my cost-of-living raise doesn’t cover my increased costs of living, my office has a mold problem, and more

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

1. My cost-of-living raise doesn’t cover my increased costs of living

I work at a very small education nonprofit with some of the typical issues therein: overworked, and underpaid, mostly. Last spring, prior to Covid-19, I completed my first year here, and received a very positive annual review with my boss, the executive director.

I was then told that I would not be receiving a real raise (which is fair knowing that I had only spent a year with them), and my boss gave the usual speech that “this is a tight year for us.” I did receive a very small “cost of living” adjustment that adds up to about $850 for the year, or $70 per month.

I was surprised, then, to see my adjusted paycheck for this fiscal year was lower than what I had been paid during the previous fiscal year, by a few dollars. It turns out that the cost of our health insurance plan increased, as did the taxes in this region, and that negated any “cost of living” adjustments that were made, leaving me with less net income than before. I know a few dollars here and there aren’t a huge deal, but I feel like this can’t be right?

I asked my employer about it and she said snippily that she “doesn’t control the tax rates.” Obviously I know that, but I thought that a “cost of living” adjustment to your salary shouldn’t come at a net loss and should cover the actual cost of living increases (i.e., rents go up, things cost more, taxes have gone up, health insurance rates increase). Am I totally out of line here, or is this not how “cost of living” increases should work out in practice?

A “cost of living” raise doesn’t necessarily mean it will cover the full increase in the cost of living for an individual person. They’re usually pegged to national inflation, often via the Consumer Price Index, and so it won’t necessarily account for things like a local tax increase or an increased cost for a particular health insurance plan.

Still, though, your organization should have been aware that local tax changes and the increase in health insurance costs would mean that some people would be getting lower paychecks, not higher ones — and at a minimum acknowledged that rather than saying nothing. It’s still possible that these raises were all they could do (it is a particularly terrible year for most nonprofits because charitable giving is down), but I suspect your reaction would have been different if they’d framed it as doing what they could to mitigate those two hits.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My company refuses to tell people why they’re being fired

I’m a manager in an office environment. I’m not involved in hiring or firing. I only make recommendations, and my boss makes the decision and implements it. My instructions are not to talk to the person about it and refer any of their questions to HR. I’ve heard from former employees that when the company lets someone go, they don’t tell them anything about *why*, just that today is their last day. In some cases the person getting fired expects it somewhat based on past conversations, PIPs, etc., but some people are completely blindsided and never know what made them lose their job. Is this normal?

No, it’s not normal. It’s not unheard of either, but it’s the mark of a seriously dysfunctional company. When an employee is in danger of being fired, decent companies will warn them — both so that the person isn’t blindsided if it happens and so they have a chance to make whatever improvements are needed. Giving that kind of feedback is one of the most fundamental parts of managing — not just because of fairness, but because a lot of people actually do improve when they understand what needs to change. It sounds like your company does sometimes have those conversations, but not consistently.

Moreover, when you fire someone with no explanation, most people will go looking for the answer — and if there wasn’t an obvious performance issue or they feel they were treated unfairly, they’re much more likely to assume something nefarious happened … and some of those assumptions can be about discrimination, retaliation for legally protected behavior, or other things that can prompt the person to involve a lawyer. And now your company is spending time and money defending themselves legally, when they might have been able to avoid that by communicating like adults in the first place.

It’s not normal, and it’s a very bad sign.

3. Should I reply to “thanks!” emails?

I have worked my way up from dealing with managers (usually we just call each other and supplement with quick emails) to directors (more formal emails and an occasional call) and now I’m at the point where my emails are circulating in the C-suite by virtue of directors and VPs adding their bosses, or my boss telling me to directly advise the C-suite.

Our C-level executives have very little time and expect compact, efficient emails. I’m a bit stumped about what to say when we’re concluding matters and I’ve given my final guidance. I’ve gotten something as simple as “Thanks!” sent directly to me, and most recently received a “Thanks all who looked into this issue, much appreciated” email (sent to about 10 other people) around 11 pm.

When do I need to reply to these emails, and what do I say? Should I reply to a general email from a C-level executive that thanks a group (when I’m the one who finished off the project)? I’m wary of adding to the clutter in their inboxes, but I also wonder if not acknowledging their thank you at all would be a bad move or seen as weird.

No need to reply at all. The “thanks!” is closing the loop; its subtext is “this is now resolved.” Replying to acknowledge the thanks would indeed be in-box clutter and likely seen as unnecessary and a bit much.

4. My office won’t deal with our mold problem

Back in March, a coworker discovered mold and mildew under our water cooler. The water cooler was removed, the water to the area turned off, and the carpet was vacuumed and cleaned of any visible trace of mold, but was not properly treated. Our department has repeatedly requested this be taken care of and no one is taking it seriously.

On top of this, I’ve developed difficulty breathing and shortness of breath (this started well before coronavirus and is unrelated) and recently discovered that I have asthma and am allergic to mold. My direct supervisor is aware of this but hasn’t made a move to really change the situation. I have also been told that multiple employees have developed similar problems over the last six years. The solution I was given was to put an air purifier in my office, but that only helps in that small space.

What recourse do I have to get this taken care of?

You might assume there would be OSHA regulations on this, but in fact there are no federal standards for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores in workplaces.

If you’ve only talked to your manager about it, it’s time to escalate — your manager might be unconcerned while someone with more authority to deal with it might feel differently. If you haven’t already, talk to HR and/or your facilities people.

If you’ve already done that without success, then you’ve got two options: One is to push back with a group of your coworkers because a group is harder to ignore than a single person. The other is to make a formal request for medical accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you go that route, keep in mind your employer doesn’t have to accept the accommodation you’d prefer (which presumably is for them to deal with their mold problem); they can decide another solution would work instead (such as having you work from a different location). But the process does need to be interactive and if they suggest something that won’t solve it for you (like the air purifier in your office), you can push back and explain it won’t solve the full problem.

5. Supporting a colleague’s campaign for local office

I have a colleague (same level) in my department who is running for local office. I donated some money to their campaign a while ago and a few other coworkers in my office have given or volunteered as well. From what I can tell, donating or doing low level campaign volunteering like phone banking on one’s own time is fine. However my workplace strongly encourages people to be politically active, so the norms where I work may be a bit different. How is donating or volunteering to a colleague’s campaign usually seen at other workplaces? Also, how does hierarchy affect things, like if the candidate was my manager or someone who worked under me?

Shouldn’t be a big deal as long as there’s zero appearance of abuse of power — meaning that managers shouldn’t ever accept donations or volunteer work from people they have authority over. You’d want to keep an eye on situations where there are other forms of influence too, because work presents all kinds of opportunites for favoritism (or the appearance of favoritism) beyond just manager/employee relationships (for example, scheduling, or who supports whose ideas and with what vigor, or who gets cut slack and who doesn’t, and on and on). And you’ve got to make sure any volunteering is done outside of work hours or it can cause campaign finance issues for your employer. But if you navigate all that well, it’s generally shouldn’t be A Thing.

{ 332 comments… read them below }

  1. Anononon*

    My coworker responds to every email with either “thanks!” or, if it’s me thanking her, a smiley face or some other final response and it’s become such a minor pet peeve of mine. She means it 100% sincerely, and she’s diagonally below me in the office hierarchy, so it’s just something I try to get over because I think it would be too awkward to say anything.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I worked somewhere once, that required a response to every single email. People always assumed a “thanks” email meant the conversation/problem was done. But I always wondered (over analytic) when does it end? If we HAVE to reply to every email. Would it go something like this infinitely?

      Thank you
      No thank you
      No, no thank you
      No really Thank you
      and on and on.

      1. Esmerelda*

        Oh that would be awful to HAVE to respond to everything!! I already feel like sometimes my emails are meaningless and that would make it more true if I was responding just for the sake of saying I responded.

    2. Lady Meyneth*

      Growing up, I was trained to acknowledge when someone was speaking to me, even thanks and pleases, and that included written messages when cell phones came along. So I had to train myself to not always respond to thank you messages, and it was HARD (sometimes still is). I didn’t even know it could annoy some people for years until my then-mentor spoke to me, in my mind it was just how things were supposed to be done.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That would drive me batty. I don’t need to be thanked for doing my job, and you’re only clogging up my inbox. Unless I’ve gone above and beyond for you, there’s no need to thank me.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think this could be a regional/cultural thing. As a southerner, it’s normal to me to say thank you to someone when they’ve done something for me, even if it’s their job. It wouldn’t bother me at all.

        1. pancakes*

          The question in that scenario, where it’s a regional thing, isn’t really whether it would bother you to keep up with your usual local practice, but whether it might bother people who aren’t local / accustomed to it.

          1. Jennifer*

            I mean I could see finding it a bit strange but I don’t see why a thank you email would “bother” someone. Just delete it. This sounds similar to people who are annoyed when their coworkers say “good morning.” It’s two seconds of your day.

            1. pancakes*

              It depends how many emails we’re talking about, no? I don’t think this is comparable to saying good morning or thank you in person because cluttering up multiple people’s inboxes is never an issue there, and the expectations are slightly different. The question wasn’t about whether it’s appropriate to say thank you but whether it’s necessary to respond. My experiences are consistent with what Alison said: replying would “likely seen as unnecessary and a bit much.”

              1. Jennifer*

                I could understand it if you’re completing hundreds of requests per day. That would get overwhelming pretty quickly. That didn’t seem to be the OP’s situation.

              2. 'Tis Me*

                I don’t send “thanks” emails to ones I know are handled via Salesforce because then it reopens the ticket and somebody needs to go back in and reclose it and it does add to the clicks and perception of emails. But otherwise I will to acknowledge receipt. And also even if it is part of their work, presumably they are sending it to me so I can then do my job better. So they *are* helping me, and I do appreciate that.

                It’s like I try to send the people whose work I supervise positive feedback – it’s their job to do their job, our metrics are such that we expect them to do it well – but I still appreciate that they do a good job, and if they didn’t it would make my workload considerably heavier! And I know it’s nice to know people recognise you’re good at what you do, and our company has formal mechanisms for noting things that go wrong, root cause analyses, and improvement changes that happen as a result, but as there isn’t a formal one for praise, otherwise people would only really hear about the problems and it could end up feeling pretty negative.

              3. Alienor*

                Outlook and Teams offer the option to like or thumbs-up an email/comment, so that’s what I usually do rather than replying with “thanks.” It generates a pop-up notification (“Alienor liked your message”) but not an email that has to be deleted later, and it seems to suffice as both a thanks and an acknowledgement that I got and read what they sent.

            2. Nanani*

              It’s two seconds -per email- which gets to be a lot when your inbox has like, 50 of them. 50 emails that you don’t need, 50 notifications that interrupt you for no reason, 50 updates that don’t add anything to the thread.

              1. Jennifer*

                I just don’t see it as this huge inconvenience. You see the pop up notification. It says thank you. You can go back to what you were doing. We’re still talking about less than two minutes of your day, if that, total.

                1. Indigo a la mode*

                  I concur with this. Necessary? No. Nice to have them acknowledge that you solved the problem? Yes. Cleaning up thank-yous a huge part of my day? Not at all. Come on, there are so many bigger fish to fry than people briefly acknowledging/appreciating you to close the loop.

                2. miss chevious*

                  I see it as a huge inconvenience that takes up way more than the proverbial two minutes. As a result, I train my team (and anyone else I have influence over) out of the habit as pertains to me.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            If you go somewhere where you’re not local, expect them to have some customs that are unfamiliar and be prepared to roll with it. I mean, you came into their territory, no?

            1. pancakes*

              Sure, but people in different regions emailing one another for work aren’t going anywhere.

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          as a former-southerner, I definitely expect in daily life to tell people thank you for checking me out at the grocery store or driving me in a cab. and i mean it, they’ve made my life easier or better in that moment.

          1. Al7la*

            I’m a several-generations-back New Englander in a big city, and I was raised to say thank you to every cashier/barista/bus driver/etc who helps or serves me! I feel like it’s just part of being in a community, and it makes *me* feel happier, too.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            same (I’m from Texas). I mean, it costs me absolutely nothing to thank them and goodness knows people who do these jobs get enough crap.

            On the flip side, it’s not that I don’t mean it, but I don’t expect people to have the same level of investment in a “thank-you” as some others apparently do. If somebody thanks me, I don’t think of this as them thanking me for doing my job. It’s a courtesy that makes an interaction a little nicer. That I’m doing my job is taken for granted (I hope).

            1. Jennifer*

              Agreed. If they don’t say thank you, it doesn’t ruin my day or anything. I just think it’s nice when they do. Plus, in some jobs you barely get any acknowledgement from management when you do a good job, so it’s nice to at least get some appreciation from coworkers.

