my employee says I can’t stop her from leaving work early

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager at a company. The office manager, who is salaried, is continually leaving early by 30-40 minutes a day and leaves at 2 on Fridays. It’s making the owner crazy. I’ve told her that although she is salaried, that salary is based on a 40-hour work week. Her response is that as a salaried employee she can leave early every day and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That can be true, can it?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • A hiring manager chastised me for using his personal email address
  • Telling an interviewer the job expectations aren’t realistic
  • I feel bad that I’m the second choice for a job offer
  • Explaining I was laid off after two months

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. ratatatcat*

    I agree that lw2 broke professional boundaries and could’ve saved themselves trouble by just following the instructions and emailing the company directly….but it does also seem a little silly to say “How did you get this email?” if you have a website with your personal details & email publically available on it.
    (also, is that a thing anymore? I thought the days of personal websites were long over)

    1. Mary Richards*

      This is an older letter, so it may make more sense in the context of its initial publication date (not sure when that was!).

      1. Maeve*

        It could be a website for something he does on the side (freelance graphic design, music, motivational speaking, who knows).

    2. DocVonMitte*

      I have a personal website that I use when I’m job hunting – it’s really just a supplement to my resume (aka tells my work history story in a more personal way). It also includes my values and other things that I’d never put on a resume, but that shows a more complete picture of who I am.

      I work in the startup space and have founded/invested in several companies so it makes sense from a personal branding perspective to maintain a site. In the industry and places that I’ve worked (small, rapidly scaling startups) personality and personal branding matter a lot more. I also use it to get public speaking gigs. I think in a more traditional career space it’d probably be unnecessary or a waste of time.

    3. Oof*

      In this context, it makes sense – my first thought would be that someone gave them my personal e-mail address to use for their application, not that they looked through my personal work to find me. Was it a colleague? Was it included with the application materials somehow? It’s such a strong norm that I don’t think it would occur to me at first that someone would track me down to send me their materials.

    4. Heidi*

      I also think that the hiring manager overreacted. It would have been just as easy to write, “Please use my work email for this correspondence.” Or he could have put in even less effort and ignored the email entirely.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I think the hiring manager was well within his right to explain that the OP had crossed a major boundary, and in fact he did them a kindness by explaining that.

        1. Heidi*

          It’s totally possible that the response was meant as a friendly explanation of boundaries, but I got the impression that the OP found the response to be somewhat hostile rather than kind.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            I don’t mean that he was kind in his wording (though, I also don’t think he needed to be considering how out of bounds OP was) but rather that it was more kind of him to respond and let her know she was out of bounds rather than not respond, in which case she would never have realized it was not a good thing to do. Regardless of his words and intentions, by actually responding to her he forced her to re-evaluate (and hopefully abandon) this tactic.

            1. Cobol*

              Also, whether OP found it kind or not, it could still be kind. Without this straightforward of an explanation that this was NOT OKAY, OP might not have realized how badly they overstepped.

      2. Lecturer*

        The hiring manager did her a massive favour. He/she ensured that (hopefully) the person will never do it again. The ones not providing feedback are the ones doing nothing for applicants

    5. AnotherAlison*

      I think you could also look at this with 2021 eyes as equivalent to messaging the HM directly on LinkedIn. Obviously, that is a little more easy and normal for a job seeker to find than a personal website, but I always think it’s bold for candidates to assume they have figured out who the HM is. Lots of companies are large with many people with the same title. In my old job, you could report to the VP of Finance across 20+ divisions or corporate, and is it a VP, SVP, EVP, etc. I wouldn’t assume that Sarah on LI is who I report to unless the add said, “You will report to Sarah.”

      That said, it’s a gumption tactic, and if you want to do it, fine, but some (most?) people are going to be annoyed, not impressed.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I think it would be more like messaging the manager on Facebook. LinkedIn is at least work related, whereas Facebook really isn’t.

    6. David*

      As far as I know, personal websites are still very much a thing. I mean, I’m sure only a minority of people have them, the ones who care more than average about their online presence, but that’s probably been the case for something like 15 years, if not longer.

    7. Ferret*

      Personal websites are definitely a thing in web development. Not saying everyone has one but it’s pretty common.

    8. Nettie*

      Right? Like yeah, OP shouldn’t have emailed him directly and I’d find it irritating…but “how did you get this email?” Take a wild guess! It’s not like OP called his cell phone.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Why should the hiring manager have guessed that she googled his name, found his personal website (which he may not have even remembered he still had depending on how old it was), and decided to use his personal email? It’s so far out of the realm of what a person would expect that I’m not surprised he was thrown off guard. That basically IS the email equivalent of calling someone’s cell phone.

      2. TWW*

        Google is one possibility, but not the only one. He might have been wondering if his personal email was accidentally listed on the job posting, or if one of his colleagues had passed it along.

    9. Snow globe*

      The letter says it was from a personal website, not the company site, and the LW found it by googling the manager. Not appropriate.

    10. Oaktree*

      I initially thought he overreacted a quite a bit, because I first thought that the email was his personal work email address – i.e., instead of, it was In that case, it still would have been inappropriate because the applicant should always and only apply to the email address provided in the job posting, but while it shows that the applicant is kind of out of touch with professional norms, it’s not a wildly out of touch thing to do.

      I re-read the letter and am now seeing it as saying the applicant sent an email to, which really is inappropriate. Regardless of how easy it is to find, it will read as a bit stalker-y, and certainly I’d be super uncomfortable to receive an email like that.

    11. Lacey*

      Yeah, the LW shouldn’t have used that email, but if you put it out on the internet it’s weird to say, “How did you get this?”

      1. Beany*

        If it’s a personal site, though, there’s also a good chance of mailing the wrong person entirely. Unless they have a unique name, or other information on that site saying “I work as Chief Groomer at Llamas R Us”.

        1. Mike*

          Good news for the LW, then! If it was a completely unrelated person with the same name, LW still has a chance!

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The guy has probably forgotten he put his email on his website, because it’s such an outdated thing to do.
        Like, I got an email from somebody via LinkedIn and was flabbergasted because it was my private address. I’d forgotten that I didn’t even have my pro address when I first made my LI account.

    12. Corey*

      It’s easier than ever to host a personal website, so I expect that the absolute number has gone up. Also yeah, there are industries in which it would be weirder to not have a personal site.

    13. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I was going to say this comment “How did you get this email?” is just bizarre since he put it on the public internet under his own name.

    14. Theory of Eeveelution*

      In certain industries, EVERYONE has a personal website. It’s really common, to the point that it’s funny that you thought otherwise!

    15. LizM*

      I don’t know. In the dark ages when I first started job hunting, we still used yellow and white pages. I could look up someone’s home phone number in the white pages. It’s publicly available information. I suspect most hiring managers would be pretty weirded out to get a call at home about a job.

      It may be “How did you get this email?” is just a more professional way of saying “What the eff were you thinking emailing me at this address?”

      Also, I wouldn’t assume that a job applicant googled me and found my knitting blog and emailed it, I’d assume someone who had my personal email had given it out, and I’d want to know who so I could tamp that down and ask them to please give people my work email when it’s a professional context. It would also help me know how much of a boundary the job seeker crossed. (If they got my personal email from my cousin and assumed my cousin had let me know to look for their application, I’d be less alarmed than that they got it from Google, or that Mary in HR is sharing personal contact info).

    16. Lecturer*

      Some academics have personal websites. Doesn’t mean you should use it (like not contacting people via Facebook)

  2. Mary Richards*

    Oh my gosh, I can’t ever imagine having the nerve to tell one of my superiors that there’s “nothing anyone can do about” my poor behavior. I can’t even imagine saying it to one of my employees.

    1. sacados*

      I know! It almost doesn’t matter what the issue is, having an employee who responds (to anything!) with, basically, “No, and you can’t make me” is ….. a Bad Sign.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think there’s likely more going on than just leaving early. This sounds like an employee who’s over this job.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            It’s reminding me of another letter this week with, “She just can’t help herself…”

            Ummmmm, yes. Yes she can. If you’re the boss, you’re allowed to tell her how it’s gonna be!

