my employee wants too much time off for the holidays

A reader writes:

Two of my employees are hourly graduate students who mostly work nights and weekends when our full-time employees do not. The position is pre-professional, meaning we treat them like any other professionals, while giving them coaching and help looking for full-time work in the field.

We’re clear up-front that they are expected to work some hours around holidays, so that we have enough employees around to stay open. This year, one of our students said, “My parent recently died” as a reason to get out of working around any holidays, and has requested time off for smaller family events, such as a relative’s birthday, because “it is important to be there since they lost someone recently.” So far, I’ve allowed this to happen without questioning things, as grieving is tough and takes time. But she is not willing to negotiate about being around any time around Christmas–demanding three full weeks off, saying she’ll need a lot of time with family since it is such a tough time of year, and crying when she told me. I reiterated that this is her last year as a student and thus her last year getting a month off for the holidays, and she needs to get used to not being able to go home for weeks at a time.

I have assumed that this death was very recent, but I went online to search for an obituary, and found the death was over two years ago. I want to think that this employee and their family has had enough time to grieve and should get on with their lives, which means not using it as an excuse for extra time off. However, I’ve never had to deal with the death of a parent, so maybe I’m being cold about this situation.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Amtelope*

    I feel like the workplace norm does need to be communicated here, somehow; maybe something like “This is a pre-professional position, which means that we treat you like employees rather than students. Three weeks off for the holidays isn’t something that entry-level positions in our field can typically provide, and it’s not something we can provide. Given that, do you want to take less time off at the holidays so that you can continue in this job, or would you prefer to end your employment here at the end of the term so that you can go home for the entire winter break?”

    It may well be that because this is the student’s last chance to get a month off for the holidays, and they’ve had a rough year, it fundamentally isn’t worth it to them to give that up for a student job. But the choice needs to be clear: this extended trip home over the holidays, or this job.

    1. aubrey*

      I agree with you. When I was in university, I actually did quit a retail job early since I knew it was my last chance for an extended break and I wanted to take it. It might be many years (if ever) before this person can have 3 full weeks off in a row at the holidays again!

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I was pretty lucky that my boss at the restaurant where I worked during college really liked me! I don’t know if they would have allowed anyone who was so-so at their job quit at the beginning of summer and be re-hired at the beginning of the fall semester several years in a row!

          It worked in my favor that their business in that small college town was slower in the summer, so they were probably glad to have me off the payroll for 3-month stints. In a job where they need the coverage, like OP describes, that’s not an option! Amtelope’s suggestion is a good one because it takes that employee out of the equation (if they choose to resign) and might lead to less resentment from the other employees who end up filling in the gap.

      1. D'oh*

        That’s fair. I was jus thinking, “but I’m taking three weeks off this year!” but I’ve also been with my employer for 17 years and am an executive-level employee so I have more flex. I forgot what it was like to be entry level for a minute. Thanks for reminding me.

      2. Mil*

        That’s morally wrong though? It’s bad that our society stratifies time off from labor by class. We’re making our society worse and hurting people unnecessarily by perpetuating this. “We’ve always done it this way” and “I had to put up with it so younger people do to” are never good excuses for doing something wrong.

        1. TexasTeacher*

          I don’t think it’s set up as a class stratification in jobs; it’s just that entry level positions don’t usually have a lot of time off or flexibility built into the job and the budget.

          1. pancakes*

            To the contrary, automated scheduling software is a huge business in the US, and many large employers use it to maximize revenue. For employees these systems are opaque, and the scheduling they produce is often unpredictable. There’s a good 2020 Motherboard article about it titled, “Here’s What Happens When an Algorithm Determines Your Work Schedule.”

            1. refereemn*

              Part of my job is to research and recommend platforms like this. Contact center employees are ALWAYS scheduled via algorithms. It’s call work force management software (although it’s sometimes called work force engagement software now, to make it sound better), It evaluates historical call, email, and chat volumes as well as any planned events (large mailing, etc.) to determine optimal resource need.

        2. Tara*

          I would disagree with it being about morals, and more about being that you’ve done your time and made those sacrifices. Being unwilling to at a junior level, can be selfish to other people (especially those also at your level), especially when it’s a challenging time of year.

    2. Dust Bunny*


      Shifting from the idea of long-ish breaks between semesters and over the summer to the idea of only intermittent long weekends was a bit of an adjustment. I think this could be handled as a continuation of the practice of acclimating them to workplace norms.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        True. There was a letter here a while back where the letter writer, who seemed to be relatively new to the workforce, was furious that the office was open between Christmas and New Year’s. The letter writer groused about having “to give up part of [their] holiday week.”

        Quiet as it’s kept, dude, December 28 is not a holiday. The holiday is not actually a week long.

        1. Self Employed*

          I’ve had many jobs where the whole industry shut down that week. I was married December 27 because my ex and I had the week off. In grad school, I needed a new mercury lamp for the fluorescence microscope and all the microscope suppliers were closed. Luckily, one self-employed Zeiss tech worked from home (a small ranch near Livermore) and wasn’t traveling so he made an appointment to sell me a lamp.

        2. refereemn*

          And, if you work in a retail related industry, even at headquarters, you probably don’t get a lot of time off over the holidays. I worked in IT for one of the largest retailers in the US, specifically in the telecommunications department, and we didn’t get black Friday off, ever! It’s one of the highest call volume days of the year for the contact center, especially in credit card servicing. Also, that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is very busy because of the volume of gift card redemption that happens.

        3. LITJess*

          Which letter was that? I’d be interested in Alison’s response because I’ve had employees who seem to have a similar reaction to our library being open between Christmas and New Years.

    3. Aquawoman*

      +1, especially because it is then falling on other employees to work more to allow this person to have so much time off.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think that’s a reasonable way to put it as well – focusing on the norms for your field, Especially when it comes to work hours and times, and how much time off they can expect to have after graduation.

      Then let the employee decide what they want to do. I know that this is an old letter, but it’s still a good plan for anybody going forward who is in the same situation.

    5. Hiker*

      Also agreed! I get that the student will at some point need to follow professional norms, but honestly, as a much older than average grad student… I know what professional norms are, but plan on taking advantage of all that amazing flexibility until it’s gone. Giving an explanation and a choice like this is the best way to go.

    6. The academician*

      I feel like the workplace norm does need to be communicated here, somehow; maybe something like “This is a pre-professional position, which means that we treat you like employees rather than students.

      What you can legitimately expect depends on whether you pay these graduate students as professionals or as student labor.

      If you’re paying them as professionals, then you can expect they will work under the same terms as professionals. Of course, they’re free to negotiate such terms (generally, three weeks off will be too much of an ask, but this sounds like a university, so who knows) or to quit if there’s no meeting of the minds as to terms.

      If you’re paying them as student labor, or the job is part of their fellowship, then I think things are different, and that your expectation should be they are on the academic calendar for students. Student housing on a university campus may not even be open during winter break.

      1. Sparrow*

        I don’t necessarily agree with this. If they were undergrads, sure, but they’re not. If they knew going in that they were expected to work during this period, it’s completely reasonable to hold them to that, barring an emergency situation. I had a pre-professional GA-ship when I was in grad school, and unlike the positions held by most members of my cohort, the position was for 12 months instead of 9.5 . The job came with summer work expectations, and it would not have been reasonable for me to expect three weeks off in July just because it was a student position.

        1. doreen*

          I’m not sure that even undergrads should expect three weeks off at Christmas under all circumstances – the OP mentions staying open , so it doesn’t seem that it’s a university that shuts every thing down for an entire month. Some universities don’t have housing that shuts down during breaks- some don’t have housing at all.

          1. Rayray*

            Yeah, I always had a job throughout college where many other college students worked at the same place and three weeks off was not normal at all.

          2. Self Employed*

            Graduate housing is typically apartments with kitchens, not dorms with meal service. Many grad students have spouses and even kids–they’re not going to move out and stay with family during breaks.

        2. Mil*

          How precisely do you propose that someone living in student housing that closes for school breaks, who is being paid minimum wage or perhaps nothing at all, navigate this? Should they sleep at their desks? Or maybe on the sidewalk in front of the building, maybe begging you for a dollar so you can feel important and better than them?

          1. doreen*

            The letter doesn’t say the student lives in student housing that closes for school breaks- in fact it doesn’t even say the job is at the university, just that two of the employees are hourly graduate students. It’s entirely possible that the job is unrelated to the university – MSW and Masters in Mental Health Counseling candidates often do field placements outside the university and some of them are paid. I’ve also heard of student teaching arrangements that turn into paid internships – again, not at the university. These assignments are with school districts which typically have a ten day or so winter break , not the month or so colleges have.

      2. Fake Engineer*

        >Student housing on a university campus may not even be open during winter break.

        Everywhere I’ve attended had at least one dorm that remained open. If you needed to stay over break (for situations like this, winter athletes, or if you were an international student), you told the school and they gave you a room. The normal residents of those rooms had to move their stuff into storage. You agreed to this as a condition of living in this dorm and people did it willingly because it was the nicest/newest.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          There’s also usually an additional cost associated with this. I know if I wanted to stay even an extra night (i.e., come back on a Saturday night instead of Sunday from break; or leave on Saturday morning instead of Friday night), there was a fee.

          However, as commenters have mentioned upthread, this is generally not the case with graduate housing.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          There’s also usually an additional cost associated with this. I know if I wanted to stay even an extra night (i.e., come back on a Saturday night instead of Sunday from break; or leave on Saturday morning instead of Friday night), there was a fee.

          However, as commenters have mentioned upthread, this is generally not the case with graduate housing.

    7. Lucia Pacciola*

      I can relate. In my callow youth, I quit a job as a delivery driver for a major parcel delivery company, because I really wanted to visit my SO in Europe over the Christmas holidays, and my employer had a pretty strict, “Christmas is when we need you most and if you can’t show up for that we really don’t need you at all” attitude.

    8. tamarack and fireweed*

      I guess how I think about the situation depends on the nitty-gritty of these student workers’ employment. “Part-time hourly worker” to me means they don’t get paid if they don’t work.

      If “pre-professional position” means that the position comes with an approximation of the benefits that full-time professional employees would receive – market-based salary, health insurance, retirement benefits, at least *some* paid time off (at least for sickness) – I would be understanding of the OP’s desire to hold the student workers to the rules that have been set out around holiday work. If, however, they are glorified precarious workers without any of these, and the “pre-professional” status is about mentoring and getting any kind of foot into a competitive industry at all, then I don’t think the employer has much moral high ground here.

      For what it’s worth, we give student workers *more* leeway around getting time off for the holidays (or other necessities of life than full-time workers (even the ones that aren’t unionized). (For example, a student worker was allowed to start a week late, paid, because the first week of the semester-based contract coincided with the start of moose hunting season) because we know that they don’t get benefits, or time off, and even more so if they’re strictly hourly. (Our student workers aren’t – the pay is according to a semester-based and graded scale. But it’s still low, and there are no benefits.)

    9. Certaintroublemaker*

      Fully agree. My first thought was that LW was going to say no and student would promptly quit in order to have the time off anyway. Might as well get in front of it.

  2. Rafflesia Reaper*

    This time of year is awful for anyone who’s missing a family member, and the LW should be a little more empathetic. I lost my grandmother, my mom, and my dad on Thanksgiving day, in separate years, all before I turned 25. 2020 is the first year I wasn’t a blubbering mess for the entirety of November. (The only upside to this entire year being an absolute trainwreck!)

