my assistant lies about days off, I don’t like our new hire, and more

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

1. I think my assistant lies about days off

I have a job that relies heavily on admin support (lawyer). I have had the same assistant for a few years now. She’s great, works hard, and is pleasant to work with (very important to me). I try to be a good boss.

I do think she lies to me occasionally, almost always about reasons to take days off. For example, she had a migraine on her birthday recently. I don’t care if she wants to take her birthday off, and I’m not in charge of her sick days / vacation days / etc. (that is managed by centralized HR). I have to approve days off, but I have never said no or pushed back at all.

What I think are the occasional lies erode my trust a little bit, and trust is important to what we do. I have no particular desire to confront her but having noticed this pattern. Do you think that I should? I do not feel like I have an obligation to my partners to do so, for example. I do not think she’s stealing time or anything like that. But it feels like a bit of a fly in the ointment of an otherwise very solid working relationship.

If you were only getting this vibe about days off, I’d tell you to leave it alone since she’s otherwise a strong employee. Some people feel like they have to justify their time off to their boss (often because a previous boss made them like that). At most, you might want to say something like, “You know, you never need to justify your days off to me. You get paid time off as part of your benefits package and I want you to use it. I’ll let you know if it ever causes a conflict, but otherwise take your days however you want to!”

But you said the lies are almost always about days off, which makes me wonder what else they’re about. If it’s about anything work-related (like saying something has been sent to a client already when it hasn’t or so forth), that would be something you’d need to dig into more. You have to be able to trust what she tells you about work (whereas you don’t need to rely on what she tells you about how she’s spending her days off).

2. I don’t like the person about to join our team

I was hired a few months ago in a small office that’s entirely remote due to Covid; I don’t even live in that state yet. It’s going great. People have been giving me great feedback about my work and seem to like me. I’ve become legitimately friends with one of my coworkers who joined a few months before I did, and we and the other person who joined in 2020 have a really enjoyable monthly happy hour called “new kids on the block.”

The office just hired someone who will start in a couple months. I know her a little. When they were interviewing her, the person in charge of the hiring asked, and I told him I had some not-positive social experiences but no professional awareness at all and, when he asked, that I wouldn’t be uncomfortable working with her, which is true. I don’t think he passed along my feedback to the hiring committee (which included one of my happy hour partners), but I don’t know.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like her. In my (fairly limited) experience, she’s rude, clique-y, and the kind of person who tears others down. It’s one thing to work with her, but I don’t really want to socialize with her, including our happy hours. But she’ll be the new kid. I don’t think it’s fair to tell my two compatriots my negative experiences and bias them against her, poisoning the experience for her, and plus it could backfire if they like her.

Maybe I should have spoken against her more, but I really don’t know anything about her work, and there are reasons she’s a good hire for the office. And I didn’t think she’d get far because she has almost no experience/demonstrated interest in our specific subfield. And it’s too late now. How do I handle this?

Wait and see how it goes. It’s possible that she’s grown since you last interacted with her or that she’ll be different in a new environment. But if it turns out that she makes your happy hours less enjoyable … there’s not much you can do other than accept that it might be the end of you enjoying the happy hours, unfortunately. You’re right that you shouldn’t badmouth her to others or try to convince them not to invite her. However, you can make your own social overtures to the people you want to spend time with. You can’t recreate the happy hours minus one (“oh, these are just for slightly less new kids on the block”) but you can reach out to people one-on-one and connect with them that way.

That’s not ideal, of course! It’s just one of those things that can happen as the composition of your team changes. (And it could happen even without her — the next person hired could be a stranger to you but objectionable to some similar or worse way. This kind of thing just evolves over time.)

3. I’m paid less than male coworkers for the same work

I am a woman in a male-dominated field. I was recently promoted and discovered that I will be making less than some coworkers in my old position are making. This is because I negotiated poorly when I started this job and my company bases salary for all raises and promotions off of starting salary. I asked for pay equity and my boss said “this is how the system works” and the only way around it is to change jobs (yes, immediately after promoting me he told me if I wanted equal pay I would need to leave the company).

Aside from being terrible business practice, how can this be legal? Members of marginalized groups tend to come in with lower pay, so won’t they always be underpaid compared to their peers in a system that pins salary to nothing but starting salary? Or can a company just say “they’d be paid more if they negotiated better,” as my boss has told me?

It’s not legal!

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal to pay a man and woman differently for doing the same work. It doesn’t matter whether the man negotiated differently or had a higher starting salary and it doesn’t matter whether or not the employer intends to engage in wage discrimination; paying them differently is illegal. (There’s an exception if the employer can show the difference in pay is due to a seniority system or a merit system.)

Here’s some advice on explaining this to your boss.

4. Quoting excellent feedback in cover letters or resumes

I work with healthcare students who do rotations in our department. They do many such rotations, across many different departments, and there is someone who does my sort of job in all these different departments. As such, these students are in a position to evaluate my skills against the those of my counterparts. I frequently get verbal comments like, “This is the most organized rotation we’ve ever been on.” In addition, recently, a student gave some feedback on a survey which read, in part, that “[The student coordinator] is in a league of her own … Cannot say enough positive things about her.”

I am both gratified and proud to receive this feedback. Is there any way I could put it into either a cover letter or resume? Or is that something better left for discussion in a job interview?

Yes — don’t use a ton of them, but you can work one of two of the most superlative quotes into your resume or cover letter as you’re talking about the work you’ve done. For example, you might have a bullet point on your resume that says, “led rotation called ’the most organized rotation we’ve ever been on’ on student evaluations” or so forth.

Make sure any quote you pick is concrete and specific. “Can’t say enough positive things about her” is lovely but not really concrete enough for a resume. Try to pick examples that help the reader visualize specifics about your work.

5. Explaining a spotty job history due to an abusive relationship

I’m redoing my resume. Something I have struggled with in the past is how to approach a period of time within my work experience where I have left jobs as a direct result of the abusive relationship I was in at the time. I don’t think I would ever put this on my resume, but I find that during interviews, if I get that far, I find myself being questioned on why I had a large space of time where I was only at jobs for a few months (sometimes weeks) at a time. Explaining that I was fired from some of them because my ex would show up to my workplace and cause issues isn’t something I am comfortable going into detail about.

Is this something you wold recommend mentioning prior to the interview, perhaps on my resume, or how do you think I should phrase this during interview?

I would leave those jobs off your resume entirely. Jobs you were only at for weeks or months generally won’t strengthen your candidacy because you weren’t there for long enough to have real achievements — and they’ll very often weaken it, by making you appear to be a job hopper or someone who can’t hold down a job. And a resume doesn’t need to be an exhaustive accounting of everything you’ve ever done; it’s a marketing document, and if something doesn’t strengthen you as a candidate, you can leave it off.

That does mean you’ll be left with a chunk of time with no work history in it, but that’s not that unusual! People take time out of the workforce for all sorts of reasons — having kids, dealing with a health issue, family stuff, etc. Having a period with no work will concern employers much less than a string of jobs that you left after weeks or months. If you’re asked about it (and you may not be, if it it was a while back), you could say something like, “I was dealing with a family issue that has since been resolved.” That’s all you need to say — people don’t need the details.

{ 336 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    I’m glad Alison mentioned that previous workplaces can influence how you approach days off. Awesome Boss at Exjob never asked for any explanations, but barring vacations, I still felt nervous if I didn’t give her some kind of reason whenever I took a day away from the office. It sticks with you.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Yes, there have been a few letters on here in the past about bosses wanting specific reasons for taking time off. One where a boss refused because the employee was wanting to attend a video games tournament springs to mind.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yes. It’s very important in the legal profession to take mental health days – depending on the field you chose, of course. I was personal injury paralegal. You can only read so many medical records before you need a break. In family law, it’s even more important. You are dealing with other people’s problems relentlessly. You need to decompress regularly. Of course, you don’t do it right before the big trial, or whatever. But the good thing about the law profession, you have your schedule set for MONTHS out. You can plan.

        The issue here is the lying about the reason. Now it is possible she happened to get a migraine on her birthday. Those things happen. But if she wanted the day off, she should have just worked it out with the boss.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Depends on your area of practice. I’ve worked in legal most of my career, and the schedule and unpredictability is the worst part. Things get postponed/rescheduled based on the judge’s calendar, new clients or matters open, a deal suddenly needs to close in Q3 rather than Q4, client didn’t get you their discovery materials until late in the game (despite multiple asks), your client calls at 5 p.m. because the FBI is raiding their office, etc. In some of the practices with faster-moving proceedings (PI/TROs, investigations, contract award protests, etc.), you can be expecting a month-long lull, have a new proceeding start, and suddenly have a hot month instead of a lull. I know no one who’s not had to give up days off or vacation because an urgent client need arose. The only people I know whose schedules are set for months in advance are appellate and regulatory practices or those without pipes of incoming new work (an entirely different problem).

        2. Massmatt*

          I wonder if the employee thinks she HAS to lie to take a day off for her birthday. Has the LW made it clear the employee can take off for any reason? Is the LW asking for reasons why she is taking time off? The issue may be more with the LW than leftover habits from a prior boss.

          I had a boss many years ago at one of my fist jobs that would interrogate anyone requesting time off. Simply wanting time off was not enough–it had to be a doctor’s appointment, family gathering, or trip out of town. Anything else was considered frivolous, you should be working. Not surprisingly, calling in sick was rampant there, as was employee turnover.

          1. LW1*

            LW1 here!

            I promise I have literally never asked about time off (except occasionally been like “oh planning something fun?”). I sign the forms and indicate if I need coverage. We have a good float team and I can manage without her without much trouble.

            My assistant just took a week off for a medical procedure and was offering to do some time-sensitive work during her week off. I said no, I wasn’t ok with her working on her time off without getting paid for it.

            I guarantee I have many boss-flaws but I don’t think this is one of them. I guess it’s possible our HR team is saying something to make her feel this way, I haven’t looked into that. I have not brought this up with them and I’ve never included it in a review.

            I’m juggling a pretty big file load right now and we’re all working remotely. We’ve adjusted pretty well but it requires even more trust and confidence that the things you are asking to get done are getting done. I can’t double check. The little lies I think are undermining my confidence a bit which is why I wrote in.

            Oh and to answer the questions elsewhere yes there are other patterns of sick days on high-demand days off and symptoms coming and going pretty conveniently.

            1. GS*

              One thing to consider, maybe already noted below, is that some chronic illnesses (even undiagnosed ones!) can flare up due to stress or anticipation of stress and then disappear once the stress is taken off.

              So if the high demand days are extra stressful, and then the expectation of having to work on that day is removed, the illness can come and then go in what looks like a suspicious way.

              1. Anax*

                Yup, I’m in that boat, so for an example – Keeping my body working takes a lot of proactive work. It’s the usual advice – water, stretching, eating right – but it’s a lot more involved than it would be for most people. For me, “drinking enough water” looks like “drinking the equivalent of a soda can every 20 minutes for 4-5 hours plus salt intake every hour to maximize fluid absorption, or else I’ll end up with a migraine and maybe faint.” And there’s a half-dozen tasks like that that I need to keep track of every day, or I’ll physically collapse and need at least a day to recover.

                So if I’m stressed out or concentrating on work, and I don’t manage things perfectly… I think it’s easy to see how I could become legitimately ill on high demand days!

                (Sharing because I think it’s hard to imagine what this might look like in real life.)

                1. Sorrischian*

                  I interpreted ‘high-demand days’ as ‘days for which there is generally a high demand for time off’ as opposed to ‘days when work is particularly demanding’. I absolutely agree with GS and Anax about symptoms appearing and disappearing in ways that seem odd/suspicious to outside observers, especially when someone’s under stress, but with the example of the migraine coincidentally or ‘coincidentally’ on her birthday, I can understand OP’s concerns.

            2. New Mom*

              This still might be that your assistant had prior work experience where they always had to have a “good excuse” to take time off. Or there was just a weird time off culture. Speaking from personal experience, I had two jobs back-to-back where I had managers scrutinize any time off I requested (I didn’t realize at the time that was not normal or okay) so I only took off about four days over a three year period and was still given a hard time. Even though I’ve had a better boss for the past three years I STILL can’t shake that weird, anxious feeling when I request time off. I feel like I need to explain myself and I’m somewhat senior in my org. Sometimes bad/toxic work environments can have long-lasting effects on people.

              1. New Mom*

                Just to drive in the point: One of the “days off” was a half-day to go to the hospital for a biopsy and my manager called me multiple times demanding to know when I’d be back at the office even though I ended up only being out the amount of time I had requested off. It was really stressful.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                Yep, this. If you’re a lower-level employee, you’re often expected to take your PTO around other, more senior people, or they beat you to prime vacation slots. And if you’re doing a high-stress job that no one wants to cover (like the front desk), it’s hard to get any time at all.

                In my entire working life, I never had a vacation long enough to allow me to totally relax until I went to the UK while at Exjob. Partially because the time off there was more generous, and partially because of the culture. Before that, I would tack a day onto a long weekend here and there, but I could only do that if someone agreed to cover me. The juggling require to take your PTO can be a big stressor in itself.

              3. Kal*

                And to add to this – even if it wasn’t a previous job that lead to the feeling of needing to explain time off, school can even do it. By the time I was midway through my undergrad degree I felt like I would have to graphically explain my symptoms (yay having to explain my stomach flu in French) before professors would accept that I was actually ill and not just partying too much. And when my explanation was “chronic illness, my body sucks and my brain just ain’t working,” professors often wouldn’t accept it, so I’d have to come up with something they would accept as a “legitimate” illness, even if that symptom wasn’t the actual issue that time.

                These kinds of attitudes can get baked in early and turn into a pattern that’s really hard to break. If the assistant has migraines, there’s a good chance she’s had them for a while since they often start when you’re a teenager, so there’s plenty of chances for her to have experienced teachers or managers or even just people in her social life that make her feel like there has to be a “legitimate” reason for a day off, which then leads to anxious over-explanation or even lying.

                I honestly can’t say I even know how to break the habit, since I still sometimes do it with my spouse who knows full well the reality of my life, though with them I’ve at least been able to have conversations about why I feel the need to do it and they politely pretend to believe my lie so it doesn’t have to be a big deal for either of us and I don’t feel more pressure to perpetuate the cycle.

    2. Allonge*

      Absolutely! I guess the lesson for me from this letter is that while it’s perfectly legit (sorry, can’t think of a better word) to carry the old habits, its also worth it to examine if or when overjustifying something could not lead to worse, especially with a boss that is otherwise reliably normal.

    3. Ryan*

      When I was a manager I only cared when we had separate sick and vacation banks and needed to verify that someone wasn’t using sick improperly. I was extremely liberal with this and found a lot of people entered vacation when they really should have used sick (like taking a relative to a doctor) or even for bereavement. When we switched to one PTO bank that eliminated my need to ask at all and I stopped (and was grateful to stop policing it). The most important thing to me was just knowing in advance that someone would be off so we could plan accordingly.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I’ve had jobs with separate sick and vacation leave in which supervisors told us (unofficially) to use sick leave first, since that didn’t roll over to the next year while vacation did. The only justification needed was “I feel ill.” I really appreciated those places because they helped employees maximize the leave benefit, especially when trying to save up for a long vacation. When you are a new or junior employee, accruing sufficient leave for a decent vacation can take a year or so.

      2. TootsNYC*

        found a lot of people entered vacation when they really should have used sick

        this is interesting.
        People forget about sick leave, or have the wrong idea about what it’s for — I think leftover from when we were schoolkids, and being sick as for really being sick. Even if your parents took you out of school to go to the doctor, we didn’t define it as being sick. It was missing school.

        1. TiffIf*

          Slightly tangential, there’s bill that has been proposed and passed through committee in my state that will allow mental health days for students to be excused absences. In practice, some school districts already do so this just codifies it. But yay for starting to recognize and teach self care and mental health from the beginning!

    4. Lacey*

      Yes! In my current job, I don’t need to give a reason, but at a past job there was definitely a culture of needing to explain why you needed the time. And it really was fine if it was just, “Oh I’d like to take my birthday off”, but they did want an explanation.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I had a job where you had to get a doctor’s note for freaking everything, had to find your own sub (but they didn’t have enough staff to cover extra shifts and we weren’t allowed to get overtime), and generally made it a pain in the rear to get a day off. So we all came in sick, of course. I’ve been at current job for almost 16 years and I still pinch myself when I can just schedule a day off and not have to jump through flaming hoops to get it.

      1. Cj*

        There is no reason to go to the doctor if you have a migraine, and the last thing you want to do when you are in that much pain is drag yourself to a clinic. And depending on if your have aura’s with it, or what meds you are taking for it, you maybe shouldn’t even be driving there.

        Also, my migraines not care if it is my birthday or not.

        1. KRM*

          Yep. If I get severe vertigo before the migraine, there’s zero chance of being able to go to the doctor. I can barely get the text out to my boss to tell him I won’t be in. And yes, migraines really don’t care what day it is or what you have tickets to!

          1. KaciHall*

            I am so lucky with my migraines that I get an aura about two hours before it hits, then the aura goes away before the migraine actually starts. So I get an hour warning before I need to leave, so I’m still able to drive home.

            1. Clorinda*

              Same. If things start getting shiny and blurry on my left, I know I’ve got an hour to get myself safely home, and then it’s five hours in a dark quiet room.

            2. many bells down*

              This is the same thing that happens to me, and if I’m very lucky and catch it quickly enough I can sometimes head off the actual headache.

