update: coworkers are bringing kids to work but keeping it a secret from our boss

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day this week — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworkers were bringing kids to work but keeping it a secret from their boss? (first update here) Here’s the latest.

Sansa and Arya have left the company.

Arya (younger co-worker) left in the beginning of this year. She gave no notice – just came in one day and quit. The rumor is she left to become a waitress and/or a cleaning lady and I often wonder how that worked out for her, especially in light of the pandemic. However, she stopped bringing her son to work with her.

I saw Sansa’s grandchild a few times afterward, but always accompanied by another adult and they were very brief in and out visits, mostly to pick up Sansa to go to lunch and that sort of thing.

I last saw Sansa in April when we were all sent to work from home due to COVID. My boss allowed some of my co-workers to go back to the office in July – a few of my co-workers were having issues with internet connectivity and other issues related to working from home. Sansa volunteered to be one of those to return. She sent an e-mail to us who chose not to come back (including me for good and valid reasons) that in her view, we were all setting ourselves up to be terminated and that “I have been here before any of you got hired here and I will be here long after you get back – if you are invited back.”

Sansa and I did not interact much – our work projects mostly did not overlap – but one day in early September I e-mailed her and got a generic “I am out of the office” message. I did not think anything of it – we have a “use it or lose it” vacation policy, and this was right around when the school year began, so I thought she just took off to assist her grandchild in making the transition from online only learning to returning to physical school five days a week. (My county mandated that schools offer completely in person classes as well as online only and hybrid options, and grandchild’s parents picked the first option.)

It was only after I was copied on an e-mail a week or so later from the Office Manager (who still works there) asking me to handle a project since Sansa “is no longer working at (company name).” I have absolutely no idea what happened. Did she quit? Was she terminated? I know she was working there in late August.

I find it extremely strange that my boss did not let any of us working from home know. I can only figure he thought the Office Manager would let us know, but apparently not. I just today (November 19) received an e-mail from one of my fellow work at home colleagues who had no idea Sansa had left.

Now, when I receive a generic “out of office” message from any of my co-workers, I immediately think they have quit.

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Some companies are so weird about communicating when an employee is no longer there. It’s truly baffling.

    1. Mel*

      It’s so weird!!!

      When I got let go in March, I still had email for a few days. I’d see emails from coworkers asking for things, then I’d go to facebook and be like “yeah, I got let go last week” and they’d be like ????? No one told me!

    2. YepYepYep*

      Yes! At a previous job, one of my coworkers suddenly left work in the middle of the day without explanation and then didn’t show up for a couple days. My team was concerned because she wasn’t answering texts asking if she was okay. Eventually we found out from her that she had been fired. Our supervisor sent us a “Betty no longer works here” e-mail two weeks later.

    3. beachykeen*

      When I worked at a newspaper they would never tell us when someone on the business/advertising side was leaving (I was in the newsroom, and we interacted with these people regularly in a small office!) The reporters would all just one day say “hey, I haven’t seen so-and-so in like two weeks… are they….. gone?” It was so weird!

      1. Anonnie Mous*

        Recovering newspaper employee here. I’ve been on both sides – newsroom and advertising for different papers – and it was the same. They were just … gone.

    4. Workerbee*

      Our org is like that! We don’t even have 40 people, yet are housed in three separate buildings that keep to themselves outside of infrequent all-staff meetings, or if you pass someone walking around. You’d have no idea someone was gone from one of the other teams unless they themselves managed to let you know, or someone kindly shared the news. Otherwise, nothing.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Exjob did this, but we had over 400 people, so they just kept a list of departed employees on the intranet. Once when covering the front desk, I found an entire team that had vanished suddenly when I was looking up someone we weren’t supposed to let past the lobby.

    5. BRandy*

      Several years ago a co-worker that I was emailing with back and forth about a pt. quit responding. I called, no answer. Finally a co-worker said she was let go. Im like but no manager was checking work emails. I thought I was just being ghosted workwise.

    6. Mimmy*

      I always thought that it was to protect the privacy of the person who leaves. Or do you mean about the timeliness of communicating that an employee is no longer working there?

      1. nonegiven*

        Probably that the supervisor would need to at least check the former employee’s email to see what she needed done.

    7. Anononon*

      We’ve gone through multiple rounds of furloughs, and for the most part, we’ve only heard who is furloughed through word of mouth. The worst part is that for many of the people furloughed, they didn’t set up any kind of email notification – they were just being forwarded to other people, so it was like we could be emailing into the void.

    8. Rachel in NYC*

      My office has a generic email they send when people get fired so anyone who isn’t oblivious knows when people have gotten fired. (Because everyone else sends out an email to the whole office that says, “bye, I’m leaving.”)