    2. Anonys*

      It would have been so tempting to respond with: “Sure – except fire you”.

      I mean that would be cruel and unprofessional to say but also, has she heard of at will employment? The employer can expect you to do basically anything that isn’t illegal or discriminatory for them require and if you don’t do it (or even if you do) they can let you go. And actually working (approximately) a 40 hour week when that’s what you are being paid for is quite reasonable.

      1. TiredMama*

        That seems like a perfectly professional response to me. I don’t understand why the manager didn’t just say that. I can’t physically stop you from leaving, but I can fire you and stop you from ever coming back on the premises.

      2. Carol the happy elf*

        We had one of those! He loooovedthe fact that he was the “boss over so many highly-educated girls” (he wasn’t; we just needed someone to herd cats for us.)
        His days kept getting shorter and shorter; he kept getting snottier and snarkier, and then, he started bringing in dates at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays, to show them how powerful he was. Over. Us.
        Finally, HR was tired of this, and called us in. With him standing there, our Big Boss told all of us that we each had the authority to fire him if he so much as walked in with soup on his tie.
        All six of us turned to him and said, “YOU’RE FIRED”.
        (He filed an unsuccessful EEOC complaint about some thing or other, which was not fun, but the memory is priceless.)

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Well, yeah, I can’t physically restrain you from leaving the building, but I sure as heck can write you up or fire you for continuing to do a thing the uberboss dislikes and which you’ve been told not to do.

        Even in jurisdictions where you can’t be fired at will, you can still lose your job for not doing your job, and it’s your management, not you, who decides what your job is.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        I wonder if they just couldn’t change that person to an hourly employee. She would only get paid for what hours she works!

    3. Spearmint*

      I know, right? I would only say that to a manager if they were telling me to do something illegal or unethical, and even then my initial pushback would be far more tactful.

      1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

        Illegal, unethical, or unsafe. Too many people fail to say no when the employer tells them to do something dangerous.

        I’ll never forget the time a boss tried to tell me I was being a Bad Worker for refusing to break up a knife fight in the parking lot of the pool I worked at. “How are you going to open if there’s people having a knife fight and the police conducting an investigation in your parking lot?” Ummm… yeah, I don’t think I want to open, boss.

        1. quill*

          How are you going to open? Sit behind the desk and watch, of course! Whether customers arrive or not isn’t your problem.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          Worked at a fast food joint that told us if a certain piece of equipment was on fire, we were meant to crawl under it and unplug it.

          I said if it caught fire, I was running screaming from the building. Hell no, this minimum wage job doesn’t mean enough to me to risk life and limb crawling under burning equipment filled with grease.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s an ongoing mystery here, how you identify these workplaces where no one can get fired for anything.

      1. Spearmint*

        I think this is pretty common at small employers. Because they’re so small and everyone knows everyone else pretty well, disciplining or firing people can feel more personal and emotionally difficult. Even though the boss is formally the boss and had all the power that goes with that, the culture can develop such that the day-to-day dynamic is not as rigidly hierarchical.

          1. Aron*

            I want to ask this to my current boss, who is still struggling to figure out how to fire a guy who has said STFU to a client (in a giant meeting), FU to two of his direct reports (in writing), FU to the current boss (in multiple forms of writing), FU to a building director and their team (in writing), FU to a community partner (who will no longer work with us) (oh, in writing), FU to a graduate student with us for training (in writing), and then FU, to me, literally, to my face.

            I think part of the issue, at least for many of these managers and mine, is that by the time Incidents A, B, C, and D have been allowed without consequence, it’s now the manager’s job on the line for only reporting Incident E and having let Incidents A, B, C, and D slide.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        It is amazingly common to have terrible employees around forever for a multitude of reasons, such as:

        – People are put in supervisory positions where they have no hiring/firing authority. Large businesses will literally give people the title of “manager” in order to get them off the clock. (A shocking number of people want a title…even at their own expense.)

        – Most places do not require management training so, sometimes, the manager ends up being the person who has been in the department the longest. Someone managing former peers has a hard time doing anything that might upset former coworkers (especially if they don’t know what the corporate guidelines are).

        – Some places have very strict rules around termination and often managers don’t know all the rules or don’t want to do the actual work of documentation.

        – Some managers cannot bear the idea of going through the hiring process after losing an employee. They think maybe the company won’t let them fill the position (this happens a lot) or they might end up with someone as bad as the former employee.

        – Some people are protected by someone higher up. I once had a department head assign someone to me and tell me “He sometimes refuses assignments so if he does, let me know and I’ll convince him to do the work.” I said “If he doesn’t do the required work, I will fire him.” The department head said “I told him I wouldn’t let you fire him.” I said “Then you need to assign him to someone else.” (I had LOTS of political capital.) I have no idea what was going on there but I didn’t have to have the guy on my team. The most the department head would say it “I reward people who are loyal to me and he is very loyal.” Yeah, OK.

        – …and , the big one…people are often guided by their emotions and terrible employees are very good at making other feel guilty. HR fired one guy after a long PIP period and, at the last minute my boss (who hated this guy) said “Do we really have to do this? I mean, he has a family to support. Can’t we just cut back on his work so he can do a better job?” I replied “He has a family to support? So do the other people in the department who will eventually quit because they are carrying this guy. There are unemployed people out there with families to support and I am guessing most of them can do a much better job than this guy. We can hire one of them.”

        TL;DR – Lots of magical thinking by people who don’t want to act.

        1. Aron*

          All of this, but especially your last bullet point. I’ve found that long-term “bad” employees (like the one I describe above who has said FU to basically anyone who crosses his path but still has a job) are really good at twisting facts, making up excuses, being sympathetic, and manipulating people. The behavior they “tell” eclipses the behavior they “show.” I’m reading “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft (recommended in the Minerva post on this site a long while back), and, while it’s ostensibly about abusive behavior in relationships, A LOT of it applies to abusive behavior in workplace relationships…which is basically about making others feel guilty and doubt themselves in order to gain/maintain control of those people. Once you’ve got your manager wrapped up in your sick system, you’ve won.

        2. Howard Bannister*

          – Some places have very strict rules around termination and often managers don’t know all the rules or don’t want to do the actual work of documentation.

          This. I was told this was true of my workplace, that it was impossible to fire people, by the same people who told me I would never get my annual evaluation. I’ve received my annual evaluation every year, and my supervisor fired the one non-performer we had on our team. When managers are doing their job it makes everybody’s lives better.

          1. KristinaL*

            “When managers are doing their job it makes everybody’s lives better.” This!

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          “I reward people who are loyal to me and he is very loyal.”
          A loyal employee will help you move, a truly loyal employee will help you move a body?

          1. Selina Luna*

            I’m not that loyal to most people I genuinely like. There are, like, 2 exceptions. There’s no way I’m helping a mere coworker move, whether it’s boxes or a body.

        4. Uranus Wars*

          I think you’re last bullet is spot on. I had an employee who was like the OP’s and while she wouldn’t make me feel guilty she’d twist my words and somehow her bad behavior was a result of something I did, but never anything specific.

          It took me awhile to realize it in the moment and respond; it’s definitely a unique gift. I can see how it is frustrating and makes you question yourself. I got rid of mine, though, but it took awhile for me to realize what I was allowing her to do.

        5. Hosta*

          Someone who’s physically present but burns through your political capital by refusing work, and forces you to coax them into doing that work, is not actually loyal. They’re just there.

      3. TheAG*

        Look to join a union.
        Want to curse at your boss with zero repercussions? You got it!!
        Want to yell at your boss with zero repercussions? You got it!!
        Want to fight termination (for years!) after multiple instances of documented coming into work intoxicated? You got it!!
        Want to wreck 100K$ of product by making repeated bad decisions with zero repercussions? You got it!!
        Want to threaten your union brothers with violence, and actually perpetrate violence, with zero repercussions? You got it!!
        Want to spend half a day at time and a half having a bbq (caught on security camera) and not get termed? You GOT THIS!!

