job candidate was fired twice previously, I have to pay to volunteer, and more

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

1. How much of a red flag is it if a job candidate was fired twice previously?

I am hiring for a position that is fairly entry-level office work. A candidate, who is fairly young, lists two positions in the past decade from which they were fired, but they were post-college full-time positions, not high school summer jobs where turnover would be expected to be high and where the job may not be a huge priority for the employee. This seems like a lot. I would follow up with a reference check to get more details if I move this candidate forward, but I’m not sure if I should just disqualify them — I’m a couple decades into my career and I’ve never been fired, so I am not sure if my frame of reference is skewed here. If it matters, there are other candidates I’m leaning toward, but this candidate is currently in my top tier in terms of skills and experience.

If they’re in your top tier of candidates aside from this, why not talk to them and ask about it? What you hear might turn out to be concerning/disqualifying, but it also might not be. Examples of things that might not be worrisome: they took a job that wasn’t right for their skills, and those aren’t skills they’d be using in this job … the job changed after they were hired, and their skills were no longer right for it … they were fired after reporting harassment or discrimination … they messed up but have learned from it, as demonstrated by their strong work since … and on and on.

You’ve got to talk to them and get more info before you can know. You should also verify whatever they tell you with references, particularly since this is two incidents rather than one, but since they’re a strong candidate it doesn’t make sense to reject them without learning more.

2. I have to pay a membership fee to volunteer

I have been volunteering for a small, young nonprofit that as of today consists of myself and board members on the staff. Although I am not on the board, I am expected to attend all board meetings to provide input on strategies and tactics and give an update on my one-person department, which is fine by me. The nonprofit does not pay anyone and primarily makes money through donations and memberships. All board members have purchased memberships, and as far as I can understand it is an unofficial prerequisite for being a board member.

Today, the founder reached out to me and said he cannot send me an invite to the next board meeting on Teams unless I pay a membership fee. Although the cost of a membership fee is not prohibitive for me, I am saving up for a home and am saving wherever I can so I don’t want to pay for this. I told the founder I am fine with not being involved in board meetings since I am not a board member, and they clarified that in order to be on the staff at all you have to pay to have a membership.

Am I crazy in thinking this feels off? I would like to think my time, services, and the products I create for them are payment enough, and now this just feels like they are after my cash. Do other nonprofits who have volunteers typically require for their volunteers to pay some fee to have the opportunity to volunteer?

No, that’s ridiculous. You’re donating your time and expertise to them. A requirement that you also be a paid member is gatekeeping and counterproductive — and a sure way to alienate volunteers. It’s particularly bizarre since you are their only volunteer and they have no staff! If they had a huge volume of potential volunteers, prioritizing members wouldn’t be unreasonable — but they’re not exactly in a position to turn away help.

They probably see membership as a sign that you’re invested in the organization — but donating your time is also a sign that you’re invested in the organization (a bigger one, in fact).

If you’re willing to walk away over this, you could say, “I’m happy to donate my time and skills, but I’m not in a position to donate financially. Does that mean you’d rather I stop volunteering?”

3. My boss has already reserved all the holiday time off for himself

We have a shared calendar we are asked to use to schedule our time off. Either my boss or I have to be working for coverage. He has scheduled for time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas a couple months in advance in previous years, but it is April and I see he has scheduled PTO on the calendar around every holiday this year. In the past he has said, “I just put that up there to get it on the calendar, we can work around it if you need time off then as well,” which I suppose is some level of consideration … but since it is my boss, I am reluctant to do so and I certainly am less likely to feel like I can schedule anything major with my family, such as prolonged travel to see my family out of state.

Am I wrong for feeling pre-empted and not considered here? If so, should I talk with him and express that this is unfair to me and why I’m less likely to take that time off? His family tends to plan their whole year out (or they make it seem so!) whereas mine is much less likely to do so (and due to other schedules, are much less likely to be able to do so).

Talk to him. You could say, “I’d like to be able to take time off at the holidays but I typically don’t know specific dates this early in the year. What’s the best way for me to ensure I’ll be able to get the time I need if I won’t know the exact dates until (month)?” You could also say, “I’m concerned that with what’s on the calendar right now, I won’t be able to take any time off around the holidays” and suggest that you trade off holidays — if he gets Christmas, you get Thanksgiving or vice versa.

But also, how close to the holidays would you ideally want to wait before scheduling your own time? If your preference is to wait until very late in the year, that might not be realistic in this situation; you might need to nail down some dates earlier than you’d otherwise want so that he can make concrete plans as well (or you risk forfeiting your ability to do it later). You might benefit from using your boss’s approach of “just getting it on the calendar.”

4. Responding to job overtures from other teams when I’m not interested

I’m currently in an analyst role, which I’ve been in for the last three years. My performance reviews have all been in the top performer range, which is unusual in my company.

I have started receiving emails from managers of other departments advising me they have job openings in various teams and if I applied they’d be willing to throw their weight behind my application because “I’d be a good fit for their team” or “I have a lot to offer them.” This is completely unfamiliar (but quite flattering) territory for me as it isn’t something I’ve come across in other businesses I’ve worked for in the past.

My current role works with data across the entire company, so I still need to be able to work closely with these people in future, but the roles they are offering really don’t appeal to me. They aren’t promotions, they are at the same level and in the same pay band, but involve far more admin and customer service than I would like to do (which I deliberately moved away from when I took this job).

My manager also has a reputation for being difficult to work with, even though we have a great relationship (after an initial rocky start), so I don’t know if they think they are offering me a way out of her team while gaining someone with skills and knowledge they can use — and it feels far too rude to ask! I’ve been responding with a polite, general note that I’m not looking to move roles at the moment, and I’m in the middle of some projects that I’d really like to see to completion, but I’m worried that I’ve just set myself up for more emails when those projects close. I don’t mind getting offers, but I’d rather not be seen as someone who just always says no in the event that there is a role I’d be interested in. How do you politely decline something unsolicited like this without damaging relationships that need to be maintained? Am I overthinking this?

First, you definitely shouldn’t need to worry that turning down an offer will make it harder to work with people in the future; it shouldn’t. If anything, you’re seeing that they value working with you!

Continue sending the polite notes you’ve been sending, but I’d remove the mention of wanting to see some projects to completion since that does imply that you might be up for moving as soon as they’re over. Instead, it’s fine to just say, “Thank you for letting me know! Right now I’m happy where I am, but I appreciate being thought of.” When there are things about the role that are clearly not right for you, you can also mention that since it’ll help them target things better for you in the future — “Thanks for thinking of me! This role looks like it has a heavier admin and customer service component than what I’d be looking for in my next move, but I appreciate you letting me know about it.”

If it’s a team where you think you might want to work some day, you can also mention what you would like — “I’m happy where I am right now, but at some point I think I’d be interested in moving into X. If that kind of role ever opens up and you think I could be the right match, I’d love to talk with you about it.”

5. Interviewing when I’ll need time off to care for elderly parents

I lost a job a couple of years ago. The new position I found was not in my field, and I currently have my fingers crossed for a new position that does relate to my decades of experience. However, I have elderly parents, and one just got a dementia diagnosis that will require growing amounts of care for possibly years to come. On and off for a few years, I’ve already needed time off to care for both of them, usually occasional ER visits and not consistent appointments.

Next week I have an interview with an organization that is notoriously difficult to get into and very well respected. Just getting advanced to this stage feels like a win. Even if this position turns out not to be the one for me, I will still be searching for opportunities to return to this field. When I do find something, I will need to let the new employer know about potential impacts due to caregiving needs. I realize the interview is not the right time, but at what point would I want to inform a new employer about the potential need for flexibility due to FMLA?

The first thing to know is that you’re not eligible for FMLA until you’ve been at the new job for a year (although some state laws kick in earlier). That doesn’t mean, though, that you won’t be able to take the time off that you need; many employers would be happy to work with you around this.

The right time to raise it is once you have an offer. At that point, as part of your negotiations, explain what you’ll need and ask if it’s something they can accommodate. Be as specific as you can about the likely frequency, since if they’re going to object it’s better to find out before taking the job than after you’re already working there. Good luck!

{ 519 comments… read them below }

  1. AtypicalCat*

    For anyone who is ever hesitant about hiring someone who has been fired: I’ve been fired 3 times in my 20s (I’m currently in my 30s).

    I’m neurodiverse and it took me a very, very long time to get things figured out. Nothing egregious happened at any of those jobs though. Now, I’m totally successful and happily able to hold down jobs just fine. I was always very frightened that folks would hold that against me, though.

    Please check the references they gave you and don’t disqualify someone immediately because of something like that. :)

    1. Sherm*

      Been fired twice here. But I’ve now been at my current company for 5 years, obtain “perfect scores” on performance evaluations, and get lots of praise from high-level members of my organization.

      In the past, I was held down by my own naivety and mental health struggles, and it didn’t help that both bosses who fired me were highly toxic individuals. Even in my less competent days, though, there were probably supportive workplaces that would have been good matches and allowed me to thrive. Luck of the draw, perhaps.

      Besides, (some) people *do* change and grow — I know I did — and people learn from their mistakes. The jobs where I was fired gave me the street smarts to complement my book smarts and benefited my work skills immensely.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I was fired from a job in the UK because: I became disabled after an accident and they said I took too much time off to recover.

      Another job was kinda fired from/quit/am unlikely to ever get a reference that isn’t swear words from because: they were doing illegal things and I turned witness for the prosecution.

      I’m also neurodiverse (schizophrenia, autism…etc) and yeah, made some horrible mistakes because of it in the past. I’d still prefer an interviewer ask me direct what happened.

    3. Bastet*

      Been fired once. Coincidentally enough, everything happened after I announced my pregnancy. Prior to that, I had been at the company a little over a year, had a stellar performance review, received a very large raise and went from PT to FT, yet, the second I announced my pregnancy, I suddenly could do nothing right. They made coming to work so miserable I almost quit, but I was determined to stick it out until I gave birth. I was told about 3 months later that it “wasn’t a good fit.” This was many years ago, and after that, leaving jobs was on my terms, however, I’ve always found that subject to be a can of worms, because a) I don’t want to seem whiny or difficult and b) it seems to be opening a can of worms, as in, yes I have children, and I know for some companies or interviewers that’s a strike against you.

      I’ve gone on to move up the ladder very fast in my field despite having children and despite being fired. The company I work for now is pretty family friendly as I just had my final child, and instead of being fired, they threw me a baby shower.

      1. YetAnotherGenXDevManager*

        Same. Glowing review on mat leave, got back and suddenly could not do anything right. Fired right before kiddo’s first birthday.

        Set me back a few years salary-wise, in part because the company also implemented 10% paycuts right as I came back from leave, but otherwise I am thriving (and have more than made up for that initial loss).

      2. Rach*

        Yep, I got fired after needing to leave work to go to the ER early in my first pregnancy (my daughter is fine and graduating HS this year). They literally said “in your current condition” when letting me go. I’m also nuerodiverse and my work history is spotty. Been at my current job for 5 years and things are going much better.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Please do ask… fired can be about the company as much as the employee.
      I was fired twice in my 20s, even though I was doing well at the job I was hired to do.
      -A startup hired me for a marketing-track position, then realized they needed a receptionist more.
      -A small business added 2 people to staff at one time, and the abrasive owner had expected one of us to quit immediately. (The other person obliged him…it really was a 2-person job.)

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Exactly. Being fired can often reflect the standards and norms of the company more than the individual.

        I’ve never been fired, but in retrospect I can see that at one my roles in my early twenties, I maybe should have been (or at least, I should have been put on a PIP and given more critical feedback).

        But my boss was fairly checked out, so none of that happened. Two of my colleagues pulled me aside and offered some critical feedback at our annual holiday party. (It was mortifying.)

      2. Terminee*

        I’m retired, with a long career in corporate communications behind me, which means I had my first job in 1969.

        I was fired once because I worked for someone I know believe was a sociopath, once because I deserved it, another time because my employer lost a contract, and once because my boss’ wife needed a job. Yes, all were considered firings.

        Because of these terminations, I was forced to do a lot of soul searching. The latter part of my career was very different.

        Sometimes it happens.

        1. Chinook*

          That is my position too. I have been fired twice and I realized thta that particular type of jkb is kne I shouldbsty away from. Ironically, for my last job, all 3 bosses I used as references were glowing and truthful (I know because I got to file the email summaries).

          I would hate to think I am now ineligible to ever work again because of 2 poor job choices and despite decades of glowing experiences.

        2. TardyTardis*

          I was laid off because the office was losing money–and it was me or the owner’s daughter.

    5. MK*

      I admit my first thought on reading the letter was to wonder why the OP didn’t take the time she spent writing to Alison and talk to references instead?

      1. PspspspspspsKitty*

        This doesn’t have to be an either or thing. Many writers have already decided what they will do and have done it by the time Alison has responded.

      2. I'd Rather be Eating Dumplings.*

        Many people take action and solicit feedback at the same time. LW has responded and she did continue to move forward with the applicant. t

      3. Boof*

        Probably because they are curious what the AAM advice would be in general as they may face these sort of decisions again, even if they sort out this one themselves prior to getting an answer.

      4. LilyP*

        It also gives us all a chance to think about the question and contributes to the “library” of advice available for future readers!

    6. Sakuko*

      I was fired twice too. Once because the company decided to reduce my department after a few years and another time I was still in the probation period and they had just entirely miscalculated their budget and where not able to get the product ready as fast as they wanted (was a tiny firm of 4 people, total shitshow).
      I had never problems to get new jobs with that history, though. Hiring managers seemed to like that I stick around and don’t tend to leave jobs for greener grass all the time, and I do have great references from both places.

      1. Magenta*

        That sucks, but I wouldn’t call either of those situations getting fired, nor like getting made redundant/being let go for financial reasons that were nothing to do with you or your performance.

        1. Sakuko*

          So being fired is always about someone going a bad job? I did not know that.
          German doesn’t really have that distinction. You are either let go or you quit.

          1. Magenta*

            I’m in the UK and get the impression that it is the same in the US, but yeah there is a difference between getting fired and being let go.
            Getting fired implies some kind of fault on the part of the employee, either poor performance or some kind of misconduct. Being let go means that the employer ended the employment but there is no implied fault, so would cover things like redundancy or restructuring.
            I’m assuming the job application in this case asked about being fired as it would be something they would want to ask about.

            1. Lexie*

              In the US most employment is “at will” which means you can be fired for just about any reason or even no reason at any time. So the reason for termination could be something like you weren’t happy with your job or the boss just decided they didn’t want you there any more.

              1. Weekend Please*

                True but generally “fired” still means that you were let go for a reason related to you or your performance while “laid off” generally means you were let go for a business reason that is unrelated to you and your performance.

                1. JKateM*

                  I would say that people from a more professional background (at where I live in this area of the US) generally use “fired” to mean terminated for cause, terminated for failure to perform, or any other reasons not related to reduction in force (such as retaliation/personal dislike/etc.) “Laid off” is used for any type of reduction in force including a business closing or seasonal or contract job ending. I specify people of a professional background using this verbiage because I have noticed that people coming from “blue collar” employment will refer to any involuntary termination as “firing” which is why I am careful to ask when I see it listed as a reason for leaving employment because it maybe something that is no fault of theirs and not related to job performance at all.

                2. kt*

                  Thanks for making the blue collar/professional distinction here — I agree. My blue collar friends will say they were fired if their department was eliminated.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Fired = let go because of something ostensibly about you (performance, conduct); they will probably refill the position
                Laid off = position itself is eliminated for financial reasons
                Let go = either of the above

            2. fhqwhgads*

              In the US “let go” covers both “fired” and “laid off”. You don’t have that job anymore. But “fired” means you did something wrong, either actual job performance or misconduct. “Laid off” or “RIF” or “position eliminated” all mean it wasn’t you; it was a financial and/or strategic decision on the part of the company.

            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              In British English we say “being made redundant” rather than “let go”.

          2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Essentially. There is a distinction between a job role that’s being terminated, so no replacement will be hired, essentially versus someone not being a good fit for the role. (So the role isn’t going away, just that person.)

            Someone might be fired because they were doing a bad job, like not meeting deadlines or being brusque with clients. They might be fired because the role was a bad fit to begin with, like if the role was more customer-service oriented and they didn’t have the skills to manage those relationships. Or gross misconduct, like fraud or sexual harassment.

          3. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Basically, if it’s a layoff, then they get rid of your position.
            If it’s a firing, they get rid of you.

          4. Asenath*

            I think “let go” is a bit vague in North American English. It can mean that you were laid off – your job is there, you might be recalled to do it, you might not, it depends on how bad things are economically for the company. US English (I’m Canadian) seems to use “furloughed” for that meaning. Or you might be let go because of some restructuring inside the company – your job no longer exists, but there’s no blame attached to you. “Fired” pretty well always means that some fault was found with you or your work. The fault might have been found unjustly – there’s “constructive dismissal”, in which the employer makes life so miserable for you that you quit, or perhaps they fired you because you reported wrongdoing. In those cases, you might fight for compensation using various procedures that vary a bit from place to place. But the implication of “fired” generally strongly implies that there was some fault on the part of the employee – did a bad job (was incompetent, lazy, etc), couldn’t get on with co-workers or customers, stole, and so on. There is also a grey area in which the problem employee isn’t fired, is encouraged to quit on their own but the process doesn’t come into “constructive dismissal” territory. “This isn’t working out, have you thought about moving on? We would be willing to give you some paid time off for job hunting….”. and a departure is negotiated. Sometimes used for workers who aren’t actually dishonest or violent, but who might be OK in some other workplace or industry even though they aren’t working out in their current one. Also, confusingly, used for “troublemakers” who might cause problems for the business. When you hear about someone fairly senior who is suddenly leaves a position, particularly during some public ruckus about the organization, that’s also in this category. It’s not called a firing, but is very similar in that it’s the organization’s choice to get rid of the person, not the person’s choice to leave.

          5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            In the United States, being let go for financial reasons = being laid off. Being fired is the result of employee misconduct. Obviously, there are times when employer and employee would disagree. But in general, being laid off is not a strike against you. Being fired is.

          6. Yepyepyep*

            Right, being fired typically means you were terminated “for cause” as opposed to a layoff

            1. TWW*

              And for “at will” employment, that cause be almost anything. Including the boss simply wanted to give your job to someone they preferred.

              The somewhat unusual thing here is the she was required to declare past firing on her initial application. In any job I’ve ever applied to, past firings would not have been discovered (if at all) until later in the process.

          7. Littorally*

            Generally, yeah.

            The way it typically breaks down is
            Laid off: no one will be rehired to do the work you were doing. Either the position is being fully eliminated, or it is being very heavily restructured to do something else.
            Fired: they intend to hire someone else to do the job you were supposed to be doing. Usually it’s because you did something bad, but it can also be that your qualifications were not right for the job, or you did not fit in well.

            Firing isn’t always about gross malfeasance, but it does mean at a minimum that you had some level of conflict with the job, whether in terms of performance or personality.

          8. pleaset cheap rolls*

            Fired is bad at the job.

            Laid-off is the position itself was eliminated or changed, and the person was let go. It means they were OK or good at the job they were hired for.

          9. Metadata minion*

            Yes — if you’re “laid off”, it usually means the position was eliminated due to financial or other business reasons (maybe the company is changing direction and isn’t producing X thing anymore or something like that.) If you have 3 equivalent positions and now only need 2, the person being laid off *might* be the lowest-performing person, but it might also be the longest-serving person because they’re being paid the most, so you can’t really tell anything about a person’s performance based on the fact that their position was picked to be eliminated.

            “Fired” generally means let go for cause, though colloquially people do use the word to mean let go because the position was eliminated as well.

          10. I'm just here for the cats*

            Not necessarily. I think there’s a lot of confusion and not everyone uses it the same way. Sometimes people will say they were fired but they didn’t do anything wrong, like there was family member the boss wanted to put in that position. This wouldn’t be considered a layoff, becasue the position still exists. Other times it is the employees fault because they had performance issues.

            I find people use the “I was let go” phrase more when they are trying to save face.

            Keep in mind in the US you can be fired for any reason. The boss doesn’t like you very much, you wear the wrong clothes, you’re too chatty, etc. There are a number of Redit and Tumbler posts about absurd reasons people were fired.

            1. vampire physicist*

              I would add though, because of the confusion in this thread: if this person is fairly young, it’s worth for the letter-writer to clarify. My sister was laid off from a job, but she told me she was fired. Only found out it was a lay-off when I asked her what happened and she said they were downsizing and hadn’t been doing well financially for a while (and that her manager was also being laid off). It’s not something you necessarily know in your early career, especially if it’s your first or second job and you’ve left any previous jobs by choice!

          11. Librarian1*

            Yeah if your job is cut for budget reasons I would call that a layoff or being let go. If you lose your job for performance or behavior reasons then I would call that a firing.

          12. tamarack and fireweed*

            Well in German you have betriebsbedingte Kündigung (=lay-off, reduction in force … that is, your job gets eliminated) vs. personenbedingte Kündigung (=you get fired / dismissed for low performance, bad fit to job etc.) vs. verhaltensbedingte Kündigung (=you get fired for fault).

            The middle two are much easier in the US as the employer doesn’t have to provide a reason, legally speaking (except if you’re unionized and the collective bargaining agreement protects you more than the legal minimum). The first is not usually called “fired” though informally people would use the term.

            1. Sakuko*

              I mean, yeah, you can make a distinction, but no one uses that in everyday speech is what I meant. You can say “Ich wurde gefeuert” and still mean it was a lay-off.

              Since apparently English-speaking people are colloquially using fired every which way I’m not too surprised I haven’t picked up on the distinction.

          13. Bob*

            I work with freelancers and contractors. When I terminate one of their contracts it’s almost always because they are being fired. I learned the hard way that being completely honest about some contractors’ poor performance led to trouble such as venomous emails, threats of lawsuits, and other garbage.

            I now say it is for financial reasons, which means they are bringing less value than they cost. It might be because they aren’t working quickly enough, they are unproductive, they are taking too much of their supervisor’s time to fix their work, etc. despite having extensive feedback and opportunities to fix their work.

            I don’t let people go out of the blue. They always have an opportunity to improve, and some do. Those who don’t improve can leave with the face-saving belief that the reason was “financial”.

        2. NeverComments*

          I agree, some of these examples are just layoffs. I’ve gone through reorganizations and have been let go- not the same as being fired. I also look at is as a layoff you are eligible for unemployment if you are fired then you are often not eligible.

        3. EPLawyer*

          The letter says “fired” but we don’t know the circumstances. It might be let go for business reasons, it might be terminated for cause. This is why OP needs to ask. Find out WHY the person is no longer there. Believe me, when your boss says “this is your last day” you feel you were fired whether it was “let go” or “fired.”

      2. Barbara Eyiuche*

        Neither one is called being ‘fired’ – in both cases you were ‘laid off.’

      3. Nicotene*

        Also if you’re let go in a probation I probably wouldn’t even put that job on a resume, so it’s not likely to come up

    7. BubbleTea*

      Same. I failed out of a training role, I didn’t pass probation for another job, and I was let go from a third “for my own good” (I disagreed, my doctor disagreed, but they were insistent that my mental health needed me to be unemployed and broke, what can you do?) Then I spent several years doing random small jobs and cobbled together a tiny income and a CV that finally landed me in my current perfect fit job. Coming up to two years now and I’ve got no intention of leaving.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        UGH. That is so annoying. Phrasing stuff as ‘for your own good’ when it is really motivated by what’s good for someone else is a huge pet peeve.

        Like, ok, you don’t think I’m the right fit? Or you don’t want to go to the trouble to provide the structure that’s needed? Fine, that’s your prerogative, but please don’t dress it up like it’s a favour you’re doing for me when it’s very clearly not.

    8. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      To be honest, I’d more surprised if someone wasn’t fired at least once in their 20s. I takes time to get your stuff together and learn to be a professional.

      (I was fired from my first job in my field due to a mix of inexperience, a company that hired people before winning the bid for a project, a mentor that walked the thin line between creepy and textbook harasser, and a manager that didn’t know how to manage an employee without a project)

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’ve never been fired, only ever resigned or been made redundant (let go). In Europe people are not fired as much as in the US, workers have more protection.

        1. Gumby*

          I also have never been fired. (I was laid off once when the division as a whole was shut down.) And I am in the US. When I think of family members and close friends, I can think of only two who have ever been fired.

          I only mention it because while there are legitimate and obvious differences between Europe and the US, I think that reading an advice column you get a somewhat skewed view of the general work environment. You hear much more often about when things go wrong than the many times when they go right or are not remarkable in either direction.

          Still, the general point that having been fired shouldn’t be disqualifying remains. A pattern of repeated firings is more concerning but still worth investigating for promising candidates.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I was fired once when I was 14 because I was goofing off and not doing the work (which was totally true). I learned from that.

    9. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      As a corollary to this, talk to the potential employee first, and then check references if what they say is something a reference would reasonably confirm.

      I have a former employer who will tell you I once got fired for refusing a work assignment.

      What they won’t tell you was that they’d sent me to a different facility from where I had agreed to work, and I’d spent the day getting chased around the building by an irate member of our service population who had a baseball bat. Rather than calling for backup/the police, the other staff member at that location chose to sample the shrooms which had been confiscated and caused the incident. When management said “We don’t have enough bodies to fire that coworker, we still need an extra body to cover that location, and you’re the only person appropriate for it” the next day, I said “Not on your life.” Possibly with a few more expletives.

      To this day, that organization maintain I was fired for cause.

      So, yeah. Ask potential employees about the firing, and remember that if what they tell you is outlandishly bad practices on the employer’s part… it doesn’t mean they’re lying, but it may mean you can’t confirm it.

      1. Dashed*

        Yup. I had a boss fire me because (he admitted later) he believed I knew he had a meth addiction and would “tell on him.” I did not know he had any addiction. I did know his behavior, attitude, and performance changed drastically, including becoming verbally and emotionally abusive to me and deliberately damaging my reputation to everyone in the organization (also admitted later) so that if I did tell of his addiction, no one would believe me. I tried to hang on until I found another job. No such luck.

        When I subsequently tried to find another job, it was a nightmare because potential employers would call him (even though he was not on my list of references) and he would lie about me., as part of his ongoing campaign to discredit my word. Luckily, I eventually found an employer who did call my actual references, who gave me glowing reviews and she quickly realized that previous employer had “an issue.”

        The lesson I learned from that job is to quit sooner rather than later when the situation gets really bad.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I was let go early from a census address checking position because a dog I didn’t know was at one place nearly attacked me (no fence, just a lot of surprise) and I called it in. Apparently I was supposed to be ok with that!

    10. Pret*

      I was fired twice as well. Once was when I worked for a very small and shady temp agency directly out of college. I literally walked at grad and went the next day to work. It was awful. I asked to leave 10 min early for a doctor’s appointment and they fired me. Among many other things it was awful and I was only there for 2 weeks. They wanted the women to wear a suit, when men got to wear polos and khakis. They scolded me on my 2nd day for doing things wrong. It was terrible.

      The other time, I worked at a high end retail store. That was had an extremely saturated market, with difficult to reach sales numbers and I was let go for not reaching them. I was certainly not the only one and shortly after they re-vamped the program.

      It happens. Especially early in your career. I have friends that have been fired too. Honestly its not the end of the world to get fired. It happens and the majority of the time you can collect unemployment.

    11. Crivens!*

      Fired 3 times here, too. For very good cause: I hadn’t gotten sober yet. Also had a misdemeanor criminal record because of it, though that has since been expunged. Oh and garbage credit.

      I am very grateful for the first entry level job that took a chance on me getting back into the workforce as a sober person. Almost six years sober now and I’m back in professional roles and fixing to start grad school for addictions counseling. But I couldn’t have done that if companies I’ve worked for since hadn’t taken that chance.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I’m so proud of you, and also weirdly disappointed that you aren’t going to mortuary school ;)

    12. HardlyLovelace*

      Neurodiverse here too. Once out of my STEM degree with few jobs in my city, I forced myself to work in tech because it had lots of job openings, even though I hate tech. I also didn’t know I had ADHD, so I wasn’t medicated. It showed in my performance. All this to say I got fired or manoeuvered out twice in two years. Now I found a career I both love and am great at (translator).

    13. James*

      My wife was fired every year for a while. It’s standard practice in the schools down here–every teacher without tenure is officially fired, then they re-hire teachers as students register and they get a feel for how many teachers they’ll need. This is pervasive enough that the laws for tenure were changed. Used to be you had to not be fired for three years (within those three years they could fire you for any reason, or none). Now you have to be working at the same school for three years–being fired is not a consideration. Still, those firings are on her work record, as they are for every teacher in her cohort.

