updates: disgusting boss touches and chews on everything on my desk, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My disgusting boss touches and chews on everything on my desk (first update here)

I was just catching up on AAM and decided to send you an update. Shortly after returning to work after my bout with COVID, I turned in my resignation. I explained to my boss that his behavior was, at the very least, irresponsible and that I could no longer work for him. I gave him more than a month’s notice – which was very generous considering the circumstances. I ended up interviewing with a partner in one of the most highly regarded firms in my area and landed a great position with great benefits and a little bit of a salary bump! I started at the beginning of March and couldn’t be happier! My whole demeanor has changed and I like it – I’m much happier and a lot less stressed. No one touches anything on my desk, all my things are just as I leave them, I am appreciated, and, most importantly, I am somewhere NORMAL! Many thanks to everyone for their advice and support – it gave me the willpower to stand my ground with my old boss and finally sever those toxic ties.

2. My interview panel included another candidate for the job (#5 at the link)

I am the person who had an internal candidate on my interview committee. Here’s my update:

As some people in the comments figured out, this is a startup and these guys likely didn’t know what they were doing. When I thought back on the interview that internal candidate did ask me a lot of technical questions. I could answer them because I was generally familiar, but they were obviously were meant to trip me up/shake my confidence in hindsight. These were all things that someone could be brought up to speed in one week.

The external recruiter called me to see how things went and I told them about the internal candidate. They were shocked, because they had been searching for months and had presented numerous candidates to the company who were all turned down.

The company didn’t give me a response for six weeks. So I reached out to close the loop. I was told they wanted to offer me a position as an (unpaid !) consultant. I told them to kick rocks.

I reached out to the recruiter about another position about 4 months later. She told me that she had never dealt with a client so batty. They apparently dragged their feet with numerous qualified candidates and later found out it was because they didn’t want to lose the internal candidate. What we didn’t understand was why go through the charade of the search? Just hire the person and be done with it. It truly made no sense.

The position remains unfilled, which is still baffling. The recruiter told me “you weren’t the first stellar candidate we put in front of them, you were the last though,” because they severed ties.

As for me, it worked out: Last week a company that’s much more stable offered me a position that I like a lot better. Thanks to you Alison and everyone who commented!

3. Do I have to say I was fired? (#3 at the link)

I’m the reader who wrote in asking what to do if I was fired in a campaign shakeup. I ended up not getting fired, but the rest of the campaign was a constantly unfolding nightmare of toxic behavior, resignations, and other bad news.

So when the campaign ended, I decided to look non-cycle jobs, and thanks to your advice, I found one! I started three weeks ago, and everyone is so kind and unproblematic, and I know I’m working for a good cause. I also have benefits for the first time in my life, and that plus stability, experienced management, and friendly coworkers has made me so happy, even if it is weird to start a new job from home.

I feel so lucky to have found a great situation in this job market, and I know others out there may feel that they’re sending cover letters into the void, but things will turn around.

I should also add that I used your “magic question” at each stage in the interview process, and each time the interviewers responded with “that’s a great question.”

4. Did I mess up by talking about salary with my coworkers?

I am the person who discovered a salary discrepancy/pay equity issue last fall and discretely discussed it with a same level co worker without providing and details. She figured out who I was talking about because it is a small company and there were only so many people that it could have been, she reported me, and I got in major trouble.

Thankfully, I had already been job hunting previously because my health was going down hill partially from job related stress that no one would address ( we kept hiring people who could get the work submitted to me faster but we refused to let anyone help me with the work or hire anyone to take some of it, so my work load quadrupled and when I would ask for support of any kind at all, my boss would just yell “we aren’t hiring anyone” and refuse to discuss it further, even if I had asked if someone already working with me could perhaps do X task so I wouldn’t be so buried in all the responsibilities) and partially from some newly diagnosed conditions that I was learning to manage. Anyway, right after the pay equity debacle, I was offered multiple positions, all at more pay with comparable benefits and structured to be permanently remote. I gave notice before I had even decided which offer to take. It was a wonderful boost to my self esteem which had plummeted after working for this unhinged woman for so long.

