updates: the inappropriate boss, the small gifts, 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 past letter-writers.

1. My new boss asked everyone how many people they’ve slept with (#2 at the link)

Two days after you posted my letter, our entire company went into mandatory work from home mode due to COVID. I was working up the courage to go to HR but then I thought that being physically distanced might help the situation as there wouldn’t be any long team lunches, happy hours that lasted until 2:00am, or daylong bonding activities. Plus, all of those perks were moot now as we all started working from home anway. I decided to let it go and focus on getting my work done.

For the first few months everything was great. People were much more focused on the actual work and there weren’t any get togethers because none of us could actually meet in person. Then there began to be separate chats and virtual meetups for the “in-crowd” and so on (all led by my boss). I really worked on reframing myself as someone who only wanted to talk about work and it seemed to pay off in that I wasn’t involved or even asked to participate in these sidebar meetings/chats. I was/am happy to have been left out because that’s where things got messy. We’ve had several people quit due to all of the fighting and toxicity.

Now you might be saying — “what happened to the HR piece”? Fair question…

As you can imagine, several complaints have now been made about my boss but, as many of your readers predicted, HR was not at all helpful. Any time an employee has complained about my boss, HR simply took the complaint back to my boss and asked her to deal with it. She would outwardly promise to do “x,y,z” to make it better while making jokes and mocking the employee behind their back. After watching this rodeo happen multiple times, I decided my energies would be best spent looking for a new job rather than trying to get a resolution from HR.

I can see where you might say that someone needs to step up and tell HR their solution isn’t working but the moment you say anything to HR, even that you’re afraid of retaliation, it simply goes right back to the source. I believe what goes around comes around so I do think this bad behavior will catch up to my boss… just not at this company.

I appreciated how clearly you outlined that this behavior is not normal. I think it says something about the culture that ,for even a moment, I thought I was being a prude versus not realizing how wildly inappropriate her behavior was.

Here’s hoping that 2021 leads us all to the jobs and culture we deserve!

2. I like to give small gifts at work — am I doing anything wrong?

First, I appreciate everyone’s advice! The day my question was posted was extremely busy and didn’t get much chance to respond, for which I apologize. As many surmised, no, I don’t actually macrame, it is another craft. (No offense to macrame artists out there!) After reading your response and the comments, I’ve decided that I will skip any small purchased gifts in the future unless it’s for a close coworker or something like that where we have that kind of relationship. I don’t want managers or anyone else thinking I’m brown nosing and yes, people can probably buy their own funny mugs and they’ll get one they definitely want. I personally don’t enjoy accumulating tons of unrequested stuff I don’t have a use for, and don’t want to contribute to that for someone else.

As for my crafting, I have found it to be particularly useful during the pandemic for giving myself something to do, and I always prefer to be making something for someone, or else it feels kind of pointless. After having a number of people across departments take me up on my offer of making them something, it’s gotten around the office, and people are freely approaching me to ask for things (often offering to pay, which I refuse). I find this fantastic because I know for sure I’m not foisting my crafty hobby on anyone, and I have a great queue of projects to keep me busy. Thus far, no one has taken it for granted or been pushy. It’s only fun when I can do it in my own time and work on whatever project I want in whatever order I want. I feel pretty confident that if someone got weird and demanding about it I’d shut them down right quick, so I’m comfortable going along the way I am now. Thanks to you and the AAM community though, I feel better about how I approach it and feel good about being prepared to deal with any potential pitfalls.

3. My employer doesn’t pay us for time spent waiting for assignments

I went back and forth (anonymously) with our HR department and they saw nothing wrong with what we were told to do. They also said that our manager had provided clarification on the issue, which was a blatant lie. I asked her to point out where that clarification was made, and they couldn’t do it. I cited the laws (your links) again, and it didn’t matter. What I did though was stop tracking only the work I actually did, and I started putting full days on my timesheet (unless, of course, I took official PTO). Nothing has been said about that, so I suspect they are hoping people will just track the hours actually worked, but won’t “punish” anyone who puts the full day like they’re supposed to. Shady, of course, but I expect nothing less from my company!

