should I re-hire a bully, a “baking fund” jar, and more

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

1. Should I hire a bully back?

I’m a hotel manager and I’ve been in my current role for roughly a year and a half. When COVID-19 hit, I was forced to lay off my entire team. I was truly heartbroken to see about 80% of my team go. But the other 20% … not so much. Of the 20%, there were two employees I swore I’d never hire back. They both did fairly decent work, but were bullies who fed off of one another’s bad behavior. They were constantly in my office explaining why they’d said something nasty to one of their coworkers or why they’d ransacked another’s belongings. They were also blatantly disrespectful to me. One was far worse than the other, though (she was on her last write-up prior to COVID-19).

Both employees have contacted me and asked for their jobs back. I’ve told the particularly awful one that she has to reapply and be considered along with other applicants (though I have no intention of hiring her back). She hasn’t bothered to reapply because she feels she’s entitled to her job back and has decided to text/call me incessantly. Obviously, my answer is still no. I’m on the fence about hiring the other employee back, though. She hasn’t badgered me to make a hiring decision and has handled the idea of reapplying with far more grace than her colleague. And when she worked for me, she was a lot nicer to others when her unpleasant colleague wasn’t around. My fear is that, if she were to reapply and be hired back, she’d become the new bully. Is this fear justified? Should I take a chance on her … again?

I work in a very tough hiring market and new talent has been tough to come by. I’ve also not been able to call several of my former employees back because they are high-risk and simply cannot afford to catch COVID-19. I also have a lot of pressure on me from the corporate office to fill vacancies quickly. I’ve asked my boss all of these questions, but she is leaving the decision up to me because she is equally torn on what to do. What do you recommend?

I would not hire back someone who you were relieved to be rid of, and definitely not someone who bullied people or was unkind, even if another person was bringing out the worst in her.

If you really can’t find other good candidates and are considering it anyway … well, you still shouldn’t. But if you are, you’d need to be prepared to deal with any recurrences of problems swiftly and decisively this time — as in, addressing it immediately, giving one clear warning (if that), and then replacing her if it happens a second time. You might even talk with her about the new bar she’ll be held for before inviting her back, so she’s clear going in on what needs to change. But if you don’t have the power to fire her swiftly if you need to, I absolutely wouldn’t take the risk.

(You’ve also got to think about what other employees will think if they hear you’re hiring her back. See letter #3 below for a look at this from their side.)

2. Keeping a “baking fund” jar on my desk

I am the office baker. I don’t do anything for birthdays/official events, just “I found this recipe and I want to make it and share it because I won’t eat it all.” This ranges from simple cookies to complex French patisserie.

A VP in the office (not my direct chain of command) commented that I must spend a lot of time on these and money on ingredients and mentioned the idea of a tip jar. Some other coworkers ran with it and they made me a very cute jar that says Baking Fund and people put in a few dollars when they take a treat. But even though they all seem to find it appropriate (and that VP has been known to put in $20+) I still feel weird having it out. I think it’s nice they want to support my passion (ingredients/supplies can get expensive!) and they’re otherwise getting this stuff for free, but I mostly worry about people outside the team seeing the jar. We are pretty isolated but there are occasional meetings with other departments. Obviously this is no longer a pressing concern since we’ve been remote since March (though a few people have lamented the lack of baked goods), but still wanted your thoughts.

I don’t love it. And after all, you’re baking because you want to and not upon request. That said, it depends on what kind of job you’re in and what the culture of your office is. If you were, say, the head of finance it would look more off than if you’re in a more junior role. There’s also all the usual stuff that comes up with office baking about factoring in whether you have trouble getting people to take you seriously, whether you work in an environment where things coded as traditionally female get less respect, blah blah blah.

Beyond optics, there’s a risk that you’re setting up a situation where people feel more entitled to make baking demands — if they’re paying for ingredients, will they complain if you go through a period where you don’t feel like baking or where you only want to make weird-tasting marzipan frogs that everyone but you hates or so forth? But you have a better feel for your team than I do, and if you’re not too worried about that (or if you’re confident you’ll handle it just fine if it does happen), then so be it.

3. My difficult old coworker is applying for a job at my new company

I left my old job about a year ago after having been at the company for 15 years. I was feeling burned out and under-appreciated due to some re-orgs at the management level (where I was). At this same time, there were some cliques forming in the upper management level that I was shut out of. Nothing nefarious happened, but some folks seemed more than happy to act like we weren’t so much a team, but two distinct groups where a few people made decisions and had information and that the rest of us were strictly “need to know.” This was a shift in culture that was not addressed, and when I brought it up I was told it wasn’t happening. When someone was let go, I was offered their job in addition to mine with no raise in pay or additional benefits. I found my new job shortly thereafter and am happier, feel appreciated, and am just generally living with way less job-related anxiety.

Now my current job is hiring for a position that a coworker at my previous job has applied for. When I found out they were applying, I got a wave of stress and anxiety that I thought I had left behind at my old job. This person was pretty much 100% responsible for the management clique at my old job and would have a position at my current company that will directly affect culture. My boss mentioned this person applied, wanted to know my thoughts, and said the hiring folks want to schedule a time to talk with me about them too (our company is small and often people from different job levels are asked to sit in on interviews).

I don’t want to complain about my old job or coworkers to my current job, but I’m really afraid that this person will be a contender. I’m having a hard time separating my personal feelings about this person (they’re cliquey, they feel powerful from having the boss’ ear and feeling special) from my professional feelings (they’re very well qualified for this position, they work hard, and are dedicated to their job). I’m so scared the culture at my current job will change because of this person and I don’t want them to get hired! I also just don’t want to be around them. Is it immoral to bring up my concerns? I know that the CEO at my old job was just smitten with the work this person did, and to be fair they did do a lot to positively change staff culture, while negatively changing the leadership culture. I’m super torn. A part of me wants to say that I don’t feel comfortable talking about this person to our hiring folks, but I really really don’t want them to work here. I feel like if I say nothing that they’d be a shoo-in. What do I do?

Don’t say you don’t feel comfortable discussing it! You’re being asked for your candid thoughts, and you have an opportunity to share information that could be highly relevant to your company and certainly is highly relevant to your future there. Don’t squander that!

I get why you’re concerned about letting personal feelings get in the way, but this isn’t “her enthusiasm for sans serif fonts annoyed me” or “she just grated on me.” This is “she was responsible for a negative and harmful leadership culture that had a direct impact on why I left my last job.” That’s not just personal; it’s work-related. It’s probably the exact kind of thing your hiring team would want to know.

So talk to them. Keep it as impersonal as you can — don’t get into your feelings of burn-out, etc. — but let them know that she created a culture with problems X, Y, and Z, and that you would have serious qualms about bringing her on to your team.

4. Setting work goals when I’m hoping to leave

I just got an email for a self evaluation, and it says to include three goals for the year. However, I’ve been job searching for a few months. (It’s not a bad job; it’s just in a location I want to move away from.) It’s already exhausting to keep up the ruse by accepting trainings that I probably won’t use when I leave, being vague when my weekend involves going to my target town, etc., in addition to keeping enough spoons to job search, so I’m blanking on goals that would be truthful but not scream that I’m planning to move. Any thoughts?

They should be goals that makes sense for the role, regardless of who is filling it. So not trainings, which are more about your own professional development, and instead goals for the position — things like improving process X or tackling project Y or achieving outcome Z — goals that your replacement could inherit if/when you leave. (Really, I’d argue that all work goals should be about outcomes the position will achieve, and professional development goals should be their own separate thing anyway.)

5. Listing an acting role on my resume

I’ve been the acting executive secretary in my office since the start of the new year. What had initially started as “we need you to replace Serafina for two weeks” is now an acting role hitting the nine-month mark. Serafina’s leave continues to be extended and I’m expecting to complete the year in this role.

I want to capture the projects and skills I’ve learned on my resume. Thing is, once Serafina returns, I’m going back to my own position, which is lower in title. What is the best way to capture this in my work history?

Include a bullet point like this in your list of accomplishments:

* Served as acting executive secretary for one year, doing XYZ

(Ideally part of XYZ will be accomplishments, not just responsibilities, as is always the case with your resume.)

The other option, of course, is listing it as its own job since it’s gone on for so long. And you could do that! But since you’ll then list yourself returning to the more junior role, you do risk it looking like a demotion. You could potentially avoid that by making it clear the executive secretary role was an acting, temporary one. I’d play with both versions and see which you like better.

{ 256 comments… read them below }

  1. revanche @ a gai shan life*

    LW1: There are so many reasons not to hire them back, and I can’t think of a good one to reinvite that problem back into your work life.

    I’ve seen this play out in real life. The manager didn’t take our friend seriously when they strongly advised against hiring in a known bully, and it eventually cost that manager most of their team. Absolutely no one who had previously worked with that bully was willing to risk going through that again, and no one new to the team was willing to put up with the now emboldened bully.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Re-hiring either of the bullies sends a really bad message to the other employees. I don’t know why you’d consider it for a minute, and in fact I think they should both be told that they will not be re-employed due to their unacceptable past behavior . As Maya Angelou wrote, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. You do not need these toxic people on your team.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, we see so many letters like this. It seems really difficult for some managers to remember that doing good work also entails not being a bully and also to remember that the bully is not the only employee.

      2. Helen J*

        I’m going to put part of your comment in all caps bold so hopefully it jumps out to OP 1 and OP 3

        WHEN SOMEONE SHOWS YOU WHO THEY ARE, BELIEVE THEM

        This is one of the best pieces of wisdom, ever.

      3. Goldenrod*

        Agreed! Please, no no no, NO no no no, do NOT re-hire a bully!

        They are worse than having a vacant position. Way worse!

        I would rather have my workload go up than deal with a bully. Actually, I’ve been in that exact situation before….when the bully finally was let go, my workload went up…by a LOT. WORTH IT.

    2. Viette*

      Yeah, this is shades of that person who wrote in asking if they should transfer to a team with a boss who was widely detested and everyone was quitting, and the boss was crossing lines left right and sideways with gifts… what’s the *up* side?

      It seems like OP#1 could hire almost anyone and they would be better than a known bully. You don’t have to hire someone just because you know them, especially when you know them to be fairly unpleasant.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      The only reason I can think of is if the bullies skillset is rare in the local job market and the business can’t afford the time it would take to find a replacement.

      But we are talking about a hotel, so that scenario doesn’t seem plausible.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        There are definitely roles in the hotel business that are harder to fill than others, but the industry has been absolutely decimated and the pool of jobseekers is enormous right now. I believe OP that these roles have historically been hard to fill but I think that they may well have a much easier time this time around. There are just so many great people looking for work right now through no fault of their own, why hire back a known bully?

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes, I’ve several friends in hospitality and tourism roles around the UK who are desperately looking for work because so much of the industry has shut or reduced staffing. There are a lot of really good people out there who would do a great job and not bully their colleagues.

          Unless you have no other choice, I’d not have this person back.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          I’d bet that if the OP informed the current, re-hired employees that there were two job openings, then they will be able to find qualified candidates from their collective networks.
          If the choice was hiring back two bullies to make my life miserable or finding qualified candidates, I would be all over my contacts looking for referrals!