      It’s sort of a unique situation, I’ll grant you, but it illustrates the point that being fired does not automatically mean the employee is bad. It can just mean that their previous employers had twisted cultures.

      1. ThatGirl*

        That’s just strange, and seems like legally it would be closer to a layoff — since they weren’t sure how many teachers they would need for the next school year. But it just goes to show that these meanings are not universal.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        That is an interesting method of doing things. I know several private school teachers that have a similar/same experience but it is worded differently?

        Most if not all teachers are on a one year contract, that can be renewed or not it is all up to the school. The contract is usually renewed toward the end of the school year once they have an idea of how many kids register for next year. If not enough kids register the contract may not be renewed, and you are not rehired, but you are also not considered “fired.” The private schools here do not have tenure at all.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        Something similar happens to me as a lecturer at my university. However, I’m a contract worker and it’s just the my contract is “terminated” until a few months later when they get headcounts and I get offered a new 2 year contract.

        It really sucks. I’m on my 5th contract and every time they send the termination letter, it very clearly states “Your contract will not be renewed.” That is, until a few months later when it IS renewed. They do this for every lecturer in the whole college every time despite there never being an instance when they did not rehire a lecturer who still wanted to be employed at this university. It’s a whole thing.

      4. TardyTardis*

        Did she get unemployment while she was ‘fired’? Most teachers in that situation don’t…

    14. It's Not Me, It's You*

      I was a high performer with no disciplinary action ever, who was fired (maybe? They never actually said the word, and my legal paperwork was a “mutual release” so who knows). The company was trying to eliminate my department in a weird toxic way by firing people one by one every few months instead of just being normal and laying us all off together. Sometimes it’s not about the employee.

    15. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I got the job I have today because, five years earlier, the CIO I had at my previous job had been fired. OldJob had been bought by a large company, and they canned our CIO, who’d built the department from the ground up, s0 they could bring in the one they’d handpicked. He took a few months off, then did some consulting work, then started a company and hired a number of people, including me.

      And a close friend of mine was fired from his infrastructure manager position because he disagreed with how the new corporate CIO wanted him to run things – my friend argued that the ways being proposed by the CIO would be detrimental to the business. (He was correct.) (Not the same job.)

      A lot of the firings at the senior/management level are pure and simple politics.

    16. Sarah*

      I was also fired twice from my last two jobs, and managed to get out of the previous just before being fired. I’ve been at my current company for three years and just got my (very first) promotion. It was so hard trying to sell myself after being fired, when all three jobs were not as they were advertised and had me working on things I simply wasn’t good at. When I interviewed for my current job, even though I was unemployed at the time, I was honest about my strengths and weaknesses, and was willing to pass if I thought I wouldn’t be a good fit. Fortunately for all parties involved, I was and I continue to excel. I still sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome, but I’m overall proud of the work I do.

    17. Penny Parker*

      I was once fired because my child’s school called me at work and asked me to come pick him up and take him to the emergency room at the hospital because he was having a severe asthma attack. My boss said if I walked out I would be fired. I said, “Bye-bye”. I am sure that is on my record as walking out of my shift.

    18. DrRat*

      OMG, the ridiculous reasons we get fired here in the US! I got fired from one of my first jobs because I called in sick with strep throat for 2 days. (Place went under shortly after.) I got fired from one job BECAUSE THE COMPANY GAVE ME THE WRONG APPLICATION TO FILL OUT and it turns out I shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. I got fired from one job because after I worked there for 5 weeks, the nonprofit got a government grant and fired everyone who didn’t meet the terms of the grant. A friend got fired from a job on day three in Southern California, where we generally have a very relaxed dress code, for showing up in nice dressy business clothes instead of a suit. (They had never told her she was supposed to wear a suit.) And my mother was laid off once for the classic reason – the boss had two employees, couldn’t afford both, and was banging the other employee.

    19. Former sandwich artist*

      Yeah, I’ve been fired twice – both were minimum wage “quick service”* jobs where I prepped and served food to-go, washed dishes, and ran the till. One of them fired me after I’d worked a ten hour shift, in front of customers. It was traumatic, honestly. I was fired because I don’t have much of a poker face, and a lot of the customers were really entitled, and that’s a bad combination. I wasn’t that great at the job either, I wasn’t good about cleaning and was bad at math, making me slow at the till.

      But I’ve never been fired from a non-fast food job. That said, had I been, it could have been for any number of reasons, deserved or not. I hope we all have the opportunities we need to learn from mistakes and move past them as better people and better employees.

      *the industry’s cute euphemism for fast food places that think they’re too good to be called that

    20. HereToHelp*

      I agree with the posters with “Don’t judge the book by its cover”. Because someone has been fired in the past does not necessarily mean that they were a bad employee. I have been fired for the following in my career:
      1) I put myself through college and found a PT job, but one day I was called into my boss’ office who said that a person complained about me for looking at her. (I couldn’t believe it! Really! Just to look up at her! I had to scramble to find another PT job to make at least my monthly rent and gas for my junky car.)
      2) (26 years ago), I landed an ideal marketing & sales job traveling and covering several states. Little did I know that I had a micromanaging boss who was super controlling. She did like the way I dressed (20’s). My boss dressed in a suit that very conservative – the skirt had to be 4 inches below the knee, how I spoke, and eventually commented on how I looked. Well, 3 months later, I was transferred to another dept. and they slowly made it difficult for me. One day, my new boss (another micromanager) told me that I was no longer needed. The owner who I knew for many years asked me to stop by his office to say goodbye and asked why I was leaving. So, I told him. Well, the 2nd new boss ironically asked me to consider staying. (Answer was “no thank you!”
      3) (18 years ago), with amazing jobs and amazing bosses, I became pregnant with my 2nd child and was an integral part of the startup which I scaled. I came back from maternity leave (this was before all the FMLA and maternity leave laws we have today), and the Big boss asked me to come into the office. The Big Boss asked why I took time off and I said that I was on maternity leave. The BB said, “if I wanted to have babies that I needed to stay home and that his wife was a stay-at-home mom”. I found an attorney and was told that (at that time), I could sue for a bigger termination package, but that meant that I won’t be “hireable” for other companies because of the “industry talk”. (Again, the laws were not on an employee’s/my side).
      4) (2 years ago), I worked in a toxic work environment, e.g., nepotism, sexual harassment, gaslighting, firing of women who spoke up about the harassment and compliance issues. I started off loving my job, but eventually, they hired a boss who knew nothing about the role and kept putting the blame of his missed deadlines on me (This made me so angry). Well, I was let go, because he said that I lied about a few things which made no sense to me. So, I confronted him about it. I caught him lying and told him that he was wrong. He was basically gaslighting me and others. The next day, he knew that his lie would get him fired so he rushed to the Big Bosses and told his side of the story. Well, that was the end of my career there at the Big TeaPot company. I was super sad until I found out that when I interviewed for future (now past) jobs, I was not employable because my former boss was bad-mouthing me to future employers (You bet that I hired an attorney). Then, I was so livid.

      (Luckily, I landed at an awesome new company).

      So, for any hiring manager who does not want to hire someone with a “spotty” past, please ask the potential candidate. It’s not always the candidate. It may be due to a toxic work environment, bad manager, finances, funding, COVID economy. Sometimes, the firing of an employee was not legal.

  2. Dan*

    #1

    I’m having trouble parsing this all out. You mention that you’re hiring for essentially entry-level office work. You then describe the candidate as “fairly young” but then talk about ten years worth of job history. That’s outside the realm of “fairly young” (not that it matters). Ten years of experience puts a candidate at a mid to senior level role. Why are you even considering them for entry level work?

    I think you need to be clear on that before you even consider the firings. And once the firings come in, you’ve got to place *those* in context. Were they early on in that ten year time frame? Were they much more recent?

    1. D3*

      It could easily be something like a career shift or complete change. Assuming that someone in their 30s or older shouldn’t be in entry level is ageist.
      I’m in my 50s making a career change and applying for entry level roles, and I’m definitely hitting a wall with people who think entry level = young and it’s frustrating.

      1. Dan*

        OP is making this an age thing, not me. *OP* uses the phrase “fairly young.”

        But the question I asked was legit. I didn’t say that OP *shouldn’t* hire someone with ten years of experience for an entry level role, I said that they need to be clear on why that’s reasonable before trying to figure out the significance of the firings. (And to the extent age is relevant, I’d go so far as to say that early career firings aren’t exactly a scarlet letter. It kind of happens when people are figuring things out.)

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          I may be off base but my interpretation was that they used the phrase “fairly young” just to indicate that there hasn’t been a large amount of time since their firings and OP is therefore unsure about if they are still in the “figuring things out” stage. Of course it does suck on the employees side because it’s difficult to figure things out if you can’t get hired at the jobs that would be a good fit for you!

          All that to say, obviously the best thing to do is still just to talk to them.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Yes, I saw it as background information – they are fairly young (so the 10 year period mentioned may well be the whole of their work history) but not *so* young that these look like ‘high school kid figuring it out’ mistakes.

            Also, it looks to me as though OP / her org are not making age a big factor in the job. they want someone to do entry level work, they are not demanding anyone of a specific age, just identifying the level of the role

      2. Beth*

        Even with a career shift, I would think that someone with 10+ years of experience in the working world should be at least a little above entry level! Someone with that much experience already has a good sense of workplace norms, probably has a decent handle on universally useful skills like time management and communication, and likely has experience doing higher level work. Even if they’re switching to a brand new field, they’re a step above a new graduate just starting their career.

        1. Bastet*

          One possible explanation other than a career switch is that with the current climate, thousands of people have lost their jobs in the past year due to COVID. If the candidate is in a hard hit industry, any job may be better than no job. The same happened during the recession in 08- many people applied for jobs they were over qualified for just for a paycheck to keep food on the table.

          1. Less Bread More Taxes*

            But that information is really important to suss out. In that case, not hiring the person isn’t ageist – it’s simply not wanting to hire someone who definitely is going to keep looking for something better suited to them. If the employer has multiple candidates, they need to choose the right person for the job, and presumably that also means finding someone who is going to be reasonably happy in the role.

        2. Allonge*

          Some companies / orgs cannot change the level of the job advertised in a vacancy – if they are hiring for ‘entry level office admin’ they cannot or will not offer a ‘mid-level office admin’ job even for a more experienced applicant. It can be a budget issue and/or an equality issue .

          There are also companies / careers where you have to start at entry level, no exceptions.

          So in these cases LW could 1. appreciate the higher than expected level of experience but 2. do nothing about it on their end.

        3. Rez123*

          I think it really deoends on the copany structure. We basically have 3 tiers. Employee, manager and director. The employee tier includes fresh graduates and those with decades of experience. Some are just better at the job (for now) than others. I know quite a few places like this where there are no junior and senior positions. Similarly there are a lot of trade like/healthcare jobs that “is what it is” once you are qualified you are either inexperienced or more experienced. The one that is more experienced knows more.

          1. WS*

            +1, healthcare is very much like that. There’s not a lot of room for advancement until relatively late in your career, though you’ll get other benefits like better rostering, or if you do a lateral move into administration, which most people don’t want to do because they chose this work for the direct patient care.

        4. Liz*

          Lateral move? Not everybody wants to move up, or might not be able if there are 10 bottom rung jobs to one supervisor. My job could feasibly be called entry level (at least in terms of paid work) and most of us are new grads. Some stick around for a few years before moving on to better pay, some apply for higher up roles within the company, but one colleague just got her 20 year long service award. She made a lateral move from a different department a few years ago as she is nearing retirement and couldn’t cope with the physical demands and shift work in her previous role. Not everybody climbs the ladder, and having someone with years of experience in a frontline role is pretty valuable in itself.

        5. Bluesboy*

          Don’t know about this. I made a career shift with 15 years of experience in another sector and I came in at entry level – and it was definitely the only way. I just didn’t have enough knowledge about the sector to come in at a higher level.

          I would say though that the experience you talk about (sense of workplace norms, universally useful skills etc) certainly helped me to progress more quickly than other entry level employees. I now have 6 years of experience in the field and am at a level that normally you would expect at least 10 years of experience to be doing.

          1. serenity*

            I think this is right and I also know people in their 30s who did a career change (whether voluntary or not – this was in the years following the 2008-10 recession) and ended up in more entry-level roles. They’ve gone on to thrive in the years since.

            I’d caution Dan against being too rigid or judgmental about this. The post-Covid years are going to see a lot of people – in their 30s and up – in entry-level roles due to a multitude of factors.

        6. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          As other have said, this depends heavily on the field. For example, I’m in a medical field that involves licensing. Once you’ve completed the processes and gotten to that point, basically everyone is entering at the same level.

          Now, people who completed their post-graduated education and got licensed later in life (and after some previous work experience) often move up quicker relative to younger people who’ve come straight from school, but they still enter around the same place.

        7. Chilipepper*

          You would think that someone with 10 years experience should be above entry level evennwith a career switch, but that is not my experience.

          When I was making a shift, they all wanted specific years of experience doing the task, not just working. There are so many with years of experience in the specific task that employers did not have to even consider me. And as others pointed out, there is an ageist thing when you are older and are applying for entry level jobs. I found this experience to be true for other career switchers as well.

        8. Heather*

          In most professional jobs there’s a lot more to it than “have you ever worked before”, though. If you’re new to the field you’re entry level in my opinion.

        9. Lacey*

          Depends on what they were doing and what they’re switching to! I know someone switching jobs after 10 years in the service industry. If they move to another field they’ll be entry level, even though they have plenty of work history.

          1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

            Yep, this was my experience. I might have a decade or two of experience in retail/hospitality, but that certainly doesn’t qualify me for a mid-level position for my very first office job, regardless of my age.
            Work experience is not created equal, and often the best you can hope for is some amount of translatable skills.

        10. MCMonkeybean*

          I don’t agree, I think it’s very common that a big shift in career puts you back at entry level in quite a lot of fields.

        11. Littorally*

          “Should” is all very well and good, but check out the first comment thread on this post for people who took a long time to get their careers properly launched, for all kinds of reasons.

          Assuming someone’s job history should be a straight shot from graduation upward through the ranks is pretty shortsighted.

        12. Gina*

          I know lots of folks who choose to STAY in their entry level positions, across a few types of career paths. Some people need a longterm routine with low pressure. Not everyone wants to climb a ladder.

          1. boop the first*

            I was also going to express frustration, but I don’t think they mean “how can people be stuck at entry level for a decade” but rather “people who have worked for a decade have value that should be recognized”, which is appreciative.

        13. D3*

          This comment literally made me laugh.
          No, you can’t start above entry level when you have zero experience in the new field. Knowledge of workplace norms, time management, etc might give you a leg up over a new grad, but you still don’t have the applicable experience to get you past an entry level role.
          And in the field where I’m looking, even entry level roles was 3-7 years of experience!

        14. Metadata minion*

          It really depends on the field, I think. I moved from one area of library science to another and even within the same profession and in fact the same library, I wouldn’t have been qualified for a mid-level cataloging job after 10 years in circulation. I know a lot about libraries in general, and my experience in a closely-related department is often useful, but that doesn’t change the fact that I *only knew basic cataloging* when I applied. The higher-level work I’d been doing in my previous position was almost entirely irrelevant.

        15. TWW*

          I guess it depends on what’s considered “entry level”? I don’t think there’s anything unusual about a 30-year-old applying to an entry-level position. I had a coworker who spent her 20s working as a graphic designer but wanted to become a marketing generalist, so she applied for the “marketing assistant” job at my company.

          That job was not exactly entry level in that we would not have hired someone straight out of high school, but it was the most junior position in the marketing department and did not require previous marketing experience

    2. BubbleTea*

      I started work at 15, in an administrative role in an office. Ten years later I was still entry level and fairly young – a career pivot and university contributed to the level thing but I think most people consider 25 to be fairly young. Not all my work in that decade is relevant (I don’t list the babysitting or dog walking) but I had several office jobs and some retail.

    3. Washi*

      I also think the OP may not have meant decade super literally. Like if they are 28 and have been working for 8 post-college years and recently finished a master’s program (for example) they may be applying for entry level roles in their field while being “fairly young” and have 2 firings in the past “decade.”

      1. Caterpie*

        That’s what I was thinking too. Some roles in biotech are “entry level” but not at all odd to be filled by someone with a Master’s, PhD, lab tech jobs, or all of the above, which can easily add up to 10+ years of relevant experience.

        Although, I suppose “firing” in that context could mean being expelled from a grad program, which is a very different situation.

      2. GothicBee*

        This is what I was thinking. Also, the fact that they say the jobs they were fired from were post-college full time positions, which makes me wonder if maybe the candidate has some early experience that was for part-time high school/college jobs. So they could only be in their mid to late 20s with a decade of experience and the jobs they were fired from were from the years since they graduated college.

    4. Maeve*

      I’m 33, graduated college when I was 22, have plenty of work experience and I can tell you that my boss would absolutely refer to me as “fairly young” and was very skeptical that I was “ready” to be a manager last year. (Eventually did get promoted.) I think people have trouble seeing millennials as adults these days…

      1. Smirkpretty*

        I second Maeve on this one. I started working in high school at age 15, worked through college. Early in my professional life those part-time jobs still appeared on my resume. At 25 and with 10 years of work experience, most hiring managers would have considered me young.

  3. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    I am confused about how you know they were fired, OP #1? Is it just that leave date seems abrubt? It is possible they could have been laid off or had a health or family emergency? Maybe something is missing from the letter, but it’s not typical to put that you were fired on your resume. And it seems like you have not spoken to them yet so I am unsure if they volunteered this information or what.

    Bottom line, there are so many reasons for being fired and not all of them mean you’re a terrible employee. The environment could have been bad, the boss could have been bad, perhaps the job was truly a terrible fit … the list goes on. I am 20 years into my career and I have been “fired” twice and laid off once and I am an excellent employee who gets excellent reviews consistently in every other job. Just because you’ve been lucky and found good fits doesn’t mean everyone else has been so lucky.

      1. Detective Rosa Diaz*

        that makes sense! I’ve never had to do that for a job but I could see that, thank you :)

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        If that’s the case, this might also be a language issue. Many countries don’t use different words for firing/layoffs, so if the applicant is a ESL person, they might not realize there’s a difference.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I was wondering not just about that but that sometim
          es even native English speakers don’t see the nuance between being laid off & being fired.

          And the nature of the job makes a difference. In retail or food service there are plenty of bad bosses who will fire people at the drop of a hat. (I’ve known wonderful ones, too. YMMV)

          1. Joan Rivers*

            Sometimes one is “fired” because you tried a job that you knew was challenging for you — because they offered it to you.
            The way you know it’s not just that you were “unqualified” is if you have previously, and in the future, done very well.

            I’ve had a couple jobs where my new boss never even met w/me or talked w/me once I started.
            In one I applied for a credit card right away and got it before I left, and assume they’d continue to have problems w/that position.
            In the other, my predecessor was there and was great but the boss ignoring me was an obvious sign.
            I didn’t ask them to meet w/me because I was observing their dysfunction and expected to move on. They were both jobs I “tried.”

        2. Nanani*

          Yep, or they could speak a different dialect of English where the meanings aren’t the same as in corporate america, or have worked in a specific field (or even an individual company) that labels things differently, or a lot of things.

          The only way to know is to ask!

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        And this is why many people won’t answer that question with anything but “no.” Look at what honesty has bought OP’s candidate.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Sadly true. If the only result of being honest is to not consider someone, employers are incentivizing applicants to be dishonest with them.

          OP, which would you rather – take a chance by going through your interview process with someone who was honest about having been fired previously, or spend that same time going through the process with someone who lied about it, because they knew it would look better on paper?

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            It’s also why so many employees will Nope out of a PIP, or just resign if things start going south, even if they’re salvageable, if savings and circumstances allow it. No one wants to go through the rest of their career with a Scarlet F on their résumé.

          2. Allonge*

            OK but – there is a reason this is asked. If your boss said ‘hey, so I hired someone for our team and they were fired from their last two jobs’, hand on your heart, would you not have concerns? Any good manager has to follow up on this, it cannot be just shrugged off.

            And there is absolutely nothing that indicates the other candidate is lying. Plenty of people never got fired.

        2. Qwerty*

          If you lie on your application, you can be fired for it whenever the truth comes out. If the candidate had made it to the reference stage or if there was a mutual connection between OP and the candidate’s network and the truth came out, it would also have tanked the candidacy because of the lie. The OP wrote in here to challenge their own perceptions and learn what to look for in a candidate with multiple firings.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The Scarlet F is reason enough to not hire someone, and not wearing the Scarlet F is reason enough to fire them.

            Sounds like enlightened management would just mercifully euthanize employees whose services are no longer needed and save the poor souls quite a bit of suffering, doesn’t it? That would eliminate the possibility of accidentally hiring a retread, too.

            All sarcasm, of course.

          2. TWW*

            I don’t understand why you would even list those jobs on an application if you were required to state you were fired without a chance to explain. I’d much rather an employer think I had a couple of unexplained employment gaps than a couple of unexplained firings.

            1. Mental Lentil*

              You can do that on a resume, but most applications require you to list at least your last three jobs, regardless of whether you list them on your resume.

              1. TWW*

                But if you listed 3 jobs you weren’t fired from and omitted the two that ended badly, how would they even know?

      4. Harper the Other One*

        I’m hoping that’s why OP says fired, but I was going comment that if OP sees gaps between job history, they shouldn’t assume “left without another job in hand” means “fired.”

      5. Lacey*

        Yup. I’ve filled out plenty of apps that ask. The good ones let you explain why you were let go. In my case it turned out they needed skills they didn’t realize they needed when they hired me! It made sense for them to let me go, but it does suck when I can’t explain the situation up front.

    1. singlemaltgirl*

      yup – i’ve been fired 3 times in my career and from positions that, by outward metrics (sales performance, account performance, etc.) i was extremely successful. 2 firings followed sexual harassment claims (not mine but i got pulled into investigations as i was a witness to, or it also happened to me) and 1 was when i made a complaint about the boss taking the ‘boys’ out for monthly golf games in the summer while the women had to stay in the office as a regular work day.

      i was too young, too shocked, and too embarrassed to pursue legal recourse even though i had lots of evidence (which i didn’t realize at the time). actually, the last time it happened, i used what i knew (it happened about 4 years ago) to leverage a way better severance package than they were offering b/c they knew they were hooped. i don’t think being fired automatically means a negative against the candidate – particularly when it comes to marginalized groups including women of colour, BIPOC and LGBTQ2+. if all other aspects are strong and they come across as professional & competent, i would dig deeper.

      1. Anonforthis*

        I wonder if you would elaborate on leveraging a better severance package, since I am in a similar situation right now and about to be let go.

        1. singlemaltgirl*

          i didn’t want to pay a lawyer but i knew enough about employment law (having had to terminate employees ethically!) in previous roles. so i wrote a strongly worded letter in response to their ‘sign this to get this severance package and you promise never to hold us liable for anything’ offer. i wrote it ‘without prejudice’ and calmly and methodically laid out my concerns, ‘upon consultation with legal counsel’ and indicating that i was prepared to head to mediation should we not be able to resolve the concerns and come to an agreement on severance. i also countered their severance offer with one that was more in line with what i knew would likely be the highest I could reasonably get in mediation. you can’t ask for the moon but you can base on precedent and we have the ability to consult (for free) an employment lawyer for 30 mins which i made the most of. some of it was a calculated bluff but also based on what i knew. i was prepared to use what evidence i had to make it difficult for them to address and might result in prolonged legal costs for them to defend. two strongly worded but calm and consistent emails later within 4 days where I did not back down, they presented me with what I countered with. oh, and i didn’t share with them all the evidence i had – i just alluded to it. best to hold some of your cards back.

          they were still assholes but i couldn’t have afforded a prolonged legal battle either and i wouldn’t have got much more in the end if i had ‘fought the good fight’. this was sufficient to help me get the funds to tide me over while i sought another role. it also helped that i had documented strong stellar performance reviews so them terminating me on the heels of a sexual harassment scandal would have been bad for them all around. they certainly did try to intimidate me but i knew the legal terminology to use and to keep everything ‘without prejudice’ and to stay measured and on point without getting upset at their assholery.

          know your rights, understand legal precedents when it comes to employment law where you are, leave emotion out of it (as much as you might be pissed/hurt/grieving) and advocate for yourself for what’s reasonable within the law. you’re not always as powerless as you think against big business and often, they will pay a ‘nuisance fee’ to just get you off their back. you might not get justice but it’s more about helping you have as soft a landing as you can manage. good luck :)

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      I’ve filled out a lot of applications that just straight up ask “Have you ever been fired”

      1. Anon for this*

        Yup. I always say no even though it’s not true because I assume it will be immediately thrown out otherwise…

    3. PT*

      I’ve resigned from all my jobs and frankly I have no way to prove that’s what my bosses told HR. A lot of those workplaces were disorganized, and I wouldn’t put it past some of the people I worked for to lie. So who even knows if they’ve actually been fired or not?

  4. Mellow Yellow*

    My husband was fired from his first two post-college jobs. The first time was because his two bosses had competing priorities and no matter how hard he tried, one of the two bosses was always unhappy with his prioritization. The second time was because he suddenly became very ill and had to miss a lot of work. He’s not had a problem since then.

    1. Seal*

      Context matters. A former colleague was fired from an academic librarian position because they had the misfortune of working for two terrible managers. The first was lazy and very hands-off and never gave my colleague any guidance or direction. That manager inexplicably got promoted and was replaced by an incompetent bully who purposely set unattainable quotas so they could fire people. By the time my colleague got fired, they were so burnt out from working 60-70 hour weeks and paranoid from all the gaslighting they left the profession entirely. Had they had even halfway decent managers I am positive my former colleague would still be a librarian.

  5. D3*

    I once volunteered for an organization that charged volunteers $25 a year to be a volunteer. When I signed up, they were actively recruiting volunteers and had a benefactor that paid the first three years for new volunteers.
    I volunteered for exactly three years.

  6. Daffy Duck*

    Membership fee – I have volunteered quite a bit and it is common for programs relating to children to require volunteers to pay for their background check. A few require you to be a member also, but the cost is relatively minor ($5-$40 per year). As I read the letter, this membership fee is more significant – possibly hundred+ or thousands per year. Personally, I would find another place to donate my time if they required such a significant investment on top of my time. Volunteers often receive perks like free tickets to the performances or discounted rates – to ask for full membership payment on top of free labor strikes me as strange.

    1. singlemaltgirl*

      in certain provinces in canada, the society’s act does require that board members actually have to be members in good standing of the society/non profit. That’s a legal requirement. Often, membership dues are quite low but some associations, professional bodies, and larger specialized non profits could have quite significant membership fees (tends to be gatekeeping for who gets on the board). i’m not sure where the OP is but that might be a bylaws and the act under which the non profit is incorporated under.

      staff aren’t required to be members (unless that’s indicated in an org’s bylaws) and usually, costs are advised upfront – such as a t-shirt or background checks, etc. although most orgs would reimburse those things if they can.

      there are also plenty of volunteer opps that are not board positions and given all that the op is doing and the skills they are bringing to the table, i’d just suggest they find another non profit not requiring a cost upfront and to ask about those costs upfront before agreeing to volunteer. i assess volunteer gigs as much as they are assessing me and while i don’t need a ton of recognition, i do like clear communication and not being taken advantage of.

      there’s so many amazing orgs out there who have well run volunteer programs – lw#2, i would definitely seek them out!

      1. Op2here*

        Thank you for this! I am not in an area with those legal requirements (as far as I am aware… but i am not a board member so I am not super up-to-date on laws regarding becoming one!). Thank you for your positivity and encouragement about seeking out new opportunities and being mindful of this requirement as I move forward. I appreciate the thought!

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Yeah, I came back here because I was thinking about this question. In the organizations I’m most deeply involved in it wouldn’t occur to me that you *could* not be a member because volunteering is something that members do beyond membership. And the same is true for being a board member – you’re elected from the membership. It’s not so much that I think of it as an extra requirement but as something that wouldn’t even come up if I wasn’t a member. Membership is inexpensive ($20-40/year or thereabouts), gives you access to basic functions (eg. participate in social get-togethers and be covered by liability insurance when participating in events; have access to for-pay programming such as classes or excursions or whatever the org does).