      1. Environmental Compliance*


        As someone who lost family members this year, and several over the past handful of years, all before I turned 30, there’s a benefit to being empathetic, yes, but there’s no reason to not sit this person down and tell them that 3 weeks off at the holidays isn’t going to be possible, and isn’t normally possible in many, many professional positions – in a matter of fact, but kind, manner. And it’s okay IMO for the manager to feel a bit frustrated by the request – as long as they don’t pass that frustration onto the employee.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          By handful of years…. since 2018, I have lost 2 grandparents, about to lose another, and an uncle, only one of which was somewhat expected, and the rest were very unexpected. I was very close to all of them. Not including in that count the family members who had cancer scares. Also had a major surgery during that time. It’s been a shite couple of years with 2020 being the poop-cherry on top.

          1. Quill*

            Not sure I’ve had a great year in terms of family togetherness since, oh, 2015?

            No, wait, 2018, that was about a year since the last of my grandparents passed, and also I spent like a week hanging with my younger cousins. That one was pretty good.

          2. refereemn*

            Poop-cherry! Love it! I said at the end of 2019 that it can’t get much worse and 2020 will be great as a new beginning. 2017 , my spouse had a 1 in 5 million kind of cancer and we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at Mayo Clinic, 2018 was filled with my spouse finding himself (understandably, to a point) and then deciding other things than me were more important, 2019 was getting divorced, reconnecting with an old friend who then lived 4000 miles away and realizing that I loved them, ending up in the hospital in a different city for nearly two weeks with a really bad case of acute encephalitis, spending many weeks going to Mayo Clinic specialists to try and determine the cause of the encephalitis and the prognosis. After all of that, I was ready for 2020 to be a new beginning. Well, it was a poop-cherry alright!

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I said above that kindly but firmly focusing on business norms is probably the best way to approach this. It is completely fair to tell the young employee that they have had quite a few other holidays off, now it is their co-worker’s turn to get some of that same time off. It is about balancing everyone’s needs.

          I suspect that the boss is frustrated with this employee and the crying about I need this time off and that frustration seeped into how they worded the letters.

        3. GreenDoor*

          This. We were just talking in my 10-person team meeting about how the holidays can be sad because it’s one of the times we remember people who are no longer with us – especially if that person was the party host or the one who kept traditions alive.

          Perhaps some sympathy (I know what it’s like to miss someone on the holidays) mixed with reality (ALL of us are miss someone on the holidays so your request is outrageous) is in order? I might say, “The holidays can be hard for all of us – this is a time when *many* people are remembering people we’ve lost or have to try to make the holidays happy while we’re feeling sad. But I’m sure you realize it’s not realistic for all of us to have a full three weeks off, right? We can give you X days….but not three weeks. Given that, tell me what make sense and let’s go from there…”

          1. Mrs. Weaver*

            I think your wording is really good. Sometimes people get so caught up in their own grief/problems/life, they forget that other people have those, too. A gentle reminder can go a long way.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree that OP should be more empathetic and that the grieving process can take years. This may not be what your were implying, but OP can be empathetic while still telling the student that they can’t accommodate 3 weeks around Christmas time. Depending on where they go work next they may not get off that much time for the holidays. Some places might only close on Christmas/thanksgiving day. Most employers have to juggle time off for the holidays due to various employee needs, while grieving is valid, it is not more/less than the needs of other employees to be off during the holidays.

      I don’t know if students work nights and weekends because that is how it works best with their schedule, or if they work those days/time because the position needs coverage during that time. If it is a coverage issue and students are explicitly hired to cover the odd times OP should let the student know.

      1. Rafflesia Reaper*

        I think you read me right — there’s a difference between “you’ve grieved enough” and “this isn’t realistic for the business.” One of those is a terrible answer.

        1. Malarkey01*

          And honestly, almost no business gives time off to grieve. Bereavement leave is usually a few days to maybe a week or two in generous companies. That time is suppose to cover the horrible logistics of death-planning and attending funerals, seeing a lawyer, the paperwork that goes with death. No one is done grieving after that. I think you can be compassionate and give a little more leeway with vacation time afterwards or being less on top of things, but businesses don’t let you take weeks off throughout the year for mourning and honestly in any medium sized office you probably have many employees within a year of close loss.

          1. Joielle*

            This is a good point. It kind of seems like the student is trying to use “I’m grieving a relative’s death” as an exception to existing vacation policies, like bereavement leave would be – but like you say, that’s not even what bereavement leave is.

            If they’re sad for a few days, they could consider using sick time. If they’re too upset to work for three weeks, they could seek medical attention and look into FMLA leave, or a leave of absence or something. But in this case, the employee is just pressuring their boss to let them take a longer vacation, which is kind of crappy. I understand why the OP feels resentful at being put in that position.

            1. lailaaaaah*

              To be fair, most students aren’t really aware of workplace norms and policies like that. I used to manage a university intern, and there was always at least one fairly major thing they needed to learn about an adult workplace when they arrived, from ‘bereavement leave is only one week shortly after the death’ to ‘please ensure you are wearing clothes that cover everything from your chest to your lower thighs’. Some are gracious when the norms are explained- particularly when there’s an impact on other staff, like there is here- while others can get very upset.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            At mine you get a few days to make arrangements, and that’s at a place that I feel is very generous with time off in general. You can take more in regular vacation time, but a request like this, for a lot of time off *several years later* would have to be negotiated with the rest of your department just like any other big chunk of vacation. The fact that it’s a sensitive issue doesn’t magically make it not-a-problem for your coworkers.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          Yes, I think this particular letter writer has two issues. One is that they have an employee whose expectations in terms of time off need to be recalibrated. The other is that they’ve become so frustrated by the employee that they’re allowing it to make them relatively judgmental about the employee’s emotions.

          I lost a parent as a teenager, and I’m not over it. I’m never going to be over it. If a boss were to tell me I’ve had enough time to grieve and shouldn’t want extra time with my family during difficult seasons (my parent died near Christmas, as did a grandparent and an uncle), I would immediately categorize that boss as an unfeeling jerk that I had no reason to respect and nothing to learn from.

          But if you take the judgements about the employee’s grief out of it and say “All of our employees need some time off over the holidays to see their families and we can’t approve a three week block of time,” that feels a lot more reasonable and mentorly to me. It certainly wouldn’t put me off in the same way it would if a boss basically accused me of grieving wrong or using my loss as an excuse for extra time off.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think the same way you said the boss should address this as just a coverage issue, the employee should have just requested 3 weeks off to see family. It may not be the case but mentioning the death and crying in front of the boss does make it seem like they are using it to get sympathy for something the employee/student knows in not realistic.

            Most of the time when I request time off, I just request the one/two weeks I want off without giving a reason. It usually comes out later in conversation, after it has been approved or denied, due to general small talk but I don’t usually mention it when requesting it in the first place.

            I agree saying someone has had enough time to grieve is wrong, but generally as a society we do give recently grieving people a bit more leeway than someone who lost a loved one years ago.

            1. GirlfromIpanema*

              Another commenter above said this which I thought really astutely hit the nail on the head:

              ” If they’re too upset to work for three weeks, they could seek medical attention and look into FMLA leave, or a leave of absence or something. But in this case, the employee is just pressuring their boss to let them take a longer vacation, which is kind of crappy. I understand why the OP feels resentful at being put in that position.”

              I don’t get the impression the letter writer is denying their grief, or that they should be ‘over it’ by now, but rather is rankling at the 1. clear misdirection this student used by letting them think this death was more recent than it was; 2. going about the request in a clearly manipulative way; 3. Claiming that they are an exception that deserves special consideration, including leaving other colleagues unable to take time off around the holidays, because ‘holidays are hard for me’ (but apparently not for anyone else?) It’s very, very icky. And if the loss was recent, this would all be a very different story.

      2. mediamaven*

        Yes. If the death really was 2 years ago it’s understandable that there would still be grieving but it also feels like the employee is holding a little emotional hostage but using that as the reason for the extended time off. That would really rub me the wrong way.

        1. e*

          I think Not sure why you would consider crying, an often involuntary response, to be holding people hostage.

          1. e*

            Hit enter accidentally, didn’t mean that to be quite so brusque, and quite frankly I think this employee is obviously asking for something unreasonable, but when I was grieving I would cry at 4 PM every day in the office and it was not about any of my coworkers!

            1. mediamaven*

              I’m not faulting them for crying. I’m saying if someone comes to you and says I need 3 weeks off for the holidays because I’m grieving the manager is going to be far more stuck between a rock and a hard place than if it was just a time off request. If we take the story at face value, I believe the employee is using the death as a way to get extra time off and that would rub me the wrong way. It’s a bit manipulative.

              1. WellRed*

                I agree. I think the employee is intentionally making it about the death and needing all the time off because of grief, but on some level knows if she didn’t put it that way, she wouldn’t get the time off.

              2. Person from the Resume*

                I agree. It seems to me that the employee might be playing a grieving card when they are asking for time off that they already know is unreasonable or unusual. But I know I don’t have all the context.

              3. Joielle*

                Yeah, it reads to me like the employee knows the request is likely to be denied, so they’re applying a little extra pressure. If I were the OP I would also really resent being put in that position.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  I bet that’s playing into a lot of this. There was frustration from all the holidays that everybody else isn’t able to take off because this one person is monopolizing all the holiday time off. Now they want yet more holiday time off and are turning on waterworks to pressure the boss to give them the time off they want.
                  I know it’s an old letter, so this specific situation has already been resolved – but it’s still something that impacts everyone, not just the employee and boss using tears to guilt into getting what they want.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  Yep, I think this is it. This is why the 2 years thing factors in – that is a really long time to be using this as a reason to put the manager in a difficult position. Not that you can’t or shouldn’t still be grieving after 2 years (of course most people would), but that it can’t be a very legitimate reason for taking a lot of extra time off.

                  In an ideal world I would like it to be, but that’s not where we are, at least not in the US.

          2. bleh*

            Not in this case or most, but some people absolutely use crying to hold people hostage at work. Imagine a colleague sitting through a faculty retreat with tears freely running down their face as we discuss assessment and other department issues, and then asking for some unreasonable something later in the day. Said colleague also wept when they wanted to be left alone and not answer questions about behavior, but all of a sudden was eloquent when they were asking the dean for more resources. Oh yes, tears can be a weapon.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            yes it’s often involuntary, but there definitely are people who can turn on the waterworks pretty easily. Not all actors go to Hollywood!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          If a boss finds themselves feeling like a hostage to tears then that is something the boss needs to work on.
          It might be helpful for the boss to clarify their definition of what exactly their roll is in this person’s life. This is the reality of the job. I have had to say to people, “There are limits here as to how much I am allowed to help you with this.”

          Bosses can fix some things but not all things. Bosses also have to consider what is fair for everyone in the group not just what is fair for the grieving person. What if several people wanted the same time off because of losses in their lives? Unlikely to happen, true. However, a boss has to consider such a scenario.

          There are many, many jobs out there that would find a 3 week request over the top. A 3 week request over Christmas would never even be considered. I am wondering why OP did not see this behavior last year at this time. Perhaps OP wasn’t there, or perhaps she was working elsewhere.

          In this particular instance I am not impressed with the fact that she tried to hide that the death was over a year ago. She made it ambiguous that one could assume it was this year. I am also not impressed that she is asking for this much time ON TOP of the time she has already had.

          I think it would be appropriate to remind her that most places offer a few days for funerals right around the time of passing, and this is called bereavement time. Any additional time would have to be covered by available vacation time. Alternatively, some situations might require a leave of absence. Extra time is totally understandable but it has to come from a “pot” of time, be it vacation time, leave time, or whatever.

          Here is where the boss has to understand how much they can and cannot do for a person. The boss cannot create this magical pot of time, that NO ONE else has, and suddenly grant more time off.
          If the tears feel manipulative then the boss needs to ask herself why. And then remind herself, “This is what is available to this employee… x and y and z.”

          It has very little to do with not caring and everything to do with the fact that the boss has to act in the best interest of the WHOLE group and the company.

