my coworker quit but our CEO is pretending he’s still here, having to pay to work at an event, and more

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

1. My coworker quit but our CEO is pretending he’s still here

How do you navigate a situation where an employee leaves the company but management is pretending they still exist?

I have a colleague who worked for less than six months for my firm. He left because he was extremely dissatisfied by the micromanagement of our CEO and found a better opportunity. He agreed to stay on as a contractor until the company could hire someone to fill his position, but then he was offered less than he asked as a contractor and severed ties with the company completely.

I know all of this because this colleague called and filled me in, but our CEO is pretending he still exists and is contracting with the company. His email address is still active, and every time someone asks to have something done that was formerly his responsibility, the CEO responds with, “I don’t think we’ll have that done in time” or some other diversion tactic. Our CEO is a younger, pragmatic millennial and we are just emerging from start up status to full-fledged business, and so I believe he’s doing this because this employee was the first to leave the company in five years and he’s worried it might damage morale or make people question why this employee left.

This has been going on for months now. I’m the only one at the company that knows that this employee no longer works for us in any capacity, so he is often discussed in meetings and assigned tasks while I have to awkwardly sit in silence with this knowledge. Help! How do I handle this?

What on earth. Has it not occurred to your CEO that at some point people will figure it out, when the employee hasn’t been seen or heard from in months? Or when he talks to a former coworker, as people do and as actually happened? And why not … just replace him?

In any case, you’re not obligated to keep what you know a secret! The next time someone talks about assigning this guy work, speak up and say, “Oh, he no longer works with us!” That’s a completely normal thing to say in this situation! You don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen in an Emperors New Clothes kind of way — you can just speak up the same way you would if this weirdness weren’t happening.

Frankly, you’d also be doing your company a favor if you asked the CEO directly in front of others, “What’s the plan for covering XYZ now that Rupert is gone?” This wouldn’t be a gotcha; it’s a normal question to ask when someone tells you they’ve left! And you’d be doing the CEO himself a favor if you nudged him to deal with it like a grown-up — but given that this is someone who is engaged in an elaborate farce to cover up an incredibly routine part of doing business, you should first think through whether that’s likely to backfire on you or not.

2. I was required to pay to attend the event I was volunteering at

A few years ago, I worked for a medium-sized nonprofit organization that held a yearly fundraiser at a brewery. I volunteered to be on the fundraiser committee, and I spent a lot of time preparing for the event, including soliciting and collecting donations for raffle baskets, food/refreshment donations, attending meetings, creating decorations, etc. The fundraiser was on an evening outside of work hours, and committee members were expected to volunteer for one hour of the three-hour event, as well as set up and tear down.

During the planning process, I was informed that all committee members were also expected to pay the entrance/ticket fee for the event, even though we would be working half the night and not truly able to participate in the festivities. A few of my work friends also thought this was ridiculous. When I gently (and I believe reasonably) objected to paying to volunteer, I was met with criticism, and I think this tarnished my reputation a bit — not being a team player or caring about the mission. Upper level employees eventually decided to cut the ticket fee in half for volunteers. When I (maybe stupidly this time) still resisted to paying anything, volunteers were told that if we did not want to pay, we could not eat or drink any of the food or beverages provided to paying guests. We were not serving anything expensive like steak and there was no open bar — we had a buffet of appetizers and desserts, and a cash bar once you used your three drink tickets. They strictly kept track of which staff paid and how much they paid, and some veteran staff on the committee made a show of paying the full price. I had been so passionate about helping make the event fun and lucrative, and felt like my efforts were unappreciated. Several years later, and I’m still a bit salty about this. What are your thoughts?

Yeah, this is crap. First, you don’t charge people to attend the event they are working at (!). Second, you feed your volunteers, even when they’re employees. You should have been admitted for free, and you should have been fed and profusely thanked for your help.

3. Resigning when I never see my boss and don’t have his phone number

I’m working part-time in food services while in school. I realized I have to quit, but the issue is the boss is hardly is there. Like he will unexpectedly drop in for like 10 minutes twice a month. So I don’t think I can quit in person. So I thought then to quit over the phone but I don’t have his phone number either. Usually if we communicate, it’s over Facebook messenger. I don’t have his email either. The only thing I can think of is to message him to ask for his phone number and to talk. Is this what I should do? I’ve never had a job before this one, so I’m really confused and have been looking everywhere for an answer.

Do any of your coworkers have his number? I’d check with whoever runs things while he’s away (if anyone); that person probably has a way to reach him. But if that doesn’t work, then yes, send a message over Facebook messenger telling him you need to talk in the next day or two and ask him to call you or send you his number. And if that doesn’t work for some reason (like if he tells you to just use Facebook), go ahead and do it there. It’s ideal to resign in person or over the phone, but if there’s no practical way to do that in the time period you need, it’s fine to use the method you have.

4. When should a crafting business go on your resume?

I’ve recently started a new hobby making what my government considers a cosmetic. Because of the regulations around the product I make (I’m not American), I basically have to start a business in order to make it, with proper labeling and everything. (If I were making just enough for personal use, I wouldn’t. But even if I’m giving away/gifting my product, I’m required to follow the regulations as if I were selling it. And it’s really easy to make more of it then I could use in a year.)

I was wondering when you would advise people in a situation like mine to move their hobby of craft making to a business making crafts on their resumes? (Think making/selling lip gloss, soap, or lotions — things like that.)

If it’s a hobby, it probably doesn’t belong on there; typically you’d want it bringing in regular income first.

But if it does get to that stage: Will including it on your resume strengthen your candidacy for the jobs you’re applying for? If not, I wouldn’t necessarily include it at all (and it could use up resume real estate that might be better spent on other things). But if showing that you successfully marketed a product, handled invoicing, sourced ingredients, researched and followed regulations, and so forth would be a strength for the jobs you’re applying for, I’d include it once you’ve done it long enough — and in enough volume — that you can genuinely say you’ve done those things successfully, and can point to numbers that demonstrate that.

5. Are reference letters useful?

We learned recently that our entire department is being outsourced. While this has been tough to hear and I feel that the initial communication could have been made with more compassion, we have received the plan for the transition and it includes a nice severance if we stay until the transition is finalized. While I am planning on possibly staying until I earn the payout, I have started to reach out to recruiters that I have worked with in the past.

Since many in my department are talking about job hunting, the topic of references has come up. One team member mentioned that she has reference letters from her past managers. Is this a thing in the U.S.? I have been in the work world for 10+ years and have never asked for a reference letter to keep on file. Is this something I should do going forward?

It’s a thing some people do, but it’s a thing very few hiring managers want (with the exception of a few industries, like academia and parts of law). Reference checkers generally want to ask their own questions, and usually (although not always) they want to do it over the phone, where they can hear tone of voice and hesitations and ask follow-up questions. A generic letter that doesn’t speak to their specific questions and which was written knowing the candidate would read it isn’t very useful in most fields.

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. Bob*

    LW1: While i agree that Alison’s approach is theoretically ideal be prepared for the CEO to turn on you and fire you. It may seem preposterous as he is hiding the departure of the other guy but people don’t like being called out on their denial and often kill the messenger in a fit of anger.
    Another option is if you would not have known if the former employee hadn’t told you then pretend you don’t know and let this implode on its own becasue it will eventually.

    1. my sharona*

      It seems unlikely that someone who’s afraid to tell his staff that an employee quit would fire someone for something so mild.

      1. The Dude Abides*

        Given how unreasonable the CEO has been acting, I wouldn’t put anything past them.

        1. Bob*

          In the end playing with denial is like playing with fire. And rash irrational decisions when insulted (by the truth) is not at all uncommon.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed. I think this is going to blow up in the face of the first person to open state they know Rupert is gone. I would keep your head down and polish up the resume (at least if I was in OP1’s shoes).

          This is so Emperors New Clothes it’s not even funny – it’s just sad.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            My thought was that the CEO is “punishing” Rupert by making him look incompetent and unreliable, both to (former, though unknowingly so) coworkers and clients/customers.

            I don’t trust this CEO as far as I can throw him.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I was thinking this too…and that he just hasn’t realized yet that its likely to backfire when clients continually get the runaround or projects get delayed.

              1. The Rules are Made Up*

                Maybe they’re planning on that happening and then “firing” Rupert (when he’s in fact been gone for months). Because to people like that firing an employee looks better for their ego than an employee willingly leaving. “You can’t quit, you’re fired!”

            2. Observer*

              My thought was that the CEO is “punishing” Rupert by making him look incompetent and unreliable, both to (former, though unknowingly so) coworkers and clients/customers.

              That could be. But it’s just delusional. Which just makes the long term risk to the organization higher.

          2. Charlotte Lucas*

            It reminds me of the movie The Boss of It All. I saw it years ago, but a manager blames everything on a nameless, faceless boss. (At the time I worked for someone who blamed all unpopular decisions on our director or VP. We eventually realized that she wasn’t going to them but just making random decisions, usually based on what required the least work from her.)

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I’ve been re-watching the sitcom “Better Off Ted” (so hilarious!) and Ted’s boss keeps referencing “Them” or “They” when talking about decision making. It’s a running joke on there that the underlings don’t actually know any of “Them” or what “They” actually do! Haha!

              1. Mr. Shark*

                I’ve been re-watching as well, because of comments here (maybe yours!)
                It’s such a great show and is so true to life in so many situations.

            2. MissBaudelaire*

              I also had a boss who blamed everything on ‘the committee’. Can’t replace broken equipment, committee said no. Can’t buy more product, committee said no. Can’t, can’t, can’t, committee said.

              Spoiler: He wasn’t asking the committee. He was, in fact, going and insisting we needed nothing, and any problems were simply because we were lazy workers.

        3. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. I don’t think the CEO would react well to being called out and embarrassed in front of everyone at a meeting. OP should speak to him privately about it.

          1. Shirley Keeldar*

            Maybe something like, “Hey, Boss, I was talking to Rupert the other day and he’s got a full-time job at Wombats Unlimited. I guess he’s not contracting for us anymore? How should we handle the zebra reports and the marsupial invoicing?” As if she’s just heard this. Allows the boss to save face (not that he deserves to save face, but it’s safer for the OP) and will maybe kick him into action.

              1. Momma Bear*

                He may not respond well to anything, but I think it’s worth calling out if things aren’t getting done and being blamed on an non-existent employee.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I don’t see how this is any better, because the CEO should still have known about it!

        4. JSPA*

          Is it possible that the coworker thought he was quitting via the letter writer? Or via an email the boss didn’t read (or that was vaguely worded) followed by telling the letter writer?

          1. Great Company you should trust*

            But wouldn’t a competent boss realize if someone was not there doing any work?

          2. OP*

            Hi, OP here. “Rupert” was not my direct report or on my team, so he would not have mistaken quitting in our phone conversation. He made it clear that he provided his notice directly to the CEO.

    2. Cranky lady*

      I’ve worked for several CEOs of startups/small businesses who claimed fictitious staff to make their organizations seem larger and more prestigious. Going along with the ruse while saying things like “I keep hearing that Joe isn’t available to make deadlines” to protect your team from later surprises is your safest bet.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’ve never seen anyone go to the lengths described in the letter, but definitely it’s a thing. I worked at a small agency that wanted to look more successful, so prior to client visits the boss would go around staging empty desks with cardigans and mugs so it would look like all the desks were occupied and everyone had just…stepped away I guess? I’ve also been asked to be listed as a “team member” for other consultants who want to look like a company when they’re just starting out.

        1. Trombones Geants*

          I mean, we have a voicemail set up for “James” where we send all of the unsolicited sales calls that come through the company main number.

          1. Sleepless*

            We set up a voice mail for my husband’s small company with an option for our purchasing manager, Helen Waite. So if you’re trying to sell us something, go to Helen Waite. We left it like that for about 10 years, and weirdly, Helen never got a single voice mail.

        2. rudster*

          OMG that’s literally straight out of Dilbert, when the point-haired boss said customers were coming so everyone had to “adopt” an empty cubicle and make it seem occupied.

          1. Filosofickle*

            It was a pretty Dilbert-ish place to work! My Pointy Haired Boss actually looked a bit like Carol. My sleeping coworker was a fav feature. His desk was in a corner so he would just position himself so you couldn’t see his face, deactivate his screen saver, prop his head on his hand, and catnap.

        3. MassMatt*

          This is akin to the Confederate general who toured enemy commanders among the many fake “camps” he had surrounding them. His men would hurry on ahead and change outfits to complete the illusion.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I haven’t quite seen fictitious staff, but I have seen fictitious job titles and people called into meetings who would not otherwise be invited…like the receptionist suddenly becomes the Director of Communications and accompanies the president to an offsite meeting with a top client.

    3. John Smith*

      I can certainly vouch for this. I seem to get in an awful lot of trouble at work for stating the blindingly obvious that just happens to be inconvenient to our ostrich dept, sorry, management. Some people don’t like hearing or seeing the truth.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        “Ostrich department” … I’m filing that one away for future use.

    4. Beth*

      Agreed. If your CEO was going to be remotely reasonable about your colleague’s departure, you wouldn’t be in this awkward situation in the first place! I’d be concerned that if you call his bluff, especially in a public setting, there may be repercussions for you. Even if you don’t think he’d fire you, being on the CEO’s bad side isn’t the best place to be.

      I’d say ignore the whole situation and let it implode on its own, or (if you have a way to do so without it coming back to you) let the news spread through the office gossip network and hasten it along the path a bit.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, way before the next meeting, just start chatting with other people about Rupert being gone, and if the information gets around, maybe someone else will ask about it for you. In addition, at that point you would have allies who also know that Rupert is gone, so the CEO would have a hard time taking it out on just one person if called upon his charade.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I’d suggest to the Rupert to set up an auto-reply on his (still working) company email explaining that he does not work for the company any more and to direct all inquiries to the CEO.
        Then send some work question to them by email so you can “discover” the auto-reply, or just wait for a coworker to do. You can even nudge them into that direction; next time something suitable comes up, say “Hmmm… no idea. Did you email Rupert? He should know!”
        Thus it should not backfire if the CEO is vindictive on top of delusional.

    5. Pennyworth*

      LW1 could try phrasing it something like “now that Rupert isn’t in the office any more” or “now that Rupert is unavailable”. These are both self-evidently true to everyone, even if they don’t know he quit, and avoid mentioning Rupert’s employment status and just focus on the fact that he isn’t there doing any work.

      1. voyager1*

        I am with Bob. Those sound reasonable, but this CEO is being so weird I would not chance it.