          3. pancakes*

            Sure, and we thank each other in the northeast sometimes too. That’s not what the question is about, though.

            1. bonkerballs*

              It’s a reply to someone asking “why would you thank me for doing me job?” So it’s relevant to the conversation.

          4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            But to me that’s different. It’s part of a personal social interaction. But when you’re getting hundreds and thousands of emails per day, unnecessary ones are annoying. I do delete them and don’t let it ruin my day, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

          5. history geek*

            yeah, why wouldn’t I thank people for doing something for me? Even if it is their job, I can still have courtesy and acknowledge what their doing to make my life easier or fix something.

        3. Anne Elliot*

          I’m also in the South and “thanks” is a standard reply to emails to either close the loop or to acknowledge the email has been seen. I do think people who move to the South and have a problem with that would be best served by getting over it; that’s just how things are done around here.

          However, first against the wall after the revolution will be those who reply-all “thanks” to all-department emails.

          1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

            True to both of these. Thanks is the Southern “we’re done here” which I appreciate greatly. If I don’t get a thanks or some sort of closure to an email chain (particularly one that involves multiple people or emails) I’m going to wonder if the other person read the last message. That being said, I don’t thanks a thanks. I also end initial emails with “thanks, Putting out Fires” after several months of agonizing.

            But a reply all announcement type email? No thanking, please. First against the wall indeed.

        4. Esmerelda*

          I’m from a far northern state and I agree – maybe it’s an office-specific culture thing? Or maybe it’s just me in the north that feels this way. :) But to me, a quick thank you in response to an email does close the loop so that seems super normal to me, both sending and receiving a simple “thanks” email. If a coworker emails me with an urgent and complicated question, I spend a while typing out a thorough response – and then hear nothing, I sometimes wonder if they got my email at all (especially when it’s phrased as an urgent “I need an answer within the next half hour” question, I respond quickly, and then hear nothing back). I’d like to know they got it at least. And I’d like to know if they have other questions or if I can help in another way. If they don’t respond at all, I feel a slight pressure of being “on call” for further questions. I just like that it closes the loop and we both know we’re done with the conversation.

          1. Jennifer*

            You may be right. Come to think of it, I email clients all over the world and have never gotten feedback for saying thank you. If you spend an hour researching an answer for someone, just an acknowledgement that they received it nice.

        5. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

          Yes — I have a southern colleague, I am a Yankee, and our office is in the midwest. Not only do I get a reliable thank you from him, I get a “You’re welcome” response for every freaking “thx!” I send.

          I breathe deeply and remember that diversity of all kinds is a good thing. ;-)

      2. OP3*

        In my case it would look strange if someone didn’t respond. My office has a culture where you acknowledge when someone sends work product to you, so this is less about thanking me for doing my job and more about “I’ve seen this email and your guidance.” I suppose I just wondered if it made sense to respond since it was phrased as a “thank you.”

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Nah. Then you get into the loop of “Thank you, no thank YOU” and it gets weird and is unnecessary.

        2. drago cucina*

          This is how I use it. It drives me a bit crazy when I’ve sent someone information requested and the person never responds. A quick “Thanks” closes the loop. I hate read receipts. My boss who gets thousands of emails a day still likes a quick “Thanks” just to let her know I’ve gotten the document/information sent.

          1. Anonapots*

            This. My boss does it to me, I do it to other people. My boss’ boss uses it as acknowledgement that you’ve seen the thing. I also use “Will do” or “I can do that” in the same way. “I acknowledge the request you made/information you sent and am letting you know.”

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              See, this is the genius of the Army’s “hooah.” Heard. Understood. Acknowledged. Carry on.

        3. IL JimP*

          if you feel like you need to respond you could just say “you’re welcome” that way you don’t get into the loop people are describing below and it’s still polite

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Being annoyed by someone thanking you is pretty precious of you. Plenty of people do want to be acknowledged for doing their job. Good for you for being so special that you hate the pleasantries of society.

        1. Anononon*

          Oh wow, this is an intense response. In my case at least, the person who is always sending a final smiley face acknowledgment is in response to me thanking them for doing their job. I don’t need to be acknowledged back, especially for standard requests.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            But the comment they are responding to isn’t about the final smiley face. This comment is responding to someone saying people emailing a quick “thanks” would drive them batty…

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think most “thank you” emails are not someone saying “wow I am so over the top grateful that you are doing your job,” it’s usually more just a quick and polite way to say “this is confirmation that I have received the report I needed from you and everything looks good so this particular business interaction is now officially over.”

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      In my job, people send me information that I need to add to our database and I will respond with confirmation that it’s all set. For most people that closes the loop but one of my colleagues was almost always thanking me after that. It drove me batty and I finally wrote a nice email to her saying it wasn’t necessary for her to thank me after I confirm that a task it done, because “I know that you are very busy.” I hope she didn’t take offense at that but it really annoyed me that I would be done with a thing and then I’d see another email in my box and get set to do another task related to it, then realize it was just a thank you email. So that’s one more reason to not respond in these cases, because it really is just more distraction that we all don’t really need.

      In person, however, definitely respond to thank yous. :-)

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, exactly! I keep super strict control of my inbox (because I get hundreds of emails a day), so constantly getting that last reply is a bit annoying.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        haha, thanks for that image. I pictured someone smiling and thanking another – and that person, stone-faced, immediately swinging an about-face and walking silently away.

    5. whistle*

      You should respond to one of her “Thanks!” emails with a smiley face and then see what she does from there.

    6. soon to be former fed really*

      In f-2-f conversation, if someone says thanks, we typically say “You’re welcome” in response. People have to learn that in e-communication, responding to a simple thanks is normally not required. However, this is a know your audience thing, as some folks may see not responding at all to a thank-you as kinda rude. Kudos to you for just getting over it as it really is minor, the delete key solves a lot of these things, they aren’t trying to insult you with their smiley faces, lol.

  2. Dan*


    Can I ask, are you *sure* these are firings instead of poorly communicated layoffs? If someone is being truly fired with no warning or reasoning, that’s beyond bizarre. But I’ve often seen layoffs where people are told they’re getting the boot with no warning or reasoning. My last job was absolutely terrible at this. We had hit a rough patch, and everybody getting whacked had no idea when it would be there turn. Yes, when the writing is on the wall, everybody can read it, but this was something where the layoffs were done on an individual basis, so nobody had any idea when there day would come, and when it did, why they were the unlucky ones.

    That place sucked during that period. (The layoffs stretched over a year, it was painful). My day did come, and I was just told “business reasons.” HR was very careful to repeat that over and over when I asked why.

    And then I went on an interview later and some idiot kept asking me why I got laid off… as if I knew. He all but said to me that if I wasn’t part of a “mass” layoff, then as far as he was concerned, it was a performance-related firing couched as a layoff. I would have walked out of there on the spot, but I have the misfortune of having to travel for poor interviews, so once I’ve determined the places sucks, I’m a bit captive until the flight leaves.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Is there any reason the employer might care about the distinction between layoff, firing for cause and firing without cause ?

      For example, it affecting the employers ability to deny unemployment claims. Or steps that the company must follow if it’s a layoff, but not if it’s a firing.

      1. Dan*

        Unemployment is generally the big one. The more people an employer has on unemployment, the more the employer pays into the system.

        If someone is laid off, there’s a bit of a cultural expectation for severance. Employers don’t have to offer it, and employees really shouldn’t expect it, but one thing an employer truly gets for offering severance is a release from liability. If one is fired without cause, one can hire a lawyer and make trouble.

        Although… given the generally poor state of worker protections in the US, most of this is semantics anyway. Employers can literally tap you on the shoulder, say “come with me, today is your last day” and that’s the end of it. I’d actually be curious if an employment lawyer tells me there’s a meaningful legal distinction between a firing and a layoff.

        1. doreen*

          I’m sure there’s not a legal distinction between a firing and a layoff – especially since the meaning of “layoff” has been different at different times and in different environments. For example, in the union environments I’ve worked in ,”layoff” does not imply a permanent loss of employment , not even for non-union positions. It’s more like what has recently been called “furloughs” – when someone is laid-off, they don’t work and aren’t paid but don’t need to worry about being replaced. The laid-off workers will return to work before anyone new is hired.

          1. Clisby*

            Yes, I’ve never been laid off, but I’ve known people who were laid off and were in exactly that situation – the company wanted to hire them back if they could. My father-in-law was a union mason, and would s be laid off when Ohio winters weren’t cooperating with outdoor masonry work. It didn’t mean the company didn’t want him as an employee – they just couldn’t afford to pay him when there wasn’t any work to do.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I grew up in western Pennsylvania and had friends and family who were in the same annual cycle. A “layoff” just meant “we’ll call ya back when there is work to do”. The first time I was laid off from a job it took me a minute or two to realize it was permanent.

        2. VanLH*

          Well there are local variations for eligibility for unemployment but in the two states I practiced in before retirement if you were fired for violating a reasonable rule of the employer that is consistently applied you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. If you were fired for some other reason you were eligible. Same if you were laid off.

      2. hbc*

        A place that’s having layoffs is usually doing so because it’s struggling financially, and most companies don’t want anyone to know that they’re struggling. It’s much better if customers and vendors think you’re just getting rid of poor performers.

        It’s better for morale too if that’s what the employees believe, but I think many execs/managers underestimate how much their employees will pick up. I mean, if last year you only fired a couple of people and this year you’ve “let go” four people per month for the past three months, someone will be on to you.

        1. Anon. Scientist*

          Funnily enough, my org does “layoffs” that are really kind of a firing. They wait until times get tough (every year or so there’s at least some sort of financial setback) and then they get rid of a couple of low performers who have been in the crosshairs for a while. They get unemployment (and maybe some severance) and don’t have to have a firing on their record, and the org just absorbs the increased unemployment hit. We have a reputation among our peers as being kind of flighty and getting burned by investments that don’t pan out, but nobody thinks we’re in real financial difficulty.

          1. hbc*

            Yeah, it really depends on context. People might freak out the first time, but if it’s always the underperformers that go and it’s cyclical, no one is too surprised or fearful when it happens again in 15 months.

            Of course, those kinds of layoffs are the reason that candidates are sometimes judged based on whether they’ve been part of a layoff, even though plenty have nothing to do with the worthiness of the candidate.

          2. JohannaCabal*

            I’m not a fan of this. I personally think people should know why they’re being fired. When I was fired, it actually helped me determine a field was not the right fit. While classifying it as a “layoff” might feel good, it just means you have someone who has no idea they were a poor performer and can’t learn from it.

            Also, a firing can include severance. I received one (honestly, the company likely realized they shouldn’t have hired me to begin with).

            1. Antilles*

              There are benefits to being able to call it a “layoff” though. In many cases, future interviewers or companies assume that the word “layoff” means it was part of large-scale corporate financial issues that had nothing to do with you, whereas “firing” means it was you specifically.
              Some companies and managers will call it a ‘layoff’ specifically because of this, as a minor favor for you…though they should still make sure it’s crystal clear to the employee that “we’re letting you go because of X, Y, and Z. We’re going to frame this as a layoff in the system purely as a favor, but this is what’s actually happening”.

              1. JohannaCabal*

                I’ve heard of this happening and I’m fine if there is an agreement to call it a “layoff” as long as the person knows why they are being “laid off.”

              2. ThatGirl*

                Yes, and having been both fired and laid off, that’s exactly what it came down to. When I was fired, it was about my failings; when I was laid off, it was because my whole team’s jobs were outsourced.

        2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Yes yes yes.

          When I was a pup, I was abruptly let go from a job I’d had under a year, for “performance problems” that hadn’t been mentioned before. The employees had talked openly about the company having money problems. It was a sizable employer and as young and naive as I was, I still realized they didn’t want me applying to their competitors and saying I was let go because the company had financial difficulties.

          Also, current and former employees frequently keep in touch. If Sansa was let go/fired for “poor performance” and she has coffee with her long-time workplace pal Fergus, who still works there, he might say everybody thought she did a fine job, but the boss was a crappy manager/didn’t like Sansa/his niece needed a job/they were starting some stealth budget cuts.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Where I work, it also impacts our ability to refill a position. A layoff is conducted because there is no longer the need for the position; a firing is because someone is not able to fulfill the duties of the role at an acceptable level. My general counsel will not allow us to reopen a position that was laid off for six months to a year. We have a formal but not onerous process for firing, and being provided specific areas of improvement and time to do so is part of that. They will not allow us to circumvent this process by calling it a “layoff”.

      4. Tammy*

        Another potential reason: If a company lays off a certain number of workers (I forget the threshold), the WARN Act requires 60 days advance notice. If a company can categorize enough of the layoffs as firing for cause or (maybe, IANAL) firing without cause, it might bring them below the threshold that triggers the WARN Act.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      I was laid off in 2009 from a small organization such that the org couldn’t really do a “mass layoff” due to union rules. I received some of the same reactions and (I hate to admit this), the next time anyone asked I said it was a mass layoff even though the only other staff member “laid off” the same day as me was a consultant. Plus, other staff members started to be laid off one-by-one in the next few months.