          I had saved up an incredible amount of sick time- I mean months of sick time. A cohort was ill and probably dying. I went to my company and said that I wanted to donate sick time to my cohort. I could comfortably give Cohort a couple months of time and I would never miss it.
          And the company said NO. A very poor call on their part, I think. But there it is. We will never know how many employees started job searching when they saw management behave so coldly. I was out of there months later.

          If the boss has discretion, my suggestion would be to okay the time this year but also say that no more time off will be approved for the rest of the internship, as this request is a very large request and very unusual request and almost never granted. Then I would say, “Knowing this, do you still want to request this much time?” If she said yes, then I’d grant it, if I was allowed to grant it.

          1. lailaaaaah*

            I mean, for all that it’s unlikely, it’s also not at all impossible. Last year I took a week’s emergency leave because my partner became seriously ill and had to go into hospital- the day after I went off, my coworker became very unwell and ended up needing a week’s sick leave. My manager ended up doing everything on her own for a week, which was wonderfully kind of her, but I really don’t think she could have stretched to three. Some work situations just suck for everyone involved, and as a manager you have to make the best call you can for the team as a whole.

    2. Yorick*

      This time of year might also be awful for other employees, though, so they all deserve to get a reasonable amount of time off. If this one got 3 weeks off, someone else would have to give up their holiday time to cover.

  3. NotAnotherManager!*

    I would steer very far away from telling someone what an adequate amount of time for grieving the loss. Their grief is not the issue; their unrealistic expectation for time off is, especially if it was clearly conveyed from the outset. It can be tough to leave their emotions out of it when they are bringing them in, but it sounds like their options are to work their time scheduled or lose the position (just like a job), and it’s their choice to decide which they prefer to do.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yes, grieving is different for everyone and sometimes it hits me very hard years later (and some years not so much although I’m still sad). Monitoring and dealing with my emotions around grief is my job as an adult, and I still need to fulfill my duties to my employer or find a solution that works for both of us.
      This grad student taking three weeks off means the other grad student doesn’t get any time off (or other employees need to work extra). Considering that working around the holidays was expressly part of the job description upfront I like the wording Amtelope used in the first comment.

    2. MissFinance*


      My boss for my first job out of college liked to frame things as “teachable moments.” She came across as very condescending. She was very nit-picky, and I felt like I couldn’t trust her when problems arose not to turn it into some lecture about “how to handle this is your career”. I learned a lot about how to deal with a bad boss from her. The co-workers who I thought of as mentors that first year were basically everyone besides her. It was such a relief when I moved on from that role and my next boss was a much better boss.

      I feel like those new to the workforce do benefit from coaching, but there’s a line between coaching and being condescending.

  4. Ray Gillette*

    I like that Alison called attention to framing this in terms what you can and can’t do with this job rather than trying to turn it into a “teachable moment” about what the employee can expect in future jobs.

    1. 2020storm*

      Agreed. “you can have blankity blank just don’t expect that in the future” is my number one parenting mistake….

      1. Lil*

        Can you elaborate? I don’t have kids, but probably will in the near future and I’m curious how something like this would backfire.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          They have LONG memories for what they are permitted to do “just this once” but somehow always forget “just this once”.

          Consistency is the key. Mine don’t even question “no” once said by the parents because their experience on this earth is that “Mom said no to staying up late. Nothing we’ve ever done has convinced her otherwise.”

          1. Littorally*

            It’s not just children, either. I’ve run into this with coworkers and clients.

            “Okay, I’ve escalated this through three levels of management and given these highly unusual circumstances and a client with an eight-figure net worth, we can make an exception to X established process just this once.”

            Three weeks later…

            “Hey, you got my other client this exception, you can do it for this much smaller client too right?”

            1. chewingle*

              I was just thinking this, as well. I do everything I can to avoid making exceptions for people at work because I know that once I do, it won’t be the exception anymore.

        2. 2020storm*

          Kids aren’t rational adults, which is obvious when you think about it but much harder to remember in practice! You can tell a kid, “just this once you can bring your stuffed animal to school, but not tomorrow”—what you’re actually teaching is that it’s ok to bring the stuffed animal to school, that expectation has been set, and it’s impossible to break it. That is a very low stakes example.

          obviously, this is an adult, who should understand the “you can’t do this in the future” line. But since she’s new to this type of environment, the actual way to teach that you can’t take a stuffed animal to school usually is to just not ever do it.

          1. 2020storm*

            And as others have responded to my previous comment, it happens all the time in business with “rational” adults, because it’s easy to take advantage just like a kid does. At least it feels better when a kid does it.

          2. Green Goose*

            Completely agree. At my company, we would close down for a week in the summer and I remember my first year I asked if I could take a week off right before “just this once” and now every year I want to and do end up doing just that. I think I’d be pretty annoyed if it didn’t get approved now even though the likely intention of the week off was for people to get a week off without impacting business.

    2. MicroManagered*

      And also, that may not be true. This student might go on find a job where she CAN have 3 weeks off for the holidays, regardless of why. It’s probably pretty rare? But it’s not 100% unheard of. (I work at a university and we’ve accommodated 3-4 week vacations before.) Framing it as a “teachable moment” about how many weeks you can or can’t take off as a professional here might turn into the math teacher saying you won’t always have a calculator … yes, I do always have a calculator.

      1. De-Archivist*


        I’m presently a graduate student in an administrative role (paid plus a course release), and I’m not working over the break, nor am I expected to, because I’m not paid to work during this time. I was once just on the administrative side, before my grad school years, and I could see where someone with vacation time and political capital could make it work. (I’m older than your average grad student, so I have significant experience with professional norms.)

        As someone who came through an industry where even a one-week vacation was a feat of heroism that included guessing when major projects would come down based on institutional knowledge, scheduling vacation around those, and doing so months in advance, I truly get that some industries would not allow for this. On the two-hand, I’ve also worked places with holiday shut downs where an extended break and slow business in the winter where this wouldn’t be outrageous.

        If the unit the grad student is attached to truly couldn’t accommodate the extended break, of course, the student needs to be told. However, I’m curious as to whether or not this is true. The university will already probably be out at least the week between Christmas Day and New Years, plus a day or two on either side. With students also no longer on campus, workload in many faculty and administrative offices diminishes significantly. If we’d be refusing this vacation “on principle” or “as a teaching moment,” that often smacks of ‘I don’t have any good reason, but feel like I shouldn’t.’ If that’s the case, I’d grant it. If we did need the student, then it’s because workload requires it. That would be the reason not to grant the request. No reason to refuse a request because someone in the future might also refuse said request.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I think you’re kind of ignoring some of the context that’s in the letter: namely, these employees know up front that they’re going to be expected to work at some points near the holidays. It’s not new to this year or specific to this employee; it’s part of the gig (which presumably existed before now with other people in the role). She knew this when she took the job. And OP said this is so the workplace can be open. So even if lots of other campus stuff is closed then, it’s known and normal that this place is not.
          The fact that “also, this is not how this works at the vast majority of normal jobs” isn’t the primary reasoning. It’s a secondary thing. Like, not only is this not normal for here, it’s hardly normal anywhere, and it does no favors to make it seem otherwise. It’s a reinforcement of just how unreasonable the employee is being. Not only unreasonable for this job, but most others. It didn’t read at all to me like OP wants to decline “on principle”.

        2. Anonapots*

          Let’s assume, based on what the letter writer said, that they can’t accommodate it and they will need coverage.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        While now a days due to cellphones most people usually have a calculator on them it is true that most people will find themselves at some point without a calculator. I have run into situations where I needed to do quick basic mental math without my phone due to the battery dying, or forgetting it in the car/house. But the employer saying most employers will not allow you 3 weeks off around the holidays is correct and it should be a teachable moment, just because you might be able to find an employer that allows doesn’t mean you shouldn’t teach it.

        I have used several basic math equations many times in my everyday life and in a non math based job.

        1. Ray Gillette*

          The ability to do basic math in my head has served me well at many points in my life, and is usually faster than pulling out my phone. But that’s something I learned despite school, not because of it – I consistently got teachers who harped endlessly on “show your work” even for simple stuff like reducing a fraction or adding two small numbers.

          With this example, I think the best way to teach that many jobs won’t allow a long vacation over the holidays is to focus on how this job doesn’t allow for a long vacation over the holidays and was upfront about that from the beginning. The time-traveling LW can deny the time off request kindly but firmly. If the student employee decides to quit the job so she can get the time off, that’s her decision to make.

      3. LavaLamp*

        I’d like to go back and point this out to my elementary school teachers. I have the Google Lady in my house and she’s frequently asked both math and ‘can the dog/cat eat this’.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I know what you mean, but I imagined you have a lady standing in your house that you use to google stuff for you. You think of a question and you say “google lady can cats eat celery?” Google lady walks over to the computer turns it on (she does not keep it on all the time to save energy) logs in, opens a web browser and types the question into google for you, then spends 10 minutes reading conflicting articles, then comes back to you and responds “I don’t know, some say yes, some say no.” This image made me crack up.

      4. PersephoneUnderground*

        Yes! I ran into a lot of completely B.S. lines from teachers/professors like that about the “real world” that were untrue and usually just excuses to treat me badly in school (especially regarding disability accomodations- in the real world my job is much more flexible than school ever was, thank you very much). So that entire line of argument just put my back up. It’s also really condescending to frame it as “teaching a lesson” like the LW did.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I did an essay on that “real world” expression and handed in to a prof who was very fond of saying it. It’s so annoying because “real world” is anything that is happening to a person in current time. Current time is their real life and therefore their real world.

          I think the prof was annoyed with me.

      5. tiny cactus*

        Yeah, I work in a field where everything shuts down around Christmas, so breaks of two weeks or longer are not unusual. I also have a friend in a totally different field with a similar shutdown policy. I think the OP here kind of wanted to pass the buck by telling the employee that this wouldn’t be allowed in any job, but it’s probably both kinder and more accurate to just be clear that it’s not possible for this specific job.

    3. GirlfromIpanema*

      Normally I’d agree, but this is a student worker type situation, which I would assume includes a fair amount of teaching/coaching about workplace norms outside the university setting and preparing them for those jobs. So in this instance, I think the _this_ job framing with a side of ‘also, this is normal for the vast majority of jobs out there so adjust expectations accordingly’ is relevant.

  5. Jean*

    It’s always kind of confusing to me when managers want to make these issues more complicated than they need to be – internet sleuthing and “you better get ready for the real world” finger-wagging for an instance of an employee asking for more time off than you can give her? It just seems like OP is searching for ways to get sidetracked to avoid having to say a simple no to someone asking for something that’s unreasonable, especially considering that the parameters of this job have been made clear from the beginning.

    1. another Hero*

      Yeah, this is my take too. It either is or isn’t possible to let this person take three weeks off for the sake of their family. Espionage doesn’t need to enter into it

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Isn’t that part of the purpose of a job like this though? To give them an introduction into what the ‘real world’ is going to be like? It sounds like it’s akin to an internship where learning the norms of the industry are an important part of the experience.

      1. Jean*

        That’s a good point, but I still don’t feel like it’s appropriate or necessary in this specific situation. This is a straight “yes or no” question, and 3 weeks is excessive under the parameters of this job, whether it’s realistic in the real world or not.

      2. Tinker*

        True, but also the idea is primarily for the workplace to teach by being an actual workplace in which to experience actual (or, at least, actual-ish) norms, rather than by being a place where people are told what norms are thought to be elsewhere. Why is the person in this expensive job-like experience for content that could be delivered more efficiently — and I would say, with higher quality — by way of some time spent in the Ask a Manager archives?

        Despite that I get a bit sarcastic about some forms of internships, I do actually think that genuine real-world experiences have a unique value — but the key word there is “genuine”, where you can literally see what does or does not happen when you do a thing. Statements or artificial constructions with the rationale “this is how the real world is” do not in my experience share that value, and in fact are often ridiculous in the extent to which they have ended up contradicting my actual experience of the actual real world.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          “Despite that I get a bit sarcastic about some forms of internships, I do actually think that genuine real-world experiences have a unique value”

          This is something I agree with in principle, but the devil’s in the details. A “you don’t get paid if you don’t work” job at a low wage with no benefits and no provision for paid time off is not something I would blame *any* worker for refusing to get used to.