I am happy to say that I have been at the new job about 6 months now and I love it. My work load is always reasonable-there is occasional optional overtime but also a fair amount of paid down time where I can do what I want as long as I am available when the work shows up. My boss is very responsive when I need him, but he almost never calls me and sends emails a few times a week if something comes up that he needs more information about or needs higher priority. He has not had any weird complaints for me, he literally just leaves me alone and lets me work, which is how I do best.

My health conditions are under much better control, my stress level has dramatically decreased, I get more exercise because I now have an hour a day back from not having to commute, and I was able to handle all the pandemic related school closures without too much freaking out (just the general losing of my mind that everyone in this situation is doing) because I at least didn’t have to alter my work schedule/ask to work from home/make my boss angry — no one at my job even noticed when my child was or wasn’t home doing remote school.

{ 92 comments… read them below }

  1. New Mom*

    OP #1
    PLEASE tell us your bosses’ reaction when you told him why you were leaving. I’m dying to know!

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

        Of course! How else would he “claim” her?

    1. Momma Bear*

      I had forgotten that he was so gross his wife had to cover their home to protect things. I’m glad OP left. Beyond being gross, that’s also just unprofessional.

      I, too, would love to know his reaction.

    2. Phoenix Wright*

      I wonder if his reaction was so touching to the point of tears, or if he tried to chew out OP.

    3. Campfire Raccoon*

      Exactly. It’s the part of the story I must know. Did he lick everything to claim it?

    4. BeeKeen*

      He looked totally shocked! Lol! He really never saw it coming. He offered me $10k more a year to stay but with the benefits and salary bump at the new job, it didn’t even come close. Wild horses couldn’t drag me back to that mess!

  2. Snailing*

    So happy for all of you finding great new positions!

    I wish I knew more about the weird reaction OP 4’s boss and HR had about her salary discussions (and why her coworker reported her?!), but it’s enough to know you’ve been able to move on and don’t have to worry about that nonsense anymore.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yup. It doesn’t sound like the OP was given confidential information (if I read correctly, the better-paid coworker told the OP his salary) and getting in trouble for discussing their own salary information is bizarre. The coworker who reported it sucks as does HR and it sounds like the rest of the company, too, so I’m glad you’re out of there!

  3. bryeny*

    OP 2, competing with the internal candidate: the company didn’t want to give the internal candidate the job you were interviewing for, they wanted to keep the internal candidate in their current job. The unpaid consultant offer is more baffling. Congrats on your new gig!

    1. Dragon_dreamer*

      Easy, they wanted OP to train the internal candidate so they could give him the work without the title.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Yeah, I got hung up on that part, too. There’s weirdness with having an internal candidate that they don’t actually want to transition to a new role…I think OP dodged a lot there.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “We can’t lose Wakeen, he’s the only one who understands the code! So we can’t promote him out of that. How can we stall…?”

      2. Dust Bunny*


        Is this like being paid in exposure? You get to say you did work for Flaky Startup, Inc., because they think it’ll pay off when they become famous?

      3. Your Local Password Resetter*

        I almost hoped that OP didn’t nope out there, just to see them try to justify that.

    2. TiredMama*

      I would be so angry if I was the recruiter who got jerked around and, in turn, left some candidates feeling jerked around.

    3. OP #2*

      To this day, I am not sure what they were thinking. It’s puzzling. The recruiter was indeed upset because this was reflecting badly on them.

      1. Sara without an H*

        I’m baffled, too, and I thought academia was weird. You were well within your rights to tell them to “kick rocks.”

        I kind of wonder what the recruiter said when they decided to “cut ties.”

      2. Pants*

        Start-up is frequently bizarre. I’ve seen a pattern of very good ideas for the start-up, but a megalomaniac captaining the ship OR excellent product/ideas with a great team of people who can get it done but a manager with zero people skills. Both have large turnover and often, the ship sinks.