      In some ways, it was a “mass layoff” just not all at once. Just a matter of semantics.

    3. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

      It’s been over a year since I was let go by my church. They refused to say why. Only “this was the decision that was made.” No previous warnings. Just gone. I’m still suffering the aftershocks of such a brutal exit.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I’ve worked for 2 religious organizations, once as a technical person in an office in the basement, and once as a temp in the administrative offices. I never saw such petty partisanship in my life. In both places, most jobs and all the top ones were held by members of the denomination. I was invisible in the basement job, and when I met someone from upstairs they were often startled to learn I wasn’t a member. Things were really bad for nonmembers at the temp job, but I had a good manager. However, the part-timer in the dept was horrible to me. She was there because she was some C-suite honcho’s mom. She wanted a full-time job doing what I did and felt entitled to it because SHE was a church member. (I didn’t see that she had many qualifications.) The C-suite worker bee who told me about her also told me the CEO’s former executive assistant, who did a great job and was respected and liked, was sacked because she belonged to another religion.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      Here’s some drama for you to support the “beyond bizarre” theory: I worked as a school secretary in my mid 20s and I was fired with absolutely no warning and they refused to tell me why. I remember crying as the principal and vice principal stood in the doorway and told me I couldn’t even finish out the day and had to leave right then as I asked them, “What did I do?”. The principal just said, “Your contract states that we don’t have to give a reason during your probationary period,” and the vice principal (who had been my 6th grade teacher) just looked apologetic. (This was in the US.) After they walked out, I turned to my computer to finish up the task I had been working on and found I had been locked out by IT during our 3 minute conversation, so it was very well coordinated.

      I had never gotten any warnings, any discipline, or anything. I still wonder, over 15 years later, what the heck happened. I had worked there less than 6 months and thought I was doing fine work. My theory is that the two women that worked the front desk for a decade that both applied for my job and clearly hated me had some hand in it, but I’ll never know and it’ll haunt me forever.

      1. Tammy*

        I’m sorry that happened to you – it sounds awful. :-(

        Chiming in to comment that coordinating with IT to deactivate someone’s network access while they’re in the “you don’t work here anymore” meeting is a pretty standard precaution everywhere I’ve ever worked. I wish that terminated employees sabotaging systems on their way out the door wasn’t a thing that happens, but it’s totally a thing that happens, and most organizations try really hard to prevent it.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I understand the need to lock people out so they don’t destroy systems, but just imagining the principal on the phone with IT saying, “I’m leaving my office, lock her out in T minus 90 seconds, GO!” is a funny picture. I had been working when they walked in and it was shut down when they walked out. The conversation was so short!

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I’ll add here that the principal was forced to resign the next year so some mysterious reason, so I do feel some karmic retribution there. I’m guessing he got to know why, though.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          Was it a religious school? Maybe someone felt sexual things they should not have, and decided to get rid of the “temptation” instead of controlling themselves. This isn’t a thing they would ever admit to, no reason not to disclose performance-related issues.

          1. Loosey Goosey*

            That’s quite a a leap! And I’m not sure what a religious school has to do with it; unfortunately tons of workplaces have sexual harassment issues. Anyways, Zombeyonce said it could have been because long-time employees didn’t like her and wanted her job, which seems much more likely.

            1. Zombeyonce*

              I never considered that they tried to get rid of me to get my job a second time! They didn’t like me in the first place because I got the job they wanted. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t have gotten that position, though, because it required a college degree that neither had.

  3. Kahunabob*

    To lw #1, maybe consider this in a different light: without this cost of living compensation you’d be making even less money.

    1. MK*

      If the OP had been told that the organization cannot give a raise, but will cover the reduction in their salary caused by the increased insurance costs and new tax, they would probably appreciate this move on the employer’s part. But to be told you are getting a tiny raise and then find out you actually will be getting less money, and know that the employer knew this when they told you about your “raise”, frankly that would leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s at best tonedeaf, at worse disingenuous and at worst insulting to the employee’s intelligence.

      1. Alex*

        Why should employers do anything to salaries when taxes go up?
        While voting for a party that proposes tax rises is a totally legitimate decision if you are happy to pay more in tax you shouldn’t expect that it will fall to your employer to increase your wages so that you don’t come off worse off after taxes increase.

        1. Lance*

          MK’s point isn’t necessarily that they should’ve done something, but they should’ve at least said something.

        2. Colette*

          They should communicate more directly because that will keep their employees happier?

          If they’d said “you’re getting a small cost-of-living increase to offset the increased cost of our health care plan and the changes to taxes”, the OP would be happier. As it is, the OP was expecting more money and got less.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, I don’t really blame them for not being on top of tax rate increases (heck, I don’t always understand how tax changes are going to affect me personally, let alone other people) but the increased healthcare costs is something they absolutely should have communicated about. When premiums have increased at past jobs, there’s usually been a lot of communication about how the decisions were made to not have that covered by the employer.

          2. Observer*

            Well, according to the OP they DID say “you are getting a small cost of living adjustment.”

            But no one should ever be blindsided by a premium increase.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yes, the taxes would ideally have been included in the conversation, but if there was no warning about the increase to the health insurance that is honestly inexcusable.

              I do recall one time that my cost of living increase and the increase in taxes were the same, and they definitely told me that in my meeting so I knew what to expect on my paycheck.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Cost of living increases aren’t “OUR” costs went up, so we are giving you a raise. It’s just “hey, every year things get more expensive, so here’s a raise tied to the formula.” It is not connected to any specific thing like health care costs or local taxes.

          I always treated COLA as just that — a small bump in salary. I never expected my employers to explain the details to me.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            my employer makes it yet more strange where there are varying percentages (excluding this year of no COLA) between 1-3%, depending on stuff. So it’s COLA but still dependent on various things, including how you are viewed to have done and if you are in a rare position that qualifies for a bonus then you get a lower COLA (because bonus). It’s strange.

            but it also adds up. in years when friends of mine received no raised, I still got my COLA. I’ve been at my employer, 6 years and COLA is responsible for about $7k of my pre-tax income at this point.

            1. Paris Geller*

              At my organization non-exempt staff get a 3% COLA. Exempt staff get 1%. Drives me bonkers. We’re all living in the same area at the same time, the cost of living going up are the same (and while you may be thinking that it’s because exempt staff make more, that’s not always true. I am exempt because of my job but some of my non-exempt coworkers make more than me because of the time they’ve been working here and also their specific jobs).

        4. MK*

          Maybe don’t rush to make a political point without reading the comment? No one said they had any obligation to offer a raise to offset higher taxes; my point was that, when you know that your employee will be taking less money home, even with a raise, it’s pretty stupid of you to call them into your office and tell them they will be getting a raise, without explaining that it will be swallowed up by taxes and insurance. Because then you have gotten their hopes up that they will have a little extra, which from a morale point of view is arguably worse than telling them they won’t be getting anything. And while taxes might not be up to the employer, insurance costs are definitely dependent on the deal they made with the insurance company, no? I realize that maybe they don’t have much negotiating power, but if the health insurance the employer provides will cost more to the employee that’s essentially a reduction in their overall compensation, and it’s not a good look to omit mentioning that when discussing the employee’s future earnings.

          1. Anne Elliot*

            Respectfully, I disagree. (Not with the politics; agree they should be left out of the conversation.) I think it’s highly unlikely that the employer will know which employees will be seeing their COLA cover increased costs and which ones will not. There is no business case for needing that information. Assuming a COLA is given to all employees (say, 3%), some employees will have enough of a raise to offset increased costs and some employees won’t. I think it’s unreasonable to expect the employer to sit down and net-out every single employee’s check, compare it to their previous take-home, and then have a conversation with that subset who will find their paychecks ultimately decrease. Certainly the employer should notify people that their costs of insurance are going up, and obviously they need to tell them what the COLA is. But I don’t believe the employer has any obligation to draw a picture for the employer of how the former impacts the latter.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              You are exactly right, Anne Elliot. OP works for a “very small education nonprofit” so it is possible that everyone is roughly in the same boat.

              But it’s equally possible that they aren’t. For example, some employees may have opted out of the health insurance plan. Or perhaps some have different life circumstances in which they are less affected by some taxes (e.g., they are not home-owners). So it’s entirely possible that the COLA *does* cover some people’s actual cost of living increase. But that’s merely a coincidence. And it’s really not up to the employer to game out every single employee’s specific case.

            2. KRM*

              Exactly! Some people probably have insurance through other family members, so they won’t see that insurance bump. It’s not up to the employer to sit down and figure out what their net will be compared to people on the insurance. They just need to 1-tell employees that the insurance premiums and increasing and to what, and 2-what your COL increase is. After that it’s up to the employee to figure out what they’re going to get ultimately, and how the employee might act on that is up to them. Does it suck to have your increase eaten up by insurance and taxes? Yes. But that doesn’t obligate your employer to try to negate that.

              1. Sacred Ground*

                If just two things, insurance and tax increases, are eating the entire COLA then there is nothing left for all the other increased costs of living: housing, food prices, etc. The employer knew these insurance and tax increases were coming *in addition* to those usual and expected increases in living costs. So the employee has effectively not gotten a COLA raise and while nothing obligates the employer to give one, they could and should have at least warned her that this was coming and not raised her expectations that she would be taking more, not less, money home.

                1. KRM*

                  Again, they are responsible for telling her that the insurance rates are increasing. Not every COLA raise will cover actual COLA depending on individual situations. The employer is not obligated to run all the numbers for all employees. That’s on the employee to figure out what their new take home will be.

            3. Ominous Adversary*

              The employer probably has a good idea of how increased health care costs will affect employee salaries, and can communicate that increase. Everybody’s weirdly focused on the taxes here.

              1. Littorally*

                Yep. My employer sends out a notification every year detailing how our health insurance premiums will change, separated out by salary bands.

                IE – Employees with $200k base: 5% increase

                They know. And that announcement makes it very easy to compare with our annual raises.

                1. Littorally*

                  whoops, used less than/greater than signs and it ate a bunch of my comment

                  Employees under $50k base: no increase
                  Employees $50k-100k base: 2% increase
                  Employees $100k-200k base: 3% increase
                  Employees over $200k base: 5% increase

            4. drago cucina*

              Yes. That would entail looking at everyone’s W4. Are they claiming 0, 1, 25 dependents? The tax issue can be intrusive. I did have a situation several years ago where because of tax changes some people’s take home went down. They asked if there was a miscalculation in payroll. We went over where the changes were.

              Healthcare increases should always be communicated. At staff meetings at the end we’d ask everyone on the library’s health insurance to stay behind and tell them that the premiums were scheduled to go up $x or x% starting on February 30th. No one liked it, but it was never a surprise.

            5. MCMonkeyBean*

              They should know that information, it is absolutely available to them and is something that my company has always included in payment discussions. For taxes at least it is usually pretty straightforward: “our city withholding [or whatever is relevant] is going to increase by 3% and your COLA is only 2% so you will actually see a small decrease, sorry.”

              And if they were not told their healthcare costs would go up that is very unreasonable. That should definitely be communicated clearly to everyone.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            I don’t really think an employer is obligated to monitor all possible costs and tell employees how they’re going to come out after the raise. COLA, as Alison pointed out, is very formulaic and generalized, and there’s not really a reasonable way to estimate how far an across-the-board COLA adjustment will go versus an individual employee’s actual COL.

            My example is extreme, but I work in DC (for an organization of a few hundred people) and live in a bordering state. Employees at my organization live in DC, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and, in rare instances, a few further-flung states like Florida. In Virginia and Maryland alone, there are multiple counties/towns/cities that all assess different taxes (income, sales, and property). To say nothing of who’s eligible for which deductions, which health plan they have/coverage declinations, or what other household factors affects their tax rates. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect an employer to assess tax liability and forecast how much an increase would or would not cover. I know that it’s not an individual factor in our comp adjustment process – market (which incorporates COL factors), organizational financial health, and individual performance are the core three.

            Bottom line is that, if the employer is paying the employee more, it’s not unfair to call that a raise or a salary adjustment, and very few employers are going to assess employee COL or all factors that go into COL to decide if they call it a raise, a COLA adjustment, a pay bump, etc. I think expecting the employer to know whether the X% they’re giving everyone will fully offset an employee’s real costs is unrealistic.