        3. LCH*

          agree. how long has the OP had the job announcement out there? do not hire back people you wanted to be rid of, especially if they were being horrible to your other employees. no need for them!

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        IMO I don’t care how rare someone’s skillset is…I’d rather train someone from scratch than allow someone to bully their fellow co-workers. Part of being a good employee is in how you treat those around you.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’d rather train someone from scratch than allow someone to bully their fellow co-workers.

          And I’d certainly rather train one hard-to-find role than the rest of my team after they quit because they’re tired of being bullied.

          1. TootsNYC*

            or, deal with the productivity losses because of all the other crap that comes along when people are frustrated by being bullied.

        2. Snuck*

          It’s far, far easier, to teach technical skills than soft people skills.

          The only way this is broken is if there’s a need for a specific professional qualification, like Medical Doctor, or Speech Pathologist.

          I cannot imagine employing back a person under this scenario.

          I also would NOT give them false hope. Knock off the whole “if you apply back we will consider” stuff. You aren’t considering them at all, in fact you actively plan not to hire (at least one of) them. Man up and tell them “Because you were on a PIP before we won’t be considering hiring you back” or “We are looking for team players with different soft skills to the ones we have experienced with you recently” and say “I will let you know if we decide to consider an application from you, but right now we want to explore what else the market has to offer us.”

          Don’t waste their time in applying (and yours), in this inhumane job market. It’s unkind and unnecessary.

        3. revanche @ a gai shan life*

          1000% this. I can teach any skill needed for the job. I can’t teach a known bully to stop being one. They have to do that work themselves.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      I can’t imagine why you told the bully (who was one warning away from being fired) that she could reapply to get her job back. Don’t even invite that known problem back for the chance that she might somehow be the technically best candidate. Someone this close (||) to being fired for personality/attitude problems should not be rehired and can’t be the best candidate. Technical skills aren’t everything. They ransacked others’ belonging!

      The fact the LW even invited her to reapply is a worrying sign that management is conflict avoidant and does not want to have the difficult but necessary conversions. Don’t invite known bullies to work for you; that is only inviting trouble.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Ransacking others’ belongings seems like it should be a firing offense or close to it. And telling the bullies why they won’t be considered seems like a good idea.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Yeah. LW is one awkward conversation from being rid of this person forever! Just tell them, “No, sorry, we’ve decided to move forward in a different direction. Best of luck in the future!” and you’re FREEEEEEE.

        2. Snuck*

          As soon as I saw “ransacking other employees belongings” I was left wondering why there was even a question to employ them back. That’s theft. Simple. You do not employ people who are dishonest, untrustworthy or muck stirrers, and if you have the chance to be free of them grab it and run.

      2. Artemesia*

        This. Do not hire should be in their files or some fine day when you are gone they will be back tormenting people.

  2. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    #1: Definitely do not re-hire the bully. Bullies need to experience the consequences of their behavior. A lot of us have had to deal with bullies at some point in our careers and it can be very damaging. The bullies need to stop getting away with their unacceptable behavior. Don’t hire the bully back and don’t feel guilty about it. That person dug their own grave, so to speak.

    1. Colette*

      I agree that the OP should not hire the bully, but disagree that it’s she should do so as a way to punish the bully. She should decline to hire the bully back because someone who bullies is not a good employee for the business. The bully can learn from it or not as she chooses.

      (But the OP should say “Based on the issues we had when you last worked here, we aren’t going to re-hire you” and not just tell them to reapply.)

      1. Dynein*

        Consequences is not the same as punishment, though… Punishment is something unrelated you bestow upon them or take away, with the intent to cause discomfort to make the message stick.

        Consequence is, well, consequence – a natural result of one’s actions. People wanting to stay away from you after you bullied people is such a natural result.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      If you do you hire them back they will also definitely be much worse than they were before, because you’ll have sent them the signal that there will ultimately be no consequences for their behavior and that they have enough power over you that she would go so far as to rehire them. They’ll know you’re desperate and they’ll feel secure enough to do whatever they want. I guarantee you all of your non-bully employees would rather have two vacancies to work around then have those two bullies back.

      It also sounds like they should have been managed out of their roles along time ago Dash messing with other employee’s things or saying nasty things is not generally something that should get you more than one warning!

      1. Random IT person on the internet*

        THIS.
        Even the consideration, and invitation to re apply gives the bully (and THIEF! never forget that) a sense of “i can get away with whatever I bloody well please).
        (Insert Maya Angelou quote here)

  3. PollyQ*

    #1 — A known bully and also only “fairly decent” at her work? What’s the upside here? Why wouldn’t you, in a time of high unemployment, try to find someone who could be actually good at their work, and also not awful to work with?

    Based on the fact that you told the worse employee that she’d have to reapply, rather than telling her that based on her past performance she’s not eligible for rehire, I’m guessing you feel bad rejecting people. And it’s not easy, to be sure, but you, your company, and your other employees are sometimes going to need you to draw a hard line about the kind of behavior you’ll accept in an employee.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. It’s unfortunate that LW1 didn’t say that the bullies weren’t eligible for rehire based on past behavior. You need to tell the worst bully that you’ve reconsidered and that because they’ve been calling you and demanding their job back, they aren’t eligible for rehire. Tell your boss about this former employee’s harassment, because that’s what it is, and I’m pretty sure they’ll agree even if it’s a tough market.

      It’s possible that the less awful coworker was only playing along, bullying others so that the worst bully wouldn’t bully her. So if the hiring situation is really, really, really desperate, I might be willing to give her a second chance. But hire her on condition that she’s on her best behavior and doesn’t bully others, one incident and she’s out, not eligible for rehire. But I’d only do this as a last resort, you should try to find someone, anyone else. I bet the rest of your team would rather help train up an inexperienced new coworker rather than deal with even the lesser of the two bullies again.

      1. LGC*

        In defense of LW1, these were COVID-19 layoffs! So I can definitely understand why they were left eligible for rehire.

        Although, honestly I’m a little boggled that the bigger bully is still technically eligible after basically threatening LW1. THAT is probably the most pressing issue to me – she clearly shouldn’t be eligible for rehire.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Is LW1 afraid the bully will hurt them or their family if she’s not rehired? That’s the only scenario I can see that makes a lick of sense.

    2. Lena Clare*

      Exactly. I find it hard to believe that you couldn’t easily find a qualified person who wasn’t a bully and would be better at the job because of it!

    3. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

      +1

      Additional to this if you rehire this person and you do need to put them on a PIP/fire them, you’ll be right back where you started in needing to find/train a suitable candidate. Empower yourself and your team and deal with your hiring fears now rather than later – training an unknown quantity is more work, but a better investment of your time anyway as people leave/fired/get sick and you’ll need to address this hiring/training issue for this role at some point regardless. Surely better to do this now when there are lots of applicants and hotels likely to be less busy than pre-Covid?

      1. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

        and if the bully gets a sense from you they are difficult to replace/reluctant to hire/train unknowns think also of the power dynamics that will cause in your ability to manage them.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        There is a slight difference in status in that a new (re)hire is always effectively on their last warning already.

        Whereas with an established employee you’d go through rounds of warnings and/or PIP, if sheep-bully returns as a new hire then her first strike can push her through the door – even generous socialist European employee protections don’t kick in immediately.

        I would only rehire sheep-bully if there were literally nobody else and on the explicit understanding that she had no spare strikes left, and I would not rehire full-bully under any circumstances.

    4. Snow Globe*

      Frankly, it sounds like the LW should have taken steps to fire the bullies the first time around. The fact that it took a pandemic and mass layoff to get rid of them, I’m leery that the LW would do anything to curtail the bullying behavior if either of these people were hired back.

    5. WellRed*

      Oh yes. Missed an opportunity there. And putting and end to their harassment by the bully needs to happen yesterday. OP this is a good lesson in saying no and setting boundaries, both of which you need. Please update.

    6. JSPA*

      Some “secondary” bullies are sidekicks who end up in that position due to a combination of weak backbone and fearing the primary bully. It’s still going to make the atmosphere worse for the other team members, though.

      I think it would make more sense to say,

      “Given the history here, we need, at minimum, a lot more time to give everyone a chance to foster a strong, positive culture. One where there’s zero tolerance for boundary violating pranks and hijinks, as well as bullying. I do not consider you ineligible for rehire, but I’m also not ready to rehire you at this time.”

      Basically, the presence of people who have violated those rules will, in itself, encourage other people who might act out, to act out; and it will discourage people who have been targets, from feeling safe.

      If it turns out that the lesser bully did they did what they did because the primary bully was threatening them, they need to know that a) consequences still obtain but b) you hear where they’re coming from, and understand it was a bad situation all around.

      If they are still looking or again looking in a year, especially if there’s been some turnover in the meantime, it could make sense to bring them back. But right now, “what they know how to do” includes knowing how far they can push inappropriate behavior.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I definitely think it’s possible that the secondary person would behave just fine with the other woman gone. That was my personal experience in school with a couple of different people. In one case there was a pair of boys who were often mean to me in class, made me cry every day for like a month in eighth grade… but one transferred to a different school for ninth grade and the other boy never bothered me again. A couple years later he even gave me a completely unprompted apology for how he used to behave! And my best friend in elementary school was always fun to hang out with, unless a different girl from our neighborhood joined and then the two of them for some reason would always gang up on me. I never understood it, but my friend was like a totally different person just around this one girl. I know these examples were of children, but I think the behavior is fairly common and extends into adulthood. I don’t know why, but it definitely happens.

        If you have other options, there is no need to take a risk on someone who has been a problem in the past. But if you are truly desperate to refill positions I don’t think it would automatically be a big problem–but you should be very proactive and make it clear you will not tolerate any bad behavior. If it’s possible to start her on some sort of probation even that might help.

  4. Heidi*

    For Letter 5, we use “interim executive secretary” for this type of planned temporary role. I think it communicates the same thing, and I prefer it slightly more because “acting role” made me think the OP was on Game of Thrones or something for a minute.

    1. ThePear8*

      I thought the same thing, I thought “acting” as in theater or film haha. I think listing it as it’s own role with “interim” in the title would get the point across!

    2. zandt*

      Glad I’m not the only one whose mind jumped there! Saw “acting role” and thought, “Ooh, I’m curious how this is relevant to the job”.

    3. Thegs*

      Not LW5, but in the government we’ve always used it, such as “Acting Operations Director” or “Acting Team Lead” for example. Could be one of those strange quirks between fields.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s a perfectly normal and standard use of the word “acting”, and I don’t know of any other way to say “filling in” that would wash on a CV/resume.

      2. Watry*

        Also government, we use both. Our department head is taking a few days of leave, and the person filling the position in the meantime is acting, but when the position was actually unfilled for a bit the person was Interim Department Head.

      3. Aquawoman*

        Government here, too, and I think “acting” is not just an adjective but actually part of the job title, and I don’t think it would generally be a great idea to change the job title.

      4. Birdie*

        “Acting [Title]” is used interchangeably with Interim [Title] in my field, too. But I definitely get how seeing the phrase “acting role” without immediate context clues could make someone mentally jump to theater roles instead!