        However, I can also see how this isn’t universal. Especially when the org has periodic or constant need for elevated numbers of volunteers who do NOT join because they want to get something from being part of an org, but because they want to do a service to the community. This is even true for say our local cycle club or music association, where you may volunteer as an usher or traffic helper during an event without being a member. Or the soup kitchen, and other social-service type orgs. In this case I would not expect these “duty to serve, plus it’s fun and I get a donut” volunteers to pay *anything* for membership. They’re basically in a similar situation that paid employees would be. The org should not require them to pay if their main motivation is not the benefit of membership but their willingness to serve. (They DO have to figure out how to make sure the non-member volunteer is covered by insurance though!!)

    2. Malarkey01*

      There are some very good service organizations out there that also operate as a membership BUT they should come with benefits. Examples would be an organization that is providing training opportunities for volunteers, social aspects, and/or robust networking opportunities with city leaders and the ones Im familiar with have established ties and programs so volunteers feel like they have organized structure and aren’t wasting their time (nothing is worse than volunteering with completely disorganized clusters where you feel you’ve served no one). These groups pair people that want to volunteer with structures that make that easier and give them some other “benefit”. So, if those arrangements sound good to you it’s not abnormal for some reputable service organizations to be set up like this, but with anything it has to be something you find of value or you can donate your time elsewhere.

      1. Malarkey01*

        And to echo singlemaltgal the ones I participate in the Board is pulled from membership because we want them to represent the members’ perspectives, goals, and requirements. However we have a handful of outside community advisors that aren’t members and our staff support members but cannot be members (as a check and balance).

      2. Retail Not Retail*

        When I volunteered at a museum, they asked but didn’t require that volunteers become members. It wasn’t that expensive and a museum membership gets you discounts at events and the gift shop as well as discounted reciprocity entrance at other member museums.

        I also did political campaign volunteering and no, I did not donate more than my time.

      3. Ama*

        Additionally they should also come with *more than one member* and as noted by others, membership is usually separate from volunteers. It sounds from the OP’s letter like they are the only volunteer — you don’t start a membership program by suddenly requiring your only volunteer to pay a membership fee.

      4. Op2here*

        Hi there, thanks for reaching out! The membership does have “benefits”, but most are geared towards customers (think, exclusive invites to events and deals). There are only 2 that could apply to employees – voting rights, and a second one that aligns more with our mission and does not apply to me. I’m trying to be vague as it is easily identifiable with our organization, but here’s an example of that second benefit;

        Let’s say for the sake of example the nonprofit is one that supports Banana Bread Makers who are starting a small business. This benefit would be geared towards Banana Bread Makers who started the business and ended up having to file for bankruptcy – we would help support them through the situation.

        Kind of tough to come up with an example, but my point is it is ultra specific to individuals in a certain field who live through a certain obstacle. There are Banana Bread Makers on the board, but I am not one so this benefit does not apply to me, and hopefully wouldn’t apply to any board members in the future!

        There are no benefits for volunteering from a career path, mentoring, or networking aspect at this time. I am the only one in my department, and being so small we don’t have many contacts and the few we do are in the Banana Bread industry. The only benefit I have had is that by working hard and generating good results, this would be something great on my resume – being so young in my career and working in a start up like this I’ve had a chance to make decisions, lead projects, etc. that might not normally be possible for an entry level individual.

        1. Ripley Jones*

          Yeah…this just feels icky to me. I understand that some places require a membership for volunteers but I don’t think that they should charge volunteers to join. I have seen some NPs that have a membership-plus-X-hours-of-volunteering as requirements (think sports like curling and roller derby), but asking people who don’t personally use the services, yet give freely of their time, to pay to do so? As OP2 points out in the letter, the value you’re providing far exceeds the membership fee, and they should be thanking you, not charging you.

    3. Jackalope*

      One volunteer job I had required that you buy the uniform since it was a public-facing position. I think they may have gotten you one free t-shirt and then the second was on your own. The prices were really good (obviously they had a good group discount) and felt reasonable to me. Other than that I don’t think I’ve ever had to pay anything for volunteering other than normal costs like my transportation to and from the volunteer site.

      1. Mx*

        I find it strange that a volunteer has to pay for a uniform (or anything).
        I have volunteered for many organisations. I was always reimbursed for my commute, and if volunteering the whole day, reimbursed for my lunch (within reason) as it is more expensive to eat out than at home.
        I wouldn’t pay one penny for volunteering and I think it’s outrageous to require volunteers to pay anything.

        1. Mx*

          And I also never have had to pay for my background check obviously! I wonder if it varies from country to country. I am in the UK.

          1. AA*

            I’ve had to pay for my own CRB check multiple times when volunteering in the UK. It’s usually £20 or something.

          2. I'd Rather be Eating Dumplings.*

            I’m in the UK and have also had to pay. It can vary depending on the size of the org.

            1. Bagpuss*

              Also, even in organisations where you have to pay they may be open to reimbursing you if you ask.
              I think it depends a bit both on their budget and on how much they value their volunteers.
              I’ve come across one where they asked people to pay upfront but would reimburse them provided that it was clear and at the end of (I think) three months, so it was mostly to ensure that they weren’t out of pocket if people never showed up again fterh their check!

              (Also in UK)

              1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

                Yes – I think the org I was with offered to cover it if it was a hardship as well. But as it wasn’t for me I was happy to pay.

            2. Mx*

              Never had to pay for a CRB check in the UK (except once for a paid job via an agency). And I never will if I am already offering my time and skills for free.
              It’s not just about the money, it’s about the respect they have for their volunteers.

              1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                Doing the background checks is (or should be) a cost of doing business for the organization. Places that accept volunteers and try to make them foot the costs of the organization being functional are behaving unethically as employers, regardless of how important the mission or good the works they’re doing are.

          3. doreen*

            I suspect it depends at least as much on the type of organization as it does on the country. The only organizations where I paid anything to be a volunteer were organizations my kids belonged to – depending on the organization, I might have paid dues for an adult membership in a national organization , for a background check, for a uniform or for my own admission fee to activities. There are only two ways to pay these costs – either the volunteer pays his or her own costs or the organization does. And when the organization does , it’s not uncommon for people to get outraged that either 1)the kids pay a little more in either dues or activity fees so the volunteers don’t pay out of pocket or 2) Fundraising goes to pay not only for the kids activities but also the adults fees- apparently, no one wants to buy Girl Scout cookies to help pay for the leader’s background check.

            1. kristinyc*

              Exactly! I work at GS, and all staff/volunteers are required to be official members ($25 nationally, but some councils have additional fees, and volunteers have to pay for background checks).

              Nonprofits are always expected to have *no* overhead, which has always been wild to me. We’re still a business. We still have to pay staff and for office space and technology we need to run the organization.

              1. Observer*

                Nonprofits are always expected to have *no* overhead,

                That’s just not true. Of course there are some people who think that way, but far from universal. And reasonably functional organizations don’t cater to this kind of extreme.

              2. OyHiOh*

                It’s a little more complex than $0 overhead. In the US, when non profits get grant funding, overhead (“operations expense”) is calculated at about 10 cents/dollar. Some funders are slowly starting to recognize that the program sustainability they look for can’t be had without allowing a recipiant to put grant funds towards operations, but those foundations are few and tend to focus on very narrow segments of the non profit world. In an ideal world, a non profit’s operational stability is supposed to be an internal strategy, rather than reliant on external factors.

          4. Nanani*

            I’ve had to pay for a background check in Canada, but it was a very informal volunteering thing at a school (think, show up to career day and tell the kids about my job) that requires any adult who isn’t already affiliated to have a background check clear before coming into contact with any kids.

            1. Chinook*

              Costs for Canadian background checks vary from town to town because the money goes back to whkmever is pying for the local detachment. I have been in some places that, as long as you have a letter from the group you volunteer for that you you need it, then the cost is waived. In other places, it was cash only for everyone and they will give you a receipt.

              The reality is that it is covering the cost of the paperwork and some places use this money to cover the cosg of a full-time person at the front desk to do them while others choose to eat the cost to encourage both volunteering and getting background checks for those volunteers.

          5. Maree*

            I’m in Australia and I’ve never heard of volunteers being reimbursed for commutes or meals.
            Volunteering is very, very common here and volunteers often have out of pocket costs. Lots of fundraising and the people who attend also tend to be volunteers.
            I’m also on a committee of a not for profit incorporation and to attend meetings you are required to be ‘a member in good standing’ (financial). Background checks are paid by the state.

        2. singlemaltgirl*

          part of it is whether the org can afford it and budgets appropriately to pay for the costs of volunteers. if they are primarily grant funded and don’t have a ton of discretionary funds, they may not be ‘allowed’ to spend the majority of their funds on volunteer costs like a uniform or background checks. it really does vary from org to org.

          there are some orgs that have a philosophy that their volunteer program shouldn’t cost anything and don’t budget any funds the costs associated with having volunteers and a staff person does volunteer coordination ‘off the side of their desk’. other orgs really plan and focus on their volunteer programs and assign the appropriate resources to it. it really is about checking out diff orgs, finding out their culture and expectations and values and whether that fits with your own. some people volunteer for a cause and don’t care about how a volunteer program is run. other people really want to be treated with a certain level of respect. choose wisely for the type of experience you want – not all volunteer opps or org are created equal :)

        3. Chilipepper*

          Where I have volunteered, reimbursing (ie you pay, they pay you back) for costs like travel or lunch would be against the rules of the organization. If it is physical labor, there are often water and snacks and maybe lunch provided. But never something that would reimburse you. So experiences vary.

    4. Wendy*

      I hate this! Sometimes it seems like the people running these organizations truly don’t understand that not everyone has extra cash lying around. My husband and I sang in a local chamber choir when we were first married – those of us without gray hair were in the distinct minority :-P We did manage to come up with the $150/year “membership dues,” but the choir leaned hard on members to solicit donations from various local rich people for advertisements in our programs, sponsorships, etc. We were a couple of mid-20-year-olds with no particular fortune and definitely no connections to the kind of people who would spent hundreds of dollars to attend a fundraiser dinner! For all the choir’s board talked about wanting choral music to be accessible to everyone, they were truly surprised when my husband tactfully pointed out that it would be awkward for some of us in the chorale to come sing at the dinner and not be able to afford a plate :-\ We switched directors soon after that, to someone who taught at the local college, and she got a bunch of her grad students to join. Suddenly our concerts were more “free admission but we love donations” and less the expensive schmoozing…

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes. My parents actually pushed back pretty hard on this when a voluntary organsiation they were involved in started putting a lot of pressure on participants to cough up significant amounts for memberships – I think it was something like a change form £10/year to £100/year, per person.

        They were in a fairly strong position to do so as they were, at the time, some of the longest serving and most reliable people involved, and my dad did a lot of training so was particularly valuable to them.

        He and my mum could have afforded the increased costs without any difficulty but pointed out fairly forcefully that a lot of the members couldn’t, (and that since attracting younger people was a priority, limiting access to the better off was likely to be counter-productive) and given they were already giving up their time it wasn’t reasonable to expect them to. I think that they pretty much said they would not pay and if that meant they left then so be it. The org. backed down.

        (It was slightly complicated in that the activity they were involved in was a hobby as well as being something which benefitted the organisation, – I guess perhaps a bit like a church choir where people join because they enjoy singing but agree that they will show up and sing on Sundays and Christmas Day, as well as for concerts and other performances which might be more ‘fun’.)

    5. justabot*

      When I have been a board member for a non-profit, each board member was typically expected to fundraise $500 each year. I could typically do that by securing sponsors for various events which also counted toward that, so it wasn’t a big deal. I think we typically wanted board members who were well connected in the community or had the ability to network well and bring in donations.

      1. BRR*

        I think board members are different than other types of volunteers. I would expect fundraising to be part of a board member’s duty.

        1. justabot*

          Agreed. We did create a “Young Professionals Network” that had an “annual investment” through a give/get. (That could be anything like a corporate match, sponsorship, holding a fundraiser, friends/family donations, etc.) Those volunteers were expected to attend two board meetings a year, volunteer at a minimum of two service opportunities, support/attend fundraising efforts/events, etc.

          But in return they got happy hours and social events like laser skeet shooting or bowling and networking opportunities and events, professional/leadership development opportunities, their name and business on various materials and the website, donor and board recognition, etc etc. But it was an organized member/social group supporting/raising money for a good cause and felt like a win/win for everyone.

          If you wanted to be part of that young professionals member group, the annual give/get fee was required. It helped pay toward some activities, fundraising events, and also gave us a reliable pool of volunteers.

          But if you just wanted to be a volunteer (or didn’t fall into to that Young Professional Network age range) and just content to help work on the website or volunteer at events or hand out t-shirts or work on the budget or just lend a hand when you had time, of course we always had gratitude for help and no fee or donation was required to simply volunteer.

          1. Op2here*

            Hi all, thank you for your thoughts! I can see to some extent the idea about board members buying a membership or making donations; I think there is value to it in that it establishes an example at the highest level of the organization, and another commenter pointed out that it also builds their reputation as they bring in more donors.

            For volunteers, I agree with you all that it is definitely a different situation. And to justabot’s point, there are no “perks” for me once I pay except that I would have voting rights.

            I appreciate the example, but I also think that a Young Professionals Network is a bit different, as it is volunteering for something that also applies to you (in theory). The nonprofit I volunteer for assists people in an entirely different industry/lifestyle situation than one that I am currently in, so I would not get opportunities like the events you mentioned.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              Yeah. The mental model of a non-profit that I have is people who have an affinity X (which may be recreational or social or professional) join together with a goal to support X-people. X-people are the (dues-paying) members and elect the board (which in some countries is legally required to be also consisting of X-peoples who are members of the org).

              Some orgs have volunteers who are either not X-people, or who may be sympathizing with X-people or be somewhat X-adjacent, but at least at this time don’t see an advantage of joining an org of X-people – they just want to help, or do someone a favor. Other orgs have only volunteers who are themselves members.

              You seem to be in the first situation, and if the board insists that you should be paying dues just to volunteer then there’s a mismatch of expectations. If you just politely push back and they don’t budge then maybe you should rethink whether to volunteer for them. (But I’d ask directly if this is about insurance – in several of the orgs I’m involved in this IS a big topic. For example our local cycle club requires all participants in activities to be members JUST for this reason, and offers 1-day memberships to drop-in riders.)

              1. tamarack and fireweed*

                (I should add, since you bring it up elsewhere, that the orgs where volunteers are basically recruited entirely from membership are also those with the smallest volunteer pools – unsurprisingly! You make it clear that as far as your benefit is concerned, membership isn’t useful to you. So maybe people are confused about why you’d volunteer if you are otherwise unconnected to the goals of the org, and this needs clarifying.)

        2. Never again*

          I have heavily volunteered and worked as a paid staff person for at least 10 non-profits in the last 25 years. All required membership (including basic dues) and fund-raising for board members, except one.

          That organization ended up in serious financial difficulty that began 15 years ago and lasts to this day. I am astonished they are still extant. I actually left that organization when my, the board president’s and the accountant’s suggestion that the board should lead by example and donate and fund-raise was met with rabid hostility and vicious personal insults on the part of a vocal minority. That minority consisted of board members who donated nothing other than their time at board meetings. Coincidence? Unlikely.

          My observation based on my experience is that human nature is such that when people have a financial stake in the game, they play it far more seriously.

          1. Op2here*

            Hi! Thank you for sharing your experience. If I can pick your brain on this a little more:

            – How large were the volunteer pools for these nonprofits? I’m curious if any of them were very small like mine, and if so, if they had any difficulty attracting potential volunteers?

            – Do these organizations offer any exemption to certain volunteers? Do you see any downsides to offering one?

            I think it is interesting to note my nonprofit is not currently worried from a financial aspect, and are actually doing well – they have more money and not enough people to donate it to!

          2. Op2here*

            Sorry, I just caught this – your note mentioned requiring memberships for board members, what about volunteers? I can see how organizations value having senior leadership invest in the company in that way, but I am a volunteer.

      2. Observer*

        When I have been a board member for a non-profit, each board member was typically expected to fundraise $500 each year.

        That’s a pretty contentious subject all on its own. But serving on a Board is a very different situation from almost any other volunteer position.

        . I think we typically wanted board members who were well connected in the community or had the ability to network well and bring in donations.

        The issue is that “well connected in the community” is NOT the same as “bring in donations”.

        1. Artemesia*

          Except in professional associations (and sometimes even there), in my experience Board Membership was expected to be a fundraising position. You don’t join boards if you are not willing to donate and get donations. Exceptions were sometimes made for people with unique skills they contributed e.g. the accountant. Boards are about sustaining the organization not about resume or social life.

          That said, there are many places to volunteer where you don’t need to pay — find one of those if you are not comfortable with this pressure.

          1. Observer*

            Boards are about sustaining the organization not about resume or social life.

            Sure. But that does not have to translate to “Boards are about how much money an individual board member can bring in.”

            And, that’s when we are talking about Boards – For regular volunteers, there is just no excuse.

            1. ACarO*

              The organization I work for changed the language from “annual donation of $x” to “meaningful yearly contribution.” Our board is now much more representative of the community (age, gender, race) and it has helped us raise money and make connections.

              Everyone does have to make some sort of monetary gift though, because we need 100% participation to qualify for certain grants.

        2. Filosofickle*

          I wish fundraising wasn’t such a common requirement of board members. I’d like to pursue being on a board — I have 25 years of consulting experience plus valuable domain expertise and think I’d be a good asset. But I won’t do it if I have to fundraise. I end up doing pro bono work instead, which is helpful but doesn’t help them with long-term strategy how I’d like.

          1. FrivYeti*

            There are some not-for-profits where putting in hours of skilled labour will be considered an in-kind donation, and you can use that in place of actually raising money. But it’s definitely more common, especially in smaller organizations without dedicated fundraising teams, to demand fundraising from prospective Board members. (It’s actually kind of a huge problem if you’re dealing with marginalized communities, because you turn away a lot of the people whose insight and opinions you really want to have.)

            1. Observer*

              (It’s actually kind of a huge problem if you’re dealing with marginalized communities, because you turn away a lot of the people whose insight and opinions you really want to have.)

              This is, in fact, a MAJOR issue. It’s one of the things that makes some segments of the non-profit sector so toxic.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              For board members, it’s super common. But she’s not on the board. What’s weird here is that she’s their only volunteer and they have no staff, and they’re willing to hold her to this.

            3. une autre Cassandra*

              And of course plenty of funders/grantmakers want to see “100% board giving” and *that’s* a whole thing, just this expectation that anyone serving on an NPO board should have the personal financial capacity to make significant financial gifts *and* connect other wealthy people to the org *and* generally be “well-connected”…it kind of turns into just the same group of rich folks being tapped for every board position in a given community while people with other really valuable perspectives are more-or-less shut out. (Or asked to do a bunch of free labor on a DEI committee but not invited to serve on the board, or whatever.)

    6. AndersonDarling*

      I volunteer with an organization where members have to pay a fee because it is a condition of the property. The physical headquarters is in a small business area in a residential zone. There was some kind of stipulation with the zoning or neighborhood regulations that the building isn’t open to the public. Volunteers pay a membership fee so they aren’t considered the General Public and the number of people coming and going is controlled.
      In this case, it’s $25 a year.

      1. Observer*

        Please. I don’t care how little it is. If someone is a volunteer, they are NOT “the General Public”, and the number of people gets controlled by a reasonable onboarding and vetting process for volunteers.

        To be honest this reads to me like a way to screen for “certain types of people” rather than a genuine concern about too high traffic.

    7. Drago Cucina*

      My husband I belong to an organization which requires a membership. Part of the membership covers insurance for all volunteers. If someone gets hurt during or related to an event they are covered, including for being the even organizer.

      My husband also belongs to an organization that has yearly dues. Even the Friends of the Library require a $5 a year membership. To be honest, I can only think of one that I’ve been involved with that doesn’t require dues. But, that organization is focused almost solely on fundraising–think the foundation arm of a youth symphony.

      1. Op2here*

        Hi there, thank you for the comment. As far as I am aware, this membership does not include insurance – it is the exact same membership that general public members can purchase, and is mostly designed to be just a reoccurring donation amount that comes with benefits like exclusive invites to events. That is a great point though, and I should probably get clarification on that!

    8. CR*

      I wonder if this org (which sounds new/green) is unclear on LW being volunteer only and not a board member? It’s fairly common in American grant applications for non-profits to need to show that Board Members are also donating members of the organization to be eligible for private foundation/grant funding. I could easily see this being an odd miscommunication.

      1. Op2here*

        The founder is very firm in that I am not a board member, and at times has gone out of his way to point that out to people (and has even referred to me as the help once! yikes). To some extent, he has treated me like a second class citizen and while I have tried to stand up for myself, I also let it slide to some extent because I cared about the mission and did not wish to leave them (I am the only one with expertise in my line of work for the foundation, so if I left they would have no one in my department or with working knowledge of the things done in my department). I think it is less of a legal/application thing and more that he wants the organization to head in this direction so that when they get more volunteers, they can increase their membership numbers.

        1. starsaphire*

          Oh, hon.

          There are a lot of good missions out there! There are a lot of great causes.

          I understand the drive to help, but… you deserve better than this! So much better. They are treating you horribly, and they don’t deserve you.

          Walk away, today. Pick another good cause. I promise you, you will be glad you did.

          1. Op2here*

            Thank you for the kind words!! I will maintain that drive to help, I guess I’ve just learned to be a little more careful on what organizations to volunteer to.

        2. Artemesia*

          Wow, you are ‘the help’ and treated in a demeaning way and are essential? I would either be treated right or outa there so fast. There are undoubtedly places where your skills would be appreciated and frankly who gives a flying F if they would suffer if you left? They should have considered that when they treated you like the scullery maid.

          1. Op2here*

            Thank you for the support! There has definitely been an odd vibe where I am essential, yet I am a second-class citizen compared to board members. To me, all employees at all levels serve a vital purpose to the mission, and everyone deserves respect. I appreciate your comment.

        3. Arts Akimbo*

          >even referred to me as the help once! yikes). To some extent, he has treated me like a second class citizen

          >(I am the only one with expertise in my line of work for the foundation, so if I left they would have no one in my department or with working knowledge of the things done in my department)

          Heaven forbid they should have to *hire* someone to refer to as “the help.”

          OP2, you sound so skilled and so full of passion and with so much to give to the world! Please find an org that appreciates and respects you! I will be over here, cheering you on!

        4. Des*

          >I also let it slide to some extent because I cared about the mission and did not wish to leave them (I am the only one with expertise in my line of work for the foundation, so if I left they would have no one in my department or with working knowledge of the things done in my department).

          Might teach them a lesson about treating the next person better than they treat you. You don’t deserve this, you deserve better.

    9. Observer*

      I have volunteered quite a bit and it is common for programs relating to children to require volunteers to pay for their background check. A few require you to be a member also, but the cost is relatively minor ($5-$40 per year).

      Even requiring a volunteer to pay for their background check is inappropriate, but I can sort of see it. Membership? Hard no. I don’t care how nominal the amount is. A volunteer is ALREADY providing the organization with value. They should not be charged a fee to donate their time and skill.

      The fact that it’s somewhat common does not make it right. To the extent that it’s common, it’s a sign of dysfunction.

    10. Op2here*

      Hi there, thank you for responding! This is a relatively minor fee, aligning with the price point you stated. This does not cover anything like a background check, it is merely a membership – the only “perk” I would receive with paying these dues is voting rights, and outside of paying the only other perk I have received for being a volunteer is the founder bought the team lunch once about a year and a half ago.

      To me, it is less about the dollar amount, and more about the way it was handled – I have donated a significant amount of time (sometimes 40 hours a week!) and made significant advances in my department for them, which directly resulted in thousands of dollars in donations and new leads. When I said I wasn’t interested in a membership, the founder told me he needs me to pay that to prove that I am dedicated to their cause – is what I said in the sentence above not proof enough? It stung to have someone question my support over such a small amount.

      I personally am starting to develop the opinion based on comments here that board members should be required to pay the membership, and volunteers either (1) encouraged to follow suit or (2) required, BUT offer a way for them to apply to be exempted from the fee. Part of the reason I love to volunteer is that I don’t have a lot of money, and so my time and efforts are how I make an impact on the world. I appreciate you weighing in with your experience! This is definitely opening my eyes to understand how they might have reached a decision like this.

      1. Artemesia*

        you sound like a terrific volunteer; find an organization that appreciates you. This jerk who treats you like dirt is benefiting personally from your sacrifices and probably taking credit for the work you produce. Screw him and the horse he rode in on.

        1. Op2here*

          Thank you! I honestly cannot say enough how much I appreciate having everyone weigh in in such a supportive manner.

      2. Renee Remains the Same*

        I’ve worked with a few non-profits and in my experience board meetings are required to be open to the public unless they get into areas that involve personal information for employees or those they serve. So, it’s odd that they’re restricting your access and even odder that they’re requiring you to pay them for a service you provide to them. While I appreciate that they’re new or young or inexperienced, their business practice seems shady and could be an indication of how they’re doing financially. Plus, if they’re not willing to have volunteers and supporters attend their board meetings, what does that mean for the folks they serve? If they want to act in private, they shouldn’t be a non-profit.

        1. Op2here*

          Thank you for weighing in! Yeah, so at this nonprofit, all board meetings are for the board only (me being the only exception, since I alone am responsible for my department), with the exception of one meeting a year that is “open to the public” (that is the phrase they use, but in reality means that it is open to members). This is something that has felt off to me, namely because people that we have helped are not automatically given memberships, so even they cannot attend that one meeting unless they pay!

          I think, in all fairness, they are not intentionally being shady. I think none of them have experience running a business and are simply going off of their gut – a great example is that, despite my pleas, the organization has no yearly or quarterly budgets, goals, or analyses. I genuinely don’t think there is a secret financial concern – actually, somewhat the opposite. It’s been brought up that we have the funds, but a lack of people to donate TO, and so we need to start expanding to find people in need that align with our target demo.

          1. Renee Remains the Same*

            Fair enough… Though based on what you’re describing, it sounds like it’s just a collective group of wealthy folks offering support to an underprivileged few. While they may declare themselves a non-profit and may even have official standing as a non-profit, the lack of organization – including budgets and company procedure – does make me wonder how much longer they will be operating. I would argue it’s all well and good if you want to volunteer with them. But, I wouldn’t recommend donating money to become a member to an organization that hasn’t offered any accountability for how they’re spending their money and has also been pretty elitist and obnoxious while working with you.

          2. Observer*

            It’s been brought up that we have the funds, but a lack of people to donate TO, and so we need to start expanding to find people in need that align with our target demo.

            That is actually a MAJOR red flag to me. If the organization is doing fundraising and the money is not actually benefiting people, at best that’s bad management. At worst? An argument could be made that there is illegal or unethical behavior in that you are asking for money that you don’t need. It’s not that an organization can never have some money in the bank as an emergency cushion. But what you are describing is a situation where you are telling people “we want to help retrain chocolate teapot makers to be able to work with taffy and marshmallow”, except that you actually don’t have chocolate teapot makers to train.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Yeah, this… sounds super-shady.

              I don’t know much about nonprofits and how they run, but how do they not have no yearly or quarterly budgets, goals, or analyses? Isn’t that kind of thing part of the information that allows people to see where the nonprofit funds are going? How can they solicit funds if they have no plan for where they’re going?

      3. justabot*

        That would be really irksome and upsetting to have the founder say that you need to pay to show your dedication to the cause, after all the time and work you have devoted and put in. That’s a terrible way to go about it. A fee to volunteer feels wrong.

        And I think in general there are different levels of volunteering. For example, everyone on a committee might be asked to get a “get” (rather than have to personally donate or pay anything themselves). For example, if your foundation was holding a “race for xyz cause” maybe everyone on the “race committee” would be asked to get (or at least attempt to get) a donation from local businesses (water, balloons, donuts, dj, whatever). Or secure a silent auction item or whatever.

        But if someone just wanted to volunteer their time to help at the organization, that’s great too. I can’t imagine ever turning down someone who wants to help in any capacity because they didn’t pay a fee. And it’s wrong to question someone’s commitment and dedication because of the financial aspect.

        1. Op2here*

          Thank you again for weighing in! The founder did discuss this briefly to me, saying that the levels of volunteering would essentially be:

          – 1 time/event volunteers (i.e. people handing out water at an outdoor event). These individuals would not be required to pay a membership

          – Long term volunteers like myself, who are almost “corporate” in a sense – I focus on strategy, development of tactics, and more organization-wide big picture items. These volunteers would be required to pay a membership, and supposedly the goal is these people would one day be paid – but at this point, not even the board is paid and that is their top priority.