      2. Red Boxes and Arrows*

        I worked for a place like that, too, minus the coverage part (it was an individual contributor role). Luckily, my doctor thinks notes are B.S. and, after the first time I went to him for one, said, “You are my patient. You are *always* under my care. If you feel too sick to go to work, I agree that you shouldn’t go.” Then he gave me both a filled out and a blank “doctor’s note” form letter and told me to just make copies of the blank one and fill it out on my own in the future.

        Doctor’s notes are dumb and just a way for companies to make it harder for employees to take care of themselves.

    6. Smithy*

      In addition to this – I think it’s also relevant to ask what the practice is for others taking time off in the office. I used to work somewhere where the CEO’s adult child had a terminal illness and we were always being told about how the CEO was not taking an extended leave, was answering emails while in the hospital, took no extra time off around holidays, etc. If it’s a workplace culture where not taking time off is glorified – I’ve found that can reinforce the need to come up with serious reasons to justify time off.

      If this was the only issue, then even just proactively asking your assistant once a quarter or so if there are any days off to discuss can change the tone in making it more “business as usual” and less “asking permission”.

      1. Rayray*

        I agree that culture definitely impacts things. I worked at a place where we didn’t necessarily get the third degree when asking for time off but there were many martyrs in that office and the occasional competition (“I haven’t taken a sick day in four years!” “Oh I could never take a day off, I’d have too much to do when I came back”) This was my first full time job after college so I felt like I had to be stingy too. Eventually, I grew to realize that those people were being ridiculous and I could take time off if I wanted. When I had a bank of many pto days but couldn’t afford a vacation, I just took a mental health week and did a relaxing staycation. I think some peoples judged me for it but I wasn’t about to just forfeit that time and money. They actually changed the policy after my anniversary when that time would have expired, so I could have kept more time in the bank if the policy had been more fair before then but that week off was really nice.

        1. Massmatt*

          As Alison has said many times, PTO/vacation time is part of your compensation.
          Accruing it but being restricted from actually taking it (because of understaffing or a culture of guilt/punishment of those taking it) is akin to saying they’ll pay you $50,000 per year but only paying you $40. Likewise, a job that pays $50k but demands that you work 60+ hour per week is really 1 FT and 1 half time job and needs to be compensated accordingly.

          I have interviewed at places where I heard people bragging about how much work they had, how much (unpaid) OT they were putting in, and how long it’s been since they “were able to take a vacation”. At one place someone bragged that when they got married, they only took a 3 day weekend. No thanks! These are the kind of things you can learn by talking to more than the hiring manager. Ask to talk to prospective coworkers or shadow with them during the hiring process.

    7. Justme, The OG*

      Agree. I had a job where I had to justify my time off (even when my kid had the flu, my boss asked if I was sure I couldn’t come in) and that has taken years to get over. Now I just make sure that there’s nothing pressing on the calendar and ask for a day off, without explanation.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I was once asked, when taking an afternoon off for a funeral, whether I was close to the deceased. I kid you not. One of the worst managers I’ve ever had. Like a robot with an MBA, except a robot would have spent less time worrying about its appearance.

        1. Red Boxes and Arrows*

          This happened to me, too. Two friends of mine just happened to die within a couple months of each other. My boss pushed back on me leaving early the afternoon of the second funeral because I’d been “taking a lot of time off recently for funerals.” As if I have some control over when people die??

          It wasn’t a whole day. Heck, it wasn’t even half a day. IIRC, I wanted to leave at 3:00 PM and our normal office end-of-day was 5:00.

    8. Malarkey01*

      Even this LW seems to be setting up issues around taking time even though they believe they aren’t setting a culture where leave is scrutinized. I get migraines, and have had them on 3 of my last 8 birthdays and it’s a family joke that I will have one either Christmas or New Years every single year (a paid holiday). Anytime you are questioning whether someone is “really” sick for occasional leave you are contributing to that environment where leave becomes a little toxic.

      I would have responded to LW that they will save themselves stress and resentment if they go in assuming the best intent on leave from their otherwise great employee.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        I also wanted to chime in on this – I am notorious as well, in getting sick right around holidays. It doesn’t happen every year; but it happens enough. So the fact that someone has a migraine on their birthday doesn’t even strike me as being odd.

          1. TiffIf*

            This past year was the first year in a very long time that I DID’T have a horrible head cold the week of Thanksgiving.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          I was sick on Thanksgiving for at least five years straight before realizing I was allergic to cranberries. It was the only time I had them, and it explained why I had such a hard time with UTIs. “Drink cranberry juice!” Great.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I almost always get sick around that time of year too. The last few years it hasn’t happened because I haven’t been in an office where people are breathing their germs all over.

          It will be interesting to see if masking survives once the pandemic recedes. I suspect it will, since I also suspect COVID will stick around and we’ll have to vaccinate for it as well as flu. Perhaps if wearing masks when feeling ill was a thing all along then I wouldn’t have gotten your cold every year, Fergus!

    9. HailRobonia*

      I had a boss who was so arbitrarily strict about taking time off that I found it easier to call in sick rather than ask for time off. I would even do the “legwork” of checking in with my coworkers to make sure they would both be in the office for the date I wanted to take off, but even then she would hem and haw and begrudgingly let me take the time off.

      1. Rayray*

        This is absolutely a thing. When workplaces make you feel guilty or have a ridiculous process to get PTO approved, calling in with a migraine is easier than simply asking ahead of time for your birthday off or for a mental health day or whatever it is you need.

    10. iceberry*

      It really helps when leadership sets a great example around this. I had a manager take the day off for his 2 year old’s birthday to take them to the park. Or similar examples of, I feel like I might be coming down with something so I will take tomorrow off to rest and hopefully stave it off.

      On the flip side, I have also felt that I needed to be near death to take time off. So great leadership makes a big difference, and just being told its ok sometimes needs a little bit more to demonstrate that it is part of the culture and accepted.

    11. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I also had bosses who demanded to know just how sick I was before ‘granting’ my sick day. Thankfully, I’ve had better bosses since then, and none of them ever asked for details.

      Still, I can’t help clenching a tiny bit when I tell my boss I’m taking a sick day. That feeling really does stay with you.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        “Sick enough to ask for this day off” is the only response to this question. How rude. Why can’t adults ne treated like adults?

    12. Mitford*

      That’s so true. I once worked at a place where you had to schedule the ENTIRE day off if you wanted to make sure you could actually be able to get to your doctor’s appointment or leave early enough to use those expensive concert tickets you’d splurged on. The idea that bosses should expect people to have these needs and that they should manage around them, as needed, was so totally foreign to me when I left there after eight years that I would totally grovel for time off at my next job.

    13. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, adjusting to work dysfunction kind of scars you.

      I once had a boss who would deny my vacation requests so I would “respect her authority more.” (Yes, she actually said this.) If she OKd a request and then heard I had concrete plans, she would cancel my time off.

      I, therefore, got in the habit of giving fake vacation requests so she could deny them and I could then “settle” for time she would allow…which was actually the day(s) I wanted. My problem at that point was she would sometimes deny a second request so I would have to decide whether or not to put in an additional fake request.

      Suffice it to say that when I got into a job with a normal boss, I had to do a lot of mental and behavioral readjustment.

    14. Quill*

      You know how ludicrously strict parents raise good liars? Bosses with unpredictable or unreasonable demands make lying subordinates.

  2. LDF*

    Maybe she had a migraine on her birthday. I took off 2 days between xmas and nye because of a migraine, and I sure hope my boss didn’t assume I was lying because it was a desirable vacation time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She might have had a migraine, absolutely. But it also sounds like the OP has reason to see a pattern that seems off, and I want us to take her at her word about that. (Often letter writers don’t include their whole list of examples in their letters because they figure they don’t need to, which leads people to think there’s nothing other than what’s in the letter … until the person shows up in the comments and provides a lot more details. But it can be be frustrating for letter writers when that happens. And in this case it doesn’t change the advice anyway.)

      1. Ellie*

        I came to the comments to say the same thing. Your advice to LW may not change, but people usually pick an example they think illustrates their case well, so it’s concerning to me that there’s a subtext of “unlikely enough to be a lie”.

        Furthermore, if LW believe the sick day reasons are lies when they are actually true, it could be causing unwarranted suspicion their employee in the other situations. I’m not suggesting they should ignore their instincts completely, but if it turned out the employee was being 100% truthful about the sick days, would LW still doubt the other cases?

        I agree with your advice that if it were only sick days, it wouldn’t warrant further investigation — but there’s also a difference between “I am going to let these things I think are lies slide” vs. “I’m going to assume their sick day reason are actually true unless given notable reason to doubt otherwise.”

        I think it’s important for employers to be aware that migraines (and multiple other chronic conditions) that seem “too coincidental” may actually not be a coincidence because they can be *caused* by the timing. Sudden stress or sudden *absence* of stress can both trigger migraines. The year my only parent died, I got a migraine around every holiday, including on my birthday.

        Employees usually know that the timing seems “too convenient”, and that may lead them them to nervously overshare, which can come across as lying.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s worth considering, yes. But I want to head off a pile of comments assuming the OP is definitely wrong (as has happened with similar situations in the past), because there’s nothing to indicate that and she knows the situation far better than we do. From reading years of letters here, I’ve seen that people often pick the wrong detail to illustrate something; they’re so caught up in the situation that they figure X is shorthand for Y that everyone will understand and don’t realize that it’s the wrong detail to capture that.

          I have no idea if that’s what happened here or not, and it’s fine to say “have you considered X might be the case instead?” but I also want us to generally take LWs at their word.

          1. Ellie*

            I understand your point now; thank you for elaborating!

            It’s frustrating to me because it’s a too-common example of an “obvious” lie, but you are right that everyone (myself included) often jump on small details of a post, which can lead to assuming the wrong things about the LW and derail from giving that LW advice.

            1. Myrin*

              In the context of AAM (and possibly other advice columns as well) it’s also important to note that it’s never just one or two comments (or even just one thread which one could collapse if one were so inclined) doubting the OP.
              You will see comments of “but have you considered Y” and “that really sounds more like X” and “but are you sure it’s not just Z” popping up all over the place (as has already started as I’m writing this) and it can quickly come to dominate and derail the discussion and then later be proven to be all for naught when an OP comes in with additional context which makes it clear that they had indeed, like Alison says, just chosen a rather “bad” example and the situation really is that troublesome.
              So then you have people getting heated with the OP and one another for 200+ comments and it basically ends up as nothing more than an exercise in hypothetical debate and not helpful to the OP in any way.

              (All that doesn’t have to be the case, of course. Quite often, commenters are completely right in their deductions. But it’s usually the more straightforward letters where that’s the case, not the ones where you have to go “but what if!!” in the first place.)

              1. TootsNYC*

                This, so much!
                I once “complained” on an etiquette forum about the “signature” of the Christmas card my cousin-in-law sent; it was a sticker with their names on it (the address was a sticker too–no handwriting anywhere on the card). I wasn’t actually offended–more amused–but I also noted that it didn’t make me feel connected to her; I felt like the target of a marketing document, which I don’t think was her intent. I actually felt closer to her bcs of Facebook posts. So I thought it was interesting to talk about there.

                I had all sorts of comments about how maybe she spent so much time on the design, and I should consider how much work she had put into it–dudes, if it had been fancy, I’d have said. It was a black font on a clear sticker.

                I also got all kinds of criticism for judging her, and hating her now, etc. Dudes, I only said, “this didn’t achieve her goal; it doesn’t make me feel like she cares about me specifically.” I never said I was insulted; in fact, I think I specifically said I wasn’t.

                1. TaylorMade*

                  I’m amused you brought up EH, because you and I have the exact same interests. I remember you from there, you popped up here, and we are on some of the same sub-reddits. I’m not stalking you in the slightest, I’m just amazed how many of the same places of the internet we are on. I’m more of a lurker though and hardly comment, so you wouldn’t remember who I was :)

            2. London Lass*

              I had the same thought – I was once ill on my birthday and didn’t call in sick because I was new there and worried it would look “too convenient”.

              On the other hand, I do think it is problem if she’s lying about it. Not because she owes her employer an explanation but because planned time off is different from unplanned sick leave. If she just wants to take her birthday off, she should request it in advance so others know she won’t be available, rather than calling in that morning and inconveniencing people. (If indeed that is what is happening.)

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                I’d have thought it’d be OK to call in sick, mentioning upfront that you’re really peeved at falling sick on your birthday just to avoid it being icky when someone realises what day it was.

                1. London Lass*

                  These days I would do that. But it was my 18th birthday, I was 3 weeks into the internship, and the working language was not my first language. It was a bit overwhelming! They sent me home later when they realised I didn’t feel well.

              2. Bored Fed*

                The other, more insidious problem with lying — even about what some call “mental health” days — is that lying is corrosive of trust. If you will lie about that, what else will you lie about? And if you say “no, I wouldn’t lie about something important”, how would your boss be confident of that?

                1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  It’s a common view that if someone will lie about something, then sooner or later they’ll lie about anything.

                  I’m not saying dishonesty doesn’t create trust issues – it does. We tend to see dishonesty as an always/ never thing, but it’s not.

                  Dan Ariely has an interesting book on dishonesty and how we ALL lie in certain situations.

                2. meyer lemon*

                  I think the idea that lying is all or nothing is something of a fallacy. There is a lot of nuance to socially convenient lying, and I think it’s very normal for lies to be situationally specific.

                  If you map work interactions to social ones, lying about the reason for a day off is kind of like lying about the reason you don’t want to come to a party–no real harm done, since it’s not a situation where you owe the other person full candor.

                3. BoredFed*

                  For Peter Piper, the issue isn’t that I assume that they will always lie — it is that I can’t rely on them to tell the truth, especially if that is inconvenient for them.
                  Similarly, for Meyer Lemon, I don’t know when this is a situation where they feel that they don’t owe me candor.

                  I’m sorry— lying is corrosive to trust.

        2. Lily*

          re caused by the timing: there are very interesting clusters in my highly dysfunctional workplace (medical field) where if the next day will be severely understaffed some people prone to migraines will call in sick in the morning, additionally. And I totally get it. Migraines are triggered by sleep deprivation, and lying there the night before thinking “tomorrow will be predictably terrible and upper management won’t do anything against it and how will I make sure nobody dies if I don’t have time for even that?” will not make their sleep any better.
          It makes for a highly suspicious cluster of absences but it’s totally caused by the workplace crisises, not causing them.

        3. Elliott*

          I think the point about nervously oversharing coming across as lying is a good one. Sometimes oversharing and justifying can ironically make possibly real “excuses” (for lack of a better word) seem more suspicious than they would have otherwise. I definitely trust that the OP has recognized a pattern, but it might be helpful to consider if this could be a factor in it.

          1. Allonge*

            On a practical level, it’s also just more memorable. X calls in 4 days per year is nothing to recall in a normal environment, it’s a non-issue. Y calls in and gives a long explanation of various health matters stays with you more, even if it’s the same number of days.

        4. nonegiven*

          40% of sick days seem to be the day before or after a weekend because that is a normal amount, 20% per weekday.

    2. Joan Rivers*

      Sometimes it helps to look at the calendar w/sick days noted — you may see a pattern you don’t notice otherwise. It helps whether you’re the manager OR the employee taking sick days.

      You may see a pattern on paper you don’t feel just living your life; it can be helpful in seeing if there’s a mind / body connection, or a stress-related issue.

  3. Mr. Cholmondley Warner*

    Legit question regarding #3. I understand it’s illegal to pay women less than men for exactly the same work, regardless of how they negotiated, and I agree with that. So what is the point of negotiating a salary? If I am better at negotiating, I will get paid more than my coworkers, which is illegal. If I suck at negotiating, I will be paid less, which is also illegal.

    1. LizM*

      It’s not illegal to pay some people more than other people (although it may be a bad business practice), it’s illegal to pay men more than women. If companies rely on negotiations to set salary, they need to have systems in place to make sure that’s not leading to disparities between men and women’s pay. There are a lot of reasons men may get a higher salary during a negotiation than a similarly situated woman that have nothing to do with “skill.” Companies need to actively recognize that and correct for it when determining appropriate salaries.

      1. Mr. Cholmondley Warner*

        Alison says “It doesn’t matter whether the man negotiated differently or had a higher starting salary”. So again, what is the point of negotiating if it doesn’t matter?

        But honestly, I feel if you can negotiate a better deal for yourself, great. If I can talk the manager into paying me more, then I get paid more. If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.

        If a company chooses to pay men more than women, then obviously that’s a problem, but I don’t see anything like that in this letter. The writer admits she negotiated poorly. She’s not getting paid less because of her gender. At least, I don’t see anything like that in the letter.

        1. Not A Manager*

          I think you’re discounting all of the systemic ways that women and minorities have historically been punished for self-advocating. If men come in with a history and expectation of being rewarded for chutzpah, and women and minorities come in with a history of being punished for asking for their actual market worth, you’ll get systemically disparate outcomes.

          Also, “If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.” Why? Is “negotiating on my own behalf” a key skill that all employers ought to value?

          1. Annon*

            Wasn’t there a study that showed that the same negotiation leads to a higher salary for men than for women?

            1. MCMonkeybean*

              Yes, people like to claim the gap only exists because women don’t ask for more (which would still be unreasonable!) but this one study showed that a lot of the time women are punished for trying to negotiate and end up actually getting a *lower* offer. I’ll post a link in a followup comment

              1. many bells down*

                I’m also thinking of the study where they sent identical resumes for a lab tech out, only half of them said “John” and half said “Janet” and Janet was given a lower offer every time (and also seen as “less competent” even though the resume was identical)

            2. Myrin*

              If it’s the study I’m thinking of, it showed that but it also showed that negotiating at all led to a higher salary than not negotiating (for women, too, that is; doesn’t negate the higher salary for men overall). It’s been a few years but I’ll see if I can find it again.

