implies because you don’t pay well) without coming out and saying it. And if this bonus allows you to get the dental work you needed, then it’s still factually true.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’ve had a couple times in my life when a switch would flip inside my head and I’d be like, “I honestly do not care if I have this job tomorrow or not.” In one case, I quit the job and had a new one with 3x the pay three weeks later. In another, I got to keep the job and the person I went off on somehow developed respect for me. I am honestly having one of these moments on the OP’s behalf as I keep re-reading the letter. They hired inexperienced people at a low pay! then they cut the low pay! Then, out of all the $$$$ they were able to save by cutting everyone’s pay, they generously gave everyone a one-time payment of $200 back. And now they want to know what everyone spent their $200 on, and are dropping hints that it better not be bills or groceries? Yeah, no. Something tells me that the company isn’t long for this world anyway, so I say, spend it on groceries and say groceries. Heck, attach a photo of the groceries.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              HA! And I bet that could probably be spun as “getting ready for the next big family event”.

          1. Annony*

            I agree that if you are fed up with the company to the point that you do not care if you keep working there, go ahead and send a picture of groceries. But for a lot of people this would fall into the category of “the type of annoying I can deal with for $200.” In which case it is better for them to be diplomatic and play along.

        3. The Starsong Princess*

          You don’t need to account for every dime. Post something non committal and benign like a pic of an ice cream or a new book and call it a day.

      2. allathian*

        If they pay a crappy wage, they don’t deserve to feel good about themselves. I’m lucky enough to work in the Nordics, where you can’t be fired just because, it has to be a just cause. As in, performance problems (usually not after a first offence unless it’s particularly serious), breaking the law for more than a minor offence (speeding tickets and parking violations don’t count, DUI may), and really egregious insubordination that put the company’s reputation at risk, even if it’s not actually illegal. Failing to stroke the ego of a boss doesn’t cut it.

        Lots of people post photos of their meals on social media, so I wouldn’t say a fancy dinner unless you have a photo to back it up. I would probably just say that I put it into my savings. As out of touch as they are, they can hardly demand to see your bank statement. And it’s perfectly legit to say that getting a bit of extra money in your savings makes you happy (even if you spend it on groceries the next day).

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Great point, Heidi. I think the bosses are yet another example of start-up leaders who genuinely don’t understand that employees aren’t as invested in The Mission as they are – and that there is no reason for them to be unless they reap the benefits of their ‘above and beyond’ contributions.

        $200 is a kind gesture more than a bonus, and OP is probably better served by being kind in return. Give the leadership team part of what they asked for – say, you went to the local axe throwing lounge or had your eyebrows threaded – and conveniently forget to mention you used most of your windfall to restock your pantry or pay bills.

    5. allathian*

      I was just coming here to say that. “I’m so happy that I can pay my rent without taking some money out of my retirement savings this month.” They’re so out of touch that a good old dose of real life for people on small incomes wouldn’t come amiss.

    6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Does management have the time to “enforce” this?

      Just spend it

      And if you have political capital, don’t post to the Slack, and if someone insists just say “household stuff” or whatever. I wouldn’t post anything – just ignore it all. If someone insisted, I’d ignore them or give a vague answer. Don’t play these games. Don’t be complicit in this nonsense by following through exactly as asked.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Agreed x1000. Management may check the Slack channel to make themselves feel good, but they probably won’t notice who’s missing. Plenty of people enjoy going along with things like this, and that makes it possible for the rest of us to just ignore it.

      2. EPLawyer*

        That’s the best approach. Because I would be so tempted to say:

        1. I spent it on riotous living.
        2. I put it in saving so I have money to live on when this place goes belly up from mismanagement.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Attributed (possibly correctly–I don’t know) to Elmore Leonard:

          “I spent most of my dough on booze, broads and boats and the rest I wasted.”

          I have also seen the last word as “squandered,” which I like more.

          1. TootsNYC*

            “squander” is a lovely word.
            So onomatopoeic.
            It sounds the way squandering feels: a little sordid, and very freewheeling (“wander” there in the middle).

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I have heard the squandered version with gorgeous girls and fast cars instead of broads and boats attributed to George Best (bad boy of football -soccer to Americans- back in the day). It was probably pretty true.
            I wouldn’t tell my boss I had squandered money they’d given me though!

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m probably one who would make my point and still throw them something for the letter of the instruction. Grocery delivery… That makes me happy on a busy week to not go to the store myself.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’ve been getting grocery delivery since the pandemic started, and it’s really great. Not even terribly expensive, really (though I’ve definitely had times when even the fairly inexpensive extra fees would have been too much). But right now, not having to go to the grocery store in person makes me VERY happy.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          Online groceries cost more than those at the store, then there are fees and other charges added on (Instacart, looking at you). I like to tip well also. So for me, grocery delivery is terribly expensive and I may not even like what I get (I’m picky). My kids get things for me sometimes, but I prefer to gear up and go during low attendance times, and keep the trip short. That makes it low risk. I used to enjoy perusing the aisles, don’t really do that anymore.

    8. IrishEm*

      I’d be soooo tempted to say “Paying the electrical bill (or whatever bill would typically be $200) sparked joy.” But I’m a sarcastic wagon.

    9. KateM*

      My mind went to groceries, too! And I think the rent or bill suggestions are good ones, anyway. LW can be all innocently upbeat about it: “yess, I paid my bills from last month!”. And if they are among the first people to post, it may encourage coworkers to chirp in with “ha, I raise you to paying my bills from month BEFORE last!”. One worker saying something like that won’t do much, but if half of their employees rejoice about their bills, rents, groceries, it may light some bulb.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, I think “innocently upbeat” is the key to being honest without sounding passive aggressive. People shouldn’t have to pretend they’re able to spend the money on something “fun” when they’re not – by telling them to report back, the executives are basically asking for reassurance that they’re paying enough to cover necessities. They shouldn’t get it.

        I would go with a splurge grocery purchase: “I got enough toilet paper for the whole month, brand-name peanut butter, and THREE kinds of beans!”

        1. KateM*

          “People shouldn’t have to pretend they’re able to spend the money on something “fun” when they’re not”

          Yes, that’s how I feel about it, too. And, really, sometimes such things ARE fun and happiness. I’m thankfully not worried about groceries and bills, but my big dream is that if I ever get a high-paying job, I’ll splurge on my first payday by donating to all those free-but-you-are-welcome-to-donate sites I have used for my current low-paying job.

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

      There’s nothing wrong with saying you spend it on groceries. Or medical appointments. Or a new computer. Or sex toys. They asked and you answered.

    11. chewingle*

      Exactly what I came here to say. “I was finally able to get my medication refilled.” My default when someone makes me uncomfortable is ti make them feel the same way, though.

    12. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      “I paid my bills so I could remain in my home.”

      Having already taken a pay cut due to the pandemic and expecting people to share what they spent a small bonus on is 100% tone deaf. I would have no issue being honest. Obviously you have to read the room, and it’s generally not a good idea, but I’ve been at a point in past jobs where I just don’t give a shit anymore, and I would have to say something here.

      1. pope suburban*

        Yeah, I would absolutely have done this at my last job. Most of us were terribly underpaid, and the inside staff were treated appallingly. It was an open secret that we were all struggling. If that boss had been gauche enough to ask- and I think he would have, except he didn’t care enough for that thin veneer of civility- I absolutely would have told him I used it for bills. I couldn’t stop him from being the way he was, but I didn’t have to make it nice and comfortable for him either.

    13. Chaordic One*

      Yeah, I’d have to say something along the lines of I paid down my credit cards, student loans, medical bills or something like that. Or “I’m buying a new set of tires.”

    14. irene adler*


      I’d write:

      “We enjoyed THREE meals today. Such a luxury! The kids didn’t go to bed hungry for once. Made for a peaceful night’s sleep for all.”

    15. kittymommy*

      “I’m paying it to catch up on my electric bills because having the lights on makes me happy.”

      Too much??

    16. paxfelis*

      “I spent it on a therapy session in which I was encouraged to set and maintain stronger boundaries.”

  2. SBH*

    LW2 : this is a standard occurrence at my place. I’m in a unique position where I sit in a wide vertical array of meetings. C level states “please direct employees to try and have fun with it and share their stories; we’re all so distant lately”. By the time it hits the floor it becomes “I need to know what you’re spending this on by 5pm Friday and I don’t want to hear any shit about ‘Bills’, Fred”

    I sympathize. The quickest resolution is to lie about it or not participate. Expecting to move the needle by reporting the truth (“I paid bills cos y’all finance aint shit”) is, in my experience, unlikely to stick.

    If you’re devoted to change, a positive framework would be “I put this towards a vacation I have been saving for since last year! I’m so excited I can finally go!!” Or some such.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “The quickest resolution is to lie about it or not participate.”

      Exactly. If OP *must* participate, just lie. “I splurged on a box of Godiva chocolates and watched a new movie.” No need for a special script, and giving the founders a subtle jab is likely to go right over their heads.

        1. Colette*

          Why on earth would the boss do that?

          They’re giving bonuses, and want employees to be happy as a result. And they want to hear about what they did with the money. It’s clueless, but there is no reason for them to want receipts in any scenario.

          1. bluephone*

            Exactly. I think the LW might be over-thinking this a little. Use the money however you want, give a random answer in the slack, move on with your life.

          2. Mannheim Steamroller*

            They would want receipts to enforce the “happiness” component. They might also want notarized proof of actual enjoyment.

    2. Phony Genius*

      If it’s framed like this, I would say it’s not really their money. It’s the company’s money that’s been earmarked for a specific purpose. However, the IRS may say otherwise.

      1. PollyQ*

        I did a little digging when the $200 vest question came up last week, and the IRS would almost certainly say otherwise.

    3. Artemesia*

      I have seen this exact process too — your summary is brilliant. The CEO or chairman of the board makes an offhand comment and by the time the toadies are done all down the line, someone has been fired or some hideous punitive policy has been put in place. ‘I am a bit worried about our travel costs’ — At the bottom it is ‘you have to take a 24 hour flight with 3 transfers because it will safe us $20.’

  3. Madame X*

    LW2 if you don’t want to spend your bonus, you can add it to your savings. In your company slack Channel, you could then post a selfie and say that you “invested it in yourself.”

    1. allathian*

      Hey, this sounds great! Nothing passive-aggressive about it. I was annoyed on the LW’s behalf when I wrote earlier…

  4. Friendly Canadian*

    For #2 I would 100% just lie and say I spent it one a purchase that I was already making. Ex: I got takeout for my family and my grandparents recently so I would just claim thats what I did with the cash

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          A single takeout order costs me about $20 but it makes 2 meals. I alternate between Thai food and pizza. It’s my treat until COVID is vanquished.

      1. Greyscale*

        After taxes and tip, takeout Thai food costs around $100 for my family of 5. And that’s just one entree each, no extras. Though we do live in an expensive city so that might skew my experience.

      2. Zeebs*

        Just did Indian food takeout for our pod of 11 (6 adults, 5 kids) and it was $225. (We cook 90% of the time, because yeah.)

      3. FriendlyCanadian*

        It wasn’t 200 dollars (and it was in Canadian dollars so it has a higher dollar value in USD). But it would have consumed a significant chunk of $$$ and have an awnser

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          Yeah, thai takeout for just me (with leftovers for the next day) can actually run $65 in Toronto, with delivery and tip. This is one pad thai, one stir fry and spring rolls. Needless to say it is not a mindless Monday night order!