      It’s real subtle.

    9. CoveredInBees*

      I don’t get it at all. Even if there’s a possibility of a criminal case or lawsuit, a generic note letting people know seems necessary for people to plan accordingly.

    10. Elizabeth West*

      I hate that. Hey boss, did you think I wasn’t going to notice Fergus was gone when I needed his TPS reports?! Also sometimes they don’t tell you who will be handling their stuff!

    11. Deborah*

      I quit a job in the middle of August where I had a lot of ongoing projects and responsibilities. I fully expected to work a two week notice and have them calling me afterward wanting me to do stuff gratis. It was an unhealthy environment. Instead, they cut off my access (I was working from home) at 1 minute to end of day immediately after sending me an email saying they would pay out my two weeks and they had no further need of my services. I had another job in the works and posted a life event on Facebook a few days later when I officially signed the offer letter for it, and one of my old coworkers texted me and said he hadn’t been told I was gone!

      It was, like I said, a very dysfunctional place. And one where we were encouraged to think of each other like “family” so it feels really weird that I’ve only spoken to that one guy since I left. I expected to get to say goodbye during my two weeks, but no.

    12. turquoisecow*

      At an old job, this happened frequently. There was a guy I worked with who kept his desk super clean. He would put any notepads or files away at the end of the day and the only thing on his desk was his keyboard and monitor (he had a docking station and usually took his laptop home at night) and desk phone.

      One day he had to leave early and cleaned off his desk as usual and left. Someone came by looking for him and saw his desk completely empty and asked his neighbors if he’d been fired that day. It was completely plausible.

    13. Kyrielle*

      At a previous job, I tried to direct a client’s request to go through their account manager (as it needed to), only to have THE CLIENT tell me their account manager had been let go and did I happen to know who the new one was? First I’d heard of it and the system still had her name, not whoever ended up replacing her. I remember I managed to say I’d find out, but I have no idea how I phrased it, I was just so stunned.

    14. Cheshire Cat*

      I don’t understand this; what does it hurt to let people know that a colleague has left?

      At my company, it’s easy to tell when someone has been fired vs has quit. The person’s manager sends an email that says either “Sansa’s last day with the company is today,” or “Arya’s last day will be next Friday, we are sorry to see them go but wish them well,” followed by Arya sending out an “it’s been great working here” email.

      The only exception to this was when a colleague committed suicide, and the manager sent the “Sansa doesn’t work here anymore” email. It was very strange, and for weeks afterward most of us thought Colleague had been fired.

  2. often trapped under a cat*

    One of the most annoying things about my employer is that they never tell you when anyone leaves. If you email someone who is gone, you will get an auto-reply that says they’ve left the company. Sometimes it will say who to talk to about their work, but not always.

      1. TechWorker*

        Yeah I think at my company the email address just… stops working? Presumably they have something in place for people who work a lot with external folks but for most of us (who don’t) it’s just delete the account & move on…

  3. Daniel*

    First, wow at Sansa for that ridiculous email.

    Second, what’s up with you company that word doesn’t get out that people have left? Where I work, word goes out to the whole bureau pretty quickly, and though word only typically trickles out elsewhere, I can’t think of any time I’ve been in such a lurch.

    1. Ama*

      I do wonder if the disruption in the normal workflow due to the pandemic might have caused this. For example, if they normally make “so and so has left” announcements in person they might have assumed the people working in the office would have let those working from home know, and didn’t realize no one mentioned it to them.

      We haven’t had anything that bad here, but there have been a couple weird hiccups where when we looked at where the miscommunication happened it was because normally we’d just drop by someone’s office and let them know about something and that’s not currently possible.

  4. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    She sent an e-mail to us who chose not to come back (including me for good and valid reasons) that in her view, we were all setting ourselves up to be terminated and that “I have been here before any of you got hired here and I will be here long after you get back – if you are invited back.”
    But you were still working for the company.
    So Sansa used company email to threaten her coworkers with termination because they chose to WORK from home?
    Yeah, someone higher up got wind of that.
    I’m picturing her reacting to a reprimand much like Anti-tattoo Carol, digging in and freaking out. I think she did quit, in a huff.
    I really wouldn’t interpret anyone else’s actions or inactions in terms of Sansa.
    Yeah, the company should have told people she was no longer with the company, but I’d let that go. Chalk it up to pandemic communication fail. Don’t let it influence your impression of your company’s transparency or treatment of employees.

    1. Anti-anti tattoo Carol*

      Yep. There with you. Because if I’d gotten that email, I would’ve forwarded to my boss without hesitation. I’m guessing one of the recipients passed it on and the “you really can’t say that” hammer was brought down.