    6. Myrin*

      I’d say this depends on what the CEO is like in general and also on OP’s relationship with him. Especially if OP appears genuinely confused and/or matter-of-fact about it (which is something that could indeed happen! Imagine OP had just innocently brought it up the first time someone talked about this guy after his departure!), I can imagine this guy folding in on himself awfully fast.

      But also, I’m wondering if the CEO is always present in these meetings where former coworker is assigned things? Because if not, it should be relatively easy to get word out and once it reaches the CEO the cat’s already out of the bag. (But again, if the CEO is the vindictive type and bound to ask “Who told you that???” once it reaches him only to turn on the OP, she should be careful with even that. But only OP can know that.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, this isn’t a missing Rupert problem, it’s a spineless CEO problem.

        Depending on my working relationship with the CEO I might try having a private conversation. “CEO, I’d like to talk with you about something. It’s my understanding that Rupert no longer works here. If I can help, perhaps I can help us find a replacement person [or other offer of help].”
        At some point you could say, ” People leave jobs, this happens. It might be helpful to hammer out a standard operating procedure of what we will do when people leave.” If you can act bland and matter of fact you might be able to drag him in to reality.

        I do not see his company having a long future if this is how he handles “problems”. The fact that he treats an ordinary thing such as people leaving as something that needs to be a deep dark secret, telegraphs there maybe more issues on the way. I would start to wonder what else he is not talking about. “Yeah, we can meet payroll, we are just fine here.” okaaaaay.

    7. Nope*

      While I agree that Alison’s advice would be completely normal in most cases, it could be viewed in this situation as showing up the CEO and contradicting him in front of other staff. I think I would recommend going to the CEO privately and saying, ‘Rupert reached out to me and told me that he had severed tied with our company completely. How can I best support you during this transition?’ or something along those lines… That way, the CEO knows that you know… but also knows that you are on his side.

    8. Smithy*

      I agree with this….this is clearly a lie/misdirect that’s about face saving – and when someone is trying to save face, it’s very often that they don’t respond well to being put on the spot with more visibility.

      If overall the CEO is reasonable, I do think it’s possible to split the difference and bring this up in a one on one. If the former coworker is brought it, then the OP can say “I was under the impression he was no longer serving as a consultant, how would you like me to proceed with X.” This addresses the issue while not committing a potential sin of embarrassing the CEO.

      I will say, that I have met people being wooed either with consultancies or counter offers where someone continues to hear someone out even if there’s low to no likelihood they’ll return. Some people just hate saying no or find it flattering. But calling this out more publicly might put the OP in a place to state exactly how they know (private conversation with the former coworker) without necessarily knowing more recent conversations the CEO has had. As delusional as they may be, I just think the potential for embarrassment – there’s a high likelihood of other aggressive emotional responses.

      1. Lora*

        If you hadn’t said he was a Millennial, I would think I worked for this guy when he was a VP of Engineering (of a company you have definitely heard of) and his name was Harry. He had astronomically high turnover in his department, especially of very experienced people and women over 40, and was trying to hide that fact from the CEO and Board of Directors and blame his non-results and department’s disorganization on the people who no longer worked there. Eventually he became such a discrimination liability that he was let go shortly after I left, but later became VP of Process Design for a tiny startup who didn’t do stringent background checks I guess. Harry’s a GenXer though and I wouldn’t describe him as “pragmatic” since he never gets anything done.

    9. Infrequent_Commenter*

      I just can’t wrap my head around the entire situation. I realize we’re in COVIDland and the meetings are probably virtual, but how does no one notice that Rupert is never in any meetings and never makes any phone calls or sends any emails? And I realize it’s been months so it would seem weird to point out now, but how does it not simply get dropped casually in conversation? How has this conversation never happened?:
      Random coworker: “We should get Rupert’s input on this…”
      LW1: “No, someone else will need to do it, since he no longer works here.”

      Unless there’s been an explicit threat from the CEO to keep this bizarre counter-reality secret, I don’t see the risk in blithely acknowledging reality.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m having a hard time even beginning to imagine how this works in practice (for months! I can easily imagine a week or two of this, but MONTHS. The mind boggles.).

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I think the pandemic would actually help cover the lie…if Rupert really were a contractor, they presumably would want to limit how much time he bills for non-productive things like attending meetings, or phone calls from multiple people, and just have one point-of-contact send him emails or other instructions.

    10. staceyizme*

      Right? Sometimes there’s a behind the scenes factor (or two or three) in play. Ask about it privately. Don’t do the doofus move of doing it in front of a crowd. Also, what does being a millenial have to do with it? I mean, it’s information, sure. But the only way to leverage it here it to imply that the CEO is not-quite-adulting in this scenario. (Which may be true, but find out first.)

    11. Moose_watcher*

      I agree, it certainly isn’t fair- but speaking up will likely get you fired at worst and on the CEO’s bad side at best. If you want to keep your job dear heavens don’t call the CEO out. I’d go to the CEO directly 1:1. Say you’ve heard a rumor this person isn’t on staff anymore even as a contractor. Ask if this is true. If the CEO doesn’t come clean then….. well it’s certainly not your job to do it for them. Staying quiet would be self preservation. Publicly outing their lie at this point does you no favors.

    12. Trek*

      My advice is to contact Rupert and let him know what is going on. Can he reach out to a few people at the company and let them know where he landed? Kind of a here is an update to where I landed, how are things going for you type thing. That way it’s not you pointing out what’s wrong.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I was going to suggest this. Depending on how well you know Rupert, an e-mail from him to several people might solve the problem—especially if it’s a seemingly innocent e-mail “just to say ‘hi!’ and catch you all up on what I’m doing since I left the firm!”

    13. Not playing your game anymore*

      The solution to this is really easy. Tell everyone that Capt. Tuttle er. Rupert died a hero’s death rescuing a uh puppy from an eagle or something something something. Rupert is no longer with us : “We can all be comforted by the thought that he’s not really gone, there’s a little bit of Rupert left in all of us, …”

      1. Okay, great!*

        We watched MASH all the time growing up since it was my mom’s favorite show. We blame it for all of us going into the medical field.

    14. lost academic*

      We might all be overthinking this. I think the CEO didn’t know what to say when the staffer left and so delayed the message – maybe it’s the first time and he doesn’t know what to do or say. Now the avoidance is turning into this bizarre fantasy that he’s not gone. That’s not a problem for you to solve, until it directly impacts you and your tasks, then I might have a quiet private word with whoever must know purely in the interest of protecting your work and job. Leave it at that.

    15. Smishy*

      Maybe OP could try saying at the next meeting “you know, I haven’t heard from Rupert in a while about all these tasks we’ve assigned him. Let me send him a quick group text and see if he can call into this meeting or give us a update.”

      That should shake some things out.

  2. BRR*

    #1 Does his LinkedIn say he ended this job or started a new job? If so you could phrase it as “I saw joe is in a new role. How should we handle x now?”

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This is a really good idea. “On linkedin Joe announced a new role, what a *innocent eyes* shock, just when we need him most!”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am not sure Rupert would be too concerned. Additionally, this could go the other way that Rupert would actually want people to know he’s not working there. So far, people could be thinking that Rupert never seems to get anything done and they could be thinking less of him as a professional. Meanwhile, he doesn’t even work there.

          1. Snow Globe*

            Yes, as I was reading the letter, I was thinking “poor Rupert! everyone thinks never gets any of his work done.” This is really torching his reputation in the industry, and he doesn’t even know.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              I think the OP is wasting a brilliant opportunity in that regard. Every time something goes wrong, just blame it on Rupert. The CEO can’t call her out unless he admits that Rupert doesn’t work there any more. Why are those reports late? Oh, they’re with Rupert. Why is that client leaving? Rupert must have upset him. Where have all the staples gone? Rupert must be hoarding them again. Rupert can be her office Bunbury.

              /bad advice

              1. Tay*

                There was a time where we were hiring a bunch of new assistants and my boss couldn’t keep track of their names whatsoever. He called me when I was out on a job one day and kept talking about someone named Ruth, and how they messed something up so to avoid doing that thing too. There has never been anyone here named Ruth and to this day I can’t figure out who he was actually referring to. Now whenever something goes awry my coworkers and I blame Ruth.

              2. TootsNYC*

                I used to know a woman who had worked for Time magazine in the 1960s. She told us there was one fake name on the masthead at all times, and they’d change it every three months or so. Then when someone called up to yell at them, they’d blame it on that name, and then when the name changed, it would look like they’re fired them.
                I have no idea how accurate that was. She was serious most of the time.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Whatever you choose, OP1, be very vague about when you knew. Do not ever say ‘for months!’. That will tarnish both your CEO’s and your reputations.

    3. No Name Today*

      I’m putting this here, because this seems like a Rupert- specific part.
      Does Rupert deserve a heads up that his name is being used?
      Either he never responds to emails, or the CEO is replying to messages, submitting work AS RUPERT!
      I don’t think OP should contact him (because, reasons) but I wish there was a way…
      Like it would be great if a client met him in his new position and blew up the whole thing.
      But OP, you work for a loon. Tread carefully. Good luck.

      1. OP*

        Hi, OP here. Yes, Rupert knows because we communicate occasionally. He just thinks it’s crazy and confirms his decision to leave. Rupert has a skill set that’s highly sought-after for many types of companies and organizations, and so he’s working outside of our industry and isn’t concerned about his reputation.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I’m ridiculously relieved to hear this, OP. Thank you! (Have had to do minor damage control before because of crazy manipulative scheming Slytherin-esque former character in the management tree.)

        2. PT*

          Is there a reason you’re not taking this as a giant waving red flag and leaving yourself? Because this is nuts.

            1. OP*

              I sure am! I am in the process of applying for different positions, but I work in an incredibly competitive industry, so it’s difficult to land a job. It took me a year to find this one.

          1. Office Chinchilla*

            This was my first thought! I watched Generation Hustle on Netflix this weekend, which is a series of documentaries about conmen. A lot of them look like this:
            Young person does something very successfully and makes a lot of money.
            Young person (now CEO) decides to do this for a living and solicits investors.
            New business does well, but then circumstances change and they start losing money.
            CEO does not want to give investors bad news, pretends things are still going really well.
            CEO solicits new investors to pay off previous investors, often embezzling funds to provide the appearance of success.
            Everyone loses everything.

            If this is how your CEO responds to one mild bit of bad news, how will they respond to company losses?

        3. No Name Today*

          Thank you for the follow up!
          That puts an interesting spin.
          I have always agreed with the majority, not your circus, not your monkeys.
          Yes, the CEO should not be LYING to everybody, but Rupert doesn’t care. He is a NPC in this mad game.
          It will help the company if the boss stops LYING before it blows up in his face but for you to call out your boss’ LYING, even privately, will not help you at all.
          The messenger will shot, drawn and quartered.
          Well, more like ostracized, bad mouthed, held back and possibly let go.
          Enjoy the show and best of luck to you.

    4. SurelyRose*

      His LinkedIn does state his new role, but the CEO has responded with “we hired him as a contractor, so he’s doing both jobs.”

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        So, as some one else pointed out… your CEO is showing you that he’s a liar. He may be lying to save face, or to embezzle a salary, or any one of a hundred thousand other reasons – but the reason he’s lying doesn’t change the fact that you know he’s a liar.

        That company is now full of wasps. You’re going to get stung eventually if you stay.

        Start working on your exit plan, and put it into action ASAP.

        Also, if you’re in a regulated industry, then you should probably be reporting what the CEO is doing.

        1. ten four*

          Oh lord THIS this this! The CEO is demonstrating that he’s incompetent at running a business. Pretending for months that someone who left is still there is perhaps relatively benign, but anyone with judgment bad enough to do that is doubtless making terrible mistakes in more structurally important places.

          OP: you gotta ramp up your job search and get out of there. I worked for a startup with a charming but incompetent young CEO and it imploded spectacularly; the signs were all there. This is your sign!!

        2. A person*

          Embezzling the salary, or somehow hiding dollars seems very likely to me. Especially if the lying is external to clients and other stakeholders, not just internal to employees.

          1. Observer*

            I think that embezzling the salary is the least likely scenario. Someone other than CEO would need to be cashing those checks and it would not be Rupert.

          2. A person*

            My thought was that the company’s books say that a salary is being paid to Rupert, but really that cash is flowing somewhere else or being hidden.

            A relative of mine had a situation where her employer (a gov’t agency) was inflating hersalary, on paper but not in reality. My relative didn’t know until someone was looking at the department salaries (which were public) and saw she was allegedly making significantly more than others in the same position. She wasn’t actually making more, but a leader in the agency was hiding money in her salary so that it looked like the agency was spending down more grant funds than they were.

  3. Polecat*

    “Our CEO is a younger, pragmatic millennial”

    “Pragmatic” doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Your CEO is a liar.

      1. OP*

        Hi, OP here. I can’t respond to the millennial comment at the bottom of this thread so I’ll respond here. Yes, pragmatic was tongue-in-cheek as its how he describes himself. Also, I am a millennial too and I’m younger than he is, so it’s not the case that it’s a term I’m using because of someone younger that I dislike. Our CEO prides himself on being a “millennial-led start-up” and touts “millennial work culture” such as flexible hours, remote work, paid time off to volunteer. While, as a millennial, I think all of this is fantastic and the future of the workplace, “millennial work culture” in this case has also led to toxic positivity and idealism that breeds this type of behavior.

        1. ten four*

          OP – you gotta get out of there! I worked for a young, charismatic CEO a decade+ ago. Same deal with the benefits and culture, same deal with the weird incompetent lying. In his case: I WATCHED him completely bomb the single biggest sales opportunity you can imagine, and then he came back to the office and told everyone it went great and made zero efforts to salvage the situation. The company exploded in spectacular fashion within a year.

          A CEO who will lie about business-critical facts is a CEO who will drive the company into the ground. I wouldn’t bother attempting to correct the record at your current job – dollars to donuts he’d lash out at you and you’d be worse off. Put on your oxygen mask first and ramp up your job search so you can leave on your terms instead of waiting for the inevitable smash.

          1. OP*

            Thank you so much for this response. I’ve felt like I’ve been living in an alternate reality during the 8 months I’ve been working for the company. The CEO tends to hire people fresh out of college, so I don’t think they recognize some of the red flags as they have no frame of reference. The company has really turned into the “Cult of ____ (insert CEO’s name here).” I’ve noticed a few times now that the CEO also overpromises and underdelivers, and also inflates our capabilities. However, I’ve been putting up with it because I don’t want bailing after 8 months to be a black mark on my resume. Prior this role, I was in my previous position for 6 years before my position was eliminated due to budget cuts.