    4. Me*

      Also come from where acting is completely normal. Interim to me is when you are filling a position that is vacant and intended to be filled. This isn’t a vacant position – she’s filling in while someone is on extended leave.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yes, this is the distinction to me as well. If I saw “interim” I would think they were keeping things afloat while a search was active. “acting” is filling in while on leave.

        As stated above, though, it may vary by industry. Maybe OP can find some examples for what is the norm where she is?

  5. LDF*

    OP 4, you say you want the goals to be “truthful” but I’m not sure what that means. I really would just fill them in exactly as if you weren’t planning on leaving, it’s not lying just because you might not stay. (Also, lying about plans to leave a job is not the worst thing in the world… But really, this isn’t lying.)

      1. Uranus Wars*

        This is what I was thinking! Unless OP has an active offer I would create the goals and take the training, you might end up being there for 2 more years, or something might open up or change that makes staying more attractive. There are just so many things that can happen!

        1. OP 4*

          I won’t be there 2 years. I’m the trailing spouse in a move, so if I’ve been searching for more than 6 months from when I started I’ll look into taking a retail job or something and continuing to search from that end. Their new job has been going well, and we both love the area. If it weren’t for those specifics y’all would have a point, though.

    1. OP 4*

      I think it’s just that it’s exhausting enough to keep track of what I can and can’t say (gotta be careful about the topic of significant others, for example, lest they ask where mine works) in addition to beating back my overactive conscience. This is just another part of the ruse to further tax my resources, so I was having trouble managing it without outside advice.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        OP4 – remember that you’re making a business decision, not a personal decision, in your efforts to find a new job in Ideal Town. Think of it that way, rather than as a moral choice – because it really shouldn’t be the cause of excessive guilt.

        In terms of goals, I would think about what you would have wanted to achieve, had you been planning to stay.

        If you have any development goals – eg. like leading a small project team, improving a skill, doing presentations to senior staff. Perhaps you’ll get a chance to make progress on those before you find a new job, but if not, at least they are reasonable goals and wouldn’t entail your company making a huge investment in training.

        What about process improvements that your department or role should be looking at – those might make good goals for the function, even if you’re not going to be there to do them.

  6. Observer*

    #4 – You probably should point out to your hiring people that this person was good at the technical aspects of the job. It’s the right thing to do, but also gives you more credibility. It’s not like you just couldn’t stand her and you’re going to say nasty things about her and never acknowledge anything she did / does right. Rather, you saw what she did right but the culture issues she created made for an untenable workplace.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Frankly, I would open with “If you hire this person I will start searching for a new job.” There really isn’t anything more that need be said, though if pressed for details I would give them.

      1. Roscoe*

        I suppose. I sometimes think people are a bit too focused on this. I have been working almost 20 years professionally. Some great jobs, some bad ones. I can’t think of a single person who, just by them being hired at my company, would make me quit or even threaten to. There are a couple of people who, if they were hired to be my new manager MAY have that effect, but only because they have a direct impact on my career. But just being at the same company? Absolutely not.

        I also think that, TBH, it is not a good look to give an ultimatum to someone, especially when this sounds like it isn’t even the same department. Like, if you are in marketing and would say “If you hire this new director of finance, I’ll be looking for another job” I think that, short of sexual harassment or something, it is a REALLY bad look, and they may be totally willling to let you go. Like, maybe giving your opinion on someone who you work closely with and how difficult it may be. But again, I think it makes you look like the more difficult person in that situation.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I think the thing you’re missing here is that OP3 told us their former coworker is applying for a leadership position. This is a role that would have the potential to impact not only OP’s job, but the entire atmosphere of working in the company. So, even if OP3 would only have to see the problem coworker twice a month, there’s still a pretty large chance this person could change OP3’s new company in the same ways they changed the old one, which would make this job just as bad for OP3 as the job they left. I think it’s worth telling the hiring team that. It’s worth pointing out if this would be a dealbreaker.

          And for the record, I do have one incredibly abusive former manager who, if she was hired by my current organization in any capacity at all whether I was expected to work with her or not, would cause me to start job searching. Sometimes the working relationship really is that bad. And sometimes you have to tell your current employer that so they’ll understand exactly how serious the problem you’re pointing out has the potential to be.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Too dramatic. You want them to listen to you. You want them to make a considered decision, not just keep the one worker happy.

        The way LW broke it down was perfect. She has the technical aspects of the job down, but the soft skills were the problem. For leadership roles — soft skills matter. If a leader is divisive and is on a power trip, that is a problem regardless of how good their actual work is.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Or “her behavior was one reason I left the company where we worked together.” Because it implies you would be willing to do it again, without making it a threat.

        1. Birdie*

          I would say something along these lines, too (or “she influenced office culture in X and Y ways, and the culture she contributed to creating was a primary reason I decided to move on.”) I think it more than gets the message across without openly saying, “She’s the worst; don’t hire her.” And if they still decide to hire her…well, OP warned them and they made the decision with that info available to them. I think it’s like Alison said the other day about not warning a friend that your company is toxic – it’s information they probably won’t be happy that you withheld.

      4. Wintergreen*

        A lot of comments are dismissing this as an ultimatum but I think there is some merit to it. As long as you do not have a reputation for being overly dramatic, I think there is weight in telling them that you will not work with this person again. Frankly, if asked for my opinion and the one I supply is negative but they go ahead and hire said person anyway, I am going to be looking for a new job as I will feel completely disregarded and marginalized whether I verbalize the ultimatum or not.

        (If you do verbalize and they do hire the person, make sure to follow thru with the new job search. The one down side of verbalizing is you are leaving yourself open to getting that overly dramatic, or arguably worse, an unreliable/no-follow-thru, reputation.)

  7. It's mce w*

    1 and 3: Please keep your candidate pool open. I’m sure there are many eligible candidates who would appreciate working with you.

    1. MamaSarah*

      Agreed. As Alison has said, you’re paid not only to do your job but to do it in a kind and pleasant manner. Even if the technical work is great, gossip, bantering co-workers, creating cliques and withholding information are fairly unbecoming behaviors. LWs 1 and 3 – you deserve better as do your teams. Take advantage of the fresh start!

      1. MedGal*

        I left my last job due to a toxic environment. Coworkers decided to freeze me out and the boss knew it. Within a year or so at the new job new boss says hey do you know Jane. Yes I do. Here’s why I left. The response “oh, we don’t want that here”. Many years later a new person starts in our department who came from my old job (we were not there at the same time – it was a good ten years later). Same stuff going on and one of my old coworkers was a manager. Needless to say we got a great new person who also escaped the disfunction.

        Sadly, I was not the first person to deal with the toxicity nor the last.

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

        I also said the same thing. “If my ex job folds and my ex team leader applies for a job here I won’t work with him”. I said that because he lives in the area and based in past experience would be a decent candidate.

    2. NYWeasel*

      1/3: My bully was laid off in a major restructuring in early 2018. Since that time I’ve flourished, taking on more responsibilities and really demonstrating to my manager the breadth of my skills. I’m now essentially the 2nd in charge, helping my manager achieve very ambitious goals.

      Just last week she mentioned to me that there may potentially be a position opening up that on paper would be perfect for the bully. I think she’s fairly aware of the issues he brought to the team, so I can’t imagine she’d willingly bring him back on, but the first emotion I had was a huge rush of dread at the risk of having to work with him again.

      In the opposite direction, part of the reason I’ve done so well is that a disgruntled coworker who made my manager’s life challenging decided to leave just as I was taking on my new role. I was able to hire in someone who’s an incredible team player which has really helped the entire team flourish.

      It may seem like replacing a problem employee will take more effort than just dealing with them, but there’s likely an invisible drag beyond the problems you already know about that holds your team back, and you’re likely to be surprised at how much easier things can get done. And for #3, this is what developing political capital is all about. You’ve had time to demonstrate your value, so use that reputation to help shape your team in a positive manner. Speak up!

    3. It's mce w*

      Also 3, my work buddy and I had dealt with a toxic co-worker for years. This person was laid off from our company, and my friend left on his own. When she applied for an opening at his new job, the owner asked for his opinion about her. Work friend told owner the truth; she didn’t get the job and sent my friend a nasty email. He laughed at it.

  8. The Tenth Doctor*

    Re: #3

    I recall a similar letter to this one, lthough in that case an employee quit rather than work with the coworker again. In that case the manager also didn’t believe them. I think that if you are honest about former coworker’s work performance vs. the other issues it will make what you are saying more credibile. (Not you don’t sound credibile here, just that being honest and not just ranting will help you when making your case)

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking along these lines. It would be a disservice to the company if the OP let them hire this person, the same toxic environment formed, and then the OP quits saying “Well, I knew that person would do this and I didn’t say anything…even though you directly asked me for my opinion.”
      The OP has to speak up.

  9. SR*

    OP 3 – I actually thought some of the wording in your letter was very good and could be used when speaking to your employer about your qualms. I also like Alison’s script, but I think that if you add in something brief about her work and qualifications, it gives a more balanced presentation that would counterbalance any concerns whatsoever about your objectivity or that it is something personal on your end. It would also help present the full picture in case they call your former CEO for a reference, the one who was smitten with your former co-worker’s work.
    For example, you could say, “Although Jane was a hard worker and is well-qualified, she created a culture with problems X, Y, and Z, and I would have serious qualms about bringing her onto the team. Work quality aside, her negative impact on office morale was very damaging, and I cannot in good faith recommend bringing her on.”

    1. Grey Coder*

      And if you can give factual examples of how Jane changed the culture, all the better. E.g. “Before Jane came on board, all departments were involved in a decision about taking on a new client. Afterwards, new clients would be signed up without checking with affected departments. This meant we were overstretched and quality suffered.”

      1. Perbie*

        Yes, and op should probably mention that they brought up the issues they were seeing and the problems were denied rather than being addressed!

      2. Smithy*

        Absolutely – whenever you can tie general culture to specific work outcomes that’s great, or if you can distill points of culture to very brief but direct statements. Such as, “giving feedback was often done with anger or frustration, and it led to junior staff hesitant to flag relevant mistakes or accidents.”

        I think a lot of worries in sharing this kind of feedback is that there will be follow-up questions that lead you to a more emotional place where there are worries on remaining unprofessional. I think the best way around this is to have as many clear examples that tie to cultural behavior to actions and focus on that. If you can focus on one trait or concern that has the most examples, that can help steer you to talking more about the professional impacts and less on how it contributed to your personal burnout.

      3. Lilyp*

        Yes, this! What is “good culture” or “toxic culture” can be subjective, and it sounds like maybe the people above you and her didn’t necessarily see the culture changes as negative. The more you can dig into specific behaviors and work consequences the better.

    2. Wear Floral Every Day*

      This is great advice !
      LW3, please please, speak up! You owe it to yourself and the rest of the team you are working with. I quit my job because of the bully and the thought that I ever cross paths with this person again just brings me nightmares.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      OP3, if your Jane is like my Jane, look up ‘forced teaming’. My verbiage around it would be, ‘Jane created bonds with people by creating an ‘us versus them’ mindset, which caused problems with overall team cohesion.’