        5. Antilles*

          “While voting for a party that proposes tax rises is a totally legitimate decision if you are happy to pay more in tax you shouldn’t expect that it will fall to your employer to increase your wages so that you don’t come off worse off after taxes increase.”
          Where the hell did this come from? We know nothing about who OP personally voted for, whether OP supported one party, what the overall politics of OP’s municipality/state are.
          For all we know, OP was fighting for lower taxes and just ended on the losing side…or that OP voted for a politician who promised lower taxes but that same politician was forced to backtrack after Covid-19 put the local/county government in a tough spot fiscally.

        6. Quill*

          The change in the company provided insurance absolutely is something that the company should compensate for because it’s part of the benefits package

          1. KRM*

            The employer could be paying more too–if they cover 70/80% of premiums, yes, my $$ paid out will go up, but so will theirs.

        7. Anonymous*

          What does this have to do with how the OP voted? You have no idea how they voted. Perhaps they voted against it, but it still passed because more people were for it than against. That’s how voting works!

      2. Observer*

        The organization never promised anything specific, just a small COLA. And they didn’t frame it as a raise, either, but as a cost of living adjustment.

      3. Not a Blossom*

        Maybe it’s just me, but I learned very, very early that a cost-of-living increase (which I’ve never actually gotten) isn’t intended to perfectly cover the increased cost of living. I also recognize that my healthcare costs tend to go up every year.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      LW1, If you’re in the US, you may also want to look at the withholding rates. Standard deduction rates have been political tools lately, so the final amount you keep after filing income tax may not be what you expected.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        I wanted to mention this, too. OP1 may be paying too much from every paycheck. There may be room to reduce her tax payment (especially with higher pre-tax medical premium), which will increase her take-home amount. There are calculators online to explore this option.

        1. Grapey*

          But watch out that “increase take home amount” may mean you owe money instead of getting a return.

          I set my deductions like that on purpose – I prefer to earn my own interest on it before I hand it over to uncle sam – but I do know I’ll still have to square up come April 15th.

    3. LCH*

      my workplace told us about the insurance premium increases before they happened. they also covered them, but if they hadn’t at least it wouldn’t have come as a surprise. that was kinda rude of the employer since i’m not sure how else one finds out about premium increases if you get insurance through work?

      1. Anne Elliot*

        This I agree with. If the only way the OP found out the insurance rates had increased was by finding out more money was being withheld from their paycheck, that was very badly handled by the company. There should be notification and transparency on this issue, precisely so that employees don’t open their paychecks and find themselves confronted with a very unpleasant surprise.

      2. Artemesia*

        when I was working our annual tiny COL increases often didn’t keep up with the increasing costs of insurance. Now that I am retired my increases if any in social security absolutely do not keep up with the annual increase in social security coverage costs or the increases in medigap policy insurance fees. While they claim to base raises in payments on inflation somehow they leave out their own medicare insurance cost increases or other medical cost increases when calculating this. Several years there have been no increases in SS payments while simultaneously increasing the premium for medicare.

      3. AVP*

        Yeah, this is the issue for me here. Your employer can’t control the tax rates but they do negotiate the health plan and control what the charge you for it – I would absolutely judge them based on how well this was communicated and see if the COLA covered this, at least.

      4. Oh No She Di'int*

        True. But OP doesn’t actually claim that they didn’t find out about the insurance increases in other ways. They only claimed to be surprised that when all was said and done, the COLA didn’t cover it (in combination with other increases). You might be right, but we don’t actually have enough information to assume wrongdoing on the part of the company.

      5. Anonforthis*

        I think we need more information on this. Was the employee informed about health insurance options – including the cost – during open enrollment? If this person is in the US, it is required by law to disclose what the premiums are for employer sponsored health insurance plans. It’s possible that the employer did not explicitly call out that there would be an increase in premiums when it was asking employees if they would like to renew. To give context, our health insurance premiums go up between 20-30% annually, and we re-bid insurance every year. CPI right now is 2.3%, we’re in a recession, so for a small nonprofit, it is absolutely believable that they would not be able to offer a COLA that means more net income for an employee WHILE shouldering the employer’s portion of the health insurance premium increase. This all to say that it is so important to take full responsibility for understanding your tax obligations, your health insurance premiums and rate of increase, and weigh all of that against job offers. You can’t count on the employer to necessarily do that work. I wish they did!

      6. GothicBee*

        Yeah, I don’t think the employer needs to sit down and figure out exactly how much the LW’s take home pay will change due to insurance and tax changes, but my employer does typically let us know about insurance increases and major tax changes. It’s not hard to communicate this stuff and you can typically do it with a mass email (e.g., rates will change, but depend on your individual situation).

    4. Alexandra Thee Tired*

      Hi, I’m OP #1 and I wanted to add in some extra information:
      1) I was told there wasn’t enough money to get a “real raise” despite the fact that my coworkers received several thousand dollar raises to adjust their income levels. We’re all getting paid incredibly low wages, but having one’s coworkers get huge raises while also being told that there isn’t enough money for my raise feels crappy. I get that there are different priorities for different jobs and their pay rates were (and still are) very low, I really do! But it still feels crappy.

      2) Our cost of living pay increase was still significantly less than the normal COL pay increase, so that also feels… really crummy? Like, the standard COL pay increase seems to be somewhere around 2-3% and mine was significantly less than even that. When I asked my supervisor about that she said “it’s a tight year,” despite the huge pay increases others received.

      3) Also, I think it’s important to note that this happened before covid and before the downturn in donations/grant money this year- our conversations above happened in early March and went into effect at the end of September.

      4) thanks to everyone for your replies! I think this is a good sign that this job is just not a great fit for me, overall due to the high expectations for my time in combination with the seriously low pay. I’d love to find new work, but now seems like an incredibly hard time to do so!

      1. Nellie*

        I feel for you, OP. I had this once happen at an organization who specifically structured “higher pay” employees to pay a higher health insurance premium, so even when I got a COLA that bumped up my salary, I still wasn’t making any more money because I had to pay more for health insurance. The good news is hopefully this will be the worst year for you to feel this hit, tax-wise, and then you’ll truly benefit from a COLA or other raises later.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        It sounds like pay is an all-around issue with your current employer, and I would also feel really crappy if I was told there was no money for me but there was for others on top of a sub-SSA COLA percentage increase. I think you’re right that this may not be a great fit for you and it might be time to look to move – without knowing where you are or specifically what you do, I’d say to take some heart in the Friday good news and that there are places that are hiring (I’m averaging one per month, since we went to WFH). Polish up your resume and cover letter and see what’s out there – the timing isn’t ideal but you could also find something you like and that compensates you fairly for your time and hard work.

      3. Oh No She Di'int*

        Hi OP. Re: #2, I’d advise asking what the COLA is based on. Many companies (in the US) base it on the inflation rates published by various federal agencies, such as the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example. In my experience, it’s rarely a number pulled from a hat. Knowing the source of this number might give you more ammunition if you choose to make an issue of it, or at least may give you more peace of mind. Good luck!

      4. Alex*

        I know this is a scary time to be job searching, but I’d take the overall compensation environment at your job as a sign that some interviews elsewhere would be a good plan. You don’t have to quit, just check and see if the grass is greener anywhere else in your field. It sounds like they’re taking advantage of you to an extent that is unfair, even in the nonprofit world, where you’re expected to sacrifice a bit.

      5. Ominous Adversary*

        It may be an incredibly hard time to look for work, but your chances of finding a better job if you don’t look now are pretty slim.

      6. Zombeyonce*

        Hi OP, there are a lot of people out of work, but there are still places hiring! If you’re interested in working outside of the non-profit world, some businesses/industries are booming. You’ve got a job now and some stability, so you’re in a good spot to job search. Do it! It might make you feel better about going to work every day if you feel hope on the horizon!

      7. Observer*

        So you are focusing on the wrong thing. The issue is not that the COLA doesn’t cover the increase in you insurance. That’s a common problem, and not something you really have too much standing to complain about.

        However, the pay disparity IS an issue. I think that you have the standing to ask why the disparity. The answer you (don’t) get, will tell you a lot.

        I don’t want to be cynical, but are you perhaps part of a marginalize group?

    5. alwhoisthatal*

      I can’t understand the “which is fair knowing that I had only spent a year with them”. No it isn’t. It’s the usual scam by a pennypinching company trying to short everyone on their wages. Also the “this is a tight year for us” – thats an old one too. Simply they are showing the classic “you should be grateful for your job when times are hard” mentality and they will always pay you as little as possible no matter what you do.
      If you do not get a “raise” equal to inflation and cost of living rises you are having your pay cut. Everything you have done in this year has been rewarded by less money than you started with.
      Don’t believe their comments and start looking elsewhere where you will be valued. Believe me they will find lots of money magically from somewhere when the board\MD decide they want something badly enough and they will not take your financial circumstances into account if they were to lay you off like the way they make you take theirs into account.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I agree with most of what you said except the “this is a tight year for us”. That’s usually a ruse, but let’s be honest, this is a pretty tight year for almost every non-profit out there. However, OP’s coworkers were given much higher raises, so that makes me wonder about this exact one.

        1. KRM*

          I wonder if the other employees were severely under market rate, and they risked losing them without bringing them up to rate for the jobs done. The OP could be not as severely under market, so they decide to deal with it later (not the best strategy, but maybe one they feel most open to them with reduced $$ coming in).

        2. Alexandra Thee Tired*

          Thank you so much for your response! I was trying to be emotionally generous with the “tight year for us,” but with the significant pay increases to other staff members, that doesn’t feel like it’s actually the case! I’m pretty disappointed and (as my username suggests) pretty tired from this.

          1. bonkerballs*

            A tight year doesn’t mean we can’t do anything, it means we have to prioritize. They prioritized your coworkers over you. Maybe that’s fair – maybe your coworkers are better workers than you, maybe your coworkers were being paid far less than the market rate of their jobs and they needed their pay before they could work on raising yours, maybe your coworkers had works there longer and so they gave their seniority priority. Maybe it’s not fair – maybe your employer is discriminating against you or just doesn’t like you or whatever. But either way, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a tight year. It just means you’re not their priority for whatever reason.

    6. BasicWitch*

      Man, I worked at a non-profit that gave me a 3% raise for my “stellar” performance. The next year I was on the outs with my not-so-great boss who told me that despite a rough year, I would get the minimum raise they could give: 2.8%.

      I quit 3 months later.

  4. Enough*

    #1 – This is what my husband and I called the cost of doing business raise. Everyone expects a raise but the business can only do so much but do want to retain employees.

    1. MK*

      If the point is to keep your employees happy, telling them you are giving them a raise when you know they will be receiving less money is not the way to go about it. It’s not as if they won’t notice soon enough, and they will probably feel that you are being disingenuous.

      1. Amy*

        Employers don’t necessarily know you’ll be receiving less money. Sure, if they started passing higher health plan rates to their employees, they would know. But all the minutia with tax rates, withholdings, deductions etc, that really isn’t something I expect them to predict. And it’s also very individual.

        1. doreen*

          They might not even know about the health plan rates – my employer has a choice of 10-15 different plans with different costs depending on whether you have single or family coverage and which bargaining group you belong to. They can do what they do every year and send me a book with a table listing all the various employee contributions – but it’s not really reasonable to expect them to be able to tell me that I’m effectively getting a 1% raise and tell my coworker she’s effectively getting a 1% paycut because of the difference in our health insurance contributions.

          1. Annony*

            Yep. They very well may not be aware of whether your paycheck will end up higher or lower. It can vary depending on which health plan you are on (if any) how many dependents you add to the plan, where you live, ect. Now if everyone’s paycheck ended up lower, they probably should have known that.

          2. Alexandra Thee Tired*

            Hi! OP #1 here.
            Since we’re a very small organization, there’s only one option for health plans, we were told the cost would go up. The cost went up enough that I waived my dental insurance to accommodate the increase in cost of the health plan and somehow still am at a deficit compared to last month’s take-home pay.

        2. Snow Globe*

          Yes, it’s possible that some employees came out ahead. The raises are a percentage of salary, so will be larger for people making more money (it sounds like the LW is new in their career, so likely making far less than the typical employee). The increase in health insurance would be a fixed amount, so many/most employees could be getting enough to cover the increases.

          “Cost of living” raise just means that it is not based on job performance, everybody is getting the same (percentage) raise.

          1. Alexandra Thee Tired*

            Hello, LW#1 here: I’ve been working in this field for twenty years, actually! But I am new to this particular organization, and was disappointed to see how they handled pay increases.

            1) I was told there wasn’t enough money to get a “real raise” despite the fact that my coworkers received several thousand dollar raises to adjust their income levels. We’re all getting paid incredibly low wages, but having one’s coworkers get huge raises while also being told that there isn’t enough money for my raise feels crappy. I get that there are different priorities for different jobs and their pay rates were (and still are) very low, I really do! But our COL increase seems to be different judging from which people got a real adjustment and which people got an extra $70/month. But it still feels crappy.