            1. HelloHello*

              I don’t think leaving now will be a black mark, if you have a previous role you were in for years! It’s clear you’re not a job hopper, and “I realized our expectations weren’t aligned well” or “I’m looking for more stability” are perfectly good reasons to job search after eight months. (And they’re both true! Your expectation that the CEO not blatantly lie are clearly not aligned with his life choices, and you probably do want to work somewhere with a more, uh, stable leader…)

            2. Thursdaysgeek*

              You’re allowed one (or two) short stints on your resume. Find the next job and get out, and that one short stint won’t be a black mark. Just make sure your next job is a keeper, and this one short job won’t matter.

            3. Observer*

              However, I’ve been putting up with it because I don’t want bailing after 8 months to be a black mark on my resume. Prior this role, I was in my previous position for 6 years before my position was eliminated due to budget cuts.

              Leaving at this point is not likely to be a black mark. And starting the process now doesn’t mean you’ll be in a new job tomorrow.

              One useful thing to do is to come up with what you will say when asked about why you are leaving. You want something that is true, but that doesn’t lead with “The CEO was a charismatic but incompetent and unethical idiot who engaged in bizarre behavior.”

            4. ten-four*

              Ack! Yeah, my startup was definitely “Cult of CEO” – he was on the cover of Fast Company – and they also hired a core consulting team of people who were too young/green to clock his parade of red flags (myself included). I did push back on some truly outrageous stuff once or twice and he and his VP 100% lashed out at me and changed nothing. I had my reasons for staying all the way through to the smash, but that was a very dark chapter in my life.

              Here’s the thing about the 8 month stint: either it will prevent you from getting another job (unlikely) or you’ll get another job and want to stay there for at least 2 years or so. And that’s it! I’m a Director at my current company and at 4 years and counting this is the longest I’ve stayed at any job. You’ve already got a 6 year position on your resume! Use a nice, bland line about the transition and go interview!

              Your CEO inflates your team’s capabilities, lies about staffing, and consistently overpromises and under-delivers. That shows that he isn’t delivering good value to his clients. He makes sure to hire people fresh out of school and is a-ok with his cult of personality. That shows that he doesn’t actually care about the wellbeing and careers of his team.

              This guy is spinning plates and hoping they don’t come crashing down. And I PROMISE you that when the whole thing smashes up he’ll go on a yoga retreat, give a TED Talk about the importance of failure, and then take a next-level job at a higher rate of pay. He won’t think twice about what happened to all those employees who bought his line.

              1. Cedrus Libani*

                In my first job out of college (tech startup, of course) the CEO got caught taking the five-year plan the engineers gave him, changing “years” to “months”, and giving it to the investors without any further changes. Mind you, we’d already been ordered to be as aggressive as possible; we said 5-6 years, a comparable product actually hit the market 11 years later.

                That company ceased to exist shortly thereafter. The CEO? Did exactly what you suggested. And got a new job faster than I did.

                You can’t change the CEO, but you can avoid being the last rat off the sinking ship. People understand that startups have a churn factor; you can wave your hands in the general direction of “it’s time to move on”, and most people will hear “I’m pretty sure the company won’t make it, but I can’t explain further due to professionalism and/or NDA”. Especially if you have stayed at one job for a good long while before this.

            5. tamarack and fireweed*

              IMHO it requires less effort to explain a short stint at a somewhat flaky startup, especially in pandemic times, than it would for a more established employer. Especially if your previous tenure was long!

              The way you describe it I’d also say brush up your resume and put out your feelers. From what you’re saying:
              – Your CEO is not a good manager (he was unable to accommodate your co-worker and was micro-managing him even though apparently the co-worker has highly valuable skilss)
              – Your CEO is not acknowledging and fixing snafus with minimal impact on business
              – He’s willing to operate under false premises
              – He’s overpromising and underdelivering

              None of this makes me hopeful this would be a stable workplace even if you weren’t likely to draw negative attention. And even though Alison’s advice would be perfectly fine in a normal workplace I wonder if you can rely on basic norms of professionalism to apply! He had plausible deniability for this to be a really really mild and commonplace event (“new employee didn’t work and is now gone”) and instead maintains a fiction for months?? So I wouldn’t count on the return to reality to happen as gracefully as it should.

              The good news is though that apparently your CEO is highly reluctant to let good people go, so even if this blows up.

          2. RVA Cat*

            Seconding this.
            This whole thing with Rupert is whackadoodle, but the other thing that stands out to me is that he’s the first person to leave the firm in 5 years. That’s….not normal.

        2. tra la la*

          Ha, you’ve confirmed my guess that “pragmatic” was how he describes himself and was not actually your word for him. I’m guessing there are other words he uses to describe himself that aren’t exactly dictionary-definition true as well. I’m on Team Look For Another Job Because This Is Really Weird, OP.

    1. Chc34*

      Also: the fact that he’s a millennial (and is he? We’re quickly aging out of being “young”) is irrelevant and I wish people would stop using it as a shorthand for “person younger than me who I dislike”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s no reason to assume the LW intended anything other than a general description of his age. Please do not not nitpick this kind of thing; it discourages people from writing in.

    2. jasmine*

      Exactly! The CEO is a liar. And if he’s lying about something this stupid, why should the OP trust him to be truthful about important stuff, like prospects for raises and promotions, the company’s finances, etc.? I’d start looking for a new job at a company with adult management.

      1. Pennyworth*

        Quite. If he can’t be honest and matter-of-fact about something as normal as a staff member leaving, how on earth will he react when something genuinely awkward or challenging happens? Red flag territory.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I don’t know that I agree with pragmatic as a description of the CEO – but honestly I live in an area where people use “generations” as a quick and dirty “person is in this age range” descriptor. General age ranges (Gen X, Millenial, Gen Z, Baby Boomer) can sometimes be helpful – but honestly – age is a number, and only a part of who a person is.

      The bigger problem is right now the CEO is doing a great ostrich impersonation by pretending this employee didn’t leave.

    4. tra la la*

      Is the CEO referring to himself as “pragmatic”? Because it kind of sounds like that’s being used as a buzzword here? and yes, it is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

    5. Tussy*

      I don’t really agree with pragmatic being the correct word choice at all? Being pragmatic means you approach a problem based on practical knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge. There is a implied level of reasonableness and logic with the word pragmatism doesn’t really cover lying about an employee still being employed. A pragmatic approach would be to be upfront because it is not logical to think that the risk of a lie backfiring is lower than the risk of losing face for something that practically speaking, no one would care about.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Yeah, doesn’t “pragmatic” imply that it’s a person who is firmly grounded in reality? This CEO is the Anti-pragmatic.

      2. MK*

        Yes, I think either the OP used the wrong word, or they are going with a definition of “pragmatic” I am not familiar with.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s either this or the CEO’s behavior in this one particular issue is totally out of character and not explainable by what is known about the situation. One thing I thought of is that in some places there is a requirement to have a person on staff with X credentials. Could it be that the CEO is panicking because no one else has those credentials?

          1. OP*

            Yes, you hit the nail on the head. Rupert had highly specialized skills and no one else on our team has them.

            1. Junebug*

              How necessary are these skills for regulatory reasons or keeping the business running? Because either of those would mean the ship is going down as we speak.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  He was our full stack developer.

                  Was he a one-man dev team? Because that would make this behavior make perfect sense. The CEO doesn’t want to admit that your systems are in Zombi mode.

                2. Observer*

                  Which means that you REALLY need to be conducting an aggressive job search. A key to your product is gone, with no plan to replace him? How long can that last?

                  You have a PERFECT excuse to leave. Just don’t get into the details. But “startup with staffing problems” is something that lots of people will recognize.

                3. tamarack and fireweed*

                  Uh-oh. You should be aware that in developer-land, people are totally cynical about startups that hire “full-stack developers” as it’s usually a bad sign.

        2. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

          I’ve often heard it used in the context of being focused on the practical elements of running an office/business, instead of on business or management theory.

          Colloquially, I’ve also heard it used as a descriptor of people who will do anything to solve a problem, as a circumlocution for saying they’ll discard ethical concerns and standard operating procedure to find a solution. Think of a statement like “leave that to John. He’s very (slight pause) pragmatic, so he’ll get it taken care of.” Kind of like how you’ll sometimes hear flexible used to describe someone who cuts corners.

          1. Lacey*

            That’s how I thought it was going to be used… but it doesn’t really fit with what’s actually happening in the letter. It’s not a practical, but unethical, solution. It’s silly!

      3. OP*

        Hi, OP here. Yes, pragmatic was tongue-in-cheek as it’s how he describes himself. Also, I am a younger millennial than he is so I’m not using is as a derogatory term I, too, have been on the receiving end of the millennial stereotypes. Our CEO prides himself on being a “millennial-led start-up” and touts “millennial work culture” such as flexible hours, remote work, paid time off to volunteer. While, as a millennial, I think all of this is fantastic and the future of the workplace, “millennial work culture” in this case has also led to toxic positivity and idealism that breeds this type of behavior.

    6. Lacey*

      Yeah, pragmatic seems like the wrong word. It’s not pragmatic to pretend an employee still works for you for… how long? Weeks? Months? It’s deeply unrealistic.

  4. Vichyssuave*

    #2 – Some members making a show of paying full price was really the cherry on top of the toxic sundae.

    I have to imagine this was not the only time when this particular org took advantage of the whole “people who are passionate about our cause will make sacrifices” guilt trip that seems to come up with certain non-profits.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’ve been in a club where we all pay a door fee–but none of us are employees of the group!
      Charging an employee to work their job is all kinds of wrong.

    2. Threeve*

      There’s a certain brand of nonprofit employee who:
      1) shares a dual-income household with a much higher earner, so a nonprofit-low salary doesn’t really impact them
      2) likes to pretend everyone in their organization has that same level of disposable income, and sets their expectations accordingly

      It can get truly toxic.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes, my sister works at a non-profit and it has a bit of a dynasty issue with it’s leadership – on top of the fact that all of them have a second earner who makes so much they don’t even need their salary. It’s not this toxic, but it does cause issues.

      2. Anon Dot Com*

        There are also people who have so much of their identity tied up in the non-profit and its mission that they would gladly pay even if it was a financial burden, and they will judge other staff who don’t do the same.

        1. Lacey*

          Even sometimes at for profit businesses. I had a coworker who got so angry that the company wouldn’t throw a dinner to thank our biggest clients (wiping out all our profits from them), that she paid for the dinner herself. She also held a personal grudge against me for my refusal to donate to our CEO’s increasingly extravagant Christmas gift.

          She was a manager, but she wasn’t a founder, I don’t even know if she was a shareholder (probably though). She just thought we all should be SO grateful that our boss was employing us. I can’t imagine the nightmare she’d be at a nonprofit where actual good was being done.

          1. Anon Dot Com*

            That is…very weird. I have a mission-driven job that I love, and I genuinely like a lot of my clients, but I don’t spend my own money on them!

      3. Astonished*

        My husband once was offered a job in a non-profit in a very high living cost area and was astonished at the non-negotiable very low salary figure. When he declined and told them why, it was only then that they told him that one of the job’s expectations was employee spouses had high incomes to fund their work at the non-profit.

        Note that they had refused to tell him the salary range until the offer.

      4. TWW*

        I speculate some non-profits exist mainly to be something for wealthy people to organize their social life around.

    3. Nicotene*

      This attitude is very common in nonprofits though. Remember that most of them request that their own staff donate to their drives etc. Donors and volunteers are often very wealthy and very dedicated, so it can create some weird expectations. I’ve certainly experienced major donors doing a lot of planning around auctions and then casting the highest bids themselves. I’m not saying it’s right, just that I’m not surprised it happened.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        No surprised. When I became director I halted the expectation that staff buy tickets to fundraising events and then work the events. If they worked they were on the clock. If the attended they also got to eat and drink. I always had in my head the scene from Working Girl, with Tess pushing the dim sum cart. Not fun. Not a way to build support for the organization among employees.

        During a capital campaign the foundation manager asked that everyone donate a $1. That way she could honestly say that there was $100 support from the staff. Because yes, donors ask.

    4. Anon Dot Com*

      Yep. This is such a crappy attitude that pops up in non-profits. I worked for an organization that comped staff tickets to the annual fundraiser, which was on a weekday evening and we all worked the event, but if you wanted to bring your partner/spouse, they had to pay full-price. People got really pissed and eventually they cut it to 50%. I didn’t particularly care about this one because my husband had stay home with our baby so he didn’t come, but it was definitely in line with a lot of other poor decisions that made hardworking, underpaid staff feel devalued while not actually helping the organization. The cost of low staff morale is going to far outweigh anything you make from selling a few more of the cheapest tickets.

    5. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      I volunteer in an org that, inter alia, runs what is now the biggest annual IT security conference in Europe. Until a very few years ago, everyone paid full entrance price – speakers, members and non-members alike. (Students got a discount, and anyone in financial hardship could apply for a free pass.)
      This was 100% volunteer based, the org had no paid staff for the first 30 years. This has changed a bit in the last 10 years as the events got so large that a small core staff was required; still there are literally hundreds of volunteers at each event that donate time in exchange for meals and, if you put in a number of hours, a t-shirt.
      The board and back-office functions like the treasury and membership office are still unpaid.
      It works as the org entirely works on (low) membership fees and takes no grants or private sector sponsorships to maintain independence.

  5. Megan*

    #2 I remember when I was a uni student, I attended an event which was put on by a certain group. I buddied up with a few people on the committee, who invited me to other events. I said I couldn’t afford them – they were more professional developmental seminars than an event – and they suggested I could volunteer (no pressure on me though). I thought it sounded fun so I agreed. I did that for a while, and then was asked if I wanted to join the committee. I agreed. Then my state was chosen to be the national conference state – ergo lots of work. Anyway, when it was coming up to the conference, we were told that all committee members had to pay full registration prices to attend – but to attend to work! We weren’t going to actually enjoy the conference! I straight up said I didn’t have the money: I was a poor uni student, this was a professional $500+ conference. In the end I think they shifted some things around and covered my fees, but honestly, I was going to *work* not to attend the conference! It was easy for me to say no straight up as I didn’t have the money (and as a poor uni student I didn’t hold shame about blaming my finances) but I always thought it was a bit rich the organisation charged everyone on the committee to *work* at the conference…

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I’ve been to professional conferences where students could get free admission by volunteering – X hours got you free admission, X+Y hours got you admission plus the conference dinner. It was set up so that you still got to attend most of the conference, though, which was four days long.