      4. Jam*

        See, I wouldn’t interpret it as needing to account for all $200. “I spent it on a new pair of shoes [and the grocery budget]”

        1. Colette*

          Exactly. They want people to do something nice for themselves; it’s not about accounting for every penny. What they’re overlooking is that if you can’t pay the rent/buy groceries/etc., doing something nice for yourself is lower priority than surviving. But if you have enough for necessities, it’s easier to throw the $200 into your usual spending and do nothing of note – which is what they are trying to avoid.

          1. TootsNYC*

            if you can’t pay the rent/buy groceries/etc., doing something nice for yourself is lower priority than surviving.
            I’ve had people make this same mistake with time!
            I’m stressed with SO MUCH to do, and there are people telling me that I should take a bubble bath and relax.
            I’m like, Pfft, I wouldn’t be ABLE to relax.
            What works is to pick two things that are easy-peasy to do, and do them. Then I feel a sense of accomplishment, quickly, and there are also two fewer things on my to-do list. I am then able to move to the most important or hardest/most complicated thing, and make some more meaningful progress.

            1. KaciHall*

              I’ve found myself playing more mindless Farmville type games (animal crossing, rise of kingdoms) because it’s so satisfying to actually complete things and be acknowledged for them! Real life is hectic as all get out, but my kiddo and I can play on the switch for an hour and build a new bridge, or visit a new island and get lots of things to sell, or find new things to build. (Should I be organizing my garage/basement since we never finished when we bought our house in April, despite being on quarantine? Yes. But I wouldn’t actually complete something in the ‘ free’ hour, so I wouldn’t get that satisfaction I get from the game. (Plus having to entertain a four year old while also accomplishing something is basically impossible anyway.)

      5. Artemesia*

        We just did take out for 4 at our local Italian restaurant — it was $120 with tip. It doesn’t take much to get to $200 if you have a family. (and in addition to the take out I provided appetizers, drinks and dessert so it would have been more if those had been included.)

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

      I’m using the promo codes I was sent back on March to buy expensive Italian takeout. Because… why not?

    2. TootsNYC*

      hell, I would lie and say I was going to spend it on something, and then just not spend it.

      What are they going to do–check?

      1. UKDancer*

        Exactly or say something like “I’m saving it for something nice”

        It’s not like they can follow up and find out that something nice is paying for food or paying the bills.

  5. Lizzo*

    LW4: If your company doesn’t have it in place already, maybe it would be good to implement some sort of emergency response protocol.

    My organization’s policy is that folks are expected to at least check in as soon as possible after a natural disaster to confirm that they are alive. This policy is a very real necessity for my organization because 80% of the staff is in a geographic area prone to earthquakes. YMMV.

    There is no expectation for them to engage in work decisions right away (i.e. their energy should be focused on recovering from the disaster), but it does eliminate the worry of not knowing what’s happened to them. Whether you move forward with business decisions without them at that point might depend on your particular line of work.

    1. MK*

      This works for employees of the same company, but the OP mentions a collaborator, which could mean a freelancer or a vendor. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask people who don’t work for you to do this, and even if they agree, it wbe a priority.

      1. LW4*

        Yep, we work for separate organizations (think academic research collaborators). I don’t receive any official updates from her organization.

        1. Chinook*

          I would send an email asking if they are safe and if you can temporarily tak any work off their plate (in that order). If they have evacuated, it may take a few days for them to get email access, but they also may not realize that those outside the area are worried.

    2. Chinook*

      I agree. One company I work for imllmented one after Calgary flooded and shut down and they realized that there was no central place to call if the main office i shyr down. We were given cards to out in our wallets with a phone number to call to find out the status of the office and/or report our status and/or any emergency messaging about office relocations.

      The basic nature of it is important because we learned from th Dort McMurray fire that quick evacuations do not lend themselves to remembering to obvious things in the moment. (Think remembering the leftovers from the fridge and leaving the photo albums – there was a whole Facebook thread of people laughing at themselves). But a wallet is almost always on you.

      It was also company culture that safety first was more important that the job, so it was a given that we cared more about your survival than any project, so tell us so we can take the project off your list of worries – we will give it back when you are ready.

  6. Phil*

    Surely I’m not the only one who saw the title for #3 and thought, “probably some throwing up… a baby at some point…” ;)

    1. Paperwhite*

      Hee! I was honestly relieved the letter was a supportive manager asking for advice on being supportive rather than being “how can I legally fire her?” or some such malarkey.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This. It’s just so nice to see “am I being supportive enough?” This boss really wants good outcomes for the pregnant employee and it feels so wholesome.

  7. DEJ*

    OP1, thank you for having compassion for your employee during this time. At some point she has to lie in the bed that she made, but go forward in good conscious if you feel that you’ve done everything that you could to help her keep her job.

    1. OP #1*

      Thank you for that.

      The person who knows what the business needs finds this decision pretty easy.

      The person also living with kids and family stuff and other stuff in the midst of a pandemic finds it VERY hard indeed.

      1. Viette*

        You’re doing the right thing for this terrible employee’s current coworkers. You’re also doing the right thing for yourself, and for the company, AND for the person you eventually hire to fill the position! It’s worth it.

        1. Allonge*

          This. OP, I have a coworker who is not going to be fired but should be. She is absolutely useless (and worse, because defensive, needs a lot of emotional bandwidth from manager and colleague etc.).

          Objectively, I don’t wish her ill, but we could hire someone with a high school degree and intermediate Office skills and a reasonable work ethic to replace her and it would make things 1000 times better for everyone else in the department.

          So I keep thinking of that high school graduate, and the time we spend on making sure coworker does not get offended, you know? And we are in a pandemic, too.

          1. Sara without an H*

            This, too. OP, your problem employee has been abusing your patience for well over a year, in spite of repeated warnings. Somewhere out there is a person who’s been laid off because of the pandemic who would love to have that job and would work well with you. Manage Problem Employee out and then go hire that person.

            1. OP1*

              It is really helpful to think about the person who is just waiting for this job and isn’t going to present these issues. Thank you!

          2. I wouldn't but...*

            Allonge, If you all agree to stop spending energy on trying to not offend. Perhaps problem employee will get offended enough to quit? Could be a fun daydream during particularly frustrating days :)

          3. yala*

            What do you have to do to make sure she doesn’t get offended?

            (There’s a few people in my office who somehow take everything in the Worst Possible Way, and hoo boy, it’s frankly a little terrifying to deal with because I never know What I’ll Say Wrong Today)

      2. Liane*

        OP it is always hard to fire someone, even in good times. My dad owned his own business (1950s – 1970s) and he said it was tough, no matter how bad the person’s performance/attitude was. He had a couple of guys whose drug use/addiction problems worsened to the point he couldn’t keep them. (Construction, so legit safety issues and it was heroin not some casual weekend pot smoking.) He liked them and I don’t think he stopped regretting having to let them go.
        Just be as kind and professional as you can. Decide what you/company will tell reference checkers and let her know. See if severance is possible and don’t contest unemployment benefits.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        She’s had a year to turn the situation around and she chose not to turn it around. She could have saved her own self but she chose not to.

        There is a point where I start thinking about the greater good. We can’t let a department or a company tank because of protecting one individual who does not give a fig. Coworkers get tired of covering for this person, They either find a new job or they start doing less work themselves. The good people leave because of stuff like this. And can the department/company afford to lose their good people for a person who has NO plan on changing what they are doing.

        Here’s something I think about: I imagine a boss came to me and said, “NSNR, you are doing a crappy job because of [reasons one through seventeen] and if this does not change your job is on the line. Fix it or you will be fired.”
        I would become the biggest Nervous Nellie ever seen. I would be standing on my head to get back on track and doing what the company needs me to do. There would be daily improvements and I’d ask for periodic check-ins. Just thinking about being in this situation frightens the crap out of me. I have never had to face anything like this.
        Add in Covid and I cannot imagine any CARING employee being so passive. OP, this is an employee that does not care. Some times people keep waiting to be fired, they won’t quit under their own steam. It sounds like she is one of those people.

        You have no choice. You have to shift and look at the bigger picture and do what is fair for her cohorts and the company. You threw her a life preserver and she said, “No thanks. I am good here.” There’s nothing further you can do.

        1. Ana Gram*

          This is a great point. My husband has an employee like this- repeated errors in judgement, poor communication, just overall immaturity, really. And he argues! When my husband explains to him how he should have handled something differently or contacted him sooner, the employee pushes back. Me? I would look around and realize that what I was doing wasn’t working and would totally change my ways. The fact that this is employee hasn’t done that is really what tells me she needs to go. Frankly, if she’s wise, she’s been job hunting.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            If I was married and male I could be your husband. I have a similar employee and it took me a long time to figure out how to manage her because her defensiveness and immediate reaction to blame me for her mistakes were so baffling I didn’t know how to respond. Because what I wanted to say was “you know I’m your boss…right?”

            1. TootsNYC*

              I have said that at least once.
              I asked her what the upshot was of a question the Top Cheese had asked, and that I had been the conduit of. It was a Q. for our department, but she was the one with those skills and it was in her area. No biggie; just a clarification and a little additional info. When I asked, she said, “I told Alex.” Yes, I said, and now tell me. “I don’t see why I should have to.” Because I am your boss, I said. And for that matter, anyone in the company would be allowed to ask you and should get an answer. But I am your boss, and I asked you a question.

              And I have also said, “I want you to feel free to do your job without being micromanaged. I try very hard to set my folks up so that they can make decisions on their own. I’m not a very bossy boss. And I want to hear from you when you think I’m wrong. But if ever I have to say to you, ‘I am the boss here,’ I will consider it a major deal.”

              1. Uranus Wars*

                Your last paragraph is great! I like that a lot actually

                I did say to someone once “I am not a micromanager. And I do not want to be a micromanager. But you are making me a micromanager.”

            2. Artemesia*

              there are people who come from backgrounds where many relatives don’t work and yet are cheerleading with ‘they can’t boss you around’ and ‘they can’t do you like that.’ They need to learn the meaning of the word ‘boss’ which means that yes the boss can ‘boss you around’ and tell you what to do.

              I like the framing that, when someone like this refuses to attempt to improve that there is someone unemployed through no fault of their own who could both do the job and needs the job. Fire the shirker and hire that person.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Or, as seen on a desk plaque owned by a former boss, “Yes, in fact, I AM the boss of you.”

                (It was a gift, he was a great boss.)

          2. MissDisplaced*

            Hm. Well to be fair, there certainly are situations at certain workplaces where managers can expect Purple Unicorns that poop Magical Money but are given zero budget or resources to paint the unicorn purple in the first place.

            When the employee pushes back, that type of manager says things like:
            >”I don’t care, just make it happen.”
            >”I’m not interested in hearing about problems, only solutions.”
            >”You must get $xxx,xxx in new sales leads, but you have zero marketing budget.”
            >”You have to make your sales numbers, no excuses.” (in the middle of a pandemic)
            >”I don’t care about issues with X or Y department or company, just figure out a way to do it.”
            or my personal favorite non-management excuse: “EVERYTHING is the priority!”

            Not saying your husband was like that, but with managers who refuse to give priorities or allocate resources or budget the problem is really more on them (or the company) than the employee. Sometimes these situations can make any employee break bad. I’ve heard all of these dismissive statements, and they are really an outright failure to manage. But sometimes it’s also just a bad employee.