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I like this wording. I think it will sound better if you are obviously trying to be measured and candid about all sides, rather than focusing on just the aspects you disliked.

      I agree with others that objective details rather than feelings will be more useful. “She lost two clients in her first month” > “Clients didn’t like her”.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think there’s also some mileage in adding the phrase, “I would not choose to work with her again.”

        I mean, some people have the standing to say precisely “Heck no” but most of us have to be more guarded.

        1. Smithy*

          I also think that there are ways to relate the OP’s specific concerns to the objectives of the open position. Something like “I understand that an objective of open role is increase collaboration and transparency between departments, and I would be concerned about her ability to perform that function”.

          Essentially a version of “if you gave X a discrete independent contractor project their work product would be stellar, but they struggle to collaborate/manage a team”

    5. StrikingFalcon*

      Also, it’s okay to be honest that she contributed to why you left your last job! You really don’t owe this former coworker a positive assessment no matter how good her technical skills were. You owe your current company an honest assessment, about the good but especially the bad, and especially because she’s in management. They are asking you because they want to know what it was actually like to work with her.

      1. Sunny*

        Thanks all. I am LW3. I agree that I need to speak up. I will not give ultimatums like “I’m going to quit if they are hired,” but… I do kind of feel that way. I don’t know where the hiring process is right at this moment but when it comes my turn to give my two cents I certainly will and I won’t feel bad about it.

        1. Anne of Mean Gables*

          Someone gave language above along the lines of “XYZ behavior from Jane is part of why I left my job at ABC” – certainly not an ultimatum but absolutely truthful and kind of gently alludes to an ultimatum.

        2. TootsNYC*

          You can say, “In fact, she was a big factor in my decision to start an aggressive job search.” That doesn’t literally say, “I’ll leave here too,” but it sure leaves it open!

  10. fhgwhgads*

    #1 you referred this past employee as fairly decent. Of the people you’ve already brought back, are they better than fairly decent? How many? Is it worth potentially losing those people if you bring back this person? I ask because it’s a very real possibility. Your task is not just weighing how easily you might find someone else adequate for this role and if it’s worth the trade-off if the person comes back and is a jerk, but also how easily you might replace higher performers if they leave due to this person’s return.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Right! You can’t isolate each employee, you have to consider the effects they will have on each other with respect to productivity and morale.

  11. BRR*

    #2 I’m a baker as well and one way I handle it is not baking anything expensive for the office. I don’t believe my coworkers have tasted anything chocolate from me. I’d also hold back on bringing in so many things if the cost is starting to get up there. In addition to all of the reasons Alison mentioned, I try to be aware if someone is trying to watch what they’re eating but doesn’t feel comfortable saying so. I’m not sure how often you’re doing it or really what a good rule of thumb would be. I’d say once a week is a lot. Maybe once every three or four weeks.

    I’d also not leave the jar out. It’s cute and was well meaning. But even in the friendliest of offices I’d worry about it coming off as asking for money. If someone offers you some money without the jar, i do feel like it’s ok to accept it but would probably do one “no that’s really not necessary” first.

    1. Amaranth*

      I think the baking fund is a kind idea in theory, but I think it makes it feel more like a transaction rather than an occasional treat or using staff as taste testers. I could easily imagine staff now paying more attention to the quality of ingredients and frequency of baking, wondering if they ‘owe’ more if LW makes an extra Godiva triple layer cake, etc.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        It’s definitely one of things that’s a ‘good idea in theory’ and is filled with nothing but good intentions…and paving a road that so many people have walked down before.

        While not perfect, the way that a previous job which I was at handled this was that the ‘office baker’ made sure that everyone knew it was simply his passion, and would laugh off (literally) any attempt at giving him money. But once a year there would be a whip-round to buy him something related to his passion as thanks-usually a cook book. In my opinion, adding in a firewall of sort between actual money and what is given to the office baker reduces some of the concerns about “what is my money actually going towards.”

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Very good point. Another possibility is to occasionally bring supplies with plausible deniability: “They had a two-for-one sale on cake flour flour and I have a small kitchen. Would you use this?”
          Some bakers use candies, so leftover holiday candy is another possibility.

          1. Office Baker OP*

            I’ve definitely had people bring ingredients before! Especially flavorings that you can’t easily find where I am but they had travelled and brought some back for me.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        If you mean it as a treat, then yeah. I did have a coworker who would cook lunch for coworkers occasionally; he would say, “I’m making Frito pies.” Then he’d make a list of people who wanted it that day, collect $2 from them, go to the store and buy ingredients, and then come back and cook. If you didn’t pay, you didn’t get any. But he was very upfront about the fact that we needed to kick in if we wanted something.

    2. Mbarr*

      I know we’re encouraging the OP to possibly get rid of the jar…

      If the office reaction is to not get rid of it, I wonder if OP could use the money jar for an addition to the treats? E.g. If s/he makes cupcakes with earl grey infused icing (using their own money), then s/he could use the money to buy “fancy” earl grey tea bags to go with the cupcakes.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I’m an “office baker” (one of many, fortunately) and if I found myself in possession of this money, I’d use it to bring in a box of fancy donuts or something of that nature. The office gets a treat, I didn’t have to personally make it, problem solved.

        I definitely wouldn’t want to encourage a dynamic where my coworkers “paid” me for my efforts, because that’s about this >< far from coworkers thinking they can "place an order" with me and expect me to bake on demand. The baking is ultimately for *me*, I'm just being nice by sharing the extras with other people when I want to do that. (I don't always! Sometime that whole damn cake gets sliced up and stashed in my freezer.)

        Luckily, being one of many office bakers means everyone has more treats than they can handle, so it works out nicely. :D

    3. Office Baker OP*

      Normally I don’t bring anything more often than once a month, with exceptions being leftovers from other events (say, a friend’s birthday where I made her favorite cupcakes but there only ended up being 5 people at the party and the recipe makes 3 dozen). And I do limit the expensive ingredients too, so it’s not like I’m spending hundreds every month on this. As for people dieting/watching what they eat (which could be limiting certain food items rather than ‘dieting’), I definitely don’t push the items – they’re out for people to take but I’m not walking around offering them. A few people brought up food preferences, so I will sometimes try out specialty recipes (think vegan, gluten free, dairy free…) but I’m lucky that I don’t have the type of coworker I’ve seen referenced in other letters who would make a fuss if they can’t eat something.

      What I started doing with the jar is having it tucked in a corner of my desk where you can’t see it unless you’re looking, but people started asking where the jar was! So it was moved to be slightly more visible but not out next to the food (where a well-meaning coworker moved it once while I was away from my desk).

    4. Wintergreen*

      Also the office baker here. I’m single with no kids, so I often bring goodies because I don’t need or want all those goodies in my home. (I don’t need to eat an entire cake by myself!) Because my main purpose is making things I want to try, I don’t really factor in price or coworker preference into my recipes. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t change what you are doing if that is what makes you happy.

      As for the jar, I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as it is clear that it is fully voluntary and no one needs to contribute to enjoy the treats. Especially since the jar was given to you by your coworkers I would put it out; they may be feeling like they are taking advantage of you and it would make them feel better to contribute a dollar here and there to offset the cost of ingredients.

    5. KibethWalker*

      I’m also an office baker, and I just say it’s important to me to never monetize my hobbies. It works in my office, since we trend pretty young and pretty ~socialistic~ politically so then it starts a discussion about capitalism poisoning us with Productivity Always mindsets, ect, ect and then everyone forgets that it started by someone offering to venmo me for almond cakes.

      I did take the money offer as a good indicator to bring in treats less often like you mention BRR.

  12. LG*

    #1 I wonder if you’re also having a bit of that thing where you get used to bad working conditions so they don’t seem as bad. The less bullying bully was still a bully, and in a bully free office maybe would be better but maybe would just be THE bully. Which, ideally an office would have none of! I do really sympathize with the tough time hiring people but it seems like it would be better for morale and long term for the company to hire someone you have to train in specific skills than to hire someone you have to train to not…be mean to people. Good luck!

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It becomes a “they only bully/berate co-workers on Mondays” rationalization so it’s not so bad. Once a week is still bad. A zero tolerance policy is needed.

  13. L*

    #1 So when one of your other employees ask you why you rehired former bully, your answer is “Because she asked nicely”? That is not very good for morale. I get that you want to give her another chance but if you do you should make very clear to both and your other employees that you will be more strict than you have been and honestly that just sounds like a large headache looming.

  14. Daffy Duck*

    #1 You have been given a gift. Do not squander it and rehire the bullies, either together or separately. Look for someone else, the effort now will save you huge headaches later on. The “ follower bully” if hired will be as bad or worse than the one not eligible for rehire.

    1. RecentAAMfan*

      Agreed. Both #1 and #3 have been given the opportunity to keep their workplace “bully-free” and neither should squander it!!!

  15. Shashi*

    LW#1
    Being reasonable / handling with grace / not badgering you isn’t a reason to hire someone back. You are comparing their behaviour to someone you describe as awful so it’s not a fair assessment. If you are relieved they are gone, don’t hire them back. It will just reinforce that their behaviour pre-covid was not an issue and you will have no credibility if you do try to performance manage them.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, if they do rehire, it’s on the condition that one strike and the troublemaker’s out. But I wouldn’t be inclined to take even that chance. If it’s tough to find employees even in this market, there’s probably something the LW isn’t telling us. Then, if the bully, who’s also a mediocre performer at best, is rehired, what if all the best performers decide to go elsewhere?

    2. Myrin*

      I thought that as well – “She hasn’t badgered me to make a hiring decision and has handled the idea of reapplying with far more grace than her colleague”. Like. That’s just normal behaviour you should expect of every prospective hire, not some outstanding reason to consider her again.

  16. Lena Clare*

    2. I wouldn’t have the jar, for all the reasons Alison mentioned but also because if I didn’t want to bake for a period of time yet I had that money there I’d feel obliged to do something.
    Also, marzipan anything is awesome, just sayin’ :)

    1. NYWeasel*

      It sounds like the biggest concern on your end idols the optics, especially as you don’t particularly need the $ for the baking you do. Maybe the fund can be redirected so it helps others instead? Ie “Baking fund donations made this month will benefit the Home for Wayward Llamas”? If there’s a normal charitable group that your office supports, that’s an easy choice, or you could always cycle through a variety of groups.

      1. NYWeasel*

        That was supposed to read “is the optics” not “idol the optics”. Good ol’ spellcheck. :facepalm:

        1. Tehanu*

          Thank you for the clarification! I reread your phrasing and couldn’t figure it out!! LOL.

          And your suggestion is excellent. I had a colleague who brought in baking all the time (fresh, hot doughnuts anyone? She lived a ten minute walk from work and the food would still be warm.) She refused any money but decided to put out a tin for change because we badgered her. She ended up donating $500 one year to the United Way.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      Maybe just only put the jar out when it’s next to an existing baked good, so it’s clear it’s meant to defray the costs you already took on, not pay for future baking? That would remove the obligation to bake in future if you feel like stopping I think.

      1. üpl*

        But the LW used a specific pronoun – they. Why not use that.
        There’s no reason to change they to he or to she. Both is making very ugly assumptions.