      Regarding the silence about Sanaa’s departure, I once had a colleague fired for doing something WILDLY inappropriate. Those of us who knew were put under a gag order. Those who didn’t know just got bounce backs from her email. We were instructed to say “Lucretia doesn’t work here anymore” but not proactively contact people who worked directly with her. I don’t think it was handled the right way, but I suspect my (old) org just wanted to be done with it and not have anyone dwell on it. Which, of course, makes people dwell more…

      1. PT*

        I knew a few people who got fired for wildly inappropriate behavior, they’d just give a pat “Lucinda has chosen to pursue an opportunity elsewhere, yesterday was her last day” or “Fergus quit without notice, today was his last day” and that was that.

        1. turquoisecow*

          We got a generic email saying Fergus was placed on unpaid administrative leave. I don’t know what he did but that was a clear indicator of inappropriate behavior.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I took her email more along the lines of that letter from the person who wouldn’t eat the pizza, walked a long distance carrying a heavy piece of equipment, and cut her own benefits to save money for the company. She told her other colleagues they should do the same. It’s the same misguided thinking. “you have to SHOW the boss’ you really want to work here by coming into the office now that its open.” Even though the company made it clear it was optional if working from home wasn’t really going smoothly. Just one of those “I know how things work in the REAL WORLD better than you do” people.

      Although laughing my ass off that SHE is the one gone.

      1. Cobol*

        Yeah Letter Written really doesn’t have a reason to defend Sansa’s actions, so I took this to mean Sansa was trying to help. (Or “good and valid” is sarcasm.)

        1. Filosofickle*

          Took me a second read, but I believe “good and valid” refers to OP’s reasons for working from home, not Sansa’s reasons for sending the letter :)

          1. TooTiredToThink*

            Yup; same, like she or someone in her household either is high-risk for complications if she gets Covid or she has child/family care obligations that make it more difficult to be working in the office. Which are good and valid reasons for choosing to continue working from home.

            1. tiny cactus*

              Another good and valid reason to work from home: it’s a pandemic and you don’t want to risk your health for your job if you don’t have to.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Exactly. Plus, the fewer people who get and spread this, the better, so working from home if you can is good.

      2. Anti-anti tattoo Carol*

        Am related to one of those people. Said person also told me, “You’re not a very good manager if you’re not near your team.” Would love to see a study on specific work behaviors brought up in these conversations (for example, showing up with a contagious illness) and seeing where the correlations lie among industry, age, locale, work background) etc.

        Fwiw I’d like to think that I’m at least an okay manager by modeling self-care and electing to stay remote for as long as possible so that my team knows it’s okay to do the same. But I digress.

        1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          Thank you for leading by example and reinforcing to your staff that following official guidelines and being safe is important and that the company supports the efforts.
          Your staff is looking to you.
          Well done.

        2. Wenike*

          “You’re not a very good manager if you’re not near your team.”
          My current manager (one of the best I’ve ever had that is actually helping figure out career goals and not just stagnating in a position) lives in a separate state. Of my team of 11: boss and 2 coworkers are near each other, another is within a two hour drive, 5 of us are in a 3rd city, 1 is 6 hours away from us (and its quicker to fly to meet the other cluster than it is to drive) and one is in a 3rd state. If its not obvious, we were two companies that merged a few years ago and headquarters for each company were not in the same city. However, the company has acquired others and then later disposed of them but kept some of the workers who lost any physical office to go to. As a result, most teams in my department are scattered through various locations and a few are permanent WFH and its normal to everyone (we’ve also had former VPs and directors who would live in one city for the weekend and commute to a long-term stay hotel for the work week).

      3. Nanani*

        I mean, in the real world there’s a pandemic and reasonable people are working from home/faciliting work from home wherever possible. Flexing about how you’re willing to take unnecessary risks isn’t in touch with the real world in 2020.

      4. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Like Mentor John earlier this week. “You need to look good to management. Never bring problems. Only lie to them and tell them it is fine.”

    3. Twenty Points for the Copier*

      It seems like Sansa was a real believer in the Face Time mentality – if that’s the case, maybe she thought the extra time spent at work with screaming kids running up and down the hall was a good thing since it meant more face time for her.

      I think unnecessary face time mentalities are pretty destructive in general, but this would be next level!

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        She absolutely did. I’m sure she thought, “I’m here working AND watching my grandchild.”
        No. You are not.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I was thinking that she continued to bring the kid into work during the pandemic and put evens at more risk. A kid is distracting in normal times, but a public health threat adds another level. Maybe that was finally enough for her boss to due her.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Also, with fewer co-workers in the office being forced to help watch the kid, the kid might have caused more distruptions.