          3. OP1*

            This is so familiar.

            I could say, “You’ve been doing a great job on teapot handles and lids, but there’s an ongoing issue with the spouts that we need to address,” and get back, “everyone else says my spouts are great,” “you never give me any positive feedback about my teapots,” “I spend more time than anyone else making teapots and you don’t appreciate it,” “If you care so much about spouts, why didn’t you lavishly praise me the one time I gave you a perfect spout two weeks late.” On and on.

            It takes a lot of time and emotional energy.

      4. Sara without an H*

        Yes, it’s hard. Anybody who thinks it’s easy shouldn’t be in charge of live human beings.

        But you’ve given Problem Employee repeated chances, and she’s done nothing with them. My only caution would be one of Alison’s observations: How explicit have you been with this person that the next step is termination? If you haven’t, you need to sit down with Problem Employee one more time, maybe backed up by somebody from HR, and spell it out.

        It won’t feel good. It never does. But your other employees will probably be relieved to have this person gone. And someone else out there will be eager to take the job.

      5. The Supreme Troll*

        OP #1, Alison’s advice here is excellent, as usual. Know that you are a very conscientious, thoughtful, and caring boss.

          1. OP1*

            Yes. The PIP is explicit, as am I. “This is not compatible with you having a role here.”

            I don’t know if that will make it not a surprise, though. There is an element of delusion on how well she is doing that is pretty pervasive in her thinking.

            For example, shortly after PIP initiation, we did our annual review process, which includes employees ranking themselves before their managers write evaluations. She evaluated herself to be in the very top, rockstsr, should be promoted tier. While on a PIP.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              Yes, this is similar to my employee I mentioned above. We are working on her issues, too. But this is HARD and takes a lot to manage. But it sounds like you have been as direct as is warranted. At this point letting her go is going to be the best for her (and you) all long term. Which you hate to say, but between this example and one further up in this thread I worry you are going to end up losing good employees if this one continues as is. Some people just won’t get it.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              She is probably a narcissist. There’s no known cure, so the best you can do is get rid and find someone else who deserves to have you as their boss.

      6. Esmeralda*

        Time to fire this employee. You have gone way beyond what’s necessary to give them second third and fourth chances, which they have not taken. I’m pretty sure you’re past the point where your other employees have become resentful that they still have to deal with this person’s bad behavior. You/the employer may now look to them as unwilling to deal with obvious problems and unable to see the big picture, or to care about *them*. Not your intention of course, but likely to be what’s happening.

      7. Observer*

        I honor your sensitivity, I really do. And it is a really good thing that you are cognizant of the effects of a firing. BUT

        There is a Jewish saying that “one who is kind to the cruel, is cruel to the kind.” Aside from the issues to the business, it sounds like this person is just difficult to be around. And her issues are almost certainly having a bad effect on others. In normal circumstances it would be a burden on others – now with all of the stress that people are under, it’s even worse. On the other hand, if she had always been really good and had good relationships with people, the people being hit by her poor performance would have more ability to deal with the current misbehavior, but she started the pandemic on empty or even on a negative “balance.”

        Which is to say that in focusing this much on not hurting the one employee, you’re hurting your other employees.

        So, give her a final crystal clear warning. Acknowledge that the PIP process was longer than usual but clearly state that this does not mean that you are abandoning it. And that given the current circumstances, you will be proceeding to a layoff unless she achieves the goals set by the PIP by X date – and make it reasonably short. It needs to be “turns it around” NOT “makes improvements”.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve noted that saying down now because my word it’s wise AND concise!

          (Side note to self: study more Jewish saying)

      8. Kiki*

        It’s really refreshing to see how much you care and I think it was really good of you to keep this employee on a bit longer through the pandemic. But this employee has been aware of issues for almost a year and seems not to have made any effort to change. It’s fair to let them go after a final warning. If possible, offer to keep their health insurance available at the same cost for a few months. But I think you’ve already been pretty generous. This situation sucks, but it wasn’t of your making.

    2. CouldntPickAUsername*

      exactly, they were on this PIP before the pandemic and knew exactly what behaviour they needed to change. They were given an extension basically and rather than alter their behaviour during what will be an awful job market they kept on. It’s time for this person to go.

      1. Avi*

        If anything, it seems likely that she’s taking the termination freeze as meaning that she doesn’t have to change her behavior, since she knows she won’t face consequences for it. It might be worth sitting her down and laying out how she was about to be fired before the freeze and how she’s about to become an exception to it to see if that can shock her into mending her ways. I doubt it will, though.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I agree with this. OP2 says in their letter that normally a PIP at their company lasts 5-6 months. “Poor employee” has been given a pandemic benefit of 11 months to turn things around and improve – without results. They have fired themselves at this point, just be professionally kind in how you finish the firing process (for the benefit of the employees still there).

    3. MissDisplaced*

      At some point the job is not a good fit for either her or you and it’s time to sever it. There was ample warning something needed to change.

      I think it was good that you did wait it out a little longer to not fire her right at the pandemic outset, but if there hasn’t been any improvement since then, yes it’s time. Firing is never pleasant.
      I would not contest if they file unemployment. Even though it is for cause, it doesn’t sound like they truly did anything bad—more like bad fit.

      That said though, are you certain the bad attitude and missing deadlines doesn’t have a genuine basis in fact? Yes, probably it’s just her and her inability to deal with the job, but it’s still worth investigating or you might have similar experience with the next person and high turnover in the role.

      1. Anonymous At a University*

        I would say that unless the OP knows for sure it’s high turnover in the role, at some point it’s still best to let her go, even if there’s a “reason” for it.

        I have a coworker who can’t be fired because of academic contracts, but she is making people regularly uncomfortable (mostly by acting childish and petulant when people correct her factual errors or don’t want to do what she wants), and this past week in a remote meeting, she literally said, “No one cares about me, why do you hate me so much?” in response to the mildest of disagreements. It’s terrible to work with someone like this, who has also yelled at people who tried to help her. She keeps attributing these outbursts to pandemic stress and the death of a beloved pet three years ago. Okay, but besides the fact that everyone is suffering under pandemic stress and she’s the only one doing shit like this, it was happening before the pandemic and at some point “I’m grieving about my dog three years later, so you can’t correct my factual error” stops cutting it. There’s a “reason,” but that doesn’t lessen the impact she’s having on other people. You have to balance compassion for the “poor widdle stressed coworker” with compassion for other people.

        1. blaise zamboni*

          I think Displaced meant a reason stemming from the job itself. We’ve seen multiple examples on this site (especially lately) of people who have an unreasonable workload, or a missing stair colleague who prevents them from working efficiently, or they aren’t given the appropriate resources to do their work, etc. It doesn’t sound like the case for this OP, but it may help to consider it. That’s true whether OP fires the employee or not – it’s for the sake of whoever is in the role, this employee or the next.

          Your coworker sounds exhausting and that behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. Academic contracts are a trip.

          1. Anonymous at a University*

            Ah, okay. I was thinking that they meant “But what if the employee is going through a stressful divorce or illness or death of a family member or something like that???” which, unfortunately, I have seen used in several jobs now to excuse people who treated others poorly. What I hate most is that the people who are willing to extend endless compassion to someone difficult never seem to care or notice if others around them are going through the same difficulties, but because they don’t scream insults and flounce out of meetings about it, they somehow don’t deserve the same compassion.

            My coworker is at least getting quite the reputation for herself, let’s say. It used to be a good reputation, but now she’s called for the disbanding of two separate committees that handle faculty travel funds because they denied her application (since she submitted it late and wouldn’t tell them what she intended to use the money for, which is…pretty standard for any faculty financial application I’m aware of), screamed at someone on one of those committees who tried to help her and cussed that person out in public, and now this performance of turning her camera and mic off in the Zoom meeting and saying, when asked if she wanted to try to make her point again, “I have nothing to say.” Like I said, at this point I don’t care if she’s had fifteen dogs die, she doesn’t get to take that out on other people.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            Yes, I meant something about the job itself.
            I’m assuming as there was a PiP this aspect had been discussed with the employee, but nevertheless it’s worth an objective look and gut check to be sure something else isn’t the root cause.

            I was considered “argumentative” at a previous job too (no PiP ever), but it was a steady cumulation of a terrible manager, being asked to do two different job roles I wasn’t hired to do, processes, lack of budget, and lack of simply listening to my suggestions to make it work better. Eventually, this stuff makes employees disgruntled and they quit or get fired.

      2. OP1*

        We have talked at length about how if there IS too much, if things come up, if she can’t complete the workload, even if there is personal stuff going on, we can adjust or find other solutions, I just need to know about it ahead of due dates so that I can plan. That consistently hasn’t happened.

    4. Jennifer*

      I agree. I see so many people operating as “business as usual” so it’s nice to see some people actually still care. I agree that at this point OP1 has to think about their other employees as well and what it’s like to work with someone like this during a pandemic. They clearly aren’t making any effort to change.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oddly, sometimes we can put more thought into firing someone who is disliked than we do into firing people who are likable. I have seen this happen where the boss won’t make a discussion because they feel their contempt for the person clouds their judgement.

        My rebuttal to that is, “If this is a concern then you let this go on waaaay too long. Way too much overthinking going on here.”

    5. Dust Bunny*

      OMG this.

      I appreciate the sensitivity here but at some point if she needs this job, she needs to act as though she needs this job, and she’s been given more than ample warning and opportunity to shape up. But hasn’t. Somebody else who isn’t awful also needs a job–go find that person.

  8. Charlie*

    For LW5, are you on unemployment? or COBRA? Or was your company big enough that you were offered COBRA? Documentation from either of those should verify that you’re not working your previous job.

    If your old company was large enough for an HR department, then someone in HR should be able to provide this letter and confirm your termination date.

    Otherwise, the hospital must have a workaround for this – you can’t really prove a negative if no one will cooperate with you. I would hope that the hospital would have some form where you basically avow and aver that you’re no longer employed as of xxx date, and they just haven’t mentioned it yet because they’d prefer the letter from your former supervisor.

    1. valentine*

      the hospital must have a workaround for this
      I’m surprised the hospital doesn’t just call to confirm.

      If you had the company health plan, can the provider write the account was closed on x date due to separation? If you had direct deposit, would subsequent bank statements do?

    2. Pretzelgirl*

      We applied for relief from medical bills once and had to provide a bank statement. If you were let go in say June. You could point out that your paychecks stopped arriving after June 15th (or whatever date). They may able to make the connection that way.

      Also are you making these requests via email? Perhaps you could send them copies of the attempts to get the letter.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        That’s what I was going to say – there should be some documentation OP can access that would prove she is no longer earning an income from employment at this company.

    3. Chaordic One*

      I used to work in the financial aid department of a school where my job was to make sure that applications were complete. I didn’t get to make any decisions on who got financial aid, but I could usually tell who would and wouldn’t qualify and I certainly did coach some of the more promising applicants in how to fill out their applications. In situations like the OP’s, the students (or their parents, or their parents’ personal assistant) would ignore the written instructions on the applications and inevitably call me and want to tell me their sad story over the phone, to which I would inevitably reply, “Write it down on the application so the people who review the application and make the decision know about it. I’m don’t get to tell them for you. You need to do it yourself and you need to do it in writing!”

      And at least at this school, there was a place on the application to explain things like this, and nothing prevented the person from writing a supplemental letter explaining the situation. When people didn’t explain these kind of situations and omissions the committee always felt that the applicant was hiding something.