            3. limotruck*

              Yes, and there have also been studies showing that in negotiating for other things, i.e. a new car, white men often get offered a better price just for walking in the door than white women or Black men do even after prolonged negotiation. Black women tend to have the worst time–even when dressed similarly, working with the same script, spending an equal amount of time negotiating, they could never get to a number with a dealership that even approached what white men were offered.

              The issue is much more complex than “some people are just better at negotiating and shouldn’t be punished for it” or even “women/minorities don’t know how to negotiate because they were never taught.” There really is a long history of marginalized people either having less success or having outright adverse results when they try to negotiate.

              1. meyer lemon*

                I’ve just read an interesting book about negotiating, which suggests that a huge part of any kind of negotiation is built on a sense of rapport and empathy. So it stands to reason that if your counterpart doesn’t see you as someone they can relate to, you’re at a disadvantage from the start. Negotiation is majorly influenced by emotion and non-rational thinking, although people in power would prefer not to see it that way.

          2. Harper the Other One*

            Yes, this. I have been in a workplace where my advocacy for a raise was responded to with eye rolling, while male colleagues who did the same were considered go-getters with a promising future.

            If one woman doesn’t negotiate but others do and there’s a curve for starting salaries for both genders, that’s to be expected. But if you look at your company’s payroll and discover that somehow ALL the men have managed to negotiate strongly from the beginning, but none of the women did… well, just ask yourself how likely that is.

          3. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

            I believe this is absolutely a huge reason I was fired, without any explanation, from my church office job. I heard from a very reputable (male) source that the pastor who fired me said I was “always asking for more money”. I’ll skip all the details but it wasn’t true . What was true is that I didn’t want to be taken advantage of; I more than earned what I did ask for; but I was a woman in a male dominated area. So the male pastor and male elders punished me severely for daring to advocate for myself.

          4. Quill*

            Also noting that you’re underpaid compared to your coworkers IS PART OF NEGOTIATING. It’s an ongoing negotiation about market value!

        2. TechWorker*

          Also the writer admits she negotiated poorly *once* when she joined the company. That’s not an excuse for the company to then hold her to that starting point for the rest of her life??

          Also – whilst I semi-agree with the logic of ‘if you negotiate well you deserve to be paid more’ it’s obviously by far the only thing that should go into a salary decision! (Unless you’re job success is somehow solely tied to your negotiating skills, in which case, sure…)

          1. M.*

            That’s actually the reason I’d say job hunting would be a good thing to do. This company wants to use your starting negotiation for the rest of your occupation, I’ve never heard of something like that. People re-negotiate all the time, for all kinds of reasons.

            But this company wants you to be hold accountable for however long you work with them for one negotiation, and probably one negotiation slip up. And everyone has those slip ups, even the best negotiators in the world will have that one story of “I totally fucked up on this one”.

            1. Massmatt*

              …and yet prospective employers often ask what your salary was at your last job, or demand a complete salary history. Barring a complete change in career path or obtaining a degree or professional license, that initial lowball job offer can follow you around for your whole career.

              1. The New Wanderer*

                They can ask, but asking for (much less insisting on) salary history is becoming illegal in more and more states, specifically because it contributes to perpetuated inequality in pay.

                Employers who still do this are usually not acting in good faith.

                1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  Unfortunately in many countries, it’s not only legal bit very common. Employers and 3rd party recruiters don’t see anything wrong with it. So the rest of us still to deal with this type of thing.

          2. Brett*

            “That’s not an excuse for the company to then hold her to that starting point for the rest of her life??”

            I’ve worked for a public employer that held this sort of line. All raises were fixed and equal based on your starting salary (e.g. _everyone_ regardless of individual performance received a 2% raise). All promotions were a fixed increase of your previous salary, so jumping from a level 1 to a level 2 was 10%, or a level 2 to a level 3 was 10%, or even jumping from a level 1 to a level 3 was 20%, not 21%.

            The only way to change your salary out of alignment was for the civil service board to increase it, and that type of increase could only be requested by a department head based on a change in professional licensing (so pretty much just tradespeople who earned their master license and certain types of engineers).

            This sort of system did perpetuate systemic discrimination. But the reason it existed was predictability and stability. The system made it possible to exactly forecast payroll, even years out, purely based on FTE headcount. Since there was no risk of a slew of exceptionally high merit raises, or promotional bumps out of alignment with headcount, there was zero risk of going over budget on payroll.

        3. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more

          Why? Why is how persuasive someone is at one specific point in their life versus someone else indicative of what they deserve?

          1. MK*

            Exactly, this statement makes no logical sense. Why do you “deserve” more if you are contributing to the work at the same level?

            This is a nonsensical argument, and even more so from the employer’s point of view. Why would a company be willing to compensate someone more solely for being good at negotiating? Even if there is no illegal bias involved, you are really paying for qualities that have little or nothing to do with what the employee brings to the table.

            1. Roeslein*

              Maybe if you’re procurement and your job is literally negotiating all day, in which case it may be relevant? But otherwise, no.

              1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                And then that should be reflected in performance-based increases and not based on salary negotiations.

          2. Mr Cholmondley Warner*

            Of course if a person’s gender or race played a role in this decision, it’s unacceptable. I think we all agree on that.

            If an employer offers me a salary of X, and I say “I believe my labour is worth X+1, and this is why”, and they accept that, then shouldn’t I get paid X+1? And if someone else either accepts the offer of X, or can’t convince the employer that they’re worth more, what should the employer do? Pay them the accepted salary of X, or X+1?

            That’s starting salary. A promotion is basically a new job, so it should be an opportunity for a whole new conversation about compensation. And there I think we agree. I don’t think your starting salary, or even your current salary should have any impact on the new salary. That particular policy may not be illegal, but it’s stupid. It’s the sort of thing that makes people leave. I was in a place with stupidly rigid rules about promotions, and in 2019 we lost 2 or 3 employees every month because of it.

            1. EnfysNest*

              If they agree with you that your work is worth X+1, then they should pay you that. But then, yeah, they also need to look at their other employees and ensure that anyone else with the same work & quality as you is also getting paid X+1 and isn’t still stuck with just X to make sure they are in compliance with equal pay laws. They just agreed that that level of work is worth that much money, so they need to ensure that those doing identical work are getting equivalent pay. They can’t say “Well, we used to think this work was worth less, so even though we now value it more, we’re just going to leave the previous people at the previous pay.” They’ve just shown that they know the old price isn’t enough anymore.

            2. MK*

              Well, it would rather depend why the someone else couldn’t convince the employer they were worth more,wouldn’t it? If there is an objective reason your labour is worth more, they can pay you more without falling foul of the law.

              1. Anon for this*

                I am very good at my job. So other people tell me.

                I am not especially good at “marketing” myself to people I haven’t worked with before. People I’ve worked with before, I don’t have to market myself.

                I am not good at all at knowing how to negotiate salary. I just don’t know how. The type of negotiation I need to do for my actual job, I’m good enough at that.

                Not being a good negotiator in a very specific context doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with how good I am at my ACTUAL work. There is NO correlation between the 2. My remuneration should not depend on something irrelevant to the value I create for my employer. Does that make sense?

                Anon for this because it sounds like boasting.

            3. I should really pick a name*

              If you say your labour is worth more because you’ve got 5 years of experience and they agree, then someone else doing the same job at a comparable level with 5 years of experience should be paid the same.
              If there’s a disparity in pay for the same work, the employer should be able to clearly state why the disparity exists, and the reason needs to be more than “they asked for more”.

              1. Birdie*

                This, exactly. I was hired for my current job around the same time as another woman, and our positions are at the same level. We clearly got the same initial offer (our salaries are public info), which was a standard amount for someone new to this kind of role. Unlike her, I was not new and had rare, directly-related experience at a well-respected organization, so I successfully negotiated for more. If we had the same experience, however, it wouldn’t have been ok to give me more just because I asked for it, and unfortunately that’s often what happens.

              2. Shirley Keeldar*

                This, exactly. The lesson to be learned here isn’t, “Candidates, never negotiate.” The lesson to be learned is, “Employers, reward negotiation based on skills rather than chutzpah.”

                Jane: Wait, why is Joe being paid more for the same job?
                Boss: Because he has five years of experience, compared to your two, and he speaks two languages fluently, while you only speak one.

                Nothing illegal there.

                Jane: Wait, why is Joe being paid more for the same job?
                Boss: Because he asked for it.
                Jane: Well, I’m asking now. Can I be paid what Joe is being paid, please?
                Boss: Nope!


                1. Lis*

                  Thank you for this succinct explanation. I’m a woman being paid 10% less than my male coworker for the same job. I knew he was at the top end of the salary range while I had negotiated from the initial offer of the bottom up to midway. People had told me ‘that’s illegal’ but I wasn’t comfortable approaching my boss until I got a bit more established in the role and felt more confident in arguing why my salary should be brought in line with his. But now that I’ve gotten to know his background better, I’ve found out he has a few key areas of experience that I do not. Not things that were required for the role but which would explain why he was able to command more $. (5 more yrs of experience, valuable contacts in the industry, experience with another dept that we interface with often)

            4. learnedthehardway*

              Well, if you have the experience and skills, and the market rate is X+1, then sure, you deserve that AND so does every woman and minority hire.

              The issue occurs when a company will offer YOU X+1 , but WON’T offer the female or minority candidate X+1 or even X, even if they do try to negotiate for it. In fact, they may hold the fact that the female or minority candidate tries to negotiate against them.

            5. comityoferrors*

              Of course the employer should pay the next candidate X+1 – they’ve just learned that the market value for the role has changed, so they need to change their pay structure accordingly. In fact, they should also look at all *existing* employees and make sure their pay is in line with this new market information you’ve brought to their attention.

              I agree that if an employer is proposing to pay less than what your experience is worth, you should be paid more. I will never agree that that entitles you to more pay than other people with your skills and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument why it should. Market value is market value for everyone. If you’re being paid fairly, it doesn’t devalue your pay if the woman in the next cube is paid the same as you…right?

            6. Joan Rivers*

              What you’re not factoring in here is:

              Deciding WHO “negotiated” better is a highly subjective act. It’s not an anonymous, neutral act because the decision-maker knows who’s speaking or writing.

              Who evaluates whether the decision-maker was fair or biased? And s/he may not even realize they’re being unfair or biased. They may just react.

              Let me add, men are much more emotional than they’re given credit for.

          3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

            Mr. Cholmondley Warner, you asked a serious question and I am going to offer a serious response. Not snark, not sarcasm, just saying:
            A successful negotiation is not 100% the result of the candidate being “better at negotiating.”
            There are additional variables, many of which you, the negotiator cannot control or even influence.
            For example (not stating as facts, just putting it out there)
            First, gender. The company expects and plans to pay a man more.
            Second, personal bias: The interviewer really wants the candidate; the interviewer doesn’t really want the person; the interviewer thinks people who negotiate are bad people;
            So when OP writes “I did not negotiate as well as I should have” I think she negotiated as well as the situation permitted. They didn’t negotiate as fairly and and as openly with her as they did with a man. I think there is very real possibility that the future employers told her X was final for women and for the men X+n was final and there was nothing she could have done about it.

        4. Jessica*

          “If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.”
          I couldn’t disagree more with this. Why does someone deserve higher pay based on a one-time display of an unrelated skill? I’m great at my actual job, but would be terrible at salary negotiations. Being good at negotiating pay doesn’t make someone a better neurosurgeon or a better kindergarten teacher or a better welder or a better editor.

          1. Older and bolder*

            Not to mention that perhaps X+1 just came in at a time when the need to hire was more urgent, or had a friend in high places or any number of other circumstances that affect negotiations besides the applicant’s sparkly self.

            1. Threeve*

              This. Or the hiring manager was new, or having a particularly good day, or leaving next week and didn’t give a hoot…

        5. Anonys*

          Negotiating DOES matter. Not all salary differences resulting from negotiating are illegal/discriminatory and negotiating can often make a big differences in what an individual employee is paid (without necessarily leading to any illegal discrimination). The point is that these differences should be individual and not lead to a pattern of systemic disadvantage for protected classes. If people negotiate and the result of that is that on average, people who wore a blue shirt during their negotiation earn a higher wage than all others, there is no issue, as color preferences are not a protected class.

          But if the result of people negotiating at your company is that men persistently earn more than women, or white people more than Black/Latinos, there IS an issue because those kind of systemic differences are not legal, regardless of how the men arrived at their higher salary (unless the company can show that there are merit reasons for that higher salary and not just more confidence in negotiating). It is known that women/minorities are often socialized to be timid in negotiations, whereas white men are not. Plus, there might be differences in how hiring managers perceive negotiation attempts by different groups.

          Quite regardless of any legal or ethical issues though, it’s not really smart for a company to base all salary increases on starting salary. For example, presumably the company doesn’t want to lose a loyal and hardworking employee who might have started at the company early in their career when they were less experienced and thus didn’t negotiate effectively. Such an employee will never be able to be paid market rate at that company, no matter how well they do and will thus likely leave. Does that employee really “deserve less” (as you say) because they had less professional negotiation skills years ago? Negotiation might be one useful professional skill (mainly for the employee) as you correctly point out, but in most roles where negotiation isn’t a key part of the job, it’s not as valuable to the company as someone who actually achieves great results at the work they do.

          Companies should pay people what their are worth and negotiation is not a virtue in itself but usually serves as a tool to arrive at that value, not obscure it over time.

        6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Thing is, women and minorities negotiate poorly because they lack the self-confidence that men grow simply because they look like the guys in power.
          At one point my boss was looking to hire someone to do the same job as me (who I would train), and nearly hired a guy who was asking for double my salary. He didn’t, but only because the guy found something even better paid.
          Another candidate was a former intern, a woman. He spoke to her on the phone and then started ranting that she had said she’d consider the job if it were well-paid (bearing in mind that as an intern she’d been paid a third of minimum wage, which is the minimum amount to be paid to interns in my country). The cheek of it, a woman wanting to earn a good sum of money! All of this was totally driven by gender. He also sexually harassed the one blonde woman he hired and asked for “our usual guy” when a woman came to resolve our IT issues, in case you don’t believe that.

          1. Student*

            “Thing is, women and minorities negotiate poorly because they lack the self-confidence that men grow simply because they look like the guys in power.”

            This isn’t accurate, and your own example shows exactly how.

            Women and minorities aren’t somehow extra-stupid about their work’s value, as compared to white men.

            Women and minorities know, both from personal experience and from second-hand experience through the advice and accounts of others, that they are treated differently from white men when they negotiate. They don’t negotiate as hard because that is a rational decision on their part. They know it won’t be as effective as if they were white men; they know that they are at a much higher risk of the employer walking away from the negotiating table or rejecting their request. This is very visible in salary requests, but it happens in every other aspect of life, too – so by the time you’re landing jobs, you already know what’s likely to happen.

            So let’s stop blaming women and minorities for being cowardly or stupid at negotiations, and instead place the blame where it belongs – people who treat them unequally, in salary negotiations and in other parts of life.

            1. Autistic AF*

              There is plenty of research to back up the confidence gap. A single example does not disprove that, nor does anything you’ve said here. Acknowledging the confidence gap, along with the systemic issues which have produced it, does not blame women or minorities.

              1. ceiswyn*

                The problem isn’t really the confidence gap, though. The problem is the systemic discrimination. Lower confidence in women and minorities is an entirely rational response to getting fewer opportunities and more pushback. There is no point in coaching people to be more confident if doing so has a strong likelihood of actually making them worse off (either financially, career-wise or in terms of mental health).

                1. Autistic AF*

                  I agree that we need to focus on addressing the systemic issues. There’s something gaslighty about any implication that the confidence gap isn’t rational or that coaching can fix it, and I don’t mean to connect to any of those notions either. I’m specifically responding to the notion that RebelwithMouseyHair’s statement about the confidence gap was not accurate. Blaming the people perpetuating this inequality, as Student suggested, is also likely to backfire when it comes up against cis/male/white/neurotypical fragility.

                  Both the underlying issue and the symptom can be true, and we can address both. I’m working for long-term change as a neurodivergent, female-presenting person, but I still need to pay my bills. I’m sure we agree on the important bits here!

              2. ceiswyn*

                The problem isn’t really the confidence gap, though. The problem is the systemic discrimination. Lower confidence in women and minorities is an entirely rational response to getting fewer opportunities and more pushback. There is no point in, say, coaching people to be more confident if doing so has a strong likelihood of actually making them worse off (either financially, career-wise or in terms of mental health).

          2. Quill*

            Self confidence, like literally everything else you grow, requires tending and watering and not being stomped on.

        7. hbc*

          The point of negotiating is to make the case that you deserve more money based on your projected performance and value. If that means that a woman is not comfortable insisting that she’ll kick butt and therefore starts lower than her male counterpart who brings up all his awesomeness, that’s okay. There’s an advantage in starting at that higher point.

          Then you have to live up to it. The advantage of that negotiation should either be small or short lived, because over time the equally performing man and woman stay within a few percent of each other as they get raises, or the manager realizes that the woman is performing better than expected and is given a larger raise to match her skills.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            But in many cases, that’s not how it plays out as has been described on this blog many times.