          I am glad you are on the same page as me… especially as such a small team, I cannot understand how they feel like they can turn away free help! And not only that, but I have quite a bit of responsibility that, once I leave, will fall to someone else or – more likely – not happen because they are stretched so thin already, which is a huge loss because these are tactics that directly result in new leads and donations.

          1. Frank Doyle*

            This does not make sense to me whatsoever. Those who donate more time should be required to donate more money?? And you are donating up to 40 hours a week sometimes and treated like this? They are taking advantage of you, whether they realize it or not. I think the longer you stay, the more you’ll be taken advantage of. It might be best to find something else before the relationship sours between you and the organization. Maybe in a bit when they have their shit together a bit more, you can come back for a more healthy relationship.

    11. Qwerty*

      I (briefly) served on a committee for a nonprofit that not only required a decent sized donation to the organization, but required committee members to buy tickets for the events we volunteered at. Basically the proceeds from the committee were really coming out of the pockets of members rather than having a decent profit margin on fundraising events. I quit after a couple months when I realized it was going to cost me a few thousand dollars per year to “help” them.

      1. Op2here*

        Buy tickets at events you were WORKING? I am so sorry, that sounds awful. I think part of the problem here is exactly what you stated – the proceeds just end up coming from your people, instead the focus should be new leads that you can get financial support from.

    12. PT*

      A nonprofit I worked for required all employees to participate in the fundraising as a performance metric, and the board members had to donate at least 1K to be eligible for a seat.

      1. Op2here*

        Several commenters have discussed this, and I can see the value in setting expectations for a board member to raise a certain amount or be a member, I can understand how this sets an example for the rest of the organization and gives them a reputation. I also (and I realize I am somewhat generalizing) think that board members are typically individuals who are a little older, and more established in their careers, so they might be more likely to afford that type of requirement, have a larger network to get donations from, etc. But as a young volunteer with no current aspirations to be on the board, I felt like requiring the same of me was not something I was interested in.

    13. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I’ve paid various fees to volunteer in a couple of different situations where it seemed pretty reasonable, so I think it depends on the structure of the organization, how it’s funded, and who it’s “for”.

      I do a lot of volunteering in the SF convention community, and some of those conventions make everyone, including volunteers/staff/the convention committee, purchase a membership to attend. This is typical of Worldcons and also tryue at some smaller events. As someone who has dealt with figuring out who should have their membership comped and who should not, just requiring everyone to buy one does have a beautiful simplicity to it.

      It also makes sense for events with a lot of informal programming or with a larger proportion of the attending members presenting, since the lines between “presenter”, “volunteer”, and “general member” can be pretty blurred at smaller, less formal conventions and the cost is lower per person when spread out to all attending. (I’m thinking 100-ish person filk cons here – everyone who can does little things to help out like moves chairs for circles, you can often sign up to perform 10 minute concerts at-con, everyone can sing in the circles, and knowing exactly who will be in the band performing at 7pm on Saturday before the con begins is only 90% likely, because once the invited band members realize that so-and-so is there this weekend they will ask so-and-so to add fiddle/drums/flute/whatever to a couple of songs…trying to decide if you should refund membership costs for people who got pulled up onto the stage to play fiddle since they were now a stage performer is a headache that can be avoided if you didn’t comp the rest of the band either.) I’ll note that this works for things that are small, collaborative, and more of a co-op/club mindset than a business mindset. (No one is getting paid at these things, except for maybe the org having a lawyer paid a small yearly amount to be their lawyer if one is needed. Orgs running these conventions generally have no paid staff at all.)

      I also remember that some structured youth volunteer programs had fees when I was a kid. It didn’t bother me at the time (I volunteered at the zoo when I aged out of being able to attend day camp at the zoo, so it was cheaper than camp used to be plus I could hang out at the zoo all summer rather than just the two weeks of camp for my age group, and access a bunch of behind-the-scenes presentations with zookeepers just for students in the volunteer program), but I think that’s partially because it did keep some of those “camp” aspects (like the zookeeper talks and chances to interact with zoo animals) as well as the volunteer aspects. (We also got free admission to the zoo all summer and had portions of the non-public-access areas that we were allowed to just hang out in while not on shift as long as we were in uniform. I wouldn’t pay $75 to hang out at the zoo all summer as an adult, but it was cheaper than zoo camp and there aren’t a lot of other places where a 14 year old can hang out all summer while working with animals so it felt reasonable at the time.)

      1. Op2here*

        Hi, thank you for reaching out! A couple commenters have shared similar experiences. In my situation, there is not really any kind of “perk” that goes with the membership, it’s not like this fee covers getting me a t-shirt or to acknowledge that I am getting to experience an event for free or to cover a background check. It’s essentially just a general donation to the organization. This membership is offered to the general public, and the perks are things like “get invited to exclusive events!” and be the first to know about new merchandise. There are only 2 benefits for staff who pay: you get voting rights, and one that applies more to our mission statement. I’m being purposefully vague, as it’s an easily identifiable element to our org., but a poor example:

        We are a nonprofit that helps banana bread makers start up their business. One of the membership benefits is if you were to, say, go bankrupt or fall on some sort of hard times, our organization would support you.

        Some of the board members are Banana Bread Makers, so in theory this could help them if they fell on hard times. I, however, am not, so this benefit does not apply to me. So in the simplest of terms, the organization is requiring that I donate a set amount every year in order to continue to volunteer.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I think it comes down to what are you “getting out” of volunteering? In your case, it’s not clear that it’s benefiting you either directly or indirectly (since you’re not a banana bread maker, and the org is set up to provide benefits for banana bread makers).

          It’s like if someone with no interest in attending SF conventions volunteered to make our program book. Unless they were a teenager trying to get experience with print layout (in which case it’d possibly be useful experience for them) or someone who really enjoyed reading presenter bios and just didn’t want to have to actually attend the convention or listen to the presenters (this person probably does not exist), I can’t see why they’d *want* to volunteer to do such a thing. (This is one reason we have so much trouble finding someone to run Hospitality – finding someone who wants to spend most of the convention preparing and serving food rather than attending programming is hard, since it’s not clear what they’d be getting out of it.)

          I’m not sure how you ended up connected to this org and volunteering for them, but it may be that it doesn’t really make sense for “outsiders” who don’t make banana bread to volunteer with them given how they have it set up. If it’s a charity that you really believe in the mission of even though it doesn’t benefit you directly, that’s one thing, but this sounds more like a professional org for a profession you’re not in.

          1. Op2here*

            Hi! Thank you for clarifying. The benefit for me is that I am, say starting a career in IT so I’m helping this Banana Bread Foundation with their IT aspect of the foundation, so I am getting real work experience, it’s simply that the membership benefits don’t apply to me.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              In this case I think you should take a look at whether the annual membership fee is it worth for you to have access to the CV-building work experience, but I totally understand that it would rankle. There may be other orgs out there who would welcome your offer, maybe even some you would be happy to join (become a paid-up member) because they’re about something you’re actually interested in. The founder sounds like the line between fundraising-centered “friends of X” type and collaborative volunteer-driven organizations isn’t clear in their mind.

              I like Seven Hobbits’ example of “someone with no interest in attending SF conventions volunteer[ing] to make our program book” – this would basically not happen, and if by some confluence of circumstance it did, you’d say “thanks so much!!” and not badger them about getting a membership in order to be allowed to vote on the best short-form TV adaptation.

  7. Kimmybear*

    On the parental care, you can get a good sense of how an org handles this based on their benefits package. Do they offer dependent care leave vs child care leave? My current job offers resources for childcare searching and elder care searching. In a previous job, it was all about childcare and maternity leave. Unsurprisingly, they were not supportive when some of us dealt with elder care issues.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      Also, a lot of companies will allow you to use sick time to care for a parent so that’s a question worth asking once you see the benefits package. I had a coworker with aging parents, and it was actually quite nice to see the level of flexibility the company gave him. We also had an incredibly generous sick time allotment, so that helped.

      This is a little different, but I have chronic migraines that cause similar ‘surprise’ time off requests at least once a month. In the past I’ve been really tempted to just blurt it out on the first interview, because… I want to know if it’ll be ok before I waste all my time interviewing. But this last time, I waited until I had an offer, and to be honest it was so much better that way. They had a chance to get to know me (not as someone defined by my disability) and be invested in making things work for me. And really, the offer stage was the only time we could actually negotiate about what that means. I ended up negotiating to be allowed to take PTO blocks in less-than-4-hour increments, and for an extra 5 days PTO, which means that my migraines won’t cut into vacation time.

    2. Rebecca1*

      This is a good point. The standard benefits info that comes with offer letters from my company clarifies a lot of information and procedures for this sort of thing, so new employees would only need to ask a few specific questions on the margins.

  8. Breann*

    #2, when I was broke and unemployed I thought I’d try volunteering at the nearest charity shop to help boost my resume. Turned out I had to pay to be part of the organization that ran the shop in order to volunteer there. Couldn’t afford the membership fee (see above re: broke and unemployed) so I went home. So bizarre.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The boosting your resume part is the key here. If the volunteer receives some benefit, it is not irrational to require they pay for a membership. This is not to say it is a good idea, but it isn’t crazy on its face. In the case of LW2, it looks to me like the board imagines that the LW is getting some benefit, while the LW disagrees. I expect the LW is right.

      1. Observer*

        It is STILL irrational. If the volunteer is actually any good, the organization is getting far more than the volunteer in value.

      2. Lynn*

        I fundamentally don’t agree.

        Because the volunteer receives some benefit to their resume yes, but so does the organization, because they get free work done for them. That is the volunteering transaction. You should not have to pay money to do unpaid work.

      3. Willis*

        I agree with this. How popular the volunteer opportunity is could also make a difference. Ive paid fees before to volunteer because the activities were fun things I wanted to do with friends, so to me, I was getting something out of it personally that made it worth it. I’ve also been offered volunteer opportunities by orgs I support monthly, probably as part of donor retention efforts by the orgs.

        But, none of that sounds like it particularly applies in the OPs case, where they are the only volunteer.

      4. MHA*

        I definitely see paying for the privilege of performing labor as irrational. No different than the people that don’t want to pay artists because “you’re getting paid in exposure” or “you’re getting paid in experience.”

        1. Op2here*

          This!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this comparison. What a great way to think about it. Similar to artists, my time, materials, creativity, all have value. I am not asking to be paid, I’m simply asking that I don’t have to pay you!

      5. D3*

        Boost to the resume in exchange for free work is enough. Expecting cash PLUS free work? THAT is irrational!

      6. Op2here*

        Hi all, thank you for weighing in! I volunteer to do the work that aligns with my career (i.e. I am an IT expert, so I volunteer to help the nonprofit with IT issues) but the nonprofit itself is not something that I would say is in my industry or an industry I would like to get my start in. It does boost my resume, but I don’t think that is something worth paying for. I have achieved great results for them (their benefit) and in turn I get to tell that to future employers (my benefit). It seems equal enough as is, and – I am not complaining – but there are expenses as a volunteer that I cover myself and do not get reimbursed for, which to me is the cost of doing business as a volunteer. By asking me to give more money on top of this makes me feel like they value my money over the work I’ve done for them – which ironically has resulted in thousands of dollars in donations and a good amount of new leads as well. They are, to some extent, getting more out of this than me (which is fine! To me, that is how volunteering works).

        1. Artemesia*

          There are tons of important charitable organizations that would love to have help with their IT. No reason at all to work for a jerk who calls you the ‘help’ to others and doesn’t appreciate the time you put in. You have already got resume cred from this organization; find one that gives you different experiences AND appreciates your work.

          1. Op2here*

            You are honestly giving me such a great mood boost with the kind words! I would love your thoughts – I’m assuming that, no matter how I handle a resignation, by walking away I am going to burn this bridge. Would you still recommend putting this on a resume? It is great content, I have achieved a lot, but I am hesitant that if a future employer were to reach out to them the Foundation (or hopefully, just the founder) would look back on my time with anger and not have kind words to say.

        2. ThatOnePlease*

          I’ve worked for multiple non-profits and policies can definitely vary. It’s common to have a fundraising and/or donation requirement for board service, including junior (young professional) boards. And some orgs may require membership in order to volunteer, for legitimate reasons — but, they should be flexible with you as a valued volunteer if you push back on the cost. The value of your time and labor is likely much higher than the membership fee, and it sounds like you’re the organization’s only volunteer, so this isn’t going to set an unsustainable precedent. If they’re smart, they’ll comp it for you.

          1. Op2here*

            Thank you! I love hearing how different organizations handle this, and I appreciate learning the value to this requirement and the potential workarounds if the situation calls for it.

        3. Lu*

          Even if the membership fee was $10 it seems unreasonable to expect that from volunteers. They’re saving money having you volunteer but also want to make money off of you. You’re being generous enough by providing time and skill. I’m the chair of a board and we don’t even specify a dollar amount that board members need to donate. We suggest contributing at a leadership level. For me, in a dual-income household, that’s a different amount compared to the single mom of two young children. We would lose all of our volunteers if we asked them to donate money also.

          1. Op2here*

            Thank you for weighing in! This nonprofit has explored the idea of board members raising certain $$ amount, but decided at this point that was not necessary. It has never been made clear to me, but from what I understand a membership was always an unofficial requirement to be a board member, and since the board is so small and they are all friends who joined because they support the founder, they have always paid. I am their first non-board member, and non-dues payer, so I think this has been such a new case for them and the founder has simply decided memberships are now a requirement – which doesn’t affect the board since they have always been willing to pay.

            I appreciate and am so glad to hear that as a chair, you are aware of and empathetic that people come from different backgrounds and may not be able to donate!

    2. Op2here*

      Incredibly bizarre! I have always been raised with the belief that volunteering is a way to donate when you don’t have the money to give to a cause. I hope you found an organization that you loved, and that your situation has improved! Thank you for the comment.

  9. LW 1*

    Letter writer 1 here. In terms of how I knew about the firings: I work in government, and applicants have to fill out a full application and answer several essay questions (which includes asking if they were ever terminated and from which positions) before they even get to the interview stage, and then we interview everyone who was rated high enough based on the applications. So when I wrote in, it was after the candidate successfully went through the application rating process and the first round of interviews, which is very structured and where we can’t deviate from the approved questions (which didn’t ask about any previous terminations).

    I did end up setting aside some of my misgivings and did a second interview with the candidate, where I asked about the terminations. Their answer, at least about one of them, was diplomatic in a way that made it reasonably clear that the firing was probably retaliatory, and actually boosted their application in my eyes. The answer about the other firing was a bit more about interpersonal conflict, which also echoed in some of the answers to other questions, which concerned me a bit, as one of the things I value about this team is their ability to work together well. A lot of the candidate’s other answers also made it clear to me that they probably wouldn’t be a great fit for this particular position and the kind of flexibility I need in terms of building up a new team and new position. Nothing disqualifying for work in general, just not right for this position. I do wish them well, and they’re still eligible for hire for other positions that are open.

    I’m glad I listened to my “inner Alison” and decided to do the second interview (and also that my inner Alison mostly matched what the actual Alison advised!). I was much more confident in my decision to rule the candidate out after talking to them again, and I felt more like I was doing so for good reasons rather than assumptions I was holding about what someone’s career “should” look like.

    1. Detective Rosa Diaz*

      Thank you for the additional info! This sounds totally reasonable and it’s good you followed up with them to be extra sure.

    2. shirleywurley*

      I’m glad you did the second interview with the candidate. I’m also really glad to hear that you were both kind and logical regarding the candidate’s side of the story regarding the terminations, and that the experience has allowed you to shed some harmful assumptions.

      I’d personally be careful about making such judgements on the “interpersonal conflict” point, though: the worst interpersonal conflict in the workplace I have ever seen was between two people who had spotless records regarding getting on with everyone in the workplace…prior to meeting and working with each other, that is.

      Moreso, if this “conflict” led to the candidate’s termination from a previous role, it very much could be an abuse of power by a boss or grandboss, rather than something that is actually going to be a problem. This could also be causing some of the candidate’s answers to sound defensive or otherwise negative: the wound of that conflict may still be a sore point for them when it comes to discussing it, rather than being a point of trouble when it comes to actually working well with others.

      Trust your own judgment about your own team, of course, but no one gets along with absolutely everybody else all of the time, especially in the workplace. Some of the best people I have ever worked with (and managed) really didn’t like each other. Thankfully, there are effective ways to manage it, especially when you talk (privately) to the people involved.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Yeah. I had an “interpersonal issue” with a co-worker, because he refused to help out and do things in his job description. It was my job to fix the interpersonal issues in the eyes of my manager. (in reality he had mental health problems he refused to get treated, and expected to be pandered to. And my manager did so. To the extent he thought it was reasonable to refuse to speak to anyone including management or customers. In a customer service position. Was very glad when upper management forced him to take medical leave after a work place accident)

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, expecting everyone to get along with everyone else all the time is pretty unrealistic. It’s a different matter if a team member doesn’t get along with anyone, that’s when it gets problematic, either because the person is simply difficult to get along with or because the team lacks diversity and one person sticks out in a way that the others consider negative (it can be tough to be a 20-something in a team of middle aged employees…). But professionals in a functional office can be expected to work together reasonably well even if they don’t like each other personally, and that should be enough.

        1. Colette*

          I would consider “working together reasonably well even if they don’t like each other personally” to be getting along with everyone else, though. They don’t have to be friends; they have to work together.

          1. Doug Judy*

            That’s why “how have you handled a conflict with a coworker” should be a standard interview question. There’s going to be conflict, how someone navigates that is what you want to know.

            1. PT*

              Yes but it’s often common that “handling the conflict with a coworker” puts the onus on the reasonable person to overcome the objections of the unreasonable person. If your conflict is one sided because your coworker is a bully who does not like you/is racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever, there’s nothing you can do to resolve that conflict, no matter how hard you try, because you cannot stop being yourself.

            2. Nanani*

              But some people have never actually had conflict with a coworker? Not getting along doesn’t always rise to the level of “conflict” so should someone who has always been able to keep it professional be seen as sus for saying (correctly!) that they’ve never had a conflict with coworkers?

              Not all workplaces have conflicts that rise to the level of being memorable in a job interview years down the line, is what I’ve saying.

              1. ThatOnePlease*

                Yes. It’s not always a red flag! I was asked this in an interview, and I answered honestly that I’ve never had a real “conflict” with a coworker. It feels like a bad answer, but I’m generally easygoing and I suppose I’ve been lucky to work with reasonable people! Of course there are annoyances and little disagreements, but nothing that was truly contentious or required HR intervention. That was a few years ago and I still don’t have an answer for that question (luckily).

      3. Allonge*

        Look, you are right that interpersonal conflict is not necessarily an absolute blocking thing (and LW does point out that it was confirming other points that came up in the interview), but let’s not go too far in the other direction either.

        Yes, everyone has some conflict at work, a lot of people have it without any fault. Getting fired for it is a whole other category though, and has to be treated as at least a yellow flag if not red, by any hiring manager.

        1. Washi*

          Yes, I think at some point we have to take OP at their word that compared to the other candidates (becasue this is not happening in a vacuum, there are other people in the mix who probably want/need this job just as much!) this person’s answers raised some flags. The person was able to give one diplomatic answer, but couldn’t come up with a similar explanation for the other firing. When you’re hiring, you’re never going to have every data point and you need to go with the information you’re given, which in this case, pointed to other candidates being a better fit.

          1. BRR*

            Yes I’m not sure why there is so much push back to the LW about a situation they weren’t there for that the LW spelled out really well (not to mention we’re supposed to be taking LWs as their word). When you’re hiring, you can’t give every candidate every benefit of the doubt.

          2. Reba*

            Yes, OP only has one job opening, and more than one candidate who would match! They have to compare them and find reasons to choose one over the others, even if those reasons seem slight or debatable… there is only one opening.

            1. Myrin*

              Exactly!

              I think all the points made in this thread about interpersonal conflicts are true and well-stated and would be very suited for a general discussion about this phenomenon, but they don’t really fit as a reply to OP, who 1. has already made her decision and 2. made that decision seemingly wisely, by thinking critically but fairly, asking questions, digging deeper where it felt warranted, judging separate issues separately, comparing this person to other candidates, and by understanding through “a lot” of this candidates answers that they probably wouldn’t be a good fit for this position regardless of the firings or the personal conflicts.

              I don’t see any need to focus on any one of these points when all of them together make it so that the OP decides on another candidate.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, thank you. The OP doesn’t need a bunch of strangers who don’t know the situation deciding they know it better than she, the interviewer, does.

        2. shirleywurley*

          I mean no disrespect whatsoever, Allonge, but in my experience, people being fired over a “personality conflict” usually means we have an incompetent manager bullying an employee for whatever reason, being unable to manage a team effectively, playing favourites among their employees, and so on.

          Any half-decent manager should be able to deal with all but the most extreme examples of workplace personality conflicts. I have seen some seriously extreme variants of this, and literally all bar a couple of them could have been nipped in the bud early if half-decent management got their act together and sorted it out. And even those couple of outliers could and should have been dealt with early in the piece, as they were large companies where a transfer of one or both parties was perfectly possible and would have solved the issue.

          I’d also add that in all but one case I can think of was the actual “troublemaker” fired: it was usually their target who bore the brunt of the blame, and ended up out of a job. Meaning that the “problem” was still alive and well in the workplace, causing trouble and still not being dealt with.

          And don’t get me started on awful managers who use this excuse to fire good employees they find to be a “threat” or turn down their sexual advances or whatever other nonsense.

          1. Allonge*

            I am sure that happens plenty, and it sucks. And if hiring was some grand method of ensuring justice in the world, than all hiring managers should get to the bottom of all that, conduct deep personal background interviews and checks, and and offer the job to the Objectively Deserving Candidate TM, preferably all 20 of them.

            It’s just that hiring is meant to fill one post with the best possible fit for the company – with one person. And LW did go to quite some effort in making sure that they have correct information about the circumstances of the two firings in this particular person’s background, and one of them still made LW concerned even after an explanation and that is the best that any hiring manager can do.

            1. Allonge*

              Sorry, one more thing. Managers are indeed responsible for managing the personality conflicts. So are employees, and they are first in line for their own behavior!

              I know plenty of people who managed to work with others they did not like, did not click with and so on. If this goes to the level where a manager has to step in, there is already plenty of blame to go around, usually shared between the players (and no, I am not talking about harrassment or bullying).

              1. Joan Rivers*

                One part of any job description is that you FIT IN. Sometimes you get away with doing it “your way” but usually it’s up to YOU to fit in w/THEM. You try to blend who you are with the others already there.
                A manager doesn’t know your personality and hopes for the best. They have to manage you and others to get along.
                You can have an impact and make change but usually you need to fit in. Or start your own company.

      4. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I’d personally be careful about making such judgements on the “interpersonal conflict” point

        We should be careful about these judgements, of course. To my mind, the fact that OP has written into Alison and shared with us her thought process suggests that she is being reasonably careful (a careless person probably wouldn’t think to do those things, much less in a way that solicits feedback).

        With hiring you always risk eliminating someone who might be a great fit but who didn’t represent themselves ideally. But there’s really no way around that, and we’re forced to make judgements about incredibly subjective things. If OP moved forward with this person and they brought a lot of interpersonal conflict on the team, OP would likely feel responsible for bringing that difficulty to her employees (not to mention the fact that this person isn’t being interviewed in a vacuum, and offering this person a second chance would come at the expense of offering another applicant a job that might be a good fit).

        Rather than putting all that pressure on the individual doing the hiring, I think this is where we really benefit from looking critically at the structures and systems that support hiring, to make sure that our subjective judgements aren’t leaning too hard on biases based on race, culture, social-class or similar.

      5. Lora*

        When it’s stuff like interpersonal conflict, I like to ask around my network if possible to see what other people who might have known about the conflict thought, get their take on it. It’s always been a helpful way to get more insight.

        On the one hand, we had a lady interview a few years ago – about my age but her focus would have been finance and vendor interactions. I happened to know one of her colleagues and asked him what she was like to work with. He said, she negotiated VERY aggressively and will definitely get you the best prices on everything – but she will also destroy your vendor relationships. I asked in a group interview, how she dealt with challenging vendors who maybe were bidding high or something, and she went OFF about how nasty she was to vendors who didn’t want to cooperate with her pricing, how she’d been really unprofessionally cruel to them, and immediately the group knew not to hire her.

        On the other, I found that another woman, a senior manager widely considered to be a Dragon Lady was really no meaner or less professional that any male boss I had ever had – but to male engineers who are used to getting favorable treatment and the benefit of the doubt, her routine auditing and questioning of their work came across as heavy criticism and they felt personally insulted (by constructive critiques that for me are just another Tuesday, because as a woman engineer I’m NEVER given the benefit of the doubt). She was much better than any male senior manager we had and very effective at weeding out the guys who had been doing shoddy work and mismanaging budgets.

        I don’t think I’d have gotten that information without using my network to get the back story. But, people are REALLY weird about networking.

    3. Weekend Please*

      Knowing you are in government makes the letter make more sense to me. My understanding is that it is much harder to be fired from a government position than from most jobs.

    4. JohannaCabal*

      It sounds like they were not a good fit for this role but would be for others. I’m glad you followed through with the second interview. I’ve been fired before and had a bad interview where the firing was brought up (this, and other reasons, led me to start lying about it, which I regret). Even though the second interview didn’t lead to an offer, I’m sure just getting to that point has helped the candidate.

      Also, I think it’s important to point out that the candidate was honest. Even on government applications, it can be easy to lie about reasons for leaving a past job (many companies won’t confirm it; in my case, I was fired from a small company and that company was bought out by another firm when the owner retired, I suspect I could easily get away with lying about my termination and no one would know).

  10. shirleywurley*

    OP1, Alison has given some excellent advice here. You need to speak to the candidate and see what they say. You also need to be aware of the fact that the candidate may be very hesitant to explain/discuss the issue if it wasn’t something quite straight-forward (which firings usually aren’t).

    I am glad to hear that you yourself have never had to deal with a difficult work situation that has seen you laid off, “encouraged to resign”, or outright fired. A very large majority of people have not been this lucky, and at the end of the day, a sizable percentage of firings (or similar departures from jobs) have very little to do with the person being a “bad” employee.

    Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons that really good people have been fired, laid off, or “encouraged” to resign:
    * Employees having the temerity to privately, politely enquire as to why they were being underpaid;
    * Employees having the temerity to privately, politely enquire as to why they were not being granted their legally-required leave and/or other benefits;
    * Bullying bosses;
    * Abusive bosses;
    * Lying bosses;
    * Bosses who sexually harrass or assault employees;
    * Bosses who turn nasty against an employee who turned down their sexual advances;
    * Employees having the temerity to privately, politely reporting the bullying (or otherwise illegal) behaviour of their boss or bosses to the correct authorities, such as HR;
    * Bosses wanting more money for themselves, so coming up with lies to have people fired so they wouldn’t have to be paid (meaning more money for the bosses’ salary);
    * Bosses hiring excellent candidates who were good at their jobs, thus turning these employees into “threats” for their bosses;
    * Power-hungry bosses;
    * Bosses who threw an employee under the bus to cover the mistakes made by said boss, and/or someone else the boss didn’t want to get in trouble;
    * Employees’ jobs being changed underneath them, which now requires a skill set this person doesn’t have, in all or in part, thus rendering it basically impossible to perform the role;
    * Genuine personality conflicts (usually resulting in a boss or other “protected” office species’ long-standing terrible behvauiour finally being called out);
    * Employees not being given the adequate, required support and/or training to perform their job;
    * Employees who were hired instead of the “preferred” candidate of the boss (or other team member/s), who are then bullied and/or mistreated relentlessly until they either leave or are fired;
    * Good employees who are fired based upon the lies and/or exaggerations put forward by a boss or other team member/s who find this employee to be a threat (or similar);
    * Employees becoming aware of illegal and/or distasteful happenings and/or issues at the office; and
    * Employees encountering illegal discrimination (eg: sexism; homophobia; transphobia; disability; etc).

    At the end of the day, if you have a good feeling about the candidate, give them the job and see how they go.

    If you put any faith in reference checks, have a chat to one or more of their referees, and see what they say. (I have to amdit I have little faith in reference checks, in part due to reasons associated with the above list, but still, they can sometimes be helpful.)