      2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Oh yeah, when school was closed, I can imagine her thinking it’s the perfect plan.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Once, when I was working at an agency, I got into a huge argument with my boss. I told him I knew very well that he was trying to get me to resign, and I wasn’t that stupid (resigning means no unemployment benefit here).
      He told me that I might as well do it, because it was his company he wasn’t going anywhere and he wasn’t going to fire me because it would cost him too much (severance etc plus he knew I would take him to court because I was his most productive worker and had done nothing wrong so I knew I would win my case).
      2008 came along and just about all our big clients stopped sending us work. The agency was on the brink of bankruptcy, but the boss managed to find someone willing to buy us out.
      I had already started planning my next moves if I were to lose my job, however the new boss told me he wanted to keep me on.
      The old boss, however, was kicked out just as soon as was legally possible.
      Schadenfreude can be a beautiful thing.

    6. allathian*

      Yeah, this. Or else she got fired, someone complained about the ridiculous email to someone higher up and that was the last straw. If I ever got something this ridiculous from someone at work, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact the sender’s boss and CC my own. Of course, I work in an environment where this would be extremely unlikely to lead to immediate termination, but certainly a warning.

  5. L.H. Puttgrass*

    “I have been here before any of you got hired here and I will be here long after you get back – if you are invited back.”


    1. TooTiredToThink*

      What I don’t get is the “….if you are invited back,” comment. I’m like – they weren’t laid off. They were *working.* Like, seriously?

      1. LQ*

        She was implying that they would be laid off or let go. They were “invited” back to the office and it’s “not an offer that will be made twice” kind of a thing in her mind.

        (I thought the letter was perfectly understandable and I’m wondering why so many people are confused about it. And now I kind of want a skit about the mafia not using subtle language but very direct business-focused language.)

        1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          I think Sansa was intentionally making it sound like those people at home were furloughed, not really working. And reading some pandemic-era letters here, I’m wondering if management realized that she is making it sound like the company is using furloughed employees to do work.

  6. Ms. Understood*

    My new employer doesn’t announce any personnel changes, positive or negative (we aren’t even told when new people are hired in other departments – they just start showing up for meetings and you have to piece it together). Not sure if this is due to WFH as I’ve only worked there since Covid.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I worked at a small company (12-15 people) that did that. It was weird. All of a sudden someone new would be there and you’d have to ask them who they are. It was all very awkward.

      1. Chinook*

        Isn’t that a security risk? Having worked as a “gate keeper” (receptionist), I made a point of pointing out to people that I NEEDED to know who was employed and allowed to be on site. If someone was fired, I needed to know they couldn’t come in (or to call someone if they do). And if someone is new and I don’t know, you better believe I would ask them why they were wandering the halls unescorted or using a company computer or even asking for me to get them access to a room because they don’t have a pass yet.

        Haven’t any of these bosses seen any spy or criminal heist movies or tv shows? If I can figure out within 3 minutes how to download company secrets by pulling a fire alarm and walking around to see who evacuated without locking their computer first, then I can definitely pretend to work there and get away with weeks of spying or creating havoc!

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yes. A company I used to work at eventually increased their security and made it clear that we can’t allow “tail gating” to get in the back door and that it was OK to ask someone you didn’t recognize who they are.

    2. LabRat*

      My last employer didn’t tell anyone anything either. On my first day people just sort of ignored me, because the didn’t know who I was! And yeah, people would just disappear and you didn’t know if they’d been fired, quit, transferred, or what. Very annoying. I just started introducing myself every time someone I didn’t recognize showed up in a meeting!

      At another employer before that, we called it “cake or memo”: if you quit, you got a cake. If you got fired, we got a memo.

      1. HeyPony*

        At my office, if the email states that “we wish them well in their future endeavors”, you know they got canned.

        1. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

          We got a couple of emails about departing senior staff. The *lack* of the “we wish them well” phrase was starkly apparent in the case of one C-Suite manager who was known to not be popular…

        2. Can't Sit Still*

          My personal favorite is “to spend more time with their family,” since that usually translates to “good luck ever working in this industry again.”

      2. Tedious Cat*

        At my old job it was said “There are two ways to leave [Workplace]: With Cake, and… Without Cake.”

        Occasionally someone would leave on good terms but insist they didn’t want a party and then everyone would get pissy because man, those people loved cake.

    3. Sara without an H*

      My employer used to be spectacularly bad at that, too. Our newish HR director finally started putting a monthly “Comings & Goings” list up on the office intranet, which helps a little. It’s still not unusual to come to a meeting and find a total stranger there, who turns out to be someone who just started in another department.