      1. Rara Avis*

        Yeah, I’ve attended a national pricy professional conference twice because they recruit locals to work shifts in return for free registration. It’s a good deal for everyone.

      2. NotMyRealName*

        Yes this is how our scientific society operates. We depend heavily on student volunteers so they get a reduced price (off of the already reduced student price).

    2. Wendy*

      Yeah, this drives me nuts. Like, volunteering for one event doesn’t have to get you into the week-long conference for free – although some places do that too! – but there should be a net benefit to volunteering versus just attending. So many organizations are so blinded by their Wonderful Fulfilling Mission (TM) that they don’t seem to understand not everyone can donate money and/or time in equal ways!

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        OP 2 might jeopardize his/her position. “You’re not a team player, OP 2″…

        That’s what happens.

    3. JustaTech*

      This is how you end up not being able to get volunteers for your next event.

      Putting on even something as small as a 50-person holiday party is a lot of work: a major conference is basically a second job. And then telling people (after they’ve volunteered and worked for a good long time) that they will be expected to pay? It’s basically guarantees last minute turn over and that you will forever be limited to the same small pool of volunteers who have both the time and the money to do the conference.

  6. JS*

    LW2 that is ridiculous. I’ve volunteered at a fancy event. I worked half the shift and then enjoyed the rest of the night as any of the other guests. The $100 ticket was waived for each volunteer AND their date. The date didn’t have to work so they could enjoy they entire event. And the volunteer work was enjoyable and not at all stressful.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I worked in nonprofits in the US for many years. We never made volunteers at our galas or conferences pay to be there and they always got fed for free. The only restriction we had was that you couldn’t drink if you were working at an event where alcohol was served, but that was largely for safety reasons (you don’t want drunken people loading a truck.)
      The rule is, if you have to pay to be there, it’s not truly volunteering.

      1. Jay*

        Yup. My husband worked as the content expert for a nonprofit for 15 years and only one on the staff with a PhD. They had an annual gala and he was always asked to attend and hobnob with the board and the distinguished guests. He never paid for a ticket. Neither did any of the staff who worked the registration table and coordinated the food and ran the silent auction. And they all got comp time for the evening. It was clearly seen as work. The no-alcohol rule always made sense to me.

      2. The Original K.*

        Yes – I volunteered at a particular fundraising event for several years (would still, if the event were being still put on), and this is how it was. Staff and volunteers couldn’t drink alcohol (it’s a pretty boozy event) until after everything was done, but you could eat and you definitely didn’t have to pay. I wouldn’t do it if I had to pay.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, the no-drinking was the only note I was going to make. As a nonprofit employee, if my job at the event was to schmooze (rather than to load trucks, etc), maybe one glass of wine is OK, but certainly not three+!

    2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      If the volunteers are staff members, that “volunteer” time is work time. Not only should there be comp time or overtime (depending on exempt or not), making staff pay for a work event sounds pretty illegal. The not-for-profits where I worked (one of which was fairly small) gave us the comp time, paid our way (even for deluxe fundraisers), plus provided the same food/beverages as the guests. For events like weekend conferences, we had to do things like wrangling attendees as needed, getting the box lunches distributed, and making lots of coffee – but we sat in on the sessions, too. For upscale events, we were there as hosts to schmooze the donors and were assigned to dinner tables to converse with anyone who seemed left out.

      1. singlemaltgirl*

        i was wondering about this too, and if regs in the us were diff than in canada? a staff member can’t ‘volunteer’ – as staff it’s either banked time or if they are salaried (usually directors) then it’s part of the job but you usually take some time off as a big fundraiser (not considered vacation but in lieu time) for all the extra hours you worked.

        i’ve worked at a couple of orgs where the fundraising committee was made of board members and other supporters and they volunteered as well as paid their full pop b/c the cost of the meal and rentals, etc were so high they didn’t want to take away from the fundraising revenues. i actively worked to dump those events b/c they took so much effort for not much return. galas are not what they used to be and don’t bring in new younger donors (generally speaking). but it’s not an unusual practice and most of the time, the committee volunteers who decide these things come from a privileged place and don’t always realize what that means.

        it’s funny when these volunteer committees make decisions about events that jeopardize the org’s reputation with its volunteer corps and staff. but it’s not unusual and i think its the nature of these very expensive events and the effort it takes to pull them off. i tend to move my orgs away from them.

      2. Drago Cucina*

        I had a really loud discussion about this one time with a board chair. He just didn’t get that if people were working they had to be paid. We were undergoing our annual audit and he thought he was going to make me look silly. The auditor told him he was wrong.

        I won’t get into our discussion about “paid to wait” time or trying to block employees from coming to an open meeting where their benefits were being discussed.

      3. Starbuck*

        Yeah, that’s super not legal. You can’t “volunteer” to work for free for your employer, even if they’re a non-profit. I think there may be an exception if the work is very, very different from the person’s regular job duties, but also it has to be truly optional and it doesn’t sound like this was! And in the US comp time is not a legal way to do overtime for hourly employees (but if you just mean cutting hours elsewhere *during that week* then that’s fine to keep someone under 40).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To clarify — if they’re exempt, it’s legal. If they’re non-exempt, they have to be paid for the time unless the work is significantly different from their normal duties (like a bookkeeper serving wine at a gala), in which case they’re allowed to volunteer.

    3. Jackalope*

      Yeah, this. I’ve volunteered for a few different events and we’ve always at a minimum gotten free meals if we were there long enough/at the right time for food (and otherwise we got snacks). If there was a way for us to attend then we never had to pay (I have one place where I volunteered for an all-day class and we were all helping out with the teaching all day so there was no way to attend and volunteer at the same time, but if we weren’t busy the whole time then I’ve always been able to participate). Making you pay to attend is a lousy policy.

    4. Nicotene*

      To be totally fair, I’ve also worked on a *lot* of non-profit “fundraisers” that didn’t raise a lot of funds – certainly not after you account for the hours of labor to put on the fun-run, reception, charity fashion show or whatever. Sometimes the org confusedly tries to shift it around to being a community-profile-raising event, usually after the fact, when looking at the receipts and scratching their heads. And no, they don’t learn anything other than to try and plan something bigger next year.

      Letting every volunteer have two free tickets to an open bar is a great way to get one guy that drains all your profits.

      1. doreen*

        I’ve “volunteered” at plenty of non-profit events where I was expected to pay for my ticket – but the thing is, not only was I not an employee, those particular not profits didn’t have any paid employees. And the fundraisers didn’t raise a lot of money – if you gave the volunteers free tickets to the pancake breakfast or the spaghetti supper or the New Years Eve party , you would barely raise any funds.

        1. Nicotene*

          True, it’s either mandatory that staff participate as part of their duties (so they don’t pay to attend, but neither do they expect it to be much fun) or it’s an optional thing with some fun expected, but they have to pay. Weird to muddy the two.

        2. Observer*

          if you gave the volunteers free tickets to the pancake breakfast or the spaghetti supper or the New Years Eve party , you would barely raise any funds.

          Then maybe you shouldn’t run that affair. (General you, not “doreen”). Staffing your events has to be part of your budget.

          1. doreen*

            Staffing being part of the budget doesn’t really make sense when you’re talking about an organization without any paid staff at all. Although I don’t disagree that maybe those events should have been considered social events rather than fundraising events – but I wasn’t running things.

            1. Observer*

              Staffing being part of the budget doesn’t really make sense when you’re talking about an organization without any paid staff at all.

              Not having paid staff does not mean that you don’t have staffing expenses. Whether it’s hiring contractor for specific tasks (not necessarily related to events, but in general) or incidental expenses related to getting people in place. If you have to have your unpaid staff actually bear the cost of those incidentals you should not be doing this.

              1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

                It depends what you want to achieve.
                My org (not that I founded it but I joined about three years later) wants to put on conferences to discuss IT security (in a very broad sense) from all angles (think DEFCON as the US equivalent.).
                This could be done without oodles of unpaid labor, often by top experts in their field, by charging professional-level entrance fees ($2000+ for the flagship 4-day conference). As it is now, the entrance fee is around $150. This draws not only a larger (8,000+, always sold out) crowd but a different crowd – people who want to contribute and exchange ideas rather than passively attending. There are also “business tickets” for attendees who want to contribute more; when I attend for my job I take the business ticket and expense it (cleared with my boss beforehand,of course). This is a low-key way for companies to sponsor the event by paying half of the usual entrance fee – win-win.

      2. Observer*

        To be totally fair, I’ve also worked on a *lot* of non-profit “fundraisers” that didn’t raise a lot of funds –
        . . .

        Letting every volunteer have two free tickets to an open bar is a great way to get one guy that drains all your profits.

        To ACTUALLY be “totally fair”, no one is suggesting allowing volunteers to access an open bar. Most people are not even suggesting that organizations need to give a second partner ticket unless you are pressuring volunteers to bring their partners. But if the event can’t bring in money, that is NOT a burden that is on the volunteers to shoulder.

        If the organizers don’t learn their lesson, then the right answer is to not volunteer for them again. The refusal of the planners to learn those lessons does not make what they are doing right.

    5. Mynona*

      #2 confuses me because it conflates two different types of fundraiser involvement that I have encountered working at larger nonprofits: 1) the event committee members who are major donors and whose main job is to sell tables to their rich friends and also to buy tables at the highest level (part of their responsibility for the honor of serving on the committee); and 2) nonprofit staff members who volunteer to work the event (eg two-hour shifts), who do not pay anything, but nor do they enjoy the guest experience.

      I don’t understand paid staff volunteering to literally organize the event. This sounds like a messy small nonprofit situation.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah, if you’re salaried that’s just extra work hours you don’t get paid for. You might call it ‘volunteering’ in the sense that it’s optional (if that’s truly the case) but if you fill out a time sheet those hours should still go on there.

          If they’re hourly, it’s probably not legal in most cases to not pay them for this kind of activity. Sadly many non profits pull crap like this by drawing people in who are committed to the mission and will not protest crap like this.

    6. It's All Elementary*

      I joined a small non-profit support group to help me with my stressful family situation and had to not only pay dues, but had to fundraise to support the group (which I didn’t actually have time nor energy for). Sounds OK, somehow the group had to pay their way, right? Not only did I pay dues, but I had to organize a fundraiser, pay for my ticket into the fundraiser, buy a raffle item or create a basket for the fundraiser, expected to bid on baskets or items, and work the fundraiser. EACH MEMBER was expected to do this, so there were several fundraisers per year I was expected to buy, work, and pay for. After a year I realized that the support group was not created to support me and my family, but was to pay for trips to conventions for the board members while the rest of us just worked for them. Ugh.

    7. meyer lemon*

      I volunteered at an alcohol tasting fundraising event which sounds similar to the LW’s event. In our case, volunteers were definitely not expected to pay, although we theoretically weren’t supposed to take part in the tasting. In practice, many of the volunteers and board members were having a hard time staying upright by the end of the evening, and I had to sort out a lot of confusion with guests because I was one of the few volunteers who was still coherent by the end of the event. That one was a bit of a mess in the opposite direction.

      1. Nicotene*

        I’ve seen this happen too. Many, many non profit fundraisers are not very profitable, especially once costs of staff time is factored in.

    8. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, I’ve worked in nonprofits for many years and never, ever been asked to pay for an event I worked at. We were even allowed to drink free alcohol at the event and eat like everyone else, though of course it was understood we were on the clock and should not get drunk or even tipsy. I always received at least some comp time for the event by coming in late the next day.

      We were also allowed to invite a partner for free to the event, with the expectation that our partner would make at least a $25 donation to cover the free food and drinks they received at the event. That seemed reasonable to me.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        The youth organization I’m part of has the kids volunteer for various things. I have never, not once, had it so that our kids were expected to pay to be there. Now, of course, we don’t have kids doing wine tastings or fancy galas, but they have done things for community fairs and such. No entrance fee, and usually a wrist band for rides or something.

        Every time I have volunteered somewhere, I have never been asked to pay. And even if I didn’t get to eat with the guests, a plate was still put aside for all of us so we could eat.

  7. Ann Nonymous*

    LW3: You can call via Facebook messenger (both with and without video). I do it all the time.

    1. KELLS*

      I don’t think there is even anything necessarily wrong with sending notice through messenger if that is the normal form of communication… it isn’t like someone who normally talks to their boss hiding behind a screen to avoid an awkward situation.

      If OP has a supervisor, that would also be an appropriate person to speak to rather than trying to get the boss directly.

      During the times we are in I also think it is important to realize that the traditional ways of doing things aren’t as important for now. Some parents would have a coronary knowing their children are skirting the “rules” but at the end of the day the notice just needs to be given.

      1. ecnaseener*

        There’s nothing really wrong with it, but you still want to be able to have a real time conversation about next steps like how you should spend your notice period and whatnot.

      2. Bilateralrope*

        Plus there is the value of making sure there remains a record that the letter writer said they were resigning.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The company can claim they terminated you instead, and many places consider that a Scarlet F.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Or they can pretend you still work there, like in the first letter.

              Years before online communication was a thing (unless you were really into computers), I had similar situations with part-time jobs. In those days, I just hand-wrote a letter & left it on my managers’ desk. It was how staff that didn’t work F2F with the manager was expected to communicate. I say go with Facebook, as that seems to be the expected way to communicate.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                How would the company prove that?

                As far as I can tell, it doesn’t have to, and companies have more credibility than applicants.

              2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                How would the company prove that?

                As far as I can tell, it doesn’t have to, and companies have more credibility than applicants by default.

                1. Colette*

                  If they claim it’s a firing for unemployment purposes, they’re hurting themselves (because you don’t typically get unemployment when you quit.)

                  If they claim it in a reference check, no one is going to care that you had a facebook message that says you quit – they’ll just tell you you didn’t get the job.

            2. Nicotene*

              Maybe for jobs that keep any kind of employment file (dubious here but let’s pretend), a written record could be added to the file (at least in theory). In six months or a year everyone you knew who works there will be gone, but if there’s a written record that you quit with notice, it might be helpful if a new manager is asked to serve as a reference. It’s a stretch though, I concede.