        1. Boof*

          Yes, sometimes the start up owner decides everyone else should be as invested in it as they are. No? Everyone else does not have anywhere near the amount of potential reward the owner has for it succeeding!

        2. allathian*

          There’s a reason why 90 percent of all startups fail within the first 5 years, and it’s not just that the idea that spawned the startup didn’t have what it took to make it in the market.

      3. New Mom*

        Sometimes companies have no idea what they are doing with hiring, or a department/individual who goes rogue. I worked at an organization that did all the hiring centrally at the HQ but there was this one branch manager that was really out of control (district director did part of his job really well, but managing difficult branch managers, he failed at) and he set up an interview and gave a job offer to TWO people without going through the proper channels. One of them did not even have a license that was required for the position.

        Those job offers had to be rescinded and it was awful, by some miracle both people were somewhat understanding but they could have posted about it online (rightfully so) or come after the company. I feel really bad for both of those people that had so much time wasted, and maybe even put in notice, or passed up other jobs because of that horrible branch manager.

      4. M*

        It sounds a lot to me like the immediate team wanted to put that internal candidate in the role, but someone higher up was skeptical (possibly correctly!) and was vetoing it. So, endless hiring cycle, as the immediate team tried to convince the higher-up that there were no good candidates.

        1. M*

          Which is how you also end up with an unpaid consultant offer – higher-up says “what’s wrong with this candidate, they seem great on CV?”, immediate team says “they decided the position wasn’t right for them/didn’t sound like they’d stick around/whatever”, and the higher-up makes them go back with a consultant offer which they deliberately tank.

          1. OP2*

            You know, now that I think about it, this might be it. I feel like maybe the investors, boards, etc. wanted to pick someone else, and the team, including the CEO, wanted the internal person. This was a fairly high level position.

            So I suppose they interviewed people and didn’t pick them until the higher ups gave in.

  4. CoveredInBees*

    OP 2’s letter is a great example of why I’m skeptical of start ups. Some are great, but I’d have a lot of questions if I ever interviewed at one. I found out that my friend’s employer, a 200 person start up, had zero HR/benefits admin/etc people. “We have a company process our paychecks and everybody’s pretty cool with each other.” Two years later…they’re engaged in class action litigation against the employer. The company also had zero internal legal counsel and only worked with intellectual property attorneys as needed. Disrupt all you want bro, but some things are convention for a reason.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I know of a non profit that has around 50-ish full time employees and – in pre pandemic times – as many as 150 seasonal and/or contract workers and zero full time HR. HR functions (and facilities management, much to my horror) are conducted by the finance director. I do not understand how the place functions, in the slightest.

      It is probably no surprise that over the course of the past year and a half, pretty much any full time staff who could find opportunities elsewhere, did so.

      Organizations of all sizes and philosophies seem surprisingly resistant to putting money into conventions that help maintain organizational and financial stability.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Ah, yes, non profits. Another group whose work is so damn special they can’t have admin. Although I largely blame donors and funders for that. They get bent out of shape about “overhead” but expect the NP to hire the brightest and the best for a pittance while sitting on half broken chairs and using 12 year old computers.

        1. Super Duper*

          This is so painfully accurate. I worked at a child-size desk for months and then got in trouble for telling HR I needed more space.

    2. Sara without an H*

      “Ohh, we can’t afford HR/legal counsel/benefits, those would cost us MONEY and we need that to grow our exciting company. But everybody’s cool, really.”

      The cost of all those things, even if outsourced rather than hired internally, would still be less than what they’ll wind up paying to defend the litigation.

      Stay skeptical, CoveredInBees.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I worked for a small business that had a company process payroll. I was responsible for adding up all the hours. I have a legitimate arithmetic-based learning disability and I was still better at it than the payroll company.

