updates: rehiring a bully, finding the F word on a form, and more

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. Here are four updates from letter-writers.

1. Should I hire a bully back?

At my manager’s request, I interviewed my former problem employee after she submitted an application (my manager wanted to see if she’d learned anything while out of work).

In the interview, I asked her to tell me about a time she’d faced a conflict while working with her former team. I then asked her to tell me what steps she took to resolve the issue. Pretty straightforward line of questioning, right? She gave a very weak example and blamed a former colleague (and close friend of hers) who’d gotten fired well before the COVID-19 layoffs. She was clearly trying to shift the blame to a “worse” employee. I then asked her if she had any unresolved issues with the company and/or her former coworkers. She played the question off as though her former friends/colleagues were the ones who had issues…which was 100% false. I then brought out her file and asked her to speak to the various verbal and written warnings it contained (all I wanted was for her to own up to her past mistakes and tell me how she planned to do better). But she wouldn’t even do that! She tried to play it off as though she never actually received those warnings…even though she’d signed them!

At this point, I knew 100% that I wasn’t going to hire her back. However, I still asked her for a reference from the part-time job she claimed to have (and claimed to have had when she was on my payroll). The reason I asked? I’d heard through the grapevine that she didn’t actually have said job, that it was just a ruse to get weekends off. Sure enough, she couldn’t provide a reference for said job. She then had the audacity to ask—on the very same day she’d been interviewed and was unable to provide a reference—when she’d be coming back to work for me.

Looking back, my boss and I are so glad we stuck to our guns and didn’t rehire her. It would’ve been a huge mistake. Plus, we ended up hiring a total rockstar to fill her spot! Two months later, I’m happy to report that I’m fully staffed, my team’s getting along fantastically, and we’re reporting significantly better service scores than we were this time last year.

Alison, thank you so much for your advice!

2. An employee added the F-word to a client form (first update in the comments here, second one here, and here’s the latest)

Even thinking about this experience makes my blood pressure rise! I left that job a year after I wrote to you, for a position that I loved and a 30% increase in salary. It was an amicable separation, but for three years I received calls from the president asking if I wanted to come back, from employees about HR issues, and even IT. It’s a small community so I tried to be gracious while also setting boundaries and not working for free. I’ve been promoted twice at the new company and still very much enjoy what I do–and no longer fear random swear words being inserted into professional documents by my team.

3. Asking about salary increases for a future relocation to a high cost-of-living area (#3 at the link)

You published my letter in July about asking a prospective employer about potential raises if they move us to a high COLA. I have a happy update for you!

I want to thank all of the commenters who weighed in about their experiences moving to areas with very high costs of living. It really helped us clarify our thoughts about wanting to move there at all. In the end, the question ended up being moot because my husband was not offered the job, but that turned out to be for the best because there were several red flags during the interview process that made us wary. They seemed very unclear on what was going to happen with this role. At first they said the job would start out in the Midwestern city then move to Palo Alto, then no, it’s Irvine. The move will be in 3 years, or maybe only in 6 months. A couple of interviewers previously worked for a competitor, and they spent a bit of time talking down on the other company. Then there were the weird technical interview questions – Here’s an issue, how would you solve it? Ok, but you don’t have the personnel to do that, so what do you do then? OK, but there’s no money to implement that solution, so now how do you solve it? (One of my friends pointed out it sounded like their interview was set up like the Kobayashi Maru – there is no possible solution and you just have to accept defeat!) Then, to top it all off, after the final interview, they completely ghosted him. (According to their Glassdoor reviews, they are notorious for doing this.) When he finally tracked someone down weeks later, a person he had never spoken to or even heard of before told him they had moved on to other candidates. We were glad to be done with them at that point.

His job searched stalled a bit after that and he was feeling rather disheartened. But just last month, three things happened simultaneously: a former coworker reached out about an opening he specifically wanted my husband for, a recruiter contacted him through LinkedIn, and he got a call from one of the companies he’d submitted an application to. He ended up really liking the second company, and just last week accepted an offer! It’s a 20% pay increase, much better benefits, work he is really excited about doing with a newer and more innovative company, and we are still going to move, but to an area with a slightly lower cost of living than where we are now. It’s also a good step for me, because even though I work remotely, we are actually moving closer to some of my coworkers, which will create new opportunities for me to network. All in all, everything worked out better than we had hoped!

4. My company wants to know if I’m willing to travel this year (#5 at the link)

Earlier in the pandemic I wrote you asking for advice on a situation involving a push for international travel.

Many of the readers assumed correctly that I was traveling from the U.S. Given the purpose of travel was to visit clients across Canada the closed borders made the decision for me. Still, when I voiced my concerns my boss was sympathetic – I definitely spent more time worrying about this than needed.