              1. Colette*

                No one should be asking someone they haven’t worked with to be a reference. It might make a difference to the company records, but … they don’t have a copy of your facebook message, they have little motivation to say you were fired when you quit, and if they do misrepresent how you left, how would you find out and who would be interested in your “proof” that you quit? (If it’s a message or email, how would I as the potential employer know that you sent it to your former manager and not a friend?)

        1. TWW*

          If that’s the case, OP can write a follow-up letter and mail it to the business.

          But as the commenter above noted, there no reason why OP needs to communicate with the absentee boss. It is appropriate to give notice to one’s direct supervisor.

      3. boop the first*

        Also, this is an industry that prefers to phase unwanted workers out by reducing their shifts over time and ghosting them entirely, among a LOT of other rude expectations and norms. It’s sweet that they want to practice doing it right, but if all they get is messenger, then messenger it shall be.

    2. Malarkey01*

      I was a little co fused by this- is there no one “in charge” during your shifts? While hiring/scheduling/HR issues may be handled by one store owner/manager it would be surprising that there isn’t a shift manager or supervisor on premise. Who do you call if a customer or employee falls or is injured? What do you do with the money at the end of the shift? Who is locking up/unlocking?

      That is who you resign to, and if they want you to document it or escalate it the owner/store manager they’ll explain how to do that.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I assumed this was small-time food service, like an ice cream shop or small cafe. I’ve definitely been in and worked for places that don’t always have a manager/supervisor on site. There might be a team lead or default “person in charge,” but that person doesn’t have any real authority besides making sure the work gets done & the place is locked up/money is counted at the end of the night.

        1. GothicBee*

          I worked at a cafe type place in high school that was run like that. Most of us who worked nights were given keys after we’d been there for a little bit so that we could close up. They also gave out the safe combo to most employees, so we’d lock the money up before locking up the store. Not saying it’s a great way to run things (I know some employees definitely took advantage), but it does happen since these places usually don’t want to pay for someone at a supervisory level to be there all night.

          We did have a number for the boss since this was pre-facebook, but it would have been hard for most people who worked there to have had a face-to-face conversation with a supervisor in order to resign.

          1. Malarkey01*

            But if that’s the case there would have to be a phone number so you could call someone to say I’m sick and won’t be in or were out of cash or whatever.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Who do people call out sick to, or negotiate schedule changes with? That can’t be the boss of OP doesn’t even know their phone number.

  8. learnedthehardway*

    LW#4 – I would leave the hobby business off the work history of your resume – you don’t want a potential employer questioning whether your hobby is so consuming that it would affect your availability / dedication to your work for their company. Someone not familiar with the legal requirements of incorporating to pursue your hobby would probably get the idea that it is a serious business you’re pursuing, rather than that you’re just making your products for friends and family.

    That said, if you’re doing activities within your hobby that would benefit your potential employment, you could put the hobby within an “interests” section at the end of your resume, and bring up the subject if/when it’s directly relevant to a job you’re interviewing for.

    1. Wendy*

      Very good point! I’d also say that, unfortunately, sexism and bias may be an issue here – if your hobby is more often done by women than by men, I suspect some interviewers/hiring managers might see it as “aww, the little lady considers her craft fairs a real job!” more often than if your hobby were, say, building a boat in your basement. It’s hard to read nuance from “I made my hobby a business” – there are so many people who do this and then LOSE money, so it’s not necessarily a sign of good business sense :-\

    2. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      Yeah, right now, I know it’s something to put down as a hobby. And I want to put it there to give my resume a little more color (currently it’s just retail cashier, and not a lot. So there’s space for a hobby section). And because I’m increasing wanting to try and actually make a go of it.
      I just really wanted a gut check that just because I have a business that it shouldn’t be listed as a business. And feed back on when it should be moved from a hobby to a business.
      And part of the reason I want it there is in case I apply for a job where there might be some forms of conflict of interest (let’s say I apply to a generic call center job, and they are looking for someone to do customer support for lush or Avon, or bath and body. The legal agreements needed for non-compete would mean I assume I couldn’t work for them).

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It sounds like you’re our OP? That’s an important bit of info.
        I agree — if you have a short, retail resume, the government legalities could be worth adding. Maybe declare it part time, and focus on the government requirements more than the hobby itself. Be ready to answer questions about inome –is it staying a hobby vs expanding into a FT job? My friend’s phrase for her hobby business might be useful: “my goal was to make a weekend hobby pay for itself, and I’ve hit that goal. It also taught me… ”
        I could see it under outside interests too. Those can include roles for non-employment organizations : $ClubName. Bookkeeper, 6 years. State Fair Coordinator, 3 years.
        The trick will be giving enough detail to show you can handle regulations & accounting without bogging down someone who does not share the hobby. (If the interviewer is good ole boy and you’re making cosmetics, for instance.)

        1. Smithy*

          I really like the language around having a weekend hobby pay for itself as opposed to generating an income. It allows the OP to demonstrate navigating the legal and technical requirements while still being able to emphasize the hobby nature.

          In addition to not bogging down the conversation, I do think that it can help balance out the discussion where it doesn’t necessarily seem like the hobby is your ultimate business professional passion. Jobs like call centers are likely more open to candidates who don’t necessarily see the position as individually fulfilling, but it’s a good balance for jobs where there might be more concern about someone looking to leave as soon as a small business is off the ground.

      2. JSPA*

        Focus on the skills, in the resume.

        Bring up the side-line, in the interview, perhaps spun as a mix of a public service (especially if this was something along the lines of sanitizer, or salve for dealing with “sanitizer skin” or cleansing wash for “maskne”) and, “I am careful to follow rules” and, “I welcomed the chance to learn about the process,” even though “it’s not a money-making venture.”

        That’s assuming it’s not an essential part of your income, and that it’d be possible to suspend production if there’s a conflict of interest.

      3. Concertina*

        So, I’m a soapmaker (not sure if that’s what your hobby is but it ticks a lot of the same boxes) and generally I would leave it off unless maaaybe if I didn’t already have a chem lab job but was trying to get one. Like Alison said that’s a situation where the skills are directly transferrable because making CP soap is just chemistry you do in your house. Same with managing inventory type of things. One good benefit with soap is that you can talk about it as a hobby in interviews and bring it up in terms of “look! Planning! Foresight! Ordering materials in advance and planning for an 8 week cure time!”

    3. JSPA*

      I’d include the skills (familiarity with the basics of LLC incorporation [or your local equivalent] / registration / permitting) rather than the backstory.

  9. learnedthehardway*

    LW#5 – about the only time that I think actual letters of reference are useful now is if they’re on company letterhead, signed and dated, and used to prove that your performance was indeed acceptable, when someone is later saying that it wasn’t. Since that mostly doesn’t apply to a general job search, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Instead, make sure that you have the contact information for your potential references, including an email address that is not likely to change (ie. a personal email address).

    I have had people provide reference letters with their applications to roles, and for the most part, they weren’t really all that useful as they can’t address specific questions that I or a hiring manager would have about the person’s work experience, skills, aptitudes, etc. as they relate to the job they’re being hired to do.

    1. Jef*

      #5 – Reference letters can also depend on your country. I live in Switzerland and here ref. letters are an essential part of every application.

      1. Teatime is Goodtime*

        Yes! They are absolutely required where I am. But folks also won’t be calling up old managers or places of work, either, and in some cases aren’t allowed to. This method does have some advantages: one never has to worry about keeping track of old managers as they move on, retire or otherwise wouldn’t be available for a phone call. They also give letter writers the opportunity to give a reference with all the information fresh in their heads (strengths, accomplishments, etc.). I think I prefer it, to be honest, but I understand why others might not.

    2. MK*

      I think people are worried they might not be able to reach their former managers; I would think one reason they are a big thing in the past is that often one move/phone number change was all it took to lose contact with people.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, and it also depends on the working culture of the country. I’m in Finland, and here it would be absolutely unthinkable to contact a former manager for a reference when they’ve retired unless you’ve become friends following the retirement.

    3. AcademickChick*

      LW #5: Academia here, non-Swiss Europe: This may depend on the country or even the individual, but one thing that is of absolutely no use of interest to me is a generic reference letter that was written more than one year ago (actually, anything prior to being tailored at this particular event/opening/situation).
      I also tell the people I need to provide references for when they ask me for a generic letter: Always make sure it is tailored, and only send it when it is asked for, because 9 out of 10 they will want to call you anyway/instead.

      1. Chilipepper*

        What would you do for people whose former employers died or no longer exist?
        For example:
        -my first job in the 80s was for a center that no longer exists, I have no way to reach anyone who i worked with, if I even remember them

        -then i moved to Europe and was a SAHM

        then as a SAHM in the US:
        -I got a job in a bookstore that no longer exists, no records, no way to contact former bosses
        -I worked at a preschool (they still exist but its not the kind of reference i need)

        – Then I went back to school, the people who employed me during university have all retired and I have no way of reaching them, the college/library probably has records that I was employed, but that is all.

        – my first job post uni was at a private school that has changed name and location, the dept head retired (no way to reach her), the principal moved on to another state (no way to reach him), again, the school probably has records that I worked there, but no way to say anything else about me.

        – now I am working at a library (got my MLIS) and am looking for another job in a library – I cannot use my supervisor here, I don’t want to tell them I am job hunting.

        Who would I use for a reference? Especially if it had to be a recent letter??

    4. Cat Tree*

      I once left a toxic small company after less than a year. There was a guy who did completely different work than me, but was nominally my boss while I was there. He had been at this toxic place for so long that he didn’t understand business norms. He gave me a recommendation letter on my way out. Not only would I never pass along a recommendation letter (it’s unlikely to be fully truthful since I could look at it), I wouldn’t even list this particular boss for a phone reference because he didn’t understand my work well enough to evaluate it meaningfully.

      It was so awkward and I actually felt bad for him. I just politely accepted the letter, thanked him, and threw it away when I got home.

    5. JohannaCabal*

      Reference letters would also be easy to fake IMO. All I would need is the company letterhead, or even just mock up some in Adobe (I mean, how many other people would really know what the company’s official letterhead looks like anyway?).

      Outside of certain sectors (academia), reference calls are the norm, and even in those sectors, a reference letter is usually followed up with a call.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        They are easy to fake. I hate to be That Person, but I’ve had far too many fake letters of reference to trust them now. I understand that some fields/functions rely on them more, and I won’t dictate otherwise. But in Corporate America, those letters largely fell out of favor because so many were faked.

        When I was still in a large yet highly networked industry, I received a lot of those letters, allegedly written by former colleagues of mine. Of course, I called to ask about the candidate submitting them, and less than a third of those folks wrote the letters in question.

        It’s worth pointing out employers seemed to embrace behavioral interview panels and skills assessments to confirm candidate competencies around the time reference letters fell out of favor. YMMV.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          I’m curious about the assertion that they’re so much easier to fake – we’ve seen more than a few letters on this site about people faking reference calls as well. Are those really so much more difficult to fake than a reference letter?

          1. JohannaCabal*

            Calls can be easy to fake (and with more people working from home and having office phones redirect to cell phones or using Google Voice–my startup does the latter as we’re a virtual company–that does not help). That said, it’s easier to tease out a fake number by calling the main office number to contact the reference. Also, when you’re talking to someone on the phone you can, for the most part, get a sense for how well the reference knows the candidate by asking in-depth questions.

            Off-topic, I really hope K-12 institutions are following up reference letters with calls. I’ve heard so many stories from the 80s and 90s about teachers and coaches being moved from school to school despite serious misconduct. We’re talking educators openly dating students, such as the one from the county next to mine that married a student less than two weeks after she graduated.

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Great question! When someone hands over a hard copy recommendation letter on official letterhead, the expectation is that the interviewer will accept that it was written by the named person on the signature line. Seriously, who knows who wrote the letter, let alone signed it? As I said above, I had far more fake than legit letters of recommendation to trust them. For ~40 years, I’ve worked in corporate staffing, for F500 and also privately-owned companies. I literally can’t count how many times I called the person who allegedly wrote the letter to ask about something specific, and they were taken by surprise. I did and do not trust them but, again, YMMV.

            As for faking reference calls: they’re harder to fake and yes, still possible. The benefit to these calls is, they’re interactive. A good reference checker is going to ask questions about the candidate’s experience, not just accept comments at face value. A better reference checker can tell if someone is creating a story or sharing actual information. People are easier to read for a ‘tell’ than you might think, and nowadays it’s easier to confirm who’s who at even smaller employers.

            Even so, at a former F100 employer, we stopped checking professional references because there was too much misinformation and side-door pre-employment reference checks. When a hiring manager calls a buddy in his/her network, then declines to interview the candidate because Buddy just didn’t like them – which means squat in most cases – that’s a liability we didn’t need or want. We did a background check for criminal convictions, employment history, SSN verification, etc., but dispensed with reference checks. They’re still iffy, IMO.

            1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

              Thanks for taking the time to answer, and explaining more about that!

              I’m going to spend a bit of time thinking on your responses – My initial feeling about doing away with references is “whoa, that’s a big change, hold on a moment” but I’m not sure how much of that resistance is because I can get caught up in ‘this is how things have always been’ how much is just me being a very cautious person when it comes to big changes, and how much is because I think there might be value to them.

              Introspection shall be needed.

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to candidate evaluation and experience confirmation, what works for one company won’t work for another. In the case I mentioned, keep in mind that a lot of this came about because my employer was bound to OFCCP hiring processes, which is a whole other issue.

                You see, we were trying to meet OFCCP guidelines while also doing the right thing for our candidates. It was and still is popular for hiring managers to call their ‘network’ about a potential candidate – heck, Alison recommends it on this blog, and it’s not usually an issue. However, our hiring managers weren’t asking about candidate skills and qualifications despite multiple training sessions, they asked about likeability and personality: ‘My friend at ABC Company said John Smith was aloof, and I don’t need that on my team. Forget him.’ Our recruiters were required to capture this information to meet OFCCP record-keeping requirements, and that kind of decision was difficult to justify during a desk audit. We were asked point-blank why our hiring manager declined to interview an otherwise qualified candidate for something subjective like personality traits, and we couldn’t defend that action. Sanctions were made, fines were levied, and we had to regroup.

                Rather than attempting yet again to train our hiring managers in appropriate interviewing processes – which they apparently ignored – we dispensed with reference checks. We also made ‘back door’ and ‘side door’ reference checks a terminable offense. Hope this helps explain why such a big change was appropriate in this case.

  10. Anono-me*

    Op 2 I’m thinking rather than paying to attend the event as a volunteer, you should have been paid to attend the event as a working employee. I’m hoping that you have moved on to somewhere more appreciative.