          If this is not this kind of job things look differently. I’ve myself been in jobs that required coverage around and between the holidays and wouldn’t have thought of balking at it. But it was a job in which I was treated like the professional that I was.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, me too, when I was in college and in my senior year in high school. I worked retail, and the holiday season was busy. At the time, in the early 1990s closing times were pretty strict here, and during the core holidays, only essential stores were allowed to stay open. I was able to celebrate Christmas with my family because the store was closed on Christmas Day. I almost always worked on Christmas Eve, when we closed at 1 pm, because the pay was so good. For the last hour of opening and for closing the till etc. I got quadruple pay.

    3. Ashley*

      I have to say I would be be tempted to internet sleuth something like this. That said you don’t always know which family member people are close to based just on their obituaries. This like so many other work place behaviors is what is their work like, etc. I would be annoyed as their co-worker if I couldn’t get anytime off because they claimed such a huge chunk of time.

      1. mediamaven*

        Me too. I don’t like the feeling of being manipulated which does play into a situation like this.

      2. pancakes*

        Yes. My parents died within three months of one another years ago, and though my name appeared as a survivor in my mom’s obit it wasn’t in my father’s, because his then-wife has never liked the idea of me existing. It’s unrealistic for the manager to assume they can find out the full story here by doing a bit of research, and entirely unnecessary to answer the question anyhow.

          1. allathian*

            Not necessarily a stepmother, just the father’s then-wife. When my MIL married her current husband, my husband and I had already been married for more than a year. There’s no way my husband would refer to him as his stepdad, or to his father’s current wife as his stepmom, because they’ve never lived in the same household. I admit that I sometimes refer to my MIL’s current husband as my step-FIL, and I certainly know him a lot better than I do my FIL. My MIL’s current husband is also a lot more like a grandpa to my son than my FIL is.

            1. allathian*

              I mean, obviously my FIL is my son’s grandpa, but they hardly know each other because we meet maybe two or three times a year, whereas in before times we used to spend time with my MIL and her husband almost every week, because we live in the same city. When my son was small, my MIL had already retired and she often babysat him when he was a baby and toddler. My son’s daycare had her contact details and she was one of his emergency contacts. If both my husband and I had to work late, she’d go and bring him home from daycare.

          2. pancakes*

            Thank you, but yeah, she wasn’t my stepmother. I never lived with them, and didn’t have much contact with either him or his wife growing up. I wrote him a letter when I graduated college, though, to tell him where I’d be moving to, and she intercepted it. He and I only discovered that years later, shortly before he died.

        1. allathian*

          I’m so sorry for your losses and for the misfortune of your father marrying such a horrible person.

          In the papers here you sometimes see multiple obits for people with dysfunctional families. A notable case was where the deceased man had been married three times, and each ex-wife and widow only recognized their own children as survivors. The man’s siblings had to spend money on a fourth obit, because none of the exes had thought to include them…

          1. pancakes*

            Thank you. That is wild! My paternal grandfather also had a second family, and somehow managed to keep it secret from the first until his own death. I eventually did meet my father’s half-brother and it turned out we’d lived less than half a mile from one another for years.

    4. Mella*

      Agreed. There’s middle round between “No is a complete sentence” and “No is a three-act musical that’s fun for all ages”.

    5. MicroManagered*

      I give OP some slack because she works with students. The reality of working with students is that they will sometimes invent dead relatives and other excuses to get out of work or an assignment. I’m sure it happens with “regular” / non-student employees too, but I’d argue it’s more common with students.

      I’ve encountered students clocking each other in/out for a shift, submitting timesheets after they’ve quit, no-call/no-showing because they’re sad they didn’t get into a sorority, inventing dead relatives, lying about multiple day-long power outages… you name it.

    6. Spencer Hastings*

      I think there’s a difference between “my dad died yesterday, can I have priority to take three weeks off?” and “my dad died two years ago, can I have priority to take three weeks off?” Not that anyone should be “done grieving” or anything like that, but if a death in the family were a reason to give you priority over others for vacation time every year thereafter, then, well…lots of people have had deaths in the family.

      1. Jean*

        Exactly. Whether or not you’re “done grieving” isn’t relevant to the fact that the requirements of this job don’t allow for 3 consecutive weeks off at a busy time. Being expected to adhere to the requirements of work isn’t remotely the same as being expected to adhere to time limits on grief.

    7. Firecat*

      Funny. My friend and I were just talking about how out of touch college was. We graduated a decade ago.

      All of the ridiculous – you were in a car accident? To bad come to the exam anyway. We are preparing you for The Real World TM so you better get use to it!

      Is so far from the reality of most employers. I think the OP would be surprised how many companies can and do accommodate a 3 week+ break around the holidays.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “To bad come to the exam anyway.”

        In that sentence the prof made themselves Part of the Problem, instead of being Part of the Solution.
        Role-modeling bad behavior means you are having bad behavior.

      2. Paulina*

        A response of “too bad” to a student being in a car accident is something the student should take up with the appropriate administrator. It really shouldn’t be up to the individual prof to make a decision like that.

        IDK, some profs may be trying to model the “real world” as they experience it in some aspects — conference deadlines and granting agencies will not care at all about your personal circumstances — but it’s probably more that inventing and dealing with deferred exams is a PITA, and they hide behind the “real world” framing as an excuse. But regs and the administration should say otherwise, and the prof should do their job.

        As for the OP, I agree that the focus should be on the needs of this job, not the “teaching for real world” framing. This job is to help with coverage, especially around the holidays, so if the employee can’t provide that then they need to find a different job.

  6. Sled dog mama*

    Approaching it as “this is the last time you will have weeks off for the holidays” is definitely the wrong approach.
    From my perspective as a person who has many hard losses at various times of the year (including a child at Easter and my grandmother at my birthday) one of the work place norms (or maybe life norms) you could help this person understand is that everyone has painful events and sometimes working is a way of coping, having that time away from grief can be very helpful.

    1. NotaPirate*

      Also, in future jobs you will likely be paid much better than you were as a graduate student worker. By which I mean you may be much more likely to afford the gas or plane ticket home more than once a year. I know when I was in grad school I couldn’t afford to fly home more than once a year. So when I did go home I’d max my time. If this is the case for the student they should talk to their boss. We were able to agree for me to work fourth of july, labor day, and all the other holidays in exchange for a massive 2 week winter one.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        *or during more premium times. So you can afford to fly on 12/23 and fly back on 1/2 (for example) but now you need to go on, say, 12/19 and wait until 1/7 to fly back to get the discounted prices.

    2. jm*

      i disagree with your advice. the employee is a grad student, meaning they aren’t a stranger to hard work and they’re an adult who know what they need when they’re in pain. a boss encouraging them to see the benefit in working through their grief sounds empathetic on the surface and self-serving underneath.

      1. LJay*

        Yeah it honestly sounds super manipulative.

        I think a simple explanation that giving the three weeks off won’t be possible due to work reasons is much more appropriate.

        And if there is an IEP available, letting them know (in a tactful way that doesn’t come across as thinking the IEP will make them not sad or implying that it’s required to use it) would be both kinder and more appropriate than suggesting that they distract themselves by working through the pain basically.

      2. Jean*

        I’m with you on this. I’m not sure if I’m reading the original comment wrong or what, but “Work harder to distract yourself from your grief” isn’t going to be the right strategy for a lot of people. It comes off kinda slimy, if I’m being honest. Like you’re trying to manipulate this employee into doing what’s best for the business, by dressing it up as doing what’s best for their own emotional process.

    3. Me*

      This really isn’t the bosses job. She’s not a friend, confidant nor therapist. Schooling the student on how they can should manager their grief is out of bounds and frankly condescending. It’s just not OP’s role. She needs to remove the grief aspect entirely as that isn’t the issue. The issue is the student is requesting time off that isn’t able to be accommodated fro business reasons. Full stop.

  7. DivineMissL*

    Ugh, I ran into this issue during the summer with our seasonal employees – high school and college age students who claimed to need time off on the busiest days of the season. I felt like I was being held hostage; if I said no and they quit, then I was short staffed for the rest of the summer (it was already difficult to find certified lifeguards, let alone finding certified replacements in the middle of the season). Even though they were told at the beginning of the season that attendance was very important and they were expected to work weekends and holidays, in practice, they still said they couldn’t work on holidays or were going on a family vacation for a week in August… I didn’t know what to say.

    1. KHB*

      It sounds like in this case, the only way to solve that would be to offer an extra reward (extra pay or whatever) for working on the busy days. It’s not unusual for a temporary summer job to fall fairly far down a person’s list of priorities, or for someone to prefer to quit the job to go on vacation than to stay employed for a few more weeks. If they’re in a position where giving up the job entirely isn’t very painful, then there are no “sticks” you can use that are more painful than that, so all you have left at your disposal are carrots.

      1. SoundsLikeMinimumWage*

        If you want to turn the balance of power back in your favor so that people want to keep that job more than they want to go on a last minute vacation, you need to make the job more attractive in some way. The most effective way to get people to work especially undesirable shifts (based on 15 years of service industry grunt experience) is to offer bonus pay and schedule it way out in advance.

        Additionally, if you only ever employ just barely enough people to carry on normal operations if every single person shows up every single day, you will have no slack at all for when things come up. It’s a complete fantasy world to pretend that people never get sick, never have car trouble, never have to go to the DMV that’s only open M-F 9-5, never have to take that inconvenient doctors appointment or else wait 3 more months for an opening, etc. Especially when all your employees are teenagers- they don’t exactly have control over their own lives yet!

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      Yeah, it’s tricky with that kind of role. I once worked at an apple orchard and farm store whose busiest time was in the fall, particularly on weekends. The high school kids (and all part time staff) were told before hiring that they were expected to work most Saturdays in September and October and if they had substantial commitments on weekends, like sports, this was not the job for them.

      Generally it worked ok since it was a small midwestern town where honesty was expected and reputation was important – even if you were going off to college and never coming back, your family would still be in town and interacting with these folks. But it’d be trickier when your workforce is more changeable.

      1. KHB*

        I don’t love the idea that there’s something dishonest or disreputable about quitting a part-time job earlier than you’d planned, but then again I know I’m not cut out for life in a small midwestern town.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I think if a seasonable job is honest and upfront about what they need (weekends, holidays etc…) and you agree to it and you quit before the season is over because you want to go on a vacation it is dishonest/disreputable especially if you know “my family always goes on a vacation during x time and it happens to be the busy time for the business, but think you will just quit.” It is different if a person needs to quit due to unforeseen circumstance like illness/injury etc, but if it is just to hang out with friends or go on vacation then you are not being honest. If a student said I want this job but will need 1/2 weeks off during the busy season and the job hired them anyway than the business is at fault.

          1. KHB*

            I get that there’s a difference, but I still don’t think either one is bad, because that would imply that employees owe some kind of social loyalty to their employers, which I don’t think they ever do. If it’s important to have seasonal employees who work the entire season, then make it worth their while by rewarding the ones who work the entire season – not by socially ostracizing the ones who don’t.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              It is not the employees owe social loyalty to employers, but rather honesty and respect that you would extend to anyone. The same if I hired a contractor to complete a certain project and I was told it would take 5 weeks, now if the contractor agrees to it but halfway through they say oh I am taking a 2/3 week family vacation in the middle of your project, I will finish it when I get back. I would be upset at their dishonesty. If they had to leave for 2/3 weeks because of an illness that is different. Similar if you told a friend you would help them with x project, but than decide to bail because something fun comes along in the middle of it.