        1. Myrin*

          Alison is usually very vigilant about using pronouns as specified in the letters – but she isn’t infallible. It’s possible to mentally mismatch two letters or to re-read less carefully than normal without it being reason to accuse someone who has historically been amazingly sensitive, attentive, and open-minded of making “very ugly assumptions”.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          LW used both “they” for two people, and “she” for each individual bully.
          “They were…. ”
          “One was far worse than the other, though (she was on her last write-up…”
          “I’m on the fence about hiring the other employee back, though. She ….”

    1. Not Australian*

      The habit in this blog is to assume ‘female’ in lieu of information to the contrary. I believe that’s because people in business have traditionally been assumed to be male by default. It’s an attempt to redress the balance.

    2. nnn*

      I believe Allison systematically uses “she” as default/generic pronoun when referring to people in letters whose pronouns aren’t specified.

  17. Myrin*

    #3, it occurs to me that what you describe as your “personal feelings” towards this person aren’t really that personal, or at least not in the way you’re thinking makes it prohibitive to mention them to your boss.

    The latter would be something like what I’m experiencing with one person at my workplace – she just rubs me the wrong way. But she hasn’t ever said or done anything even remotely bad to me, nor to anyone else (to my knowledge), in fact she is always very polite and friendly, so I really wouldn’t have any standing to tell a future boss that “meh, I just kinda don’t get along with her IDK”.

    But what you’re describing is different. You say that this person is “cliquey, they feel powerful from having the boss’ ear and feeling special”, that you’re legitimately scared (!) of how their presence would influence the culture at your current job, and that the mere thought causes you stress and anxiety. As a boss, I would very much care about hearing all of this.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Agree. I think ‘personal feelings’ here would be something like ‘I know her out of work and she was rude about my tardigrade-herding skills’. This isn’t personal feelings, this is about her work interpersonal approach.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        LMAO @ “tardigrade herding skills”! The mental images are tickling my funny bone. :-D

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I mean, tardigrades are cute because they’re tiny, but I’d hate to see one that’s big enough to herd.

    2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      This is what I was thinking. The climate & communication flow of the team is part of the work. It’s not “personal” to give feedback on that.

    3. Forrest*

      Yes, I think OP is confusing “this is personal” with “this is interpersonal”. The former is you not getting on with someone; the latter has much wider relevance and IS very much part of how they perform their role.

      I think the tendency to assume that interpersonal attitudes and behaviours aren’t “real” aspects of their role are so widespread: we see quite a lot of things on here from managers as well saying things like, “my employee is rude, nobody will work with them, they’re having a terrible effect on morale and the rest of the team can’t do what they need to because this person is so uncooperative–but the work they do is good, so…” It’s fascinating that practically every job description includes things like communication and teamwork but people still treat them as bonus extras, and limit their definition of “real” work is limited to whatever you can do with a spreadsheet.

      The only place I would slightly disagree with Alison is that I don’t think the OP would be wrong to caveat her information with, “When this occurred, I think I was already somewhat burned out and over that job, so take this as you will, but these are the behaviours I saw, these were the impacts, and that definitely played a factor in my decision to leave the company.” Being somewhat frank about your own personal standpoint in the discussion can make your information MORE reliable, because you’re giving the listener context which helps them decide how to weigh your information. I don’t think you need to talk about the emotional impact hearing about them has on you, or go into detail about what burnout felt like, but acknowledging that that behaviour had an impact on you and that your impressions are coloured by that isn’t unuseful information.

      1. Smithy*

        I also wonder if the OP has processed the feelings/issues regarding that colleague in a context where it might be relevant professionally?

        In one job, there were a few members on a team where I was used to flagging their working difficulties to my manager (i.e. since this project involves Llama Grooming, I will likely need senior leadership support in the coming weeks if they ghost me or propose a Llama Sheering strategy that we know is wrong because we’re the Llama Sheering team). But in terms of how I felt about the individual members of the team, that often felt like more “they hate me, they’re terrible to work with, BAH”.

        If one of those members of Llama Grooming were to apply to where I work now, I’d have to really think about exactly why I wouldn’t want to work with them again and translate that more professionally than “BAH”. This may be a great opportunity for the OP to practice with family or a friend on exactly how to phrase it. It may also help it feel less emotional and more matter of fact the more time it’s said like that.

        1. Forrest*

          Yes, definitely. Something I do quite a bit as a coach is help people learn to tell a “story” of what went wrong–something that has enough emotional truth to be accurate, but not so much that you start to feel the emotional reaction all over again in a situation where you’re trying to be professional and calm. It’s really important, when you’re recovering from a big disappointment or trauma or shame or something that feels quite overwhelming, to be able to put it into a context that you can communicate without reliving your emotional reaction.

      2. Sunny*

        I am LW3 and you’re totally right. I did confuse “personal” with “interpersonal.” However, the gaslighting I received at my old job when I tried to address the problems I was seeing did make me feel like it was just a personal thing. This is definitely part of why I left that job!

      3. Wintergreen*

        Excellent point. Interpersonal relationships are at the core of recommendations.

        Except I disagree on the last paragraph. I wouldn’t recommend a caveat to your opinion. It gives others a way to discount your opinion and it weakens your opinion rather than adds reliability when you try an explain too much about your thought process and feelings. I’m not saying don’t add facts or qualifiers to your opinion. “She was directly involved in creating an office environment that led me to start searching for opportunities elsewhere.” is entirely different than “I was nearing burnout and unhappy with my job and didn’t like how she changed the office environment when I worked with her.”

        On that note, I would not, under any circumstance, mention the burn out at the previous job. Especially if some of the burn out was stemming from the changes in leadership that you indicate this person was directly involved with bringing about. At that point everyone assumes you were at BEC stage and it is even easier to discount or entirely throw out your recommendation because you were not in a good place anyway.

  18. Green great dragon*

    I can see how a baking tips jar would be wrong in some places, but here it seems a lovely way for the co-workers to show a bit of appreciation and recognition this costs her money as well as time. LW doesn’t suggest anyone is pressuring them, or complaining – their only worry is optics. In which case is it possible to leave the jar and set out the treats somewhere nearby that isn’t on their desk?

    Couple of minor thoughts – is it clear the jar’s for voluntary/occasional tips, not required payment? And I would only take enough to cover ingredients, not equipment, so at the end of the year you could consider donating any excess to charity. Bonus points if it’s baking related, though the only possibility I can think of is a charity training vulnerable people to work as chefs.

    1. MK*

      It is a nice thought, but it would be better for them to show appreciation in other ways, like giving her a bottle of wine, chocolate etc.

    2. Blue Eagle*

      Ha! ha! ha! – – Like there will ever be enough money in the jar to cover ingredients (let alone have extra to donate). If co-workers at your office would actually put enough in the jar to cover ingredients, your office is one in a million.

      1. Office Baker OP*

        You’d actually be surprised how little ingredients cost per batch of something (unless you’re using an ingredient like saffron or vanilla pods). For example, buying full size amounts (meaning the 5lb bag of flour, 12 eggs…) of everything you need for basic chocolate chip cookies comes to ~$45 and most of that is my preferred brand of vanilla extract (Rodelle, $25 for 8oz) so you could easily do it for less, plus I’m known at my grocery store for buying 20lbs of sugar when it’s on sale. The chocolate chips are the only thing where you use most/all of the container and they’re about $4. So if I get $10-20 each time I bring something in (out of about 50 servings), I’m at least breaking even.

    3. Office Baker OP*

      Very clear this is just for tips – I go out of my way to keep it from being too obvious/visible. Out of about 50 people, I’ll usually get $10-20 so probably a little more than breaking even. Someone did make noise about a collection to get me a fancier/bigger stand mixer (I have a little workhorse, the one this person was suggesting was almost industrial size and over $500) so I shut that down really fast! Excellent idea about a charity – I do donate to local food banks/kitchens (both in volunteer time as a cook and money) but I’ll have to see about chef/cook training groups as that sounds like a cause I’d love to support!

  19. Ailsa McNonagon*

    OPs 1 and 3-

    I once worked with someone who was a bully, and got to the point where just hearing their name made me feel sick. Ultimately I left that job because I couldn’t take any more of her bullying (and management refused to do anything about her, even after multiple complaints from multiple people), despite there being much about the job that I enjoyed. Fast forward six years, and the bully applied for a post where I was working. Just hearing her name made my heart race and my stomach clench! After discussing it with my line manager, I spoke to the service manager about the things I’d witnessed and experienced this person doing- he was glad I’d spoken up, and didn’t hire her. I was so relieved when he said that bullies weren’t welcome in our workplace!

    Please reconsider rehiring/ not speaking up. Once a bully enters the picture, the staff in a position to leave the organisation will go.

    1. JM in England*

      Did you mention to your current employer that it was the bullying that made you leave your previous job?

  20. Lemon Curdle*

    #3 They are asking you how you feel and you’d be foolish not to tell them – you don’t want to be kicking yourself wishing you’d said something.

    I think it’s also not true that your personal and professional feelings are separate. What you just described is poor leadership and many poor personal issues that are absolutely relevant no matter how good some other aspects of their work are.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Agree with your statement and am going to add something to it.

      #3 may be kicking themselves for more than having to work with this person again. It’s not a stretch to see it play out where the person is hired if the OP doesn’t say anything. Then the person becomes a trainwreck and ruins more teams. What kind of impression is that going to leave with the OP’s colleagues when they asked specifically for impressions and feedback and didn’t receive any. If it were me, I would have serious concerns about the OP’s judgement.

      This is one of those times you go on record with the facts as you know them and then let the chips fall. (I wouldn’t out and out bash the person, but would describe what you did in your letter and perhaps add a few qualifiers “This was my impression” “I may not have had the full story” “This was my experience” “The behaviors that I witnessed”

      This is a case where I would take the stance, ‘It’s ultimately your decision, hiring manager, but here is what I know from my time working with the person’

      1. Observer*

        Do NOT say something like “I may not have had the full story”. There is no context that makes this kind of behavior reasonable and appropriate in the workplace. They may be contexts that make this person not so morally compromised, but it is STILL not an acceptable way to act in a leadership position.

        Also, in general, I don’t think that the OP needs to throw in so many qualifiers and caveats. It’s not like they would be coming saying “Do not hire this person! They are horrible, terrible, very bad, no good!” They are going to be coming with a pretty reasonable “these are the things I saw and experienced” No need to minimize that.

    2. KRM*

      It’s not exact, but I just had someone from my old job ask me to put in a word for him at my new job. However, although he’s a really nice person and his work was fine, I know he’s also pretty disorganized and a bit argumentative, which is not good for a startup. Add to that, he caused a fire in the lab that caused us to be not allowed back into the building for 3 hours when it was freezing outside (thank goodness there was a mall across the street where we could sit). So I spoke to the hiring manager and told her my perspective. It’s not being mean to honestly talk about the work and attitude you’re familiar with from a former colleague. You experienced what you experienced, and it’s important to pass that on!

  21. Lemon Curdle*

    I really want to tell today’s letter writers not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    Your bullying ex-employees don’t work for you and you don’t have to hire them back.