    Op 3 You say that you work ” in food services while in school”. Does this mean you are working at the college campus cafeteria? If so, most colleges have a staff directory available online with both names and emails.

    Op 5 Telephone calls have pretty much killed reference letters. That being said, if someone offers to write one for you; I would suggest that you take it with thanks. That way when you need to ask the person for a 20th century telephone call reference, you can include a copy of their reference letter to refresh their memory.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      LW3 probably means they go to school and work at some restaurant off campus. If it’s on campus, they probably have procedures for students quitting since that’s expected this time of year. Local fast food, kinda expected, kinda not (especially if they live in the area)

  11. Heidi*

    Letter 5 reminds me of the Downton Abbey era when a servant or governess needed to have a letter of reference from a former employer or they were basically unemployable. The whole keeping a letter on file thing might be a carryover from the graduate school application process. The dean’s office or registrar will collate all the letters and send copies to all the places you’re applying to so the applicant never sees the letter. There doesn’t seem to be much point in keeping a letter in your own personal files and sending a copy, though. There’s no way to authenticate it without calling the reference, and if you’re going to do that, there’s no reason to have a letter too.

    1. Double A*

      Ooh, I wonder if requiring letters of reference for teaching jobs (a standard part of the application in the 2 states I’ve worked in) is a throwback to governess days.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Idk if it’s anything specific to governess jobs, but uh yeah I would guess it’s a holdover from the days before telephones…

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Well they’re normal here in Germany, your boss is obligated to write you one when you leave.

      1. allathian*

        Same thing in Finland, although it’s not usually called a letter of reference, but a certificate of employment. Some companies will only provide proof that you actually worked there and the reason for leaving (layoff, firing, voluntary), while others will describe you as an employee.

      2. Heidi*

        That actually makes a lot of sense. It’s better to write down your evaluation while you remember everything about the employee. So does that mean that a person doing a reference check for a potential hire doesn’t contact the references at all?

        1. Teatime is Goodtime*

          In some cases, where I am, that’s not even legal to do. Also, any manager that got called would probably be seriously weirded out. Like…didn’t you read the letter?! It may very well depend on your industry. My experience is certainly not a comprehensive sample.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      The country where I currently live does this for domestic employees. They have a reference packet, with letters of reference from their former employers, many of whom may have worked in the diplomatic corps or with a large multinational, and not have local numbers anymore. When I hired my housekeeper, her packet of reference letters went back to my childhood. I’ll provide her with the same when I move, because not all of these employees have email accounts, and wouldn’t be able to get in touch.

    4. JohannaCabal*

      I think this was called getting a “character.” I read a book when I was younger set in Victorian England about a maid and the big fear was not getting a character which would doom you to a life on the streets.

      1. Rebecca Stewart*

        And back then you could get (usually get, because the average household worker wasn’t literate enough to write a passable one) someone to write you the reference. Mrs. Beeton and other household authors of the time support using the reference provided to actually make a social call on the previous employer and ask direct questions. The cook might well be clean and tidy and industrious and obedient, but also drunk most of the time, and sometimes that little matter of drink just didn’t make it into her reference.

  12. John Smith*

    #4, I’d be tempted to put it on depending on the job being applied for. I know that what you are doing requires following a lot of often complex legislation which requires attention to detail (things like size of font dependant on X and y, usage and placement of symbols, technical language). Add on skills such as interpreting and following legislation, official guidance and industry standards.
    That’s a fair amount of skills to talk about and even if they’re not relevant to the job applied for, are certainly transferrable. I’m not a recruiter or interviewer, but I’d be interested in what others think.

    1. MK*

      The problem is that, like Alison always says about non-professional activities, there is no way to show if you did all these things well and to a professional standard. And if the OP isn’t planning on pursuing this as a business, they might not have put in the work. Also, not everyone knows these things are required, and explaining it likely takes attention away from more concrete skills.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree, I think even if they do make some money from it this is really more something that belongs maybe in a cover-letter territory or could make for interesting conversation during the interview, but not on the actual resume itself.

  13. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    OP2: I will give good organizations my time, OR I’ll give them my money. Asking for both is double-dipping and absolutely bonkers.

  14. Unkempt Flatware*

    For the new people on staff, OP #1 could pretend to be this gone person while being themself for the old staff. Like Suzie/Elaine in Seinfeld. This is the only rational response here.

    1. Wendy*

      I’d be tempted to start ridiculous rumors. “Oh, yeah, I was going to ask Bob, but then I remembered hearing that he was dedicating himself to llama cosmetology this month. I think it’s a new fad exercise thing? I expected to see him at the meeting two weeks ago, but he had that bout in the hospital with becoming invisible and only giving off ultraviolet radiation instead of visible light and I guess that explains why he never showed up on Zoom…”

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’d have a hard time not pulling the Captain Tuttle/Major Murdoch routine from M*A*S*H.

      1. Seal*

        Me too, although eventually I’d have to tell people he died jumping out of a helicopter without parachute.

  15. Zoe*

    LW2. It depends on the non-profit but this is not uncommon. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s not uncommon. That being said, it should have been made clear before you signed up. Most non-profits that have this expectation will say something like “to be a volunteer for the Llamas Without Borders annual gala you must commit to raising $1,000 or purchase your own ticket, etc. etc.” I have volunteered for several non-profits where this was the case. That being said “feed your volunteers” is always valid, even if it’s just Costco snacks and water.

    1. JustaTech*

      At the soup kitchen/food bank where I volunteer (I can’t *wait* to go back when my shots are done!) they used to have food and drinks for the volunteers that were the weird donations that couldn’t be given to clients because they were too close to expiration or not nutritionally appropriate or just too weird. (Lots of kombucha and organic candy corn and stuff like that.)

      Then something changed in how they accepted donations and the weird snacks and drinks dried up and there was quite a bit of good-natured complaining about it for a few weeks. But there was always water and sometimes they’d have a taste-test of whatever we were cooking, so it was all cool in the end.

  16. Double A*

    Every teaching job (K-12) I’ve had has required letters of reference with the application. It’s annoying, because you basically need to tell someone you’re working with you’re job hunting to be able to even apply to any jobs, and I don’t really know the purpose because they still check references. But it’s SOP in the field and everyone has to do it so usually you can find some people to write you letters who won’t tell your boss you’re job hunting since everyone’s been there before.

    But yeah, not something I would ever do if I didn’t have to.

    1. Flower necklace*

      I think I needed three letters of reference for my current job, and each reference asked me to write it for them. They were all busy people, so I wrote the letter and then they looked it over and signed it. I was a little worried that someone would notice that the letters had the same voice (I tried to make them authentic, but it’s hard to change your own writing style). Thankfully it wasn’t a problem.

      I don’t understand why teaching jobs require them, either.

    2. Stacy*

      That’s so interesting! Reference letters are not a thing in the state I teach. I had no idea some places did this!

      1. Lorelei*

        I’ve taught in multiple states and reference letters were always required with the application. In one state, I had to list my references, and each was required to complete a survey for every job I applied to (and the market for teachers was different then- I probably applied to 30 districts). I had no clue that would be the case and felt awful when I learned how much they were asking of my references.

  17. Josephine*

    Outside the US, reference letters sometimes are the norm. Maybe your team member has some kind of Central European background; reference letters are a common occurrence here, while it’s highly unusual to call former managers and do reference checks. There is a whole code within the language of reference letters, since they’re mandated by law to be neutral or positive. For example, “always did their best” means “useless, but at least they tried”, and “good communicator” translates to “gossips all day”.

    1. Nela*

      Yep, I wrote a few reference letters for my colleagues from a nonprofit when they started applying for jobs, on an official letterhead and all! Also in EU. I’ve never heard of someone calling a candidate’s former manager.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Wow, is that really mandated by law? It seems counterintuitive. (Ik in the US it’s a common misconception that references must be positive or neutral, but it’s not legally mandated here — it’s just that the person could sue for slander)

      1. Myrin*

        At least where I am, they are mandated to be benevolent/favourable, so even negative traits have to be couched in outwardly positive language (which is kind of a farce, really, because the “so-so language” is widely known and even if not, easily googleable).

        1. ecnaseener*

          I know I shouldn’t be surprised by governments making bizarre decisions that only serve to make useful things useless, but…wow. Is there at least the option to decline to write a letter, so you have a way of saying you truly can’t recommend this person? Or are you legally required to write something

          1. Heidi*

            Yeah, what if the employee was really, really bad? Like they threw a tantrum over Hawaiian rolls at the company potluck or something? Or demanded that their assistant attend couples therapy with their father?

          2. Myrin*

            Technically, you don’t have to, but practically you do, if that makes sense. As in, there is no law saying that an employer has to automatically write one once an employee is leaving, but there is a law saying that every employee has a right to have one written if they so choose, and since it’s completely normal and expected (by both employees themselves as well as people looking to hire someone), in actuality/reality, yes, every employer has to write one for every employee.

            You can, of course, invoke the so-called “eloquent silence” (kind of a wonky translation but oh well) and simply not comment on an aspect of the employee’s work at all – people in hiring and HR should generally be able to gauge from that that you have nothing positive to say about them in that regard.

            And I wouldn’t say that the involved formulation necessarily makes the whole thing useless, although I can certainly see where you’d get that from from my simplified summary. If you’re familiar with reference letters – which people in hiring should be, generally – it’s really not that hard to read between the lines, although I agree that honest, candid wording from the get-go would be better and easier. But I know that many people here would baulk at the American-style phone call (my sister became honestly enraged when I off-handedly told her about that practice last year) and there is a lot of history surrounding these letters that is hard to explain to people who aren’t used to them.

            1. Chilipepper*

              I get the confusion or frustration with practices in different countries when you are not familiar with them, but why would your sister get enraged at the idea of phone calls? That’s a real question, why would phone calls be so upsetting?

              And honestly, the phone calls have the same coded language, you just get to add sounds to the mix.

              1. Myrin*

                Ah, as I was pressing “submit” on that question, I realised that that was probably a poor choice of words – “horrified” would’ve been more apt, although there certainly was a tone of “wow that would piss me off” in her voice which I think influenced my initial wording.
                For her in particular, she’s a very competent, ethical, accurate, and all-around well-liked worker (she works with customers, so this is an important part of her job) and her boss at her former workplace was… well, not. To all of those. My sister is convinced – and knowing what I know of her former boss, that does indeed seem likely – that given the chance of a personal phonecall where she couldn’t have been held accountable, she absolutely would’ve shown my sister in the worst light possible, in a way she simply wasn’t able to do with the actual written document of a reference which both my sister and the former boss’s boss got to read.

              2. Heather*

                Not the OP, but since there’s no documentation of a phone call I would be concerned that a former boss could bad-mouth me for no reason at all in a phone call, in a way that they obviously can’t put in writing.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              “You can, of course, invoke the so-called “eloquent silence” (kind of a wonky translation but oh well) and simply not comment on an aspect of the employee’s work at all ”
              In my country, we say “you’ll be lucky if you can get him to work for you” and employers understand immediately.

          3. Media Monkey*

            in the uk, if you didn’t want to give a negative reference, you would decline to write one at all and that would be taken as negative. but so many places now just confirm employment dates (maybe job title? not sure as it’s really not a thing in my industry. you always know someone who knows someone who can tell you how that person is which is more valuable anyway!)

  18. Beth*

    LW3: I worked in food services in our dining halls for a while in undergrad, and we also never saw our official boss. I don’t think I had any way to reach him at all, actually! Our usual point of contact was whatever full-time staff (a cook, usually) was there during our shift. That was who trained me, made sure I got my checks, and helped me with any issues that came up, and if I’d had to quit mid-term, that would’ve been who I would have thought to tell.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      If it were me, I would take whoever handed me my paycheck as being the person I report to. Of course nowadays, the pay might be via direct deposit.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That’s what I was thinking too– you don’t need to quit to the “boss” if there’s a supervisor or shift lead available.

  19. Alice*

    #2, this is such nonsense! I used to volunteer for a local nonprofit in the times before the plague. Food for volunteers was hit and miss (we literally had bread and water once) but we were never asked to pay any entry tickets and I doubt there would have been many takers if they did!

    1. SMH*

      My mom volunteered years ago like in the 80s for a really good cause. They showed up 7 am and worked all day outside setting up booths and tables but no food was provided. They were grudgingly provided water! Finally at 2 pm my mom looked at the other volunteers and said I can see a restaurant from here, let’s go. The organizers seated nearby suddenly saw 9 volunteers walking away and came running after them. My mom and another woman read them the riot act that they were sitting and talking but allowed to eat and the volunteers had been there since 7 and barely had water. Finally they agreed to go in shifts to grab food but the organizers had to fork over cash to buy their lunch.

  20. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    LW2 – I help to run a local beer festival every year (or did – hopefully I will again!!). All of our volunteers are well fed and watered while they are working, and are also given vouchers to enjoy a drink after they have finished working. Anyone working after the last bus, or can’t get home on public transport for other reasons is given a free taxi.

    Various committee members put their hands in their pockets for bits & pieces during the festival, but that sometimes goes with the territory – we are perfectly entitled to claim for it, but mostly choose not to, and we certainly don’t make a fuss about it.

  21. Anna Badger*

    LW4, if your business doesn’t rise to the level Alison has set out but you’re in a country where having a personal interests section on your CV is the norm, this might be a good candidate for that section.

    I have a hobby/side hustle that earns me beer money rather than money money but that comes with a huge whack of transferable skills. I include one line about it in my personal interests section, and I almost always get asked about it in interviews. Those transferable skills were the deciding factor between me and another candidate for at least one job!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      You spoke my mind :)

      My CV has a hobbies and interests section at the bottom (this is common in the UK) which lists my design of computer based embroidery (I can stitch perfect C#), my interest in Russian nuclear technology history (weird, but fascinating) and a few others. It’s definitely got me a few interviews..

      (Remember I work in the IT sector where being a bit off the wall is practically a job description)

      1. Media Monkey*

        i’m also in the uk and i do love that part of CVs. especially when you are interviewing new grads who don’t have a huge amount of work history. it really gets people talking (and i love hearing about their pandemic cookie delivery business or teaching ballet to little kids). also – computer based embroidery? love it! geeky crafting is where it’s at (just finishing a harry potter bookcase quilt).

  22. Paul Pearson*

    Ok, I’m bemused – what is with this habit of charging people for volunteering? If someone volunteers they are giving something to you – where does the mentality even come from that says it’s ok to ask a volunteer to pay for the “privilege” of giving up their free time to provide free labour?