            2) Our cost of living pay increase was still significantly less than the normal COL pay increase, so that also feels… really crummy? For instance, the standard COL pay increase seems to be somewhere around 2-3% (at previous jobs it was fixed at 2.8-3%, for example) and mine was significantly less than even that. When I asked my supervisor about that she said “it’s a tight year,” despite the huge pay increases others received.

            1. BasicWitch*

              Why the adjusted wages of your coworkers? Was there a disparity issue they were correcting?

              1. Alexandra Thee Tired*

                It turned out that they were concerned at the high turnover rates in my coworkers’ roles (they’re more front-facing/direct service than my role is)– people seem to leave continuously throughout the year. As of 1.5yrs in, the majority of the staff is completely different than when I started. So I’d say that’s a pay disparity that they should have corrected and did, which is good. But telling myself and one other employee that there was no money to increase our pay is disingenuous given that there *is* money, they just chose not to put any of it towards us.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I wouldn’t expect them to sit down and predict the exact change to every employee. But I’ve received a handful of emails over the years from my payroll department that say something like “A change to tax law has recently passed and will take effect on X date. This could potentially affect employees in the following ways…”

          Like, they didn’t know the specifics of how OP would be affected. But they *should* have known that the changes were coming and could potentially impact their employees’ take home pay. That’s their job.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            It’s actually not their job to know how tax changes affect employee taken-home; it’s their job to know how the tax laws should change their payroll withholding obligations and corporate taxes. Notices aren’t sent as an employee obligation, it’s a mix of courtesy and self-preservation so the payroll department doesn’t have 2/3 of the workforce from calling for individual assessments on why their paychecks changed. It is my job to calculate my own withholding based on the totality of my family’s situation and submit the updated withholding forms to payroll.

            When the big federal tax bill passed a few years ago, many employers sent out a courtesy notice to employees so that it wasn’t a surprise when their withholding changed, but even the notices my spouse and I got said that we needed to consult the IRS website to calculate our own withholding change and how to make any adjustments that we needed as a result. I don’t get a notice from payroll when my state or local tax obligations change – we’re on a border and have employees split between DC and three other states, not to mention the various counties/cities within each one. Payroll doesn’t have the time or staff to monitor all jurisdictions (and you can’t do for one and not do for all).

            1. Anonapots*

              Librarian of SHIELD didn’t say they should know how it specifically would affect each employee. In fact, they said the emails they’ve received about it made it clear that it MIGHT affect and lower some people’s take home. It is, in fact, payroll’s job to know this is a possibility and it is, in fact, the courteous thing to do for your employees to give them a heads up that things may look different on their pay stubs.

              A lot of of Capitalism is shifting the blame from the employer to the employee when it’s the employer who has more information and more power. Maybe let’s hold employers accountable for what they do know instead of making excuses for them?

      2. HR Bee*

        Yea, I’m a little confused why everyone is assuming the employer knew the employee would be taking home less. I’ve processed payroll my entire career, and the number one thing I always tell employees is I AM NOT A TAX ACCOUNTANT. If you want tax advice, go to a professional. That is not me.

        I have no idea how any tax law change will affect myself, let alone my employees. I don’t know what every single person’s exemptions are or how many dependents they claimed or whether they are in a one or two income household. I don’t know if a 2% raise keeps someone in a lower tax bracket, but a 3% jumps them into a higher one. Even if I was a professional tax accountant, I would still not be able to know how it would affect them because I have no clue about their household income situation – nor should I as their employer.

        Nor would I have brought up taxes or benefit increases in a performance review and raise discussion. I would and do make company-wide announcements when I am made aware of these changes. Increased health premiums would have been announced. A tax law change that I was aware of would have been announced with a “please contact your tax accountant for information on their affects your unique family situation.”

        1. pancakes*

          It seems pretty straightforward that the problem here, in the eyes of the letter writer and people sympathetic to them, is the employer’s messaging around the raise, not the unwillingness of HR or other divisions to provide tax advice.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I think the problem is, though, that OP#1’s message to the boss was that the COL increase shouldn’t result in a net loss for her, and the only way for OP#1’s boss to know that the outcome of the COL increase was a net loss of a few dollars was to run the numbers of her actual case.

            It sounds like from other posts OP#1 has made clarifying the situation that there are much broader issues with her employer and pay, including that other people got much more generous raises despite the messaging to her. It doesn’t seem like a great place on the comp side, generally. The fact that her COL is a net loss is just part of a larger, systemic issue that wasn’t entirely clear from the original letter.

    2. alwhoisthatal*

      Please bear in mind, increasing someones wages in line with Inflation and Cost of Living is not a “raise”, it’s maintaining your staff on the same wages they were a year ago. Anything less is a pay cut. Dressing it up as a “raise” is not a good idea. It’s the bare minimum expected by employees and rightly so. Paying anyone less that this and expecting anyone to be grateful will lead to the best employees leaving. No-one wants to work for less than they got last year.

  5. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP3 – if you want to get into a never ending thanks loop, that’s probably the way to go. Otherwise, don’t reply.

      1. CatWoman*

        I’m just thinking of those chipmunks in the old cartoons, “After you! No, no, no, after you!”

        1. Forty Years In The Hole*

          First thing that came to mind and I gopher-giggled. Couldn’t resist…Link to follow

    1. OP3*

      Haha I definitely don’t want to do that. I’ve erred on the side of not replying so far and I’m glad to know my gut instinct is correct.

      1. Teapot Librarian*

        It took me a while to stop being annoyed by the unnecessary “thanks!” emails–reframing them as confirmation that the thanks-sender received the previous email helped–but I have employees who then respond to those with “welcome” (not even “you’re welcome”!) and please lord do not do that.

    2. RecentAAMfan*

      “You hang up first”
      “No YOU hang up first”
      “Ok let’s hang up together. One, two, three…”
      “Hey, you didn’t hang up!”
      “Neither did you!”

      This is the teenage version circa 1975

      1. Mockingjay*

        Until Dad yells from the next room: GET OFF THE PHONE! NOW.

        (Don’t ask my sisters and me how we know this. lol)

    3. Wordnerd*

      From the Good Place, S4E11, “The Book of Dougs” – no spoilers

      ~Whoa, champagne.
      ~Found it in the cupboard. I think it was a gift.
      ~I feel kind of bad, what if it was for something really important?
      ~[reads label] “Gwendolyn: Here’s some champagne for you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for the champagne you sent me.”
      ~Pop that bench. [pops]

  6. Sales Geek*

    LW3: A couple of points…first, if folks in your office complain about the mold *for years* and nothing substantive is done it’s now a legal exposure. Second, home insurance policies almost never cover damage or health issues from mold. Most specifically spell this out (I’m a “read the fine print” person). I don’t have the connections any more to check on common practice for business policies but I’d bet they don’t cover mold either. If any of the readers has access to their company’s policies I’d be interested in whether mold is specifically mentioned.

    Full disclosure: before starting what turned out to be my professional career I did indoor air pollution sampling for a state department of public health. Indoor air pollution is really insidious and will manifest symptoms over time. What you can tolerate for a few days may develop into permanent health problems over longer periods of time (months/years). After that, I got a “real” job I spent almost ten years working with one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. This letter rings a lot of bells for me.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have dealt with a lot of mold because of my home and volunteer work. My heart goes out to the OP because mold allergies just get worse and worse. I am very sensitive to molds now.

      At one point volunteer place had a flood from plumbing. At least it was clean water, not sewerage water.
      We did as much as we could with a wet-dry vac, then ran dehumidifiers for a long time. Another person called a mold remediation specialist and the professionals said this is what they would do also.

      OP, your workplace can call a mold remediation specialist and get the place treated. Barebones they can get dehumidifiers in there and have someone empty them twice a day like we did.

    2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      It’s weird and awful how much there’s basically nothing protecting workers or tenants from mold. I used to work for a local health department, on the Complaints phone line, and people called constantly about mold–usually tenants whose landlords wouldn’t pay for mold remediation. And we couldn’t do anything about it, there was absolutely no regulation that said you couldn’t make your tenants inhale mold spores. I had people crying on the phone because they were having mold-related symptoms and couldn’t afford to move.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Mold Tip: I had a minor mold issue, and the mold abatement specialist told us that the most common, generic form of mold he encounters is penicillin mold. So if you’re someone who is not normally allergic to mold, but is allergic to penicillin, it’s entirely possible for you to be reacting to mold.

    4. Ominous Adversary*

      Yes, I’m a little surprised that wasn’t part of the advice. When a company has allowed a mold problem to persist for months, that’s a serious safety issue.

      1. pancakes*

        It isn’t considered a serious safety issue by federal US workplace safety regulations, though. It’s not regulated at all. That’s a big part of the problem here.

          1. pancakes*

            Yes as to states — that’s why I made a point of saying “federal.” I’m not clear on exactly which OSHA standards pertaining to “general industry, shipyard employment and construction” you believe are most useful to the letter writer, if any.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Would it be considered a serious safety issue by the employer’s insurer? If it could lead to several serious worker’s comp claims, that seems like something they’d care about.

      2. NoMoldhere*

        A number of years ago, my office building had issues with the windows leaking due to incorrect installation. The landlord’s response to the resulting mold was to send a guy with a spray bottle of bleach to spritz it every few months when we complained. The mold was appearing on the metal windowsills, plastic electrical outlets, and the wall behind the wallpaper (you could tell where it’d peeled up) was solid black.

        At the time, we had 1 employee pregnant, 1 with serious mold allergies & asthma, and another employee dealing with fertility issues. My state is one that regulates mold exposure, so after YEARS of this sub-par treatment by the landlord I finally suggested to my manager that we contact the state OSHA office as a group to make a report against the landlord not providing a safe environment. Within 1 week of my meeting with my manager, we had a full remediation plan which included complete re-installation of the faulty windows and replacement of all affected drywall and structure.

        Just the threat/suggestion of contacting OSHA might be enough to solve this properly.

  7. Reality Check*

    #4 We had the same problem with mold. Several of us were sick from it, we kept complaining, but management pooh-poohed it. Finally a coworker called out sick for the umpteenth time – sick from the mold that is -and told them she wouldn’t be back until the mold was gone. THAT did the trick. She had political capital, though.

  8. Isabelle*

    I understand a cost of living raise as a pay raise that you get regardless of your performance. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual increase in your living costs and most companies grant it to every employee (as opposed to a performance related raise).

    1. Annony*

      From my understanding, it is usually tied to inflation. It does not generally account for a higher priced health plan or taxes.

    2. honeygrim*

      My organization, located in an expensive city, has never given a cost of living increase in the time I’ve worked here. My colleagues say that this has been the case for at least the past decade. Instead, they give performance-based raises that are so small they don’t even cover cost of living (usually less than 3% for top performance, maybe 1-2% for average performance, and nothing for under performance). Due to the area’s economy last year, my raise (based on an “exceeds expectations” performance evaluation) was a whopping 1.5%. Of course, this year we didn’t even get the performance raise due to COVID.

      And don’t you dare ask for a bigger raise; the one time I did (using Alison’s excellent advice) I was simply told my timing was bad. There was no follow up.

      Only the poor job market at the moment is keeping me here.

      1. alwhoisthatal*

        Yes, basically you’re getting a wage cut every year, companies who treat you so poorly lose employees very quickly, I bet morale is at rock bottom too ?
        I did work at a place that tried this, then proceeded to complain how the rate of fixing issues had dropped from 10 per person to less than 4 a day, got all sulky when the reason was pointed out. Refused to give a decent salary raise, so out of a department of 7, 3 of us quit within 2 weeks (just after the 2 year window had passed for us repaying our £12,000 training). They had to hire 4 people to do our work so that was £48,000 for training before they even started.

      2. Isabelle*

        That really sucks. In real terms it means employees are losing a bit of purchasing power year after year. The effect after 5 years, 10 years etc… must be quite noticeable.

  9. Phyllis*

    For #4, the OSHA General Duty Clause requires an employer to furnish to its employees: “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees…” covers this. Depending on your state, you can either file a complaint either directly with OSHA or with the state agency that provides OSHA coverage.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Do you know if this has actually worked for anyone? I used to work for a government archives (federal level) that regularly dealt with moldy materials. We had an all-staff meeting where our safety officer told us to stop complaining about mold spores in common office spaces, because 1) we’re too dumb to understand how HVAC filtration works and 2) OSHA doesn’t say anything about mold levels, so technically they don’t have to do anything at all to protect staff.

      And then the meeting devolved into a screaming match between the union rep and the agency industrial hygienist over the academic credentials of the author of a paper on lung disease. Good times.