              I agree I don’t think people should be socially ostracized, being completely shunned or made to wear a scarlet letter. But losing trust in the kid/family, and deciding you don’t want to hire that person or relatives again for the next season is reasonable.

              1. pancakes*

                Not hiring relatives of someone who flaked on a student job seems pretty extreme to me, and wrong-headed. Reliability is not genetic. Honesty isn’t either.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Not all relatives I agree, I should have specified I was thinking more like the parents of the kid and siblings who went on vacation, since the parents/siblings would have actively participated in the student ditching the job. You are right reliability is not genetic, but it is often taught/passed down. Yes a super reliable family can raise an unreliable child and vice versa.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                It can be because of the lack of honest and lack of respect coming from the employer that seasonal help quits early.
                We have a lot of seasonal jobs here. And we have a lot of whiney employers, who talk about seasonal help quitting early on them.
                The hours are horrible, both in timing and in quantity.
                Employees are not allowed to have water in 90 degree heat.
                Employees are harassed and nothing is done.
                Bosses scream and degrade employees right to their faces.
                Employees are treated as if they are always stealing and accusations fly.
                Nothing is done to control the gossiping and maligning that goes on.
                Wait- I haven’t even gotten to the safety issues, the lack of equipment, the lack of training…..

                The employee made an agreement with what they thought was an employer, not with an abuser. So in the employee’s mind the agreement is gone, gone, gone before summer is fully over.

                1. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Yeah, considering how many if not most low-wage employers tend to treat their employees, I’m not inclined to be sympathetic when they complain about getting ditched. Actually, schadenfreude is frequently my response.

                2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                  Ding ding ding!

                  Spoiler alert: it does not look unprofessional to watch someone sit on a stool (as opposed to stand) at a register, or sip from a water bottle. I don’t know where we got these ridiculous notions.

        2. Teapot Tía*

          I think there’s a difference between “this job is not for me” or “turns out I need to study more this year” and “oh hey, I have a practice tomorrow coach says I can’t skip.”

        3. fhqwhgads*

          I do think it’s dishonest if you’re told up front “btw this job requires availability on XYZ so if you’re not available then, please take yourself out of the running.” Then taking the job knowing you have plans for XYZ, and simply quitting just before those dates come up. It’s different than quitting a part time job earlier than originally planned for something that came up later. Quitting to get specific time off you were told in advance would not be possible with this particular role is a crappy thing to do.

      2. pancakes*

        Those of us who live in cities, even big cities, also often care about honesty. It’s blinkered to speak as if small towns or particular regions of the US have a monopoly on these things.

        I’m curious about what exactly you’re referring to with regard to family of unimpressive young employees still being in town. What am I to understand they get in this scenario? A lifetime of dirty looks? Bruised apples?

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          True, but it’s harder to completely ghost on a former employer in a smaller town — it’s more likely that you would run into people from there again, and such.

          1. pancakes*

            That would probably be an awkward moment, but I’m not sure what you mean by making it harder to ghost an employer. Surely the employer who runs into their former (or AWOL) employee in this scenario isn’t going to try to drag them back to work against their will.

            1. Fake Engineer*

              As someone who grew up in a small town, I can offer my perspective. It is harder to quit a job when the owner is on the PTA with your mother or is in the Elks with your father or goes to your temple. Your folks will have to live with the people getting annoyed at them for raising you not to live up to your commitments. When the owner is the sister in law of your coach or your manager is friends with your piano teacher, it gets awkward.

              I am going to give the person the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t making a judgement on the values of particular areas of the country, nor the rural/urban divide, and hope they were just making a comment on the interconnectedness of small towns.

              1. pancakes*

                Small towns don’t have a monopoly on that either, but it’s common for people to speak as if they do. I live in a very large city and there are various communities I’m a part of—in my neighborhood, in my profession, and socially—where pretty much everyone knows everyone else. There are 3 churches on my (short, downtown Manhattan) block. City people are not somehow excused from having to live with one another’s foibles! And very often get jobs through networking and connections.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Considering how people in bigger US cities are less likely to vote for politicians who claim that coronavirus and climate change are fake, I’d say we care more about honesty.

    3. Pescadero*

      When you hire low payed, seasonal, high school and college aged employees – you are CHOOSING high turnover.

      It’s true in EVERY industry that uses that employment model, and nothing can be done about it because it is inherent in the very employment model.

    4. Anon today*

      We are dealing with this now. Didn’t want to work around Thanksgiving, so the teens (high school aged) just quit.

    5. Malarkey01*

      I’ve been on both sides of this problem, and from an employer side I think you have to be cognizant that your employee pool is smaller because you’re hiring for very temporary, almost like gig work, and there’s a premium for that. Most of these jobs get by on minimum wage students, which is fine, but that means many of them will be less flexible and prioritize the job lower than someone with a long term job.

      I was a summer camp counselor for $160/week, and when they cancelled by vacation to Europe in late July were shocked I quit. Hmmm cancel family trip and be out $800 in airfare, plus all the experiences or stay for $480 paycheck for 3 more weeks?

      1. Bee*

        Yeah, the reality is that a 16yo has zero control over the planning of their family vacations, and they’re almost always going to choose the vacation over the job that pays them $8/hr, especially if it’s towards the end of the season. It’s unreasonable to tell your teenage workers they can’t take any weeklong vacations with their families.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Exactly. Teenagers often have less than zero say in family vacations. And skipping to stay home and work while the parents are 1200 miles away for a week?

          I would not have permitted 16 year old me home alone for a week. Nothing good would have come of that. (Assistant dept manager tried to get me to do this. Dept Manager did a facepalm and a “No, her sticky note was in the red box for that week for a reason, and really, no, we don’t ask teenagers to stay home alone to WORK.” Yes, we were scheduled on a white board with Sticky Notes. The color of note indicated which shifts you were available for. Those of us on student work permits had a completely different set of colors as there were other rules too.)

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Depending on the job, I don’t think it is unreasonable, I worked retail at a teen on a part-time year round basis, and I could absolutely take a week or more off for finals/family/vacations etc… I also worked a seasonal summer job, labor day, 4th, memorial day etc were the busiest times, it was usually all hands on deck, you could get time off in an emergency but for a family vacation no way. But if you work as a summer camp consular, or life guard at the local beach/pool it is unreasonable to expect to take a family vacation during 4th of July.

        3. DivineMissL*

          I agree, Bee, it’s reasonable that they want to go on vacation with their families – but when they’re hired, they’re told that they work June 20-September 7, mostly weekends and holidays, and they’re all fine with that and agree that they can work. Then suddenly in the middle of the season, they tell me about a family vacation that’s coming up. It’s unreasonable for them to expect the rest of the staff to cover for them with little notice (and often is impossible, based on the limitations on work hours for minors). We ended up having to close the beach for several days (losing revenue and creating angry customers) because we didn’t have enough staff to open safely. I get that it’s not a priority for them; but if that’s the case, then they should work at a place where dependability is not a priority.

          1. SoundsLikeMinimumWage*

            Anyone not bound by a contract is allowed to cease a business relationship when it no longer works for them. They are allowed to change their minds on what the job is worth. In your case, the teens are deciding that the benefits that they derive from being employed by you ($) are not worth the demands being placed on them (inflexibility, bare bones staffing). If you need a more reliable employee, you need to adjust what you’re offering in order to tip the balance of benefits vs demands in your favor.

            1. Properlike*

              There was a time when we expected more of teenagers. This feels a lot like “well, they’re not obligated to go by your rules” combined with “but they’re still children!” True, no one’s technically obligated to follow through on a commitment made, but anyone practicing that is being incredibly short sighted and pretty selfish. If you agree to a commitment, you’re saying the terms as laid out are acceptable, and you should follow through. If you don’t like the terms, then don’t take the job. Basic Integrity 101 there.

              1. Alex*

                No. The selfish thing to do is hire a load of teens on the lowest wages possible, allocate them to the worst possible shifts and schedule as few staff as physically possible to those shifts, give them no flexibility or access to leave, and then wonder why many of them don’t last very long.

                1. Properlike*

                  I guess, then, they shouldn’t be expected to be on time for work, or to call in when they’re not going to be at work either… because they agreed to take a job that pays low wages and has sometimes inconvenient scheduling?

                  At what hourly wage should we expect people to show basic accountability? That’s what I assumed the next generation was still being taught… that you’re not the center of the universe, that other people are affected when you renege on responsibilities, that you’re establishing professional habits and connections that will pay off down the road.

              2. pancakes*

                In addition to what others have said, I want to point out that we didn’t used to expect teens to endure quite such an intensive and drawn-out college application process, or to have quite so many extracurricular activities to be considered competitive.

              3. Gazebo Slayer*

                Plenty of employers tell employees that a job is permanent when it’s actually seasonal (been there, done that) or claim it’s “temp to perm” while having no intention of ever going perm, or abruptly lay people off with no severance while treating them like criminals, or string them along for a months-long hiring process only to move the whole office shortly after they start and not even offer the option of relocation (happened to my brother). Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

            2. Colette*

              Sure, they legally can quit. It’s still a pretty crappy thing to do if you’ve committed to it knowing that you won’t be able to do it. (And it can easily mean you’re not going to get a good reference from that job.)

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, if the same teen does it year after year, sure. But it’s also pretty unreasonable to expect teens who’ve never worked before to truly realize what this sort of commitment means. That said, I’m hopeful about young people in that many of them simply refuse to put up with the sort of bad conditions that earlier generations accepted without question, if they have any choice at all.

            3. RecoveringSWO*

              Yeah, I worked at a residential summer camp that understood this problem and I think they addressed it well. There were actual employment contracts and you received a bonus for staying on through the end of the season. Also, there was an “assistant manager” type level above the regular counselors that was purposely over-staffed with former counselors who had proven their reliability. Replacement counselors were covered by that group. I would definitely recommend that system.

          2. Bee*

            Perhaps if, instead of banning them from taking vacations entirely, you accepted that teenagers are always going to have family vacations over the summer, asked them for the dates up front, and planned schedules with those dates in mind, you wouldn’t have this problem of trying to get last-minute coverage and they wouldn’t quit! It’s absolutely reasonable to say they can’t tell you the week before. But again, you’re working with people who (by and large) do not have full control over their lives. I was a really responsible teenager, but there’s still no way my parents would have left me alone at home for a full week at 16 just because my minimum-wage job said I couldn’t take any time off.

    6. LJay*

      I think you need to accept that working a seasonal position is not going to be and IMO should not be more important to your employees than going on family vacations, going to prom, whatever. Like, over the course of their life, what are they going to regret? Not working more shifts at your job, or not seeing their grandmother for the last time before she passed away?

      Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I am glad I am out of seasonal amusement park management. I get it. You need to have the shifts covered to operate. You don’t control the pay rate I assume. We had black out dates around major holidays and like Spring Break etc where all hands were supposed to be on deck and if you couldn’t work or get coverage (which was a joke because everyone who could work was scheduled and often scheduled for doubles anyway) you were fired.

      But I just couldn’t feel good about making that ask while managing kids who we paid not much over minimum wage.

      And a lot of the time it’s not in the kid’s control. If their parents insist that they’re going on the family Christmas trip, they’re going on the family Christmas trip. That’s it.

      And really, they don’t need to work to live. And there are plenty of other crappy minimum wage jobs that will hire them if they decide they want to work again. So they’re not going to do it. They’ll either just outright quit. Tell you they’re taking off anyway. Or call out sick. The last one is the only thing I really hold against them.

      If you want them to care about the job, it needs to offer something that they can’t get by going to any other employer on the block (like a really good wage).

      And really, with hiring seasonal work, it’s not work that they can rely on to live since it’s temporary and so you’re going to get people that are less committed than full-time permanent work. That’s part of the deal.