    4. No Longer Working*

      It’s a good idea to get a letter from your last place of employment, on company letterhead, stating the dates you worked there. Even better if you ask them to include the date your employer-provided health insurance ends. The letter should be given to you, not any agency directly, so you can take a photo of it and submit to wherever you want to apply for resources/aid.

    5. Heather*

      Thanks for your input. It’s a tiny business with no HR dept. I’m sure you’re right, the hospital must have a workaround for this situation.

      1. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

        is there someone seperate from your boss who handles payroll? They can confirm your status, perhaps

    6. Annony*

      I agree that it should be possible to provide some other documentation. Maybe the OP can ask for a letter addressed to herself? But a letter about COBRA or unemployment may work.

    7. Rusty Shackelford*

      “It’s come to my attention that apparently I’m still your employee. I believe that means you owe me X weeks of back pay.”

  9. insertusernamehere*

    For #3, if you send a baby gift to your pregnant employee, it really should be a company gift. I wouldn’t ask individual people on your team to contribute for an employee they have never even met in person. And please, please, please don’t make your team have a Zoom baby shower for the employee. Just let individual team members do whatever they feel comfortable with and want to initiate on their own.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      We’ve done a team thing for one of our team who goes on maternity soon. Normally, in the office we would send around a card before the birth, and then do a collection after the birth when we know the baby’s gender, size, etc., for a gift for mum and baby.
      Since we couldn’t do that this time, we did a PowerPoint of our messages with some photos. (Dont snark about the PowerPoint, it’s an in-joke)

      1. OP#3*

        Thanks much both super helpful, I’m trying to be hopeful well be back to working in the office by the time the baby arrives but….probably not. So its great to hear how folks are handling this now.

        1. Chinook*

          Also be prepared for maternity leave starting early. Babies are not predictable and I have some women end up in labour before thir replacement was trained.

          Practically, it means making it clear to the new mom that it is not her responsibility to contact the office at that time – she is on leave. And her replacement needs to know that they could walk into the tasks earlier than expected. To prepare for this, the mom-to-be should start prepping documentation as soon as she can as part of her day-to-day routine.

          1. Artemesia*

            So this. We had an employee whose baby came very very early and was in NICU and so we had to cover her position immediately. Luckily the planning was underway and we were able to get the position more or less successfully covered. Since it is a known future need, getting the transition materials nailed down in the second trimester is important. It is also the time when physically she will be most predictably able; the last couple of months can be exhausting.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Not that this really contradicts what Chinook is saying which remains valid but… I did read that there have been far fewer premature births since lockdown. Not having to battle their way in to the office has presumably helped many women keep their baby warm until they’re ready for life.
            (Just needed to get that “silver lining” fact out there :-) )

        2. insertusernamehere*

          It’s typically better when the company has a policy of allowing (can be submitted as department expense) a set amount for a baby gift to give from the department – $50, $75, etc. I don’t like asking individual employees to contribute for a group gift, especially when some people are more junior or anyone who may just not have extra funds for whatever reasons that are going on in their own lives, or people without children, voluntary or not, who are always being asked to give for everyone else’s family milestones. It alleviates so many issues if the company just covers the cost of a group gift, and then if individual employees have their own relationship with that person, they can just do what they want or not, without any pressure or expectation.

          As well as taking steps to allow the pregnant employee to take her maternity time without any worry, also make sure you are in tune with the person who will be covering for her – that the person doesn’t feel a whole new job is “dumped on” them in addition to their regular responsibilities. And if they are taking on a lot more, be sure to compensate fairly. If it’s a team effort for coverage, make sure everyone feels valued and appreciated as well. That will also help with morale and good will toward to new employee instead of any resentment. Especially since they don’t even really know her as a person yet.

    2. 2 Cents*

      And this just may be my preference, but I had “morning” sickness my entire pregnancy and would’ve felt terrible about someone spending money on me when I couldn’t eat it. (Gummy bears, life cereal and ginger ale is what my 2.5 year old is made of!)

  10. Greyscale*

    I’ve already had to send an email today that started with, “Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. My family was evacuated yesterday and we’ve just gotten settled.” Alison’s scripts are great and as long as you show compassion and understanding for the situation then you’re fine. People realize that you still have to do your job even if they can’t do theirs right now.

  11. Artemesia*

    It is insulting to underpay people, have cut their wages during the pandemic and then when giving them a small bonus to imply it is for a frivolity. It reminded me of my first husband whom I supported through law school then left. We had a small sailboat which we agreed to sell and when he got the money and gave me my half he presented it gift wrapped with a little poem about all the things I might spend this gift on. MY DAMN money; I had always been the breadwinner. The whole ‘gift thing’ really rubbed me the wrong way. This is not a ‘gift’ — it is a small payment on compensation the OP should have probably been receiving all along. I’d probably tell them I paid it on my past due electric bill.

    1. Karia*

      Yes. I remember when I’d been supporting someone for over a year. My bonuses, birthday money, tax dividends, had all had to go on essentials because we were locked into contracts we’d signed before he lost his job. He got cash for his birthday. I breathed a sigh of relief and said “fantastic, we can pay the tax bill.”

      Him? “But it’s *my* money.”

      1. Delphine*

        I also got some vicarious rage reading this. Also dealing with this with my out of work husband… who won’t give up cigarettes and keeps using our money to work on his craft hobby because he still sees it as his half. =_=

      2. AnonInTheCity*

        That sounds like my ex who treated himself to an $800 camera out of joint savings without mentioning it to me, because “it’s OUR money!” Shame on me, I guess, for thinking that “our” money was for our joint expenses.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This thread just gave me a mild panic attack.

        It reminds me why frugality is actually a requirement in my life. Everyone I’ve ever supported in my life over the years [friends, family, partners.] respected how hard I work for the money that kept us all out of trouble. If I take someone out to eat [when that was a thing], everyone follows my cue for what our budget is. If I order soda, they order soda/juice/coffee and not a cocktail thats 2-3x the price. If I order a beer, they order a beer, not a cocktail. If I order a cocktail, they know it’s fine and they follow suit in my “shelf” level as well. I’m not ordering well whiskey while they’re drinking frigging Johnny Walker.

    2. Mookie*

      Very much this.

      “I’ll be putting it towards the essentials my full paycheck used to cover.”

      You do not have to participate in sanitizing these bonuses on the wake of income loss. You don’t exist to make the employer feel good about its choices or how those choices harm you. Wanting this published on slack reeks of surveillance and astroturf.

    3. cncx*

      what really irks me is when companies do stuff like this when people are underpaid
      i have a friend who works at a company where they cut salary and benefits in a shady way over a period of a few years (one of those “it was legal but sh*tty” things) then this fall they offered everyone exactly one free share as a thank you for working hard over covid. like i don’t know a lot of people who could do something with exactly one share, but i know a lot of people who could have done something with the 200 bucks that share cost and like…why not just give people the cash, it was so tone deaf and also probably lowkey money or tax laundering by the company

      1. JustaTech*

        Depending on the value of the share, one share could actually cost you money. When my company went bankrupt a while back (we got better) I didn’t manage to dump all my stocks before the value crash and it was like some number of $0.02 stocks, with a $5 ($20?) trading fee.

        I wanted to ask the stock broker company to just print out the shares and mail them to me so I could frame them, but that also cost substantially more than they were worth.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have stocks (paper, actually) from the crash of 29. This is what happened. It’s weird to look at the stock certificates and think they meant something then that changed and they will mean nothing for eternity.

          Along the same idea, this is why I am no fan of stock options. We had a bunch to buy at $40. The stock was around $20 and falling. Finally the options expired. The company just could have gift rapped an empty box, same idea.

        2. cncx*

          yup, even without bankruptcy and low share values, i live in a jurisdiction (thanks fatca for nothing) where to have shares i have to do a lot of extra paperwork and tax stuff and for the amount of shares i could afford the admin isn’t worth it. A company giving me a share means actually nothing to me because i will never take them up on it to the overhead.

  12. Karia*

    LW2: I hate things like this. When they did a mental health check in, I’d be tempted to retort that it would be better if they let me have my days off. When they asked what the $200 had been spent on I’d want to say the gas bill.

    9/10 there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with companies like this. You’d be better off getting a good gov job, a steady admin role, heck, go to trade school, become a plumber. These startups survive through using up and manipulating young staff.

    This is classic ‘beware the dream job’ territory.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Yeah, the fact that nearly everyone is new to the workforce raised an eyebrow with me. That might just be a side effect of the low pay but you’d think you’d want someone with experience when you start a company.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        But we want to do things in a totally new way and break the mould and reinvent the paradigm and and and

        and not spend a single cent more than we can get away with on salary.

        A little from column A, a little from column B!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This can be done. However, it can only be done AFTER a person has learned the reasons WHY things are done with the current methods. And it takes time to see all the aspects of a given method.

      2. Quill*

        Fits with my experience at my worst job where “we like to hire new grads” was a warning sign, but it easily could be a function of the pay grade rather than a reason the pay grade is the way it is.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I read your comment, then re-read OP2’s letter, and realized that it reminds me of a startup that a dozen of my friends/former coworkers worked for in 2000-2001. The founders were a group of 25-year-old kids from wealthy families, who’d gotten their parents and their parents’ friends to invest in a hot new tech company. Then they hired my ex-coworkers as junior-level devs for low pay, and one of my ex-coworkers as their manager. It was the same thing, everyone starry-eyed, great future, this is a valuable experience for you all etc etc. Then the mandatory 60-hour weeks started. Then a round of layoffs. Then another. Then people’s paychecks started bouncing. Then the paychecks stopped coming in at all! People kept coming into work for the free internet (this being 2000) so they could do their job-searching from the office. At some point, the owners fired the CFO, and my ex-coworker who was the manager immediately took the guy to lunch and asked him WTH was going on there. Turned out, the company’s leadership (the group of 25-year-olds with the rich parents) had spent all of the investor capital on houses, vintage cars, and $100,000 bonuses for themselves. Then they ran out of money and didn’t have a way to make any, since the product wasn’t ready and was never going to be. The company shut down in early 2001. I saw an interview with the owner/founder in the local media 15 years later, where he complained that his reputation from the failed startup was following him around and making it hard for him to build a client base in his new businesses. I feel his pain. My friends’ 5-digit credit card debt from when they worked for him without pay, followed them around for quite a while too! My point is that I am getting the Failed Company vibe from OP’s letter. Best case scenario, the company will somehow stay in business and the paycuts and the long hours will continue. Worst case, it won’t exist in a few years. Either way, IMO, OP has nothing to lose by saying they spent the $200 on the gas bill.

  13. Ali*

    For #2 – cheerfully lying about what the money is used for is not sitting well with me, and I’m curious why this is being suggested. I don’t think you have to be passive aggressive but it could be more impactful if everyone politely but truthfully said things like, “I’m paying my cell phone bill and I’m so grateful not to have to worry about it this month”. Given that they are underpaid and also weathering pandemic pay cuts, stroking egos for what’s actually a pretty modest bonus doesn’t seem to be necessary.

    As a person who lives paycheck to paycheck in a high COL city where $200 can really make the difference in any given month, I wouldn’t be able to just make something up with good cheer about it when the reality is what it is. Nope.

    1. allathian*

      My reaction pretty much mirrors yours, but then I’m in the Nordics where you can’t fire people just because.