    Your awful ex-colleague has applied to your company but they want to hear your opinion.

    Don’t squander these chances!

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1000. The Fates are being kind, for once. #1 and #3 should thank them profusely and take full advantage of the gift.

  22. ThePants999*

    Alison, I think you’re off-target on #4. I agree that professional development goals should be separate, but I think that if someone’s asked for goals in a “self evaluation”, professional development goals are exactly what’s being asked for.

    1. Perfectly Particular*

      I think performing your year-end evaluation & setting next years goals together is fairly common? The company I currently work for splits them, but due to the long timeline between year-end evaluations and when new goals due, we typically work for about 5 months of the year with no set goals in place. I would much prefer to evaluate/wrap up this years goals and set new ones in a single meeting.

    2. Lark*

      Yeah, I’ve never heard of setting goals for the role as part of a self evaluation. It sounds like this is part of the annual performance review/goal setting process and those goals are always specific to the person in my experience.

      FWIW OP, I went through the performance review/goal setting process right before I left my last job and I just set goals as if I were staying in that job.

  23. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Please do not hire either bully back. At an OldJob we had seasonal layoffs. Several people (including me) made it clear that if the office bully was hired back we would not return. Management knew about the bully, there was a paper trail and they still brought them back. They lost good workers and kept someone who continued their reign of bullying and laziness. Apparently staff turnover is still very high (surprise!).

    1. JustaTech*

      At my work there is an informal very short list of people who won’t be hired back, even though they have a very specific skill set. They weren’t bullies, but they were endless trouble, the kind of coworkers who cause twice as much work as they get done. For some reason they never got fired or laid off, but when they left that bridge was nuked from orbit.

      Take this gift from the universe and rid yourself of two terrible employees! Or like LBC says, you’ll be trapped in a cycle of high turnover.

  24. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: My personal thought is that I’d trust the ‘I’m only a bully when someone else encourages me to be one’ former employee even less than the outright bully. Someone who has shown they need really only minimal coercion to behave horribly is more likely to show unpleasant behaviour in the future.

    ‘I can’t help it, all my friends are sexists/homophobes/racists/bullies’ isn’t any more of a defence of bad behaviour than ‘I felt like threatening them’.

    Additionally, judging the second bully by the standards of the first is not a good way to make a decision as to whether they should be hired back. Judge their behaviour against your GOOD workers, not only current behaviour and work but past as well. I can relate to feeling bad that you’re denying a job to someone in this economy, but that guilt goes away faster than the morale drop of the rest of the staff if you bring a known bad egg back into the fold.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo. OP, it’s called strength of character. A person who copies the behaviors of the loudest voice around them does NOT have strength of character. Puppies follow the human who is most active/animated/loud. Do you really want to hire a puppy… again?

      And set your standards. Those standards apply to all, not just some of your people. If you wouldn’t accept this behavior of Bully #2 from your good 80%, then don’t accept it from her either. Fair is fair. It’s not up to you to rehab people. And you definitely cannot decide FOR your crew that they will help you rehab her. That is not the main purpose of your work.

      I had your opportunity once. We laid off a lot of people. Since my opinion had some credence I spoke right up about which ones should not be rehired. We ended up with a MUCH better crew and productivity soared.

  25. Roscoe*

    #1. TBH, I don’t love how you are handling this either. There were apparently issues with them for a while that you seemed to not deal with. But now, you won’t even be direct. If there is no chance of rehiring the first person, just tell her that. Don’t say you have to reapply, and then not rehire her. Block her number if you want after. But you need to make a call and stick to it. The second person, I mean, if she is able to do the job that you are having trouble hiring, I’d say give her a chance, since its possible she will be better without the other one. But, as Alison said, be very clear about the expectations and stick to them.

    #2. Personally I think this is fine, since it seems people are just trying to offset your costs. I mean yes, you can think about all the ways it could go bad. But if you’ve had it a while, and its been fine, then there is no reason to assume bad things will happen. But, since its on your desk, if you feel it has gotten full “enough” or you know you don’t want to bake for a while, its in your power to remove it. Sometimes i think we get too caught up in the negative “what ifs” that may happen, that we don’t just let people do something nice, which is what it seems like this is.

    #3. I think the big thing here is to say the good and the bad, and let them make the decision with all the information. You say she is very qualified for the job, but has some drawbacks as well. So bring all that up. I’m not saying you need to have one positive for every negative you have. But I think you should be as objective as can be. So, essentially say “I think she could bring value in these ways…, but the tradeoff is that I’ve seen these behaviors from her”. And that can be it. For them, the positives may outweigh the negatives. Or they believes they have systems in place to not allow the things that happened at your last job to happen here. Or, they find what happened at the last place to NOT be worth the good she may do. But you need to give them the information they need to make an informed decision.

  26. Jessie*

    OP1 Don’t rehire the bully. This is your chance to get rid of them. Who cares if the other one egged her on? If she was a good person, she would not turn into a bully just because she was hanging around one. Nobody wants a toxic work environment.

  27. Workerbee*

    #3 You have all my support for speaking up. I did when a very problematic person applied for a job in my department. I was listened to, and the person’s application was discarded. I had the capital, granted, but I also made it about dry facts as much as I could, to let the person’s character speak for itself.

    We’re not always so fortunate; it can be harder when the person is already entrenched. Known bullies and even sexual harassers were kept on at my old org despite documentation, witnesses, multiple reports—for reasons that seemed elusive until you looked at how much money they made for the org. Yep.

    Sounds like your problematic person is also good at showing one face to leadership and another to “less-thans.”

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Definitely me. I was expecting Alison to be talking about transferable skills and antisocial hours.

    2. knitcrazybooknut*

      Boy, me too. I was totally wondering what guest part on what show got extended. Holy mackerel.

  28. Jam Today*

    There are three people I have worked or for in the past who, if hired by my current company, would cause me quit on the spot. Even in “these uncertain times”, in this economy. I have enough cash savings that I could live for a decent amount of time that it would be worth my health and my sanity to never, ever associate with them again.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Same, except I’m saying this without having the decent savings. Two of the three were horrible managers with very questionable morals, and the third was just creepy. My integrity isn’t available for the price of my salary, and I don’t believe anyone should be allowed to retain their job with a PIP containing “X must stop sending sexually explicit emails to his female coworkers”.

    2. Daffy Duck*

      Yup, there was a person in the past I had to work with that I would never deal with again. She kissed up and kicked down and blamed others while skipping out on work. Her boss backed her up. I won’t say she was the reason I left, but it sure made it easy to cut ties when my husband got a good offer.

  29. Sara without an H*

    OP#1, I get the impression that you hate saying “no” and dread being “harsh.” These two qualities will handicap you as a manager, and probably set you up for a career’s worth of stress and insomnia. The fact that you told your ArchBully to reapply, rather than saying hell will freeze over before you rehire them speaks volumes.

    It is not wrong to say “no” and to be clear and explicit when talking to an employee about bad behavior. If you rehire Junior Bully, you will be setting yourself up for stress, insomnia, and frequent trips to HR. She is highly unlikely to turn into a model human being just because ArchBully is no longer in the picture. Junior Bully has shown you who they are. Believe them!

    Right now, it’s an employer’s market in hiring. There are plenty of people with hospitality backgrounds looking for work. Go hire some of them and set clear expectations for workplace behavior upfront.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I’m not as concerned about the OP telling both to reapply. That’s usually code for “I’m not really going to rehire you but I’m giving the appearance of giving you a fair shot” and is pretty standard. Most opt out of reapplying so it allows for the employee to save face.

      I’m more concerned that the OP is wiffle-waffling on rehiring the not as bad employee. I can guarantee there at least 10 candidates who are qualified, want the job, and would be great additions to your team. I can guarantee this for just about any open position at any company at any time. They might be a little hard to find from time to time but they are out there. Every time there is an opening or the opportunity to hire, it is a great chance to evaluate what the position needs and to improve the team as a whole. NEVER hire ‘good enough because I know them’ it will never end well and will almost always be regretted at some point.

  30. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #3, I have a personal anecdote of how I spoke up once in a similar situation. In 2000-2001, I worked with a guy my age and the same seniority (junior/mid-level developers, both hired at the same time) and we initially became friends, met each other’s families, joined a couples bowling league together with our spouses, etc. As we continued to spend time together socially, both I and my then spouse noticed that Coworker was in fact an awful person in multiple ways. At the same time, he was alienating his teammates at work (he wasn’t on my team and I cannot speak to his work). He found another job and left in 2001, I was out on PTO on the day he gave notice, but things did not go well and he was escorted out on the same day. He also apparently tried to destroy the contents of his hard drive on his way out (and, if memory serves me, succeeded, as there was talk of a possible lawsuit against him from the company). I continued to work at that company until 2006, then found a new job and left. Fast forward to 2007 and he walked in the door one morning as a new contractor for my new job. I did not want to work with that man. (He also tried to get an invite from me for him and his family to come hang at my home again, but my spouse said “please don’t invite him, I beg you”.) I also had a really good relationship with my boss then. So what I did was, first, I had a working session scheduled with this guy and another coworker. I went through with the work session, and watched the guy closely, to see if he had maybe changed and was now a better person; and confirmed that he had not, and that he still sucked. (Some of the things he’d casually said during our session, were likely insulting to the third coworker; it was awkward.) Then on my way out the door at the end of that day, I had to pass by my boss’s office to get to the exit, so I popped in and said “I’ve been seeing a familiar face here this week.” Boss said “Oh yes, Fergus. You worked with him before, didn’t you? How was he?” And I told him “I wouldn’t really know, I wasn’t on the same team as Fergus.” and then I casually added: “BUT YOUR BROTHER WAS.” (True story.) Then I went home with the feeling of a job well done. Next day, the boss pulled me aside to say “I talked to (brother). This is all hearsay to me, so I cannot act on it, but I will be watching Fergus closely.” Fergus’s contract was not renewed when it ran out a few months later, and I never saw him again and hope it stays that way. Like OP#3, I felt I absolutely needed to say something, because I liked my new workplace and my new team, and Fergus was going to make the workplace climate worse for everyone. I could’ve gritted my teeth and managed to work with him, but I didn’t like what he was going to do to the team culture. OP#3, please say something.

  31. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – do not hire either one of them back. And do yourself a favor with the one who’s been badgering you. Be honest with them. Tell them exactly why you won’t be hiring them back and then block them from contact if they still won’t stop. You are doing yourself (and them) no favors by making the job seem like it’s still a possibility.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This.

      This sounds like there was weak management going on before and there is still weak management going on now: This should have been handled while they were employees and the LW now needs to quit mealy-mouthing and tell this person they’re not getting rehired. (The LW should not have invited them to reapply in the first place.) I get that some people don’t like confrontation but you can’t be like that to this degree if you’re a manager.

      1. Heidi*

        Unfortunately, the the former manager did not document any of these behavioral issues. She’s checked out well before I assumed the role. So, I had very little to go off of. Trust me, I consulted with my HR team many, many times on whether or not I could let one or both of them go.