    I have worked in the media and legal sectors, but not in the USA. I worked for a while in employment law, so I have seen the worst of the worst when it comes to bosses, companies and workers. I have to say, there are very few workers who actually “deserve” the firing and/or poor treatment handed to them by their boss and/or company.

    1. John Smith*

      You should come to my workplace. You’d have a field day and tick most of them points off. Also makes me feel a bit better knowing that “it’s not me”.

    2. Jane47*

      This list is super interesting! I am not in a great position in my role now and am actively looking. One question for you based on this: if you have hired someone who was fired due to being perceived as a threat by their boss/coworkers, how did they tactfully explain that when asked? It obviously isn’t something you say outright, but what is the best way to handle it in future interviews?

    3. Colette*

      Sure, but people are also fired for:
      – sleeping on the job
      – failing to complete work
      – being rude to coworkers or customers
      – stealing at work
      – breaking network use policies
      – sexually harassing others
      – refusing to talk to women
      – assaulting others
      – posting negative comments about the company on social media

      And in many companies, it is much harder to fire someone than it is to hire, so giving someone a job when you have serious doubts is not a good approach.

      I’m not saying the OP shouldn’t ask more questions – of course she should! – but I’d say there are probably as many people in jobs they should be fired from as have been unfairly fired.

      1. shirleywurley*

        True, Colette, but far too few bad workers who assault, harass, or sexually discriminate against their colleagues end up fired. Often, their victims are instead for daring to upset the status quo. I would very enthusiastically welcome a change on this front, though.

        Regarding the rest of the list, you make good points, of course, but what is even more interesting is WHY these employees ending up behaving that way on the job. Sometimes, they are just a terrible person. But usually, there is a lot more at play.

        Sometimes, this has nothing to do with the workplace and everything to do with problems the person is facing outside of work. But, more often than not, it is that the worker is acting out due to ill treatment by their boss and/or company of employ. And, in my experience, very rarely is this ill treatment actually in any way deserved.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think that any of these would be justified by ill treatment at work. If you don’t like how your boss treats you so you decide to stop working or watch porn at work or hit someone or act like a petulant child, I’m OK with you being fired – and if you use “but my boss wasn’t treating me well” as an excuse, I won’t think your boss was the problem.

          Yes, some of these (specifically falling asleep at your desk or not getting your work done) could be caused by problems outside of work, but … if they’re affecting your job, you can still be fired for them – and arguably should be (assuming you aren’t taking action to improve the situation), since you’re leaving a lot of slack for your coworkers to pick up, and not doing what you’re being paid to do. That doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person – but it does mean that you have some work to do in order to be a good employee for someone else.

          1. shirleywurley*

            True. But I wasn’t talking about harassment in the workplace, or refusing to speak to women, or assault.

            I have to say, in all my years in the legal sector (including in employment law), it is very rarely as simple as “this person is a bad person and a bad employee”. (The power imbalance between employer and worker is critically important to keep in mind in all of these cases.)

            More often than not, the true fault actually lies with the employer, whether it be toxic company culture, workplace bullying and/or harassment, terrible and/or incompetent bosses, rampant wage theft and violations of other basic workplace rights, general mistreatment, etc.

            Should people act out in frustration? Probably not, and definitely not to the point of harming their fellow workers! But they have no real power in the situation, as is shown clearly by the differing laws when it comes to punishing employees who steal from their employers, versus employers who steal the wages, entitlements and etc from their workers.

            Wage theft costs the economy BILLIONS annually, including in tax revenue. Theft perpetrated by employees is, on average, less than $100, and an impressive percentage of these employees are being underpaid.

            If someone is falling asleep at work, or is not getting their work, done it could be a problem with that worker. Of course. Sometimes it is. But they may also be unwell, and firing them would be immoral and often illegal. It could also be that they are in a toxic workplace and/or dealing with incompetent management, leaving the person over-worked and exhausted, unsupported and under-trained. It is likely that their co-workers are facing some or all of the same issues, too.

            Plenty of “breaking network use policies” cases have nothing to do with porn and everything to do with the employee looking at Facebook or their email on an unpaid lunchbreak, and the employer using that as an excuse to try and screw over the employee.

        2. BRR*

          I’m not sure I’m 100% following but I’m reading this as you’re classifying most employee issues as being from ill treatment by a boss/company and I just don’t think that’s true. I do think a lot of firings are BS and even if you’re fired for something like poor work quality it doesn’t mean you can’t thrive in another position, but this makes it sound like almost all firings are unjustified.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I agree. I think it’s just as unhelpful to swing in the “it’s always a toxic environment” direction because that’s not always true. Many of us have been in really terrible situations, but I would argue that many of us have also seen poor work performance, failure to show up, inappropriate behavior, etc.

          2. shirleywurley*

            I admit that my work in law – and employment law – had jaded me regarding firing, and I am sorry if I didn’t articulate myself as well as I might.

            Of course, some firings are very much deserved, and required. Sometimes, the employer has indeed done everything right and have supported the employee and tried to fix things, but no dice.

            Many firings also seem justified at first, but are actually premature, because very simple steps could have improved the employee’s performance dramatically. Instead, the company insisted upon the firing and now everyone else has to pick up the slack while the recruitment dance goes ahead again.

            However, far too many firings are actually down to mismanagement, mistreatment, etc. I cannot tell you how common this is, especially in certain industries. It is legitimately horrifying and so disheartening.

            The reason why so many employers settle cases regarding claims of unfair firings is NOT because they don’t want to waste resources or time, and just want the person to go away. Certainly, sometimes it is indeed this. But, often, it’s because many of these cases turn out to have merit: the employee was unfairly treated, they did have their wages stolen, they were bullied, they were discriminated against, they were deliberately misclassified, they were thrown under the bus to cover a mistake or something illegal perpetrated by someone else. Even if the employer may still technically come out on top in the end, they settle with the ex-employee because they don’t want that dirty laundry aired.

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Yeah – this list is arguably a list where firings (or at least PIPS) were necessary, it’s just that the wrong employee was fired (ie: that power-hungry boss should have been fired, rather than the staff).

  11. Op2here*

    Letter writer 2 here. Thank you all for the comments and advice! A small update:

    – To those asking, the membership fee is actually a very low dollar amount, but I am young and saving up and too, just the principle of it all bothers me.

    – I have volunteered here for years and no one has ever mentioned this, so as far as I am aware it is not in the bylaws and is something new the founder wants to try out.

    – I explained to the founder that I was not interested in paying a membership and, similar to what I said here, I feel that I donate in the form of my time, expertise, etc. The founder told me I must pay the dues in order to demonstrate I believe in the organization and their mission. This was a huge blow to me – do my countless hours of work the past several years not prove how much I care about the mission? That is the nail in the coffin for me, and I will take Alison’s advice as I walk away.

    I could use everyone’s advice on one thing: if I do leave the organization, is it worth giving feedback on this whole thing? I know that is something typically reserved for exit interviews (which I’m sure this nonprofit does not do), and typically only for companies that you feel like listen to you (which I have not felt about this nonprofit), but part of me hopes that since this is such a young organization that leaving this feedback could have a huge effect on their future if they listen to it.

    1. Derivative Poster*

      I’m familiar with the nominal fees people mentioned above to pay for volunteers’ background checks or t-shirts. But I think donating your time demonstrates your belief in the organization more vividly than a membership fee does!

      Are you friendly with any board members other than the founder? A casual conversation (even in the form of an email saying, “Goodbye, best wishes”) could alert the board that this so-called policy resulted in the loss of your (non-monetary) contributions. I’d worry the founder would treat a request for a formal exit interview as an escalation of hostilities.

      1. Op2here*

        I am friends with two board members, and since its such a small group I am fairly friendly with all. I agree that I won’t request an exit interview, I was simply concerned that since I am not doing an interview, offering feedback in a resignation would feel out of place, but you all have persuaded me to think otherwise! I appreciate you weighing in.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          I think a conversation over tea (or whatever is appropriate) with the two board members you’re friends with would be a good plan. Explain to them why you’re leaving. If they want to take the founder to task for it they can then do this – after you’ve left, the further trajectory of the organization is, from your perspective in “someone else’s problem” space.

    2. Beth*

      Providing this feedback might be something that gets automatically covered in your resignation. “I’ve enjoyed the last [time period] volunteering as [role] here. It’s been an honor to use my experience and skills to support your mission, which I believe in strongly. However, the new membership requirement is not workable for me, so unfortunately I have to bring my time here to a close” conveys the point pretty clearly. A competent board would look at a policy change chasing away skilled volunteers and question whether that’s really in their best interest; I don’t know if this organization will manage that (if they think paying a low membership fee is a better sign of commitment than volunteering hours of your time, I don’t have a super high opinion of their judgement), but regardless, you’ll have put the message out there for them to hear.

      1. Op2here*

        Thank you for the script to work with! I agree that I am not confident in their judgement, but my hope is if I even open the eyes to one board member, that can improve the future of the organization.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Honestly, I think walking away is the biggest piece of feedback you can give. I would bet that you’re not the only person who has misgivings about this, too.

      I do think you could reply that ‘it’s really disappointing to hear that my hours of dedicated time and effort over the last few years don’t demonstrate to you that I believe in the organisation’ — but I wouldn’t request an exit interview or anything. I think that would look unconventional and likely detract from message.

      1. Wendy*

        Agreed! I think you can go a long way with “regretfully polite” – “I’m disappointed that my X time of past volunteer service and my success with X, Y, and Z projects didn’t adequately demonstrate to you that I care about the mission of this organization. Unfortunately, my budget just doesn’t allow for extra expenditures at this point and all I have to offer the organization is my time. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find the volunteer you need in the future!”

        1. Bagpuss*

          sorry – hit post to soon – I ;like the wording and I would send the mail to the whole board, not just the chair. You don’t necessarily know if they all make this assumption or if it is only the Chair / Founder, as you don’t know whether they would share the feedback.

          1. Weekend Please*

            I agree. If you want to provide feedback, make sure it goes to the whole board or they may not actually know what happened.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          +1 to this wording. The organization should know exactly why OP is leaving (and could use a reminder of just how valuable a good volunteer’s time is) and working it into the notice of departure is a great way to go.

        3. Op2here*

          Thank you, and thank you to all who replied to this comment. I appreciate the scripts, and I agree that walking away will send a message to them. I just wish it didn’t have to come to this, as I really do care about the mission and know my absence will result in missed opportunities for them to help their target demo, and I hope they can realize the impact this strategy might have, and come up with alternatives (like the waiver option someone mentioned in another thread).

    4. Allonge*

      I would inclide a line on this in my good-bye email, yes. Honestly, if the founder wants to ‘try this’, I am having serious doubts of their common sense – one, fairly low, payment is not going to help anything or anyone, and it’s costing them a volunteer who at this stage they managed to offend, even. I think most people could figure out how that adds up without ‘trying’.

      I would totally be pissed off just on principle, and as an external, it raises a lot of questions on the whole enterprise.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It’s their ONLY volunteer too. I can see floating the idea to see if it works. But if your one and only volunteer says Nope, not doing it, it’s time to retire the idea. You tried it, it didn’t work, try something else.

        As you say Allonge, one fairly low payment is not going to make or break this organization. Canning the idea for now would be helpful for the organization. Otherwise they have to find another volunteer to do what OP is doing. So the choice is push forward with this idea or keep the volunteer they already have. Guess which one is easier to do?

        1. Op2here*

          EPLawyer – I totally agree, and I empathize with organizations who strongly suggest memberships. I think one of the big lessons this has taught me is the value in listening, and as I grow to higher positions in my career (and heck, even now!) this is a learning moment for me to be empathetic, and listen to my team, as we all don’t come from the same background or have the same experiences.

      2. Op2here*

        I think honestly that the founder has no experience in starting or running a business, and is going off his gut. I have freelanced for a lot of small businesses, and one thing I have always noticed in successful ones is that the founders/presidents/ceos/owners are willing to admit mistakes, compromise, and listen, and that is something I feel this one struggles with.

        I totally understand starting a business can quickly turn into it being your baby, and it is hard to give up control on certain elements when you managed those from the start, but this organization has done a great job of bringing in experts in their respective fields, and (quite frankly) a terrible job of listening to them when their opinions don’t align with the founder’s gut instincts. This is a prime example of the founder simply doing what he thinks is best, despite (at least my!) concerns and protests. I appreciate your advice!

    5. singlemaltgirl*

      not knowing how your org is run specifically, i can’t say whether they’d do an exit interview. i would if it was a volunteer providing such intrinsic services to the operations. but i suspect you won’t get that opportunity and you may be perceived as odd if you ask. what i would suggest is writing your resignation email with a line about ‘regretfully needing to take this step’ given that the m’ship was a barrier (they need not know your financial situation) that may cause others to not get involved with the organization in future and that you were disappointed that all your years and hours of volunteerism in the past weren’t valued in place of a monetary investment. you can say you understand that’s their prerogative and so on, but you can certainly express disappointment about it. and then wish them well.

      if they do try to ‘court you back’ i would avoid that. them not acknowledging or even realizing all the work and insisting on this makes me think they don’t really value you – it’s ‘unpaid work’ and therefore, not considered of value in the way that some people see ‘paid work’. it’s a shitty attitude but pervasive. find an org that will value you for the time, effort, and expertise you bring to them. i bet you there are loads of orgs that would love to have you as a volunteer and actually appreciate you rather than take advantage of you.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        The LW can always work out how much real monetary value they gave the organization over the years in comparison to the membership fee. It sounds like the classic penny-wise and pound-foolish scenario.

    6. Paul Pearson*

      You’ve worked for them for years, giving them free labour and then he says this to you? I’ll be honest OP, even if they decided to waive the fee at this point I’d walk away – that’s some intense disrespect they’re showing you there linked with some rather disgraceful ingratitude. You deserve better than that.

      I think you walking off will give a message but I wouldn’t blame you for writing them a (polite but perhaps firmly worded) note about it.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        I’d walk away too, even if they waived it.

        But instead of a firmly worded note, I’d go with a regretful goodbye email to all board members, noting how I’d enjoyed my X years of volunteering and was happy to do some good in the community, but since donating only time was no longer acceptable and my budget didn’t allow for monetary donation, I’d have to volunteer elsewhere in the future.

        1. Op2here*

          I agree with both of you in that, no matter what, this has been a sign to me that I am no longer a fit for this organization. I appreciate you both commenting!

        2. Paul Pearson*

          Agreed, it’s probably go down easier and maybe inform the board of something they didn’t even realise was happening

    7. Ana Gram*

      I would tell the board as you leave. It’s very odd to me to require any fees from a volunteer; but then, I volunteer at a place that will pay me a small pension when I “retire” from volunteering.

    8. agnes*

      This sounds too much like a shakedown for me and it seems like the board is populated with entitled people. And yes, definitely share your thoughts with the board. There are so many organizations that would welcome you as a volunteer without this type of requirement.

    9. Richard Hershberger*

      In addition to what others have written, what jumped out at me is when was this decision made? You attend the board meetings, so if the matter had come up and been voted on, you would have known. But this decision came about behind your back. Either the others discussed this out of class, or (more likely) the founder just decided. Either way, this is a personal decision aimed directly at you and you alone. This is a d**k move, and grossly dysfunctional.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m guessing that it was always a rule, but no one enforced it. No one wants to hound people for membership dues and it gets pushed off for a year, then two years. My org didn’t even have a solid record keeping system for volunteers until the last few years. In my org, membership dues get enforced when they think an audit/review is coming.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It’s ONE volunteer. For years. It’s not in the bylaws according to OP. This is something someone came up with on their own. They are so wedded to the idea they would rather push out their ONLY volunteer than give it up.

      2. Op2here*

        I…. never even thought about this! But yeah, if I had to guess, what makes the most sense is the founder simply decided he wanted to do this.

        Regardless, I agree with you that it wasn’t respectful and probably indicates dysfunction at a larger level. Thank you for your response!

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          I might even throw in a subtle jab in your farewell note that says something along the lines of the fact that you have donated your time and skills at the expense of taking paying jobs, and while you have been glad to do that because the organization and its mission means so much to you, you can’t continue to do so with the new volunteer fee requirements.

      1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

        I thought that’s what it said on my first reading too. I think the OP means that the founder is trying something new.

    10. AndersonDarling*

      I mentioned above about my org where volunteers have to pay a membership fee to comply with local regulations. So I would be sure why you are being asked for a membership fee before proceeding. It could be simply to ensure your commitment, could be a shakedown for additional funds, or because it is legally required and the org can’t do anything about it.
      That information should guide you on how to proceed.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’ll also mention that sometimes the volunteer’s membership fee collecting gets forgotten for a while and it’s not until someone reviews the books that it becomes a thing again. So it doesn’t surprise me that it hasn’t come up before. It may have always been a requirement, but someone only checked the books recently and realized that you have officially become a member.

      2. Bagpuss*

        but if that were the situation thefounder could simply say “We’re required by local by-laws to only use members as volunteers and we have to charge a fee, but of course we will pay it on your behalf/ reimburse you”

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Perhaps the LW could propose a hardship program for volunteers that cannot afford the membership fee? It’s very sketchy for the non-profit to pay an individual’s membership fees because those funds come from donations and are intended for other purposes. But if there was a system in place to review hardship cases, then it may be something that could be approved by the board.

      3. Op2here*

        The founder told me this was to prove my dedication and belief in the organization. There has never been a mention about the legal requirements, and given that I’ve worked here for years with no membership, I would hope it hasn’t been a requirement!

        The weirdest part is they don’t need additional funds; they actually are having a hard time finding people that they can give donations TO that align with their mission, and I feel like I’ve proven my commitment by working here for years and generating great results. I agree with what several commenters have said, that regardless of if they waive the fee, I think I am no longer a good fit for this organization.

      4. Op2here*

        Thank you for your comments! The founder told me this was to prove my dedication and belief in the organization. There has never been a mention about the legal requirements, and given that I’ve worked here for years with no membership, I would hope it hasn’t been a requirement! I do know he was aware that I am not a member; since we are so small it is pretty easy to track that kind of stuff and he has encouraged me to become a member before (which I don’t mind being asked! just being required seems off to me) but I was not interested at that point, either.

        The weirdest part is they don’t need additional funds; they actually are having a hard time finding people that they can give donations TO that align with their mission, and I feel like I’ve proven my commitment by working here for years and generating great results. I agree with what several commenters have said, that regardless of if they waive the fee, I think I am no longer a good fit for this organization.

    11. Enn Pee*

      OP2,
      When I was on the board of a nonprofit, one of the specific things I asked for (and sadly didn’t get) was no-cost membership to those who volunteered X hours a year.

      We fundraised for a governmental entity; where I live the gov’t entity (think cemetery or library) has associated non-profits that fundraise on their behalf. A big part of our effort was running a little shop. There were volunteers who literally worked 20 hours a week in the shop and some board members wanted to hassle them for a membership fee; I felt their time dedication meant they were entitled to membership!

      If you feel like you have a good relationship with the organization, I’d recommend that: why not “give” membership to those who put in X hours over Y timeframe?

      1. Op2here*

        I LOVE this idea, and had actually suggested it to the founder, and was shot down. That is when he said the bit about paying for a membership proves my dedication and support.

        I wish more organizations could embrace that; I love to volunteer for this nonprofit but to put this obstacle up and not hear me out that I’m struggling over it makes me feel unappreciated.

        Thank you for your response!

        1. Weekend Please*

          Giving you membership would prove that the work you are doing is valued and appreciated. If you send a separate resignation letter to the founder than the rest of the board, you could say “I have demonstrated my dedication and support to the organization by working for free X hours a week for Y years. I thought that the work I was doing for the organization was worth more than $MembershipFeeAmount. I’m sorry I was wrong.”

        2. BadWolf*

          A reliable long term volunteer is a great asset to an organization. I would feel disappointed and unappreciated as well.

          1. Enn Pee*

            OP2, I am so sorry you tried & failed in your attempt! I also want to say that for those who CAN make this influence in their own organizations, it’s really worthwhile and is honestly an equity issue. There are some people (students, retired folks) who have a flexible schedule that can meet an organization’s needs, but can’t contribute financially!

            1. Op2here*

              Thank you! And for me this is a learning lesson to be the change… if I ever rise to a leadership position and have more influence, I have learned the importance of being mindful of other’s experiences, backgrounds, and obstacles they might have.

    12. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      If this has never been mentioned before, it is absolutely worth providing feedback about it – I would do it to the board of the organization as a whole, rather than just to the founder. I might even try to do it before I leave – because this is going to cost the organization down the line, and may not have been approved by the whole board at all.

      In a young organization, that might mean burning bridges pretty thoroughly, though – often initial boards are made up of the founder’s friends, and they may not be able to separate their governance responsibilities from that friendship.

      I don’t think anyone could fault you, if you decide you can’t afford that, either.

    13. Op2here*

      Hi everyone! Thank you all for the responses, it is so great to hear your advice, experiences, and scripts to move forward.

      I know someone asked – I started at the organization because I have a family friend on the board, and since it is such a small team, I am friendly with most of them, so I do think I am in a good place to give feedback, even if the founder might not hear it quite as effectively as the rest of the team.

      I am going to try and respond to as many questions and comments as I can when I have time, but please know I appreciate everyone taking the time to weigh in on this!

    14. Observer*

      could use everyone’s advice on one thing: if I do leave the organization, is it worth giving feedback on this whole thing?

      I think that it is worth giving feedback. Something like “I donated $X worth of time and expertise to the organization, and brought in $Y worth of funds and services. The idea that only a donation of dollars is shows commitment to the mission will hamper your ability to attract and retain volunteers, and could easily undercut your mission as well.”

      And then walk. I don’t think you’re going to have a fruitful conversation. But putting something like that into an email that goes to the entire board could be a very first seed.

    15. Daffy Duck*

      As you have volunteered for several years and this has never been a requirement before – and you are their only volunteer – I agree that this is weird. I do think leaving is appropriate but I’m not sure I would tell them it is over the membership requirement – what would you do if the founder said he would pay your membership this year? Would you still want to volunteer with them? You said above their purpose is not your passion but you are growing skills/expertise in your content area. Moving along to another volunteer job (you can still list this on your resume) will be just fine.

      1. Op2here*

        Thank you for weighing in! At this point, I would not stay if they paid my membership this year because of the way the founder handled this, and one year would not resolve the issue as it comes up the next year. Before this issue, I definitely saw myself at this organization long-term. I will definitely take your advice and move on.

    16. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think you need to give that feedback when you leave, because if you’ve already had this conversation with the founder, you’ve already given the org this feedback.

    17. MoneyBear*

      I commented below asking what kind of nonprofit it was and whether or not it had bylaws (I work for a nonprofit that is a membership association with a lot of volunteers; you definitely need to be a member to volunteer).

      If it isn’t in the Bylaws, is there anything about membership that is? Any changes to membership in my org (included if staff would need to be members) needs to have a vote by the Board. One Board member, even the Chair, can’t change it at whim. They should definitely have a process for how changes are done and who gets to decide on them, and how they’ll be implemented. My org has a Bylaws committee that reviews any changes to make sure that it won’t interfere with our Bylaws. If it doesn’t go through the committee, it doesn’t go on the Board agenda.

      If the organization is disorganized, please check to see if you as a Board member could feasibly be held liable/accountable. My org. Board members are the ones that are liable for decisions, not staff. Disorganization implies a certain about of risk, even if they seem legally well set. Working for my org. has opened my eyes up to a lot of different organizations I used to volunteer with. I have much higher standards now.

  12. Zircon*

    #4, would it be a good idea to talk with your manager and get some idea of their reaction? You state that she has a reputation as being difficult. Maybe she is telling other managers that you aren’t working out, she is frustrated with you, you don’t have the skills etc. – and so they are jumping in to offer you a position before you get fired.
    Normally I wouldn’t even consider this, but we don’t know what is going on behind closed doors and in higher level meetings.

    1. MK*

      Eh, why? To begin with, the OP getting offers could just be because other departments are impressed with their work, there is no reason to jump to some convoluted explanation about their manager wanting to get rid of them. And I doubt a manager, no matter how difficult, complaining about an employee results in the employee getting lots of job offers. More importantly, bringing this to a difficult manager sou do like a bad idea to me, it could make things awkward both for the OP and the departments trying to recruit her. And I don’t see what it would accomplish anyway.

    2. LW4*

      Hi, letter writer 4 here. I don’t think this is really an issue (if anything, if my manager had an issue with my performance, I’d be the first to know – at length and with a bullet pointed document of improvement areas!). The reputation stems from her communication outside the team, she often doesn’t realise that what she thinks is asking for clarification often comes across to others as aggressively challenging although she is now consciously working to improve.
      It’s more that I’ve never been in this sort of position before – my only other job in a different company had some very strongly negative views on ‘poaching’ from other departments to the extent that someone moving roles that was cause for gossip, and it has left me completely overthing something that appears to be common practice in my current company (I’m not sure how common it is across the industry though). I love my job, but I really don’t want to cause inadvertent offence!

      1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

        This is what was so interesting about your letter — I can’t imagine calling up someone from another department and asking them to apply to join my team (unless it’s someone from one of the feeder groups that are expected to transition into other departments after a year or two). We don’t discourage (or gossip about, in my experience) internal transfers, but it’s up to the staff member to take the initiative in pursuing them, not up to managers to fish about cold-contacting potential transfers. So it really struck me that you’ve gotten not just one but multiple offers along these lines! I wonder if it’s very common to do that in your company’s culture (and not just a function of people knowing you have a difficult manager). If so, then it’s perhaps pretty common that they get turned down, and so you don’t have to worry about burning bridges by politely declining.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Honestly the poaching seems really weird to me too! I work in a company that is very encouraging of internal transfers and I have had my own manager let me know about positions on other teams that were opening in case I was interested. But I can’t imagine telling an employee you want them to come join your team behind their current manager’s back. I don’t know if that is normal at your company or if it’s just that your manager’s reputation has them all thinking that you are secretly dying to leave your current team.

  13. John Smith*

    #1. Definitely interview the candidate. It’s not always the case that a person who has been sanctioned/disciplined more than once is the actual problem. Even if they were, this person might simply need a chance to prove themselves to a strong effective manager who will earn the candidate’s respect (and vice versa). Is that you?

    What is interesting is that there was an article some time ago on AAM (I think) on signs of a toxic employee, one of them being always in trouble (to paraphrase), yet the advice here seems to go against that. As someone who has had a string of terribly toxic, dysfunctional and incompetent managers (thanks to the grandboss taking on “yes” people), I can understand the “he must be trouble” line of thinking, but dig deep and you may find the opposite to be true.

  14. Lurker*

    Alison, why are the comments off for your speed round? Will you be reposting it? I wasn’t around but I’d love to read them.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      She posted Tuesday soliciting questions for Wednesday’s event and got too many replies too quickly. (Her post has been updated.)

  15. Not Australian*

    IMHO whether or not a person has been fired is less relevant to their future performance than what, if anything, they learned from the experience, and how they talk about it when you ask them. If the candidate is otherwise a good one, it’s probably worth talking to them about it; they know they start out with a disadvantage, and it’s to their credit that they aren’t trying to hide it at the application stage.

    1. Weekend Please*

      I would be a little wary about hiring someone who was fired for something central to the job. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who was fired for a lack of punctuality for a coverage based position but I would for a job with flexible hours. Of course, this only applies if it was recent. If it was a few jobs ago and they have since demonstrated that they are reliable I wouldn’t hold it against them.

      1. Not Australian*

        Agreed, although I suspect a *recent* firing would probably remove the candidate from consideration anyway!

  16. Rain queen*

    OP3 you need to get organised earlier. You can’t expect to hold holidays open in case you want them. Your boss isn’t doing anything unfair, and has told you that they can move things if needed. Unless they are generally unreasonable – you are the one deciding that you can’t say anything because they are senior.

    So organise this year’s holidays. Tell your boss you want either Thanksgiving or Christmas off and get planning. You can’t expect your boss to not plan their leave because your family can’t be organised early.

    Right now your boss has no information that you want time off at that time of the year. Not everyone celebrates those holidays. Someone prefer leave at cheaper times of the year / better weather etc.

    1. Bastet*

      There are certain days in my office that everyone wants off (black Friday, day after Christmas) and frankly, the early bird gets the worm. If you know you want a day off that is a popular time to request off, such as a holiday, you need to be proactive and request early. I tend to plan my vacations about 8 to 12 months in advance to make sure I get the time I want off.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        You can’t complain if you haven’t made a request for any time off. You have to carve out what time off you want and go for it.