      For once we were glad to have the boss’ wife meddle in something and take over hours and payroll. At least she could add.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Yeah. I worked somewhere that the person who did payroll thought the software would magically input all the right tax info. It didn’t and everyone who got hired after her had their taxes seriously messed up one year until I walked her through it. It was complicated by municipal and out of state taxes, but the software also had an easy guide for that, she just had no training and it was her first job, so she didn’t look for it.

    4. Canada Anon for this*

      Last job has 1 HR reps, for over 400 employees in multiple provinces. With very different employment laws between provinces. Its an international company. And the HR reps is incompetent enough not to realize that I can refuse unsafe work and am entitled to reasonable accommodation for my health issues. And the people they promote/hire to management get no training on employees rights. So many employment law and human right violations from various managers. (including wanting to change my shift purely because I’m a woman)

    5. Chantel*

      “Disrupt all you want bro, but some things are convention for a reason.”



  5. pleaset cheap rolls*

    ” I was told they wanted to offer me a position as an (unpaid !) consultant. ”


    1. quill*

      Note that in the interests of politeness, no one disclosed where they could kick rocks TO.

    2. Artemesia*

      But the exposure would have been so great; can’t understand why you didn’t turn it down.

    1. Zephy*

      I think it’s discouraged to try to guess the letter writer’s employer, that gets uncomfortably close to doxxing.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        I think the comment was tongue-in-cheek. Clearly, LW 3 wasn’t working for Morales, given the timing.

  6. GinoGinelli*


    It’s common everywhere, and this site is unfortunately no exception: it’s always disappointing when people reach for mental illness-related terms like ‘batty’ when other words like ‘nonsensical’ or ‘irrational’ would do the job, without increasing stigma.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      Wait, “batty” is related to mental illness? I thought it literally meant “into behaving somewhat like the small flying mammal known as a bat,” i.e. startling easily and flitting about in a seemingly random manner.

      1. FD*

        It’s not in any meaningful way. It comes from the term “bats in the belfry”, referring to people who act in strange or unpredictable ways–more with a tone of someone who is eccentric compared to a tone of someone who is seen as dangerous or malicious. I suppose you could contend that every single person who acts in a wild or unpredictable way is automatically mentally ill, but that seems like a really weird jump to make.

        As another person commented, I have never heard behavior that was symptomatic of a serious mental health issue described as batty, because that’s not really the right connotation for even the bad pop culture perception of mental health.

    2. Kalongdia*

      Honestly, I’ve never really heard anyone use the word ‘batty’ to describe someone with a mental illness before. I’ve only heard it to be used as a synonym for crazy, and never to refer to someone being mentally ill. I would also argue that calling batty a ‘mental illness’ related term is counterproductive; it actually reinforces the idea that mentally ill individuals are ‘crazy’. It would be like if I called a slur a ________- related term, when its actually just hatred or (in some exceedingly rare cases) extreme ignorance. The best example that comes to mind at the moment is the r slur that is often used to call people idiots, but that one is flawed because it was (and sometimes still is) used as a legitimate medical term (although many fields seem to be moving away from its use); to my knowledge, batty has never been a medical term.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        “Crazy” is, in fact, a euphemism for “mentally ill person”, so if “batty” is a euphemism for “crazy” it’s also a euphemism for mental illness.

        1. Kalongdia*

          So I had thought about that when writing my original post, and for me, it comes down to intent. I feel like the majority of people who use the word crazy do not use it to be derogatory, nor do they necessarily use it as a euphemism for mental illness (i.e. I had a crazy day at work). Its like using the word ‘mad’ instead of ‘angry’. I used to have a teacher who would gleefully point out that we were declaring ourselves insane when saying something like ” It makes me mad when…..”, but it was clear that is not how the word was being used.

  7. FD*

    #4- And yet I bet they’re utterly baffled at why they can’t seem to get and keep good talent…

  8. Falling Diphthong*

    The company didn’t give me a response for six weeks. So I reached out to close the loop. I was told they wanted to offer me a position as an (unpaid !) consultant.

    OP2, this caused me to laugh out loud, alarming the household pets.