      1. Liz*

        My company does that too, but even so, there’s always a question, did they leave voluntarily, or not? Esp one recently who left. My company has AMAZING benefits and i can’t see her leaving in the middle of a pandemic unless there was a good reason, like she was let go.

    4. Jean*

      This practice is so strange to me, and judging from what I hear/read, a lot of companies won’t tell when someone leaves/is let go. All you have to do is send out a department-wide email stating “so and so is no longer with this company effective _____” and move on. Or in the case of a new person, “Please welcome so and so to the team effective ______.” I do not understand the reluctance to do this. What circumstances would justify keeping it a secret? It does my head in.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        What happens next is anyone can wander the halls and be fine. No one asks who they are or if they need help. We worked with protected individuals. Probably not a great plan to let anyone in and let them wander around. But we did.

  7. Kiitemso*

    I’ve been in companies where people announced they were leaving with a very positive goodbye email, often with no indication they got a job offer elsewhere, with phrases like “I need to fly free again” or “I’ll be taking some time off to figure out my next direction”. Which is always concerning in its own way, like, do they know something I don’t? Is there a change coming that made them want to get out?

    But I’ve also been in companies where people don’t announce leaving at all, and nobody announces it. The only time I’ve found out about such leavings is when my boss has clued me in on it, on the down low, because some function of my job was to help out said person or interact with them with some particular task.

    I remember a particular person who definitely got fired, though. On Friday she did some invoice processing, on Monday I was tasked with processing invoicing errors, and when I emailed her about those invoices, the email bounced back. It was definitely a ‘wtf’ moment, they must’ve erased everything on late Friday because I was the first one working at the office on Monday.

    1. Cat Tree*

      In think some people just love attention. I work for a huge company with lots of mobility, which means people join and leave our department fairly often. Usually we just give them friendly well wishes. But one guy had to make into a big scene. He took over a routine department meeting to give a long-winded goodbye speech, and gave out gifts to every person. But he didn’t just hash them out. He said an individual mini goodbye speech to each person before handing them their gift. So I got to listen to him say slight variations of the same speech 12 times. You’d think he had a terminal illness or was moving permanently to a remote island with no phone or internet access. He didn’t even leave the company! He went to a different department and we all still work with him occasionally. He just wanted an excuse to make everyone pay attention to him.

      Anyway, that’s how I would interpret those dramatic messages in goodbye emails.

  8. Mockingjay*

    Announcement of employee departures is one thing that my very good company doesn’t handle well, surprisingly. Most times it’s not mentioned at all. I only find out when I try to contact someone and the email bounces or someone says, “didn’t you know? Wakeen left/was fired.”

    I understand not providing detail if someone is fired, but normal notices are also swept under the rug. A simple email would suffice: “Wakeen no longer works here and Jane is stepping into his role starting Monday. Please welcome Jane to the team.”

  9. Thankful for AAM*

    There was a late update in the original thread, last comment. It involved office video cameras.
    I’ll put the link in a reply.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Thank you! I was almost positive I had seen an update for this somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Thanks for the link. My guess is that the video cameras caught Sansa doing something or other that her manager wasn’t prepared to overlook.

  10. Girasol*

    I wish we could have taught my management the words “no longer works here.” They insisted on saying nothing when someone was fired, so people didn’t know why someone wasn’t answering their email and wasn’t finishing the task that the rest of the team was waiting for. It would take a couple weeks before everyone realized that she wasn’t out sick but must have been fired. Then the firmer the silence on management’s part the more sordid the rumors about the firing. Honesty would have been a better policy.

  11. SD*

    And yet, my mind went in an entirely different direction: did Sansa get COVID or even die? There are clues in the letter that this place of work is in a state that is soft on COVID avoidance.
    1. The office didn’t close down until April, which is late.
    2. The county opened up in-person, 5 days a week in-person classes for children in mid to late August (are they still open?).
    3. Sansa thought everyone should come back to the work place. She did, and scolded those who didn’t.

    Which leads me to a scenario where
    1. This locality didn’t/doesn’t have a mask mandate or serious distancing requirements.
    2. People who were planning on voting for the president in Nov. absolutely weren’t, and perhaps aren’t, wearing masks in late August, and this may be one of those places.
    3. Other avoidance measures are unlikely to have been strictly followed, just loosely if at all. That presumes this state has any mandatory avoidance measures in place.

    While Sansa may have been fired or decided “to spend some more time with my family,” she could also have gotten ill. Many workplaces would rather not advertise that their employee who came back to the office got sick. Hopefully, Sansa is home collecting unemployment, but maybe not.

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