    1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      But think about the mission! The mission requires money. Surely if you care enough to donate time, you care enough to also donate money!

      That tends to be the thought process that leads to this. That and *shudders* staff giving/participation metrics that the org likes to wave around.

      ‘Tis a very toxic thing, either way.

      1. 1234*

        Not-A-Non-Profit Old Job considered a company-wide “give to a charity we choose” event where they would ask all of us to contribute but thankfully in the end decided against it. One of the managers said “we have no right to ask people to give up their money for a charity”

        I was making $35K living in an expensive city. I didn’t have money to give.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      The only way it would not be completely crazy is a situation where demand for admission vastly exceeds supply, and also volunteers will have some opportunity to do the event. I’ve seen situations where the reward for volunteering is guaranteed admission, so you don’t have to enter the lottery or plan six months ahead or whatever.

      Other than that possible exception, it’s ridiculous.

      1. WS*

        Yes, I’ve seen guaranteed admission for volunteers as well, but that’s usually for events that are hugely popular and are very professional about staffing and volunteer opportunities. Everything is 100% clear up front.

    3. Sue*

      I have worked on dozens of fundraising events. Some were PTA types, where if the volunteers didn’t pay to attend, there would be no fundraising as virtually everyone helped in some way. Also on the Board of a small children-centric nonprofit. We put on a major event annually and need all hands on deck to pull it off. If we gave free tickets to all the volunteers, we would see more people minimally “helping” perhaps, but it would defeat the fundraising purpose. I am definitely not speaking to staff, however. They need to be compensated for their time.

      1. Observer*

        Either these events were very badly run, or you should just be charging (more) for membership and stop wasting money on the events.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      It doesn’t apply to the scenario in this letter, but generally the argument I’ve seen for it is they want to be sure you’re “invested” in the org. Sometimes that’s just a cover for a money grab. In other cases, it’s to prevent flakes – or offset flakes. So, let’s say a bunch of people volunteer but then no-show – good volunteer coordinators assume this will happen to some extent, but if it starts being wildly variable and hard to predict it makes the situation much worse. If you volunteer, and you actually show up as expected, yes the org gets free labor. But if you volunteer and no show (in disproportionate to expected frequency), that creates more work for the actual employees to offset the no-showing. So the theory is, if you had to “be a member” or whatnot in order to volunteer in the first place it accomplishes at least one of two things:
      1) Proves you really care about the org and theoretically will be motivated to not flake since you paid for the priviledge.
      2) If you do flake, at least the org got something.

      1. Observer*

        There are a lot of other ways to deal with it – ways that are much better than milking the people who are making the event possible.

  23. el knife*

    On LW #5 – in my country, it’s very common for reference letters to be required for things like renting an apartment, applying for official documents, buying a pet. And I’m talking generic-y reference letters from managers that confirm you 1) exist 2) have a job 3) aren’t completely off the wall/are a citizen of good standing. So here it’s relatively common to hold onto a couple of reference letters. They’re usually short affairs – one or two paragraphs confirming who you are, what your job is, that the manager holds in you in good standing etc.

  24. Matthias*

    Re LW1, I wonder what the repercussions are for impersonating somebody else for months in written communication, and/or if this is libel.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If the company is actually making money/profits/benefits out of pretending to be that person then it’s exceptionally risky if the person being impersonated finds out. I don’t know from OP’s letter whether it’s got this far.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I don’t think anyone is impersonating the other person though. They just say he’s still working and that x won’t get done.

        1. Matthias*

          Ah, I read it that external emails to “Rupert’s” account are still accepted and then answered (maybe not necessary _as_ him, but still in the email chain) which would give the impression that Rupert is indeed employed by Company X and working on the respective projects. And when something is delayed (which the CEO is claiming by saying “I don’t think we’ll have that done in time”), or possibly failing Rupert gets caught in the crossfire.

          Later somebody who knows Rupert outside the organization might go “Hey what’s up with you never replying to the failing project emails about TeaCup designing, everybody here thinks you are doing a bad job”.

          That’s just me though, other interpretations are also very valid :)

    2. ecnaseener*

      I don’t see how it would be libel — it’s not damaging or malicious to imply he works for a company unless the company is known to be completely evil or something. (And it sounds like all the CEO’s been doing is implying it, not directly stating or writing it.)

    3. Bilateralrope*

      That’s a question for the impersonated ex-employee and his lawyer. So I’d suggest informing the ex-employee that this is happening.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      As far as I know, this isn’t impersonation. The company, presumably, owns the email address. This is misleading, but it’s not criminal– it’s closer to an EA answering an email for a VP and the client believing the VP is the one writing the response. I cannot imagine that the departed employee would have any cause for action at all.

  25. Czhorat*

    LW1 – if the CEO is willing to lie so blatantly about something as normal in the business world as an employee leaving then what can you trust him about?

    I’d focus not on fixing this situy but on looking for another job working for someone who isn’t a proven liar

    1. Paulina*

      The CEO is also a micromanager (why the employee left). The combination of the two is particularly concerning, since lying and micromanaging can feed into each other and hide growing problems. Hiding the employee’s departure doesn’t make sense by itself, so I’m wondering what else the CEO is using it to hide; overall, this problem is more likely to be a symptom of something larger rather than something to fix by itself.

  26. Slinky*

    Re: #5, I’ll also add that even in academia, a generic letter from an old manager wouldn’t be useful. My employer (large United States public university) requires us to get reference letters instead of phone references for some searches, but even then, we will reach out to the references to solicit the letter and include specific qualifications we’d like to see addressed. If a candidate proactively offered us a pre-written letter from an old manager, we wouldn’t be able to use it.

  27. rudster*

    Re. LW1, I can’t help wondering is somebody is collecting the departed employee’s salary, or it’s going to some kind of slush fund so it doesn’t have to be rebudgeted separately. Otherwise the whole thing is just really bizarre.

    1. Threeve*

      That’s a really good point. Particularly because it sounds like people are just under the impression that he switched to contract work, and a line item on a budget is much less obvious than paying a full salary+benefits.

    2. EPLawyer*

      It’s probably nothing that nefarious. CEO just can’t accept that someone doesn’t want to work for this company. So he is in denial.

      What I want to know is what is happening to Rupert’s emails? Are people emailing then thinking Rupert is ignoring them? Who is really doing the work that Rupert is assigned? Wouldn’t that person be wondering why Rupert isn’t doing it?

      1. James*

        They’re probably routed to a current worker. I saw a company do that–one guy left, another joined, and they gave Old Guy’s email address to New Guy. Bear in mind, the email address was in the typical firstname . lastname @ company . com format, so New Guy was using Old Guy’s name. Got very confusing. (Both happened to be men, and New Guy was a good 20 years older than Old Guy.) The company was small enough to not have an IT department, and no one had time to change things. If we hadn’t contracted them to do field work, and therefore seen the person, it would have been very easy for the company to pretend that Old Guy was still working there.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes my former employer did that with PMs that had very close relationships with clients: the replacement had to pretend to be them. They were initially told that it would be just for a few weeks until the clients got used to the replacement, but since the client never found out there was a replacement, they couldn’t get used to it!

      2. rudster*

        I wouldn’t necessarily call it nefarious, just “creative accounting”. I’ve actually seen that happen once at a former employer. OHOT, if the CEO is really in denial, I suspect that everyone is afraid to speak up because if they point out the problem, then they are going be assigned the missing employee’s work. I’ve seen that happen, too – anyone who brought up an issue got stuck fixing it even if it wasn’t their job.

      3. meyer lemon*

        Yeah, my guess is that when Rupert resigned, the CEO told everyone it was fine, he was still going to stay on as a contractor. Then when Rupert also turned down being a contractor, the CEO was too embarrassed to admit that Rupert had kind of double-resigned. Months later, here we are.

    3. Observer*

      Slush fund within the company I could see. Going to another person? MUCH harder for the CEO to pull off. Unless the salary is going to an actual replacement for Rupert that CEO is hiding. Which is even MORE bizarre.

  28. Bilateralrope*

    Imagine that Rupert* walks into the building to do something nefarious. Since most employees think he still works there, they aren’t going to think much of it. That gives him more time to do whatever he’s up to.

    Especially if his accounts in the company computer systems haven’t been deactivated.

    *Or someone pretending to be him. As new employees probably don’t know him beyond his name.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      This is also a problem when there’s excessive secrecy around resignations and firings. It’s bad enough when work gets held up because someone is waiting for Rupert’s response.

      I worked with a guy who quit by leaving a nasty note on the GM’s desk, and I absolutely would have let him into the building before the rumor mill filled me in on what happened.

  29. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    #3: Part time food services job? Don’t sweat it. Lots of people resign from those types of jobs by simply not showing up to their next shift. You still want to be professional yourself, of course, but the bar is not set high. If facebook messenger is good enough for normal communication, it’s good enough to resign over. A phone call would still be better, but don’t put too much effort into finding a number.

    1. Malarkey01*

      Someone supervises that shift and that’s the person you resign to. If they want a secondary conversation with the boss/owner they’ll tell you that. Who would you say “I’m sick and need to go home right now to”?

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Exactly – if your official boss is someone you never see, there’s got to be someone else acting as your supervisor if it’s a food-service type job. This person would be a better point of contact, and they need to know to arrange coverage for your shift.

  30. PookieLou*

    L1 reminds me of a personal experience: A company I worked for did a round of layoffs once, and HR would call someone into their office, let them know they were let go, and not tell anyone else. People were just disappearing throughout the day. It took a while for everyone to figure out what was even happening. One of the lay offs was a guy I coordinated with daily on projects. I had no idea that after 10 am or so, he wasn’t even there anymore. We waited for a meeting or an email, anything to let us know who was let go, so we understood how we needed to adjust operations going forward, but we got nothing. HR later said it was to preserve the dignity of those being let go. I’d say forcing them into the center of office gossip is a poor way of doing that. (An entire team was eliminated, btw!)

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked somewhere that did something somewhat similar, but over the course of several months. When I pointed out that it would be helpful to know when co-workers who were contacts for key information were gone, I was told that could “embarrass them.” How?! The were no longer with the company & wouldn’t know the difference.

      The worst was that some externally generated reports were linked to the email address of someone who was let go (bad practice anyway, should have been a shared inbox), & nobody knew (or cared) how to change it, so they just left the email active with no notice of the fact that it was no longer being used. No idea how many emails ended up falling into that black hole, but I know a few of mine did.

      1. Elenna*

        I was told that could “embarrass them.”

        Ah yes, because having people think you’ve randomly stopped responding to email isn’t embarrassing in the least, I’m sure… Not to mention being the subject of gossip when people try to figure out where you went!

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Wasn’t that the plot of a Star Trek episode? Except that the Enterprise was caught in a pocket universe that was collapsing. Or something.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        “Remember Me” S4E5, directed by Cliff Bole.

        That was an interesting episode and I would be just as perplexed as Dr. Crusher was.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I knew someone would come through with that! Back in college, we had a competition for who could most quickly identify the ST:TOS (the only one that existed, back then) episode based on randomly tuning in. I was pretty good, but my Trek episode identification skills are sadly atrophied nowadays.

  31. Philly Redhead*

    RE #4 — I started a food blog as a hobby. After a few years, I created a brand (logo, color palette, etc.), designed my site with HTML and CSS, worked on photography and photo editing, taught myself video editing, etc. I work as a graphic designer, so I included those things on my resume (and they helped me get my current job), but not until I got enough average monthly pageviews to sound impressive and had worked with some nationally-known brands.

  32. Rusty Shackelford*

    Re #5, we interviewed someone based on a reference letter once. Her resume was ~just~ on the wrong side of the cutoff point (not enough experience), but she included a glowing reference letter that praised her ability to pick things up quickly. So we gave her a shot and ended up hiring her (and she was a great hire!). But, you know, that’s once, in many many hires.

  33. goducks*

    I’ve always been perplexed by letters of reference. When candidates have shared them with my I’ve always wondered how I was supposed to even know they’re legit. I don’t know what Companyiveneverheardof’s letterhead looks like, I don’t know what Jane Formermanager’s signature looks like (or if the name on the letter is even a real person who knew the candidate at all). Basically, I have zero ability to validate that this is not something this candidate made themselves. Or, even if parts are real, maybe the document has been edited by the candidate.

    The only way to do references effectively seems to be reaching out to former employers directly, but even that can end up a Vandelay Industries type situation.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I’ve got one that I will occasionally use, but it’s predominately because the manager who wrote the letter knew they were terminally ill, and no one else within the company would be able to provide a reference after their passing. They made a point of putting a copy of the letter within my personnel file at that place of employment, so that it could be verified if any future employers wanted to do so.

      I took it as a very great kindness from that particular person – but I don’t think it has ever been particularly helpful landing a position.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I agree. Plus, even legitimate letters go through the hands of the candidate, so the author is less inclined to be honest about any shortcomings. References aren’t strictly confidential even over the phone, but if I know the actual person will be reading it I certainly wouldn’t be as candid. And even if I did honestly mention something bad, once the candidate sees that they won’t pass that letter along. I guess I could just refuse to give any letter at all, but then all but the very worst candidates will shop around to scrounge up someone to write a good letter.

      The only way I could see the letter being meaningful is maybe if it’s in a sealed envelope, or doesn’t go through the candidate at all. But since phones are ubiquitous, why not just contact the reference and ask specific questions anyway?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Sealed letters were indeed the way to go back in the day, I remember being given a handful of them when I quit my teenager Saturday job in the early 80s. Back then it would have been pretty hard to fake a business letterhead too.

  34. PeanutButter*

    I actually have a question sort of like LW1’s but from the other side of the looking glass – before I went to grad school, I had several per diem positions with a few healthcare and human services organizations. Basically they’d send me a spreadsheet of their open shifts for the next month, and I’d pick the ones that I wanted, and they’d call me if they had an unexpected absence of a staff member, and I could take it or leave it. I had no minimum hours or regular schedule, no benefits, etc. When I started my master’s program, I sent an email to one nurse manager of a department (responsible for hiring and firing decisions) to let her know I would not be available to work for the organization anymore. Then grad school happened, and all thought of my previous life was pushed out of my head. About six months later I got a letter from the Mothership healthcare organization indicating they were severing my contract because I hadn’t been picking up any shifts. I reached out to some former colleagues and apparently she had been doing the same thing as this manager, pretending like I was still working, and expressing confusion about why I wasn’t picking up shifts anymore. So…how do I put this time on my resume? Do I put the original date I resigned, or the “official” date my contract ended with the overarching healthcare org, because that’s the date they’ll likely give for reference checkers?