        Signed, multiple employers, in a union environment.
        Countersigned, The Man.

        1. TardyTardis*

          My husband was a building rep for nearly 30 years, and um nope to them all. But nice try at demonizing unions!

    5. alienor*

      Me either, but sometimes I secretly admire the sheer gall of people who do. I would never want to work with one of them, though.

    6. Artemesia*

      I am stunned that there are supervisors that throw their hands up and thing there is nothing I can do here. This person should have been fired after the second reminder that they need to show up and work and they said ‘there is nothing you can do about it.’

      1. Spearmint*

        There are many situations where dealing with an employee like that might be the least bad option for a manager, especially if her work was otherwise good. Not every employer is a position where they can post a job ad and get a dozen high quality applicants. Maybe the position requires an unusual skill set, or the employer is in a rural area with few professional workers, or perhaps they’re a small business that can’t offer high enough salaries to attract high quality applicants.

        1. Artemesia*

          I am sure this is sometimes true — it doesn’t feel like that is the case in the OP but perhaps. I have personally fired two people who were information hoarders and had developed the reputation of being indispensable. In both cases, the world was a better place when they were gone and we were able to do without one of them and replace the other. I have also fired a couple of people who were considered untouchable because they were around forever — and in each case, they basically refused to upgrade skills to remain valuable — we would have kept them if they had been willing to take on different roles (well within their ability) we needed done since their current job had essentially disappeared. I even advised one in detail what we were desperate to get done and would guarantee their job security. Some people get very used to being ‘untouchable’ and are shocked when they aren’t.

        2. Chantel*

          True, but nothing should ever be an excuse to let the tail wag the dog. Good bosses find a way to protect their employees from bullies and manipulators.

        3. Aron*

          I work in a rural area and hold a specialized license that is near-impossible to hire. So does my nightmare coworker who fits the Lundy definition and description of “abusive” to a T. My boss’ primary concern is the license and rationalizing behavior away by thinking of the times the coworker has been a nice guy. It’s all-around terrible.

          I wholeheartedly disagree that the least-bad option is to keep people around because they’re hard to replace. Manage the employees you have, not the ones you’d like to have. At the least, the Very Special License I have means I can shoot off ten crap resumes right now and have at least five interviews by this time next week; once you (general) lose your level-headed, no-drama talent, you’ll be stuck in a bad, toxic loop where the nightmare employees run you – and run the good ones out….and then your org has a bad reputation, and you don’t get any applicants except the desperate, job-hopping nightmares who know you’re as desperate as they are. It’s not a good place to be.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      I believe my head of HR would take letter #1 as a personal challenge. There’s nothing anyone can do? Watch me.

      Of course, I’ve had people say all manner of nutty things to me over the years, including that I couldn’t fire them for falsifying time cards, so I’m no longer surprised by anything.

    8. lunchtime caller*

      I luckily never had to say it, but I was very tempted to when it seemed like a job just would not accept my resignation! I had to have the “I’m quitting” talk about three times, and after the third I thought to myself “well, they can’t stop me? come X date I just will no longer show up and that’s that” but thankfully they seemed to finally accept it.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Or just have the first talk, stop showing up, and see if they keep paying you.

    9. Amaranth*

      It sounds like the employee has confused being a contractor with being exempt, and being exempt with salaried. But as a contractor, I would still never tell a client ‘you can’t stop me.’

    10. Mary*

      “I might not be able to stop you from leaving early but I can prevent you from coming back – you’re fired.”

    11. Akcipitrokulo*

      “You can’t stop me leaving!”
      “No. But I can prevent your coming back again.”

    12. MassMatt*

      I’d have been awfully tempted to fire her on the spot. The only reason I wouldn’t is in order to get a replacement lined up. IMO someone like this is far beyond the “explain things to them” stage.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    “The office manager, who is salaried, is continually leaving early by 30-40 minutes a day and leaves at 2 on Fridays. It’s making the owner crazy.”

    So . . . the owner is presumably the Big Boss, so why is this still happening? Either lay down the law or fire her.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I’m guessing OP wanted to be sure that she wasn’t way off base in expecting the office manager to work normal hours.

      It sounds like now she needs to be clear that it is an expectation and then to follow through, including being willing to fire this person, if they won’t comply.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        But why didn’t the owner fire the office manager? Presumably if the LW has the authority to do it, the owner surely does since they’re, well, the owner.

        1. fposte*

          Owner is likely conflict-averse and relies on the manager position to handle stuff. I hope the OP did.

        2. Simply the best*

          Because he doesn’t want to go through the rigmarole of hiring a new office manager. Or going the several weeks or months it will be without an office manager if he fires her. He just wants OP to make the office manager do her job with as little inconvenience to him as possible.

    2. L*

      I had managers who didn’t know why I was not at the office or leaving early and would make remarks – and they just weren’t aware that I was allowed to do this. It’s possible she has permission??? Idk. Some companies are weird and my reason was really personal and I didn’t need to tell the people who oversee some of my work and were asking. Sounds like this woman knows she can’t be fired or maybe it’s part of her contract idk.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        But it says that her leaving early is driving the owner nuts, so she probably doesn’t. Also: Why wouldn’t she just say, “This is an arrangement I made with [previous supervisor, or whoever]”? Not that it matters since now tht the LW is her supervisor, the LW has standing to change the arrangement.

      2. TechWorker*

        If your workplace is set up such that someone is your manager but not in the loop for the hours you’re contracted to work for (?!) then that’s a seriously dysfunctional workplace.

    3. cncx*

      yeah i worked with someone who did this and while she wasn’t fired, she was first in line when it was time for layoffs. funnily enough she was shocked and blindsided…

  4. Cant remember my old name*

    This is the second post this month where an employee seems to conflate “salaried” with “part-time”!

    1. RosyGlasses*

      Do you mean salaried and exempt? Plenty of folks can be salaried part time – but this particular employee seems to grab the exempt idea of “if an exempt employee works at all during the day you must pay them for the full day”.

      1. Cant remember my old name*

        I’m simply mirroring that language in letter. And while you can be salaried and part-time it is not remotely uncommon to be one but not the other. According to the LW, the employee seems to think that her pay being non-hourly means she does not have to adhere to office work hours, and we had a similar situation in another post in the recent past.

        1. JM60*

          In the other post, the OP otherwise seemed happy with the work their direct report was completing, but was only unhappy that they only spent 7 hours doing it and didn’t work an additional hour. They probably would’ve been happy if their direct report finished the same work, but did it more slowly over 8 hours.

          In this post, the OP seems unhappy with the work their office manager is doing. And the work of an office manager tends to be closely related to being present when most others are. It’s not like some other jobs where it often doesn’t cause problems if you leave once you’ve finished making X number of widgets.

          What does annoy me in some cases (more like the former letter writer than the latter) is that employers tend to have it both way with salaried (and exempt) employees. If the employee works more than 40 hours, whether because there’s too much work or the employee is too slow, they’ll treat the salary as paying for the work not the hours by not paying the employee any extra. But if an employee finished 40 hours of work in 35 hours, they’ll treat that salary as paying for hours spent working by demanding that the employee spend those extra 5 hours working, rather than enjoying life.

          The end result is that the “40 hour work week” now averages nearly 50 hours for salaried Americans, and this trend is getting worse in spite of economic productivity being high.

        1. Zoey*

          My friend has this set-up, or at least something similar. She gets a fixed amount for 25 hours and under (with the expectation that “under” isn’t only 2 hours a week) and an hourly rate for anything between 26 and 40.

          Always struck me as a slightly odd arrangement, but whatever works.

          1. JR*

            I work 24 hours/week, exempt. I track my hours for my own benefit, so that I can set boundaries (with myself, I report to a board that doesn’t micromanage) and advocate for an increase in hours if/when I want that (right now, I want to stay where I am). It’s tricky in that I often work more than I’m paid to work, but that would happen in a full-time job anyway, given the nature of the role/my approach. But overall it works well for me and for the organization.