      1. PT*

        ” If their parents insist that they’re going on the family Christmas trip, they’re going on the family Christmas trip. That’s it.” This, times 100. If you’re going to employ young people, you are going to have to understand that their parents are still calling the shots, and you are going to have to deal with goofy stuff like, “My mom grounded me from working my shift tonight,” or “My dad bought plane tickets for us to visit my grandma this weekend and I can’t not go because they’re non-refundable but I can’t find a sub.”

        Yes, it is infuriating when this happens, but it’s part and parcel of employing teens and emerging adults. (And you’re doing some of those kids a huge favor if you help them out instead of firing them when their nutball mother grounds them from work an hour before their shift starts. Sometimes, that nutball mother is actually abusive, and that kid really needs the job to save up the cash to escape.)

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          It’s why a lot of places gotten away from hiring high school aged workers if they can help it at all. Parents wonder why their kids can’t “just get a part time job” because they want them to “learn responsibility.” This isn’t school, it’s a place of business and it needs to run smoothly, and it can’t risk being a training ground for your kids and be short-staffed on your whims.

          (I also stand by that if one person quitting or calling out creates significant undue coverage burden, you’re already short-staffed, but that’s a separate discussion!)

    7. Nanani*

      When you`re hiring high schoolers, sometimes you just can`t overrule “Parents are taking me to Mars for three weeks”. The teen might prefer to work but not be able to because the parents are their ride to work and if the parents are on Mars, they can`t come to work. The teen might also (reasonably!) prefer Mars to their summer job. That`s just life, sometimes.

  8. Ahhh*

    I’m not sure if what I’m going to say will be expressed properly. Please know I understand everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time.

    I feel like this employee understandably is having difficulty moving forward. It’s hard to not see family around the holidays or even be able to call them. I almost feel like this employee is trying to keep up their lifestyle and traditions from prior to the death of their family member. I guess what I’m trying to say is that eventually when the time is right new traditions will start, happy memories with this deceased person will still be with employee, but obviously the holidays are going to be different from the way they were. It sounds like these three weeks are part of employee’s grieving process but she has not figured out how to work through emotions to move forward. Again grieving is different for everyon;, There is no time limit; I’m just guessing. I think the employee feels justified in asking and expecting, even though in a business it is not a realistic request.

    As for OP, I think Alison gives you good advice. Eventually this employee will have to find out (maybe a difficult lesson) that it is not realistic to get 3 weeks at the holiday season plus regular vacation time plus other coworkers wanting time off too throughout the year. OP use Alison’s script, focus on the accomodations you can give the employee; be as realistically supportive as you can be without favoring this employee.

  9. PT*

    I used to supervise student employees, and one thing I’d recommend keeping in mind is their housing situation. Graduate students typically live in apartments that stay open year round…but not always. Many of the students where I worked lived in campus housing that shut down. They were kicked out at noon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and not let back in until noon the Sunday after; locked out at noon on December 23 and not let back in until noon on the second Saturday in January.

    We would shuffle the schedule around so our local and full-time staff picked up more hours during those periods, but I had one boss who was mad about this and wanted us to force our students to get hotel rooms to stay in town for the holidays “because they agreed to work every Thursday/Friday/Saturday and it’s their responsibility to work their shift.” *eyeroll*

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Hope that boss got shut down – many hotels are very leery or don’t at all rent rooms to teenagers/ people under 21. Could have made life tricky for those college kids.

      (Speaking from experience working at two different hotels that did not rent to any teenagers/college students except as part of a supervised group like a school field trip or sporting event.)

      1. PT*

        We just didn’t listen to him and kept the schedule as we’d originally had it…but it of course cost us some of our capitol points with him.

      2. Teapot Tía*

        also it’s entirely possible that hotel, food, etc costs could equal or exceed their paycheck for the weekend.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, this was my biggest thing about this letter — it’s less so an expectation that they’d get three weeks off but that this (and other) employee is a grad student on a grad student schedule, and grad students typically don’t live near wherever it is they grew up / celebrate holidays. If coverage over holiday periods is important, I’m not sure that I’d supplement that coverage from the student populations unless they’re local.

    3. LizM*

      Yes, and even if students can technically stay in on-campus housing, it’s not great. I was one of a handful of out of state students at a State university, and our dining halls shut down even on holiday weekends with the assumption that most people went home, and we didn’t have any access to kitchen facilities, and the only sink was in the bathroom. I could push through a 3-day weekend on pizza and cold cereal, but it would not have been comfortable for me to stay through a 3 or 4 week holiday break.

    4. DarnTheMan*

      Drive-by commenting to say this is always so unusual for me from a cultural perspective because where I grew up, not many people lived in student housing/dormitories after their first year; my undergrad university had exactly two post-first year housing buildings and while coveted they weren’t exactly big so most 2nd/3rd/4th year/grad students rented apartments or houses, and when I was in graduate school there was literally no option for grad students to live in student housing because the school only had enough housing for their first year population.

    5. EmmaPoet*

      I once ended up taking a short grad school class over the week between spring and summer semesters because if I hadn’t, I’d have had to leave the dorm for that week. My nearest family member was four hours away by plane, and the class was cheaper than the plane ticket/hotel bill for the week. They did let people who were working stay, though.

  10. DG*

    The “you’re a student and an extended vacation would never fly in the real world” argument is both an inappropriate response to the situation and… not necessarily correct.

    There are professions where it’s entirely feasible to get a few weeks off at the end of the year! My professional services company shuts down for the last two weeks of December because most of our clients are out of the office or winding down their own work – there’s simply not a ton of work to do at that time, and we all appreciate the chance to relax. If I had a good reason to tack on a week of vacation to that (and had built up sufficient goodwill among my colleagues/managers), I could probably stretch it to three without suffering any negative consequences.

    1. CS*

      It sounds like they’re coaching for the field, so I’m guessing three weeks for holidays is not a reality for most positions. It may be good for the employee to take this time to decide how important that flexibility in leave is to them before they invest more time in that field, or at least understand three weeks is likely not going to be the standard.

    2. SwitchingGenres*

      I worked at a university that had us work holidays like Labor Day and added those days off to the end of the year, so we had at least two weeks off around Christmas and New Years, if not more. It was great.

    3. Suzanne*

      I regularly take 2 weeks off at the end of the year. We slow down then and I work hard in our busy time which is not in December. It’s a private company so it is not unheard of.

    4. TurtleIScream*

      Way back when we first started out at 21 year old recent college grads, my husband put in his vacation request for the last two weeks of the year, not really sure if that was reasonable. It was approved. 25 years later, he has had that time off every year. He’s now the boss, and arranges schedules so no one has to work those weeks (they don’t shut down, if someone wants to work, they can, but all deadline work is completed).

      So, this boss needs to be honest that extended time off doesn’t work in *this* context.

    5. PSF alum*

      I have worked at several Biglaw firms and investment banks (so industries notorious for long hours during most of the year), and they generally operated on a skeleton crew during the two weeks after Christmas Eve. There would be an exception if there were active deals going on, but in general, that rarely happened.

      I also worked in one of these firm’s eastern European offices, where the local practice was that virtually the entire office shut down for the first two weeks of January.

      1. inksmith*

        Same for me in the UK civil service – as long as one of my team is working every day, people can take off two or even three weeks if they want to, assuming they have the leave available to them. Though we do have generous leave entitlements, both compared to a lot of other UK employers and compared to the US.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          I’d say two weeks is standard, three-four weeks would be allowed but it’s usually accompanied by ‘it’s for reason X’. Reason X wouldn’t need to be big, but it’s at the point where an explanation tends to be given vs. ‘just off on holiday’.

          (But I’m in an exec NDPB so that might explain the variation)

    6. Nanani*

      I’m not sure I’ve ever had a ‘You better bet get ready for the real world’ conversation actually apply to my life after whatever stage that conversation was in.
      Manager doesn’t know what jobs that employee will have. Maybe they’ll deliberately seek a workplace that shuts down seasonally, or negotiate more time off around a time of year they know is difficult. Maybe a lot of things!

      Better to deal with the world as it actually is and not make shit up about what Management thinks constitutes the real world.

  11. Properlike*

    This reminds me of that time of every semester, when all the college students’ grandparents start to suddenly drop dead, right before final projects are due.

    1. Lifelong student*

      Yes I had one student miss a firm deadline and tell me the next day that she had been at her grandfather’s funeral. I said I would make an exception if we could look at the obituary on line- she did not know the name of the funeral home. I suggested she ask her parent and get back to me. She then dropped the course. I later reviewed the local paper for the town she said she had gone to- there were no obituaries in the relevant time frame with any survivors in the town where the student lived with her parents. Hmmm!

      1. SwitchingGenres*

        Not everyone prints obituaries or has the funeral home do it. There was no obit when my grandmother died.

      2. SuperBB*

        Not everyone does an obituary. Most newspapers don’t print a few line death notice for free anymore. They start at $200 and it goes up from there. We chose to skip the obituary for my mom because everyone she knew already knew she was dead.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Why be a jerk about this? College is around the age when lots of people’s grandparents start to die or get incredibly sick, and it isn’t suspect that those grandparents didn’t schedule their deaths for the four months of the year when students aren’t in class.

      1. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

        As bad as it sounds, this happens quite a bit in academia. Too frequently for it to be a coincidence.

        1. pancakes*

          It isn’t that it sounds bad to say it happens. Most of us reading here, or many at least, have been to college ourselves, if not grad school as well. What sounds bad is profs being sarcastic about it, profs being out of touch with basic facts about obituaries, and profs reveling in being unkind to their students or overly-invested in catching them in lies.

            1. pancakes*

              Of course I have, but I try not to publicly accuse my clients of doing things I can’t be sure they’ve done, and I don’t urge other people in the profession to make unkind and uninformed guesses about their clients.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          But the harm you do by getting it wrong *once* far outweighs the righteousness you feel when you catch 10 fibbers.

          The internet is *also* full of horror stories of students who couldn’t get their professor to budge and instead got accused of lying during times of tragedy and grief.

      2. IEanon*

        It is a sort of a trend, though I never really follow up with students about it beyond confirming a new timeline for the coursework. I trust that they’re adults and give extensions for any serious “excuse” for two reasons:

        1) Extending a deadline for a major project/exam just means they end up doing the work when everyone else starts relaxing; and

        2) A death in the family isn’t really something you want to be chasing them up on if they’re truly grieving. It’s just kind of a dick move.

      3. EPLawyer*

        When you have 3 grandmothers die in one year — for the same student you start to get suspicious.

        Now I did happen to have two grandparents die while I was in school. Grandpa died while I was in grad school. Grandma died as I was finishing up law school. However, I had a reputation by then of being responsible and NOT making excuses to get out of work (okay there was the FIRE in California while I was in DC that affected my family but I only asked for a 3 day extension on a paper and was prepared to be told no). So all of my teachers were — take as much time off classes as necessary. Don’t worry about making anything up. Just get notes from someone. It won’t count as unexecused absences. My job in law school was in the libraray — usually it was your responsibility to find a replacement. The head librarian said “don’t even think about it, I will find your coverage.”

        I think OP at this point is rather frustrated with the employee because the employee keeps trying to get more vacation that any other student. Which is not fair to the other students. Instead of addressing that, she feels she needs to counter the employee’s excuses to shut it down for good.

      4. Bee*

        Yeah, my last surviving grandparent died in April of my senior year of college. The timing happened so that I had to miss our big party weekend (on-campus concerts, etc) for her funeral, but two weeks later and it would’ve been exam season.

        1. Properlike*

          My dad had a massive stroke the last month of college. I had a paper due. It was the first extension I’d ever asked for, and I didn’t want to — my professors learned about it and went TAKE THE EXTENSION?

          Which is what I’d usually do if I knew a student to be on top of things. However, if they have a habit of not following the social contract of the class, I might be asking some follow-up questions. Note: there are only two major grading periods of the college year, at the end of each semester. So grandparent deaths piling up the first two weeks of June or December is usually a thing. Sorry if it seems callous to you. One of those little quirks of the College Teaching Job.