4. My boss keeps telling people I’ve had COVID

I don’t have a dramatic update, but as a regular reader I know that it can be interesting to see how things have progressed.

I really appreciated Alison’s answer, and the kind and measured suggestions from the commentariat. It was validating to see that other people thought it was not OK for my boss to tell my story.

You all encouraged me to speak directly to my boss and ask her to stop, but surprisingly and fortunately it never came up again so I didn’t have to. I was absolutely certain I’d need the scripts provided, but I was wrong.

This is partly because I was able to be more assertive in talking among friends and colleagues about the symptoms I was (am) still dealing with, but also because there has been a lot more publicity about the mechanisms of COVID and the long tail in particular. Unfortunately, my boss now knows more people who had it, or still have it, and that has also added a layer of understanding.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      Agreed. I’m glad you’re getting paid for your time.

      It is super shady, though. I would still be very tempted to drop an anonymous tip to the labor board in your state.

  1. Observer*

    #1 – Your company HR is incredibly incompetent. I can see why you don’t want to tell them that you are afraid of retaliation – what you say they would sounds perfectly in character.

    The only question I have here is whether this is an issue with just one HR staff person and you could take it above their head, or a problem across the whole department.

    I’m thinking about the letter where someone was using the wrong name for a coworker and the OP thought that HR wouldn’t move on it because the rep they spoke to said that it was not harassment. It turns out that when it was brought to the head of HR, things got taken care of – including firing the HR rep and training for the rest of the department.

    1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      This is what I was thinking. Can the LW escalate it to a higher up person then the person they were talking.

    2. LW #1*

      I took an extended Christmas break and am just getting back into things. I wish there was another HR person to go but we only have one HR employee who handles everything from recruitment to complaints. It’s a bummer.

  2. BigTenProfessor*

    #2 — I’m also crafting a LOT right now, and when folks offer to pay me for something, I say, “I don’t want your money, but if you feel compelled, throw a few bucks at [local org.].”

    1. Office Chinchilla*

      I am absolutely asking people to “pay it forward” if they insist on paying me – a lot of people are in need, and I have a full-time job. But LW2’s update reminded me of a joke I saw forever ago on Ravelry: “Knitting is like sex. If I like you and think you’ll appreciate it, you get it for free. If not, there’s not enough money in the world.” Applies to many crafts where a reasonable hourly rate just isn’t practical.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      This is an interesting point- I can understand saying this isn’t a business thing so you don’t want to be paid, but have you considered accepting donations to cover supplies? I think some past LWs who bake have accepted donations for supply costs, and crafts don’t seem too different. If not, any particular reason? Genuinely curious, neutral question here, as I can see a few different approaches making total sense (like everything gets complicated once money is involved, however casually, for instance).

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m not OP but I can imagine that once you start asking people to pay, they might start being more demanding. Say she knits, they might start asking her to use a particular kind of mohair wool that’s difficult to knit, that would end up as a frustrating experience for her. Since she knits for pleasure that kind of defeats the object.
        Not to mention that some jerks would also start demanding she complete an item by a particular date. They want to offer the item as a birthday present. They may even be willing to pay through the teeth, knowing how much time crafts take, but again, the whole point for OP is to get pleasure out of the knitting, so she won’t want to have deadlines imposed, because life happens.

      2. Kal*

        I think it does depend a lot on the culture in your workplace and how you present the ask for money. My partner often participates in a charity fundraising drive at their workplace by bringing in things they’ve baked and putting a tip jar next to the goods in the staff room, then putting the money from the tip jar to the fundraising drive. This was a yearly thing, but some coworkers started to ask if they could pay to get some of the baked goods at other times of year, but instead of making it a whole micro business, my partner opted to continue doing the same thing – putting the baked goods in the staff room with a tip jar beside it (with it all labelled with allergy info and that this tip jar was not going to any charity), and letting people choose to drop tips in the jar or not.

        It works well for their workplace, and the lack of a direct pay to get stuff transaction definitely is part of that. The fact that my partner also has made it clear that they do not monitor who gives tips and that while people can request certain goods, what actually gets baked and brought in is entirely up to their whims and money won’t make a request happen faster, it keeps the pressure off so people don’t feel like they paid for something and didn’t get it soon enough or something.