        I’ve sometimes worked, say, Xmas Eve day, when others wanted off, because it was very quiet and I got a lot done. And it seemed like a “favor” I was doing. But it worked for me.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      It also depends on what type of plans, there’s no way I’d be making holiday plans a few months in advance, but then a lot of my family live abroad. I’m buying flights 4-6 months in advance and if I’m booking a flight, I’m certainly booking time off at the same time.

      As one of the few members of my team without kids though, I’m a school holidays stalwart, so I tend to be cover for those who have to take those into account when booking leave (which I don’t mind because traveling outside of those times is cheaper and tends to have better weather).

    3. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      There’s early fairly early and extremely early. And while sometimes it can be reasonable to book 6+ months in advance (like at my job where scheduling involves around 100 people in 1 department of “teapot phone support Christmas was booked by February iirc) if 2 people are involved 9 months is extremely early if you haven’t talked to the other person first. Especially if you take *every single day*

      1. Liz*

        I had a former boss like this; there were three of us, and the unwritten rule was only one could be out at one time, although the rule didn’t seem to apply to her! She would routinely block off time, “just in case”, month in advance, both holiday, and prime summer weeks, and then many times end up NOT taking it, but at the last minute. Which was annoying because it meant neither my immediate boss or myself could take time then. One memorable time, she blocked off three consecutive weeks in the summer, and then ended up taking two days in one week, the next full week, and a couple in the third week, all confirmed at the last minute.

      2. Rain queen*

        Although if OP has not requested any time around those holidays 2+ years running it might also be an indication that they aren’t holidays they take. So now boss is just working on that assumption.

        Or who knows, maybe boss has some special reason to be booking those times off this year, and this year it isn’t actually up for grabs like surgery, or caring roles. Or boss got a talking to for having leave accrued in the system and was told they must have a plan for using their leave in the system. But really it doesn’t matter why boss booked the leave now, OP just needs to talk to them and ask for what they want. And maybe this year it is too late or not possible. Or maybe it isn’t.

        What counts as early is Office dependent. I’m technically required to have all leave booked for 2022 by the end of 2021. At other jobs you’d put in your leave application the week before.

        There’s definitely issues with people hogging the best leave dates. But right now OP is not even asking for any of those dates off.

    4. AprilShower*

      My work locks vacation at the end of February. So everyone puts their desired dates into a calendar and then there’s a meeting to go over it and sort out coverage issues. Especially for Christmas. Usually the person who didn’t take Christmas coverage for longest gets to be it for Christmas. Typically your boss will quietly tell you a few weeks beforehand that is has been a long time since your last turn, so no surprises there either.

    5. Oh Snap*

      Agree! If you aren’t planning Thanksgiving or Christmas by now, your boss probably digu

      1. Oh Snap!*

        Ahhh, fat fingers! Your boss probably needs to book flights and figures you haven’t asked so don’t want it.

        If you want peak times off, you have to plan way ahead, especially in a coverage type of job. That’s just how it is. I get it because I have family like yours, but we have to just make our time off plans and if the family gathering doesn’t happen, well we can do something else.

        1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

          This! It’s unreasonable to expect others to have to wait for someone else’s family to get their act together to plan their time off.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Exactly. Even if you don’t know whether you are going to Aunt Lucinda’s or Grandpa Jon’s for the big gathering at Winterfell this year, you know you probably want at least ONE of those holidays off. Asking for vacation does not mean you have to have solid plans in place. Just a general idea that you want time off. You know your boss is a planner, you need to adapt to this. Your boss cannot be expected to wait for your family to decide its firm plans before making his own. Personally I would be ticked if I had to wait to buy plane tickets right before the holiday because we all had to wait to see what Fergus what doing with his family for the holidays.

        You can tell your family too. Hey, I have to get on the calendar for vacation days, can we decide if we are doing Christmas or thanksgiving as a family this year? My husband has to pick his vacation days for the year in JANUARY. Fortunately, since I’m a lawyer my year is pretty planned out by then already. So we sit down with the calendar and plot out the weeks. Then if I get something scheduled during those times I can say honestly “Sorry I’m on vacation that week.”

        Picking holidays in advance is something a lot of companies do. You have to be prepared for it.

        1. Weekend Please*

          Yes! Your family does not have to make their plans early. You just have to block off some time and then that can be taken into account when making the plans. If you want Wed-Fri the week of Thanksgiving off, get it approved now then let your family know that that is your availability. Maybe you don’t fly out until Wednesday night and could have worked that day but that is ok! You can have a lazy day at home or if you really want to you can let your boss know when plans are finalized and tell him you don’t need Wednesday off after all.

    6. No Tribble At All*

      “Get organized earlier” seems a little harsh, especially if Boss gives the OP the calendar with his (boss) vacation already on it. I agree OP needs to be more assertive and ask, but Boss should realize what it looks like and actively start the conversation “let’s figure out who gets what holidays” and not “well I already scheduled for myself, so tell me if you want me to change my plans…”

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t think that is what the boss is saying. I think the boss is saying, I am thinking of taking time off at this time, but if you want any of it let me know so we can work it out. I say this as someone whose own family does not plan far in advance, if your family is a last minute planners, it is on you if you can’t schedule things with enough time. Most places I have worked x-mas/thanksgiving gets scheduled 4 months in advance or more.

        How is the boss supposed to know if OP wants off for Thanksgiving or X-mas, or OP might be fine not taking time off but taking time during other minor holidays, presidents day, memorial day, etc… This might be field dependent, but several bosses I have worked with have an open calendar that people depend on to schedule meetings far in advance. So if x-mas, thanksgiving time off is not marked in the calendar people might schedule meetings for that week.

        I sometime forget to put time off in our shared work calendar and end up putting it in at the last minute, so other times when I remember I try and put everything in for 4/6 months in advance so I don’t forget to do it later.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          The boss should recognize the power dynamic. Lots of people are not going to go to their boss and say “can you not take this vacation day you have blocked off because I want it.”

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But the power dynamic still exists even if boss and OP get together to divide up the holidays. I think the biggest issue is the boss plans (at least tentatively) holidays far in advance, but OP and their family do not.

            I could see boss saying “okay lets meet in March/April to go over the holiday schedule and divide things up” but OP would still not really be able to know what holidays to take off because they don’t know their families schedule. In that situation it would not be fair to ask the boss not to plan/schedule any holiday time until a month or two before.

            I think part of the solution is that if OP’s family only decides in October if everyone can get together for Thanksgiving or X-mas it is not fair to the boss, and OP needs to decide further in advance okay this year I will take Thanksgiving off. If I can go visit my family great if I can’t, I can’t.

            I get the lure of the extra “free” PTO day for xmas or thanksgiving. But also another solution is Thanksgiving in October/Nov/Dec. With some family we have celebrated Thanksgiving a few weeks before or after the actual day, and celebrated X-mas in January.

            Honestly for longer travel especially flights, I much prefer to fly/travel during off-peak periods.

    7. Anon100*

      I agree with your general sentiment but I would also say to OP3 that by putting your days down early, you’ll force the conversation with your boss earlier. I do think if it’s a matter of taking off a couple days, it shouldn’t a big deal, your boss or their supervisor should find other coverage, but if you’re trying to take at least a week off, you should have the conversation with your boss earlier in the year. I don’t know about your boss, but I put long vacation weeks and any days between Christmas and New Years off on the calendar 3-6 months ahead of time at the least. Also, Thanksgiving through Christmas is usually a very busy time for my industry, but my birthday also falls between Christmas and New Years, so I put in a PTO request for my birthday early now or else I get overloaded with work on my birthday.

    8. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, I agree it is very early, but everyone knows when these days are already. I am sure that there are very specific circumstances of your family that make it difficult to plan earlier than October (or whatever), but maybe you can push the needle in a certain direction by having time booked. Plus, you can change your mind! As your boss puts it and Alison encouraged – it is getting time on your calendar. It is not written in stone.

    9. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’d agree with you if the boss just nabbed a few holidays. But they’re taking ALL of them.

    10. MCMonkeybean*

      Highly disagree. Yes, OP probably needs to figure out what they want earlier but it is absolutely unfair for a boss to claim every single holiday on the calendar by April and then put their subordinate in the uncomfortable position of having to ask their boss to change plans so they can also have some holiday time. This is not a reasonable system.

      1. Lynn*

        Yes.

        It’s two of them and boss has a power dynamic in their favor. Even if they aren’t intending to be unreasonable about holidays, by claiming all the winter holidays by April and then saying “we can discuss it” is an unreasonable power maneuver.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Plus if there’s only two of them, it doesn’t make sense that they don’t already have a system to divvy up holidays, or alternate or something. If the issue is one of these two people has to cover, it shouldn’t be a first-come first-served situation, unless the boss intentionally means to say “I get all holidays and you do not”.

  17. rudster*

    Is it possible that OP1’s applicant simply has a different understanding of “fired from” and is including all jobs that she didn’t actively quit? Or perhaps the application was automated and there was no selection option other “resigned” and “fired”? I work for myself and haven’t applied for a position in ages, but I seem to recall that this was pretty common in applications – it was rare to see “laid off” or “downsized”, etc. in among the options. OP should just ask if she is concerned.

        1. Rain queen*

          Where I am firing is losing your job because of something you have done (or employer claims you have done). Think dishonourable discharge from the military world (not perfect comparison).

          You can also be retrenched or made redundant – where your position disappears and so you no longer have a job, but it’s not about you it’s about the changing needs of the business. Think honourable discharge.

          Eg I steal from my employer I’ll be fired. If however I’m a teapot designer and my employer decides to switch to llama grooming my designer position would be made redundant. I still lose my job, but it’s not about my work performance.

    1. doreen*

      It’s possible – “fired” and particularly “laid-off” * used to mean something different than they do these days and until I started reading this blog , I had no idea the meanings had changed.

      1. Simply the best*

        Have the meetings changed? Or do people just use them in correctly? Fired means being let go because of you. Either misconduct or your skills are not up to par or whatever. Laid off means your position has been eliminated or there’s restructuring within the organization. Nothing that is your fault. Isn’t that what they’ve always meant?

        1. doreen*

          “Laid off” used to mean a situation that was expected to be temporary. It didn’t necessarily mean the position was permanently eliminated – you might get laid off from a seasonal job and be expected to return the next year without having to compete with new applicants. Or it might be that your specific job in a particular location was eliminated but you would be put back to work in a new location when a position opened up before anyone new was hired. Or that the assembly line workers were laid-off when business was slow and called back when business picked up or to fill in for people who were out sick or on vacation. Of course, just because it was expected to be temporary doesn’t mean it was.

          There were of course plenty of jobs were that sort of layoff just didn’t happen- but people in those jobs didn’t talk about being “laid-off”- they talked about being terminated or losing their job or even being fired. Even if it wasn’t exactly their fault- for example, I knew people back then ( think late 70s-early 80s) who lost their jobs when new ownership took over , “fired” all the existing employees and went through a whole hiring process and only re-hired some of them. I actually know a couple of people that’s happened to more recently. I’m not sure what you would call that under the current terminology – the business didn’t close down, it’s under new ownership. The positions weren’t eliminated – so not laid off. The termination wasn’t based on people being incompetent or not following rules – so not fired.

        1. Safetykats*

          I don’t think the meanings are any different today than historically; I think the problem is that people are using the terms poorly. There are basically four ways to end up out of work. You can resign (leave of your own volition). You can be terminated, or laid off/let go, or made redundant – basically let go for no reason related to performance. When that is the case, you are usually eligible for rehire, which is maybe why some people interpret this as being temporary – because people who are laid off may have a reasonable chance of being rehired at the same company. You can be furloughed – which is actually a temporary situation, in which you often have a return-to-work date. (Sometimes that happens in cases where a company just has a temporary funding shortfall.) Or you can be terminated for cause, which is what most people probably think is what you mean if you say you were fired. If you are terminated for cause, you are probably not eligible for rehire. Incidentally, if you were terminated for serious misconduct, you also may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

          The concept of at-will employment makes things a bit hazier – as your employer may be able to terminate you without having to demonstrate cause. But if you can’t figure out whether you’ve been fired or just laid off (terminated for cause, or just terminated), asking if you’re eligible for rehire will clear that right up. And as a nursing manager, if you have to call a former employer and they seem cagey about any kind of reference, the one question you usually can get a straight answer to is simply: Is this person considered eligible for rehire?

  18. Red 5*

    For LW #1 – I was fired from my first two full time professional jobs out of college. They were both complicated situations that were also fairly simple- toxic work environments where I didn’t fit in because I didn’t want to play the games. It’s been decades now, but I could see how I contributed to the problems too.

    The third job though? I won multiple internal awards before I left on my own terms. Now I’ve been at my current job for ten years and I’ve had only outstanding reviews each year.

    I’m not going to say I was a perfect employee who never did anything wrong at those first two jobs, but I can confidently say that that history is not at all indicative of the type of employee I am or could be. I’m glad the manager at the third job didn’t eliminate me from the pool without even asking what happened. It would have been their loss though.

    1. shirleywurley*

      +10000000000

      I’m so glad you had a sensible hiring manager for your third job, Red 5! I’m also really sorry you had to deal with those awful first two jobs.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Knowing how to navigate a challenging workplace and knowing what’s “toxic” as opposed to just “demanding” are judgment calls.

        The less experienced you are, the harder it may be.

  19. A caretaker*

    About question 5, I would really appreciate it if Alison dedicates a post to balancing caretaking and a career. I would love to hear from other readers about this topic. Caretaking is brushed off a lot, in the workplace, society, etc. And it would just be great to have this discussion.

    1. BookishMiss*

      Seconded – this is something that, while i don’t have to balance yet, i will in the not so distant future. Hearing from everyone with experience would be very helpful.

    2. Picard*

      Ditto. I’m a caretaker now for my folks who are elderly, live in an independent living home, but need my regular assistance with many medical appointments, anything financial, and general day to day living. Oh and also, they are 3 hours away roundtrip.

    3. EndAlz*

      I have had to navigate this situation when my parent had dementia. Luckily, I have a flexible workplace so I could fit caregiving into my schedule. I felt comfortable enough to set boundaries when asked to make a special appearance at off-hours work events.

      I did make the mistake of mentioning it in my interview, when I was talking about work-life balance being the reason I was seeking a new job. Months later, the HR director, who had been in the interview, was running an internal workshop on hiring. She said something about how candidates should never disclose a “genetic disease” in the interview and used dementia in a role playing exercise. It was offensive because the person chosen to play the job candidate role was very flippant, “Oh, everyone in my family has it, so I probably do, too!”
      The HR director was let go shortly after leading a workshop on firings, so at least there’s that vindication.

      If you have specific questions, I am happy to answer them!

  20. Paul Pearson*

    on #1: even a brief perusal of AAM archives shows a glorious array of awful bosses who would fire or otherwise drive out staff for the oddest of reasons (like not donating a kidney…) so I’d strongly back everyone saying ask him about it before dismissing it

    On #2: my grandmother often said “beggars can’t be choosers” and I rather think it applies here. Setting up hurdles and expenses for someone to give them free labour feels… ill conceived. I rather think they’re not just looking this gift horse in the mouth but giving it a full forensic examination and then moaning that it’s only won the Grand National once.

  21. DavidC*

    OP #1. Can you clarify FIRED. I have seen a lot of references in the past over various posts here in AM where being retrenched is referred to as being fired. When in actual fact the position was made redundant and the staff member affected was retrenched / let go. It annoys me, but i have seen this referred to as being fired. (Or have I misinterpreted these other posts)

    I have been retrenched 3 times…
    The first was totally unexpected and shocked me as I thought I was worthless (I was quite young and inexperienced).
    I got a new job and my mind expanded a whole lot and I was in it for 6 years. Then they retrenched me. It was still a shock to be retrenched but I wasn’t devastated like I was with the first one. It wasn’t so much of a shock as I knew how these things worked and I knew I would bounce back. I went and got a slightly different focused job, stuck with it for a year or so then went off and got a masters degree. Then after a little bit of a struggle I got a new job close to the field of the masters degree. (I was lucky that by this point I was a little bit more stable with life and finances and home life etc.. )
    Then I was in this new job for 5 years and began to see the writing on the wall. The GM who was brought in (in my last year there) was a really dodgy operator and I could just tell things were not working out. We clashed because he began to do things that were normally the exact things I was employed to make sure happened and he did them his own way with external contractors etc.. I just knew something was up and my time was limited there.
    I had pretty much sterilized all my data and work and email so they had what they needed but not the stuff that was just working cruft of mine that would be meaningless to them.
    About 2 months in to me working like this I got asked to come in to a meeting. Which i knew exactly what it was for because there seems to be a written rule on how your manager or HR calls you in to a meeting when they are going to retrench you when its just you and not the rest of the group. It’s the body language, mannerisms, the look, the language they use, the quiet “can we have a quick meeting in the board room please” . They couldn’t have made it more obvious if they had hired two goons to stand behind me and say “da boss wants to speak to you… NOW! *cracks knuckles*”
    I walked in to the board room, stood at the door, pointed at the paper work face down on the table, saw who the other person was in the room who was NOT in my chain of command (not HR but as good as HR) and said “you are going to retrench me, aren’t you”. That completely threw them. They had no idea how to react to somebody who knew what was going on and was prepared emotionally. They actually said “No, we just need to talk” and then a few sentences in admitted that that was what was happening and handed the paperwork to me.
    To be fair, my manager was brilliant and handled it really well and got through the proceedings. The other person in the room kept asking me how I knew I was going to get retrenched. They didn’t believe that I hadn’t hacked their emails and read what they were saying. “No, I just know how this works and knew what was happening with the crappy behavior of the GM and pretty much saw the writing on the wall” I was the first from that company at the time. Over the next few months my (excellent) manager left to get a real job and then the next in charge technical person left to get his own real job.

    The short of the above is, if you just looked at my above employment history, and used the language I have often seen used in some jurisdictions, you would just ask why I had been fired 3 times and how a bad employee I must have been.

    1. DavidC*

      I just saw the update from LW1 clarifying that they were firings (assuming I read them properly). My comment still stands as a general comment about the confusion here of fireing and redundancy but its not directly related to LW1s query.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, I’ve never been fired for cause, but I’ve twice been laid off for financial reasons.

    3. Colette*

      I think you’re using retrenched where I would say laid off. Not a firing (which is because of something you’ve done or not done), but because business needs have changed and they are restructuring or eliminating the position.

    1. BookishMiss*

      “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.”

      Basically, setting something up to exclude people.

    2. londonedit*

      It’s putting systems or rules in place that have the effect of ensuring that only certain types of people/people from certain backgrounds are able to access something. So if membership requires paying a fee, or you have to pay for your own uniform, or you need a smartphone to access services, then that’s putting a ‘gate’ to entry in front of people, and ensuring only those who can afford those things can access membership of the organisation. Organisations may claim not to be racist/classist/sexist etc etc, but if their systems and ways of working have the effect of excluding a certain section of society, then it has the same outcome.

  22. Bookworm*

    OP1: Glad it sounds like the candidate seems great! Just echoing what others have said: if you like them, it’s worth asking and seeing if they have an explanation. I knew someone who moved across the country for a job that ended up being eliminated within his first six months. Some people might hesitate at the “job eliminated” on his resume (or whatever he used, IDK) but it was something entirely out of his hands. (He landed on his feet and into another and better job.)

    I’ve had numerous short-term jobs that were just that: jobs that weren’t going to go anywhere but I wasn’t fired. Didn’t mean I was trying to be a job hopper or just had a bad history–it’s just that this is the world we are in now. Many no longer stay at one company for decades or even more than X number of years now.

  23. Me (I think)*

    #3: Put yourself down for PTO for every single holiday in 2022. All of them. When your boss notices, tell them “we can work around it if you need time off then as well.”

    I’m not sure if your boss is just clueless or evil, but either way they suck.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds to me like the boss is open to changing certain dates, but the OP is too nervous to ask.

      1. Simply the best*

        And the boss should recognize the power dynamic and not put their employee in such an uncomfortable situation.

    2. Chilipepper*

      OP should request PTO for every holiday in 2021. The boss said if there are conflicts, we can work on them. So request them and have the convo.

      And then you can tell your family, sorry, I’m not available then but I am on these dates.

  24. agnes*

    We had a person at my former job who did the very same thing–booked off every single holiday for the year on January 1. The CEO had allowed this because she was the most senior employee. When I got hired as the COO, I instituted a rotating holiday policy and set some rules around this. (we also offered some extra paid time off if you had to work or be on call on the holiday). It simply isn’t fair for the same person to get first dibs every year on the holiday schedule when the organization requires holiday coverage. All the other employees thanked me–the offender quit.

    1. Liz*

      You are awesome! I really hate it when people take advantage and think THEIR time off is more important than others! Another memorable time with my former boss was I had a 2 week trip planned with my mom; a YEAR in advance. My immediate boss was well aware of it, and as soon as the new year started, it went on the calendar. My former boss then planned a trip during that exact time; without bothering to check if anyone else was off. So my immediate boss was alone for a week plus some days. Not at all fair to him, and it irked both of us.

      Thankfully we have a new boss who is pretty good about taking time off. He has young kids so he tends to take time when they’re off from school, but he will still be available, and check in if need be. So I don’t mind that he takes certain days off as he isn’t selfish about it

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree that sucks, but that is not really the situation in the letter. Op’s boss is not saying you can’t take any time off because I already booked it all. They are saying let me know what time off you would like so we can work it out. For thanksgiving it might be that OP takes the week before thanksgiving and boss takes the week after off, or they agree that OP takes thanksgiving off and boss takes off x-mas.

      I imagine under your system, you wouldn’t allow someone to decide if they wanted to be off for thanksgiving until the first of November just because they have not had it off in 3 years. If they don’t end up taking it off, it is not fair to everyone else to have to wait until November 1st to know if they can have it off. If Bob thinks he wants
      Thanksgiving off and has not had it off in 3 years he needs to decide a few months (4-6) before, if he takes it off he has to be off for that time even if his family does not end up getting together for it.

      If you have a family of late or last minute planners, it sucks, I get it my family is like that, but the solution is not that everyone else had to bend over backwards to work around that.

      I think OP needs to decide in advance are they going to take x-mas of thanksgiving off this year. If their

  25. Potatoes gonna potate*

    #1 – that’s wild. Two firings in a decade is not….a big deal? I don’t think “not being fired” is an accomplishment. There are some employees who are terrible but stay at their jobs and never get fired for any reason — how many letters do we get about terrible bosses/employees where it’s impossible to remove them.

    On a personal note, I lost 2 jobs last year. First was a longtime one due to COVID and second was a 6 week stint where I wasn’t getting up to speed fast enough.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I think the stories about people who stay in their jobs despite being terrible are actually contributory to the perception of red-flag-ness here – “I worked with Wakeen who bit his boss, Fergus who couldn’t keep his unwashed hands out of the fruit salad, Joe who demanded his employee’s liver, and the entire flippin duck club, and none of THEM got fired, and this person got fired TWICE? What the heck did THEY do?”

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          … yes, today’s comment section is full of those. However, the person I replied to pointed out that crappy employees stay not-fired all the time, and I was just saying that yeah, if known crappy employees stay not-fired, then by comparison, people may assume that people who DO get fired must be even worse. That assumption isn’t necessarily correct, but it is a connection people might make.

      1. Qwerty*

        Plus you have to look at your company’s willingness to deal with a problem employee. If you know that you are stuck with a new hire until they decide to leave, you are going to be less interested in taking a risk. We see a lot of letters from people who feel like they can’t discipline or fire someone due to their company’s procedures – in those scenarios, you aren’t just looking for red flags, but also the orange and yellow ones, because a problematic hire could drive out good employees.

    2. Washi*

      I can see why two firings would be a yellow flag for someone who doesn’t have that much experience in the first place. Like if they’ve only ever had 3 jobs, were fired from the first two, and then understandably wouldn’t want to use the current job as a reference, that doesn’t give the hiring manager much data to work with! If the person seemed to have good skills I would still interview them, but I can understand the hesitation and they might have a higher bar to clear skills-wise than a candidate with a more solid work history.

    3. Colette*

      I’d say it’s pretty unusual to be fired twice in 10 years. Layoffs would be less unusual, depending on the industry, but fired says there may be something else going on.

      1. shirleywurley*

        I respectfully disagree, Colette and Washi.

        Far too many people get two (or several) terrible bosses and/or toxic workplaces in a row, especially in certain industries. It is the luck of the draw.

        1. Colette*

          But that in itself is a sign that you’re not choosing jobs well or doing your due diligence. I’d say it’s unusual to have 2 toxic workplaces that are willing to fire you in a row. (And if someone used that as an explanation, I’d be wondering whether they were the problem, not the workplaces. Some people think a workplace is toxic if, for example, they want you to show up on time or won’t let you take an unpaid day off on a whim or talk to you when you show up hungover every Friday.)

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I think the key is that either or both can be true– but the LW won’t know unless she investigates. Sometimes people are so quick to say, “that’s not your fault!” that they ignore the very real possibility that no, you actually did contribute to this situation. (My partner does this to me all the time, especially with work things. He is very quick to absolve me of any culpability, and sometimes I have to say no, I screwed up.)

            The bottom line is that we should give the benefit of the doubt. Not immediately go to, “Wow, you must suck” OR “Must have just been a toxic boss!” Neither assumption is helpful.

            1. Colette*

              Absolutely! It’s possible that you had a terrible boss who wanted you to read their mind, or that there were circumstances that made it unbearable, or that the job was a bad fit, or that family issues affected your performance. Being fired doesn’t mean you are a terrible person or that you can/should never get a good job, nor does it mean that it was entirely your fault.

              But at the same time, the hiring manager isn’t obligated to investigate or take the chance if they have other good candidates.

          2. Observer*

            But that in itself is a sign that you’re not choosing jobs well or doing your due diligence.

            Not necessarily! Also, some people DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE.

            Blaming people for being stuck in toxic jobs or with toxic bosses is toxic by itself. And even when it was something that an employee might have been able to avoid, it generally tells you nothing about their qualifications as an employee.

          3. Tinker*

            The thing is, though, people aren’t choosing jobs like they’re standing in the cereal aisle and could take any box off of the shelf or decide that they don’t care for cereal. They’re choosing from the jobs they’re offered at a given time, and if for instance while they are interviewing for Future Toxic Job #2 they encounter an array of well-intentioned interviewers from good companies who have a wealth of alternative candidates who think “well, I mean, not to say that this person is a bad person but they DID get fired from their most recent job and they ARE currently unemployed”.

            The offers they get are skewed more toward places that have fewer alternatives or who prefer candidates who have fewer alternatives. That makes it harder to choose jobs well or do due diligence, because there are more and deeper pitfalls present for the person than someone who has their pick of places that aren’t dubious about them. And, even if they do go “I absolutely see red flags in this company who is offering me a job”, the calculation still may come up “take it anyway because the alternative is worse”.

            Hence, people can get set up for a chain of negative events even factoring out the effect of workplace trauma.

            While I’m sympathetic to the problem of interviewers lacking malice but just wanting to make a choice that they can articulate as less risky, the systematic effect of that gets to be like treating employment as some sort of optional extra that people can be shut out from out of convenience. Which, actually, I think is fine — it would be great if people could just choose to work on collective projects with other people who they’re unreservedly enthusiastic about interacting with. However, our society still overall treats employment, or at least close social ties to the employed, as a requirement for things like reliably living indoors, having food and medical care, being assured of reasonable security in one’s personal property, and being treated with respect in the public sphere.

            There’s sort of a conflict present there, and I’m not entirely sure how to go about reconciling it. In the present though, I at least would recommend trying to keep a broader view than “hey I got twenty candidates and after all the one I’m maximally comfortable with doesn’t *not* deserve the job”.

            1. Colette*

              I agree that sometimes you can have limited choices due to circumstances. But I don’t think random firings are super common, even in less than ideal jobs. Sure, they happen, but multiple firings in a row that were totally out of the control of the person being fired don’t seem very likely. (Possible? Sure. But not likely.) And if you’re taking jobs you know you can’t do well in – even if you need the money – you’re not setting yourself up for success (or even survival).

              1. shirleywurley*

                I don’t want to ruin your worldview, Colette, but “random firings” happen literally all the time. Especially in certain industries, really excellent people can end up fired multiple times, sometimes over the space of years or decades, and sometimes concurrently.

                Plenty of people have to take less-than-ideal jobs for reasons of survival, and/or end up in toxic workplaces, or workplaces that become toxic. Sometimes, they can get out on their own terms, but often (especially in a bad jobs market), they can’t.