          2. Anonys*

            “If that means that a woman is not comfortable insisting that she’ll kick butt and therefore starts lower than her male counterpart who brings up all his awesomeness, that’s okay.”

            That’s not necessarily true. If that difference lead to all male new hires being paid on average 15% more, my understanding is that would still be an illegal pay disparity, even if the difference is short lived and the gap later closes (which is unlikely) because people are re-assessed based on actual performance. Because someone will never agree to taking a pay cut if they are doing well – so first the well-performing woman would have to be brought up to par with the men. But well-performing men will expect raises as well, so most likely well-performing men will always be paid more than just as well performing women. For those who don’t get merit raises, cost of living increases will be percentage based and thus advantage the men again. A manager is also probably not going to pay a larger raise if he can get away with a smaller one.

          3. InfoSec SemiPro*

            It’s not only about comfort, it’s also about expectation. A woman coming in with the confidence that she can kick butt breaks social expectations and she will be paid less, or even have the job offer revoked, for having the audacity to believe she should be paid more.

            It’s not okay, and it’s not on her approach. Often, over time equally performing staff get equal percentage raises, so that starting position benefit can work out to a really big gap over time.

            Your scenario doesn’t match what research says happens.

          4. kt*

            The letter itself though says that there is no adjustment for performance. If raises are only given as percentages, and they’re always based off the disparate salary, then parity will rarely be reached — because great women will need a 20% raise at some point to match the mediocre guy’s salary after a 3% raise, and 20% raises are hard to get when the department overall only gets a 5% pot to give merit raises out of.

            The whole “larger raise to match skills” thing just doesn’t work very well. I was in an old job with a guy controlling the budget who I think was softly misogynistic and also definitely financially mismanaging things (so much disappearing money!!), and he once told me that he managed to get me a 2.5% raise because he was so nice — and then I looked it up and a 2.5% raise across the entire workforce had been approved by the board. There was just no way I could get a raise at that place even though I was paid 50% of what some other people were paid, and I had to leave, that’s all. No number of little raises could have ever made up the pay gap and they wouldn’t allow me to solicit outside funding (it was academia, where that would have made sense, and they would’ve made money off the overhead so I still don’t understand that decision — joke’s on them because the grants I won anyway are now paying me for consulting and they don’t get any of the overhead because I did it through a different department).

          5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            My most bizarre experience at negotiating, 20 years ago:

            Company calls a family friend (a man) and offers to interview him for a job at X thousand a year. Friend was not interested in the position, but knew that I was looking, so he called me, and relayed all the information and got me in touch with the recruiter.

            I interview with Company, they love me, I get the offer pretty much as I walk out of the interview. (I later found out that, as soon as I left the interview, my boss-to-be walked into his friend’s office, and told him “I just hired a blonde” *headdesk* but at least that indicates that they did hire me on the spot.)

            Recruiter calls me to discuss the paperwork and such for the offer. (Here’s where it gets interesting.) Recruiter names my starting salary as 85% of X. I, surprised, remind him that Company was initially saying X. He calls back: “They said it’s 85% of X and is non-negotiable.” I was desperate to get out of a bad workplace situation, so I said yes. At no point in time did Company let me exercise my negotiation skills (which, at that time, I did have, and had successfully negotiated a good raise at my previous job). They said non-negotiable and that was the end of it.

            To this day I’m scratching my head not understanding what happened there. This was a Fortune 500 corporation.

        8. Koalafied*

          The reasons to still negotiate are 3:

          1 – if there are enough employees in the workplace that there are multiple men and women, as long as the women and the men make about as much as each other on average, my understanding is that it would be perfectly legal for the women and men who are good at negotiating to earn more than the men and women who aren’t.

          2 – if the company has few enough employees, there may not be another person of a different gender doing the same work you are, so as long as any future person they bring on board of another sex gets to earn what you do, get, your negotiation helped you both then!

          3 – a lot of employers routinely break laws and never get reported and never change their ways.

        9. Observer*

          If I can talk the manager into paying me more, then I get paid more. If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.

          Why? Outside of sales, how does the ability to negotiate a higher salary correlate to ANY measure of “deserving” more? It doesn’t correlate with skill, ability to get along with people, market rate, value to the organization or any other thing that a company should be looking for.

          The writer admits she negotiated poorly. She’s not getting paid less because of her gender. At least, I don’t see anything like that in the letter.

          There is a reason why we look at patterns. In this case, it’s extremely likely that “negotiated poorly” is absolutely about gender. For one thing, women are trained, so to speak, not to negotiate well and advocate for themselves. Furthermore, women who negotiate tend to get penalized for it. Women know this, and so they tend to do a lot less negotiating and they tend to negotiate a lot more “poorly” – ie they don’t really push for the higher pay / benefits / whatever because they are balancing competing risks.

          It think your problem here is that you are starting from the wrong premise. You are assuming that negotiating pay is a good unto itself. Thus anything that might hamper the goal of people negotiating salary should be questioned and perhaps even jettisoned. But it’s worth questioning that assessment – perhaps salary negotiations are not always the best thing. Maybe other ways of setting salaries have benefits.

        10. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          “If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.” Well that’s plain silly. Why should salary be based on who can glengarry better during the interview and not on who adds more value to the company? That’s how you wind up with pompous deadweight boobs pulling double the salary of the people who do the lion’s share of the work.

        11. Jam Today*

          “If you are better at negotiating, then you deserve more.”

          Negotiation isn’t my job though; designing widgets is my job. Those are two entirely different skill sets. If I am hired to design widgets, and I’m good at it, my pay should reflect my widget-designing skills, not skills in some other random thing that has nothing to do with my job.

        12. Artemesia*

          There is a lot of evidence that women who negotiate hard are punished for it and men who do are admired for it. Women have even reported having the offer withdrawn when they attempted to negotiate. My daughter negotiated hard and got a signing bonus and then had to deal with a perpetually angry boss that she had pushed. The same is incidentally true around bargaining for a car. White men get lower prices; there have been a lot of documented cases where black men and all women don’t get bargains and that companies will even walk away from the sale rather than give them the same deals they give white men who are admired as ‘tough negotiators.’

        13. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          If you are better at negotiating, but I am better at the job, do you still believe you deserve to be paid more than me? Really?

          I’m not saying there is no space for negotiation, but the idea that your negotiation skills should have more influence on your pay than how well you do the job, is frankly ridiculous. And if I am negotiating off a low base to start with it’s even more indefensible.

          Companies should pay for the value that the employee adds. Not the least they can get away with.

        14. Mr Jingles*

          She negotiated poorly when she was hired. Now she gets promoted and isn2allowed to re-negotiate and is paid less than her male coworkers. That’s what makes this illegal.
          If you negotiate a higher salary than all of your peers that’s ok. But if you’re a woman and all the women get paid less than all the men, with no chance to renegotiate, that’s where it gets problematic. That smells like a lame excuse for not letting LW renegotiate. I’m not so sure the male counterparts where told this the moment they got promoted like LW was told.

        15. meyer lemon*

          But … do you deserve more if you can negotiate for a higher salary? Honest question. I realize there is a benefit to learning to negotiate, but should my salary really be based on how comfortable I am with negotiations, rather than how good I am at my job?

          1. Mr Jingles*

            No it shouldn’t. But I accept the theory that even the best negotiator will not get the employer to pay mor if there’s nothing worth that extra money. You don’t get more money solely for negotiation tactics. You get them because you have skills to put on the table and can advocate for in a way the employer sees them as valuable enough to pay extra to get them. Of course, in an ideal world you wouldn’t have to negotiate for that. But the reality is:
            Company: we want you to do x and y and we pay a
            Cadidate: I can also do z and I excel at x because of w. Thus for I think b is a more reasonable pay
            Company: oh yeah, that are great skills we want. Would you accept a+c amount? B is too much
            Candidate: oh yeah great.
            So no. You don’t get more for the same job. You get more for doing more than expected.
            Other example.
            Company: we want you to do x and y and we pay a
            Candidate: I researched the market value of this kind of work and I’ll do good because of z. I hoped for something more like b
            Company: Oh ok we can do that/no we can’t do that/no we can’t do b but what about c?
            Candidate decides if they want it or not.
            This treat lets it sound as if companies always pay more just brcause of negotiation. But in reality it is negotiation + better skillset on the table. If it is same work for same pay, that’s illegal.

      2. Batty Twerp*

        I have a similar curiosity to this, probably because it’s not a cultural norm where I am to negotiate salaries.
        Say a hiring manager has two vacancies for identical roles, and the two people they have decided on are Xander and Willow. Due to a quirk of timing, Xander gets the call first and negotiates a starting salary of 35k. When the hiring manager calls Willow, do they just tell her the starting salary is 35k, no negotiating? Because if they pay her the originally planned starting salary of 25k, since Willow sucks at negotiations, it’s illegal. Even though Xander has done the legwork to change the numbers to start with?
        From an outsiders point of view, it’s a bit confusing.

        1. Legalchef*

          It’s not specifically illegal to pay men and women differently for the same role. If Xander had more experience, for example, he’d warrant getting paid more. But if Xander and Willow have basically the same background, that’s where the problem comes in. I don’t actually see anything in the letter or advice that talks about qualifications (years of experience, etc).

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Ah! Thank you!
            In the UK it IS specifically illegal to pay men and women differently for doing the same role (equal work for equal value requires equal pay), nothing to do with Xander bringing extra experience unless that experience is utilised – in which case, it’s not equal value. If Xander has a Masters and Willow only has GCSEs, and they’re both hired to do data entry, Xander doesn’t get paid more just because of his education level if the job doesn’t require it.
            I’m off to Google the US equality act and the UK equality act – because I’m nerdy enough to find this fascinating (my job is not remotely connected to the law, I’m just nosy)

            1. Legalchef*

              No, I think that is how it is here too. It’s about the value they bring. The company would need a business-specific reason to justify paying one person more than the other.

            2. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              I think this may have to do with what ‘same role’ means? I’m not overly familiar with the UK law but I do work here and I see job postings with ranges listed — presumably that’s one role and people will negociate for a higher end of the band based on things like experience and additional skills.

              The example you listed would be illegal in the US as well — but if Xander spoke Italian, which allowed him to address data entry descrepancies with the Rome team, he could be paid more for that additional (relevant) skill, even if both he and Willow had the same title of ‘Data Entry Specialist’ or whatever.

              1. Forrest*

                It’s actually more often that those ranges include annual increments. I work at a university, and my salary range is £30-£36k– most people will be appointed at £30, then go up to £31k after 12 months experience, £32k after 24 months experience up to £36k at six years experience and then stay on £36k unless they get a promotion.

                I did once manage to start a job at the top of the range, but that was where they knew they were *way* under the usual market rates (their equivalent of the £30-36k band was £25-29k, and I was coming from £36k so they agreed to put me on £29k.) But you usually need a very good reason to start anywhere other than the base of the range.

                1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

                  So what you’re describing doesn’t sound so different to how it would be in the US, as far as I can tell.

                  The issue with OP’s boss is that he’s not basing the salary on relevant skills that are justified by the work. That’s discriminatory and illegal.

              2. Bagpuss*

                Often the range will be dependent on the level of expertise and experience – whether the applicant has expertise / qualifications which are desirable but not essential for the role as advertised. Obviously it will depend on the specific job, but often there will be a baseline of minimum requirements and a degree of flexibility above that.

                Here (UK) it isn’t illegal to pay men more than women or vice versa, the law is that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay, *unless any difference in pay can be justified*

                Justification must be due to a material reason – which can be things such as differences in skills, relevant experience or qualifications , but the employer has to be able to show why it is reasonable for this to result in a difference in pay. (and that it is not tainted by direct or indirect discrimination)

                So, the fact that one person negotiated better when they were first employed would be unlikely to be justifiable as it is not material to their ability to do the job, and it could be tainted by indirect discriminatation, as it could will be affected by the ways in which (for instance) men re seen as assertive / strong while women acting in similar ways are seen as pushy )

                If negotiation is part of the job, then paying a man more because he is a better negotiator would be lawful, but you would have to show that he was objectively better at it in the context of the job, not based on a single negotiation when he joined, and that taken as a whole his job performance was better.

                If you were paying him more because he was a good negotiator but not paying women who were better at other, equally important elements of the role then you would be likely fall foul of the rules

                (Equality & Human Rights Commission exaplanation:-
                “There are three kinds of equal work:

                like work is the same or broadly similar. It involves similar tasks which require similar knowledge and skills, and any differences in the work are not of practical importance.

                work rated as equivalent has been rated under a valid job evaluation scheme as being of equal value in terms of how demanding it is.

                work of equal value is not similar and has not been rated as equivalent, but is of equal value in terms of demands such as effort, skill and decision-making.”)

                1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

                  Right. So then with respect to OP’s question, the answer would be similar in the US and the UK — the boss is being discriminatory based on gender and is breaking the law.

                2. Musereader*

                  There was a case where some council workers argued that the male janitors were being paid more than female cleaners, the council argued that they were 2 different jobs and were classified differently, but at the end of the day the judge agreed that there was no actual material difference in the work done by janitors or cleaners, the female cleaners got back paid for years worth of the difference in pay iirc it was like 2 grades difference or something from £15k to £25k I think

                3. Everdene*

                  Glasgow City Council are currently in a financial mess due to being forced to pay the back pay of women whose typically female job was graded lower than similar typically male jobs.

                  There is too often sytematic and systematic sexism in how men and women, for example, are treated in the workplace.

            3. Anon for this*

              What if it’s more of a qualitative difference, like Xander’s experience means that he’s faster and has a lower error rate, and maybe has domain expertise that makes him more efficient, or experience with the system in use? Maybe he learns new processes more quickly and can coach new team.members?

              These things can be difficult to quantify, especially when a role only has so many levels. Junior, mid and senior can’t always do justice to the nuances but it’s not practical to have 10 levels.

              I’m especially interested in this because I earn more than many of my colleagues who may have the same or similar job title, and I’ve often thought about why that is.

              I have a lot more experience (I’m 50, most of my colleagues are 25-35). I’m on a specialist track and there are a limited number of levels, on paper anyway.

              More (relevant) experience means I have more experience with stakeholder management, I understand the technical side of our work better, I understand “business stuff” better, I can get up to speed faster in new teams or with new domain knowledge, I understand my colleagues’ roles and what they need from me to do their jobs well, I mentor my colleagues, I can and do add value in lots of ways because of experience (and yes, attitude and effort, I have worked hard to get to where I am) that can’t be quantified easily or at all.

              How is this justified or shown in job levels?

              1. Roci*

                That’s not really an issue with gender discrimination though, is it? Since you can point to a significant difference in experience or performance. Some companies let you move up a compensation level without changing job level to account for higher performance where there isn’t a job title that corresponds to the level of work you’re doing.

        2. MK*

          Here is where I think you take a wrong turn: a salary is compensation for the work that you will be doing for the company, not a reward for any work you did negotiating the salary. Xander doesn’t deserve extra money for the work he will be doing solely for the fact that he negotiated better.

          Now, if the company gave Xander a higher salary because of he has higher certification/better skills/more expierience, the company, the company can not offer Willow the same salary, perfectly legally because the difference in their salaries will be a reflection of the value they are bringing to the work (though a good company will re-evaluate this after they both started work). If the company gave Xander more money because he wowed them with his negotiating skills, a) they are idiots, because they agreed to pay him more for no extra value, b) they were almost certainly influenced by factors that shouldn’t matter, like how polished and charming he is, a.k.a. his social class, and c) they were very possibly influenced by factors that it is illegal to consider, like race and gender. In this case, they have to offer Willow the same salary, and if they are overpaying, they only have themselves to blame.

          Note that this is in no way unfair to Xander who is getting paid what he asked for, or to Willow, who is getting paid what the company accepted her work deserves, a.k.a. the same as Xander. It might be unfair to the organization, if the company ends up overpaying both employees, but that isn’t the result of the law, but of their own incompetent hiring practices that made it possible for the hiring manager to offer Xander more money simply for being a good negotiator.

          1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            a salary is compensation for the work that you will be doing for the company, not a reward for any work you did negotiating the salary

            You said so much better what I was trying to articulate! Many companies value negotiations because they can bring valuable data to the hiring / salary conversations……But orgs shouldn’t base salary on the negotiation skills and they should have structure in place to prevent that.

            I wonder if some people are imagining salary negotiation as a more formal or scary process. It’s usually pretty straightforward.

            1. Batty Twerp*

              And you’ve both managed to interpret my poorly worded question and given a sensible explanation that I could not get from Google!
              I’ve learned a lot today and I’ve only been awake for 3 hours!

              1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

                I always have terrible luck with finding useful info from googling laws.

                Also worth noting – with respect to your first example- a starting salary negociation shouldn’t result in a change from 25k to 35k (unless the company had seriously mis-estimated the market rate to begin with). That’s a significant increase.

                More expected would be Xander pointing out that his Italian skills are beneficial to the company and would they consider starting him at 27k?

          2. Mr Cholmondley Warner*

            “a salary is compensation for the work that you will be doing for the company, not a reward for any work you did negotiating the salary”

            OK. Then what is the point of negotiating? In that case the company should say “this is what we’re paying.” And you can decide if you want it or not.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              To use an example from farther up, if Chandler speaks Italian and is dealing with the Italian office, he could reasonably ask to be paid x% more, because the company would never have to hire an outside translator.

            2. Allonge*

              The point for whom? The company or the person applying for a job there?