          2. Marni*

            In my industry this would be phrased as a “guarantee.” The employee is guaranteed a certain rate that covers up to 25 hours of work, when the workload varies from 15-35. So some weeks they get paid for more than they work (but are paid to be available if needed), most weeks they work pretty close to the guarantee, and some weeks they go over and get paid more.

            There’s been some controversy recently over entertainment assistants who typically get a 60-week guarantee. Their hourly rate is paltry and not really livable in High COL LA at 40x. With the 60 hour guarantee, they make enough to live on, mostly working about 45-50 hours weeks. It keeps the rate predictable for both parties — they only get overtime in bad weeks when they go over 60 hours.

            There are some new players on the space who are trying to eliminate the 60-hour guarantee and the pushback is LOUD.

            (When I was an assistant I got a weekly rate and worked however many hours were needed, and took comp time with my boss’s permission after long nights or busy weeks, and generally behaved like an exempt employee because I had no idea what the actual rules were and neither did anyone around me.)

    2. Spearmint*

      I wouldn’t call someone working 7.5 hour days and leaving early on Fridays part time. That’s still around 35 hours, after all. Rather, these employees need to understand that being salaried exempt doesn’t necessarily mean you get to set your hours unilaterally.

      1. Artemesia*

        In my world, ‘salaried’ usually meant working 50-60 hours a week without overtime.

        1. Spearmint*

          I’m salaried and have never worked more than 50 hours a week, and the vast majority of the time I work exactly 40 hours a week. This is not at all uncommon, though obviously it varies by industry. Its also not unheard of for people to work 9-5 with a paid lunch, and so actually only work 35-37.5 hours a week, or to get to leave early on Fridays (if the boss is cool with it). I would still call those eomployees full time.

        2. CoveredInBees*

          That’s a very strangely specific definition. In the US, the legal definition is someone who gets paid based on a set, annual amount rather than specifically for hours worked. There are times when someone salaried is non-exempt from overtime pay regulations, but most often they’re exempt.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Where I am it’s 40, always. On the very rare occasions when someone has to work late or weekends they’re allowed to take free time off on another day to make up for it.

        1. londonedit*

          Same in my industry. Contracted hours for me are 37.5 per week (35 or 37.5 is a standard full-time working week in the UK) and while I do sometimes work a bit more than that, it’s in no way expected. There have been a couple of rare occasions where I’ve worked a weekend day (setting up for an event, or attending a trade fair, or something like that) and in that case I’ve always been given a day off in lieu.

      3. allathian*

        That sounds a lot like my job, actually. My official hours are 36 hours 15 minutes a week, but it varies a lot. I do keep track of my working hours because it’s a legal requirement. Sometimes I work 50-hour weeks. I don’t get OT, but hours are saved in a working hours bank and I’m allowed to use them at pretty much my own discretion when the workload allows. So after a busy period, I might work a few 35-hour weeks to compensate. If I want to take a whole day off on banked hours, I need my manager to sign off on that, just like any other PTO or sick leave. But an hour here or there, no problem as long as I attend any meetings I’ve agreed to attend. Even before the pandemic, I just loved the fact that people simply didn’t care when you were at work and when you weren’t, everybody assumed that people just used their own discretion in setting their working hours and that management would intervene if things got out of hand. In our system, we’re allowed up to -10 hours in the working hours bank before managers ask what’s up. I’m mostly between +8 and +30 hours. I’ve once gone over +70, which is the limit when managers are expected to intervene. I had just been on a roll working on a really engaging project and didn’t even feel, at that time, that I was working too much. But when the project ended, I took a week off on banked hours when my manager practically ordered me out of the office, although I admit I was happy to take the break.

        That said, I work for the government and things rarely move quickly here. We do have deadlines, but with quite a lot of flexibility and built-in lead times. Sometimes I might need help from my manager in prioritizing tasks, but usually that’s my and my coworker’s responsibility. I love the autonomy we have in this job.

    3. MoreNeverLess*

      No kidding meanwhile, in my salary experience, it’s you could always work more but once you want to flex that time and work less that week for your own balance… Nope.

  5. Coder von Frankenstein*

    I would be sorely tempted to respond to “There’s nothing anyone can do about it” with “Challenge accepted. You’re fired.”

    (I wouldn’t actually say that, not even in jest. But I sure would be thinking it. This sort of thing is why I have no desire to ever be in management.)

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, my first thought was for the manager to say, “I may not have any control over whether or not you decide to work your full hours, but I have control over whether or not you have a job.”

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Right? I mean, obviously OP can’t literally force the office manager to work her assigned hours. Nobody is tying anyone to a chair here. But she can certainly set expectations and impose consequences for not meeting them. Then it’s up to the office manager to choose her own adventure – either follow the rules of her job, or get herself walked out the door.

        And I too am baffled by the owner, who is clearly not on board with the office manager’s behaviour, and yet seems completely unwilling to do anything about it.

    2. Pikachu*

      This is probably one of my favorite Laurie Bream moments from Silicon Valley.

      “As you may recall at our board meeting last night, Jack said that he would get his way and that I, quote, couldn’t do a g-dd-mn thing about it. Well, in light of recent events, it appears that I could do a g-dd-mn thing about it. And I just did. Jack Barker has been exited.”

    3. MassMatt*

      It’s really not such a complicated job if the organization isn’t dysfunctional (ok, big if). In this case we have an employee clueless about basic expectations (I.e. showing up and covering the hours), an owner who evidently complains to the LW but does nothing themself, and a supervisor whose employee says she’ll leave when she pleases and “there’s nothing you can do about it”, and LW is double checking whether this is true or not! Maybe LW is new to managing or has been warped by a bad workplace, but really this is a cut and dried case.

      I suspect the LW is unable to fire for some reason and the owner is spineless, so we have an attendance optional office, “there’s nothing you can do about it”.

  6. Harper the Other One*

    Holy moley, that first letter. I kind of assume that this employer-employee relationship went down in flames — I just don’t see any good way it can end up when the employee is already at that level of disrespect.

    1. Aquawoman*

      The only hard part is deciding whether to fire them for the laziness or the insubordination!

  7. Tech editor by day*

    Well, you can’t actually stop them from leaving the premises—that would be unlawful detainment. But you can impose consequences, such as terminating their employment.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Good point, well made :)

      “you’re right, I cannot prevent you leaving. However, if you do so, I will accept that as your decision to end your employment with us, so I’ll need you to return your keys and any other equipment before leaving. We’ll mail your last check to you. “

      1. Darren*

        Well you can’t take it to mean they’ve ended their employment with you. You can fire them (and potentially do so for cause depending on where you operate) but leaving when they want to is not the same as them quitting (and you would get in legal trouble implying that it is in most countries).

        Only the employee can decide they’ve quit, you can’t make them quit, you can’t say failing to show up on Monday will be taken as you quitting, etc.

  8. Spicy Tuna*

    LW4 should never feel badly about not being the first choice. All that matters is your performance on the job. I had this experience at least twice in my career.

    The first time, one of my interviewers let me know after I was hired that he was vehemently against me being hired and that the only reason he was overruled was that the department head’s “favorite” was championing my hiring. A few jobs later, I asked the department head for a reference and he begged me to come back.

    The second time was at a different company for an internal promotion. After months of attempting to hire someone from outside the company, my boss gave up and promoted me. Within less than a year, I had received another promotion.

    1. RC Rascal*

      I was once the second choice for a job and I ended up being awesome at it. I didn’t know I was second choice; a coworker told me later. Evidently Boss had planned to hire someone he worked with previously. Grandboss required a battery of testing with an external company & the guy failed. I applied for the job based on an job board posting, and got hired. I guess the first candidate had already been introduced as the presumptive hire when Grandboss got involved & insisted on the testing.

    2. Aquawoman*

      And I’ve been involved in hiring several times where we’ve had more people we would LOVE to hire than spots to fill. It can really difficult to figure out who to make the offer to, and I would almost never consider the second choice to be less than the first choice.