    2. Asenath*

      I think I’d either ignore it entirely (I hate these “friendly” things where someone tells you to write something to show you’re a member of the team), or be more or less honest about it. There’s nothing wrong or rude with saying “Great! That’ll cover my grocery bill!!” but it might be rubbing it in a bit to say “They’ve got a great deal on Kraft dinner, and now I can really stock up!”

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I think it’s being suggested because the OP didn’t really ask for ways to make that point, just whether it’s weird and/or illegal for their employer to ask. Alison gave a pretty good script to use if she wants to raise the issue, but unfortunately it is very possible that doing so will go down badly and if the OP doesn’t want to risk that then a lie is pretty straightforward and harmless.

      (I think in general a lot of LWs seem to struggle with feeling like they have to give an honest answer to awkward questions, or even to small talk questions that don’t really require a proper answer, like “how are you”? So I think it can be valuable to point out that if you feel that telling the truth in that sort of context will cause you problems or is a struggle to phrase appropriately, it really is okay to just make something up. You don’t owe your employer or your colleagues a truthful account of how you spent your bonus money, or how your weekend was or how you’re feeling this morning.)

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Your bracketed point is actually very important. The subtext to these seems to be “if I get caught lying I’ll be fired”, and some employER reactions (particularly in the open threads) tend towards supporting this, even if the lie is little and white and in response to a “How are you?”
        I’m probably using hyperbole, but I’m in the UK, where (for now) we have employment contracts and cannot be fired or let go for what seems to me to be ludicrous reasons, so I dont know how hyperbolic I am – this is just how a number of letters (and open thread responses) come across.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Absolutely – I’m in the U.K. also and it does seem like the lack of worker protections in the states might play into that sort of anxiety over giving the “right” response that will keep your employer happy. I do think that even in the US it would take a pretty toxic employer to fire you over saying you spent your bonus on bits and pieces for your house when actually you saved it; and if the employer truly is that toxic then making up an answer they want to hear might be much less risky than giving an accurate but potentially objectionable one (how likely is it that they’ll find out, in reality?)

        2. Observer*

          I don’t really think that this is the issue. I think it’s more about just general expectations about what is required in certain types of situations.

          Like the issue of prying questions – how many letters do we get from people who have coworkers who dig, and they don’t know what to do? The subtext there is not about “I’ll get fired if I get caught lying” but there seems to be this expectation that if someone asks you for information, you have to answer – completely and truthfully. It even shows up in purely social situations. If you don’t believe me, look at EVERY advice columnist out there.

          So, a reminder that you actually don’t have to answer questions like this can be very helpful.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “So I think it can be valuable to point out that if you feel that telling the truth in that sort of context will cause you problems or is a struggle to phrase appropriately, it really is okay to just make something up. ”

        In the past I did this just to survive a crappy job. OP, when things boil down to lying just to keep on an even keel and not get fired, then you’re probably on a slippery slope anyway. That is what I have seen in my experience. If a person feels must placate people with an answer they want to hear it is probably because they OFTEN have to give answers that are designed to appease people. While you may answer this question “correctly” and keep your job this week, next week will only bring another question and another situation like this where you have to tell people what they want to hear.

        It could be that this instance here is a part of a larger problem. We can survive or we can thrive. If we are just surviving from one week to the next at a company then we are not thriving. I hope I can encourage you to do what you have to do here, but at the same time work on getting to a company where you can thrive. You may “lose” this battle by lying to them, but if you move on to better then I would argue that you actually WON the war. There is NO worse feeling than losing a battle and having NO plan on how to win a war.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      I agree with Ally, lying about it to get along does not sit well with me either.

      And if you do, you are normalizing this for the rest of the new to work standards employees.

      I dont have a suggestion tho.

    5. Annony*

      I think it is more about what battles it is worth it to fight and whether the OP works for unreasonable people. I don’t think that lying is being suggested as what the OP should do, just that it is an ok option if they feel it is needed. Working for unreasonable people for not enough pay can be exhausting. If saying that they bought takeout when they really paid their electric bill means that they don’t need to spend emotional energy they don’t have on this, then that is fine. They don’t have to lie and lying is not an inherently better choice, but it is ok if they do. It is also ok if they want to make point and say that they paid the electric bill. It is worth it to some people and not worth it to others.

    6. Observer*

      It doesn’t sit well with me, but I’m lucky enough to be in a situation that a. I’m not being grossly underpaid for ridiculous work expectations, and b. I can tell whoever had this idea that instructing people to post about what they spent it on, and trying to mandate how they spend it, is a very bad idea.

      People who can’t afford to lose their jobs are going to see this very, very differently. And as much as I think people should avoid lying, I think that this is THE definition of a white lie.

    7. babylawyer*

      To be honest, my first instinct was also to sort of lie–name the most recent thing I bought that was non-essential and claim I bought it with my bonus. (Aka, I got take-out/bought a nicer bottle of wine than normal/bought a new pair of shoes.) They don’t need to know that my roommate or SO paid for the takeout, that “nicer” means a ten dollar bottle instead of a five dollar bottle, or that I bought new shoes because my old pair literally had holes in them.

      I like this strategy for two reasons: I want to be liked at work, particularly when people are looking for me to be happy. I’m the only female attorney at my firm, and the youngest one to boot. It is important for me to avoid being perceived negatively if possible. Also, and perhaps more important, I don’t want them to hesitate to give me another $200 in the future. If they are doing it because they want to see an outpouring of happiness, I’d be happy to do so, because I would worry that if I didn’t, they would hesitate to distribute the bonuses next time.

      That being said, I know the lying approach isn’t going to make real positive change, and I recognize that if I was just scraping by, it would be hard to come up with a splurge that was at least partly true, so I get what you’re saying.

  14. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I thought #2 would be the most annoying one but I’m actually angrier at #5. I’d bet money that this isn’t the first thing the boss has been crappy about. I honestly cannot think of a legitimate reason to not just give the statement other than ex-boss is enjoying still having power over the LW. She can’t be worried it’s some kind of scam; the fact that she doesn’t work for her anymore is both the truth and not a secret. There’s also not a whole lot of reasons to need documentation of your unemployment so I doubt she doesn’t suspect she needs the letter to get some kind of help.

    LW #4, that is an excellent question. I agree that there should be some kind of acknowledgement of what’s happening in their area. It’s weirder to ignore it. The other person then has to wonder whether you’re aware of what’s going on. So then they have to figure out if they should explain or if it will look like they’re chiding you.

    1. A Cat named Brian*

      This person has lived through a category 5 hurricane! Everything is gone. Their house, their car, they have no food, no electricity, no water. There are no cell phone towers. If they evacuated, they have what fit in their car. (Keep in mind most places won’t accept pets.) They, and their family members, are traumatized. I promise you, the last thing on their mind is work. They are in survival mode.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        The collaborator could very well be in the worst situation, or she could not be impacted so drastically at all, which is why Alison’s script is a good one to use — acknowledge what’s going on, ask your question, give your plan for if you don’t hear back. I’m not being cavalier; I’m from Houston and know people who have lost everything in hurricanes and I have family in Louisiana who are dealing with the Laura aftermath.

      1. Observer*

        You mean that you’ve asked why she needs this information and this is what her response leads to? Ouch.

        Talk to the people you are applying to – they must have a way to work around this. I mean, what would have happened if the place went out of business? Also, if you were able to apply for unemployment, will they accept that instead?

    2. Observer*

      She can’t be worried it’s some kind of scam; the fact that she doesn’t work for her anymore is both the truth and not a secret.

      One doesn’t necessarily follow the other. Certainly, for someone who is a bit paranoid it’s easy to find stories that “prove” that this could be used against her.

  15. Lady Heather*

    LW2, as an aside, are you getting paid time-and-a-half for overtime? Unless you are a manager who makes more than ~35000 a year, you should be.

    (Something in your letter made me wonder – and I thought I’d ask as a “better safe than sorry” thing.)

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      A non-exempt employee might also have to be paid for the time spent accounting for the $200 bonus!

      1. Me*

        A one off sentence on how they spent the money during the course of the work day would already be compensated. I really don’t think t hat’s an issue here.

  16. Allonge*

    LW2 – if I didn’t want to go the bills / groceries way, I might say something nonsense, like I bought a baby panda / trip to the moon. The #&đ they think they are?

    Not very political either, but it still makes a point on how it’s none of their business, and hopefully they have sense enough to not enquire further???

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Yes, I think great fun could be had with this if you can persuade your co-workers to get in on the act. Each person presents a different outlandish / hilarious thing they spent the money on…

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “Between this bonus and having finally curbed my daily Starbucks/avocado toast habit, I had enough money that I was able to buy my dream house!” (Bonus point for photos of a random mansion.)

        1. Quill*

          Bonus points for yanking the annotated photo off McMansion Hell.

          If confronted, say you thought it was cheerier than the (boring) stuff you spent it on, winter tires, fixing the washing machine…

          1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

            “Look, it has a lawyer foyer and I even had enough money left over to buy An Art!”
            I do love McMansion Hell.

  17. midnightcat*

    #4 I’d be thoughtful with your subject line here – if it just says ‘Update on the X project’ it won’t be clear that you’re wishing them well.

    1. Hi there*

      I might be more specific and say something like “Hope you are well—and next steps on project” to make my two purposes for the email clear. I like to use the subject line to signal what I am looking for or the purpose of the email.

  18. #2*

    How hard is it to just lie? It’s not like they’re asking for receipts or photo evidence of you having fun.

    1. MayLou*

      It would be easy to lie – but that wouldn’t have the desired effect of making the point, tactfully and without risking job loss, that the bonus was almost an insult in the context of the poor pay. I don’t know that there is a way to achieve that effect without negative consequences, but I think the LW was looking for one.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I don’t think there is… the bosses know how their pay stacks up, I doubt it would go over their heads if OP were to make one of these cutting remarks. Maybe that wouldn’t matter, but OP may not want to rock the boat

    2. Mookie*

      Don’t see any evidence the employer is entitled to the false public flattery it’s requesting.

      The bonus doesn’t go far for almost any American’s cost of living, and they know that. How hard is it for the employer not to pile insult (wage reduction) upon insult (a bonus that will mot remotely offset this loss)?

      Why not just give the money and stop soliciting praise for themselves (which is being spun as a morale booster when, in fact, it is a bandaid that when replaced in public reveals to peers the nature and seriousness of your personal finances)?

      Why is somebody supposed to pretend these kinds of bonuses are luxurious? Who benefits from these exaggerations but the employer, who is requesting by other means written evidence that their staff is experiencing no hardships despite paycuts on a likely meagre salary and has cash to blow for fun?

    3. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Don’t give them ideas. The bosses will demand receipts, photos, and notarized proof of actual enjoyment.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “How hard is it to just lie? ”

      It’s the internal conversation inside our own heads that can really give a person cause to pause.

      “They treat me like crap and I have to tell them how they are doing a great job? REALLY?”

      The lie can feel like it perpetuates the crappiness. And people who are at the end of their rope with a job can tend to have a much higher awareness of all the different ways crappy behaviors are perpetuated. Things like this can be come a bfd.