              Looking at this from the job-seeker’s point of view, the only way you can be sure you got the best possible offer is to try a negotiation, where you can point out the additional value you would bring to the role, based on which the company can legally decide to pay you more. Here you are obvously not in the position to dictate policy: whether or not the company is willing to negotiate benefits is not up to you.

              For the company, there is value in being flexible and there is value in saying ‘this is what we pay, the end’. Up to what they want, really.

            3. anonymous 5*

              The point is that negotiating *shouldn’t* be as powerful as it is. The fact that it is so “effective” (for white, cis/het-presenting men, but strangely not for anyone else) is a problem. So, you’re right: companies should ideally name the salary more in take-it-or-leave-it fashion. It will be a long time before that can happen, unfortunately.

              Companies naming their proposed salary in the job description, which has been discussed here reasonably frequently, is a good start. And, sure, if they want to post a range because they have a whole set of “nice to have” skills/experiences but aren’t sure what they’ll see in the applicant pool, wonderful. But then those should be named in the job description as grounds for starting at the higher end of the range.

              1. Not playing your game anymore*

                I work for a government entity.

                Every job has a range. So a llama tech 1 might have 5 steps. (example only, other jobs might have more or fewer steps and a different timeline) You would normally start at step 1. After 6 months experience you go to step 2 and get a 5% raise. After 2 years you go to step 3 and get another 5% raise. At 5 years, step 4 and 5% more. At 10 years you max out in your position, get a 5% raise and can look forward to only cost of living increases from now on unless you change jobs or have added enough responsibilities to change from llama tech 1 to llama tech 2. We list a salary range on a job posting.

                So with no experience or special training you start at step 1. But you did a training course on llamas and their ways. Or you did a 6 month llama internship of you have a 4 year degree in llama midwifery.

                At our place someone who only has access to your training and experience info (no name, or other identifying information) crunches your numbers and says the applicant should come in at step 3 or whatever based on education and experience and that’s the offer. Take it or leave it. The applicant is also told they’ll get a pay bump at six months, but it will be 3 years (or whatever) before they go to step 4. And then 5 years later, they’ll be maxed out. Everyone gets or does not get the same cost of living percentage.

                All hope is not lost. It’s possible even likely to be promoted from llama tech 1 to a llama tech 2, or to even llama specialist… but there isn’t really a lot of room to negotiate. Once you’ve been in the barn for a while you can make the argument that you’re listed as a llama 1 step 4 and you’re really doing the work of a llama specialist 3. Then a personnel specialist will do a “stall audit” and compare what you are doing with all of the other llama folk in the system and say not a 3, but definitely a 2 or whatever.

                The pay is low, but it’s arrived at fairly. Unless of course you are the governors daughter hired for a newly created position… but don’t get me started on that.

              2. Colette*

                It would be extremely difficult to name all of the possible “nice to have” skills in an ad, especially since they might change during the recruitment process (if, for example, your feed expert resigns while you’re in the process of hiring another grooming tech, you suddenly will be more interested in feed experience).

                But I agree it would be a lot better to name a range in the posting, and to reduce the opportunities for negotiation.

            4. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              The point is that both parties don’t usually have the full info, so negotiating (in theory) should be them comparing notes to arrive at the solution that best meets everyone’s needs.

              For example — especially at smaller orgs, companies may not always realise the market value for what they’re asking. So if an org offers a salary for 40k for widget expert, and their applicant points out that they’re located in a very undesirable area, or their widgets are programmed in an especially difficult language, or whatever — the company might re-evaluate their estimate and realise they should be offering closer to 50k.

              Or if Shanti has a lot of local contacts in the Arizona market that will be valuable to the company, but other applicants don’t, then she could be more valuable to the company than otherwise equal applicants. Perhaps the company would rather pay an extra 6k for Shanti than take another applicant who would have to build up those contacts from the ground up — even if the job role is otherwise the same.

              Typically these conversations are more common at smaller companies and with more nuanced roles, and less so with more straightforward, easily measured roles and at huge organizations (where also companies are more likely to have teams that look at market value and set salary).

            5. doreen*

              You’re negotiating how much compensation the work is worth – but if John’s work is worth $X based on his qualifications , experience, and the quantity/quality/level of his work, then if Jane has the same qualifications , experience, and the quantity/quality/level of work she should be paid the same as he is , not get a lower salary because she is less skilled at negotiating.

              1. Dewey Decibal*

                Yes- I think the key here is that negotiating shouldn’t be the company trying to bring in the candidate for the least amount of money possible. It should be two parties discussing qualifications find an appropriate compensation level.

              2. JonBob*

                So if Jane doesn’t bring up all her qualifications/experience during salary talks, does she deserve less pay?

                1. doreen*

                  I’m not sure what you mean – do you mean that Jane somehow didn’t mention her experience and qualifications at any point- not in her cover letter, or her resume or her interview ? Which I find a little hard to believe, but if that’s the case , the employer can’t be blamed for not knowing what Jane didn’t tell them. Or do you mean that Jane mentioned all these things, but didn’t specifically bring them up during salary talks- in which case the employer knows that Jane has the same experience as John and should absolutely pay them the same.

                2. AKchic*

                  Is Jane not planning on using all of her skills, qualifications and experience during the job she is being paid for?
                  I mean, regardless of what she’ll be paid, she’ll still be utilizing all of her skillset, yes? Or, because her negotiations failed, whereas Bob’s negotiations succeeded, will she purposely withhold some of her skillset and only give what she is now worth, since she is being undervalued compared to Bob’s “better negotiated” salary?

                  Perhaps hiring managers need to stop seeing anyone who isn’t a cishet white man as a haggle hut in order to cut salary costs.

            6. pleaset cheap rolls*

              ‘In that case the company should say “this is what we’re paying.” And you can decide if you want it or not.’

              That would be great.

            7. MK*

              In an ideal world where a company offered a starting salary based on a fair assessment of what the 2ork is worth, that would be great. Unfortunately, most employers are operating on the “how can we get the best person for the least money” policy, that’s why candidates are often forced to negotiate, and the law comes in to regulate that this won’t end up perpetuating systemic injustice.

              For what it’s worth, I think companies would be smarter to set a fair starting salary and then refuse to negotiate except for specific, measurable skills or qualifications. The salary hierarchy of an organization is an important part of its structure and should be the product of deliberate decision-making, not a Frankenstein entity made up of semi-random case-by-case calls by several hiring managers working around each other.

              1. Kiki*

                Your last sentence about salary hierarchy being a Frankenstein entity is how my current company is and let me assure everyone here that it’s terrible. From an employee standpoint, it kills morale.
                From an employer standpoint, it’s terrible for retention. Especially because the company brings in a lot of inexperienced people and then spends a year or more training them to get up to speed, they end up losing a lot of money in the long term to save a buck today. Nobody knows why they’re paid how much they are or what they can do to change it, so they just take their own hard-won and rare experience and leave for another company.
                Companies: take time time to establish a sane pay structure, I beg of you.

              2. Clisby*

                I once worked at a place where pay was completely wacko. It had nothing to do with sex discrimination as far as I could tell – it came to light when a man found out he was making significantly less than a woman even though he had more responsibility. One night a bunch of us went out drinking and decided to share our salary histories. It became clear that the company based salary offers on what the person had made at his/her last job. So people (male and female) who previously had worked in higher COL areas made notably more than people who hadn’t. It was nuts. Eventually there were enough complaints that the employer did a salary re-evaluation, and a bunch of people got raises out of it.

            8. NotAnotherManager!*

              Then what is the point of negotiating? In that case the company should say “this is what we’re paying.” And you can decide if you want it or not.

              This is exactly what we do for most positions. There are some niche or hard to fill ones that require negotiation, but, even in those situations, there is a range and we will adjust other people doing comparable work with comparable skills and experience to ensure that we don’t have pay equity issues.

              Negotiations are a risk because more often all you know of the candidate is what they say they can do and what their references say. Once you have people in the door and in the job, you have a better sense of their capabilities and contributions, so it’s dumb to continue to base their compensation on a initial number that is really a best guess at value to the organization. Even if you negotiate more coming in, someone who demonstrates equal skill and value to the organization shouldn’t be paid less than you several years into the game. That’s how you lose good employees.

            9. Observer*

              Then what is the point of negotiating? In that case the company should say “this is what we’re paying.” And you can decide if you want it or not.

              Exactly. And that is a direction many companies are going in.

            10. Anon for this*

              The point of negotiating is that if the company isn’t transparent with the salary range, you could end up getting well under what they are actually prepared to pay. Because you don’t know what they are prepared to pay. That’s how it works in many countries. You get your current salary (must provide a pay slip!) plus 10-20% and tough luck if that way under what they had actually budgeted for the position. And that’s how you end up 15 years on, earning 60% as much as someone else for the same work.

              That’s from the candidate’s perspective. There are multiple perspectives here though.

            11. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              Actually, there is a lot of push for employers to become more transparent about salary early in the process. Allison mentions it pretty often. I think posting the job salary upfront it a great idea, and then the individuals willing to accept it can apply, and those unwilling to accept it can skip it. It will lead to a lot less waste of time. And if the company cannot get quality applicants, they will know they are not offering enough.

              Of course, employers do not like this idea because they want to get away with paying less if they can. But, unfortunately, the people who end up getting paid less are usually women and people of color, and that is something that does need to stop. Negotiation should not play a role in a transparent system.

        3. mreasy*

          In this case their starting salary wasn’t their starting salary at all, if it was that negotiable.

        4. Mr Cholmondley Warner*

          Yeah, in my experience, salary negotiation is pretty much a myth. They either make an offer, or they don’t. And you either accept the offer, or you keep jobhunting. There is no discussion.

          Same with raises and promotions. They company decides what your annual increase will be. And if you get a promotion, they decide what they will pay you. You either take it or leave it.

          So maybe I just don’t understand what “negotiation” means.

          1. Anononon*

            I’m so confused. Throughout this thread, you’re arguing in favor of salary negotiation and why one shouldn’t be penalized for being a “good” negotiator. But now all of a sudden, you don’t think salary negotiations aren’t even a thing?

          2. Rock Prof*

            What? Salary negotiations happen for lots of jobs. I’m in academia, a known oddball job category, at a US state school, where salary bands are pretty strongly defined, and even I was able to negotiate an extra $2000 a year.

          3. ceiswyn*

            Negotiation is where the employer makes me an offer, and I say ‘actually, based on our discussion at interview, I bring these additional skills XYZ which will be useful to you, so do you have the budget to bring that up a little?’ and usually they do.

            What did you think ‘negotiation’ meant when you started this thread?

          4. doreen*

            It’s not a myth just because you’ve never experienced it – I’ve never individually negotiated anything at any job I’ve ever had. Either it was a union job where the union negotiated everything before I even applied , or it was the sort of job where the employer set wages, benefits , etc. on a “take it or leave it basis”. But just because I’ve never had a job where I could individually negotiate doesn’t mean they don’t exist – it doesn’t even mean I don’t know people who have individually negotiated.

    2. Anon worker*

      Negotiating cna be useful. From the posts here in askamanager, you should negotiate because of things like your experience or specialized skill sets. You should also negotiate when they are basing it on previous salary. I currently live in Texas (lower cost of living); if I was getting a job offer in New York City or California (places known for high cost of living), I would negotiate a higher salary based on location. Either the job is worth the higher pay for ALL who do the job (not just those who happen to be better at negotiation) or it isn’t.

    3. Allonge*

      The point for negotiating in this case is that if the company handles it right, it will not reduce your salary but raise the non-negotiators’ to the level you managed to get. I assume you have no objection against others earning as much as you do, as long as you get what you want?

    4. Beth*

      The law says you can’t pay someone more or less than someone else due to their gender, but it doesn’t say there can’t be pay disparities. Negotiating is often about justifying why you should get more—explaining why you have extra value above and beyond the baseline for the role and asking for a higher wage or more benefits based on that extra value. For example, people with a lot of seniority may negotiate for extra vacation time when switching jobs, both because they probably had it at their old position due to their seniority, and because they can point to their experience as a selling point that justifies getting extra benefits. A person brand new to the field, regardless of gender, would have a harder time making a case for the same benefit.

      1. Dizzy*

        Thank you for this. While I am the newest member of my team, I make considerable more than my team members (including the Team Lead). This is because I bring 20 years of experience to the job, even though the entire team basically does the same type of work. But I also mentor those team members to bring up their level of expertise in our field whilst also unofficially assisting the Team Lead in directing the rest of the team. Our team is both men and women (I am female). I negotiated more salary based on my hard and soft skillsets.

    5. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      As ‘Anon Worker’ and some others have pointed out, negociating is a two-way street.

      If a company offers you X amount of money based on what they think your value is, it’s reasonable for you to go back to them and point out that your additional language skills are actually worth Y on the market. The company can reflect on if those skills are worth market value to them. Or maybe a company has less salary to offer because they’re still starting off. You might be willing to work for less salarly in exchange for a better title and more vacation. It’s reasonable to offer that. That sort of negociating isn’t illegal.

      But the company shouldn’t be passive in this regard. If they find that everyone needs to negociate a higher salarly due to their salary not being reflective of market value, perhaps they should change the band they’re offering. If they find that Widget department seems to be paying white people Y amount and paying all others only X amount, they should take a close audit of those salarys (and the justifications).

      And because there is a lot of nuance to negociating salary, there is also a lot of room for bias and unfairness. I’m a white woman. So if I’m interviewing a bunch of people who are all negociating salary with me, I need to be wary of just feeling more ‘connected’ to other white women — and therefore finding their arguments more convincing and valuing their skills (especially soft skills) more than other groups.

      The same argument, if posed by 10 different people of different ages, appearnce, race and gender, is likely to illicit different knee-jerk emotional responses in the same interviewer. So the company needs to have very good standards in place to ensure that they’re not over-valuing arguments based on things like gender or race. They also need to make sure they’re not creating an enviornment that supports negociating from group A, but discourages it from group B (so, for example, having only white men on an interviewing panel who are casual, friendly and transparent with other white men, but rigid and stiff with black women — an enviornment where the white man is going to natually feel more at ease bringing up salary concerns).

      All that said— I’m NOT a big fan of using negociating to determine salary. I think it’s hard for even well-meaning organizations to be as vigilent about maintaining standards as they should be. But I think that’s partially what the law is reflecting. I’d be curious to hear what others think.

    6. Shahiri*

      The employer knows what they pay their other employees though so, if you’re really arguing that you (generic you, not you specifically) should be paid more for the work they’re looking to hire you for, and you can’t point to any skills, experience, etc to justify it (which would make paying you more legal, regardless of gender), then they should answer your negotiation with a “no, our number is fixed at $X”. All of which to say is that it’s not that you can’t negotiate, but you have to base that negotiation on skills/experience and they must accept or decline on the same basis and not just because you talked a good game (though you may have done that too).

      1. Myrin*

        This is it exactly.

        I think that where some people get tripped up is that it isn’t “if I am better at negotiating, I will get paid more than my coworkers” or, like you say, it shouldn’t be like that automatically.

        The idea isn’t that someone can just roll up and charmingly and convincingly say “Hello, I am here and I would like [outrageous sum of money], please.” but rather that if they believe they should earn more money, they should have actual arguments for that, like many years of experience, a generally higher market rate for similar positions, or additional skills which will make them more valuable in their job, to name just a few.

        And a morally soundly operating company should then react accordingly and not snicker about their own cleverness when seeing that of two workers with the exact same skills and experiences they get to pay one much less because that person didn’t think to negotiate.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve fought back against unequal pay at a couple of places, once for me, once for half my team.

      Reasons given by the firm were in two camps: the higher paid people were more ‘confident and assertive’ or the higher paid people ‘needed more money due to families’.

      The people who were ‘less confident’? Marginalised groups, each one being told at some point that asking for better pay/conditions made them ‘angry’, ‘uncooperative’, ‘lacking business sense’, ‘should be grateful to have a job at all, a lot of people in your demographic can’t get hired in this field’ etc.

      Pay negotiation is never a level playing field. It should be present, but it should be a small factor, not a definite one. Always consider all the other factors if you want a fair company/to be a fair manager.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Pay negotiation is never a level playing field.


        And I would add to that — the problem isn’t negociation exclusively. That feeling of “belonging” in a particular work setting, and having other people percieve someone as “belonging” tends to pay off.

        So even if an org ‘opts out’ of negotiation by not doing it, they should still be considering how those other factors are impacting salary and opportunity at the company. There’s no set-it-and-forget-it option for removing that bias, unfortunately.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I think that negotiation, initially, IF based on solid facts (like you have extra experience in system x, which they’ve just told you they use) only is a good tool.

          However, it shouldn’t define any subsequent salary increases, it should not be done on personality, it shouldn’t include whether you have a family, what school you went to, what buzzwords you can recite….etc.

          (Amusing example of the person I interviewed who tried to get us to pay them twice the salary of anyone else because ‘I always get what I want’. Err, no mate.)

          1. Ganymede*

            Yes about pay negotiation!

            Maybe there is a way of saying that you are good at your job, and having made one poor negotiation is not a measure of how valuable you are to your employer. They’re not employing you as a negotiator!

            I mean, you can tell him what he’s doing is illegal, that’s the main thing – but the unfairness of penalising someone for not being good at a skill (negotiation) that is not part of their job is worth pointing out and could be a useful reasoning point.