      5. Southern academic*

        This. Also, as an actual college professor (TM), my default is to be gracious with extensions. If that means somebody gets an extension who doesn’t “deserve” it, who cares? I’m a teacher, not the extension police.

        1. Libervermis*

          Yes, this. I repeatedly emphasize that students who need an adjusted deadline for assignments a) let me know and b) do the thing they need to do. I don’t need a reason. If their extended deadline poses a problem, I tell them so and we negotiate an alternate one. If a student needs lots and lots of extended deadlines, we talk about how that pattern is a problem and make a plan to address it. This is, not incidentally, precisely what I expect my own colleagues to do with me and I with them.

          Even if students are lying about grandparent deaths to get extra time, the more important question to ask yourself is why students feel like they have to lie to you in order to get a bit of grace.

    3. AngelaH*

      Back during my senior year of college, my grandfather really did die, followed by my grandmother around six weeks or so later. Not right at finals, but at least midway through the semester so the workload was ramping up. It didn’t occur to me until YEARS later that my instructors might have been suspicious about the family deaths in rapid succession.

  12. The Starsong Princess*

    This OP is concerned they are being fed a sob story so this employee can get extra time off for the holidays. There are lots of people who will shed a few tears to get what they want. So I would say “if you are asking for extra bereavement leave, we might be able to accommodate you but firstly, I’ll need you to send me a link to the obituary.” Basically, call the bluff. If there’s no obituary forthcoming or the bereavement happened a few years ago, then have another discussion with the employee around workplace norms. Remind them that someone else will need to work holidays in their place – sometimes someone is happy to do that and accommodations can be made but not always. And ask if they want to continue in the positions with hours assigned.

    1. KHB*

      That’s essentially the same as saying that if the death was more than a few weeks ago, then they’ve had enough time to grieve and need to get over it.

      It’s reasonable for a family that lost a parent to be having a tough time even a couple of years later, and to want to all be together for the holidays. It’s also reasonable for an employer to be unable to accommodate that.

      I think Amtelope, above, has it just right: Offer the employee the choice of a shorter holiday break or ending their employment here – while communicating that either choice would be understandable and acceptable.

    2. SuperBB*

      Not everyone does an obituary. Most newspapers don’t print a few line death notice for free anymore. They start at $200 and it goes up from there. We chose to skip the obituary for my mom because everyone she knew already knew she was dead.

    3. Delphine*

      No, do not ask employees for obituaries. Moreover, don’t go searching for obituaries to try and catch people in a lie.

  13. Bookworm*

    I realize this is a letter that is being revisited but it also seems like the OP could also maybe learn a little more about what it’s like to be both a grad student and holding down a job. It can be even more difficult to be with family due to obligations of both work and school and going to the lengths of investigating the death of that person seems a bit much. The organization may want to rethink about hiring grad students, its policies around taking time off, or, well, make sure you don’t manage them.

    1. Colette*

      It’s likely to be just as difficult for the other students, who won’t be able to take time off if this student gets every holiday off.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      When someone asks for a large amounts of time off, it’s pretty reasonable to expect the boss to want to know why.

  14. Mid*

    I’m incredibly lucky because my job is allowing me to go fully remote for the entire month of December, so I can travel home, quarantine, and then see my last remaining grandparent before he dies this year. This is the first year I’ve been able to be home for the holidays in over 6 years. I’ve been back at my parents home for a week now, still isolating and getting tests, but also working full time.

    My favorite grandparent died a decade ago and I’m still sad about it every year, especially around the holidays, because so many of the family traditions revolved around her.

    So, while I know this is an older letter, I encourage people to be as flexible as possible, especially this year of all years. There has been a lot of loss for so many people, and many people are realizing that family is a priority to them. There are usually ways to make things work—allowing people to flex their hours or go remote or both. I know it’s not possible for all jobs, especially ones that require specific coverage, but I hope managers and companies use as much flexibility as they can this year.

  15. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    At the risk of having an unpopular opinion, I see two very large problems here: first, a basic misunderstanding of what graduate school is for; second, a huge lack of trust for a voting adult.

    A graduate student’s primary goal, above all else, is to earn a degree. Getting valuable work experience is great, but it will always be secondary. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about the value and necessity of work experience as part of a grad program, but that fact will always be true.

    Second, I can’t believe people are comparing a graduate student with dumbass high schoolers and undergrads. The situations are totally different. A lot of high school kids, and unfortunately a lot of undergrads too, come from the “have to” perspective, in that they “have to” take classes instead having fun. That is NOT the case with grad students.
    A graduate student is a person who has made a conscious decision to commit to earning a specific degree.

    In short, your employee is an ADULT, who is actively taking responsibility for their decisions of 1) earning a degree and 2) having a family with needs.

    I will admit that lack of trust is A Thing with me, having worked with people who simply decided that I was a big fat liar because “she doesn’t look disabled,” but I do have to ask: why are you using working time trying so hard to prove this guy wrong? Why do you get to decide what an appropriate length of grieving time is?

    And as for comments above about students whose parents always die at the end of a semester, that is rude and mean. Yes, I know that such things happen; I’ve worked in higher education for 25 years. In fact, it supports my point: there are some really dumb kids out there, just learning how to adult, who tell garbage lies that everyone knows are garbage. That’s not a typical grad student.

    Treat this guy with the trust that he is a responsible adult that you don’t need to check up on, or instruct on what “normal” grieving looks like; not like a dumb teenager trying to see what he can get away with.,

    1. e*

      I don’t have any bones with the bulk of what you’re saying, but I find your first point kind of confusing. The LW doesn’t tell us what kind of grad student this is, and while a PhD candidate is probably mostly focused on earning the degree, there are plenty of grad programs where people are mostly focused on the job they’ll get coming out of it. (MBA programs and professional masters programs being obvious examples). Second, even if this internship isn’t their top priority vs. the degree, there’s no indication here that LW is getting huffy about the student wanting to miss things because she’s got classwork.

      1. The academician*

        In professional school programs, yes. In other graduate programs, @Tangerina is exactly right. (I am guessing that LW’s employees are not MBA students, because MBA students are rarely paid hourly for internships; they’re salaried.)

        1. Hillary*

          Not necessarily. My MBA internship was hourly, as are the interns at my current and former employers. If the employer already has an hourly payroll system it’s often easier that way.

        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          In my experience (as a grad student at one university, and a manager of grad students at others), professional program internships are usually set up in a different way – it’s not so much the hourly/salaried distinction that’s the issue.

          When someone says graduate RA, usually I’m thinking of someone who’s working part-time as part of their funding package and/or to displace their TA duties. It’s almost always an activity that co-exists with their coursework, candidacy exam prep, dissertation work…which means that everyone involved is dealing with competing priorities, especially when the needs of their RA position aren’t consistent with the rhythm of the academic calendar. Professional program students (like MBA or MPH, not programs where a practicum is needed for licensing) are usually doing a full-time work placement, whether it’s salaried or not; it’s their main academic activity at the time so you’re less likely to face issues like the OP’s.

    2. DEJ*

      “A graduate student’s primary goal, above all else, is to earn a degree. Getting valuable work experience is great, but it will always be secondary. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about the value and necessity of work experience as part of a grad program, but that fact will always be true.”

      This is not always the case. I worked in a field where my graduate assistantship was FAR more beneficial to my future employment and the career that I had up until recently than the degree that I actually got. It’s generally well known in this field that what you’ve done will always be more important than your education.

    3. Joielle*

      I don’t disagree, but I guess I don’t understand your point? Even if the student is grieving for an objectively correct amount of time, even if we accept that their first priority is school, even if they’re doing a perfect job of balancing adulthood and school and family obligations – that doesn’t change the fact that they unfortunately can’t have three weeks off around the holidays.

    4. hbc*

      You can always rank your priorities, but that doesn’t make those rankings absolute. My company specifically tells us to prioritize (paraphrased) “Faith, Family, and Company in that order,” but that doesn’t mean I get to tell work I’m not showing up for a week because I’m going on a pilgrimage.

      I also find it weird that you’re making it a matter of trusting an adult, when a trustworthy adult would not have taken on a job that they knew they couldn’t do. If it’s important for you to be home for the holidays, you don’t take a job that requires you to work around the holidays.

    5. D3*

      Stereotype people much?
      I take HUGE issue with your characterizing all high schoolers and undergrads as “dumbass”
      I also find that plenty of undergrads are “a person who has made a conscious decision to commit to earning a specific degree.” and I’ve run into more than a few grad students who are not all that committed and are there because they didn’t know what else to do after earning an undergrad degree.
      Simply being a grad student does not make someone trustworthy. Simply being an undergrad or high schooler does not make them untrustworthy. (And definitely not a “dumbass”!)
      Let’s stop it with the harsh stereotypes!

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think anyone is deciding how long someone should grieve. Bereavement time is attached to a current loss. And it’s usually a few days. This loss is not current and the time requested is well beyond a few days. She might be able to use personal time, vacation time, unpaid time, etc., but not bereavement time.

      She has asked for previous time off. I am wondering how many days she has taken so far. She won’t find a lot of jobs where she can take a lot of time off.

      I think it’s not helpful to advise people that employers shouldn’t check on them. They can and they do. Additionally adults are held accountable for what they say. In this case, OP must have thought something was off because she checked and she turned out to be correct. The employee made it sound like this loss had happened very recently, yet it was two years ago. Why hide that? We might let an omission like that pass with a five year old, but we can’t let that pass with an adult.

      I have experienced many losses myself. If I feel I cannot report for work, then I have to make arrangements with my boss to work through what I need to work through. I don’t go in and just ask for three weeks off for the holidays especially after I have already taken time. I am not seeing anything that indicates the employee realizes this is a huge request and may put a strain on others who ALSO would like time off to remember their loved ones around a holiday. Who is OP to decide this employee’s grief is bigger than someone else’s grief?

  16. mediamaven*

    I’ve noticed with many new hires fresh out of college that they are used to get two weeks off or more for the holidays and they fully expect that is how time off should work in their careers as well. It’s really challenging because we obviously can’t have everyone out of the office for two or three weeks. It definitely requires a mindset shift.

  17. Dandy it is*

    I’m a terrible person. I know it is the usual language used but when Alison says she is revisiting letters buried in the archives from years ago and the letter is basically asking if their employee should be over a death, aka person buried, from years ago, it made me laugh.

  18. Janet*

    One thing I wondered about — could this student be the executor? There’s a lot of work involved in settling an estate, especially if it’s out of town. And it could drag on for 2 years, if it took that long to get the house emptied out and ready for sale.

    I’m guessing this wasn’t the case, since she didn’t say that’s what the time was for.

    1. Lifelong student*

      And that is what you would use PTO for- or request unpaid leave- note request- not demand

      1. annie*

        I’ve never worked or known a single other person working any kind of graduate student assistant job that had PTO.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have done several estates and the longer they go on the less and less time I spend on the estate on a weekly basis. The main part of the effort is at the beginning then you sit back and gradually the paper work trickles through the system. You have to take a half day here and there for things.
      While she could be doing an estate, I think she’d mention it because that is horrendous work. I don’t know many people who can do an estate without complaint or even mere mention.

  19. Franonymous*

    Like everything, this is negotiable.

    I took one month, throughout much of which I agreed to be available on an occasional basis. During period when time I was available, I agreed to half salary. Fortunately, everyone agreed to this. I would have been inclined to resign had the company only been willing to extend a few days of leave.

    I should add that I have hard-to-find skills that are crucial for the company, so I am in a good negotiating position. Also, when I started the job, I agreed to a below-market base salary in exchange for a higher performance-based, long-term bonus, so they are getting me cheaply in the short term. YMMV of course.