    1. Chilipepper*

      Since it is 6 months difference, can you just put the year? If not, I’d put the date the ended your contract.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Put the date YOU resigned. That is the honest date. The fact the manager had her own little plan that was not true is not your issue. You want to be honest. If ever asked about any discrepancies you can explain.

  35. MCMonkeybean*

    No one had ever quit before at all in 5 years?? Or was it just that no one had quit because of actively disliking working there before? I guess 5 years isn’t an exceptionally long time, but I would think that in particular with the instability of a start-up you would have a few people who decide to take a more certain opportunity somewhere along the way or something…

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Maybe it is just this guy is visible and important to investors. Makes this almost fraud that that point, but it’s really the only thing that makes sense, playing a perception game.

  36. Sparkles McFadden*

    #5 and reference letters…

    In corporate business-land, it’s best to speak directly to references so you can ask your own questions and hear the tone of voice.

    One of the least desirable candidates I ever had to interview handed me a batch of very old letters of recommendation. When I asked for current contact information for his references, he got angry and said the letters were all I needed. I knew most of the authors of the letters..and they had retired from the industry. I didn’t insist because the candidate didn’t have at least half of the skills we needed. After that, hard copy letters became a bit of a red flag for me instead of just seeming outdated.

  37. Lucious*

    On LW#1 : to save the CEOs face , it might be wise to mention publicly if there was a clerical error with Rupert still showing he worked there. This gives the CEO a chance to either own his departure, or at least deflect without retaliating against the LW.

    This is a broader topic , but this event doesn’t lend confidence in this CEOs leadership. If he can’t openly acknowledge an employee leaving – a relatively common event in business – what happens when the company experiences a bigger challenge like a failed product or new competitor ? Denial is a bad management approach , full stop. It may be wise for the LW to re-evaluate their future at that firm- in their position id be looking for a different job.

  38. Lizy*

    #5 – Back when I was a young’un and new in my career, and before I learned reference letters aren’t as big of a deal as I thought they were, I asked my boss (actually, grandboss) for one. He said absolutely – provided I draft it out. While I know Alison typically frowns on that, I look back on it rather fondly. It really made me think about what HE/the company felt about my performance, and I had to stretch to have the letter be in a different tone of voice than my own. I felt like I learned a lot from that experience, and hold him in high esteem for that “lesson” (among other virtues of his and how he ran the company).

    But I’ve never asked for a letter of reference since then, and I think I used it in maybe 2 job interviews. One was when re-interviewing with Bob to return to the same company, and I was able to say “Bob wrote this awesome LOR for me when I left a couple of years ago. You should listen to Bob.” ;)

  39. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    1) Yeah, I detailed in here some years ago – I was laid off in a reduction of force – and literally, an 11th hour “switcheroo” due to circumstances I won’t discuss (that were beyond the control of my management) and the replacement they had in mind couldn’t do the job at all. Someone else was backfilling it and needed a lot of assistance. I helped where I could, because I didn’t want to burn bridges AND there was the possibility of recall.

    I was on the phone with them for around six-eight hours a week. Then one day I took around ten days – a trip to Florida to visit relatives AND take a serious job interview. I came back home, went through my voice messages and there were three or four frantic calls from my former colleague.

    He was upset – because I left without telling them!!! “Am I being recalled?” “No.” I explained that one of the things you have to learn is that when you terminate someone’s employment, that person has no obligation to provide service for free. And I had more important fish to fry while I was gone.

    There was a similar weird circumstance at another place I knew of – where one of the staff was suspended for disciplinary reasons (and from what I knew, justified). This was in late winter, early spring and his suspension was for two weeks.

    So he and his wife left wintry New England to visit relatives in Florida for that duration. There were no cell phones in those days – he was checking his voice messages/phone box on a near-daily basis. He picked up a message – it was from the manager “can you come back into work ASAP? ” One of his co-workers was expecting and went into labor prematurely and they needed him desperately. But he was 1300 miles away! When the boss reminded him that “he had no business taking a vacation” the employee retorted that he wasn’t being paid, nor was there a stipulation that he was under “house arrest”. He did return early (with full lost pay) but he wasn’t around long after that.

  40. A CAD Monkey*

    As someone who volunteers at my local rodeo, we pay dues to the rodeo and to every committee we’re on. with these dues, we get access for ourselves and a +1 to all areas of the livestock show, free access to the rodeo and concert for the entire 3 week run of the rodeo and the rodeo is able to provide scholarships to show winners and others. While we’re working we get snacks and drinks on post and a meal provided by the cook team either before/after/during our shift. that said, OP2 imo should not have had to pay to volunteer at an event they helped plan (was paid to plan).

  41. Sondheim Geek*

    As someone who oversees special events at a non-profit, #2 made me extremely upset. You feed your volunteers (for FREE). They are performing a service for you that you would otherwise need to pay someone to do. You give them food, a drink after their shift (if they want one), and, if possible, let them sneak into the theatre to watch the entertainment for a bit (or whatever the main event is).

    1. Red 5*

      Yup. In my former industry, when I would give talks to people starting out who would inevitably be relying on favors and volunteers for their first few projects I would always tell them that the first, most important rule, above all else, was you feed everybody. You always feed them, and you skimp on your own needs to make sure they have good food.

      Well fed volunteers who are properly thanked will usually do a really great job for you.

      Hungry people almost never will.

  42. RagingADHD*

    LW#2, that’s not how you push back on nonsense like this. That just leads to this kind of sloppy pseudo-negotiation and passive-aggressive posturing.

    You say, “Oh, what a shame! I was looking forward to volunteering, but buying a ticket won’t work for me.” And then you don’t go.

    It’s not a tactic. You just opt out, and whether they change the policy or not, it’s not your problem.

    And if you get negative repercussions at work, then you weren’t voluntering at all. You were working, and they should have been paying you.

    LW#4, you put a business on your resume when it’s a business. A business makes money, and turns a profit within a reasonable timeframe.

    Also, if you are not legally able to sell the product due to licensung or registration requirements, or pay business taxes or sales tax, buy materials wholesale, have a business entity or bank account as required where you are, or transact business in your home due to zoning laws, then you don’t have a business.

  43. Salad Daisy*

    #1 when I left my previous job, my manager actually told me they were taking over my email address and would be responding to emails as me! Not sure how long that went on.

    1. Fiona*

      Same thing happened to my husband, but they didn’t tell him in advance. He still had access to the account and could see them sending emails “from” him – with a style/approach he never would use. It REALLY bothered him.

      1. Myrin*

        I was gonna say, this would make me incredibly crabby. I have a pretty distinctive style and pride myself at being scrupulously correct when it comes to written correspondence and just the thought of being in your husband’s shoes is making me itchy!

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I would make very sure that my LinkedIN account showed very precisely the date I stopped working there, in case of damage to my reputation.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      To me that would nearly be bridge burning worthy. I would go ahead and email my contacts and tell them my last day.

  44. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    We work our food truck at many festivals. Many of the festivals request (but not require) that we donate a number of portions to their volunteers. We always provide more than requested and we are usually invited to participate in future events.

    I know of a few food trucks who did not “donate” that were not invited back. Our actions are not to be invited back, but our portion costs are not expensive and it’s a nice thing to do. (The volunteers are also very nice, complimentary and appreciative and the organizers always thank us for donating extra portions that go over what has been requested)

    1. Red 5*

      I think as long as it’s not a severe strain on your business, this can be a sort of win-win because then if the volunteers had a really great meal from your truck, they might spend the rest of the day telling people to check it out and talking about how good it was. So you could get more traffic as the day goes on from that word of mouth.

      Maybe not I guess, but seems like on top of the good feeling from feeding the volunteers who are making the festival happen, it could be good PR too.

      But it does feel like a thing where if your margins are super thin, that could be really hard to swing. But then, what do I know about food trucks? Just that they are often delicious.

    2. 1234*

      But are you already paying a fee to be able to sell food at the festival?

      It’s strategic of the festival to ask the food trucks to donate food for the volunteers but it sounds so vindictive when they choose not to invite the vendors who don’t donate back the next year.

  45. PeanutButter*

    Oh, and with LoR – I still have a bunch from previous jobs, mostly non-career jobs with high turnover in staff and management where there was no guarantee that anyone who had worked with me would be there in a year, and there were no such things as “employee records.” They were useful when I was looking for similar jobs. (Food service, retail, hospitality, etc.)

    I still have them in a peechee folder in my “employment” paperwork/certification binder, because they give me an ego boost when I’m feeling down. :)

  46. Sitting in the Parking Garage*

    I belong to an industry group (think teapot decorators association) and was asked to co-chair the silent auction fundraiser for several years. No way did I have time to eat at the event. I also had to recruit several volunteers to help with the organizing of pick up and pay because we had well over 300 items. People hate to stand in line. The third year, the organization tried to charge us the full amount for a ticket and I told them they could figure out this on their own and we (and our team of volunteers) would not be in attendance. They finally realized how bad they messed up and waived the ticket fee. They also added a small snack bar and soft drinks to our work room. It was barely touched because we just didn’t have time. My co-chair and I were a good team and we raised over $100,000 for this organization in three years of silent auctions but this was our last. The organization now raises $10,000 to $15,000 per year. Too bad. So sad. Still bitter.

  47. Felicity Flowers*

    LW1; a small part of me wonders if your former colleague gave you the whole story? I can see a situation were there was a severe miscommunication, for example maybe he turned down the contract job and the CEO pushed back and said well can you do this project and your former colleague felt pressure to say maybe instead of an outright no. I like Alison’s approach if you are 100% positive the CEO is just being crazy but on the off chance something else is going on you could always just casually bring up to the CEO “Oh hey I was speaking with Rupert recently and he mentioned he’s not working as a contractor for us, should we be allocating these projects elsewhere going forward?” Then if the CEO insists this is not true and Rupert he does work here, you can always just say “its possible I misunderstood” and drop it.

  48. Red 5*

    This might be covered elsewhere, but I think the LW#1 might be better served by making it sound like a thing they’ve just found out and oh hey by the way, rather than letting it have even a whiff of pointing out that this is Shenanigans with a capital S.

    Something like next time somebody mentions sending something to Rupert in a meeting go “Oh, I meant to say, I bumped into him and he said his contract has ended so we should probably figure out someone else for that task.”

    Or just casually tossing off something when you’re all sitting down and getting ready to meet, “Oh hey, I heard that Rupert’s contract was up, he was a fun guy, but I guess we should divy up his work for now.”

    It’s a bit silly, but by making it sound like you only found out recently and that there’s the possibility to interpret your words as it being a recent development, then you give the boss a moment to save face and say “Right, I was going to announce that this week but I wanted to blah blah blah” or “Oh really? Has it been six months already? Well, time for the replacement search I guess.”

    But it would be absolutely and utterly normal for you to have randomly had a conversation with an old colleague and found out what they were up to and want to bring it up at the next meeting because hey, other people might want to know what he’s doing an it affects your workflow. So that also saves you from any implication that you knew and were trying to do a “gotcha” on the boss because how were you supposed to know it was a secret? If you’ve known all along and not said anything (and I absolutely do not blame you for that decision, this is bonkers) then it could feel more like you springing a trap than just accidentally opening a can of worms. This is 100% thinking about how to make it look more innocent so that he’s mollified because he’s acting irrationally, and not me passing any judgement.

    If you say something like that and he doubles down with “Where did you hear that? Of course he’s still here, he’s working on the TPS reports right now” then my best suggestion is run. Get out, because your boss might actually be delusional.

  49. HonestyIsAVirtue*

    LW1 – Many years ago I had an assigned sales rep at Company A. Every time I called, I was told he was out of the office at the moment. This went on for about 6 months when I got a call from the rep telling me that he had been let go and was working elsewhere. He then mentioned that he was calling because he had spoken to other long time customers who indicated they did not know he was no longer with Company A. I explained that Company A just kept telling me he was out of the office. If Company A had just been honest and assigned me a new rep, I probably would have stayed with them. Instead, I started doing business with Company B and when the rep went out on his own a short time later, I followed him again.

  50. bishbah*

    I volunteer with a fundraising organization that is affiliated with a large national nonprofit. We are very clear with new members that there is a requirement to purchase a (slightly discounted) ticket to the annual gala and to work a two-hour shift during the event. But the staff of the nonprofit would *never* be asked to pay — we give the org a group of tickets to allocate among the staff, often as appreciation for a year of work.

    However, there is another group of volunteers (student accountants) who come to help us with the “bank” and auction checkout. They do not pay for tickets and are provided with food and refreshments separate from the event. But we’ve had considerable problems with some of these volunteers skipping out on their shifts and slipping into the gala to drink at the open bar and attend the concert. Again, it’s a matter of setting expectations and making it clear that their volunteerism is in benefit of the nonprofit, not a quid pro quo for gala entry.

    So while I think that the expectation for fundraising committee members to pay for tickets is reasonable, that should have been explicit from day one, especially in the case of a staff member “volunteering.” Better yet, a staff member should never be allowed to volunteer — the responsibilities should stay clearly distinguished (and compensated appropriately).

  51. MsChanandlerBong*

    The second post reminds me of when I volunteered for a huge fundraising event that has been going on for about 20 years now. They made us dress in black-tie attire (so if you didn’t already have it, you had to buy it) and then carry trays weighing about 15 pounds each back and forth between ballrooms (in satin gowns and dress shoes). While they did feed us, we weren’t allowed to eat any of the “real” food given to attendees; we got a random assortment of sandwiches (which didn’t hold up well since they had been sitting out for hours before we were allowed to eat them. Can you guess which event I have never volunteered for again? I would pay to attend because they do an amazing job with the theme/decor, but I don’t think I would ever volunteer again unless they changed their ways.

    1. 1234*

      Ewwww to those sandwiches. Sounds like “here’s what we feed the lowly peasants”

      Surely they could’ve portioned out some of the “real” food to the staff?

  52. hlyssande*

    LW2: I’ve worked to help run local nonprofit geek conventions for years, and one of our points is that the people who run it also pay. But those events are a whole weekend, and there’s always ample downtime to enjoy the event like a regular attendee.

    For a 3 hour event where you’re working one hour during and involved with setup/teardown? Making you pay the same full price an attendee does is ridiculous and a great way for them to lose volunteers.

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