    8. Sasha*

      In jury selection, there’s a Supreme Court decision that you can remove a juror from the jury pool for any reason except race. The other side can call you out on it. Then – and this is the actual legal process – the judge asks you why you removed the juror. You can say anything you want EXCEPT race. You can say they have a relative in the prison system. You can say they expressed a dislike of police. You can say that they’re wearing a hoodie and the defendant has a hoodie on so you think they’ll be more sympathetic to each other. When the decision was passed, prosecutor’s offices led classes on how to eliminate black people from a jury without saying it’s because they’re black.

      My point is, just because something is illegal (and immoral) doesn’t mean people haven’t found a way to exercise and justify the same prejudices again. It is illegal to pay men and women different amounts for the same job, but latent, unconscious bias still makes us think of men better in leadership roles than women. We need to justify those feelings, if only to ourselves, so we proxy them behind “negotiates well” or “strong arguments” or whatever. Negotiating for salary should absolutely not be a thing, but it is and in many cases it is so that systemic biases can continue unquestioned, because otherwise you’d need to give a bunch of raises to only women and that’s not fair, right?

      1. irene adler*

        Hiring at my company is ‘interesting’. Not that we do much hiring.
        Resumes with male names are evaluated on the skills/experience/education they have, while the female resumes are evaluated on the skills/experience/education they lack. Uphill battle for women. Hard to shine light on that.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Oh I think I’ve worked at your company then. Never managed to change their ethos (they claimed my disabilities cost them more than they paid me…). Tried to institute some form of ‘generic names’ onto the first pass of CVs so that racial/gender bias wasn’t an issue, but got shouted down.

          1. irene adler*

            I was told by my boss “Gee, I don’t even look at the names on the resumes.”


            Denial. Not just a river in Egypt.

        2. Massmatt*

          There was a case years ago (but not too many, sadly) about racial profiling in real estate. Black people were not shown listings in white neighborhoods. This was across many real estate offices in several towns. The defense claimed any differences were based on income, not race. The smoking gun was when they looked at the index cards for people with their contact info and what they were looking for. No, there was no “race” question, but black people had their names in all caps.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Just because it’s illegal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

        Also, it’s really, really hard to prove. Companies engaged in wage disparities will often come up with multiple excuses for it. ‘The women all take more time of for kids’, ‘the women put in less effort’, ‘the women don’t play golf with our clients’ etc.etc. When you’re fighting multiple discrimination (non-white, female, LGBTQ, disabled) it’s a veritable database of facts you have to go into a meeting with to be taken seriously that your pay really IS unjust.

        It’s a battle I actually don’t fault anyone who doesn’t feel they have the mental energy for to go into. It’s important, gathering the facts and steeling yourself for the talk is a big thing.

        For encouragement I will say, from experience, that getting justice feels REALLY good. Like smiling for years good.

    9. HR Exec Popping In*

      There have been countless studies that show that men tend to negotiate salary more than women AND that women have to legitimize their request for a higher wage more than men do to get a higher wage. The reality is that this means there is a problem with both sides of salary negotiation and that can result in systemic wage disparity. It is fine if a man can negotiate a higher wage, however it is illegal for companies to pay equally qualified and skilled women less for the same work, regardless of how employees negotiate. That is why I believe it is critical that companies have strong compensation systems in place to remove such bias. When I hire or promote someone, I don’t take negotiations into account. I determine what the external fair market wage is for the position and for the candidate’s experience being sure to do internal equity analysis.

    10. Observer*

      So what is the point of negotiating a salary?

      Excellent question. The issue of pay disparity is one of the reasons why many workplaces are beginning to avoid individual salary negotiations.

    11. Parenthesis Dude*

      It’s illegal to pay men more than women. It’s not illegal to pay a man more than a woman. Suppose you had six people, three female and three male. The females make $60, $50 and $45k. The males make $53k, $53k and $52k. That would probably be legal, and it might be because one female did a great job negotiating and pulled up the average.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Beware of the ‘tokenism’ is holding up one person from a discriminated group as ‘proof’ that the pay is totally equal.

        ‘That one person gets paid way more, therefore we’re not discriminatory!’

        You have to investigate these things as a system. A system which, to this day, tries to justify underpaying people as ‘didn’t negotiate’.

    12. whatchamacallit*

      “I asked for pay equity and my boss said ‘this is how the system works’ and the only way around it is to change jobs (yes, immediately after promoting me he told me if I wanted equal pay I would need to leave the company).”

      Even if she did negotiate starting salary poorly, even if we don’t take into account all the structural reasons women still don’t get equal pay even when they negotiate, it sure sounds like she’s negotiating strongly now. Other people in this position make $X, so I should make $X if that is what you’ve determined the job is worth. She even said she’s making less than men in her OLD position – pointing out that she was promoted to a higher position and should be paid more for it makes perfect sense. Negotiating poorly for a starting salary in a different position, probably years ago, and we can’t pay you the same as your coworkers doing the same job (or even the coworkers doing your old job, in a lower role?!) because “this is how the system works,” is not an acceptable reason to avoid pay equity. It has nothing to do with skill or experience, and it’s also stupid, the boss basically just told her to go look for a new job if she wants to be paid equally, which is going to cost the company money in the long run when they have to onboard and train a new person when she leaves. The employer is the one negotiating poorly here, because they responded to a reasonable argument with “but that’s how it works,” so by the same reasoning saying you deserve to be paid less if you negotiated badly, why doesn’t the employer deserve to be out the money for the higher salary for their own bad negotiating here?

      1. whatchamacallit*

        ETA: If you should be rewarded for better negotiating skills, and the LW’s negotiating skills have improved since she started with the company, isn’t that still saying she should get more now that she’s negotiating better? If you value negotiating skills, why would you tie them to someone’s initial skills regardless of any improvement? You wouldn’t do that for any other skill. If I get hired and have intermediate Spanish ability, and then later I improve to fluent Spanish ability, who would seriously argue “Sorry, we have to tie your compensation to your starting ability.”

    13. Sparkles McFadden*

      Negotiating needs to happen within a range and, oftentimes, the range for men is far higher than the range for women.

      I speak from direct experience because it actually came out during a salary renegotiation that my boss was actively trying to pay men more than women because “They are supporting families and need more money.”

    14. Jackalope*

      I think the answer to the question about negotiating depends on whether you’re talking to the employer or the employee. If I were taking to an employer I would say that negotiation should largely be cut out of the deal, and you should have hiring based on specific factors that are standard across the board (so negotiating would happen just for the people who are showing they belong to a higher pay band because of experience, for example). That is the fairest and least likely to discriminate. If you are an employee trying to get a new job or a promotion then yes you should negotiate since that’s the system we live with right now, and you don’t have the power to change it if you aren’t the one setting the hiring and salary rules.

  4. Analyst Editor*

    LW2, use it as an opportunity to start fresh with her and be open to have your mind changed.

    I don’t personally think it’s wrong to be privately judgmental of a person; but I do find that often my harsher snap judgments, even can almosy always stand to be attenuated, if not changed entirely.

    1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      also, some people are very different in work mode.

      I can think of people I don’t vibe with socially who I value working with (and visa-versa).

      1. allathian*

        Absolutely. I have pretty much nothing in common with some of my favorite coworkers, apart from working for the same employer. I enjoy working with them, but have no interest in either getting to know them better socially or spending time with them after work, pandemic permitting.

        1. Rayray*

          Same. I like having friendly and cordial relationships with coworkers but I’ve never been one to socialize with them outside of work. I had a roommate who was good friends with a coworker and she’d come over to ha h out sometimes and most of their conversations were about work and their coworkers. I found it very strange that you’d work all day and then use your free personal time to…talk about work.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Exactly. I’d never hang out socially with some of the people with whom I work best. The fact that we’re so different actually works as an advantage when we’re on a project, and our mutual interest is finishing/doing a good job on what’s in front of us. If we were at a bar, we’d struggle to find a common topic of interest, but, when our project is the common interest, we can get it done. Someone I am certain I would not get on with socially is one of my best collaborators because of the personality difference – they are able to do the extroverted glad-handing and cheerleading team stuff that I find exhausting; I do the tedious detail stuff that they can’t well focus on. Hell, my boss and I are like this – they prod me to get things done, I keep them from their ready-fire-aim tendencies.

      3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        In fact, my Venn diagram of people I want to socialise with and people I want to work with, has quite a small overlap.

    2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I agree, start fresh with an open mind and see how she goes.

      As much as I loathe cliquey people who tear others down, there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do in this situation that doesn’t carry the risk of you yourself looking like the cliquey one tearing someone down.

      Bad eggs usually give themselves away without your interference.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        And, as someone mentioned elsewhere, there is really a chance her previous behavior was due to some of her own issues or environment at time. Of course she could also just be a horrible person. I am not sure how long it has been since she hung out with her socially.

        My advice would be to go in cautiously open minded that she might have grown up, gotten in a better headspace, gained some perspective/professional polish. I wouldn’t say to forget previous experience, but also to not let it cloud the relationship from day 1.

        I am carrying my own personal bias here, as someone who was once it a really really toxic head space as the result of a very toxic relationship. I had to work out a lot of issues in my late 20s/early 30s and am a much better person now. I cringe when I think of some of my behavior towards people then. Which was shockingly different that my work persona at that time also.

        Life is a strange journey.

  5. Analyst Editor*

    For LW#4, you should push back. It’s infuriating if people are paid.

    I would love to hear advice on what to do if the criteria are subjective – e.g. the boss claims that the other person is better, but not in an easily quantifiable way like faster call times or revenue or we education level?

    1. irene adler*

      Good point! This is one way they dodge the issue. Claim subjective criteria- can’t define it, so can’t measure it, but someone benefits from it while others are shortchanged. Whatcha gonna do?

      My thought is to press for boss to define this unquantifiable attribute named ‘better’. What does ‘better’ mean? How is ‘better’ improving the product/service we provide? Assign a metric to it so that everyone can be measured by this ‘better’ criteria. If he demurs, then how will employees ‘up’ their game if there isn’t something quantifiable to work towards? Otherwise, doesn’t this prove that employees are not working on a level playing field? If so, is that legal?

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        The ability to always have a full set of measurable criteria also depends on the maturity of the role or practice. For my role, my company is still trying to define exactly what we do, how we do it, and what the boundaries are. Our ability to do our work is also massively impacted by things out of our control.

        Think something like research and strategy but within a multidisciplinary team where you’re dependent on other people’s decisions and/or domain expertise to move your work forward. Except some of the people haven’t joined the team yet, or have another full time job that makes them unavailable to give you anything you need, or don’t understand your role in the team and won’t cooperate, or are making assumptions that turn out later to be incorrect.

        We don’t have ANY measurable criteria in place as yet, so performance reviews are more or less “on your projects, did you do the following 5 activities, if relevant? Were they completed on time? Was the project team happy with your work? Were your recommendations appropriate?” Incredibly subjective but not something that’s going to change in the near future.

  6. MrsMurphy*

    Regarding #1, I just wanted to throw in the (ever so slightly biased by my own experience) possibility that some of those lies about days off might be period related? More often than not I‘m too sick/worn down too work one day of the month, more often than not on a Friday (gee thanks, body), and while I work in a country where employers may not typically inquire as to what the illness is – it does feel like it could come across as slightly off. So if Alison‘s script removes the odd vibes you get, excellent.
    Having worked as a lawyer‘s assistant for many years, I would like to add that if your spidey sense is tingling about anything work related – I very much agree with Alison that that‘s worth checking. Trust is so essential in that relationship.

    1. Jackalope*

      This brought back memories. Years ago I had a job that among other things had a 42 hour weekend shift every other weekend at a residential facility. I was very… regular, and every other weekend shift I spent half my shift in pain, often curled up in bed, managing just barely to be an extra adult if an emergency came up and otherwise letting my co-worker handle issues. (Thankfully she understood, and the year before she’d been having health issues and it had been the other way around, so I felt okay with it.) One of my all-time least favorite work experiences!

      But I will agree that while I try to be as honest as possible, there are times when I’ve definitely allowed people around me (esp. male people) to believe in some sort of headache instead of menstrual cramps. It gets across the idea that a) I’m in pain and not great, as well as b) it’s not contagious and they don’t have to worry about catching anything from me. (Not that this is necessarily the case with the LW, although you’re right that that could be some of the vagueness, but I relate to your story!)

      1. English, not American*

        I would get very regular “food poisoning” for a while for similar reasons, though my cycle did actually give me nausea and make me vomit (among other things) so it was the same symptoms. Saying it’s menstrual opens up a whole “well so-and-so doesn’t have that problem when she gets periods” that’s neatly avoided by “I can’t be too far from the bathroom, I think it might be food poisoning”.

        1. allathian*

          Food poisoning isn’t a great excuse. “Isn’t it odd how often English gets food poisoning, she must be a terrible cook or really careless with food hygiene.”

          If I had cramps that were bad enough to stop me going to work, I’d blame my migraine. It was true, too, one of my typical symptoms was nausea and my migraines were often, but not always, triggered by hormonal changes. Funnily enough I haven’t had any PMS migraines after my pregnancy. A subtype of migraine is abdominal migraine and while it’s more common in children, adults can have it too.

    2. WS*

      Yes, I have PCOS and from about the age of 15 had terrible but irregular “periods” where I would have 24-36 hours unable to go further than from my bed to the bathroom and back, with severe pain and usually a migraine on top. Sometimes I wouldn’t have a period for seven or eight months, sometimes I’d have one every 18 days or so. But I learned very quickly that saying “period” is a cue for cis women to claim that they’re just fine to work through the pain (and cis men to either disbelieve the whole thing or scream and run away), so just talking about the migraine part gave much better results.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I love Alison’s advice about doing a reset, conversationally. The overall idea that it’s her time off to use as she wishes is the most important part. And it would cover periods, stress migraines or any other legit thing that may be happening yet the employee would not need to explain the particular problem.

      It may have been a while or if ever that the employee had a boss who treated her, you know, like a competent adult.
      And it is hard to know how a boss will react as reactions can vary wildly. I had one boss who would not accept the reason that the roads were closed due to ice and one could get arrested for attempting to drive. That was not a viable excuse in her books. OTOH, with a different boss, I tried to explain what was wrong with my dog and could I leave an hour early? She did not even listen to my explanation and simply said, “Leave. RIGHT NOW. Go home.” I left half way through my workday, no questions asked. Differences in bosses.

      1. TechWorker*

        The answer does seem to assume sick and vacation come out of the same bucket though.

        (For me, they are separate and sick time is very generous. I don’t need to tell my boss my exact illness, but I do need to be honest about when I’m sick and when I’m using my PTO for something else – like last minute birthday celebrations :p).

        Otoh I have all the sympathy for migraine sufferers.. mine are often too painful to work and can (if I’m lucky) come/go very quickly. I have no idea from the outside how my boss would know whether I actually have a migraine.

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          Yeah that key detail is missing from the letter. If they have separate sick time and the assistant is lying about being sick to get extra time off, that is unethical.

        2. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

          Yes, what immediately occurred to me was that the assistant had more sick time accrued and wanted to burn that up instead of vacation days. As a manager, I honestly don’t consider that to be a cardinal sin, as long as the employee is keeping a judicious amount of time in their sick bank for real health-related needs.

    4. Lucy P*

      I wanted one of those this morning, even for just a minor amount of discomfort. However, last week a co-worker was out sick for the day and I had the task of asking “do you think it’s covid related?”.

  7. MassMatt*

    #3 is infuriating to read.

    And #5, sorry for your terrible experience and I wish you safety and success.

  8. cncx*

    RE Op1, i think you need to dig because there are so many reasons, and you say she is a strong employee.
    I worked as an assistant at a really uh, competitive law firm where my boss was cool but other lawyers would do stuff like sabotage an assistant so the lawyer would be out of a good assistant. Also there were little passive aggressive things like other partners asking me if i was taking the afternoon off when i left at six. i could see a situation where the lie is for other people (HR, other assistants, other lawyers) more than it is for you. It’s worth being honest, the truth might be surprising.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great point.
      OP, as a suggestion here, you could say to her, “If anyone questions your time off tell them to come see me. Don’t even engage in the discussion, redirect them to me immediately. I will explain to them that line of conversation is not up for discussion.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was just getting on here to suggest this: You say you don’t push back on time off requests, etc., but do you know for a fact that HR doesn’t, or that she’s not being shamed by coworkers? The problem might be that she gets blowback from people other than you.

  9. Well...*

    OP 2: I overlapped social circles once with a woman who said some nasty things about me behind my back. For example, when she met my sister and noticed how pretty she was, she said my growing up with a beautiful sibling explained why I pursued my chosen field that is associated with intelligence and why I act like I’m so smart. She said my whole life path was insecurities about my looks and that “it’s psyche 101.” A shitty thing to say about me, but also objectifying my sister’s looks as a child in formative years, jeez, and like my sister is IMO one of the most intelligent people I know, so ew. And don’t get me started on policing my smartness-having behavior in a male dominated field where I was constantly told I was stupider and still had to be pleasant all the time.

    Anyways I had to take a small seminar with her later on that was about job placement, skills, and personality types, and it dug into personal stuff. She was completely different and really pleasant to be around. The whole seminar group was mostly women getting phds and we bonded a lot, and I got to see a different side of her personality. I think the social group we were in before (a bunch of dudes in my grad program who WERE always posturing their intelligence while hitting on undergrads) was pretty toxic and brought out the worst in people.

    So my point is this new hire might not be a problem for you in this new environment. You don’t have to be close with them, but they’re presence won’t necessarily mess up the vibe.

    1. Reba*

      Holy wow, what a nasty comment! You are right that social context is critical–perhaps more influential on our actions than we would like to believe!