That said, I imagine many of your readers will be in a similar position soon – or are facing the same fears I was. It was unclear when I asked whether my employer would be responsible for care or costs incurred in case of illness or mandatory isolation and I would be curious to see if there is a new industry standard in the future. Former peers who were in the travel role were baffled there were any talks of travel this year given the usually packed itinerary when I mentioned it during a casual chat.

Since this summer I actually indicated several times that I would like take on a new role with other clients and have been interviewing and preparing for when the right opportunity appears.

Thanks to you and the AAM readers for all the advice!

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. CatCat*

    Boy did the former employee in #1 totally blow her opportunity. OP, great that you were totally straightforward about addressing the issues. Some people do learn, but she clearly failed to, lacked any kind of insight into her past behavioral issues, and had the cojones to lie about her reference!

    Glad you were able to hire a rockstar and have a well-functioning team now!

    1. Momma Bear*

      I’m glad OP took the opportunity to re-address issues from the employee’s past to be completely sure that they did not want this person back. Sounds like a win for the company.

    1. AKchic*

      The OP’s manager is the one who pushed for the interview, otherwise OP1 wouldn’t have interviewed her at all (which is what we’d all suggested). OP1 got the confirmation that she needed in order to appease the boss, which justified her previous decision not to rehire the former employee, so I can’t necessarily call it a waste of time on OP1’s end. It served a purpose. It proved that the bully hadn’t changed and they didn’t need to hire her. It also showed the upper manager that they need to trust OP1’s decisions.
      This would be no different than if they’d interviewed any other person with relevant experience and chose not to hire them because they found something within the interview process to be questionable. They gave the former employee every opportunity to shine and show positive growth and change. The person did not.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It also showed the upper manager that they need to trust OP1’s decisions.

        I really hope this is true because I had the same initial reaction Pay No Attention. Someone who was bullying peers should have never been a consideration at all – full stop. OP’s manager’s thought process here was baffling.

    2. VelociraptorAttack*

      I had the same reaction. It seemed like OP’s boss (and OP to a slightly lesser degree) really just wanted to mess with the former employee and no matter what the employee did, that’s not okay.

      1. tangerineRose*

        It didn’t sound like the OP had a choice other than to interview the person since their manager wanted them to. At that point, doesn’t it make sense to do a thorough interview?

      2. RP80*

        Maybe, or maybe OP’s manager is just really terrible at recruitment. I have a colleague who has a large, quickly expanding team – so he does a lot of recruitment. He’s an absolute nightmare, and HR are tearing their hair out. He insists on interviewing internal candidates who have zero ability to do the role, he tried to give a senior vacancy to an intern with 6mo experience who’d had multiple complaints, he regularly shortlists 10 candidates for interview, he often insists on short listing candidates who have random skills not relevant to the job but which he gets intrigued by. I’ve interviewed with him and he’s all over the place, I don’t get it, but I know he is absolutely not acting maliciously.

      3. Wintermute*

        You’d be surprised how many managers without good formal training get some bizarre ideas about hiring, and there’s also a lot more that could play into this decision, I’m not sure that we can assume a nefarious motive.

        First of all, they may know something about the employee we don’t. They might worry they’re litigious or made some kind of claim and they worry not even bringing them in will add fuel to the fire or motivate them to press a complaint they wouldn’t otherwise

        or they may think there’s some legal rehire obligation. This is a real thing if you lay people off, you may be required to offer jobs back to the people you laid off before you can hire new people, but not in the case of quitting or a firing. The boss may have misunderstood.

        It may even be actual internal policy that they consider rehires before new hires if someone is eligible, how someone with a long disciplinary history was eligible for rehire is beyond me but clearly they were.

    3. kitryan*

      To me, it sounded like the door was open to rehire but only if she had demonstrated growth- acknowledging that there were issues in the past, explaining how she planned to do better, and also not lying about references/other jobs. And she’d also have needed to be the best candidate, as any applicant would need to be. While OP was proven right (in not wanting to rehire) by how the former employee failed to do *any* of those things, it didn’t sound like it was just a mean spirited exercise in humiliating the former employee or anything like that. The former employee got another shot and blew it. That’s not OPs fault.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah. I get feeling if she had answered the question with “actually the last few times I was in situations like that, I handled it really badly. I’ve come to realise that doing x &y are unprofessional ways to behave, and looking back I should have done z. Since then, I’ve been working on this and (examples of growth/training/techniques).” then might have gone differently.

        Or even if had said “I did allow myself to get dragged into problematic behaviour to fit in – I take responsibility for that and will be vigilent about my behaviour in future.”

        Or any variation of “yes, I screwed up – my fault, have learned lesson”.

      2. Miss Demeanor*

        That’s my read as well. They were targeted questions meant to suss out personal growth and self-awareness. We all screen for that when we’re interviewing new candidates. OP just had more specific examples and a better foundation for the interview questions since she wasn’t going in blind.