    With distance, it’s nice that you got to know the why and wherefore of your bizarre interview experience–so often it’s just a mystery as to why this strange thing is happening with these strange people.

    1. Ama*

      This company seems to be unable to just tell people bad news — don’t want to tell internal candidate that he’s not a good fit for the position, so they let him continue to shoot down all their good external candidates, don’t want to tell the external candidates that they won’t be hiring them so they offer them an “unpaid consultant” position. If they can’t learn to tell people “sorry, but no” they won’t be in business long.

      1. Meep*

        Our hiring manager made me tell a candidate whose grade we holding over his head (it was for a University capstone sponsorship project) that we really wanted to hire him and kept hyping him up so she could get free labor out of him outside of the scope of the project. Safe to say, he ended up lashing out at me when she finally told him he wasn’t going to be hired.

        She is incapable of being seen as the “bad guy” so she pulls this crap not understanding it makes her the villain, but she also wants free labor. I could totally see her saying something like this to a candidate because she thought she was being “helpful” and giving him “exposure”. Some people (like her) are just plain evil.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          And these are the same people who are all “Why doesn’t anyone appreciate all the help I gave them? All the experience!”

          Mostly because my mortgage company doesn’t give a rat’s rootie patootie about my experience. They care about my paychecks. Because they want their money. I can’t tell the sandwich artist at Subway I’ll be paying for the experience of making my meal. I have to give them real money.

          I don’t understand why so many people are baffled by that.

  9. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1: I’m so glad you didn’t get long COVID! I was worried about you until I read your update. I’m so glad you got a new job with better benefits/salary/company culture.

    1. BeeKeen*

      I actually still have some symptoms…I still have crushing fatigue occasionally and I haven’t regained my smell completely. It’s better than the alternative but could have totally been avoided. Thank you for worrying!

  10. Meep*

    I feel like #2 might be my company. lol. We have a contractor to who they refuse to offer a job to but is essential. If he leaves, our small little start-up folds. He interviews engineers for internships and full-time positions as they dangle the job in front of him (and have for the past two years). We also have a hiring issue because our hiring manager is flakey as all sin and ghosts people. On top of it, we were recently looking for someone to fill this guy’s “position” and can totally see her explaining it like that.

    Either way, run for the absolute hills. From experience, there is more going on than just the leaky sink. I am job searching now as we speak.

    1. BeeKeen*

      I posted his response. It’s further up the thread. He was shocked. People who see nothing wrong with their behavior usually are.

  11. Emi*

    For #4, isn’t discussing salary with coworkers considered protected concerted activity under the NLRA, or am I missing something? It sounds like the window to file a charge has passed, but if you still have friends there it might be worth pointing out to them, in case the company pulls the same stunt again.

  12. LogicalOne*

    #1. I like many of the commentators here am also curious to find out the reaction your boss gave when you turned in your resignation. I hope he didn’t “chew you out” for it. (Sorry if that intentional pun was already made LOL)

  13. cc*

    I have been on the other side of #2 – an internal candidate forced to interview external candidates for the role I was competing for, at a fairly dysfunctional startup. The role was for manager of the team I was on, so the logic was that I would surely want to interview anyone who may become my boss…but I wanted to be the boss! I tried my best to give objective feedback on the candidates, and did end up getting the job myself, but the whole process left a bad taste in my mouth – and then our whole office got unceremoniously laid off 9 months later. Run away from any company that does this – the poor judgment will not stop at this one incident.

    1. Bumblebee*

      I had a very similar interviewing experience. It was weird, but maybe not as weird as if I had been the only team member mysteriously not showing up to interview my potential new bosses!

  14. LabManagerGuy*

    OP3 (congrats, BTW!) reminded me of something amusing that happened to me: I was on a panel interviewing an internal candidate (who was all but a shoo-in for the job), and she asked the Magic Question! Offline (and after she got the job), I queried her as to whether she is a regular AAM reader, and of course she is!

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