    2. Lorac*

      Uggg, it’s still sometimes difficult to separate a person’s out-of-work behavior from their work self.

      I knew one girl since high school who had always been…two-faced and vindictive. Ten years later we reunited at a mutual friend’s wedding, and she was still the same as always. She made loud jokes about how the friend’s wedding was pointless and how statistically speaking, they’d likely divorce soon. And she didn’t know why she was invited because she barely talked to said friend anymore. And made jabs about how cheap and lame the venue was. Then she turned around and posted a selfie with the bride and groom, captioning it with how happy she was to see one of her longest friends look beautiful and attend her beautiful wedding.

      Yet by all accounts of people in our industry, she’s a perfectly fun and pleasant person to work with.

      Regardless of what her coworkers have to say, I know is I would happily burn all my social capital and exert every ounce of my influence to ensure we never worked in the same place.

  10. Talia*

    In regard to LW1, does it make a difference if she has separate sick and vacation time? Where I work (not in the US) we have very generous sick leave running to months at full pay if necessary. While the vacation time is also very good, as you would expect it runs to weeks not months. Faking ‘sick’ to get extra vacation would be a big deal and possibly a firing offence if it happened multiple times.

  11. IrishEm*

    LW1, for what it’s worth, I had a scheduled day off for my birthday and also a migraine. Health stuff can come up in weird ways, that can’t always be predicted. If you have good reason to believe she was lying about having a migraine good for you, but don’t assume it’s a lie just because the dates coincide.

    1. Not Australian*

      I agree with this 100%. Whilst completely taking Allison’s point about trusting the LW’s view that the migraines in this case may have been fictional, I have personal experience of being blamed for ‘ruining’ special occasions because I went down with a migraine before, during or immediately afterwards – including my best friend’s wedding anniversary party, which I wouldn’t have ruined for the world. The fact is that if this happens once or twice, the pressure for it not to happen again actually makes things worse. If you’re going into – say – Christmas Day thinking “I mustn’t have a migraine and spoil things again, like last year”, you’re far less likely to relax and in fact you’re making it *more* likely to happen. So, in a more general sense, migraine can occur on special occasions – even on a regular and predictable schedule – without necessarily being either imaginary or faked. It happens, and I suspect most migraine sufferers have been accused of faking it in the past. OP just needs to be very sure that this isn’t what’s happening in this case, and as Allison says we should certainly give them the benefit of the doubt.

      1. allathian*

        Migraines are often triggered by stress, or by being able to relax a bit following a stressful period. So if you’ve been stressed out for months at work and then face a different kind of stress during the holidays or before and during a special event, it’s a double whammy.

        I don’t find Christmas stressful, but big weddings, sure.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’m more prone to migraines on Friday or Saturday than any other day of the week. As soon as the work stress goes down my brain reacts. Dammit I hate my brain.

      2. Also Anon Here*

        My family has many migraine sufferers, and some of us are sensitive to different food additives/ingredients. Increased consumption of “special holiday treats” will often trigger an attack. One cousin is very sensitive to artificial food colors, so even the sprinkles on a Birthday Cake can be a huge problem. My mother, on the other hand can’t eat salads in a restaurant, or a Big Mac, due to the preservatives they use to keep cut lettuce from turning brown.

    2. Suzanne*

      yes contrary to popular belief we don’t get migraines on whim. We can’t control how our brain reacts and yes we get migraines on weekends, special occasions, vacations etc. It’s just the way it is.

      1. Self Employed*

        I got a migraine on Inauguration Day. But I’m not usually stressed on my birthday that someone might be planning a bomb or something for the guest of honor.

  12. Dana*

    What is it with so many bosses and their weird obsession with what employees do with their time off, including the reason why give as to why they want that time off? It is literally NONE of the boss’ business.

    An employee might fib about why they want time off sometimes, all the time, or none of the time. In my experience, if an employee is telling white lies about why they want time off are: having dealt with difficult bosses previously; being burnt out; and/or wanting privacy.

    If she’s a great employee otherwise, leave it alone. This is such a non-issue.

    1. Natalia diRuvio*

      If I get the impression my employee is lying to me, that erodes my trust in them and my confidence in their reliability, character and integrity. If they lie when there is no need, when else will they lie? What else are they lying about?

      Especially when, as the OP said, they didn’t need to say anything at all. If they wanted privacy, don’t make up a lie. Just don’t say anything. If they’re burnt out – that’s what time off is for! Take the time off. I’m not asking for justification so don’t invent one. And if this is learned behavior from a previous bad boss? You can learn new behaviors.

      1. Julia*

        With some bosses I’ve had, I had to make up lies to protect my privacy. (I have a chronic illness many people consider to be ridiculous – endometriosis.) This stuff stays with you.

        If reasons for taking time off are the only thing your employee lies about (and in this case, it’s not even 100% sure whether she is lying), maybe consider why she’s doing it before you question their entire character.

        1. hbc*

          Well, OP says “almost always about days off,” so there’s potentially other clues. Obviously it’s not entirely “No one gets migraines on their birthday, you are an unrepentant, untrustworthy liar in all aspects of your life.” But if you know someone is lying to you, even about something where you didn’t think the truth was a big deal or your business to know, it’s not a good plan to just compartmentalize and dismiss it.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, it’s really weird to read that letter and get the takeaway that the time off is the problem. The lying is the problem here and that would concern me too. I definitely give the benefit of the doubt to an employee who is otherwise good, but I hope LW will have that reset conversation and the employee will start saying just “I’m using a sick day” or “I’m using a vacation day”.

      3. Lacey*

        Yes, exactly. Not quite the same, but I had a friend who would lie about stupid stuff. She didn’t need to lie about it, she just would. Dumb things like, “I didn’t leave that window open” or “No, I didn’t go to get ice cream today.” Nothing that mattered.

        Well, turns out she also lied about big stuff like, “Betsy is harassing me” or “My brother died in a bike accident” (turns out she never had a brother!). She also ended up stealing from a whole bunch of people in our friend group and catfishing multiple guys at her job.

      4. The Other Dawn*

        I agree–it’s the lying. Someone lying to me about little things is going to erode trust and make me wonder what else they’re lying about. I honestly don’t care why someone needs PTO–just take it! No need to tell me why. But I still get people who want, or feel the need, to give me details, even though we’ve been working together two years and I’ve never questioned them taking a day off. And yes, if it was learned from a previous boss, it can be unlearned. I’ve had to do that myself with other things.

      5. JB*

        This is a very odd position, to me. Giving an easily-digestible reason for time off is just a normal social behavior, and isn’t a ‘lie’ any more than saying ‘love your new haircut’ when you don’t particularly like it is a lie. There’s no reason to make someone else feel like crap and there’s no reason to discuss personal issues with your boss.

        And not giving any reason for unscheduled time off definitely reads in most professional environments I’ve been in as ‘something is seriously wrong, you should be worried’.

    2. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Overall I agree with you – people don’t necessarily owe anyone the truth on a particular subject.

      That said, I don’t think ‘weird obsession’ is a fair characterization of OP’s letter. Most people feel unsettled if they sense they’re being lied to. That’s not weird.

    3. Lacey*

      It’s mostly about the lying. It makes them wonder what else you might lie about.

      Though sometimes it’s about causing massive inconvenience for the rest of the team. If people often call out sick last minute, it matters to the team whether the inconvenience and dropped balls are because Kathy is sick or because Kathy wanted a spa day.

    4. Green Snickers*

      I’m surprised by the pushback here. In the US, sick time is a loaded issue at a lot of places and using it can be frowned upon. My boss and director have never taken a sick day in the 2 years I’ve worked there- this doesn’t do well for making the team feel like we can take a sick day. The first time I asked for a day off for a dr’s appointment, I was told I needed to ask HR since my boss didn’t think it was covered. However, they really believe they have an open team environment.

      I hate to break the news to everyone but your employees (and friends and everyone else you interact with) lie to you. Little white lies all the time that don’t hurt anyone. That doesn’t mean you need to question their character or integrity or assume they are lying about major work.

      As long as the employee isn’t abusing the system, let it go.

      1. hbc*

        There are different flavors of little white lies. Lies told to spare another person such as “I like your new haircut” or “I just barely noticed the spinach in your teeth, I’m sure no one noticed during your big presentation” are part of what makes a society. Lies told to get ourselves off the hook will rightly cause people to question what else we’ll do to dodge unpleasant situations.

        Also, frequency and severity matter. If you go home with a migraine on your birthday and I see pictures of you partying that night, I’m going to give some benefit of the doubt and assume it cleared up in time for your planned activity. If this happens several times or you went to a full-day, almost-certainly-reservation-required boat trip, why would I believe you if you say your document got mysteriously eaten by the revision control system?

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t understand it either – I have NO interest in hearing about people’s medical maladies and prefer that they simply take the day off, if needed. My biggest concerns are getting the work done and making sure leave is balanced (so not one person taking every prime holiday and sticking a coworker with the work). I wish other bosses wouldn’t ask for explanations because then people come to me expecting that I need detailed information about their illness, which I absolutely do not, or want to see their wounds as “proof”. First, I get some really gross details I did not need to hear. Second, some people seems to think that it’s the suffering Olympics and that I should judge their need as greater than someone else’s. “I am not feeling well today and will not be in. Here’s what needs to be done in my absence.” is really, really all I need and want.

    6. Jackalope*

      If it’s sick vs. vacation leave it may be their business. If you have two separate pools, and especially if you have two separate authorization systems for using them (for example, sick leave you can take whenever needed and call in the morning of but vacation has to be approved ahead of time with at least 24 hours of notice, or scheduled around office needs, or whatever), then using sick leave instead is gaming the system. Which may or may not be the case here, but is often the case with employers who have two separate leave banks.

    7. Rayray*

      Exactly. If I can use one of my earned PTO days with no questions asked, I’ll make sure I ask ahead of time and get everything squared away as far as coverage for essential tasks.

      When people get questioned and actually have to give an explanation for their PTO, of course they’re going to go the easy route and come up with an illness or excuse that they won’t necessarily need a doctor’s note for and can be “recovered” by the next business day.

    8. Massmatt*

      I agree overall, but there’s a difference between requesting PTO/using vacation time, which generally has to be scheduled in advance.

      Calling in sick that day may require the employer to find coverage etc at the last minute so it’s not unreasonable for them to not want employees to use if for last-minute time off. If the employee in the letter just wanted to take time off for her birthday presumably she could have just scheduled it in advance, and then the reason WHY she’s taking it is none of the employer’s beeswax.

  13. mreasy*

    I don’t understand why OP 1 is so certain their assistant is lying – would have liked more info about this aspect.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I’d suggest looking at it this way:
      Regardless of whether or not the assistant in this specific case is lying or not, the advice is pretty broadly applicable.
      Additionally, Alison’s advice is to only address the OP’s suspicions about lying about things that don’t relate to time off, so we don’t really need confirmation of whether the employee is actually lying or not.

  14. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP2 your “new kids on the block” could just be renamed “JFW” (for Jane Fergus and Wakeen) if you don’t want her joining in your happy hour? No longer a work-related thing, just three people who happened to meet at work and hit it off.

    1. MilitaryProf*

      Of course, by following this advice, the OP would be creating a clique, and deliberately excluding the new employee, which was one of the behaviors the OP found objectionable in said new employee. If you want people to behave better, you need to model that behavior yourself–by being inclusive, you can shape the norms for the new employee, to include offering gentle but firm correctives if they behave in a way that is not conducive to harmony in the workplace.

      1. CRM*

        My thoughts EXACTLY!

        OP has the upper hand in this scenario. I think they have the opportunity to establish their work/friend group hangs as a place of kindness, consideration, and light-hearted fun. Worst case scenario, New Hire isn’t receptive this and ruins the monthly happy hours with her terrible attitude, and then the other new kids on the block spend the rest of the week in a private messaging channel laughing about her awful behavior (which is it’s own form of bonding).

        New Hire is the one with everything to loose, and if she has a bad attitude and is tough to work with, people will start to notice quickly and it will only make things worse for her. Therefore, I don’t see anything wrong with giving New Hire a chance to prove she can be good!

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        ‘You become the person you hate’ is something I got told at school and have tried the rest of my life to NOT do. The bullies who made sure I never had a friend? I don’t ever want to do that to someone.

    2. Firecat*

      That can get messy really fast. 1) You are doing exactly what you supposedly despise about new hire, creating a clique 2) everyone else may still want to include the new hire 3) while a workplace social hour where new hires share experiences may be welcomed – shifting it to purely social may not be.

    3. Generic Name*

      Please don’t do this. Allison is correct in that you can’t all of a sudden switch the happy hour to specifically exclude her because then you’d be the one behaving in a clique-y manner. I agree that it sucks and isn’t fair, but it is a job and you are paid to work and the primary purpose is not to be a social outlet for you or anyone you work with.

      1. Washi*

        Agreed. And for me, doing that and then feeling guilty about it and hiding it from others would ruin the fun anyway. OP, if you want to chat without your new coworker present, set up some one-on-one coffee break zooms with your new work friends. But don’t try to meet as a group without her, it’s just not a good idea.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      So, the solution to dealing with a new coworkers who, in the past, one found to be rude and clique-y coworker is to be rude and clique-y oneself?

  15. HannahS*

    OP4, resident doc here, THANK YOU for being good at your job. Rotation coordinators who know what’s what make such a huge difference to the experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emailed someone on a Thursday night before a new rotation and received an, “Oh, right…uh, show up at this nursing station at 8:00 on Monday.” My internal medicine rotation in medical school was sucky for a lot of reasons, but knowing that the coordinator was supportive and took our feedback seriously was such a balm.

  16. Jay*

    #4 I did this on my resume, see example below. I believe I did this with two of my jobs (so two quotes). It was perceived very highly in interviews, I was complimented on it several times. Only issue I found is some automated resume systems (the ones you upload and it autoformats), the format I used below doesn’t upload very well and made extra work but was worth it.

    Job Details
    – Bullet Points
    – Bullet Points
    – Bullet Points
    —————————– (Line Break)
    —————————– (Line Break)

    Job Details #2

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you for the additional suggestion! I can see incorporating that, using, of course, Alison’s sage guidance of making sure the quote illustrates something measurable (and not just lovely).

      Thanks again to you both!

  17. NewYork*

    OP1 – If the employee works at a place where sick days and vacation days are different, AAM is ignoring that lying is not right. This is why many employers have moved to a PTO system which cover any type of absence (which I do not like, but I can see why they have done this). If OP1 works at a place where sick days and vacation days are separate, she should talk to HR. If there has been a lot of abuse, they may start asking for a doctors letter

    1. LGC*

      That was my initial read, too.

      In my case, I have asked because of the PTO rules for part-timers (I’m in a state where we’re mandated to offer sick time, but part-time workers didn’t get full PTO), so it was kind of relevant…because I could have gotten disciplined if I’d filed for sick time when not appropriate! (Thankfully, we started at least letting people use sick time for any purpose, which…isn’t perfect, but it’s an upgrade.)

  18. Policy Wonk*

    For LW#1 – is there a benefit to taking sick leave versus annual leave? (E.g., accumulated annual leave can be paid out at departure, while sick leave is lost.) This could be what is at work here – I’ve seen it before in workplaces that have big differentiations in accumulation/carryover/payouts.

    Alternatively, she could have had a migraine on her birthday.

  19. Rusty Shackelford*

    Question about #3 – my kid, who works in retail, recently found out she’s paid less than two other people (both men) in the same position. Both were hired after her, and both had the same experience she had. However, the difference is that the manager who hired her brought people in at the middle of a pre-determined range, and the new manager paid people as much as possible. Anyway, the point is, this is a national chain, and I doubt there’s a nation-wide scheme of paying women less; I’m certain this is just a coincidence. Would the fact that this disparity only happens in certain locations, and not company-wide, make a difference?

    1. TimeTravlR*

      If it’s a national chain, it seems like they could have a formula for hiring managers to use that eliminates any “accidental” disparity. Position baseline + years experience + special skill1 + special skill2 = salary (for example). I don’t think it’s right that anyone (including your kid) is paid less based on the whim of their manager!

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’m surprised there was a hiring range at all. The company has a very rigid payroll structure – no raises at all except on your anniversary and if you get promoted.

    2. Reba*

      The Equal Pay Act (US) says men and women in the same workplace must be given equal pay for equal work.

      Even if there was not an intent to pay your kid less (“coincidence”), that is the impact! It’s described in the regulation as the “adverse impact” of a “neutral” i.e. not necessarily intending to discriminate but ends up discriminating. “Hired by somebody else” is not a sufficient reason for different pay under the law. Link to follow.

      And I think the issue would arise if they are given the opportunity to correct the disparity and don’t. Hopefully since New Manager likes paying the top of the range, she would be amenable to your kid bringing it up. (Ideally Manager would deal with it proactively, since she ought to know everyone’s rate!)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Thanks, Reba. All of these factors are exactly the same for her and the other two employees.

          However, it occurs to me that there may be others at her location in the same position who are women and are also paid more than she is. I guess it weakens her position if that’s the case, doesn’t it?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Luckily, New Manger is very much in favor of bringing her up to their level. Right now everything payroll-related is said to be on hold because of some updates to the payroll system, but New Manager has promised to bring it up when that settles down in a week or two. I will definitely send the kid armed with resources!

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Suggest that she ask for the raise to be retroactive, at least to now but ideally to when the co-workers got hired.