  20. LGC*

    When I tell you this letter triggered my fight or flight response…

    Anyway. To kind of reiterate the point in the answer-I feel like the best teaching is to actually model functional workplace behavior. A functional workplace isn’t going to turn down time off just because they think it’s unnecessary (given the employee is able to take the time off without going over their allowance or without impacting coverage). I haven’t skimmed for updates on this letter yet, but I hope the LW took the answer to heart.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Part of the premise here is this DOES affect coverage though. So, by your own description, it’s reasonable for this employee to get a “no”.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      But their absence does impact coverage, it says the grad students know they have to work these hours up front so the department/area/business unit can stay open.

      1. LGC*

        But the LW wrote a lot about how they personally thought the time off was invalid because the employee’s parent died two years ago! And how they were trying to prepare their employees for the “real world” (I’m paraphrasing here).

        It’s not that LW should have let the employee take three weeks off. It’s just that their reasoning was very mistaken, in my opinion. And that’s why I was a bit agitated reading it.

  21. employment lawyah*

    The issue IMO is that at some point it stops becoming a “bereavement issue,” and becomes a normal mental health issue. When that happens, it stops being eligible for the special privileges given for bereavement.
    The main and obvious difference is that bereavement leave–which is usually designed to allow people to quickly get back on their feet after a death–should always take precedence over business operations. Regular leave does not, and the employees need to balance those.

    Sadness after death is normal and many people will mourn a death for years, or even a lifetime (I know many people like this.) It is not your place to think–much less say!!–that they should “get over it.” But OTOH, if you’re at the multi-year point, our social expectation is that those bouts of sadness will generally be accommodated through ordinary leave, including any applicable “mental health leave” or sick leave.

    Here, if you think an employee is describing a over-two-year-old death as “recent” then you can ask. If it’s 2 years old, you’re well within your rights to explain the distinction between the two types of leave, and to refuse to grant bereavement leave.

    They can then restate the request as regular leave; you can grant it (or not); and they can decide what to do next.

  22. Mr. Jingles*

    My dad died twelve years ago. My granny who mostly raised me died eight years ago. Last week I watched Disney‘s Coco for the first time and cried for hours remembering them due to the feeling of loss brought back by the film. Grieve ends, but the loss stays forever. You‘ll never stop missing the people you’ve loved when they’re gone. Still, three weeks of bereavement time after two years is way off. And even if it was the year he died OP would still have to decide in terms of fairness. The coworkers who have to cover would have to suffer for her. If her father just died they might be understanding and willing to shoulder the workload but the student is not entitled to other people suffering for her, it would be their coworkers decision to shoulder the workload out of compassion. I‘d cover if her dad just died and she’d ask but I’d bristle if her dad died two years ago and my manager made me cover her time so she could leave for three weeks! So OP should explain to her just the way Alison said. Op owes this to the other employees out of fairness.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. This.

      Grief changes form over time. If we could stop missing them we could then be able to stop grieving their absence. There are some folks we will always miss. If I asked for time off from work to remember someone, I would probably never have to go to work. sigh.
      Hopefully, OP, reminded her that others are also grieving this time of year and OP needs to be considerate to all.

  23. Old Cynic*

    I used to hate working for other people back in the 80s because married people and those with traditional families were the only ones allowed to take time off during the holidays. Single people (and gay couples were considered single people) had to “man the fort”. Hopefully, times have changed.

  24. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    I feel that OP IS being as sympathetic as realistically possible, because ultimately, OP has to consider the needs and wants of everyone under her. Everyone has a story, and good or bad emotions, which affect these needs and wants around the holidays.
    Working with the student employee to determine what can and can’t be done in the current workplace is the proper amount of sympathy.
    A “shoot from the hip” emotional response is not.
    OP does have time to consider before acting upon, and “of course, if you need the time, you can take it,” is an option.
    But the student employee should understand the consequences of her actions.
    If you don’t come in, then this will happen…

    1. Karia*

      Recently dead parent trumps a lot of things. Yes, the death was actually two years ago. OP didn’t know that.

  25. hbc*

    “I reiterated that this is her last year as a student and thus her last year getting a month off for the holidays, and she needs to get used to not being able to go home for weeks at a time.”

    I am really not a fan of making decisions about what to allow/disallow based on future rules. She will get used to not having a long vacation when she doesn’t have a long vacation. In some things, the learning and adapting is inherent in the experience. Either it makes sense to let her take this time now or it doesn’t.

    I mean, “This is the last year you can do it, so you can’t do it” makes zero sense. Might as well ban recess for 5th/6th graders since they won’t get it when they go to middle school.

    1. Nanani*

      Well said.

      Every high school teacher who imposed somethign stupid to ‘prepare for college’ was hillarious wrong/out of date with how post-secondary actually worked. Employers are no different.

  26. Karia*

    I feel like you were extremely cold, no bluntly, odd, before you realised the death was two years ago.

    I’m in a professional role. Our office is full on and December is our busiest season. We shut for two weeks after to recover. If my parent died, and you tried to tell me that your job was more important than the well-being of my surviving parent, I’d quit with immediate effect. You’re not promoting professional norms; you’re being extremely strange, strict and OTT over what is, in fact, a student gig.

    The time scale changes things enormously, but you were being cold and extreme when you didn’t know the death wasn’t recent.

  27. CaseyCakes*

    “My parent died” is a blatant lie and you should demand proof. You won’t get it.

    People anonymize information when they’re lying. They’re trying to phrase things the way they think the people they’re lying to want to categorize it – “this employee’s parent died.”

    But there is no way a father or mother died and the person referees to them as “my parent”. That just doesn’t happen. Call them on it OP!

    1. inksmith*

      Or the parent isn’t a father or mother – they could be a non-binary person. Or like a friend of mine, whose daughter calls her “my parent” because my friend didn’t transition until the daughter was an adult, and daughter doesn’t feel like dad (which she called my friend growing up) or mum (which is the correct gender term now) is the right word.

  28. Ava*

    I had a colleague working as security for a hotel and he saved up for a month long vacation giving very advance notice of his intentions. His supervisor rejected his request few weeks before the trip started because they couldn’t find someone to take his shifts. He went ahead and quit because everything was already set and paid for. He took the trip and looked happy in his vacation photos. Next thing I know, he was back working in the same hotel and same position because ,’they couldn’t find or hire anyone during that time.’ Granted, everyone’s situation is different and I wouldn’t advise anyone to attempt this. The happiness I saw in his photos and his face said it all…that life is too short to just keep working without it helping you make a life, not take away life.

  29. Jen2*

    Wow this is a similar letter to one I sent in several years ago, though it was about taking off a weekend instead of the holiday. I can also almost bet that the LW is int he same industry I am.

    Anyway, these sort of requirements are typically communicated to the employee when they are offered employment. It is common in my industry to have grad students fill in some of the times full time employees can’t/won’t work. Generally over the holidays, the full timers take turns and the grad students fill in the holes. And they’re not working on Christmas or anything, we just ask that they be available for some of the break. In exchange for this, they get a ton of other flexibility, a great salary for part time work, and their tuition paid. It is a really good deal, and really sets them apart in the job hunt. And, we all did our early career holiday work and know we cannot take every holiday as professionals either.

    In my situation, it was after a repeated cycle of needing time off to grieve (which usually also involved some other family get together), and needing to work a lot over the break to make up hours or else lose their tuition waiver. That was a rule that cannot change, was known at the beginning of employment, and would have huge financial ramifications. The student ended up only taking off a week. Ultimately, it came to light that they had some mental illness issues, and a discussion with campus mental health reinforced that I needed to maintain our boundaries for attendance, and still have professional expectations for her performance.

  30. Bob*

    What is your standard bereavement leave? Is it reasonable?
    Has she used it up?

    I do generally agree with Alison’s stance that employers should not be enforcers, someone needs a sick day don’t make them prove they are sick and so forth. Responsible people don’t need rules and treating people with respect is the first step to getting respect in return. But not the only step (in bold).
    However those that want to take advantage of employer goodwill should understand that respect is a two way street. If they won’t give it they should not expect it.
    I understand your sleuthing, normally i would not go that far but when you have a good hunch that someone is not acting in good faith it is reasonable to look into it. Trust but verify as it were.
    Ask her when this person died. Ask for a death certificate since 3 weeks (during the holidays) is likely more than the standard leave you offer and is going to cause you problems. Verify her evidence with the funeral home if possible. If you are sure this is the correct obituary then use it. If your standard bereavement leave is 1-2 weeks and this parent died two years ago then she is trying to play you. You should call this out, respectfully. As for consequences thats up to you but i would not try to make an example out of her on her first offense, a refusal of the 3 weeks off and a stern talking to reasonable. And a refresher that playing employers can ruin her professional relationship in the future. She should instead think ahead and look for jobs that give time off at the holidays instead of lying.

    All that said i am not fully against Alison’s approach, sidestep the possible playing you without having to deal with it directly. But this does send the message that she can do this again in the future to someone else. And this year you and everyone covering for her pays the price for her attempted lie. How many times can or should she get away with that?

    1. pancakes*

      In my city obtaining a death certificate takes 3 to 4 weeks, requires a fee to be paid, and is restricted to certain categories of relatives, who must provide documentation to show they meet the criteria. I really hope you’ll read the other comments here explaining why this is a bad approach.

      1. Bob*

        An obituary or newspaper listing of the funeral visitation or other evidence is fine as well.
        As i explained i didn’t say ask this from everyone but if you have a strong suspicion and even evidence that someone is lying to you then trust but verify is a reasonable response.

  31. Scarlett10is*

    Yikes! I’ve worked with Graduate Assistants (GAs) for years (academia), and they’ve worked their duffs off for my small office. Being a GA is tough, as they manage a full course load and demanding part-time jobs, and often they are treated like cheap labor and squeezed like citrus. They don’t have the same benefits or protections as full-time staff, and have very little power or recourse when supervisory relationships go wrong. The power dynamics are incredibly lopsided, and I think that’s really important to keep in mind.

    When my GA’s father passed away last year, we offered her immediate sympathy, support, and told her to come back when she felt ready from the out of state service. We sent an arrangement of flowers to her family, and certainly didn’t go searching for an obituary. I totally get that the LW doesn’t want to give her 3 weeks off this year, but it comes across as unnecessarily hostile and wanting to take the GA down a peg or something. We could all use a bit more compassion this year, which doesn’t cost anything.

  32. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    You’re clear and up-front about the students being needed around the holidays, to cover everything. This student is attempting to get round that. Since she seems to have already had a fair amount of leave, I would see with the other students before giving her the three weeks.
    People don’t all grieve the same, sure, people don’t all love their family/friends the same either: for some it’d be an inconvenience not to have Christmas Eve off, but they can ask their husband to deal with picking up the turkey and do the last-minute wrapping. For others it’s a catastrophe because they can’t get to their parents’ place in time for the main celebration, midnight mass, whatever. You can’t measure all these parameters to make decisions. This student is making more noise about it, that doesn’t mean she should get priority for her three weeks. She knew from the outset that she was hired to cover for others. So it’s a matter of making sure everyone gets something, sounds like she’s had plenty already. I wouldn’t like to see the other students get all disgruntled because they couldn’t have any time off.

  33. Sharikacat*

    I would not be surprised in the least that the student disappears for three weeks even if they were only given one or two weeks. Young adults without the knowledge of workplace norms can easily fall into a more “selfish” way of thinking, much in the same way an irresponsible coworker just so happens to call in sick the day after a holiday weekend. Maybe this is a job the student feels they can afford to throw away to where they don’t care about potentially burning a bridge by taking unapproved time away.

    Yeah, it absolutely sucks having to be the person that covers the nights and weekends, but a lot of businesses are open during those times, so someone has to be stuck with it. The best any boss can do is spread out the burden so it all doesn’t fall on the same people every year.

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