    3. Jack Straw*

      I’ve also been the second choice and ended up being more successful than their first choice candidate in the long run. Initially we both interviewed for a single opening, then two months later a second role opened up. I was offered the second position. I never tired of jokingly reminding my manager, whenever he pointed out something great I was doing, that I was his second choice, too. ;)

      As Spicy Tuna said, it’s all about what you do when you get there that matters.

    4. Shan*

      Yes! I had applied for a opening, but wound up being offered a mat leave contract instead because they “really needed someone senior in the full-time role.” Well, a year later, the person they hired instead of me flamed out in a spectacular fashion and went on leave, so I stepped in. When she resigned six or so months later, I got the position officially, and have heard many times since that they should have gone with me in the first place.

    5. WantonSeedStitch*

      I hired someone who was my second choice for an individual contributor role on my team. I was still very happy to have that person. Not only did they do a good job in that role, they have since become a manager in their own right!

    6. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yup, I was second choice at my job and my boss later told me he was so glad the other person didn’t accept the offer. I had a set of skills that were not important at all to them when I interviewed, but within a year of being hired we got a project where my not-important-at-the-interview skills wound up being absolutely integral to the success of the project. You never know!

    7. NJ Anon*

      I was second choice and stayed 11 years. Boss would tell people he couldn’t run the place without me.

    8. Esmeralda*

      I was hired for an excellent job (where I was an excellent employee) after: not being interviewed on the first go round, none of the 4 people originally offered the job took it, and a friend who worked there said to the boss, “You should interview Esmeralda” and the boss said “Mehhhh” but then interviewed me because he was out of ideas. Two days later, I had the job.

      I mean, not only was I not second choice, I wasn’t even choice!

      1. allathian*

        I’m glad your friend had your back in this, and in retrospect I suspect that manager was, too. I’m just wondering why he was so reluctant to hire you that he didn’t even want to interview you? Is there some demographic stuff here that got in the way of him seeing you as a candidate for the job?

    9. Wry*

      Absolutely. Thinking of yourself as the “second choice” frames the hiring process as a rigid ranking system, and that’s not always the case. I’m sure that plenty of times, hiring managers like several candidates equally and have to make the final call based on minor things that really don’t speak to the quality of the candidates or how happy the company would be to hire them.

      Currently someone works in my department who originally interviewed and was turned down in favor of someone else. My boss described it as a difficult decision, as she very much liked both candidates, and ended up factoring in the fact that one candidate (the one she hired) was local and the other one would have had to move. (I’m sure this wasn’t all it came down to, but in a close call, that type of thing can factor in.) Well, some time later, another position opened up and my boss got in touch with the candidate she’d turned down, who was still interested. She now works alongside the person who was originally hired instead of her, and I know my boss is happy to have been able to hire both of them in the end.

      So LW, cut yourself some slack! You don’t know what went on behind the scenes; it very well might have been a close call in the first place. You do know that they wouldn’t have made the offer if they didn’t want you.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah. I’ve not had that situation when hiring, but I did once when we put out an ad to find a tenant for the little place at the bottom of the garden. I had loads of possible tenants and only one place to rent. I ended up choosing a guy who had doodled cute little flowers on the paper I asked him to write his contact details on. (And I eliminated one guy because his ears were creepier than Spock’s)

    10. Jlynn*

      I actually was the second choice for a job I didn’t get, as an assistant to a partner. Two weeks after I received my rejection, I received a call from another partner. Rather than go thru the whole application process he just asked Partner #1 who else he would have considered. Guess what! I got that job with Partner #2 – and excelled and was super happy. Happier than the person was who worked for Partner #1. So it all worked out fine. I only found out I was second choice later – after Partner #2 told me how he decided to interview me without me reapplying.

    11. Nessun*

      I wasn’t a first or second choice for my job…I was a last-ditch, need a bum-in-seat, bare-minimum requirement hire (they got turned down by #1, ghosted by #2, then #3 quit after a day!). I presented neatly, but I had little direct skill as I was coming from retail to office – and I knew I was just in the right place when they were desperate; everyone was very up front about it. Lucky for me, they decided all they really needed was someone who could look ok, use basic MS programs, and answer a phone politely. After my probation period, they said they were glad the others hadn’t worked out! …and 20 years later, I’m still with the company, have had 4 promotions, and an incredible career so far.

    12. LizM*

      The first time I applied for my job, they ended up not making a selection, and decided to do additional outreach. I heard through the grapevine they’d offered it to a friend of mine but she turned it down.

      By the time the second advertisement closed, I’d been acting in this position for about 2 months. My grandboss encouraged me to apply again, and I got the job.

      I still don’t know if anything changed in their perception of me in those 2 months or if they just realized nobody better was coming along, but either way, I’ve been in this job for 3 years now and get great performance evaluations so…

    13. tamarack and fireweed*

      I’ll just chime in with another voice to affirm, both from the hiring and from the applicant side, that there is no shame whatsoever in being offered a job as the 2nd (or 3rd or nth) choice. Once a hiring team has decided that you are suitable for being offered the job the differences in ranking of candidates will turn on minor points with a healthy portion of tealeaves-reading thrown in. Because frankly, no one can *really* predict who will work out and who won’t. You may even have a better start as a 2nd choice because if their first choice declined they may get worried about filling the position! And conversely, even being first choice doesn’t shelter you from starting on the wrong foot with one of the higher-ups who saw your application / interviewed you, and their preferred candidate, who was not you, was not selected.

      At least as importantly I think it is important not to fall into the trap of hyper-competitiveness with one’s friends. If the situation was reversed, well, sure you might feel a little glow about your success in the interview, but would you want your friend to feel humiliated by the whole experience? Most things don’t have to be a competition beyond the absolute necessary, externally imposed. I would always try to teach a youngster that you can give your best AND be supportive of your friend who’s also competing – be it in sports, music, or academics. It’s an important milestone of personal growth.

    14. lemon meringue*

      My whole career started with a job I was rejected from. A second position opened up in the department a few weeks later, and they asked me if I would be interested. Their first choice candidate worked out great as well, and it turned out that she was a better fit for the original job and I was a better fit for the new job. It’s a highly competitive industry so I was pleased to even be the second choice.

    15. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes OP, take the job and rock it! Then you can tell your friend about how wonderfully it’s going, he’ll regret not taking it :-)

      Wishing you all the best!!

  9. valprehension*

    Employee: “I’ll do what I want and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

    Boss: “You’re fired”

    What a ridiculously bold position this employee is taking!

  10. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    “Can” questions are easy. No, you cannot prevent her from leaving early. It’s unlawful to hold people against their will.

    There can be consequences for leaving work early regularly. Unemployment comes to mind.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yep. OP could not prevent her from leaving early… but could certainly prevent her from getting paid for any day after the current one.

  11. Jennifer Strange*

    LW4 – Being second choice doesn’t mean you weren’t still a strong choice! My department just went through a hiring process and our first choice ended up backing out. While I would have loved to work with them, I’m also excited that our second choice accepted! I’ve been in situations where we only had one strong candidate and they ended up declining the offer, and trust me we didn’t then just pick the least worst of the remaining candidates, we re-opened the search completely to find a candidate who would fit the role we needed. So it’s not a statement about your qualifications, more a matter of luck (and in this case you’re the lucky one since you did end up with the job!)

    1. Bagpuss*


      I remember some years ago when we were hiring for a position, we had several good candidates and it was virtually impossible to pick – while we had two excellent candidates who were too close to call, and the ‘third place’ person was also very strong and we would have been happy to hire them in the event that the first two turned us down!

      In the end, it was so close between the ‘top two’ we were sitting there all deferring to each other in the hope that *someone* had a preference … I think in the end we decided to offer it to the person who had a slightly shorter notice period and would leave us with a shorter gap to fill, because there really wasn’t anything on their qualifications or presentation that meant one of them was better.

      and as Jennifer says, we’d normally re-open the process and look for more candidates if the first choice turned us down, unless we we genuinely happy that the next choice would be the right person for the role.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same! We have really good recruiters and it’s not uncommon end up with multiple excellent candidates, especially for entry-level roles. The choice of first offer is often quite difficult, and no one’s disappointed by the other candidate if we have to extend to them. The differentiator between the first and second choices is often negligible (and there are typically people on the hiring panel for whom the second choice was the first choice).