      1. Anon for this one*

        Not nearly the same thing, but I had that feeling one year with our employee-satisfaction surveys. The company was going through a particularly bad streak of mismanagement and awful decisions, and one year, everyone had had it, and gave honest answers and accurate low marks on the survey. What followed was a year of meetings and trainings to improve our attitude, followed by the announcement that for the following year, “we had committed to an improvement of X percent on the employee survey marks. Please keep that in mind when giving your answers”. Next survey rolls around and I look at it like, “Answering honestly will get me reprimanded, and lying seems like such a waste of time. I don’t care if it’s 15 minutes, 15 minutes is a lot of time for me to spend giving bogus answers on a survey, that everyone who receives the answers will know are bogus” so I did not take the survey at all that year. It just seemed like a pointless waste of time, and like a political game I did not want to be a part of. Same here. Why would OP spend any of their time and energy trying to coming up with a lie, that her company’s leadership will know damn well is a lie?

        1. JustaTech*

          Yeah, folks at my company tried that whole “I’m not going to lie and I’m tired of getting yelled at so I’m just not going to fill it out” and then we all got yelled at for not enough people filling out the survey.

          Some days you can’t win.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It’s not hard at all, but it just perpetuates the tone-deafness of this company. I’m not making up some bullshit happy thing I spent my measly $200 on to make the owners feel good about themselves, when they’ve cut my pay, expect me to work extra hours and think I should be grateful to them for treating me like trash. I get that companies have had to make cuts, but be honest about everything and don’t make the employees feel like you’re doing them a favor when you’re able to provide them with a small portion of their salary back and disguise it as a “bonus”.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right, it’s the pay cut that takes the whole bonus exercise into the “unacceptable” territory for me. They are playing it off as a generous gift when it isn’t.

  19. 10Isee*

    #2 I’d just say I spent it on Internet/tv/rent. Because at the moment, that’s where my “fun” comes from. Thanks, 2020! My whole world is this living room!

  20. WoodswomanWrites*

    I am struck by the contrast between the managers in #3 and #5. The first is going out their way to make sure they are helpful and respectful to their employee, and the second is heartless to their former employee asking for very basic paperwork confirming they no longer work there. If only all managers could be like #3…

    1. OP#3*

      Daw thanks :)

      I’m doing my best, which at times still needs improvement, but glad to hear I seem to have this one right :)

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I wish you had been my boss when I got pregnant!
        (I won’t rant about the one I had but she was a child-free career woman who didn’t understand that I was not willing to risk a miscarriage climbing a very steep hill to the railway station to get home – it took me so long to climb up I would miss my train, then I was late to the daycare my son was in – and the manager had already told me I was not to be late or they’d no longer take my son. Luckily, my doctor simply wrote out a note for sick leave through to my official maternity leave. Sorry, looks like I ranted anyway!)

  21. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP2 (have to report back on what you spent your bonus on): Get a photo of you presenting a “giant check” for $200 (you know the type) made out to the electricity company, your landlord, the grocery store, or whatever. Make sure you get the cheesy pose just right!

  22. Newly Pregnant*

    LW 3 – I recently told my manager I was pregnant and the thing I appreciated most was him saying „If you ever need to take a couple hours off because you’re not feeling well, just do it and don’t feel like you have to tell me.“ A very humane response and definitely better than any gift could have been.

    1. Jk*

      This. Also in addition to maternity leave policies, I found it helpful for my manager to let me know where to find info about lactation resources and spaces available for when I returned. I felt very supported when I returned to work.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          First ask her whether she plans to pump, then work out how to do it, because if ever she doesn’t, she might feel diminished as a mother for not living up to your expectations…

      1. Blackcat*

        Yes. I appreciated a “backup” space being created for me in case I needed to pump when the pumping room was occupied (there was a mini baby boom in the building). They added a curtain and door stop to an existing phone room.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      A senior partner at my old firm noticed that I was having a really physically tough day during pregnancy, and breezily said he was thinking of going home early and did I want a lift?

      So not only did he summarily give me most of the afternoon off, I had a half-hour drive in his nice car instead of 90 minutes on public transport at peak time.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        (we both lived outside the city on the same side, but he definitely had to go out of his way to drop me home)

  23. Keymaster of Gozer*


    I faced a not quite similar situation many years back when we needed to fire a staff member for aggressive harassment of other staff. It hadn’t stopped, even after warnings, and the rest of the staff quite rightly wanted her gone. But…she’d been through a lot that year, some home issues that were absolutely tragic and I spent several days and nights twisted up about this, could I really deprive her of her income?

    I talked it over with someone in HR who I really trusted. His response, paraphrased, was “you’ve given her plenty of chances, and help, she’s chosen to ignore you. For the sake of the rest of your staff you have to show that these behaviours have real consequences. For her, SHE needs to see the consequences if she’s ever to grow past her behaviour”

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I had a friend at work who was managing a woman that he put on PIP. Then she was diagnosed with cancer. Her performance issues pre-dated the cancer, but the cancer made it difficult for her to address the issues raised in the PIP. They ended up putting the PIP on hold until after her cancer treatment.

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      This is a great response. It’s not just about showing staff that someone’s behaviours have consequences for their continued employment, but also acknowledging that their behaviours have real impacts on the people around them regardless of the circumstances.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Most of the staff were visibly relieved when we did fire her. There were a couple who turned against me afterwards because they felt making a woman jobless was too harsh, regardless of behaviour, but they didn’t work in the same building as the rest of us.

        I was a lot happier after. Not having staff complain to me that ‘Ms X’ had once again physically boxed them into a corner to rant about how they were ‘wrong’ about something….bliss.

  24. HR Jedi*

    OP 1 – I’m under the impression that you are aware that you are far past the point at which a termination should have occurred. While I get not terming someone in March/April since that was when “the great unknown” started, by June/July, we pretty much knew that this was going through 2020, if not into 2021. At this point, we should have settled into the “new normal” for the time being.

    There is no mention about if you have continued to discuss the PIP with your employee. If I was your HR Rep, I’d want to see documentation that there was at least a monthly conversation about the status of the behaviors that lead to the PIP, and how they have improved or haven’t. If the conversation continued over the summer, I would generally say that a manager was free to term. If the conversation stopped, then it may need to resume for at least a month or two before getting to that point because, even if you wrote in the PIP that it will continue until written notice was given to indicate otherwise, the employee will have a good point of saying that they assumed everything was good if you stopped talking about it.

    1. OP1*

      Great point.

      Specific/formal HR meetings about the PIP did ebb and flow a bit over the spring/summer, but there was regular feedback (weekly, documented) tied to the PIP. Employee and I (with it without HR) have discussed continued failure to meet the PIP twice in past month, once formally, many times informally.

      My HR business partner is comfortable with the documentation, and we’ve discussed the ongoing feedback cadence at length.

  25. Called*

    LW1, I’m guessing it’s too far down the track for this, and to repair relationships – but WHY is your employee “argumentative” and missing deadlines? I support a large number of professionals whose role is to speak out, challenge, advocate and create social change. Unfortunately, when they do that – for themselves, or their clients or their colleagues, they are seen as argumentative and challenging. As a way of making them be quiet, they get more work piled on them. When they get feedback that they are not completing their work, they push back with the reasons why – and that justifies the label of argumentative. It becomes a vicious cycle for them and their employer.
    I’m interested in the fundamental whys in this situation.

    1. Happily Self Employed*

      I have a reputation for being argumentative because I try to clarify things if someone has misunderstood what I said. I am not quite sure why I’m so difficult to understand but nowadays I just chalk it up to being autistic.

      Me: I think there might be a problem with the AC. The thermostat cycles on and off every 3 minutes and I don’t think it’s supposed to be doing that. It smells musty and makes the apartment damp, too.

      Manager: You just don’t understand how thermostats work. They’re supposed to cycle on and off to maintain the temperature. You need to stop making unfounded complaints because you’re losing your credibility.

      Me: Well, I’m used to it doing that every 20-30 minutes, but now it’s every 3-5 minutes until it reaches the set temperature… and then it’s back to normal.


      Me, 2 months later: Here is an estimate from GE Factory Service for $900+, I told them I would have to get back to them after you decide whether to repair or replace. [Estimate is about the same as retail price of new PTAC.]

      1. Mighty Mouse*

        I’m not autistic, but I’ve definitely had similar conversations at work and they are so aggravating and make you feel like you’re being gaslit.
        I remember one after college where I was working in a laboratory supporting multiple investigators. I was accused of not refilling a really important reagent for overnight when I definitely had. My supervisor told my Big Boss that I hadn’t done it and it led to an argument that I had. I couldn’t get my PITA co-worker to confirm this because she was in a snit about something and claimed she didn’t see me do it and my supervisor never actually checked whether it was full, just looked in the door window. You actually had to move the container to see if it was full or not.
        It led to a HUGE thing and I was seen as lazy and argumentative. Thankfully I was able to transfer to another lab shortly after due to sexual harassment issues, but it still burns me up over a decade later.

        1. Quill*

          Oh gosh, people who hate clarification + any sort of sexism is hell.

          Every time I pull up an example of how much it sucked I keep referring to Pig Lab from Hell and how did I work there for more than 2 years?

      2. UseYourWords*

        It’s probably coming across as you trying to have the final word on it and that can be really annoying and come across as insubordination.

        So many people cant seem to just accept that what they say comes across that way, when they would’ve been better off just saying, “Ok, thanks” and moving on.

        It doesn’t matter if you were right on that issue. The manager said they didnt think it was an issue and then you came across as pushing it To Be Right. Instead, you should’ve let it go and let them be wrong and find out later when slapped with the repair bill.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, this can be a tough lesson to learn, but unless there are lives at stake (or it’s about big stuff like discrimination), managers get to insist on stuff even if it’s stupid.

          Did we just now pay 10 times as much for somethihng as we could have last year? Yes. So I was ‘right’ about the price. But my boss was right in not buying last year anyway, because we (well, she) changed our minds like 4 times on what exactly we needed since then. So whatever we would have bought last year would have been a waste anyway.

          So… yes, it can sound stupid and sometimes it is stupid and annoying, but a boss also gets to say: I decided to go this way, and I don’t want to discuss it further. And if an employee cannot do that, then they are, indeed, argumentative.

    2. Colette*

      In this case, the employee has been specifically told to stop being argumentative, and is on a PIP for it. It doesn’t matter whether she’s arguing because she’s “right” – she’s specifically been told to stop.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Exactly this. With the added hope that the PIP includes more specific feedback than, “Stop being argumentative.”

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Well, leaving something this vague on a PIP makes it easier to fire someone, though. Another way of putting this is that it also makes it more difficult for a manipulative or socially tone-deaf employee to argue that they’re in the clear so long as they’re following the letter, if not the spirit of the PIP.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Hopefully suggestions have been made for her to present the same facts in a less conflictual way?

    3. Mark*

      Over the course of my career, I’ve learned via direct and indirect experience that voicing personal problems is the riskiest thing one can do as an employee. If its discrete, short term, and unlikely to impact deadlines, then it might be safe. “My kid is sick” falls into this category. If it is anything else – keep your mouth shut. It’s far better to make excuses, push deadlines, turn in half-ass work, really anything, rather than come clean that you are dealing with mental health problems, chronic illness, or toxic work culture that is impacting your productivity. Because once you come clean about the real problem, then anytime you are late for a meeting, unhappy at a 1-1, having a bad day, get sick, or need an extension, management adds it to a mental portfolio of why “someone like you” isn’t a “good fit” for the organization.

      Personally I think this is a terrible thing, but I’ve seen it at 4 different companies in 2 industries.