  2. infopubs*

    The comments are a bit harsh so far. If we would like posters to offer updates, it behooves us to be kind to them when they do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, thank you and I’ve removed some of that. I invite people to send in updates, and I want them to be treated kindly when they do, whether or not the updates are to people’s liking.

      1. acmx*

        Looks like you cleaned up the previous post, too. Guess winter grumpies are happening.

        I appreciate all of the letter writers updating us.

      2. 1212*

        Hi Alison, apologies if my comment came off rude. It was not meant to be a personal attack on the OP at all. I was not trying to say OP’s life is disappointing or not worthy of an update. All I was asking was that the original comment update be linked (like post with multiple updates normally are) because without it, today’s update lacked a lot of context (it seems others have agreed because someone copied it below). I said it was disappointing (confusing was probably the better word choice) because the update didn’t actually reference the original issue so while it’s great to get a positive personal update from the OP, it was confusing to why there was no mention of the incident. I used the word disappointing only because the updates usually provide some sort of resolution (even if its OP / problem person left the job before issue could be addressed, issue resolved on its own etc.) and I was disappointed not to hear the outcome of such an interesting incident. Again, apologies for my word choice. It wasn’t intended to be a mean-spirited comment, more to let people know there was an update to the situation in the comments that would add context to today’s update.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No worries — I am just always trying to make sure my updaters have a good experience! I actually didn’t know (or at least didn’t remember) there was an update in the comments, but I’m going to link it from the update in the post above. (I don’t see all comments, and even the ones I do see I won’t necessarily remember after months/years pass — usually when I link to prior updates, they’re from posts rather than comments — but I’m glad to have this one there!)

      3. Forrest*

        Yes— at the beginning I thought, “yes, good question, sensible way to address the issue”; at the “I brought out her file” part I thought it sounded over the top; at the “and she was lying about her part-time job” part I thought it sounded like an exercise in humiliating the employee. I don’t blame OP for that: it sounds like they weren’t given the authority to exercise their own judgment, and had to make sure every stone was unturned in gathering enough evidence that this former employee was unhireable! But it makes OP’s company sound TERRIBLE that 1) it took a pandemic and related disruption to get rid of her when she was causing such toxicity with her colleagues 2) there was any need to go to these lengths to prove that hiring her back was a bad idea.

        1. Alice*

          The dynamic (chosen by OP’s manager but it was OP who had to carry it out) sounds like the interview was conducted out of curiosity, rather than any possibility that the bully would be hired back.
          Generally I don’t like it when people interview applicants for any reason other than a genuine belief that the interviewee might be a good fit for the job. That’s my take here, but also when there are some pro forma external interviews as well as an internal candidate.
          OTOH if there really was a prospect that they might rehire the bully — that’s a different reason to say “what on earth is going on at this org?”

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I think there was an actual chance… they were having difficulties getting anyone to fill the role, and it was a “well… we’ll see if she’s changed and then consider her?” situation.

        2. Heidi*

          Hi Forrest,

          I provided the update to Question 1. I promise the interview was not a “gotcha” moment for the employee. I brought out her file and asked her to speak to some of its contents because we were taking past behavior into account when making our final decision. If we’re considering her past offenses, it’s only fair to let her speak to them. I’d also like to add that I called an HR representative to sit in on the call because I knew how volatile this former employee could be. So, I promise you, everything that was said/done was HR-approved.

        3. Heidi*

          Hi again Forrest,

          Asking about the part-time job was not an act of humiliation, I can assure you of that. If she didn’t have said part-time job and was lying, then I’d know she’s still untrustworthy (and has been for quite some time). But, if she truly did have said part-time job, a reference still would’ve been helpful for me to have. For example, if she received a bad reference, I would obviously know that her behavioral issues extend well beyond my organization. If she received a glowing review, I would take it into consideration and do a deeper dive into why she’s having issues with my organization/team. Either way, it would’ve been valuable information for me to have.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*


            Thanks for chiming in with more information. It sounds like you knew in advance this may not work out (because you had the most experience with Problem Person possibly) but manager was on the fence. Sounds like it all worked out for everyone but Problem Person in the end.

  3. June First*

    Dug out the original update on LW 2 from the comments (Cause I also didn’t realize there had been an update on the specific situation):

    “After finding out about this I immediately printed all new forms and confiscated the old ones, and went through the saved documents word by word. Lo and behold, there were several more documents with similar profane additions, so while this one bad word referenced in my first question to Alison wasn’t saved, the others led me pretty clearly to the culprit, based on time punches and staff schedules. I didn’t find hard copies of any of the others that were actually saved in the office.