        If I was not happy to have a candidate join the team, we’d keep looking rather than extend an offer.

    2. CoveredInBees*

      Ranking another person above you might have come down to a single person’s opinion. I have been on hiring committees and it was super common for people to disagree on the exact order of preference. We generally agreed who was top 3 or so, but otherwise it came down to the most senior person breaking any ties. At one point, we got surprise funding for an additional position, so we got to hire our top 2 preferences, but honestly we would have been thrilled with any of the 5 who made the final round.

  12. Tech editor by day*

    It might be helpful to reflect on how sexist “sloppy seconds” is, if that image is shaping your thinking.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      These letters are older and the LW is probably not reading the comments, but, damn, using a sexual slang term in a letter about work advise is just … not right.

      And if you want to get picky the analogy “sloppy seconds” doesn’t make sense if the first choice didn’t actually take the job.

      1. Leah K.*

        I was so grossed out by this term that now the word “sloppy” in general weirds me out, even in expressions like “That was a sloppy word choice”. I cannot imagine using the words “sloppy seconds” in a professional context.

    2. Red Wheelbarrow*

      Yeah, I’m really hoping the OP just didn’t know the origin of that phrase.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I’ve literally never thought about the connotation until this very moment. In my mind, it’s always been just a casual synonym for “not the first choice”. Eeep.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          I blithely assumed it was about cafeteria servings of food. Oh, well.

      2. doreen*

        I have a feeling nobody involved knew the origin of that phrase – because I really can’t imagine that anyone who did wouldn’t have done some minor editing before publishing it. I think it may be a generational thing.

        1. Simply the best*

          I think plenty of people know the origin of the phrase and still use it. I have actually never until this moment encountered people who were offended by it. Or found it to be sexist.

          1. doreen*

            I meant that I didn’t think that anyone specifically involved in the publishing of the letter ( the LW, Alison, the editor at Inc) would have let it go f they knew the origin , not that people who know the origin would never use it under any circumstances. Although I kind of wonder how you can know the origin and not think it’s sexist.

    3. JSPA*

      Some people use the term with no clue as to its X-rated and sexist derivation. Do not google this at work, if you’re one of those people–just stop using the term, please, in work and general social contexts, or really, anywhere outside of a specific sequential, multi-player sexual scenariol

      1. sagc*

        “a specific sequential multi-player sexual scenario” – so, Second Life, then :)

      2. Agile Phalanges*

        Yeah, I learned and used this term as a kid, and always assumed it meant something like having someone else’s backwash in a drink or their saliva on the sandwich when you take a bit after them. I think somewhere along the line I learned the “other” meaning, but it still connotes the former to me, and not the latter. But agree you shouldn’t use it in a work setting, regardless.

    4. Marthooh*

      Dear Allison, I just learned that my new job is not a virgin. Is this grounds for annulment?

    5. Stevie*

      I would be really surprised if the LW meant it in that way! I’ve actually never heard it used in a sexual sense. I had understood it to mean something/someone (of any gender) passed over, though I now understand the phrase origins.

      1. Lizzie*

        Interesting, I have never heard it used in a way that was NOT repulsive and sexually demeaning!

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Ditto! Heard it first in the explicit sexual context and continue to hear it as vulgar way to imply leftovers or not the first.

  13. Me*

    I highly doubt leaving early is the only problem #1 has with this employee. One chance – these are the hours or we will have to part ways, then follow through.

  14. Sami*

    The audacity or nerve of the LW 2 and the office manager in letter 1– both are beyond me. I can’t imagine ever doing either one.

    1. Sami*

      I should add that I know plenty of people who’d easily do one or both, but I just couldn’t.

    2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      LW1 is way out of line, no question there.
      But the hiring manager for LW2 made his email public; while LW2 shouldn’t have used it in this context because it undermined her job candidacy, it’s bizarre that he was so offended. When questioned about her understandable blunder, LW2 should have said, “I found your email while looking for more information about the job. I apologize for overstepping.”

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        He didn’t make it public for people to send their job applications to him, though. And she didn’t find it while looking for more information on the job; she specifically googled his name to find personal contact information. Back in the days of phone books just because someone had their phone number in there it didn’t mean job applicants were welcome to call their homes to ask about jobs. Also, if the website is old and he’s forgotten about it (which is possible) he may have truly not understood how she got his email. I think he’s allowed to be flustered by a job applicant showing a serious lapse in understanding how applying for jobs works.

  15. H*

    So my thing is… haven’t read the response from Alison yet:
    1. How is her job performance outside of this?
    2. How long has she been doing this and it hasn’t been addressed or has it been addressed?
    3. How long has she been with the company and organizationa and how much institutional knowledge does she have? Meaning would it be a pain to fire her and have to retrain someone and take a lot of time and would you get someone who is as good at their job?
    4. If this is a good employee with a long tenure at the company, is there room for some negotiation and flexibility at all? Fridays she can leave early but not the other days, etc.

    I think many workplaces need to realize that people need flexibility and that if all work is done before a 40 hour week is up then why not give someone 3 hours of time on Friday afternoon? Granted it was unclear from above how good this person is at their job, etc

    1. OtterB*

      I agree that flexibility is a good thing, but if this employee is going to straighten up (which is not at all clear) I think there will need to be some time of, like dealing with a toddler, making no exceptions at all. Because LW should confer with the boss/owner about the consequences they can impose, but the response to “You’re not the boss of me!” really has to be “Actually, as far as this job goes, I am.”

    2. SpecialSpecialist*

      “I think many workplaces need to realize that people need flexibility and that if all work is done before a 40 hour week is up then why not give someone 3 hours of time on Friday afternoon? Granted it was unclear from above how good this person is at their job, etc”

      True and I completely agree, but this type of flexibility doesn’t apply to all positions. Office manager positions are generally still administrative/customer-facing positions (maybe be internal customers rather than external) and require the person in that position to be able to handle anything that pops up during business hours. So, frequently leaving early means that things have to wait until the next day/week to be handle when she gets back.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Plus, clearly, her attitude is combative which is a serious problem! I cannot ever imagine telling my manager that there’s nothing they can do about something I’ve been doing that they see as an issue!

    3. I should really pick a name*

      While I agree with you in theory, I don’t think that applies in this specific case.

      First off, they should talk to their manager to see if that flexibility is workable, and not just start running off early on Fridays.

      Secondly, someone who would say they’re going to leave early and there’s nothing anyone can do about it has shown that they’re not someone that I want working for me.

    4. Chantel*

      “Her response is that as a salaried employee she can leave early every day and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. ”

      That’s the point here.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      Sure but the thing about flexibility is that it’s…well…flexible. It’s got to go in both directions, or it should be occasional. Leaving consistently early every day isn’t flexibility. That’s cutting your own hours permanently but expecting the same pay and not clearing it with the job first.

  16. Accounting Otaku*

    I just read the office manager one with the “Surprise Me” function. Is there any way we can coax an update out of that OP?

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      I should also add that I would never do these things either, but I understand where LW2 is coming from.

    2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      Oops. My first comment was meant to go with my reply to Sami up-thread.
      I would absolutely love an update on the office manager letter though!

  17. StressedButOkay*

    There is absolutely something they can do about her leaving early – they can let her go if they lay down the law and she continues to refuse. I’m also salaried and I have set hours; it’s just how it is. If I need to flex or shift my hours around, I have that flexibility but I check in with my team/boss.

    Also, OP2, I have also received work related emails to my personal account without forewarning. They’re always jarring. Unless you have previous permission, it’s never a good idea, especially if it’s for an opening – they’ll see that as you trying to get around the systems their company has in place, not gumption.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I’m mean, so I was thinking in terms of shipping the contents of her desk to her home, and a “you’re fired” message on her voicemail.

      1. Chantel*

        “We’ve emailed your stuff to you and there is nothing you can do about it.”

  18. Anonymooose*

    #4- You can look at this as you being the one they settled for because the one they really wanted declined.