    4. OP1*

      It’s fundamentally an issue taking feedback, as well as a disconnect on how well she’s performing the necessary tasks.

      But when I provide that feedback, she dismisses it. I posted examples above, but pasted below.

      I could say, “You’ve been doing a great job on teapot handles and lids, but there’s an ongoing issue with the spouts that we need to address,” and get back, “everyone else says my spouts are great” (independently verified that isn’t true) “you never give me any positive feedback about my teapots,” (wasn’t that the start of my sentence?) “If you care so much about spouts, why didn’t you praise me more the one time I gave you a perfect spout” (it was late).

      I can teach someone to make a teapot, and expect to provide guidance like that! And I’ll talk out differences of opinion or through my decision making or whatever…I don’t even consider that “argumentative.” If my employee thinks I’m making a bad decision for the company, I sure want them to tell me, and then we can talk it out.

      That’s not what this is though. It’s straight, “you’re wrong and I’m not going to listen to it.”

  26. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Letter #2… [“But in your case, I would seriously consider letting this employee go, perhaps with one final warning that that will be the next step if you don’t see immediate changes.”]

    That leads me to ask… Exactly how many warnings are customary?

    1. Picard*

      three strikes and you’re out is typical most places I’ve worked unless the behavior is especially egregious.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yes, usually three warnings or official writeups.
        Unless it’s something that earns immediate dismissal.

        Technically though, the US is mostly “at will” employment, so you don’t legally have to give the warnings. It’s just that a lot of employers DO issue the PiPs to document and thus avoid lawsuits.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Same goes for most of Canada in terms of using PIPs as a CYA method, but it’s not quite at-will. Unless an employee has done something so obviously wrong that it makes sense to fire them immediately, you either have to provide notice that you’re firing someone or tell them to GTFO immediately and pay them in lieu of notice.

          People get “last strike” fired after old PIPs here all the time – it’s not too much to expect someone to be competent at their job without constantly getting written warnings.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      Thang is, with the PIP being extended for so long, she may think it’s been dropped entirely. Add the moratorium on terminations, and she may think she’s doing just fine and dandy, she doesn’t need to change a thing. Complacency, that’s the word I was seeking.

      It’s true that US law doesn’t require another warning, but getting fired because of a PIP this old is likely to come as a shock to her.

      1. OP1*

        We have met formally on the PIP and progress on it many times (most recently a week ago).

        The PIP was also specifically referenced in many of our weekly check-ins when giving feedback (“I’m sure you’re that this teapot was 2 weeks late – as you know that’s an area that is a performance concern. What can we do to ensure the teapots are completed on time?”).

  27. agnes*

    RE: need a letter that you don’t work for the employer anymore—if the employer won’t give you one, you might be able to use evidence of filing for unemployment as proof that you don’t have a job. The employer has to respond to the filing indicating that you are no longer employed.

  28. A Cat named Brian*

    LW4 if your collaborator was in Hurricane Laura, they probably won’t respond. 2 weeks after the event 78% of the area doesn’t have power and more than that do not have water. Most people are displaced and have lost everything.
    I lived through Katrina and I can tell you, the last thing on your collaborator’s mind is work.

    1. Grits McGee*

      One of the consequences of hurricanes that people sometimes forget is that big storms will also completely take down cell networks as well, even if there isn’t as much physical damage. The networks just get completely overloaded and finding a signal can be incredibly difficult even if there’s electricity.

      1. Biscuits!*

        Yeah, I can tell you, if they’re in Lake Charles after Laura, none of the cell providers are working except AT&T. Everything else is pretty much texting only.

    2. LW4*

      My collaborator is located on the gulf coast, but I wasn’t sure if she was in the path of the hurricane. Fortunately, it sounds like she’s fine, and the delay wasn’t disaster-related.

  29. What the What*

    Op2: I’d post a photo of my cat. Got a pet? Cute pet photos are always a good neutral way to engage. Gotta buy that pet food.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I meant to comment on that the other day. I’m currently wearing a 20 year old Patagonia fleece pullover. I love it because it has (wait for it….) sleeves! I’d never fit into bro culture because my arms get cold. Also I’m a woman.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      OK, so I actually thought that this might be the same company based on the start-up. And that the OP took our advice to give them money…but with this weird caveat and now the employee is writing in!

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

    I don’t understand why the hospital needs a letter from the manager. If it’s because of insurance they can call the insurance company and be told that benefits ended on x day. If it’s to show income usually financial asks for all bank statements. Also, did you get any termination documents?
    I’m sorry your going through this. I started process for my medical bills in June and it just processed after explaining. 2 times that my job is through academic year and I didnt have a job through summer (because COVID). They wanted statements for stuff I didn’t have, like hsa that has only quarterly statements and I it had one from jan-march and they wanted it for the current month. I would call the hospital and ask to speak with someone. Explain that you cannot get a letter and ask what other documents you need. If you’ve given them something already that shows you don’t work there then they can use that.

    1. Heather*

      Thank you for your comments. It’s is a very small business with no HR dept. and the owner is being petty. I think I will just ask the hospital to call her and confirm.

  31. Person from the Resume*

    If your collaborator is in Lake Charles, LA or nearby she’s very likely out of power and her house and office are damaged. She may still be evacuated. The area may be out of power for months. Schools will most likely resume in January. So if she’s been truly impacted in the extreme she may not be working or able to work. She may not have access to work email for a long while.

    People usually have to let their company know (right?) and then the company would take over notifying collaborators assuming the entire company is not affected.

    If you can’t contact her or anyone else from her company you need to either decide to move without her input or place things on hold until you get it.

    ** Just make sure that she was impacted by the hurricane. Multiple well meaning, kind people inquired about my safety after hurricane Laura made landfall. I was fine because my city over 200 miles away had zero impact. These folks have the best intentions, but their geography is a bit off.

    1. Quill*

      Likewise do a google maps because work and home address may be different. I didn’t check up on my brother for a few weeks until he complained about not being able to even go outside… because I didn’t think the air quality from the fires had made it to Berkeley.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        omg it’s everywhere. The entire west coast, honestly. Doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing because the fires are everywhere.

  32. LQ*

    OP #4 as someone who could be (not hurricane so not actually me) the person you’re talking about in this.
    Don’t just send a “checking in” email.

    Start with checking in, but if you actually need something lay out what you actually need. Your “ask,” your clear, specific need. And if at all possible the consequences for not getting it done. Sometimes my answer will be, “YUP! Not going to get done, we’ll eat that consequence.” And if your contact is the person to make that decision then you need to let them. If they accept and own the consequence you have to let it lie within that frame. (If you don’t get this done by end of Tuesday, it’ll push the publication date which will cost and additional $500 to resend and these other projects may also get pushed. Ok, acceptable, it won’t get done.)

    Then attach documentation that is needed to make the decision or whatever they will need to DO. Don’t make them go to 16 different websites to hunt down the files, don’t make them remember where the link is for the approval, don’t set up a new site and a new form that will get lost and tossed 5 minutes later.

    1. cncx*

      yes, also this applies to normal work situations too. if you need something from someone, try to make it easy for them if it’s your deadline and not theirs- don’t make me hunt for a folder or a password, if you need something urgently then give me the tools to do it in 2.5 seconds if that is what you’re asking (not you LQ but the proverbial coworker You). i’ve been in a high-stress firefighting situation due to projects and headcount for a MINUTE and the amount of people who want me to figure out whatever the prep work is but at the same time wanting an answer R I G H T N O W on their schedule is way too high, i’m like, help me help you

  33. HR Parks Here*

    OP#5 Reach out to the HR Department if they have one. I have written many of these and they have been to whom it may concern

  34. Megumin*

    OP #3 – Some others have mentioned this already, but a great thing to do for your pregnant employee is give her flexibility when it comes to appointments, and just simply not feeling well. I would say flexibility and grace are the best gifts you can give to a pregnant/new parent employee, better than any physical gift. Once she gets back from maternity leave, she’ll definitely still need that flexibility and grace, because there are million baby appointments, and then just general fatigue.

    Also, if she’s pumping, help her find a lactation space and a washing space, and treat breastfeeding like the very matter-of-fact thing it is. Don’t run the other direction if you see her walking down the hall with her pump parts. Encourage others in the office to not be squeamish about it.

  35. Blue Eagle*

    #5 From reading the comments I am definitely in the minority, but I can relate to the boss. There is no way that I would write out an official letter about an ex-employee if I did not know how it was going to be used. We have seen time and time again when lack of knowledge of something has come back to bite the person. Maybe in this case it is OK, but what assurance does the boss have. Why is this such a secret, anyway? The OP doesn’t have to say what medical procedure is being done or that it is being used for financial aid, only that the letter is being delivered to the hospital.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      It sounds like she’s just being asked to verify dates of employment, though? But I don’t understand why her boss has to be involved unless it’s such a small company that the boss is also HR.

      1. UKDancer*

        Agreed, this is the sort of thing that my company would send to HR and ask them to deal with. If a former employee asked me to confirm they no longer worked for the company, I’d probably ask HR to do it because this is part of their job.

      2. Metadata minion*

        The LW has commented that it’s a very small company with no HR. And in that case I agree that verifying dates of employment is really not something that could possibly be used against someone unless they’re inaccurate or the employment itself was somehow legally sketchy.

    2. Myrin*

      The only thing the letter has to say is that the OP no longer works for boss, though. That’s literally one sentence. How on earth could that be used against the boss in any way (provided OP does indeed not still work for boss, of course, but that would be a different problem entirely)?

  36. Scorbunny*

    LW4, my house was wrecked in Laura and while I’ve been concerned about work during all this, my house’s roof (or lack thereof) kind of took precedence over everything else. That said, I did appreciate people checking in on me, and if there had been anything pressing that needed my input work-wise, I would have no problem saying “nope, can’t handle it right now” and punting it to someone else or telling collaborators to use their best judgement. (Your coworker may have also sustained minimal damages and will be glad for the distraction while waiting for power or internet to come back! It just depends.) But yeah, opening with some variant on “are you ok” while making it clear that you know the timing isn’t the greatest is the way to go on that.

    Another thing to consider: cell signal in the aftermath has been really spotty and touch-and-go, and doing anything online has been really hard. But hey, power’s starting to come back now (I got it back Friday!..even if it still sometimes goes out for an hour or so at a time), so we got that going for us. :)

  37. DarthVelma*

    LW2, tell them you spent it to pay your annual membership dues for the Organization of the United Brotherhood of It’s None of Your Damn Business

    (That line from The American President is useful for such a wide variety of situations.) :-)

  38. Working4theWeekend*

    OP#2 – we had something similar a few years back as an “award” for pulling a long week including an overnight to meet a deadline. Keeping in mind this was pre-COVID, my SO and I went to a nice dinner with the funds and I gave our “what did we do” in a jokingly “CEO paid for a great dinner”. But there were other tales of putting it toward tuition, paying the electric bill, one woman got a new suit for her hubby who was job hunting, another spent the night at a fancy hotel. It all depends on what makes you happy and what you’re willing to share with your colleagues.

  39. Spicy Tuna*

    For #2 – I’d go with something like, “I used the money on bills because not being in debt makes me happy”, which is probably a true statement for most people.