      1. Dilly*

        OSHA doesn’t apply to the federal government. Well, there are inspections, but they can’t issue fines against the federal government. With one exception: USPS is subject to OSHA standards like a private organization.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Kinda makes you wonder why we have OSHA if certain entities are exempt. Government buildings can be some of the older pieces of architecture and, yeah, these older buildings can really be loaded.

        2. Jackalope*

          Not sure where you’re getting that. OSHA does in fact apply to federal employees and places of employment. Or were you thinking of a different federal context?

      2. Dave*

        Someone filed a complaint for a company I worked for after major flooding in the area and the company opted not to remove all the drywall. I believe there was an investigation but I don’t know that anything changed except the owner went on a rampage about someone reporting something and how you should come to them if you have an issue. (The rampage kind of proved why you wouldn’t want to go to them.) This like so many employment issues really depends on the company. If it is a small business that flouts the rules as much as possible they will here again most likely.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      I have doubts that mold exposure counts, considering that no one has walked into the moldy region and fallen over dead on the spot. The standards for “serious physical harm” would be pretty high here, and Alison already dealt with and excluded OSHA in her response.

      1. Jackalope*

        Just looked at OSHA’s webpage and “serious physical harm” includes health hazards that can shorten life expectancy or cause substantial reduction in physical or mental efficiency, and adds that the harm doesn’t have to happen immediately to be a valid threat. As someone who has people in my life with serious respiratory issues, something like this could cause serious physical harm. It doesn’t mean you die immediately. And that’s just for an immediate visit. There may not be specific requirements on mold exposure, but if multiple employees have gotten sicker and sicker in response to their mold issue OSHA may still take action if notified. It might not work but may still be worth a shot.

    3. Elle*

      I just googled “OSHA mold” and it looks like it may be covered under general air quality. I would strongly recommend you give them a call to at least check to see what they recommend. Also, your state may have a division of safety and hygiene that may be able to offer some guidance as well.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yeah. I worked in a moldy building a long time ago and looked into this because people were getting sick left and right, and I was in pretty bad health, too. You’re not necessarily stuck with the problem.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes – we have had OSHA come out to investigate a mold complaint before.

        You may also want to speak with your local/state health departments, as they may have some recourse as far as habitability is concerned.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          IIRC, the state health department had a lot of resources for mold in residences & offices, but I was in Indiana at the time.

          Wisconsin refers you to the local health department/building department (building codes may point out issues that mold was caused by, which would then require remediation), and then to the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) as far as tenant/landlord issues.

          Mold does not have an “acceptable level” within OSHA, but is listed as an indoor air quality issue, and OSHA documents themselves tell you to file a complaint with OSHA regarding mold. Link to follow in separate comment to that document with the listed resources.

            1. pancakes*

              Which part of this mandates that the employer take care of the problem promptly? Or in any particular way at all? Page 27 seems to leave it to the states, and page 15 says, “There are no standards that say how much mold is hazardous to your health.”

            2. pancakes*

              Sorry, I see that you did acknowledge there’s no particular acceptable level of mold per OSHA, but there’s also no particular response compelled here as far as I can tell.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                No, but what we would do (as county HD) is require treatment by a professional mold sanitation company in order to return the dwelling to a habitable state, which does have standards (ANSI, potentially).

    4. Helen J*

      We had a mold problem where a leak occurred in an older part of the building and it keep being patched as opposed to actually fixing it. Someone (either employee or volunteer) reported it to OSHA, we got papers in the mail and a letter that had to be posted. This spurred the management to fix the issue and they had to send a report back with what steps they had taken.

    5. Ominous Adversary*

      Even if we were all experts on OSHA here, OSHA is not the be-all and end-all of workplace safety. Just like with wage laws, states have their own laws and may be more stringent in what they do or don’t allow than the bare minimum that OSHA prohibits.

  10. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    #4: Semi-related: the church facility my parents attend is FULL of mold, which is simply painted over every few months. It has been reported for years to the local church administrator, (and there are funds to get it taken care of by the larger church group), but yet I’ve still met folks who have gone into asthma attacks in that building as it hasn’t been treated. Most recently, one woman was taken straight to the ER after sitting under one of the moldy air exchange vents, but it seems that one or two folks isn’t enough to rock the boat. Is there any other organizations this could be reported to?

    1. Ashley*

      With a church I would suggest if it is part of a larger structure report it to the Diocese, Presbytery, etc. If it isn’t part of a larger organization at some point if you are willing risking the church closing I would suggest a well placed call to the media, especially after an ER visit, asthma attack by a parishioner.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have been in and out of quite a few churches because of a previous job. Mold in churches is quite common. Certain areas usually have dehumidifiers- such as near the pipe organ. Mold will ruin the pipes.
      No real advice except to say that TPTB know this is a common problem especially in older churches.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yup, common but totally ineffective way to deal with mold, just paint over it. Or bleach it (apparently that doesn’t work either to kill the mold because mold spores are *tough*).

  11. L*

    Oddly, I submitted a really similar question to Letter 1 just yesterday. Received a £500 increase but it left me *worse* off a month by about £50.

  12. Meetkat*

    Talk about dysfunctional, one job I held the head of HR on Thursday told me what a fantastic job I was doing and how thankful they were hiring me and on the Monday she is in my office with my direct manager firing me. When I asked her why, she just kept saying “I don’t have to tell you”. I turned to my manager and he said “don’t look at me I’m a shocked as you are’
    Now after hearing from other people who worked for the company in different departments I now know I dodged a bullet as these people were dodgy to say the least, but still it still stings on how I was treated’ lesson learned – wait a long time before u update your LinkedIn profile you never know who is watching and why

    1. JJ*

      Yes, it is SO confusing. I was *some sort of terminated* from a job with no reason given (I honestly don’t know the answer to the “have you been fired” question), and only one sorta-warning received. I was head of a huge project that typically had 2-3 other people as support, but was instead given a single intern (who, in fairness, completely rocked it and I praised him heartily and often). I was stressed and frustrated, and was told the client had noticed my frustration. I thought it was just an FYI, not discipline because there were no accompanying instructions, just, “they noticed”. So I hid my irritation, play-acted that I wasn’t super stressed, and the client was ultimately pleased with the project results.

      A week later, I was gone. I’m told that when they told everyone else, they freaked, because it looked like anyone could be fired at any time…I was the second person they’d done it to in a short period of time and morale was getting bad. Really glad to be out of that place.

  13. hbc*

    “Still, though, your organization should have been aware that local tax changes and the increase in health insurance costs would mean that some people would be getting lower paychecks, not higher ones….”

    I don’t think any org I worked at would have picked up on that. Mostly they’ve been so small that the one HR person would have their hands full with setting up the new pay increases, making the insurance withholding adjustments, and reporting out to everyone what their new rates are. I can’t even imagine delving into what taxes do for take-home pay. I think the only thing we’ve ever looked at is whether the cheapest insurance was reasonably affordable for our lowest paid employees.

    Do other companies really run those numbers on take-home pay and warn people about local tax changes and such?

    1. WellRed*

      I’ve never worked at a company that didn’t clearly communicate health plan costs yearly.

      1. hbc*

        Yes, but not “Your health insurance contribution is $X” is not the same as “OP, your take home pay will be lower because your new health insurance rate is lower than your raise and/or COL increase and tax situation.”

        To me, having them monitor how those various factors affect your income is way above expectations. It’s two separate conversations, usually coming at different times during the year: “You’ve earned $Y increase.” “You will be paying $Z more for health insurance.” And if they’re really on the ball, “Tax laws have changed and you’ll be getting $W less due to withholdings.”

        1. hbc*

          Ugh, hopefully this is still understandable with all the extra “not”s and lower/higher mistakes.

    2. Dave*

      My company is terrible about communicating these things, but they are terrible about communication across the board so I expect no less. When I asked about their plan on the ‘tax holiday’ for social security this year they looked at me like I had four heads because apparently they don’t watch the news and he no idea what I was talking about or why I might have a concern.

    3. TurtleIScream*

      If the organization is small enough, they most likely outsource their payroll. A larger payroll company keeps track of all the tax changes for them. It’s probable that none of the higher ups even had tax rates on their radar.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      Most people I know who had had hourly jobs have had the experience of “Extra hours means I earned more money this week, but it put me into a higher tax bracket for that paycheck, so my take-home was less than usual”.

      So the general idea of “earn more = higher taxes = lower net paycheck” is in the general population, yes, and I wouldn’t expect my employer to warn me of that. I would absolutely expect an employer to tell me when my health insurance premium is going up. In both cases, I can do the math myself but I do need the information.

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

    For the mold letter. I wonder if their are local laws? Maybe a call to the local health department would help?

  15. Madeleine Matilda*

    #5 – a caveat to Alison’s response: If you work for the Federal government you are subject to the Hatch Act which limits political activities that employees can engage in and violating the Hatch Act can become A Thing. There may also be similar restrictions at the state or local levels of government. For those who work for a Federal government agency, check with your ethics officer if you are uncertain about what political activity is and isn’t allowable under the Hatch Act.

    1. Kesnit*

      IIRC, the Hatch Act says Federal employees cannot act in a partisan basis while on government time or under the color of office. So if the election is non-partisan (some local elections are), there isn’t a violation. If the election work is done on the employees own time, it isn’t a violation. It likely would be a violation if someone went door-to-door saying “I’m Special Agent Smith from the FBI and I am here campaigning for my co-worker, John Doe.”

      But yes, check with the agency ethics officer. It’s been 11 years since I left the federal government and I could be remembering wrong.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah I work in local government (where the heads are elected officials) and every couple of years this comes up here. Absolutely no campaign work while on the clock regardless of who it is for.

    3. Governmint Condition*

      In my state, you cannot run for elected office at all if you have a government job. You have to resign first. Plus all of the other rules like the Hatch Act apply.

    4. Save the Hellbender*

      Federal employees can still donate, as far as I’m aware, though they should probably do so under the $2oo reporting limit. And they’re definitely allowed to volunteer in their capacity as private citizens, but they cannot fundraise.

  16. Kesnit*


    One of my co-workers ran for local office in the last election. Many of the people here donated to her campaign and went door-to-door for her. The head of the office and a few others took election day off to hand out fliers for her at the polls. (I should mention we are all state employees. All the work done was done either after hours or with vacation time.)

    It was all voluntary with no pressure for anyone to volunteer. (I was recommended not to help as I live in another state and we didn’t want to risk me violating election laws.)

      1. Kesnit*

        I think it depends on the state. I know I’ve been handed fliers when I’ve gone to vote (which was in the state where she was running, not where I live now.)

      2. Mockingjay*

        Most states and localities have a distance limit, such as “No electioneering within 500 feet of the poll entrance.” That’s also why you have to cover up or remove candidate and party items such as clothing, hats, and buttons when you enter. The polling place itself is supposed to be apolitical.

      3. Clisby*

        Probably depends on the state (and what’s meant by “the polls.” Here in SC, you can’t hand out fliers, hold signs, campaign within 200 feet of the actual polling place. Outside of the 200-foot limit, you can do all those things.

      4. Sylvan*

        Really? Where I live (NC), there’s a certain radius around the polling place where you can’t campaign. But volunteers for various candidates or organizations are almost always hanging out just outside that area to quietly pass out fliers.

      5. GothicBee*

        Where I live (VA) a lot of local campaigns get volunteers to be at the polls handing out fliers, but they’re just sample ballots not campaign fliers since you’re not allowed to campaign at the polls.

  17. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    Neither I nor my spouse have ever had a cost of living raise. We both work in professional jobs and have been in the workforce for 30ish years each. There are years when we don’t get raises becauses profits aren’t great, years when performace is stellar and raises are piddly because profits aren’t great, and years when we get good raises.

    We both are salaried exempt working for private employers in the midwest. His employer is fairly small – I’d call it a large family business, but well estasblished and well known in the area. Mine is a much larger multinational company. Neither employer is union.

    Are COL raises industry specific? A regional/geographic thing?

    1. Person from the Resume*

      If everyone at your company gets the same piddly raise that’s what I call a COL raise. We’re giving you a little more because the price of everything rises.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The way I see it is, if everyone in the office gets a raise once a year, if it is only very loosely tied to people’s performance and is the same 2-3% across the board, then it’s a COL raise. I’ve just been calling all of mine COL raises for the last 10-15 years. I’ve received actual merit-based raises, but only a few times in my career (20+ years in the US) and not in a long time.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      My husband gets them but he works for the government. I’ve never gotten one, and in my 25 year career, I’ve never gotten more than a 3% performance based raise (outside of a promotion or new job).

    4. Lark*

      I don’t have much experience working for for-profit businesses and I’m actually a little surprised that your raises seem to be entirely dependent on profits. I’ve worked for non-profits for 20 years and have received a COL raise and a performance based raise every year. In my sector, raises are considered a cost of doing business and are built into our budgets just like travel expenses, supplies, benefits, etc.