    You can be the one they are incredible thrilled they got because as it turns out, you are bad-ass and exactly that they hoped they’d get.

    Really….hiring such a leap of faith that anyone who has hired multiple times knows some of the best hires ever come from unexpected circumstances. Be the guy that, when they look back on the hiring decision, they say, “OMG, can you imagine if the first guy TOOK the job, we would never have gotten #4 and had no idea on what we missed out”

    This is more than a window of opportunity for you, someone lined it with C4 explosives’ and blew it wide open for you. Fill your role with awesome.

  19. OtterB*

    LW4 – some years ago, I was hiring for a position and split hairs to pick a first choice. About six weeks later, a second similar position opened up. We went back to the “second choice” and offered him the new position, which he accepted. As it turned out, first choice was fine for the project, but second choice was great and stayed to move up in the company. Which is to say, they offered you the job so they want you. Go do great work for them.

  20. Cant remember my old name*

    #4 I echo Allison’s sentiments but I also want to point out that it’s not uncommon for hiring to be done by a team (even if there is one key decision maker) and the team doesn’t always reach an unanimous consensus. So you could have very well been someone’s first choice! As for feeling awkward around your friend…it sounds like you won’t be in the same city since he didn’t relocate. Seems low risk to me!

    1. Teapot supervisor*

      +1 In one of my first jobs, I learned that my boss wasn’t actually all that keen on hiring me and was eventually talked around by his deputy. And when I’ve recruited, I’ve had candidates who I’ve wanted to hire on the spot but the key decision maker hasn’t been keen (remember one particular instance which really stung because decision maker’s choice then proceeded to ghost us, and by the time we got around to offering job to the second choice – who had been my first choice all along – she’d already been offered a job elsewhere. Third choice also didn’t work out so it was back to square one on hiring from there).

  21. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m always surprised and irritated when people say they can do whatever they want because of their job classification. And like the OP’s office manager, they get it so very wrong.

    I’ve had exempt direct reports tell me they set the schedule for their work, not me or my department head, because they don’t get paid by the hour or get overtime. After a joint meeting with our Comp and OD team, they dropped that argument. There is such a thing as core business hours, you know.

    Also had some 1099 contractors tell me plainly I had no authority over them, regardless of the SOW and contract we both signed. Their 1099 status meant they weren’t employees, and asking them for reports or to attend a meeting meant I was treating them as an employee…but that’s another letter.

  22. Spearmint*

    Does LW1 actually have formal authority over the office manager? If not, perhaps the office manager was saying that these are the hours they have worked for a long time and only the owner can tell them otherwise (even if this is true, though, she still phrased it in a very immature and hostile way). In that case, it’s on the owner to talk to her if the leaving early is a problem.

  23. Falling Diphthong*

    OP4, “Belinda was our third choice for comptroller, and now we just love her to pieces and she is so perfect for the role” is a recurring theme here. Lots of people are not the employer’s first choice; lots of employers were not the applicant’s first choice.

    It’s usually not like these people know you intimately over the course of years together–they have a narrow view of a few dozen people, of whom 4 or so seem like good fits for the role. Even for an internal promotion where they did know you and the competition on a deeper level–I’d expect that within a few weeks of filling the role they wouldn’t care if the person doing a decent job was their first choice or not. As Alison says, if you aren’t wild about #2 you think about reposting the job.

  24. Working Hypothesis*

    I’m assuming that somewhere along the line, that office manager in question #1 found out that exempt salaries stay the same if you do any work in a week, whether or not you work a given number of hours. Somehow, she’s translated that into “there’s nothing you can do about it” if she doesn’t work the expected number of hours.

    While it is true that they can’t retroactively take pay away from her for weeks she actually did work in, they can certainly fire her outright so she isn’t their problem going forward. That part doesn’t appear to have occurred to her.

  25. Jake*

    I was my manager’s 4th choice at my first job out of college.

    It made absolutely no difference. It did bruise my ego for about a week. Like Alison said, he wouldn’t have hired me if he wasn’t happy with the option.

  26. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    LW 1 : if it were possible to do the job in the reduced hours, say 30, then I would cheerfully let her know that you accept her proposed working hours and will be adjusting her annual salary to reflect the hours of the position. But really – I hope you just fired her. That type of attitude is toxic.

    LW 4 – this is super common, but understand why it stings! Each year we hire for a prestigious program and we get a thousand highly qualified applicants for 6-8 spots. We end up interviewing a smaller group, then the last round is a group of about 12. Every single candidate except for one (see below) would have been a fantastic fit for us and we go through a rigorous process for calibrating scores across all our panel interviewers but every year we have one or two turn us down for another firm, then we go to the next highest score. We have never regretted a hire.

    * the candidate referred to above was very very confident in himself. These are graduating students -either undergrad or graduate- and when asked to describe a time he had failed and how he approached the challenge and what the ultimate outcome was his response was “o don’t think I have ever failed”. Sigh. That wasn’t the only warning sign, but it was the one that got him finally crossed off my list.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      At least now that overly confident candidate has an answer to “a time you failed,” though the jury might still be out on whether he realizes that.

      1. Web Crawler*

        He still has never failed. But one time he “successfully got himself taken out of the running for a job that wouldn’t have appreciated him anyway”.

  27. Aquawoman*

    For LW4, I’ve been involved in hiring and we’ve rejected people we thought were fantastic because we have more good candidates than openings. It can be really difficult to figure out which one to make the offer to.

    I also would like to advocate for people to drop the fiction that there is one “best” or “most qualified” candidate for the job. It’s not true and it is really just used to protect the privileged/question the hiring of women and BIPOC and oppressed groups. No one ever looks at a full group of male management or employees and asks why they didn’t hire the “most qualified,” even though that’s exactly when the question should be asked, since it seems unlikely that hiring the best candidates would result in such homogeneity.

  28. Rita*

    I’m so sick of people doing whatever they want in their jobs and not being held accountable. It’s a job! You’re not be paid to do a fun adventure of seeking out fun everyday.

  29. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – unless the hiring manager’s personal contact information was listed on the actual job ad as the way to connect with him, it was inappropriate to use his personal information. Just because you can find something, doesn’t mean you should use it. The ONLY time you might legitimately use someone’s personal contact information about a job you want to apply for is if you are personal friends (or you were referred by a mutual friend who only has the person’s personal info – in which case, you would say, “Our mutual friend X referred me to you regarding a role at your company. Is there a profesisonal email I can use?”

    OP#3 – it’s definitely not a test when the job description or interviewer tells you the expectations of the role. It might very well be a red flag that someone doesn’t know how to structure the role or that the job expectations are unrealistic, though. I would only move forward if you are fine with being over-worked and underpaid in the position. In fact, if you aren’t all that interested (ie. don’t care if they decide to not move forward with you), you could absolutely call out that the role is not structured to succeed and that the math simply doesn’t work in terms of their expectations. See what they say – might give you an idea of whether the place is a sweat shop (sounds like they are).

    OP#4 – I found out the other day that I was second (or lower) choice on a job I had about 15 years ago, from someone I work with today, who had been offered that same role and turned it down. He felt the salary wasn’t high enough. Okay, stung for a moment, but he works in a much more expensive city, so at the level I was hired, we’d probably have been about even in salary vs cost of living. As for being second (or lower) choice – there are a lot of factors that have to align for a hire to happen, and managers aren’t infallible about figuring out who would be the best choice. There are times when there are multiple candidates who all are about equally great – then the decision can be about tiny details or who might be less expensive to hire.

  30. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Not only can you stop her from leaving early you can stop her from needing to come back, too. Come on.
    I remember a day when I asked my boss if I could split to get a jump on traffic, and he responded, “A whopping fifteen minutes early, sure.” At that point he just told me to let him know. But alas, I’m kinda a good long-time employee so I’m not known for cutting out saying, “Bye, can’t do anything!” Sheesh.

    Why people in the office can’t be respectful of office rules anymore is beyond me (and a rhetorical statement really…)

  31. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP1 (can’t stop me leaving early) – I wonder if they considered re-classifying the job as hourly?