  32. EventPlannerGal*

    OP1… what are you doing? You’re one of very few hospitality businesses recruiting right now. Even if the hiring market is usually tough, right now there is a MASSIVE pool of jobseekers in hospitality (including plenty of highly qualified/experienced/senior people) and I would bet that a lot more of them than usual are going to be willing to put up with whatever usually puts them off your location. People have been laid off from every hotel I can think of, right up to the five-stars! You really can’t find anyone better or as qualified out of all those people than a known bully? You can’t even find someone with the right attitude/soft skills and train them on whatever this person does? Think of it like this: a few months down the line, do you realistically think you will be looking at this person and thinking “thank goodness I didn’t hire any of those nice, professional, experienced people and hired Jane back instead”?

    1. Heidi*

      Thank you for your response.

      I won’t launch too far into market conditions, but i wanted to address your question of why I’m not able to find people.

      My hotel lost a lot of workers to newly opened factories (a large Amazon fulfillment center just opened). There are also several other big-names factories that I won’t mention. The factories pay better (our hotel just offered a wage increase, so I’m not in a position to offer more) and many former housekeepers are fearful of catching COVID-19, so they have opted to work elsewhere (not in sanitation).

      My hotel, as well as others, are relying on temp. labor. I’ve spoken with the owner of the temp. agency that works with the largest hotel management company in my state. He has said that he has only been able to rehire about 40% of his workforce—the rest have flocked to those factories.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #2 – I used to bake all of the birthday cakes for my team at my last job. I did it because I enjoyed baking, and I hate basic grocery store cakes. I never accepted money for it, and I would have told them no if it was suggested. If I could no longer afford it, I would have stopped. A “tip jar” is a bad idea. I realize they mean well, but the one who will come out looking bad in all of this is you because it will seem like you’re begging for money.

    1. CM*

      Agreed, and coworkers will feel like they have to pay to sample your baking. I’d remove the tip jar and if your coworkers ask about it, you can say you appreciate the thought but don’t want to be seen as asking for money.

  34. Lynn*

    “Ransacking” another employee’s belongings doesn’t come across (barring other information) as bullying. It is, barring other information, theft. It should have resulted in immediate firing. Honestly, I can’t imagine why they weren’t long gone after just one incident where they did that. That ship has sailed, but I cannot imagine why on earth you would want to rehire people who did fairly decent work but bring such enormous problems to the table.

    I would replace them with my cats (also thieves, but at least they aren’t nasty to people) before I would rehire either one of them. Allowing someone to return who stole from coworkers, bullied them, and only did fairly decent work seems like a terrible idea.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I cannot imagine why on earth you would want to rehire people who did fairly decent work but bring such enormous problems to the table.

      There is a mindset summarized as “better the devil you know.” I think OP is overapplying it, but it’s there.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Where I come from, vandalism is a crime. And I’m pretty sure it’s a fireable offence in most company handbooks.

        1. Colette*

          Sure, if it’s vandalism, it would be a crime. But if they just go through people’s stuff, that’s probably not. (It’s not OK, but it’s not illegal.)

      2. Lynn*

        Per Merriam-Webster at least, one of their definitions for ransack is “to search through and steal from in a forceful and damaging way.”

        I assumed theft was involved, as it is certainly a part of the accepted definition for ransack-but I could certainly be wrong on that. Other definitions don’t always include that connotation.

        But when someone says “Pirates ransacked the town” I assume theft is involved. When someone says “Bullies ransacked other people’s stuff” I am going to similarly think that theft was part of the event. I could, of course, be reading too much into the specific word choice-I’ve been known to do that from time to time. :>

        That said, even if they just searched someone else’s belongings with baby-soft hands and didn’t steal or damange anything, it should have been a firing offense. Walked right out the door right now.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, I was thinking that about the “ransacking” thing as well.

      What does it take to fire an employee? Assault?

  35. Aquawoman*

    Re #3, I know something that trips me up sometimes is expressing something I feel strongly about in less-strong language, and I wonder if that’s at play here. I know the LW has strong feelings but she can adjust the language so that it reflects the content rather than the feelings. I’d suggest prepping some language/writing out a script for herself. Then look over it and replace “emotional” words. E.g., I was thinking about a script and thought the old co-worker “hoarded” info–that’s a word I’d replace in the 2d draft with something like “did not share.” I would find a way to say that she contributed to a culture that made the LW leave her old job, because that information means that at best the old co-worker is a bad fit and at worst, she’ll drive good people away.

    1. CM*

      I think this is a good place to start, from OP #3’s letter: “they did do a lot to positively change staff culture, while negatively changing the leadership culture.”

      I had the same impression that OP#3 is thinking of some of their complaints as “personal” when they’re actually all about work performance. If you’re in a leadership position but are making current employees feel like they are excluded and not valued, then you’re not doing your job well.

      You could rephrase “they’re cliquey” and “they like feeling special” to “They created a less open and transparent culture where a small number of people had access to information and made the decisions. I left because of this; after being on the management team for years, the culture change caused by this person’s policies made me feel like my input was no longer valued. So even though this person is well-qualified in many ways, if it were my decision, I wouldn’t hire them because I’d be concerned they would bring the same unsuccessful leadership strategies here.”

  36. GradBoss*

    LW1: you should have legal review this. Where I live (and work) we are unable to lay someone off and then hire someone new for the same (or a similar) job.

    1. Heidi*

      Thank you for your concern. Please know that the re-hire window closed after both of these employees asked for their jobs back (this window was provided by my HR team—I did not make it up). In order to be brought back, because so much time has now passed, they have to re-apply. Even if my top performer wanted her job back, she’d still have to fill out an application and “apply.” That is why I am instructing them to reapply—they, like any other corner employee—must go through this process.

  37. PJS*

    #1 – The part that stuck out to me was that you couldn’t call many of your employees back because they are high risk and can’t afford to catch COVID. I really hope I’m reading that wrong and it doesn’t mean that you are not even offering them the job back because of their health issues. I’m high risk and I would be furious if I found out that I was not given the opportunity to come back to a job I had been laid off from only because my employer thought they were looking out for my health. That is my decision to make.

    1. bluphone*

      Good catch! If I were one of those at-risk employees, I think I’d be annoyed if the manager decided, without talking to me, to not even offer me the chance to consider it. If I found out that a psycho bully was rehired instead, I’d probably be even more annoyed.

    2. Heidi*

      No, that is not the case at all. I have invited them back and they’ve declined to return because they are fearful of catching COVID-19. Our hotel is housing first responders, some of whom are self-isolating because they have been exposed to COVID-19, and this has made several of my former employees weary. We are taking many, many precautions to keep our employees safe, but some simply do not want to put themselves at risk. I’ve also told them all that they are are free to change their minds and return to work when they are comfortable—only one employee has changed her mind.

  38. staceyizme*

    Hospitality (and management in that industry) is/are difficult enough without going for the worst possible options in order to fill roles quickly. Rehiring either of the employees described here would be akin to going back to a very bad/ dysfunctional partner after having managed to separate. A tight hiring market is no excuse. As difficult as it is to be short staffed, it would be even more difficult and costly to have to fire and replace unsuitable candidates. And if the basic problem is that the position doesn’t pay a living wage, which is often the case, then that’s not going to be resolved by filling any slot with any available body. High turnover is one thing (if applicable). Surly, rude and insubordinate staff are quite another, and seem intolerable.

  39. M*

    OP2, I think your concern about people outside the team – and therefore not aware of the backstory and confident that there’s no pressure to donate – seeing the jar is spot on. I wouldn’t just worry about people from other teams, I’d also worry about new hires feeling pressure to join in.

    That said, if it’s something you’re really confident your current colleagues are *definitely* invested in and happy about, I’d share your concerns with them, and if they still want to do it, insist that a) the jar only comes out when the treats do, b) someone else is in charge of the jar, and c) you take reimbursement for ingredients, but everyone picks a charity once a year for the rest to go to. That way, at least, it’s reasonably decoupled from whether you bring in treats, or which treats you bring in – it’s just a thing your coworkers do because they like to show appreciation, and everyone gets warm-fuzzies when the annual donation to Fluffy Kitten Rescue ‘r Us goes through.

    1. Colette*

      It’s generally non-trivial to find out how much it costs to make something. (OK, it’s 1 cup of sugar and 2 of flour, but I can’t buy that, so how many cups are in the bag I bought and what’s the per-unit cost. Oh, and I need a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of cinnamon ….) That’s way more work than I’d want to do to bring baking to work – but it’s what would required if you want to donate any extra to a charity.

  40. Danika*

    LW: 2, if you want to keep baking and sharing, but don’t want to set an expectation that you’re going to be doing it regularly for your office just because, you can also bake and share with local charity organizations or underprivileged areas. My mother-in-law regularly makes cookies for her local homeless shelter. It’s just a little something extra for people who don’t normally get treats and other simple pleasures.

  41. chewingle*

    LW #2: If they’re going to insist on continuing to do this once you’re back in the office, you can “give the money back,” so to speak, by buying a dessert from a nice bakery for your department to share. Something like Nothing Bundt Cakes (if you have one) or something similar that would be considered a special treat.

  42. KuklaRed*

    #3 really resonates with me. I have 2 classic examples of what happens when the hiring managers do NOT ask for your input on a candidate you worked with in the past.

    I had a job as help desk manager for an international law firm. I had to hire a staff of 6. As one of the hires, I chose a young woman who did not have a ton of experience but seemed to have potential. She was also very beautiful – think Victoria Secret model – and I (as a very not beautiful woman) felt that by not hiring her, I was being as prejudiced as someone who would not hire me because of my (lack of) looks. Anyway, it was a disaster. She was lazy, disrespectful, and showed little desire to learn her job. She also broke up the marriage of the IT director by having an affair with him and trying to get him to fire me so she could have my job. I did not learn about this until after I had left for another position. Anyway, fast forward a few years and I am working for a tech company and going out to lunch one day, I see her in the lobby of my building. (Very large, multi-floor NYC building, so she could have been going to any number of companies). I get a bad feeling about this and find out that she has been hired for a fairly high level position. I spoke to my boss and he told me that he interviewed her but rejected her as a candidate, but then HIS boss intervened and hired her anyway. I asked them why didn’t they ask me about her when she applied, since it was easy to see that I had been her boss at one time. Somehow, this did not occur to them.

    Major disaster ensued. She had another affair with – you guessed it – my boss’ boss. Almost broke up his marriage, but his wife pulled him back to their home country for about 8 months to break it up. She ended up getting fired because she was still lazy, blaming everyone else for her mistakes, and screaming at people in positions lower than her.

    I worked with another woman at a consulting company who was very tightly wound, could not handle any kind of criticism at all, was a terrible name dropper and the kind of person who would toss around words and concepts she didn’t really understand but knew that they made her sound like she was experienced. She ended up getting fired. A couple of years later, at another tech consulting company, I get an email that we have a new employee joining next week. It’s her. I spoke to my boss, who would also be her boss, and asked him the same thing I asked the other guys: you could see on her resume that I worked with her, why didn’t you ask me about her? He said he hadn’t thought of that. She joined. It was another disaster and she ended up getting fired after costing the company a large amount of business because of her incompetence and lying.