    3. Kimmy Schmidt*

      It doesn’t matter if it’s company-wide or just at this location, it’s still illegal.
      It is also much harder to prove when it’s an individual or small case like this because the company can point to all kinds of theoretical factors (real? fake? ish?) about why the difference exists. But technically speaking, still illegal.

    4. Nataliegae*

      It doesn’t really matter that there’s not a deliberate scheme – most discrimination happens in passive or “accidental” ways.

      As far as how much this matters for her, I think it probably depends on what she wants to do. A potentially isolated incident like this doesn’t bode well for winning a legal claim, but that’s usually the last resort anyway. She can certainly use this information to advocate for herself to get a raise. (Although if I were her I would brush up on my legal rights to discuss salary and/or use any information I found out inadvertently.)

    5. pancakes*

      In addition to what others have said, I want to point out that “national chain” is not synonymous with “scrupulously fair,” nor “treats all workers with dignity.”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        You’re preaching to the choir. ;-)

        That statement in the context of “in Smallville, this one woman makes less than these two men, but company-wide, men and women in the same role have the same average pay, so this isn’t actionable.”

  20. agnes*

    My former boss was a resentful workaholic and extremely passive aggressive when anyone took time off. It’s this kind of boss that makes people feel like they can’t just “take a day off.” He frequently announced to everyone that no one worked as hard as he did and he hadn’t taken a vacation in X number of years. I finally started saying to him–“and I am so grateful you are this committed to our organization . It’s probably why you are the CEO. I sure am glad you are because I don’t think I could make that kind of commitment..” (yeah, I know, snarky, but on the right side of the snark line).

    I had cancer and I remember him asking me why I couldn’t work come into the office for at least a couple of hours after my chemo treatments because “your employees need you.” (I was a manager.) He called me in the hospital about 6 hours after I had major surgery for this cancer with a list of stupid questions. I gave some stupid answers too because I was drugged up on morphine.

    I am so glad I don’t work there anymore. I have a really great job now, good boss and colleagues and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    1. Jay*

      A few months ago there were some issues with Teams functioning on our work phones. My boss suggested I install it on my personal phone as a work-around. I declined to do so because I turn off my work phone when I’m not working and did not want to get sucked into things because someone sent a message after hours or on my day off.

      Boss: I put Teams on my personal phone. I’m available 24/7.
      Me: There’s a reason I didn’t want your job.

      Which is totally true – I was invited to apply when the position became open (no guarantee I would have gotten it) and said “no” without hesitation. Been there, done that, didn’t get a T-shirt, not ever going back there again.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Good grief. Not as bad as the boss who actually SHOWED UP at the chemo treatment. But a very close second. I am so sorry you had to put up with that at a time you did not need such toxicity in your life.

    3. JM in England*

      Your former boss phones after you’ve had major surgery?? That’s an indicator of serious boundary issues if I ever saw one….

  21. Quickbeam*

    Re: OP #1: Not sure if this is the case but where I work, if you want a last minute or unplanned day off, you are required to find someone else to cover your desk. However, if you just call in sick, you don’t have to. If this is an “asking favors to cover the desk” situation, maybe it’s just easier to say it was a headache.

  22. Firecat*

    #2 I can’t tell if OP worked with them, but didn’t have any tasks together and so their only experience was negative social stuff @ work, or if it was only outside of work socializing.

  23. Frenchie Too*

    I had a manager who required we speak with them in person and explain our leave request before submitting it on the system. They then decided if it was a good enough reason. When I transferred to another city, same employer, my new manager looked uncomfortable when I did that. I then realized it was not the employer’s rule, just my old manager’s control issues.
    Old manager almost got fired, and demoted when younger personnel (savvier) filed official complaints with HR. This happened after my transfer.
    So, yes, it might be a habit created in a former workplace that had the same problem.
    Just tell her that you never need details about her leave requests, or whatever the normal rules are (long periods of leave might need some context, example)

  24. Abogado Avocado*

    #3 – I agree with Alison’s views. It is not legal to justify pay differences for the same job, with the same training and experience, merely because your starting salary was lower due to allegedly poor negotiations on your part. I would, however, like to add, that you should put your information in writing and provide that to your boss and, if needed, to HR. Putting things in writing signals to those in charge that the problem is serious and it also serves as proof that you raised the issue, asked them to remedy it, and when you did so.

    When you talk to your boss, bring a dated, initialed (by you) memo that you’ve written that sets out the pay differential, your training and experience, and the fact that others with less than or the same training and experience are being paid more than you are. At the end of your meeting, say, “Here’s a memo that includes the information I’ve raised here that you can have as a reference.” Even if the boss says, “I don’t need that” (at which point you should be going to HR), leave that memo with the boss. Make sure you have a copy you’ve kept for yourself. Later, if you have to go to HR, give them a copy of the memo (again, keeping a copy for yourself) that you provided your boss. This proves that, yes, you did go through “the proper channels” to bring this to your boss’s attention and now you’re making HR aware.

    It may seem scary or legalistic to do this. Should you be questioned as to your intent, your response should be, “I’m bringing a serious problem to your attention and put it in writing so that we’re all clear on what the problem is and can fix it.” And then leave it at that. You have no duty when trying to fix this in-house to tell anyone that you have hired, 0r may hire, an attorney or that you may sue if they don’t fix the pay differential.

    Please let all of us know what happens.

    1. Colette*

      I have literally never seen a memo since I was a co-op student in the 90s. That would be extremely odd.

      1. pancakes*

        This varies by profession. Lawyers see & write them very frequently! Documenting things in writing can be useful for others as well, for reasons Abogado Avocado explains. Whether it would feel unusual to you is beside the point.

      2. doreen*

        I’m not sure what you mean by you haven’t seen a memo since the 90 – do you mean you’ve never seen a hardcopy memo that was distributed to multiple people (which I haven’t seen since about 2005) – or do you mean you’ve also never seen an email that was functionally a memo or memo that was sent as an attachment to an email ?

        1. Colette*

          Hard copy. Of course email bulletins are a thing, but it would be extremely out of touch in my industry to hand someone a dated initialed memo.

  25. triplehiccup*

    As a former high school math teacher, I really regret not talking about salary negotiation and its compound effects when I was reviewing percentages and teaching exponential functions. I hope any current math teachers will consider it! It’s a “life skills” topic that actually fits into the academic curriculum.

  26. Secret Identity*

    In regard to #5, I’m always a little surprised when the advice says that a resume is a marketing document not meant to list everything you’ve ever done. It’s been my experience that employers believe leaving things off your resume is tantamount to lying. It’s been the culture everywhere I’ve worked. Even when I was working for a staffing agency, I remember when a person gave us a resume that didn’t match their application or their chronological work history, my manager would say we needed to dig into why the applicant is trying to hide their true work history. She considered it dishonest and every place I’ve been seems to agree with that.
    Not leaving off old work history – like I wouldn’t list more than my most recent three jobs, but if it was within the past ten years, say, and you skipped it it would be questioned. I dunno – maybe I’m just in a weird area.

    1. Secret Identity*

      Oh – and that’s not to say I necessarily disagree with the advice or that it’s bad advice, just that I’ve seen something a bit different. But then again, I’ve never in my life had a job that was in a healthy, well-functioning workplace. So, my thoughts aren’t worth a whole lot here. :)

    2. Not for this one*

      I once almost lost a job because I didn’t mention a job that lasted one day (my choice – the work wasn’t as described and I knew I would not be successful). The strong reaction didn’t make any sense to me. Later I found out that there had been serious trust issues in that department (for good reasons, turns out). I loved the work, but it was, shall we say, entertaining leadership.

  27. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

    #1 Do you think she is lying about other things or just around time off? I agree with being Leary of her for excuses about things going forward but to also keep in perspective how your employee is day to day. If they are a good worker otherwise chalk this up to previous bad managers however if you are seeing this in other areas of their work then its something more that you need to watch. I think we have all worked places where taking time off for any reason is a hassle and involves small lies to keep people in charge content or at least not raging at us. That said I think its going to be hard for people to give you real advice and empathize with you on the time off perspective of this just because this is a deep seated issue that is prominent in too many work places especially when it comes to people not in power. Go with your instincts but put yourself in your employees shoes too.

  28. Workerbee*

    #2, I don’t think you’d need to cut yourself out of what sounds like an enjoyable and team building happy hour just because of this person. I do think you are wise to keep your guard up. Anecdotally speaking, persons who treat us badly in social situations are just as untrustworthy in work situations, no matter what face they put on in the latter. I’m not talking about folks who are “misunderstood” or who made a bad decision once or twice. I’m talking about the people who deliberately choose to be manipulative or otherwise always have an agenda and use people toward it, people who tear others down, people who seek the power of the clique, etc.

    Those types can be great at being chameleons and worm their way into good graces while still being exactly who they’ve shown themselves to be (apologies to actual chameleons and worms).

    Perhaps there are mounds of experiences others have had where such a person has truly changed. If so, great! I just haven’t had that experience so the hackles, they rise.

  29. What is a Mean Girl*

    LW#2 – Perhaps you could give this new person the benefit of the doubt? I understand you have had limited social exposure to them in the past, but your concerns about them are that “…she’s rude, clique-y, and the kind of person who tears others down.” Your letter describes a “clique” that you’ve built with other new employees, to which you want to deny her access, and you have shared your negative experiences with her, effectively tearing her down. I am sure you don’t have any sinister motivations for those actions, they are completely understandable, but perhaps she has a similar assessment of your actions that you have of hers? A clean slate might help you both.

    1. Colette*

      That’s a really uncharitable reading. The OP’s letter does not describe a clique, and sharing negative experiences to explain why the OP isn’t thrilled about working with her is not tearing her down.

      1. What is a Mean Girl*

        And I’m suggesting looking at the other person’s actions through the same lens. Perhaps she doesn’t consider her actions clique-ish or tearing others down. Why are we so willing to apply mercenary motivations to the actions of others but take offense if someone else does?

        1. Workerbee*

          It’s still not quite the same thing. This is an established workplace group for the OP—yes. This does not mean “clique” in the sense the OP was referring to, which was something that New Colleague seemed to use against others. Instead, OP thought in good faith that they’d be able to work professionally with this person, plus is actively intending to keep their mouth shut about her now that the deal is done, and even cites how they don’t want to bias the others against her. That is not the action of someone hoping to keep a clique or wield it as a weapon. OP simply wants to know how to deal with someone professionally after having been (I presume) burned in the past by that person socially.

          I do agree about the lack of benefit of the doubt in this world at large! I also think that experience counts when encountering someone you have, well, previous experience with. I advised OP to keep their guard up because of this. Not to make the other person jump through impossible hoops with changing goalposts, but because it just makes sense to me to proceed with caution.

          1. Analyst Editor*

            You’re not wrong, though on the flipside I’ve definitely been in the situation where I thought I was being ignored or left out, and in fact I was just not being thought of because the people in question didn’t have any particular reason to think of me (a relative stranger), but bore me no ill will.
            You can pair a person who didn’t includes LW in a social group (“cliquy”) and also was speaking negatively/judgmentally about someone else (“tears someone down”), however mildly or justifiably, and POOF: you got a very unflattering picture of a pretty normal interaction.

  30. Petrichor of Hades*

    Re #5: I haven’t seen anyone bring this up yet, but in some areas, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis on family status. When we had training about this at work, the employment lawyer/consultant giving the seminar used this same kind of scenario as an example, where an employee’s (ex) boyfriend was coming to her workplace (against her wishes) and causing trouble, which made other employees uncomfortable. The manager thought the best solution was to fire the employee that the ex was connected to in order for the other employees not to feel uncomfortable, but that is illegal discrimination, at least in areas that have family status as a protective class. It varies greatly by locality (I think it’s at the county level in my area), so it may not apply to you. It should really be a protected class everywhere, since you aren’t responsible for others’ actions, even if they are family members or (ex) partners. I’m sorry all that happened to you.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      How can the actions of an ex-boyfriend be considered family status? I’m not saying they were right to fire the employee – clearly they were not – but I don’t understand how the employee fit into that protected class. I would assume being fired over family status would look more like “we don’t want single women working here because they distract the guys” or “you’re a married man with kids so we won’t promote you into a position that requires a lot of travel.”

      1. Petrichor of Hades*

        I may be misremembering the term, but I no longer have access to the slides from the seminar where I learned about this. Maybe the term I’m thinking of is “marital status.” The important thing is that at least in some areas, it is illegal to fire an employee because their partner or former partner is coming to the workplace uninvited.

        1. doreen*

          Are you sure it had to do with marital status or family at all – in my state , it would most likely be illegal to fire the employee whose ex comes to the workplace and causes trouble because “ex comes to work and causes trouble” is typically a DV situation and the law prohibits discrimination against DV victims. And it can apply to people no one would consider family. Sure, it can apply to the spouse but it can also apply to someone you went out with once who then turns into a stalker.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            That makes more sense – that the employee would be protected because she can’t be fired for being the victim of a crime.

  31. Kara S*

    For question 3, does anyone know if it is illegal for the company to have started OP at a lower wage if she had male peers that were paid more (assuming everyone had relatively similar experience)? Also, if her coworker had lets say 3 years more experience but they were the same title seniority, would that be a justification for pay difference?

    1. Roci*

      Yes, if they have the same experience/qualifications/job role, it is illegal to pay them differently. If someone has more experience/qualifications/something that would give them a leg up in the employer’s merit/seniority-based system, then it is OK to pay differently.

  32. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Don’t say anything. I was once in a similar situation at a former job and Boss asked me what I thought of Lucinda, as he was considering hiring her. I told him completely factual things so it didn’t appear that I had any personal feelings. My factual information got converted into, “Delta says X,” which was all less than glowing, and which the boss told her when he hired her (which he obviously also shouldn’t have done). Ten years later I still worked there and it still got thrown in my face that when Lucinda was being considered, Delta said X, and I still had to explain what I actually said (by that point Boss didn’t work there anymore so the “definitive word” on what was said was hearsay from Boss, not my version of what I said). Here’s the thing. I didn’t like Lucinda. I still don’t. I tried SO HARD not to sound like I disliked her, and my words got twisted around anyway. So, OP #2, all this to say, keep your feelings to yourself, because if the team ends up loving your Lucinda, you may end up like this, and forever having to defend that you didn’t say something derogatory. Eyeroll.

  33. Case of the Mondays*

    As someone that legitimately gets migraines where I have to lay down in a dark room and can’t drive, I hate that people cavalierly use it as an excuse to get out of work. I get that it’s one of the few illnesses where you can appear good as new the next day but it makes so many people suspect when you say you need an extension or time off due to a migraine.

    1. Observer*

      How do you know that someone is using it as an excuse? I get that the OP may have good reason to suspect it, but really we don’t know that it’s true. And in my experience the accusation of using it as an excuse tends to be incorrect.

  34. Mr Jingles*

    #2 That’s the result of sugarcoating the truth. It was ok to say that you don’t know the work habits of that person. But when asked if you’d feel uncomfortable the reasons for not liking that person would have been an appropriate response. No LW is not comfortable working with that woman for very good resons and LW should have said so. Alison repeatedly told several LW’s that social skills are just as important as hard skills. So why on earth didn’t LW tell this HR person their legitimate doubts about this woman? The way they said it sounded as if LWhad wronged them somhow. But when I read whyLW didn’t like her I thought nooooooo! Why didn’t you tell them with exactly those words what you know? Thoseareverylegitimate things a good hiring manager needs to know! Why is is so much more important to some people to give bullies second, third and even tenth chances than protect their coworkers and friends from them?

  35. char*

    “If you’re asked about it … you could say something like, ‘I was dealing with a family issue that has since been resolved.'”

    Does this actually work? I tried this line in an interview once to explain a gap in my resume, but the interviewer seemed to find it too vague and kept pressing for details. (On the other hand, maybe it was that specific interviewer who was the problem, because even after I explained that I’d taken time off to help care for my grandmother prior to her death, that didn’t seem to be enough for him and he kept pressing me about it. Probably the worst interview I’ve ever had.)

    1. Anonymous, colleagues who read here will recognize it*

      I had that sort of pressing for details… I admit I felt grimly pleased when I responded, very coldly, “well, my son had a brain tumor and almost died, so that’s why I have that employment gap,” then let that just hang in the air.

  36. Sporty Yoda*

    It’s 2021 and we still have to clarify that being paid less on the basis of sex is illegal, smh

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I think it is because a lot of people question if it is really on the basis of sex if it’s because they didn’t negotiate or something like that. But I agree, it is sad that it is still very much a thing.

    2. Analyst Editor*

      For the dumb plebeian, a non-legal definition of “paid less on the basis of sex” entails being like “hahaha, I hate women, they’re incompetent, so I’ll pay her half because women belong in the kitchen, mwahaha”. Which few people actually think. If the law is, “you have to pay equally for the same work, regardless of circumstances”, that’s different from discrimination based on sex, even if the behavior of different sexes leads to disparate impacts. This study on Uber driver incomes is a great example.

  37. Gina Rosar*

    #1 I frequently get migraines on the weekends. I can usually get them under control and go to work on Mondays. But at least once every 2 months I am unable to go into work on a Monday. To some it might seem like I’m trying to get a three day weekend. Trust me I’m not. I can’t see out of my left eye during migraines and that makes driving to work impossible. Your co-worker/employee might not be lying. Just because the timing might be suspicious to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Two weeks ago I had a kidney stone. The pain started on a Friday night. By Monday I was in agony. Illness doesn’t care what day of the week it is.

  38. SEM*

    #4- Alison is obviously correct for the USA but do we know the LW is American? I’m not sure what the laws are in other places

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