                This is not to say that legitimate firings don’t happen. Of course they do! Sometimes, good employers do all the right things and it can’t be helped. But a frightening majority of firings are not actually straightforward, and even in situations where the majority of the blame does lie with the employee, the employer actually has a hell of a lot to answer for.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I disagree. You can’t consider only this website. People get fired for legitimate reasons, but their managers don’t have any reason to write in here for advice.

      It is certainly unusual to get fired twice, and would at least make dig deep for an explanation. But it’s weird that you don’t seem to understand the difference between a layoff for business reasons and firing for performance reasons. To a hiring manager, that would be odd in itself if you described both of those job losses as equivalent. (And fur the 6-week stint, you probably shouldn’t even include it on tire resume.)

  26. Venus*

    LW 4:
    If you have a very specific skill like data analysis, you might want to focus your response on that instead of wanting to avoid admin. It could also help to say something good about your boss, and try to avoid wording that makes it sound like you are only staying for the data (I had to rewrite several times as my basic default words could be misinterpreted if someone defaulted to assuming my boss is a jerk)
    “Thank you for letting me know! I prefer to work with data and am happy where I am as boss is so supportive.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Or, if the proposed job would involved *some* data, “I enjoy working with the breadth of data across the organization that I do now, etc.”

      1. LW4*

        That’s a really good idea – thank you! I have spoken to one of the individuals since in the normal course of my work, and we did have a brief conversation about some qualifications I’m undertaking (as I’ll be unavailable for a day or two when exam time comes round) and how supportive boss has been with development in general for all her team, but I might put something similar upfront in my response.

  27. Never Nicky*

    LW2

    I have to pay to be a national member of my professional organisation in order to volunteer for the regional committee, to which I’m giving my time and expertise for free.

    However, that membership fee comes with a number of benefits, my involvement on the regional committee contributes to my CPD points, and I have free access to all the regional events so to me, the cost is worthwhile.

    The organisation I work for is a charity and membership organisation, and Trustees do have to be members (the fee is nominal, £20 per year) for voting rights at the AGM – it’s part of the memorandum of association. Trustees do tend to be in higher management roles in their respective professionals, so the fee shouldn’t be a barrier. But they are a handful of people in thousands, and part of a volunteer structure consisting of dozens of others. Many of our volunteers aren’t members, and we wouldn’t expect them to be.

    1. Op2here*

      Hi, thank you for your response!

      Our membership does have “benefits”, but it’s nothing that applies to a staff member (think exclusive events, deals on merch, etc.). Pretty much the only benefit that would apply to us is voting rights.

      I do see the purpose in encouraging your staff/volunteers to have a membership, of course you want buy in from your own staff, but to require it even at the lowest levels felt off. It sounds like your organization has it figured out!

      1. BadWolf*

        I think many people who volunteer for something probably enjoy it enough that a membership is pretty natural (as budget allows). But what starts as a convenient coincidence slides into an expectation.

  28. employment lawyah*

    1. How much of a red flag is it if a job candidate was fired twice previously?
    It’s a HUGE red flag.

    Look, every interviewee is basically putting on a mask and trying to get hired. Everyone wants “a job” more than “no job.”

    Two companies–TWO!!–have, in a fairly short time, found out that the difference between “interviewee” and “reality” was big enough to fire them.

    Dig if you want, but you should not necessarily trust the interviewee to be honest about this, and I would not hire them unless you personally confirm (with the firing companies) what happened. If you have enough other options, I would simply discard the application.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      LW1 updated in the comments. It wasn’t as big of a red flag as you seem to think. Not to mention all of the comments from people who have been fired before. Many seemed to not know the difference between being fired and being laid off. Others had toxic bosses or faced retaliation for other reasons. Members of marginalized groups will often be unfairly cut from consideration if you apply such a rigid standard. The fact that you consider it a huge red flag without more detail suggests to me you do not read this blog enough!

      1. Lexie*

        And it’s not just knowing the difference between fired and laid off. If the application asks if you resigned or were terminated and it’s a check box with no room for explanation a person who was laid off may check terminated because it’s the more accurate answer.

      2. Colette*

        I totally disagree. It is a red flag. It’s not disqualifying, necessarily, but it is a sign that there may be a serious issue. Yes, many people have been fired, and most of them go on to do well elsewhere. But being fired is a negative sign, and it’s reasonable to treat it that way. That might mean passing (if you have enough other strong candidates), or it might mean asking more questions or doing a more thorough reference check.

        If I were going to proceed with that candidate, I’d want to see how they talk about it. (Is it all someone else’s fault for which they bear no responsibility? Did they learn from what happened and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Were there outside forces like health or family issues and, if so, what has changed?) I’d also want to talk to their references and see what they had to say.

        1. The Price is Wrong Bob*

          People don’t always get fired for fair reasons or because they did or did not do something in their job description. If your manager asks you to do something illegal or unethical, and you walk out, you get fired. Was that person a bad employee because they didn’t want to be complicit in something shady? I once refused to dump used deepfryer oil out back on a tree (which would have been an environmental crime as well as just ya know, not legal in our municipality) because the manager didn’t want to pay for proper disposal services. That guy also later went to prison for being a perv at teenage girls. I had to list him on a job application as a past employer — but verbally told the HR woman they would have to call him collect in prison and I didn’t think his opinion was particularly valuable. If that guy is whose opinion you trust over the applicant’s, that’s a great way to help your competitors scoop up decent people.

    2. Lexie*

      In at will employment a person can be fired for just about anything and it happens. Also, keep in mind that when an application asks for your reason for leaving a previous job there’s chance the only options are “resigned” or “terminated” with no room for explanation. So a person who lost their job because the position was eliminated, their job site shut down, there was a global pandemic, etc., may check “terminated” since it wasn’t their choice to leave.

    3. medium-sized glass of water*

      Sure…but they also could have chosen to lie about being fired instead of being honest about it. Plenty of people fudge the details (or find a job before they’re actually fired, like if they are on a PIP that isn’t going well). It’s not great that this person was fired twice, but I’d want to know what sort of jobs they were fired from before immediately tossing the application, especially if they’re a good candidate like in the OP’s case. It’s a factor, of course, but not an immediate knockout for me in the OP’s situation.

      In general, I wouldn’t rely on another’s company’s decisions to make my own personal hiring decisions- people can be fired for all kinds of reasons (including illegal ones, which I’m assuming you know if you’re an employment lawyer). If you’re concerned about someone’s ability to do the job, you should be able to suss that out pretty well in your interviews with practice exercises and other interviewing techniques. You’re never going to guarantee that the person you interview is as “good” as you hope they are, whether or not they’ve been fired.

      I’ve personally never been fired (but hey, I’m only in my thirties, anything can happen!). I know people who have been fired for justified reasons, and I also know people who were put on PIPs and eventually pushed out because a manager didn’t like them/was intimidated by them. If you only want to hire people who have never been fired, you might be missing out on a good candidate who was the victim of a sucky situation. I’m not saying that this is the case all the time- one of my friends who was fired refused to accept her manager’s feedback or make any meaningful changes, and then was shocked when she failed her PIP, and I would personally not recommend her for jobs knowing how she handled that. I’m just saying context is important.

      1. shirleywurley*

        medium-sized glass of water, your comment is excellent. I agree with all points you make, especially your second paragraph.

      2. Colette*

        The issue is that in the hiring process, you don’t have much information about any of the candidates, so everything you see is relevant information, and you have to make a decision based on the information you have. So when you find out someone was fired or they send a cover letter with the wrong company name or there is a significant typo on your resume, that carries a higher weight than it would otherwise – and if you have 100 other candidates who weren’t fired and got their application materials correct, they’re going to win out.

        It’s not that firing makes you a terrible person (or even a terrible employee), it’s that hiring managers have to make decisions based on the information they have.

        Hiring doesn’t have to be “fair” in the sense that everyone who applies gets the same shot at the job (although of course it shouldn’t involve illegal discrimination).

        1. medium-sized glass of water*

          To clarify, I’m saying that the reason that the OP should ask for more context is because they mentioned that this was a top-tier candidate. In other cases, like where you have tons of awesome candidates and you need to draw the line somewhere, or the candidate in question seems to be more “middle of the road” AND has been fired twice, it would likely be more of a deal-breaker. I’m not saying to be blind to it- it’s still a factor! It’s just not a reason in this specific case to immediately reject the candidate.

          It’s important to be fair, but that’s not really what I was trying to say. When I’m hiring, I want to hire the best possible person for the job. Everything we learn about the person- their resume, their interview, their past job history- that all factors into the decision for me. For positions where I might only get a handful of good applicants, I try to have as few deal-breakers as possible, so that I can maximize pool to choose from, and then I can address any concerns I have in the interview stage. For positions where I get hundreds of good/great applicants? It’s a different story.

      3. JohannaCabal*

        I replied to LW1 above that the candidate’s honesty is a good sign. It can actually be pretty easy to lie about a termination, e.g., presenting it as a layoff, listing it as current employment. Many places won’t provide references and it can be easy to have a friend pretend to be a former manager for a reference (This may actually be easier now with more people working from home and using cellphones/Google Voice numbers for business calls.)

        Honesty is often not rewarded enough.

          1. shirleywurley*

            Plenty of people lie on resumes and in job applications (and at work), and many of them have never been fired.

            If you have been fired, and are honest enough to admit it, you are putting yourself on the back foot. So, personally, I think their honesty should be applauded.

      4. Cat Tree*

        This isn’t elementary school where you get out of all consequences by admitting you did something. Being honest about a firing is a basic expectation of an adult, not something to get back pats for.

        Also, your statement about never hiring anyone who was fired isn’t what the OP suggested anyway? Where did you pull that idea from? That’s super disingenuous.

        1. medium-sized glass of water*

          Wow- I’m a little taken aback by that characterization. Sorry if I came off as “super disingenuous” to you- certainly wasn’t my intention!

          This is a comment section of a work advice blog- not exactly high-stakes conversation, at least for me. It sounds like you’re reading a LOT of negative intent into a comment that really wasn’t intended to be anything more than a mild disagreement with employment lawyah’s comment.

          For what it’s worth….I’m wondering where you pulled the idea from that someone should “get out of all consequences by admitting they did something” from my comment. You might want to re-read if that’s what you thought I said- I didn’t say that at all.

    4. Observer*

      and I would not hire them unless you personally confirm (with the firing companies) what happened.

      And if, as it seems to be the case here, a firing was for an illegal reason, do you really think the firing company is going to tell the truth? Not by a long shot. And we KNOW that this happens. We also know that companies fire people for all sorts of bad reasons that they don’t admit to. If you are going to make you hiring decision contingent on the word of firing managers that you know nothing about, you are going to limit your hiring in ways that don’t benefit you.

      I’m not even going to address the fairness issue, because that really doesn’t seem to be on your radar.

  29. Murphy*

    LW #1: I was fired once from my first “real” job after a few months. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t a great culture fit and the boss was a micromanager. At the time I was fired by HR had no conversation with my boss and was not given any reason for the firing. It took me a couple years of working multiple part-time jobs, and applying for full-time positions on and off before I finally had a really promising interview.

    I tried not to mention the firing but they found out about it during the background check. The hiring manager called me and left me a very kind voicemail. She asked about the firing saying that it wasn’t a red flag because these things happen but it was a concern and she needed more information. I explained to her as best I could what I knew and that I was never provided a reason for being fired. And she said thank you for the information, and it wasn’t a big deal. She hired me and I worked there for 4 years. And she provided a wonderful reference for the job that I have now, which I love.

    I vividly remember that voicemail and conversation, and I’m forever grateful to her that she asked me for more information and that she took what I told her at face value and didn’t write me off because of a bad experience.

    I agree with Alison. Just ask.

    1. shirleywurley*

      I’m so glad that there was a happy ending to this story, Murphy! I’m also really sorry to hear that you had to deal with all that stress in the workplace, and for so long.

  30. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I have LOTS of conversations with job seekers. And I have LOTS of conversations where I am asking about the part of the form where they say they got fired and I know that their company just had a huge layoff or closed altogether, so I ask them questions like “were you part of the layoff or was there an issue with just you?” and so often the individual says, “Oh, no, my plant closed.”
    That’s not “fired”. That’s the job disappearing for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

    Please find out more before you jump to a decision.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      Even then, it’s good to follow up. I worked at a place that had layoffs. Well, a few folks were fired just before the layoffs for good reasons (especially considering the company could have just waited and included them in the layoffs). It seems these individuals had an easier time landing new positions because companies just thought they were part of the layoff.

  31. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

    I’ve been fired twice.

    In the first firing, my most recent review was the highest possible (5 stars). I’d taken a day off, attended an interview with another company to see what the market was like, came back to work the next day, and was fired because “it wasn’t working out”. I’m friends with my replacement (who is also no longer with the company- she quit after 2 years) and she said that Former Boss regularly lost her sh** on the team, and flat REFUSED to speak to my friend after she submitted her resignation (after shouting at her). So I’m pretty sure that one wasn’t on me.

    Second firing, incidentally, was the job right after this one. I had accepted the first offer I received (after telling them I hadn’t done this specific kind of job before. Think chocolate teapot making vs blown sugar teapot making.) Received limited training and no real oversight, my supervisor was beyond useless and literally watched youtube videos all day (we could hear her). I had no idea that our client was unhappy with me, until they called up a VP of the company and complained, and less than 30 days later….”we’re letting you go.”

    I hate that (in general) everyone assumes being fired meant you did something awful or were completely incompetent at your job and refused help/education. Sometimes a job just doesn’t work out! It’s not a black mark on my character. [/end rant]

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I hate that (in general) everyone assumes being fired meant you did something awful or were completely incompetent at your job and refused help/education.

      Sometimes you’re fired after you’ve left. Nothing stops a petty employer from listing an employee as fired, even though they actually quit, and who’s going to bother to sort out the he-said-she-said situation?

    2. irene adler*

      And it’s also not a testament to your work ethic or abilities either.

      Sometimes I think people like to pick artificial “signs” like being fired, job-hopping, lack of a college degree, or lack of enough years of experience as an easy way to winnow down the applicant pile. Maybe interview those that meet the job requirements before eliminating them for these “signs”.

      My grandmother used to hire instructors for short-term contracts for a small school that she owned. She would select those with bad “signs” and discover that she’d made a very good choice every time. And those she selected went on to have long, successful teaching careers. They just needed someone to give them a chance.

      1. Agnes*

        So you can’t judge on experience, education, or track record… what exactly are you supposed to judge on? Whether you like them in the interview? I’d argue that’s a lot more likely to lead to discrimination and bad hiring than looking at objective pieces of their record.

        1. Allonge*

          Exactly.

          ‘fired, job-hopping, lack of a college degree, or lack of enough years of experience’ – I mean, none of this is a dealbreaker for all jobs, but how do you evaluate somebody’s level of meeting the job requirements if you exclude their entire history?

          By all means, give chances to people (especially for shorter term positions where the risk is lower – I respect the willingness to take a chance on less fortunate people, but it’s less of a risk if it is for a 3-month contract than for a 5 year position). The discussion here is going in the direction of the more a person was fired, the better.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The discussion here is going in the direction of the more a person was fired, the better.

            In some jobs, that is true.

            A programmer who has been fired from 4 jobs over 6 years has the same advantage as a programmer who job hopped for those 6 years; diverse skills in their work history and a strong alphabet soup for that next job. When you factor in the charisma you need to not starve during that scenario, you’re getting closer to an ideal candidate to fit the job listing.

            The poor schelp who holds the fort together in a single role for a decade is worthless, because all they’ve proven they can do is that one job.

            1. Colette*

              That’s really not true. You’ve refered to “alphabet soup” as a requirement for the next job, and of course having experience with multiple technologies is useful, but that’s not all that’s required. Competent hiring managers will look at what you did, not just what acronyms you put on your resume. There are plenty of programmers who chase the latest technology and can’t deliver software.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I respect your opinion and right to it, but it’s a very real impediment I’ve run into in the job market, and I am not unique.

                What you have done in IT/IS is usually meaningless if it’s not preceded by the right alphabet soup.

        2. irene adler*

          Well, no actually. I guess I didn’t get my point across very well.

          There is a job description for the position. It should indicate what skills are required for the job (must know Excel, Access, LIMS system, etc.). And at what experience level (Intermediate Excel- pivot tables, or Advanced Excel-BI, creating and managing an Access database, etc. ). Put additional qualifiers in there to more fully indicate the type of experience (must have worked in a clean room environment for example) necessary to do the job.

          Then those resumes that best match all these tangible skills and knowledge and experience are selected for interview.

          Then interview the candidate and ask them to relate their level of work with Excel or clean rooms etc. Ask many follow up questions to fully understand their ability to do the job.

          My take on all this is that BEFORE the skills/knowledge/ experience are looked at in a resume, someone is nixing those resumes that show a job-hopper, or a previous firing or lack of a degree. Or have just a couple of years of work experience. But they meet the job requirements as far as skills/knowledge/related experiences-right? So at least talk to them before dismissing them.

          1. Allonge*

            Ok, I get it better now. Two things to consider, based on my experience:

            1. for the overwhelming majority of jobs at my various employers, there were a lot more people applying than it was reasonable to interview. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people applying – interviewing was mostly expected for a dozen, maximum, as that already takes quite a lot to organise. Some are obviously not qualified, some look like they may be, but this latter category is still usually a magnitude off from the number of people we have time to interview, so, yes, then you cut people based on what you see from their application/CV/resume/cover letter. A person who has longer experience in pivot tables is assumed to be better at them than one with shorter experience – it’s not necessarily true, yes, but the best that can be done.

            Now for jobs where there are not enough applicants, then you go and dive deep, sure. When I will be discarding a lot of people whose history looks good on paper, there is no need for this.

            2. This is far from universal but in government, and heavier administrations you cannot diverge from the vacancy once you advertised a job. If you said you want people with 5 years of experience, you cannot hire someone with 3, even if they are Excel!Wizard personified. So discarding those who do not fulfil the minimum requirement is not an arbitrary action and it’s actually an obligation at that stage.

  32. Jam Today*

    I was fired from one job after a year of harassment (his, not mine!) followed by retaliation when I stopped pretending to be OK with it. I had no paper trail to back myself up, and was so humiliated about what was happening I never told anyone so of course nobody believed me when I said “this is what’s really happening” and I was out the door. All kinds of sh*tty things go on in work settings that nobody even within that company knows about, never mind people outside.

  33. Dust Bunny*

    I was asked to volunteer-teach a class for a specific event and the event organizers wanted me to pay a full entry fee. To an event to which I was also donating my time, travel, and materials. And at which I would not have time to attend any other classes/workshops (for most of which I would have had to pay extra).

    I declined. When I asked a friend, who is familiar with the event, about it she said that this started when the event was new and really did need the revenue but at this point it had become self-supporting, but the organizers refused to give up the pay-to-volunteer model even though it was causing a lot of hard feelings. The event is big enough that a lot of people will still pay to volunteer so they can have it on their “resumes”, but it stinks. If I’m going to spend that much on an event I’m not paying a fee, and I think they should chip in a basic lunch or meal voucher, too.

    1. Op2here*

      Thanks for responding!!

      I do think it is something that people forget about that not only are volunteers unpaid, but often have small expenses that pop up that they cover themselves.

      The founder did defend himself by saying he bought the entire board and myself a meal (once!) out of his own pocket, so that was his way of “chipping in” like you suggested, but I still don’t believe that makes it right in my situation.

      I totally see why you declined!

      1. Op2here*

        I also want to say, along the lines of your friend’s point, I genuinely don’t think this move is because they are hurting for donations. There has actually been talk that we need to start advertising to our target demographic to find people the foundation can donate TO, because they have run out of people to help. Somewhat of a good problem to have, but basically it appears we have a good sum of money and no one asking for the kind of help that aligns with our mission.

  34. Becky S*

    I was fired once (let go?) because they decided they didn’t need a college graduate for the job, and would I please write a manual for the next, less educated person, to use?
    I was fired from another job because my manager had his wife reporting to me (yes, really!) and we didn’t get along. One of us had to go, it was me……

  35. annabelle*

    I have 14 years of non-profit experience and I don’t really care either way about memberships being a requirement, but I do know that it’s completely normal and common practice.

    1. Op2here*

      Hi, thank you for your feedback! When you say they are required, is that at every level (including unpaid volunteers)? And if so, have you ever heard of any… I’ll call it “scholarship” type program where if a volunteer can’t afford a membership the organization will cover it or something along those lines?

      I’m also curious, how does this affect recruitment for unpaid positions? Do you have a harder time finding volunteers, or do you find requiring memberships ensures you only have dedicated staff?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is that they’re tiny and have one and only one volunteer, with no staff, and are willing to lose her over this. That’s the part that’s bizarre.

  36. NewYork*

    If an applicant is not smart enough to put reason for leaving as office closed, plant close, general layoff, etc. (if any of those are true) and instead puts fired, I would wonder about them.

    1. irene adler*

      How does one put a reason for leaving when the electronic application only allows two choices: “resigned” or “terminated” ?
      Sure, there’s the resume. And the cover letter. Hopefully these are read by the interviewer.

    2. Nanani*

      Your “smart” is someone else’s weird adjustment to make when changing fields or regions. Some people don’t have anyone to teach them the difference and think “fired” is a catch-all term for any job ending – because that’s how the word is used around them.
      This has nothing to do with intelligence, what a gross comment.

  37. Vermont Green*

    I don’t find the financial requirement that strange.
    I belong to two groups where you need to make a good-faith donation. One is my church board of directors, and to be on that, you need to pledge an amount—even, as the pastor is quick to say, it’s only a dollar a year. Only supporters can be on the board.
    The other is a 40-member group that provides services to vulnerable people. To volunteer at any level, you have to be a paid-up member (dues $15). To work individually with the people (as opposed to writing emails, doing publicity, etc.) you need a background check, which costs $20. (In one case there was a person who balked at the dues requirement, yet had strong background and skills, so they waived the dues fee.) In a way, the dues are a small hurdle that ensures sincerity and commitment to our cause.

    1. Op2here*

      Hi, thank you for the response! I definitely see the value in requiring some form of dues for a board of directors, I think that establishes a good example to encourage others to follow.

      I like that the second organization you mentioned was willing to waive fees in certain situations; as a younger adult just starting out, I don’t have much and try to make a difference through my actions instead, and unfortunately I think the way my non profit approached this made me feel like they value getting a small amount of money from me over the time and services I have been offering.

      I am just curious, do you find you have a hard time with recruitment with these requirements or do you find it instead makes it easier to identify volunteers better suited to your organization? And are these fees you mention a yearly fee, one time, etc?

      I appreciate your perspective on this!

      1. Smithy*

        My experience at the nonprofits that I’ve worked at, is that ultimately managing/coordinating volunteers takes work and therefore there are often to ensure commitment, but also are shown to work for a reliable commitment. The idea being that if you offer anything for free, that it ends up being an engagement that people will ultimately choose to do whether or not it suits them. However, even a small financial commitment is shown to more reliably assess a regular commitment.

        You have programs like the Birthright Israel free trip – where early on they asked participants to provide some kind of ‘downpayment’ that they’d receive back if they completed the trip. Even though it was only like $50, it had considerable impact in ensuring students followed through in taking the trip.

        While you certainly can show this organization a history of reliably volunteering, it may be that the organization is looking to recruit more/new volunteers or other the quality of other volunteers of late hasn’t been as consistent or successful. Therefore, there’s an ambition to reset the terms to improve the overall quality of volunteers and structure of the organization, despite it having nothing to do with you or your performance specifically.

        1. Op2here*

          Hi there, thank you for the feedback! I am the only volunteer at this time, so I certainly hope my reliability and quality aren’t in question! This fee is not something that would be reimbursed, and in fact would have to be paid yearly. It goes directly to the Foundation, and does not cover, say, a t-shirt or other logistical items needed for me to volunteer. I cover any transportation, equipment, and other fees that I incur myself. I do somewhat understand the concern about recruiting high quality volunteers, but similar to a full time job, I feel like you could probably get a good indicator on a person in an interview instead of asking for money – similar to what Alison said, it feels like gatekeeping and could potentially mean you don’t have access to skilled volunteers who simply don’t have a great financial situation. I am a little saddened to hear how many organizations do this; a lot of people I know that are my age volunteer because we don’t have the ability to donate, and want to give something – so we give our time, our ideas, our skills.

          I appreciate learning more from you on how paying has helped your recruitment process!

          1. Smithy*

            Overall, the majority of my nonprofit experience has been with organizations that moved away from or entirely canceled using volunteers and shifted to more paid staff. Therefore, more deliberate gatekeeping around volunteers was intentional and result in recruiting the types of volunteers that were wanted. Namely volunteers that had aspirations to be on the board or other volunteer committees and combine the efforts of their time and intellect with fundraising.

            However, I also have friends who have careers managing volunteer programs at larger organizations. It may be that those larger volunteer programs are in organizations where there’s less opportunity to have your ideas heard or to contribute specialized skills, but they are more likely to be designed to benefit from your time without requiring donating.

            If this organization is no longer a fit for you, I do think it would make a lot of sense to look around at other places to volunteer and essentially interview them. There may be many organizations that have a mission you connect with, but the technical realities of what they’d want from you as a volunteer may not fit for you.

            1. Op2here*

              Got it! I definitely understand how that would apply in terms of establishing a career path with future board aspirations, or large organizations who have a huge number of potential volunteers. Thank you for the recommendations on how to move forward! I definitely think you are right; this is an organization who’s mission I care about, but the logistics are not a match, and will be something I’m mindful of in the future.

              1. Moonhopping*

                This does seem odd to me. I’m sure it varies by the nature of the organization Many of my friends have or do volunteer and receive free membership as a benefit. For example the YMCA offers people the opportunity to volunteer if they can’t afford to join and still be able to access services. I know people who volunteered at the zoo and receive free passes. The same for people I know who volunteered at museums. Especially true for services geared towards children such as children’s museums and such. People who put it in a certain number of hours with our gardening association get a voucher to spend at their yearly sale (a minimal amount.) high-level volunteers at our Humane Society receive a free ticket to their annual dinner and auction, though most of them choose to pay as a form of support.
                Sounds like what Letter Writter doing is much more high-level the examples I have. Just providing bit of perspective to the other side of the coin.

        2. Op2here*

          One more thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on – do the nonprofits you have experience with ever make an exception for volunteers? I’ve heard a few commenters mention if a volunteer is dedicated and does great work, the organization will waive the fee if need be. Curious if you have any input on that!

        3. Observer*

          However, even a small financial commitment is shown to more reliably assess a regular commitment.

          If the only way you are getting a regular commitment is by making people pay, you are not screening appropriately. And you ARE absolutely screening out people who are committed but can’t spend the money.

          There are certain situations where asking for money makes sense. But for volunteer work, there are always other ways to insure the commitment. And there are some good studies that indicate that the cost can actually backfire on you.

          Even though it was only like $50, it had considerable impact in ensuring students followed through in taking the trip.

          Except these students are NOT volunteers who are signing up to do something for the organization! They are people who are trying to get a free trip. That’s a TOTALLY different scenario. The idea of trying to graft that model onto actual volunteering is TERRIBLE management. And I’d hate to volunteer at any organization that treats my trying to help as me actually trying to get something free from the organization. This kind of disrespectful might actually explain why you are having a hard time retaining GOOD volunteers.

    2. Observer*

      To volunteer at any level, you have to be a paid-up member (dues $15).

      How does this make sense? Are you really saying that if someone doesn’t have that money to spend, their work is not useful and of benefit to the organization? Do you realize that by insisting that only people with disposable income IN ADDITION to time can help the organization you are probably shutting out useful and better informed viewpoints and perspectives about your constituencies?

      To work individually with the people (as opposed to writing emails, doing publicity, etc.) you need a background check, which costs $20.

      Why are you putting the cost of doing business onto your volunteers? Do you require staff to pay for the paper they use?

      In a way, the dues are a small hurdle that ensures sincerity and commitment to our cause.

      Seriously?! To be honest that claim is a red flag for management, to me. It makes no sense that paying dues is a sign of commitment, but actually showing up and doing the work! is somehow not an indication of commitment.

  38. FundraiserNYC*

    LW #2:

    I have 10+ years of experience in nonprofit fundraising. Just to give you a basis of what is “normal,” most organizations have minimum requirements for board giving. Typically, when joining a board, the new member commits to contribute a minimum amount each year. In the organizations that I have worked for, that minimum is no less than $10,000. This is because, as the leaders of the organization, trustees must demonstrate their personal commitment to the mission and also set an example for other donors and prospective donors. For example, if trustee John Smith, introduces us to a prospective donor that he has a close relationship with, if John Smith himself does not give at a substantial level, then why would his friend?