    So yeah… they really ought to check these things and ask former co-workers/managers about these people before they make a mistake.

    1. Observer*

      As a side note, these two people sound like genuinely bad coworkers. AND I agree that repeatedly having affairs with married men does not speak well of the character of CW1. Nevertheless, “she (nearly) broke up his marriage” is a pretty gross characterization. These were not children she victimized, but men with plenty of power in the relationships. THEY (nearly) broke up their own marriages.

        1. Observer*

          Please. All you are doing is feeding stereotypes. If there really is something so different about these two cases, then you should bring it up. If it’s not relevant, then it’s not relevant to make sure we know how guilty she was (and guiltless 2 executives were) in these adulterous affairs.

            1. Observer*

              Yes. Enough. Totally.

              Either stop with the sexist characterizations, or explain why it’s not. “Because I said so” doesn’t count.

            2. biobotb*

              Do you mean she was blackmailing them, or something? Otherwise I don’t see how they weren’t responsible for their own marriages.

        2. Ramona Q*

          So normally men have agency but this woman (who you really clearly seem to hate) managed to overrule their abilities to be an adult and make their own choices? Your narration is unreliable here.

        3. Paperwhite*

          Responsibility is not indivisible. It’s possible to note that this person has a behavioral pattern of using affairs as a tool without absolving the other parties in those affairs of their responsibility to honor their marriages.

          1. biobotb*

            But saying *she* “broke up a marriage” *is* absolving her affair partner of responsibility.

            1. Paperwhite*

              I totally agree with you, actually — I was trying to point out why saying ‘she [was the only one who] broke up a marriage’ was wrong, rather than agreeeing with that phrasing at all.

  43. mcfizzle*

    OP – we call this the “warm body” approach. Just find someone! Anyone! This almost never works out.

    In my current job, one of my first teammates was an awful, toxic bully. He left after a few months. However, a few years (and a new boss) later, there was an opening and he applied. I told my boss every bad recollection of him that I had. Truly awful, childish, outlandish behavior. But this guy looked good on paper, and my boss chose to discount my experience and hired him. Thus began the worst two years of my life. The dude was 20 minutes late on his first day. No excuses, no hurrying, just sauntering in.

    It cost so much mental health reserves to not quit, but more than half of my team did before they finally gave him the option to resign. But what else did they give him? A GLOWING recommendation. That, more than anything, still infuriates me to the very core.

    TL;DR. Don’t rehire either of them.

  44. Observer*

    She hasn’t badgered me to make a hiring decision and has handled the idea of reapplying with far more grace than her colleague.

    Basically, you are saying that she hasn’t acted like a toddler about the matter. That’s an incredibly low bar to set.

    And when she worked for me, she was a lot nicer to others when her unpleasant colleague wasn’t around. My fear is that, if she were to reapply and be hired back, she’d become the new bully. Is this fear justified?

    The question is not IF but WHEN. Bullies bully because THEY CAN, whatever else they may have going on. You’ve shown her that she can get away with “some” bullying. Why would she stop?

    I work in a very tough hiring market and new talent has been tough to come by. I’ve also not been able to call several of my former employees back because they are high-risk and simply cannot afford to catch COVID-19. I also have a lot of pressure on me from the corporate office to fill vacancies quickly.

    So you would hire people who don’t meet the basic needs of the job? Behaving like a reasonable adult is NOT a “nice to have” quality. It is a BASIC requirement of any job where people work together. Would you use this reasoning to hire someone who doesn’t have a required certification? To hire someone in a typical office job, that couldn’t read?

  45. Erin*

    I was lucky enough to sit by the office baker before COVID, and it was truly heaven.

    Baking is her passion, and she is quite good at it. I started feeling like she was shelling out personal funds and time to make treats, so I just decided to start bringing her a random coffee or bottle of wine (we can/do openly drink anytime in my company) because I didn’t want her to feel taken for granted. Idk if she ever picked up on my scheme, but she was always appreciative.

    I miss seeing her each day and giggling with her about the usual office stuff (it’s just not the same on video) I also miss her treats!

  46. FSK*

    #1 – Do not hire back the bully. You have the power to not make your workplace toxic.

    #3 – Definitely give your honest assessment since you were asked for it. I understand your fear. A big fear of mine is working with a former bully or someone I know to be difficult. An even bigger fear I have is being afraid to say something about it. You will be doing your team and employer a favor by disclosing what you know. Sure, people can change, but that doesn’t change their past actions. Your difficult former co-worker is adult and knows there are consequences to bad behavior.

  47. Heat's Kitchen*

    #2 – I don’t see a problem with the jar because someone else made it for you. As long as you don’t pester people for payment when they take an item, I’d just accept the money for baking supplies. If someone has a problem with what you make and demands, you have to decide if it’s worth keeping it up. I’d also make sure you talk to new employees and let them know it’s truly voluntary/not that you expect money. Maybe get a few deputies to help with new hires or whatever too.

    1. Office Baker OP*

      Excellent idea on the deputies, although I do try to keep the jar out of sight/less obvious so you have to know I will accept tips to offer money rather than see a tip jar and think ‘I should pay this person’. Luckily I haven’t had anyone make demands or complain about what I make (and I try to stay inclusive for some people who I know are lactose intolerant, gluten free, vegan, etc.) though I have had a few requests that I’m happy to honor – everything from flavor preferences to one person who brought in his grandmother’s cookie recipe and asked if I’d try making it since it was relatively complex and no one in his family baked much. They were delicious and are now a regular!

  48. Heidi*

    Hi Everyone,

    I asked the bully question.

    I’d like to point out that this is for a basic housekeeping position. I’ll also speak to the current culture. I’ll also briefly touch on why it’s been so tough to hire new housekeepers.

    I’ve actually got a great crew in right now—everyone gets along and they’re all very nice, hard-working people. When I started at this property, this employee was an absolute monster, but her disciplinary file was blank because the former manager had been so beaten down that she simply gave up. As I corrected this employee’s behavior and moved forward with verbal and written warnings, she slowly improved. I think I went back and forth on this decision because she did start to come around…after about a year. But I do think it’s correct to not bring her back—she was a thorn in my side for a very long time. I am also not someone who condones bullying/harassment.

    I won’t launch too far into market conditions, but I will say that we’ve lost a lot of workers to newly opened factories (a large Amazon fulfillment center just opened). There are also several other big-names factories that I won’t mention. The factories pay better (our hotel just offered a wage increase, so I’m not in a position to offer more) and many former housekeepers are fearful of catching COVID-19, so they have opted to work elsewhere (not in sanitation).

    My hotel, as well as others, are relying on temp. labor. I’ve spoken with the owner of the temp. agency that works with the largest hotel management company in my state. He has said that he has only been able to rehire about 40% of his workforce—the rest have flocked to those factories.

    I’d also like to add that, although I’ve been with this property for a year and a half, I’d been with my company for several years in a different region and did not run into the same hiring difficulties there.

    1. Observer*

      You have a good team now. You won’t continue to have a good team if you hire someone you KNOW is a bully – and who the other staff KNOW is a bully – and who KNOW that YOU know it!

      I get that you need staff. But you can’t hire people who don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

    2. Old Admin*

      Heidi, I understand the pressure to fill the positions, especially with people flocking to new jobs with better pay and/or working conditions.

      And that’s your acid test – how to retain or even gain workers in your property?
      The answer: Improve pay and/or working conditions.
      You already mentioned an earlier pay raise and that it presently will have to stay at that level. I get it.
      But then your only option is improve working conditions! It’s frequently about benefits, PTO, or in these times better hygenic precautions. But it also is about keeping out toxic (and downright criminal as rifling belongings) coworkers and not antagonizing the crew you still have.
      Do not hire either bully back – and prevent the loss of more than two people to the abovementioned factories and Amazon centers.

      (To be very honest – if Amazon fulfillment centers are the better option, your property *really* has to do its utmost to retain employees. Sorry, just my 2 cents.)

    3. Lynn*

      You are absolutely in the right to not to rehire people who have shown a marked lack of regard for other people’s belongings into housekeeping positions, despite the difficulties you are operating under. And that isn’t even discussing the bullying issue.

      I mean-imagine if one of your guests comes to you and says there has been a theft from a room that one of them has been in. And you cannot even think of vouching for the basic honesty of the housekeeper because she has already been known to ransack other people’s belongings. Yikes. And this holds as true for both of them.

    4. LCH*

      so they are ransacking their coworkers’ belongings? i wouldn’t give them access to guest rooms and belongings. are you kidding?

  49. Elizabeth West*

    Honestly, OP #1, if I still worked for OldExjob and they hired back Bully Boss, or if I worked anywhere that hired him or the Coworker from Hell, I would probably start looking for another job. CfH in particular was considered a rock star and allowed to abuse with impunity. I would not want to be subjected to their bullshit again, especially if management was lax about doing anything the first go-round.

    OP #3 is lucky their company is asking for their input. That doesn’t mean they’ll take it, but at least they have the information. A bad culture fit can absolutely sabotage a team, and it’s worth considering. If they do hire this person, they should watch for it and be prepared to step in.

  50. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – the fact that you were unable to directly tell ArchBully that – given their past behaviour – they are not going to be rehired indicates to me that you do not have the management skills (yet) or the will to make the LesserBully behave if you do bring them back.

    No matter what, I would do a full search for staff, ask current (high performing) staff for referrals, and would ONLY consider LesserBully if you don’t find a solid candidate.

    If you do end up hiring LesserBully back as a last resort, I would have a performance level-setting conversation with them at the outset and start them out on a PIP. (Honestly, though, is that really what you want to have to manage – do yourself a favour and start fresh, even if you have to train someone up to the full job).

  51. More questions than answers*

    #3 – Are their issues baggage that you think they’ll inevitably carry with them, or were they facilitated by the culture in your previous company? If the former, then I think you know you have to flag it up. It feels uncomfortable dissing a potential hire, but think about the likely alternative – a year down the line, when the department is in meltdown because of this worker and you say “Yeah, they were like that when we worked together last time [only I didn’t like to say it when I was explicitly asked]…”

  52. boop the first*

    1.
    At Old Job, I experienced a moment of deep maturity when boss fired my coworker. I’d asked, “but he was our only [position], we needed him so badly..” to which she replied, “It’s better go temporarily go without than to keep on a worker who is causing problems.”

    So at first I was like Ah, yes, that is very deep and brilliant, shame on me for asking.

    But we’re talking about the guy who washes dishes in a busy restaurant kitchen. So immediately I was getting bothered about coming in on my days off to cover the vacancy, the kitchen became barely functional because you can’t work without clean dishes, and so I quickly remembered why I’d panicked. If you’re gonna do a noble thing, don’t just do the noble thing and then walk away! Have at least SOME kind of plan.

  53. Pigeon*

    #2- If the tips make you uncomfortable but removing the jar would rock the boat, maybe you can donate them and put out a little card with the selected charity by the jar?

  54. OverworkisDiscriminatory*

    Just wanted to add that turning the tip jar into a donation jar for a charity could be a way to go about it — people want to say thanks to you for baking, this way it pays it forward. Then it will be positive all around.

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