  32. A Person*

    LW #4: You say “until a mutual friend told me that he was offered the job first, turned it down because he wasn’t ready to relocate for the job, and they chose me second”. But people get things wrong! They misunderstand, or they misinterpret and then give you their interpretation rather than an exact quote. Ask your friend directly, rather than relying on what the mutual friend said. (And if your friend did get an offer before you did, you *still* don’t know that he got the very first offer. Only the hiring manager knows that.)

  33. Blue Eagle*

    Why do you need to “fire” the office manager? What about saying – – “The office hours are X to Y and you are expected to be present in the office that entire time unless you have permission to leave early or come in late. The next time you leave early without permission, we will take it to mean that you are quitting.”

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Mostly because having the gall to say something like that to your boss signals much more than just a lack of attendance.

    2. MassMatt*

      Because the office manager showed she has no understanding of how work works, and basically gave the LW the finger on the way out. I would never want to work with someone like this. Look for a replacement, stat!

    3. Darren*

      You can’t take any action apart from the employee saying they are quitting to mean they are quitting.

      You can take any action as a reason to fire them, but you still have to fire them you can’t make them quit (or record it as such). It would put you in a lot of legal trouble and likely result is a payout for them (of at least pay for the notice you’d have to have paid out for firing them potentially for every single day of work you didn’t let them work because you claimed they quit when they hadn’t), and potentially them being forced back into your company in the role that they didn’t “quit” meaning you’d have to fire them again (and you’d need a new reason this time otherwise it’s retaliation for your illegally marking them as quit which is even more money for them).

  34. chewingle*

    For LW5, I have a follow-up question for the group here.

    The LW mentions that the title she had was important for accessing other similar career opportunities. If this role was the closest LW has gotten to that title, would it be better to leverage it even though it only lasted a couple months?

  35. Lacey*

    OP #4 I’m reasonably certain that I was the third choice for the job I’m in now, but that just made my boss all the more anxious that I accept their offer!

  36. Esmeralda*

    You can’t make me stay!
    True. But I can fix it so you can’t ever come back.

  37. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Another perspective for the LW4 situation is that you might have been someone’s second choice, but that doesn’t mean you were the second best candidate.

    My first choice romantic partner might be Tom Hardy, but as he has no clue I’m alive, my actual best candidate is (conveniently) my actual spouse, who has been doing very well in that position for some years now.

    A person who turns down a role for reasons of logistics or salary or whatever has shown that they’re not the best fit for that role. LW4, on the other hand, impressed at interview AND came to an agreement on terms AND actually performed well in the role. Sounds like a best candidate to me.

    1. Anonymous Today*

      Love this explanation, especially “…my actual spouse, who has been doing very well in that position for some years now.”

      No doubt this is mentioned at the time of his annual review. (Just kidding, of course.)

  38. Respect the Boundaries*

    I’d get so frustrated if someone emailed my personal email instead of my work email about a job! I run a successful local history blog and I’m known around town for my history side gig. And people will google my name coming from my blog and then call me at the office, which is so inappropriate b/c then I’m forced to take work time to talk to someone about something not work related. I always have to take the call b/c in my work, I also need to respond to the public’s requests, so it’s a very fine line. People blur the lines often and it’s really frustrating!

  39. twocents*

    Little amused at this week the person who doesn’t want to work a full 40 hours is being told “LOL they can fire you” but the person last week who didn’t want to work 40 hours was told it was unfair and unreasonable for the manager to expect a full workweek.

    1. Cooper*

      I think the difference is that that person was getting their work done and didn’t work a coverage-based position, but this person does work a coverage-based position. Some jobs require a butt in a seat; some don’t.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, that was like three people or so last week and everyone else (including me) was telling them that they were out of touch with how this stuff actually works. One or two of them acknowledged they were talking about how they think things *should* work, not how things do work.

  40. opaque_chatterbug*

    I have only one instance where a job’s expectations and salary were not realistic for the position and the company was actually receptive to hearing my input, and it was only after I had declined their intent to move me forward. They were more curious on how they could tailor their request to get who they needed in it since they were having a tough time generating interest.
    My explanation for the difference was they had fair compensation for the title they had given the role, but the expectations laid out during the interview were up to a 2 step promotion above that title and gave them the appropriate titles. They hadn’t budgeted for more at the time, but I did see them relist it a few months later.

    So they might be receptive, but only after you’ve declined and are no longer in a state of negotiation.

  41. Ontario Library Employee*

    I was a temp employee for my library system for 5 years. I worked when people were on vacation or out sick. Literally every person who was hired as a temp at the same time as me (6 people), and a few who were hired after me, get permanent jobs before me. I interviewed over and over but I was not offered a position. Until I finally was! So I may not have been their 1st choice, more like their 8th or 9th, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t want me, just that others did a little better in interviews or had stronger qualifications. I’ve been in my position 4 years and some of the people hired before me are long gone. My performance reviews have always been positive and I’ve been encouraged to apply for full time roles as they’ve become available, but I’m quite content with my part time schedule.

    So all of this is to say – maybe the other person was a little better on paper or did a little better in the interview, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be happy to have you, and I bet you’ll do great!

  42. Mangofan*

    The “second choice candidate” letter reminds me of a funny story. My senior year of college I was interviewing for a job with a small teapot conservation consultancy, as was my girlfriend at the time, who was a teapot conservation rockstar – like, she had an incredible amount of relevant experience for someone who was a senior in college. They only had one offer to extend, and they extended it to her, but were keeping me in the queue as a second choice. Although they obviously didn’t tell me they were waiting for their first choice candidate to decline, it was obvious to me, because I was dating her! (She ended up declining, as did I after they made me the offer, since it would have meant a very long-distance relationship for both of us and because it was a risky time to accept an offer from such a small firm given the economy.)

  43. Anonymous Today*

    There is only one real definition of “sloppy seconds”. It’s the nasty one.

    Everyone saying “I thought it meant” has simply created their own meaning for that term. It has nothing to do with the school cafeteria’s not being able to keep the food hot by the time you go back for seconds.

    People should cease and desist using this term. Maybe if women refuse to accept it, the phrase will die a natural death.

  44. Tired*

    LW1, I could be projecting here, but when I’ve encountered this problem, it’s either been the employee receiving mixed messages during the hiring process and/or in the course of work from different managers about expectations, hours etc; or that the employee was so badly abused at previous jobs, these types of actions are them putting their foot down (too hard, of course) so that their boundaries are not violated again.

    LW3, I know how you feel: it is infuriating when a manager (or several) get together to create a job that they have no actual idea about at all. (Or that the manager/s who did know were overruled by those who didn’t.) It’s even better when the manager/s who have no idea are the ones making the hiring decisions for the role they have no idea about.

  45. Nancy Peterson*

    For the person who’s bummed out about being the second choice for a position….I ended up being second choice for a job once. Despite scoring higher on their hiring test than any other candidate, I was passed over for a candidate who had more experience in one particular category. It was a job I really wanted; 3 miles from my house, the work was right up my alley, and I really liked all the office personnel I interviewed with. Two weeks after I was informed that I did not get the job, I got the call: the candidate they hired had left to work for another company she’d applied to earlier, so I was told the position was mine if I was still available. I was, and on June 5 of this year I just celebrated my 31st anniversary with the company for whom I was second choice! I still occasionally tease them about having almost passed up the most wonderful employee ever!

  46. Lecturer*

    1. This is a very very cheeky person. Since you’ve already broached it and she told you to F off I strongly recommend calling her into a PIP meeting and explain you will get rid of her, no more chances. Call her in and tell her if she is so slack she will carry on she needs to find another job (And good luck with the references)!!

    2. Your nerve. If you did this in my job you would be added to a blacklist. How can you be so naïve that you dared to contact someone using their personal information.. You would be blacklisted if it was up to me.

    Second choice: So was I and guess what? I was ducking delighted considering the competitive job market as well as the competition from many applicants. Thank your lucky stars, forget you weren’t the first choice. Do such a good job that they will say ‘she/he should have been the first choice. Let it go and enjoy the job!

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