    The employee was let go immediately, after being confronted and confessing that she did it as a joke and she didn’t think it would actually be given out (flimsy, it was printed and mixed in with others that were not edited that she knew were being handed out). I think there is another employee that knew about it and didn’t say anything that I’m watching more closely. Afterwards, I talked with all of the employees, following Alison’s advice, and impressed upon them how horrified I was to find this. We had a good talk about professionalism, trust, and reputation, and of course everyone knows/agreed this was not okay.

    And lastly, I got the increase in my IT budget that I’d been requesting for a while.”

    1. Filosofickle*

      Thanks for digging this up! Glad to see how the situation worked out. What a horrible employee.

    2. kitryan*

      Thanks June First for locating and posting the original update! It’s nice to have the short term and longer term update info and I couldn’t find it in the orig post.

      Obviously ‘I solved the mystery’ and ‘the evildoers received justified comeuppance’ are the most satisfying updates, I am also happy to see that letter writers are doing well generally :)

  4. anon pastor*

    So I’m a pastor and several months ago (before COVID) one of the visitation pastors I supervise (an old, gentle, retired fellow) inserted the F word into his report about visiting a homebound member – he was using voice-to-text. We had a good laugh about it in the office, and I thought he would too – but he was horrified! Knowing he would never say that word made it so funny. I, on the other hand, have been known to drop the bomb on occasion, but not while working at church.

    1. Artemesia*

      voice to text like autocorrect gives some ridiculous boffos. I was doing research on service -learning and had a bunch of interviews transcribed. I was puzzled about one young man who had become inspired to engage in the community on a ‘fishing trip.’ — it was a ‘mission trip’.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Whereas I often *am* trying to insert curse words when using voice-to-text (in my casual friend chats, not work). And every time I get a new phone I forget to update the dictionary and I wind up sending autocorrected texts like, “I can’t believe the ducking line for this place.” “Mother duck, she did what?” “What in the duck?”

      1. Wintermute*

        You would THINK that TtT would put up some serious fences around certain vocabulary but at least some of them really, really don’t seem to.

        My favorite example of all time of someone being autocowrecked involves “Epi-pen” being translated as, “EPIC PENIS” when someone is informing their son that his mother is fine, but his father did have to administer her, well… you know.

  5. Autumnheart*

    I totally take the F-word situation seriously, but I admit that the mental image of receiving a notice, “You are scheduled for this f-ing procedure” made me LOL. Don’t actually send a notice like that, but I will neither confirm nor deny that it might get written into my calendar that way.

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Not going to lie, that situation carries a “Dear Rich Bastard” vibe and I’d honestly be somewhat tickled if it found my way to my inbox.

      Then again, I used to send out mass mailers, so maybe I’m a little biased.

  6. Sun Tzu*

    I am appalled at the fact the former bully was invited to the interview – “Hmmm, this person was employed there and was a terrible person, but sure why not, let’s give them a chance!” – while there is a ton of good, smart people who cannot find a job.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      They did say originally they were short staffed and had difficulty filling the positions, which was why they were at all open to considering them; if there had been other suitable candidates they’d have taken them instead.

  7. Gobsmacked*

    LW#1: Several years ago we interviewed a former employee for a customer service position. The employee did competent work but had a lot of interpersonal issues. It had been a relief when she had left for another job. We asked her to tell us about a time at her current job where she had a conflict with a coworker and how she dealt with it. She immediately launched into a story about how on the first day(!) of her new job she had gotten into a huge argument with a coworker. She said she “handled” it by bad-mouthing the person on social media.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Wow! Sounds much like someone I used to work with. She’d totally do something like this and it was very normal for her.

  8. Helen J*

    I’m glad OP#1 was not forced to hire the bully back.

    I wish we could get an update from letter #3 of the original post titled ” My difficult old coworker is applying for a job at my new company”. If you are out there somewhere original #3, please let us know what happened!

  9. Bruce Wayne*

    Update #3: It is good it worked out for a number of reasons, first and foremost the company sounded flaky at best but secondly, as a sign of the times people are leaving CA and in particular the SF area in droves. Anyway, CA might have been golden in the 20th century (I was there myself a few months as a kid but my parents didn’t care for it either) but it doesn’t seem so great in the 21st.

    1. Weekend Please*

      Yeah. Company 3 sounds like they may be in trouble. When they need to screen for applicants who can fix problems without money or staff it is a giant red flag.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I would run for the hills after that interview. Interviews are supposed to be best foot forward, not airing of dirty laundry.

  10. CircleBack*

    Ugh, the willing to travel question feels like it would keep getting more complicated.
    My company asked me to complete my travel budget for 2021 last month & I felt like I was just completely making it up. I assumed no travel in the 1st quarter and am praying that the current vaccine news, while fantastic, doesn’t drive my company and the tradeshows we participate in to rush into in-person events too quickly.
    There’s one in-person conference still scheduled for February in Orlando and I’m hoping I can hold steady on *not* flying down for that, and not forcing anyone else from our company to either.

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