        Making sure people know that any money given is a gift to support your hobby and not about them buying something is really the key there, so as a crafter myself, I don’t see why a similar system for tips couldn’t work if you have the sort of culture to support it. There are some people who will always treat things as a business transaction no matter how much you try to make it clear it’s just a tip – but you’d be in the best position to know if any of the people you’d be dealing would might be this sort, and if the bit of tips would be worth the potential added complications for you.

  3. EmmaPoet*

    LW1- Yikes. I think getting out of there is the best solution. It would be nice if there was someone higher up you could trust to fix this, but having seen multiple instances where HR failed to step in, I’d focus my energy on finding a new job. Good luck.

  4. LawyaUp*

    LW1, I would recommend you lawyer up on this one. Keep a record of all the sexual jokes and what not. One caveat: you need to make sure that your complaint is not about “get togethers” (virtual or in person), but about the hostile work environment. Companies are allowed to have social gatherings that aren’t “all about the work.” They’re not allowed to create a hostile work environment.

    1. Observer*

      When the get together is boss and staff what happens there is absolutely relevant. When attendance at get togethers affects your JOB relationship with said boss, it is not only relevant but becomes an explicit part of the WORK environment.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, this seems like a pretty clear-cut case of sexual harassment. I know that most times when employees ask, “Is this illegal?”, it usually isn’t. But in think case I think it actually might be.

      That said, legal battles are often expensive and drawn out even with a slam dunk case. But if LW has an EAP that includes a free consultation with a lawyer, it might be worth just seeing what options are available.

  5. McRibbed*

    Re #3

    Making people “clock out” when it’s slow is absolute f’n BS. I don’t blame LW for putting the whole day on the timesheet.

  6. Exhausted Trope*

    OP1, right back at you! “Here’s hoping that 2021 leads us all to the jobs and culture we deserve.”

  7. CatPerson*

    LW1 reminds me of the time about 5 years ago when I was attending a meeting before which small talk was being made while we waited for others to arrive. Somehow the subject of the return of Twinkies (my favorite junk food) to grocery stores cam up in the conversation, which moved a co-worker, a manager, to tell an inappropriate joke from his college days concerning football players, “overweight” cheerleaders, and twinkies. I don’t remember how it went, only that it was very, very uncomfortable to listen to in a conference room full of professional people.

    To this day I regret not saying, in response: “That joke was hilarious. Did cheerleaders at your school (which was BYU, by the way! He pretended to be religious!) counter with their own jokes about dumb jocks?” (Of which he was one, obviously).

    But LW1’s situation, was of course, much worse. It just baffles me to hear things that people think are appropriate for the workplace. Oh yeah, the other co-worker who told dirty jokes on elevators…both of these stupid men were eventually fired.

  8. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    “Unfortunately, my boss now knows more people who had it, or still have it, and that has also added a layer of understanding.”
    Does she, really? She would lose credibility with me, if I found telling people about my medical history. Yes, you had COVID. Full stop. Everything else is her story.
    I would verify pretty much everything she says now.
    I know that’s drastic, but she’s proven she’s the person who makes a mountain out of someone else’s well, mountain, just to plant her own flag at the top.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t understand what you’re suggesting this will accomplish?
      Boss was an ass and non-believer.
      Boss only learned empathy when people she knows more closely also became ill.
      Boss no longer acts like an ass.

      If boss is lying about knowing people who are/were ill it doesn’t really matter? Either way the boss finally accepts that this is a real and very shitty disease.

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      I don’t understand why you think the boss is a liar. What does being too free with information that’s not yours to share have to do with lying?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I mean, here we are in 2020. Back in the 70s we all thought our kids would be hoverboarding on Mars, but here we are learning to wash our hands properly.

  9. LW #1*

    You all have such good ideas here, thanks for the comments. I wish I recorded all of my interactions with her because I do think you all are correct in that she’s actually veering into sexual harassment territory.

    In the future, I’ll definitely write down or record what I can but I guess I’m “lucky” in that I’ve been pretty much shut out from any non-work activities. What a world we live in!

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