    5. doreen*

      It’s not really an industry specific thing, and it’s not always connected to the cost of living. ” Across the board raise” is a more descriptive name because really, “cost of living raise” is normally used in opposition to “performance” or “merit” based raises. ” Across the board” or “COL” raises involve everyone getting the same percentage increase ( and starting pay is raised by the same percentage in certain situations). With “merit” or “performance” based raises, you might get a 10% raise, I might get 5% and our co-worker might not get a raise at all.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think they’re organization-specific. I’ve worked for a mid-sized for-profit much of my professional career and have never received a specifically COL raise. Our three factors considered are market for the position, company financial situation, and individual performance. In my experience, there have been very few instances of no raise at all – unless you are on a PIP or the company has had a really tough year, everyone gets at least something, even if it’s small, and above-average performers typically receive some sort of bonus. (Bonuses are easier to do because they don’t commit to a long-term higher salary.) This year, with COVID, is the first time that I’ve gotten neither an increase nor a bonus in two decades in the workforce; however, I was able to get raises and even small bonuses for the majority of the folks on my team.

      My spouse works for the federal government and gets the occasional COL raise and step/grade increases. With the exception of their last grade increase, even the smallest raise I’ve gotten has been larger than anything they’ve ever received. The fed’s idea of a “bonus” is laughable, too.

  18. Monica*

    i recently got a raise that lowered my paychecks- my employer uses two tiers for the health insurance costs and i moved from just under the tier to just over it. the different in costs is $100 a month but the “merit raise” doesn’t quite cover that.

    1. Kes*

      That’s worse than the OP’s case, to me – at least there the decrease was due to factors outside the employer’s control. You would think in your case they should know what their own tiers are. Did you point this out to your boss?

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      We had that happen at one point – they revamped our tiers to put an in-between level in place as well as tweaking the tiers*, and set a policy to hold everyone’s health insurance premiums for the calendar year to the salary tier they were in on January 1, even if they got a salary increase mid-year. I’m sure it’s still possible that someone would get a raise that kicks them up to a tier where they have a net loss, but it’s super uncommon now.

      *The table now is something like, under $16/hour your premium is $X, $16.01-22 your premium is 1.25X, $22.01-50 your premium is 1.5X, and $50+ it’s 2X. The plan I’m on would be, basically, $33/40/50/66 per paycheck, so the jumps are much more limited.

  19. Person from the Resume*

    Ha! I’ve never assumed a cost of living raise was pegged to actual COL increases in the area. How does that work for companies that have workers in many locations or who work from home all over the country?

    I interpret a cost of living raise as a small raise given across the board to everyone at the company without consideration to performance. Everyone is getting a little more.

    Now it absolutely sucks that you’re taking home less than last year, but if you hadn’t gotten the raise you’d be taking home $70 less than you are now so it is something but I know it feels like a slap in the face.

    TL;DR: A COL raise isn’t exactly what you thought it was. Don’t complain about it in those terms because you’ll appear out of touch in thinking it was pegged to actual COL which might be connected to local taxes but certainly can’t consider the exact cost of your benefits.

  20. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    OP4, while Alison is right about the OSHA regs, there is another way of handling it. It involves attorneys (what else would anyone expect from me?).

    There is something called Calculus of Negligence and involves the “Hand Test.” The Hand Test is this:

    where B is the cost (burden) of taking precautions, and P is the probability of loss (L). L is the gravity of loss. The product of P x L must be a greater amount than B to create a duty of due care for the defendant.

    So based on that, if the cost of remediating the mold problem is less than the amount of $$ per *each* loss (each employee involved….medical costs, etc.) multiplied by the probability of that loss happening, the employer would be obligated to remediate the mold.

    Not a lawyer. Read about this just the other day and am completely fascinated with it. (Learned Hand was one of the most oft-quoted lower court judges in the early 1900’s. He is also the grandfather of Richard Jordan, the actor who played Jeffrey Pelt in The Hunt for Red October. Some Friday morning trivia for y’all!)

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      Our law school intramural soccer team was the Learned Hand balls.

      The Hand test comes in if there’s a tort suit (note: that’s a state claim, so your results might vary). Definitely not the ideal or most efficient way of handling the problem.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        While not the most ideal or efficient, could it be used to deal with the problem?

  21. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 COL raises are never enough to cover your actual cost of living. And maybe your manager wasn’t aware of the tax increase or didn’t think that the increased health insurance cost would decrease your take home pay. I’ve never gotten one, but they’re generally small. What I wish companies would realize is that if they want to retain good employees, they need to provide some extra benefit if they can’t provide more money. I’ve never been one motivated by paycheck only, because there are other benefits within a job that are just as or more important to me (PTO, commute, flex hours, WFH, being treated like a human and not a robot, etc.). I don’t want a $50 Amazon gift card and a gift box from Harry & David (or a $250 vest with the company name on it)…give me an extra day off.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Once I got a corporate gift, as in, it came from the corporate store and most people just got a jacket. It was branded, but still a decent jacket. But I don’t like wearing brand names and I didn’t need a jacket, so I asked and learned that I could get anything from the catalog that cost the same or less. I can’t remember now, but I think I picked a toolkit. Now that was a good gift!

  22. SassyAccountant*

    #5 – My husband is in politics and I have never worked in politically active environments. People know what my husband does, but I in no way ask for donations, volunteer hours, or generally talk about the campaign. I guess I’ve always thought it was unfair or in poor taste to bring his world into my world. I pretty much treat it like if someone asks me to buy from their MLM, or fundraisers for schools, sports etc. It’s just not my thing to ask a captive audience to contribute in some way. I feel like a lot of people donate or buy because it’s a co-worker and they don’t want to appear rude and have it affect their working relationship. I just don’t like the idea of putting someone on the spot even by accident or inference.

  23. bunniferous*

    I sell foreclosure houses for the VA. If any of these houses look like they have mold or mildew(we are required to say “discoloration”) they put a Hold Harmless on the house-what that means is in order to enter the house you have to sign a paper saying you will hold the va harmless for any health effects from any mold or mildew in the home. THEY take it very seriously.

    I wonder if any lawyers can weigh in on any legal risk the company is taking by not dealing with the issue?

  24. Dunworkin'*

    Having retired last year after 46 years in the workplace, I can definitely say that a “cost of living” increase will never amount to more than a few dollars a month, and most definitely will never cover your actual increase in daily expenses. This annual raise (and your employer isn’t required to give you one) needs a new name.

  25. RussianInTexas*

    LW#1 – you sweet summer child.
    How would you like to work somewhere with no COL at all, and possible merit raises that no one ever see being restricted to between 1-3% total?

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is really unkind. Can we not play the “Sure, you have it bad but I have it harder wah wah wah” card here today?

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I think she is young and early in her career, and I think she expects more than the employers will ever want to give her. Some will do better because they think it’s better for the business, some will do less, some will do nothing at all, and none will WANT to do anything.
        You get used to the feelings of unfairness and being underwhelmed eventually.
        Unfortunately she will have to find another job to get a raise.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          That’s really still not helpful to the OP, and not true across the board for all employers.

          I have never received “just” a COL raise at any of my employers, barring government (in which we all knew the raise structure going in, and the health insurance would not have been affected like this).

          Life isn’t a race to see who has it worse. Someone else having a worse situation doesn’t make your bad situation any better for you.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Everywhere I have ever worked used COLAs as merit raises. You could get 1-3% based on performance. This is probably more typical than not.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Probably, but putting it forward as needing to get used to unfairness is an exceptionally crappy way of going about life, and still not helpful for the OP.

              Again, life isn’t a race to see who has it worse.

        2. Beth Jacobs*

          I never got used to feelings of unfairness and being underwhelmed. If I had them, I tried to resolve the issue with my boss and if I couldn’t, I got a different job.

        3. JustaTech*

          Uh, I’ve gotten both COLA and merit raises without having to change jobs.

          I’ve also worked at places and times where there was a total salary freeze with no COLA because of the ’08 recession.

          It really depends on your industry and location.

    2. Summersun*

      Crabs in a bucket. Lecturing people to accept crap because there could be more theoretical crap just covers us all in…crap.

  26. GigglyPuff*

    Yeah I work in state government, no one where I work ever gets raises. We get the CoL adjustment, usually around 2% each year, but that’s only if the legislature approves it. It usually comes out to enough to cover the increase in my rent, just barely. It’s towards the top of my con list of my job.

    Luckily the health insurance is pretty top notch, and I have a chronic illness, so that weighs heavily on the pro list.

    1. Me*

      I work for a county government and while there’s some appealing state jobs that would be raises in the sense of responsibility/title, the pay would be a massive cut. my insurance is pretty great so if you ever feel like looking around, don’t rule out county level positions.

      We get the occasional COLA and the occasional “Merit”.

      1. kittymommy*

        Same. I work for local gov’t and while I am definitely paid lower than market rate (both public and private) the benefits are very good.

        We tend to get either “COLA” (it’s never called that) of about 1-2% or merit raises that are normally around 3% but can technically go up to 5%. We never get both the same year.

  27. Jennifer*

    Unfortunately the best way to increase your income when you work at a place like that is to find another job. I know that’s very difficult to do, especially now.

  28. Possum*

    I got a small raise one year that actually had me LOSE money, because it just barely pushed me into a higher tax bracket. I asked them to return me to my original salary until the raise would be worth it (ie enough of a raise that I could protect that income in RRSPs) and negotiated for just more vacation time and days off.

    1. Summersun*

      That’s not how U.S. taxation works, not sure about elsewhere in the world. U.S. tax rates are marginal.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’s perfectly possible for such a thing to happen in the country where I live. If the boss offers you a pay rise, you first take a look at how it’ll affect your taxes (and other considerations like daycare and school meal payments which are salary-dependent) before even accepting the pay rise.

      1. Observer*

        That’s not true. It is absolutely possible to get pushed into a higher tax bracket. It’s not that common, but it happens.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          But the higher tax rate is only applied to income above that bracket’s bottom. All the other income is taxed at the lower rate. The after-tax amount paid will be larger than before the raise.

    2. Colette*

      That’s not how tax brackets work in Canada, either. You only get taxed the higher rate on the amount that falls into that tax bracket – for example:
      First $20,000 – 10%
      Second $20,000 – 15%
      Third $20,000 – 20%

      So if you make $20,000, you pay $2000
      If you make $40,000, you pay $2000 + $3000 = $5000
      If you make $40,001, you pay $2000 + $3000 + $0.20 = $5000.20

    3. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I’m curious about what country Possum is in, as I’m in the UK and here they are marginal so if your total salary goes up to a level that puts you into a higher tax bracket you only pay the higher rate on the amount abouve that limit –
      0 on income up to £12,500
      20% on income between £12,501 and £50,000
      40% on income between £50,001 and £140,000
      45% on income over £150,000

      So if you had a raise from £48K to £51K you’d only pay the 40% on the £1K over the threshold, not on the whole £51K.
      (If you earn over £100,000 you do start to lose your nil rate band, so you will pay some tax on the first £12,500 but that would not mean you were taking home less in total.

      I think there are situations where someone who is claiming means tested state benefit of tax credits might end up with an effective drop, as they might lose entitlement for things such as free prescriptions or dental treatment, even though their income on paper is the same or higher.

      1. Possum*

        Lol I love people telling me this isn’t what happened with my taxes in Canada. I earn a side hustle and my income was pushed into a higher bracket with the small raise from work. I lost a ton of money on several funerals that year when family members passed and I couldn’t afford to keep my income in RRSP’s. The raise cost me money, for my situation, and I resolved it by staying at my old salary and taking extra paid days off lieu. I worked with an accountant to handle this.

        1. Colette*

          If you take out RRSPs, they are taxed at your marginal (highest) tax rate. So in my example above, if you made $30,000 and took $10,000 out of RRSPs, you would be taxed at 15%. If you made $40,000 and took $10,000 out of RRSPs, you would be taxed at 20%. But you still have more money overall than if you hadn’t taken out the RRSPs (and increased your income).

  29. Uranus Wars*

    #5. My company is similar. They like for us to be involved at any level we are comfortable with. They do ask that it be done on your own time. Last night I was canvassing and that is fine as long as I do not wear a company shirt or anything that could be construed as me advocating for one issue on behalf of the company. We are one of the biggest employers in our state and very well known, so I understand this stance.