    I kind of a similar situation years back. I was working for a large multi-national corporation in their U.S. based Latin American / Caribbean HQ. The industry was in a downturn at the time and we had all agreed to a pay cut to help the company stave off bankruptcy (well – the unionized workers negotiated that and we all had to go along with it). We had worked our butts off on the budget for the upcoming year and our boss flew off to Global HQ to present it. It was accepted as-is with no changes which NEVER happened. He was so happy and called us before flying home to tell us to pick a place for a celebration lunch. But not too expensive because we would be paying for it ourselves.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      Whoops, got cut off! So on the heels of the pay cut, we told our boss “no thanks” and he was really floundering with wanting to thank us in some way, so he proposed that we would do a picnic at a local park. We all packed the saddest, most cheap little lunches, like PB&J and tuna on saltines. Honestly, most of us would rather have been given the afternoon off.

  40. Anon Today*

    #4. I live just outside the area recently hit by a hurricane. It’s likely she still has no power (or even water, depending on what city) and cell service is spotty at best. Many people are still evacuated because there are no “survival sustaining services.”

  41. employment lawyah*

    1. Firing someone during a pandemic
    Fire them.

    The ethical argument, in my view, is . You have a job; SOMEONE is going to fill that job. If you think it’s unethical to fire someone, then you are (in a Bastiat “hidden economics” way) also arguing that it’s ethical to leave the better person unemployed. Hiring an unemployed person is just as important as not-firing an employed person. Go ahead and let this employee go.

    2. We have to say what we’re spending our bonus money on
    Just post something unverifiable and common and move on. “I paid down part of my student loans!” is a good one, as is “I put money in an IRA.”

    3. My employee is pregnant — what next?
    This can be hard–and dangerous!

    You have information which seems useful (this employee is likely to take a hunk of time off in ___ months and may never return) but basically, you’re supposed to ignore it. You can’t often do the rational-appearing things like “changing her work assignments as she approaches the due date,” and you need to make sure you stay on the right side of the law. You also may get pushback from your higher management: It’s very easy to want to “support” employees but you need to remember that you’re basically spending company money, so you can’t always stretch too far.

    If you’ve never dealt with this you should check with HR and follow their instructions, to make sure you’re on the same page.

    4. How to check on collaborators when the world is (possibly literally) on fire
    It really depends on your personal relationship. I don’t think you have any obligation to track the status of people w/r/t everything in the world, especially those with whom you have a low level professional relationship. Personal issues happen all the time–they aren’t always public. Not only do bad things happen to ordinary people, but also, not everyone who is in an “affected area” will in fact be affected by any of the stuff in the news. So I would generally not assume: For most folks, I think you can just treat them as usual (including the no-response default e.g. “if I don’t hear from you then I will submit the draft as-is”) and leave it to them to bring up anything relevant that you should consider.

    5. My boss won’t confirm I don’t work for her anymore
    Your boss is suspicious that you’re filing a lawsuit of some kind. Or your boss is a jerk. Or both.

    Have you filed for unemployment? Since that requires the state (and your old job!) to confirm you are not employed there, the hospital may accept some sort of unemployment information as documentation. Otherwise, just tell her. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about on YOUR end, and if you say “I was hoping not to have to share my personal financial and medical information, because it is deeply private. But I am applying for financial aid at the hospital and they won’t consider me unless you tell them I don’t work there” she may, at least, apologize.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      No you don’t have to “ignore” a pregnancy. Telling her you’ll be flexible about doctor’s appointments doesn’t cost the company anything. Most pregnant women will be so grateful to a considerate boss, they’ll more than make up for lost time.

  42. Bob*

    “I spent $200 paying my overdue electricity bill. It has reduced my worry about not having the lights on since our pay is so low. However i don’t know what will happen next month.”

    Best month but bad pay? These people have deluded themselves into thinking that you should be as passionate as them hence you don’t need decent pay, passion makes up for it. This “bonus” may be a way to convince themselves this is true.

  43. Anon Anon*

    OP #3, while I would definitely follow-up your employee’s lead, in terms of her work, I would also let her know when you might want to talk to her about how to transition her work off to other members of the team or what that will look like. And if it’s appropriate ask for her input.

    II took maternity leave earlier this year. And it was extremely stressful. It was stressful because my manager pretended as if nothing was happening for months on end, and then she had a panic attack 6 weeks before I went on leave. The panic attack lead to her requiring daily meetings with her and the rest of my team to go over my responsibilities. These were not quick meetings, they often lasted hours. As I was trying to do a lot of work in advance so that the work my team had to do in my absence was minimal, these meetings were really disruptive. If she had communicated better much earlier on about her expectations and asked what my hopes were for that transition, it would have been far less stressful. To top it off I was regularly contacted while on leave. The whole experience was deeply frustrating and could have been easily avoided with better communication earlier on.

  44. AngryOwl*

    LW #2, just wanted to offer some solidarity. I once worked at a startup with a very similar culture—I remember the founder telling me that if you don’t want 60+ hr/week work (for below average pay), then a startup isn’t for you. The most amusing part was that I’d had more startup experience than he did at the time, and knew that was false. Founders so often think the because they put their blood and tears into a company, all the employees have to.

    Healthier cultures do exist, though, even in the startup space! If I were you, I’d either not say what I spent it on, or be honest (groceries, probably). And I’d be polishing up my resume.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That “then a startup isn’t for you”, is just precious. You’re hiring an employee, they are not investors and even if they were investors, many are silent and you still have to bust your own GD ass and pay the price to get people to bust ass along side of you. Way to lose sight of the fact that the reason you grind your ass off as a founder is because you’re the one who’s passionate about YOUR company, jackhole.

      You gotta pay me to get me to care. Sometimes stock options work but you better have something damn fine to sell me on it’s probability to succeed.

  45. Elbe*

    “(they expect everyone on the team to be as passionate and dedicated to our mission as the founders,)”

    This is a massive red flag that the founders are incredibly entitled and out of touch. Unless their sharing their profits and stock with the rest of the employees, it should be crystal clear to them that their incentives are different from everyone else’s. Would THEY be passionate/dedicated about a job that was long hours at low pay, with no other investment?

    The LW should feel free to just lie about the money. They can say “me, too” to whatever the person ahead of them in the chat says. They can say they spent it on bills, or candy, or a netflix subscription. It’s silly that the founders asked the employees for this info, but it’s easy enough to get around. What’s more concerning is the overall mentality of the company.

  46. Just another Anon*

    OP#2, don’t take it personally.. just take it a face value as a gift and you can probably say – you had a good meal and spent the rest on bills.

    OP#5, you can probably tell her that you are applying for financial aid (no need to say where) and they need the employment status. That way, you can reuse the same letter if you need to use it elsewhere later.

  47. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP #2 – I’d be inclined to push back hard on that. Why is it your employer’s business to manage your happiness? I’d even go so far as to say “Asking us to spend that on something that makes us happy implies that our jobs are a source of unhappiness in our lives. Maybe you should address the root cause of that rather than dancing around the issue with $200 bonus checks.”

  48. Anonymouse*

    For #2 I wonder if this is something group push back can help with since I’m sure others are also uncomfortable. If a group of you don’t want to list out what you spend your money on then all together you can say “this was generous, but we feel it’s an overstep to require us to detail our expenses” and maybe they’ll get the message and back off.

  49. fhgwhgads*

    If it feels off to make something up, I’d think of some recurring expense (or already spent expense) that could be construed as “fun” and say the $200 was spent on that. Like “Netflix for a year!” (even tho I already have Netflix) or “takeout from my favourite restaurant” (even though I got that a week ago) or whatever. If the OP’s goal isn’t necessarily to “stick it to ’em” with the response, but also doesn’t want to lie and doesn’t want to actually spend it on something new and fun, then I think that’s the best course: claim it as paying for something enjoyable you already do/were going to spend anyway.

  50. Leela*

    OP2 – i had a job where there was a competition (they were a very pro-competition, pro-aggression company) and the team I was on won the most money on a tiered system. We were all instructed to buy things we wanted in the moment, couldn’t save it, couldn’t buy food, couldn’t donate it, and show everyone what we bought to “make everyone feel bad for not doing enough to win”.

    I hated it. In addition to feeling invasive, it felt bizarrely rude and also like the other people weren’t going to be sitting there going “oh man, I wish I’d done more to win!” as much as they’d be going “WOW this is awkward I can’t wait until it’s over”. At least that’s how I, as the presenter, felt.

  51. new kid*

    #2 What is it about start ups and being completely oblivious about the wealth discrepancy between the founders/C-suite and their employees? I worked for a start up that paid shit and went through two different rounds of laying off half the company at once in the 2.5 years that I worked there, and we still had our company xmas party at the CEO’s mansion within months of one of the lay offs.

  52. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Won’t admit that you don’t work there anymore?! What the heck? I get employment verification on a regular basis, many for folks who don’t work here anymore. Even the ones who are fired…[I literally just got one while writing this, lol.]

    All you have to say is “OP #5’s dates of employment with company X were January 17th, 2002 to September 9th, 2006.” done and dusted. Like how can this confirmation get you in any kind of hot water. Even with ultra conservative HR practice advice, they say that it’s fine to confirm dates of employment to those who ask, especially if they personally ask for it *blink*

    You can also explain to the hospital that you’re dealing with this dumbass. And see what their advice is. I bet they’ll accept bank statements, unemployment claims or tax returns that prove your financial situation. This isn’t their first rodeo, even though it’s possibly yours.

  53. Champagne Cocktail*

    Being required to say what the bonus is spent on? Wow, I haven’t done something like that since my grandma sent me the occasional card with a check in it. Not appropriate for a boss to ask that.

  54. Jennifer Juniper*

    I hope OP2 isn’t penalized for not spending their bonus on the same thing that others would spend theirs on. Being marked as different could get them in trouble.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Thank you for taking the time to address this, Alison. I’ve seen so many weird things going on in these letters that my concern actually seemed plausible.

  55. Greg*

    1. This happened to me. My situation hopefully different than your employees. I worked in a very uncomfortable situation early 202o. I was placed on a 30 day PIP which was set up for failure. The conclusion of my PIP was during quarantine. It absolutely destroyed me. I hope you are the type of manager that is coaching your employee on how to work through these issues, I am surprised that this employee hasn’t improved at all in that time frame. A year long PIP is generous. Instead of firing, can you give them another warning? reduce their title?

  56. LogicalOne*

    2. My first instinct would be just to make something up on what you would be spending your bonus on. I too feel that what you spend your money on is a private subject but I also wouldn’t want to be the only one not participating in the discussion. It would paint me in an awkward light and as someone who “isn’t with the program”. But if you’re going to lie about what you’re spending your bonus money on, be sure it’s something that others won’t be able to see. Like don’t say “Oh I think I’m going to use the bonus to help me get a new phone” and then continue coming to work with the same phone. People will notice and want to see your new phone haha. I too would possibly merely say that I’m just saving it for a rainy day fund/emergency fund. I don’t feel that’s going to make the conversation awkward. A little odd nonetheless that you have to share this information to begin with.

  57. Former Call Centre Rep*

    I still believe my call centre job prepared me to every job I’ve had since.

    Give yourself the grace to not respond right away. You’re entitled to take 5 seconds to breathe. And learn to embrace that awkward silence before responding. And when you do respond, force yourself to speak slow and lower than volume than your normal tone.

    It’s amazing what the juxtaposition can do to give yourself a bit of confidence and key in the other person to your tone. Do your best to not mirror their excitement level, but rather be low and calm. It’s amazing how many people will mirror back your behavior to you once they figure out you aren’t going to be aggregated in return.

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