    It is good practice to give employees, volunteers, etc. the opportunity to contribute, but I have never worked in an organization where it is required in order to stay involved. I can see that being more common in smaller organizations, but they will drive away any talent with a policy like this.

    1. Op2here*

      Hi there, thank you for the comment. I totally agree that if I was a board member this would be a totally different situation, and I would understand the requirement. It proves buy in from the highest level, and I see what you’re saying about how that affects their reputation.

      I understand also that it is a good practice to encourage all other staff (which at at this point is just myself!) to follow the board members’ lead, and I don’t mind that, but requiring it felt over the top. I definitely agree that it had the potential to affect how they attract and retain talent.

  39. EngGirl*

    LW3

    I have the opposite problem with my boss. I try to put in time that I need really far in advance to make sure I am able to reserve it (in fairness it’s not around holidays for the most part). I try to reserve some time for days I don’t NEED off, but would like (like my birthday, or a random Friday afternoon when the weather is nice). Without fail my boss always comes in and tells me he’s taking these days with almost no notice. This means I end up having to cover him when I had “planned” to be out. I can’t complain because I also waited until the last minute.

    I guess I’m saying that I agree with Alison lol. See if there’s a good compromise with your boss, because it’s just as frustrating on the other end of the spectrum to not know what kind of coverage you need until the last minute.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      When you say you “planned” to take time off do you mean just in your head but you never actually write it down/request it anywhere so no one else knows you want that time off? Or do you mean you request certain time off like Friday/B-day the week before or week of, but since it is “last minute” your boss will tell you no because they are taking that time off?

      If it is the first one I agree you can’t expect anyone to know if you have never written it down somewhere. If it is the second, unless your boss has actually written it down, I think they are being crappy. Once in a while oh I was going to take that time off EngGirl I can’t approve yours sure, but if it is every time that sucks.

      I would also encourage you to request your b-day off in advance if you have the time. I don’t do it, but I have several coworkers who request their b-days off nothing wrong with that. I will sometime request a Friday and/or Monday off the week of my b-day depending on plans.

      I also schedule fun hooky days during the summer in advance, where I plan to take a Friday or Monday off. But I actually am a bigger fan of taking an occasional Wed or Thur off during the summer or even winter months. No where that I have worked has ever had a problem with scheduling random time off.

      1. EngGirl*

        I mean mentally planned but never actually asked.

        I don’t get a ton of PTO so if I’m not using a big chunk I try to wait and see if the actual day I want to take off is going to be a good day to do things. I’d hate to preschedule a day off in the summer and then have it rain.

  40. SongbirdT*

    To add to the pile of non-alarming reasons a person can be fired: I was fired once because I didn’t pass the (non-healthcare) company’s nicotine test. Nothing to do with performance or anything, I wasn’t even on their insurance plan. They implemented the no-nicotine the policy well after I was hired, and I was working on quitting but had a bad weekend before my surprise monthly nicotine test on the following Monday. Thankfully, it wasn’t much of an issue for people that I interviewed with and became sort of an icebreaker conversation topic! It was also the best thing that could have happened to me career-wise because my next role was a significantly higher salary and led me to my current career, and I wouldn’t have even known about that next job if I’d still been working at the no-nic place.

  41. Lifelong student*

    When given the choice to resign or be fired, there are people who chose to resign so they never have to admit to being fired. However, if they resign, they are likely not eligible for unemployment compensation. That saves the company money. Personally, I chose to be fired the two times it happened to me. In the first case is was a bad fit job in a toxic workplace with a supervisor with issues- in the second place I refused to violate ethical standards and the supervisor, knowing that I would not, declared me a bad fit. I don’t recall ever being asked if I had ever been fired when later applying for jobs. I consider both events badges of honor.

  42. JohannaCabal*

    Another thought about firings, LW1 may even have hired people who were “laid off” from previous roles but were actually fired. It’s not unheard of for managers to feel bad about firing someone, so they lay them off instead (I’m not a fan of this and I think it happened to me at my first post-college job; I wish the higher-ups had just been upfront with me about my performance, this would have pushed me to make some improvements to my attitude toward work earlier).

    1. Colette*

      Sure, it’s always possible that someone had performance issues but wasn’t fired – but that doesn’t mean that having been fired isn’t relevant.

  43. Nona*

    Another data point: A former colleague is truly excellent at his job and very well regarded, yet he was fired from his previous position for missing deadlines and sleeping on the job. Turns out he had an undiagnosed thyroid problem, which is now under control. If the candidate is otherwise strong, definitely ask them about it.

  44. I'm just here for the cats*

    #1 I really want to know how they know the person was fired if they haven’t spoken to the references yet and it doesn’t sound like they have spoken to the candidate yet either. Unless the candidate mentions it in her cover letter I dont know why they think they were fired. Or do they have some sort of application that asks if the candidate has ever been fired?

    If there has been no clear communication that the candidate has been fired (she or a reference didnt say it) I would not automatically assume a firing. Also, if the person is early in their career or if from a different cultural background they may not realize the difference between being fired because of something they did and general being let go because of a layoff or something.

    Would like to note that depending on the job it might not have been available again. For example, when I was in college I worked as a receptionist at one of the college departments. I wast here for a year and I put it on my resume right after college. However, it shows on my resume for one year because the job wasnt available the following year. I did nothing wrong but I was “let go” because the position was eliminated.

  45. A.Ham*

    LW 2-
    I work for a non-profit performing arts organization (and have worked for similar orgs my whole career) and every place I have worked has had a small yearly membership fee for volunteers. I also want to point out, as others have above, that there is a distinction between Board members and other volunteers. Board members are expected to donate at a high level. Volunteers are only asked to pay the smaller amount (in my experience it ranges from $30-$50 a year.) The thing is, while we have various volunteer opportunities throughout a season, the duty that people want to do the most, and the one we literally have a pages long waiting list for, is being an usher for our performances. We need those volunteer ushers, and they do good work for us and we are thankful! But also, the fact is, if they are ushering for every production they are getting hundreds of dollars in benefits by being able to see the shows for free.
    I know your situation is totally different, and in your shoes I might feel weird about it too. I only wanted to give an example/industry where volunteers are often asked for a membership fee.

    1. FrivYeti*

      That’s interesting, because I was logging in to say the opposite. I’ve been working at not-for-profits for most of my life, primarily in the arts, and I have never encountered an organization in which membership fees were required for volunteers. I’ve been at several orgs where membership fees were required in order to take part in voting at AGMs or attend governance meetings, but if I ran into a place that demanded money from me in exchange for me giving them my time, I would immediately turn around and leave, and if I had ever suggested that at a fundraising meeting I can only imagine the response.

      I wonder if it’s a cultural thing? Is it common for American charities to demand membership fees from their volunteers?

    2. Op2here*

      Hi there! Thank you for weighing in, it is helpful to hear how other organizations do this. For my specific situation, it’s weird – while it is a low dollar amount, the requirements for a board member and myself are identical, and at this point, I am bringing in as much (sometimes more!) in new leads and general donations through my tactics and strategies as board members, and this is not a nonprofit where I get somewhat of a perk like a free show – the only perk a volunteer gets is the joy of helping those in need (which is enough for me!!) but it doesn’t necessarily justify the price in the same way.

      1. Officious Intermeddler*

        OP2, lawyer who works with not-for-profits here. This is something I commonly see with young, inexperienced (poorly-run) organizations. While it’s common and probably a good thing to get to 100% financial support/membership from any board of directors, and expect them to bring in money, I often discourage them from alienating volunteers in this way. It’s my experience that this sort of thing happens once the initial rush of “wow we formed a programmatic organization!!!11!1” wears off and they realize that they’ve actually got to have human beings doing work for them, and realize they can’t afford to pay a salary or even a wage yet. Maybe they can afford to pay the salary/wage, but they are under the (in my opinion, wrong-headed) belief that paying for human beings’ work is somehow not what their donors intend. There are some advice givers out there that give pretty strident advice to the effect of “anyone who does anything for your organization needs to be a donor!” I mean, fine, but you *ARE* a donor–you’re donating what sounds like a FTE in labor. I think my bs-meter would be on high alert if this is what they’re doing to you.

        Here’s why. In my experience, for young non-profits, this tends to be a very bad sign. If they’re relying on volunteer labor to the extent your letter suggests *and* not looking at you as an incredible free resource, and they’re pushing for membership fees, I suspect they’re treading some water financially. I’d have a hard look at their financial statements if you haven’t already. (Although, again, I wouldn’t surprise if they don’t…really have good financial statements).

        Obviously, Allison’s advice is spot on. But this is one reason why young non-profits sometimes fizzle out. The rush that comes from forming the organization and recruiting a board is not always enough to get to the income required to do the work. If that’s the situation you’re seeing here, I might think about trying to transition my volunteer labor to a more stable organization, but if you love the work, you do you!

  46. Lizzo*

    LW2: Alison’s suggestion, “I’m happy to donate my time and skills, but I’m not in a position to donate financially. Does that mean you’d rather I stop volunteering?”, is excellent.

    I want to add: I don’t think it is necessarily odd that membership would be required for leadership positions with a nonprofit, but that expectation should be clearly laid out at the start of engagement. In addition, many nonprofit boards have financial give/get expectations, where board members are required to make substantial donations and also achieve fundraising goals. Again, these expectations are (or should be) clearly outlined before board members join.

    I think the bigger issue here is that you and the founder are not on the same page about your role. You see yourself as a highly engaged volunteer, whereas the founder sees you as staff. Those are two very distinct things, and they’re probably getting blurred as these types of things do at young mission-focused organizations.

    Do you have a job description written down somewhere? Having one will make clear how much time you are contributing, which may help make clear to the founder that you are already making a very significant, very valuable contribution to the organization. It could also provide a catalyst for a broader conversation about where your expectations of the *volunteer* and *staff* titles diverge.

    1. In my shell*

      Oh, this response is outstanding – you’ve really identified the core problem (other than the WHAT THE WHAT?? Pay to volunteer??)!

    2. Op2here*

      Hi! Thank you, this is all good info and I’ll try and break it down to answer everything:

      – I for sure see why organizations expect this of leadership, but it has been made clear to me that I am not leadership, and I am not the board – which is totally fine by me, I am happy to be involved at a lower level. It was a total shock that this all came up.

      – You are 100% right that there is a miscommunication about my place in the organization. I don’t even have a title, and am the first… of my kind? I am the only person who is a part of the organization who is not on the board, and I definitely expected growing pains that come with a new position, but I think that requires strong communication and the ability to listen to feedback, which seems to be missing here.

      – In retrospect, the very obvious things you mention are things I did not have: no title, no job description, no expectations on what I need to bring to the table. I knew of this organization through a family friend who was on the board. They needed help in the area my industry is in, and I was happy to help however I could to move them forward. This was a huge learning lesson for me that I need to make sure those are ironed out from the start,

      – It seems to me that the founder views me as a board member in terms of responsibility, but not in terms of influence, if that makes sense. I am given a large amount of tasks and responsibilities, which I am happy to take on!, and now with this membership stuff I have the same requirements as the board in order to be a part of the organization, but am treated as a bit of a second-class citizen (he even has referred to me as “the help” before).

      – I love that idea that a job description might open their eyes and spark a conversation, and I will take that idea moving forward. I do think I am no longer a fit for this organization, but I feel that I still need to point this out to them as I hope moving forward they can learn from this, just as I have.

      – I know you weighed in on the value of leadership having a membership, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts or experience on if staff or volunteers should be held to the same standards?

      1. Lizzo*

        I’m glad you found this useful! Re: your last point…it depends. I have worked at three different types of membership organizations in my career.

        Type #1 was an advocacy organization, about 20 years old, with fewer than 50 staff, and we were encouraged to join because our membership numbers had a direct impact on our advocacy (e.g. we can say we speak on behalf of 5,000 people who believe in our mission). I think annual dues were something like $60? So, accessible for most folks on staff. We did have a VERY active volunteer corps, and the majority of them were members; in fact, they may have become volunteers because they were initially members. I think if most of us were not staff members, we would be active volunteers, and we would most likely be members. The mission of that place was very unique, and all involved were deeply committed. That said, even with that commitment, requiring membership to be involved would not have gone over well. I do recall our executive director asking us to join as a way to put some $$ behind “honoring the work of our colleagues”, and I had no issue with it at the time, but I can see that it might be off-putting to others. And it was just an ask–not a requirement.

        Type #2 was for members of a particular profession that did not have any overlap with my profession, and has been around for over a century. Professional membership dues tend to be pretty substantial compared to, say, a membership to your local NPR or PBS affiliate. We had several hundred employees, and there was no expectation to join, though we did have staff members who had professional credentials for the type of profession we worked for, and some of them may have been members.

        Type #3 is a hybrid of these two: for a particular professional area, but a very small staff, and a financially accessible dues structure. It’s been around for almost 50 years. Anyone is welcome to join/donate, and many of our leadership-level staff do, but this would never be an expectation or requirement.

        So, now that I’ve typed all that up, let me answer your question. :-) When it comes to staff/non-board volunteers and monetary donations (including membership), I think the most effective thing an organization can do is cultivate the desire to give. Talk about the mission, talk about effectiveness and impact, make giving accessible (the *how to*, but also the $ amount).

        TL;DR: ****Build a relationship with people that will ultimately lead them to choose to make a donation.****

        *Requiring* donations makes them transactional. That works for some potential donors, but it’s a very short-term approach, which is a poor choice for an organization that’s interested in long-term financial viability.

        Does that help?

        1. Op2here*

          This is all extremely helpful!! Thank you, I think looking at past experiences almost like case studies is so helpful for me to understand the value this decision could have.

          I cannot stress enough how much it means to me that you, Alison, and this entire AAM community puts so much thought and effort into commenting on my situation with advice, scripts, and stories of their experiences. Thank you!!

          1. Lizzo*

            You’re welcome! One more note: most founders tend to be passionate and knowledgeable about the mission, but terrible when it comes to many other parts of organizational functioning. This is exacerbated if the organization is young. There’s certainly value in working with a young organization, but be prepared to do your due diligence ahead of time to protect yourself and your time/talent/treasure. :-)

      2. Jenny Next*

        “he even has referred to me as “the help” before”

        OMG! What an arrogant a-hole, after all you’ve done for him! Do not let anyone persuade you to stay.

  47. Cat Tree*

    About #1: Yes, there are plenty of reasons people get fired that aren’t about performance, but there are also plenty of people who get fired for legitimate reasons.

    OP handled it correctly, but many commenters here seem to think that firings should never even be considered. There’s a balance where the hiring manager takes it seriously but also considers other factors, which is what OP did. Can the rest of us stop pretending that firings are never legitimate?

  48. RedinSC*

    LW2, many non profits have giving agreements for their board members. It is important for grant purposes to have 100% giving for board members. That is not the same for volunteers and it’s pretty obnoxious that they’re asking you for this. I suspect there are other organizations that can use your skill and support. But what an annoying thing for them to be after.

    1. Op2here*

      Thank you for commenting! I had heard about requirements for boards at other organizations before, and I can understand why that choice might be made, but as a volunteer this was all new to me. I appreciate you weighing in.

  49. Sled dog mama*

    I was fired from a job in my early 20’s (in my field, 6 months out of grad school) for falling asleep at work twice. Later found out that my extreme fatigue was due to a medication I had been prescribed for a medical condition. I did later get that employer to agree to call it a mutual parting of ways after presenting them with evidence from my doctor, and they later hired me back.
    Two years ago I was fired from a different company for a “policy violation”. I was already looking for a new position at the time because this was an awful toxic place. The problem with the supposed policy violation? I wrote the policy they accused me of violating so I know I didn’t violate it. Also for HR to have the information they say they had (which they were unable to produce) there would have been a massive HIPPA violation.
    I was able to find a new position within the week through my network and consulted a lawyer (company also accused me of a few other things). I also had 3 other companies trying to get me to an account onsite interview when I took this offer.
    The old company has a policy of only confirming dates of employment and the reason for termination, but you are allowed to ask coworkers for references.
    I now work for a previous supervisor who started his own company. I have no intention of leaving but if I did I would have to say that yes I have legitimately been fired and one of the companies will confirm it.
    I wouldn’t rule out a candidate based purely on having been fired, but I would dig into what really happened if the candidate was otherwise strong.

  50. Copyright Economist*

    Re #1: I have never been fired, but I got advance notice that I would likely be fired, sought another job, got it, then quit. People who have never been fired may well be in my position; or if they have been fired, they simply never got advance notice. I would talk to the candidate, as others have said.

  51. RagingADHD*

    LW2, what staff? You’re not on staff. They have no staff.

    And if they plan to require every participant to buy a membership, why not just say so instead of some weird passive-aggressive thing about the ability to send meeting invitations? What kind of middle-school lunchroom operation is this?

    This organization sounds extremely confused about what they are and how all this stuff works. It might be worth reconsidering how you are spending your time anyway. Are they actually providing a benefit to anyone, or if it’s an artistic nonprofit, is there any good art coming out of it?

    This nonsense at the board level makes me wonder if they are just wasting everyone’s time.

    1. Op2here*

      I definitely agree that there is a lot of confusion in their structure, and it was something I was aware of from the start, but I had sympathy because it’s such a young organization and I truly thought I could come in and offer advice that was listened t0 – for example, they don’t even set budgets, goals, or do any analyses! They are providing a benefit, and I believe in what they do, the problem is they are growing in impact and reach like CRAZY, and are not equipped to handle that kind of growth as they exist now.

      1. RagingADHD*

        If they are growing and not setting budgets or doing analysis, I dearly hope someone is keeping an eye on their corporate governance/compliance issues.
        You don’t get to play fast and loose with donated money for long and get away with it.

      2. Lizzo*

        OP, just curious, has the organization filed as a nonprofit, i.e. are they officially recognized by the government? If so, there should be founding documents in place that outline the board structure, bylaws, etc. They also need to file tax forms (specifically a 990 form) every year, which provides a transparent look at their finances.

        If they’re not officially a nonprofit in the eyes of the government, donations to the organization are *not* tax-deductible.

        This entire thing sounds like a big hot mess to me, and potentially sounds like they’re not playing by the rules. Just because they’re a young organization, doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want.

        BoardSource dot org is a great resource if you want to know more about how good boards operate, and also the fiduciary management expectations of board members. I highly recommend it if you want to get involved with another nonprofit, even if you are just casually volunteering.

        1. Op2here*

          Hi all, appreciate the questions and thoughts. I will be honest that the legality and structure of the nonprofit is not my strong suit, so I will try my best to answer this with what I know:

          – I know the organization is filed officially as a 501(c)(3). I am not super aware of how they keep up-to-date on legal documents/filing, but they do have a lawyer on the board who seems to be very on top of things, and I know they are GuideStar certified, though I am not altogether aware of how much weight that has. I have also heard them discuss at board meetings the need to send out, or fill out, etc. different tax documents. As far as I’m aware, they seem to be on top of the legal aspect, since they have to be, it’s more at the organization level they aren’t… well, organized. And this is something I was willing to accept and work through, since most of the members on the board do not have careers that would require them to deal with budgets, goals, and analysis like I do, but ultimately, they don’t seem motivated to hear my advice and give more structure – it’s just the Founder making up new rules however he feels they should be set up.

          Thank you for the BoardSource resource! I will definitely check that out, and hope I can find a nonprofit I can volunteer for soon!

  52. Moonhopping*

    I may have missed it but for the first letter on firing I haven’t seen anybody note the financial benefit to an employer for firing someone instead of laying them off. Someone with more knowledge can expand on this but I’m fairly certain in the US if unemployment benefits are granted the amount paid through unemployment to that former employer is Somehow connected to their tax bill increasing their state tax payment for the next year. I know a lot of instances especially towards younger employees where employers will fabricate cause in order to have the unemployment claim denied. I believe people who work for large well-funded industries and organizations don’t run into this as much as people who work for family owned smaller or less financially secure industries. So it’s very important to get more clarification and not judge them simply because they were “fired.”

    Depending on your region and economic class fired, laid off, let go in the US can somewhat be used interchangeably because the end result is the same you don’t have a job. Like the Oxford, there’s a correct way to use it but nobody ever does. In industries I have worked in and adjacent to, especially seasonal where everyone is let go at the end of the season, laid off is used to indicate they want to hire you back next season. Where let go indicates they have no intention of wanting to bring you back.

    1. Pikachu*

      #2 – I have volunteered at a number of museums as a docent and in other roles. Free membership benefits for volunteers was just part of the package… because that means you take advantage of what they offer, and theoretically will encourage others to do so too.

      I am sure it’s different at different types of organizations but paying to work for no pay … that is barely one step above multi-level marketing.

  53. Atlantic Beach Pie*

    I mostly agree with Alison’s advice to LW2, but I do want to push back on the idea that volunteering is a larger indicator that you’re invested in the organization, because I see it as part of a larger issue about how people value nonprofit work. It really depends on the organization and the volunteer role. There are plenty of organizations that rely almost entirely on volunteers, which is GREAT, especially if you can volunteer on a regular basis and have a specialized skill (example: a really small organization needs an accountant but only has about 10 hours worth of work a month, or they need a lawyer to review contracts but there are only 2-3 a year, etc). There are other organizations that really need full-time dedicated staff to do the work and can only use volunteers in a limited capacity, if at all.

    I used to work for a large nonprofit org that did really valuable work for the community. There were some depts that relied heavily on volunteer work: lawyers volunteering at pro-bono clinics, volunteers organizing and distributing
    the food pantry, canvassing to get people in the community to register to vote, etc. There were other depts where we couldn’t accept volunteers: the medical clinic, accounting & finance, etc. It also takes a LOT of infrastructure to be able to support volunteers: we had 4 full-time employees in the volunteer department, plus there was at least 1 FTE in the legal dept who managed the pro-bono clinics, 8 FTE organizing & training the canvassing, etc. The org calculated annually the amount of value that volunteers gave back to the org (it was a simple calculation, like [our area hhourly living wage] x [number of total volunteer hours] and it was quite high (over $1MM) but they spent at least that much in overhead/program management costs.

    The volunteer dept spent most of their time managing corporate groups who wanted to volunteer for their “day of giving back,” which they would inevitably try to schedule at the last minute, and according to whatever corporate mandate they had (“Our Day of Service this year is April 14” and on April 2 we get a panicked call from the corporate liason asking us to organize a volunteer opportunity for 100 employees). It was really frustrating because we didn’t have enough time to train these people and it’s not really worth the investment for one-time volunteers anyway. So they would end up doing bullshit jobs like painting walls for the 100th time that decade or assembling safer sex kits for the health clinic (we had so many that you would open a closet door and condoms would fall on your head).

    It really steams my greens when I hear people say that they only donate to all-volunteer organizations. It’s basically equivalent to saying that you don’t believe that people working for nonprofits don’t deserve to earn a living wage, which in turn means that only independently wealthy people can work for organizations who are doing the most important work to fix society’s issues. Plus, there’s only so much that an all-volunteer organization can scale before they need to hire full-time staff to manage the operational needs. So if you have the time to volunteer, awesome! Find an organization that you love that can make the best use of your time and talents. If you don’t have time but you have money, donate to a mix of organizations larger & smallr and feel great about it, even if your money is going to buy lightbulbs and pay the people who change them. The accountant working late into the night to ensure that the org complies with all the regulations and doesn’t get a massive fine from the gov’t will thank you ;-)

    1. Metadata minion*

      I absolutely agree with your rant, but I don’t think it’s quite what Alison was talking about here. The question is between donating money and donating time, and I think that for most people it is more difficult to donate time than money (of an amount reasonable with the person’s income). Ideally yes, the organization should eventually be paying people to work for them, and I think that makes it doubly uncomfortable that they’re expecting the LW to have to pay *them* in order to do unpaid work.

      1. ACarO*

        This is funny, because I had to stop myself from going on a “day of service” rant too.

        1. Atlantic Beach Pie*

          HA! Why stop yourself from the amazing opportunity to rant at anonymous people on the internet??

      2. Atlantic Beach Pie*

        I know it’s a tangent :-) I should probably just start my own blog, but then I would just be shouting into the void instead of at Alison’s many readers!

  54. Atlantic Beach Pie*

    In addition to my rant above, I want to point out another thing about LW2: Funders often use % of board giving to determine who they are going to grant to, so a lot of organizations mandate that all their board members make a gift, even a very small one, so they can report that they have 100% board giving. The ED may be applying that same standard to you.

  55. Should_be_working*

    Please ask a less experienced job applicant about being “fired”. I recently realized that my son was checking the “fired/terminated” box on applications to explain the end of a summer camp counselor position. He wasn’t fired because he did something wrong, the camp season ended and thus the job evaporated. He just didn’t understand the vocabulary yet! So he lost out on being considered for several positions.

  56. LW 1*

    I have to say, reading the comments as a letter writer is wild. I feel like people are going out of their way to create unusual scenarios in which I’m somehow ignoring huge pieces of relevant information.

    So: Applicant spoke English as a first language. The application requires 10 years of complete job history (obviously less for applicants who have less history) and a free-text field for a reason for leaving each position, and the applicant was very clear in indicating which jobs they had left voluntarily, which they were laid off from, and which they were fired from; additionally, there was extra room for them to explain the reasons for any times they were fired or asked to resign, which they did, but their answers were vague. I had not yet checked references when I wrote in because we have strict rules about what point in the hiring process that’s allowed, and we’re only allowed to ask references a set list of questions, so I knew getting full stories might be tricky. The job is “entry level” for our organization but the job description (which I’m not allowed to change) suggests two years of experience. As others have said, the recession means that we got a lot of candidates with higher levels of experience than I was anticipating. It’s also not unusual for people in these positions to stay in them for decades.

    I appreciate the commenters who pointed out that I was evaluating this candidate against other candidates, not in a vacuum. I had no doubt about the candidate’s worth as a human being, just whether they’d be a good fit for a team that I’m managing remotely (at least for now) and need to trust.

    And I very much appreciate the commenters who reminded me that people do get fired for all sorts of retaliatory and biased reasons, which is something I hadn’t considered when I wrote in. One of the things I really concentrated on during this hiring process was making sure I was being as equitable as possible and not letting implicit bias take over, so I very much appreciate the reminder to watch for that on how I interpret past firings, too.

    1. RagingADHD*

      “I feel like people are going out of their way to create unusual scenarios in which I’m somehow ignoring huge pieces of relevant information.”

      Welcome, you must be new around here.

  57. ACarO*

    I manage volunteers at an arts/culture nonprofit, it makes up about 25% of my job. The older/retired/wealthy volunteers are all members and make annual gifts. I think its an unspoken old-school expectation, which is a confusing part of the nonprofit world.

    Managing and training volunteers can take a lot of time and overhead, so I can see that a membership requirement might be necessary for an org with lots of occasional volunteers. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here!

    Unless the bylaws specifically state that only members can be on certain email lists or attend meetings using Teams, this is a little weird. It shouldn’t be an email or software limitation either, but if that’s the case its regular practice (in my area) to comp memberships.

    Since you are the only volunteer, maybe they haven’t thought this through and think of you as a de facto board member. I vote that you let them know how this makes you feel. I would be mortified if one of our volunteers felt this way, and I would want to know!!

    1. Op2here*

      Thank you! It is so great to hear from so many of you that have experience in this area.

      I will say that I sympathize with those who manage and train volunteers, and I appreciate learning the fact that some larger organizations use this as a way to recruit better talent, cover the time and materials to train, etc. However, I genuinely don’t believe that is currently the case with this nonprofit – I report to no one (of course, I report to the Founder in the way we all do, but I did not have anyone onboard me or train me or manage me) and I am the only one in my department.

      Thank you for confirming that I should speak up! I’m glad to hear you would want to know this kind of thing, and I appreciate the time you took to weigh in.

  58. MoneyBear*

    LW2: What kind of nonprofit is this? What do the Bylaws say? I ask because I do work for a nonprofit that is a membership association, and our volunteers are required to be full members according to the Bylaws. That includes anyone, not just board members.

    The membership fee is not inexpensive, so I understand when someone wants to volunteer and not be a member. I still need to enforce it; volunteering for the association (it opens up a lot of opportunities and many of our members’ careers have directly benefited from it) is one of the benefits of the membership.

Comments are closed.