  30. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

    #1 Cost of Living
    This issue really puzzles me as well. I wish I had something useful to offer the LW, but I really just have the same questions around this issue.
    At my employer, our raises are so miniscule (1- 1.5 % is considered FANTASTIC and only reserved top performers) that my salary is not even keeping up with normal economic inflation. Every time I raise this issue it is treated like a total red herring, management acts like they don’t know what I’m talking about, or I’m treated like the concept of economic inflation is something I just made up out of whole cloth. I work for a large company with offices across the country and we have location-specific payscales so I know they are highly aware of the fact that cost of living varies from place to place and over time.
    I really don’t have a “solution” for this (other than finding a better employer or continuously changing companies so I get a chance to re-negotiate my salary), but if anyone is interested, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a handy online inflation calculator that may help some people in these conversations with their managers:

    Best of luck to you, OP. Even presenting hard data to my employer has gotten me nowhere, but perhaps it will do you some good. At a minimum, it may help you in future salary negotiations.

  31. employment lawyah*

    1. My cost-of-living raise doesn’t cover my increased costs of living
    In all seriousness: Why do you work there? Usually this is because the job gives you intangible benefits (pride, freedom, good feelings, flexibility, opportunity) which balance out the low pay. (Sometimes it’s “I can’t find anything which pays better, but it doesn’t sound like that fits you.)

    If you’re otherwise happy you can always try to get them to “compensate” you with more of the things which made you take the job in the first place.

    2. My company refuses to tell people why they’re being fired
    This is… odd. I suspect it is someone trying to do damage control: You actually don’t want to say TOO much about firing (it isn’t a conversation, argument, or trial requiring proof; it’s just a decision) but this sounds very odd. They have gone too far in the other direction. Certainly as a rule, people should not have “no idea why they were fired.”

    3. Should I reply to “thanks!” emails?
    Generally not.

    4. My office won’t deal with our mold problem
    Is it possible you’re overreacting? Some people get really worked up about mold.

    I live in a damp area and, well…. there’s mold most places. Here, there was mold UNDER A WATER COOLER, which is actually not really a big deal and does not require, in normal terms, any special “attending to” other than wiping it up with some Lysol and moving on, which they did.

    I’ve seen people swear under oath that that they were having an abormal allergic reaction to “black mold,” which was later just tested to be ordinary mildew (not all black spots are “black mold”)

    Anyway:Your office is probably a bit damp in some spots. It may be mildewy in some other spots like closet corners. If you’re one of the people who is unusually sensitive to mildewy smells, you may have to try to move. The company is usually not obligated to entirely revamp their air control and HVAC system to suit everyone, and a bit of mildewy smell is unlikely to be an OSHA issue. You might, however, consider this (sorry to be blunt:) If you think that professionally cleaning a carpet of basic mildew (which is way more than is required, actually) is insufficient that suggests you may be one of the people who is focused on mold more than is usual; make sure your symptoms are real and not psychosomatic.

    1. TTDH*

      Not sure why you’re so convinced LW4 is having psychosomatic symptoms. Multiple employees over six years doesn’t exactly sound psychosomatic to me.

      1. pancakes*

        It’s a particularly odd response given that the letter writer mentions having been diagnosed with both asthma and a mold allergy.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t at all agree that being a lawyer compels this sort of response; I am one myself. Not every employment lawyer represents the sort of employer who looks for shoddy excuses to not remedy mold, either.

      2. employment lawyah*

        I’m not convinced at all. It’s merely a possibility to consider.

        As to why: The first reason was the fact that they seemed disproportionately upset by “mildew under a water cooler”. The second reason was that they were also incorrectly upset that the mildew supposedly wasn’t cleaned up right–although it was; mildew is no big deal. And the third reason is that unless I am misreading, the symptoms didn’t show up until AFTER it was was “insufficiently cleaned.”

    2. Lord Peter Wimsey*

      This response to LW #4 reads as dismissive and unhelpful. Recall the commenting rules re. armchair diagnosing and accepting the LW’s expertise in their own situation. Just because you don’t have issues with mold does not mean that it isn’t a real and often very dangerous problem for others.

  32. Not Me*

    “I’ve heard from former employees that when the company lets someone go, they don’t tell them anything about *why*, just that today is their last day. In some cases the person getting fired expects it somewhat based on past conversations, PIPs, etc., but some people are completely blindsided and never know what made them lose their job. Is this normal?”

    I’ve had employees claim they weren’t told why they were fired after sitting through a dozen meetings about their performance over 6 months with incredibly consistent “you will lose your job if things don’t change” messaging. Sometimes, people choose not to hear what they don’t want to hear.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      Cosigned. I just had someone tell me that I am mean and don’t follow my company’s policies because I didn’t warn or suspend her before terminating her. I literally just told her a couple weeks ago that she is on thin ice and we need to see improvement in X, Y, and Z. Then when she continued to perform poorly, “This is what I meant last week when I said we need to see improvement in X. This is what needs to happen for us to consider your performance improved. Can you do that?” Still no improvement. So then we terminated, and she says it’s a big surprise.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I agree but if it is multiple people saying the same thing it seems as though there is, at the very least, poor communication.

      s it not usual to have some sort of written record of any disciplinary or if someone was fired? I’ve only been involved with one actual firing (and a couple of ‘resigned while under investigation) but each time we write to them to confirm the date of termination, reasons for firing etc. (and details of final pay)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +1000. Early on in my current job, a teammate was let go and our managers for some reason decided not to tell us. We found out when our emails to him started bouncing. Of course, we all were “is this going to happen to me tomorrow?” Our manager gathered us all and told us that ex-teammate had been on a PIP, and that no one would lose their job out of the blue, without the company following the established process. They also did a better job with announcements from there on out.

      2. Not Me*

        No, actually, it’s not all that normal to give the terminated employee a document stating the reason for their termination. Like I said though, they probably had lots of documentation leading up to that point. A PIP, warnings, reviews, etc.

        If you’ve only been involved in 1 actual involuntary termination perhaps it’s just a lack of experience, but I can say I’ve seen plenty of employees claim to their peers they weren’t told why, or they were fired for no reason, when that is just blatantly false. It’s a lot easier to tell your co-workers your boss is a jerk and you’re just a victim than to say “yeah, I’ve been screwing things up for months and they’e given me plenty of chances”.

      3. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, multiple people makes me question it. I worked in a place that more than once basically decided someone’s face didn’t fit and would subsequently rid of them on the first pretext they could make stick. More than once they said ‘we have a paper trail/documentation’, but when asked for it they never produced it. They either got rid of or drove away every decent and semi-decent employee within five years.

        A good, reasonable company should have some kind of paperwork, or at least be able to provide some sort of paperwork on request.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          That sounds like a crummy little family-owned business I worked for back in the day. It was generally known that the boss would let people go simply because he’d conclude they’d been there long enough. Usually about three years. A while back I looked them up online and lo and behold he’s still in business. How do they do it?

          1. Alternative Person*

            As far as I can tell, they one way or another fill a niche well enough that they make money. Like being the only gym in the district or being an affordable/accessible form of a service that’s usually not.

            The company I was talking about did have to take a serious downsize a few years after I left because they drove off or didn’t listen to anyone who wanted to help the business and that was the final straw for the few remaining good folks, but they just about keep trucking along because the bread and butter work they do is great. The last remaining person I knew from my time there may be a lazy git, but his client facing work holds up.

            1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              We were a niche business back then. Nowadays clients like ours can DIY it with website wizards and online services. We lost a lot of customers every quarter, but the owner could sell snowballs to polar bears and he brought in enough new clients to make up for the ones that dumped us.

  33. Fieldpoppy*

    Alison, off topic but you might want to know — since the outage yesterday, my browsers (chrome on a mac and safari on my phone) are giving me a delay before connecting to your site with a scary “looking for it!” message. Not an error screen I’ve ever seen before. Just FYI since I saw your tweet about exploring new hosts.

    1. pancakes*

      It’s not a scary message – it’s the hosting company taking precautions to prevent DDOS attacks.

        1. Observer*

          If this is useful information for anyone: I’m finding that different browsers seem to be responding a bit differently – one browser too MUCH longer than the other to get into the site.

  34. MsChanandlerBong*

    Re: #2

    I work with freelancers, and I am not allowed to tell them why they’re being let go, either. I think it is CRAZY, but my boss won’t budge. I mean, I sort of get his reasoning–when you tell them they’re fired due to poor work quality, they’ll send you 15 emails arguing with you and waste a bunch of your time. We’ve also had disgruntled ex-freelancers do things like send racist letters to one of our editors, try to launch DDoS attacks on our website, and steal our clients’ info and contact them directly to badmouth us. But I still think it’s weird and unfair (although not as weird as not telling an actual W-2 employee why they’re being fired).

  35. Esmerelda*

    OP #1, I feel you! My company does “cost of living raises” too, that are woefully under actual increases in living costs. One year my rent went up by $50 a month, my health insurance went up by $40 a month, and my wages went up by… $42 a month. (Some of the higher-ups have an ongoing joke that for lower-level employees, the annual raise is just there to account for the health insurance increases. I don’t think they realize that it’s even worse than that.) And then higher rates of taxes with a higher rate of pay don’t help, either. I love my job, but the “raises” sure suck. I’m sorry that you’re in that boat, too! Know that you’re not alone. But, on the bright side, many companies could not even do a modest cost of living increase with COVID this year, so as trite as this is to say, it’s great that your company was able to raise your wage, if only by a little. I sympathize so much, though.

  36. B Wayne*

    To COL Raise: The best way to beat this is to find another job. As soon as I read “non profit” I think “No Pay”! Get a real job, forget the pie in the sky, work for peanuts stuff and get on with it. Get a real job and soon! Then the COL will be a nice, little bonus, not a necessity.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Not only is working for a non-profit a “real job”, but there are also non-profits that pay market rates and bonuses, just like there are for-profits that are stingy with raises and feel like employees should be grateful just to have a job.

        I think OP #1 would be best served by getting a real job based on some additional information she’s posted above, but she has a real one now and denigrating nonprofit work as “pie in the sky” and not a “real job” is pretty uninformed and unnecessary.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Let’s maybe not tell OP to sell their soul for a bigger paycheck.

      And a job at a nonprofit (which I’ve never had, because I did sell my soul; but several of my friends have) is absolutely a real job.

    2. Calli Co*

      Um, there are plenty of “for-profit” companies that screw their employees and non-profits that pay well.

      This is a mean spirited and not helpful comment.

  37. Paulina*

    For the mold: because the visible mold was cleaned up, they may be brushing continued complaints as baseless, in your head. Is there the potential to get physical evidence of continuing mold? I had a mold problem at work for years, due to condensation from bad construction, and it was brushed off for a long time. What finally had it dealt with was sending photographs to the head of facilities management.

  38. soon to be former fed really*

    #2: Sometimes firings happen during probationary periods with no explanation given. It sucks, but often, organizations require no justification during probation and procedures for dismissal are streamlined.

  39. Cassidy*

    The only thing worse than an unnecessary “Thanks!” overload is when it’s done via Reply All.


  40. Persephone Underground*

    Baha! #2 sounds like that old fallacy people used to follow about “don’t apologize, that could set you up as accepting responsibility if they sue!” The facts were that apologizing (1) doesn’t count as accepting responsibility legally and (2) is your best chance of not being sued, because people who are angry you wouldn’t even apologize sue way more often (Iirc this was actually studied and measured).

    The company probably gives no reason because they think it covers their rear in the event of a lawsuit (if you give no reason you can’t accidentally give an illegal one, right?), but of course Alison is right that it is much more likely to *increase* lawsuits because it leaves the people being let go to fill in the blanks themselves. Same ridiculous kind of backfiring legal cover fallacy as the old “don’t apologize” canard!

  41. Calli Co*

    OP#3, I actually think sending a “thanks” email is overkill anyway. When my boss tells me to do something, I don’t respond “ok”, I just do it unless she asks me for a confirmation.

    I honestly hate when I send something to one of my staff and they say, thanks, or I will do that, or whatever. It’s my job to help you, if I tell you to do something I expect it is done…it’s just unnecessary and I always feel like the “thankers” are the worst employees. Because instead of doing their work correctly, they are thanking me for the feedback. Just do it, don’t thank.

    Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent, but my boss did send a mass email once about not sending her “thanks” emails because they were clogging her box.

  42. ColdHardTruth*

    LW #1: I have a question you should ask yourself. What does the executive team at this “nonprofit” take home? I’ve seen many times that while the rank and file employees of a company like this struggle to make ends meet the executive team rakes in salaries in excess of half a million dollars or more funded by the taxpayer or donations. The “we sacrifice for the mission” attitude frequently stops somewhere around middle management.

    If I were you I’d look for another job.

  43. Not in the US*

    #2 – not sure where you’re located, but it’s actually quite common in a lot of countries for companies not to provide specific reasonings to the employee being terminated. Employers aren’t going to give a terminated employee any grounds for bringing a claim for illegal termination, discrimination, to seek compensation for pay in lieu of termination notice, etc. It’s very common for managers to just deliver the end of relationship conversation and for HR to take over to avoid any liability issues.

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