boss says we can’t share our lunches, employee fell for a scam, and more

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

1. Our boss told us we can’t share lunches with each other

I have been having lunch with some of my coworkers for over four years. Sometimes we bring food and share it among us. Last month, my boss told me and everyone else that we had lunch with that we can no longer share our food with each other. Apparently, someone who does not eat with us complained about us having lunch together and sharing our meals with each other. My boss said that it was favoritism because we were not inviting everyone else in the department to eat with us and share our food with them. So basically, we can’t bring our own food and share it with my closest friends at work because we are showing favoritism by not inviting the whole department to eat with and not sharing our food with them.

That is ridiculous. You are adults, not children, and you should be able to share your food with whoever you damn well want.

Obviously, if you were ostentatiously making a point of excluding one particular person, that would be jerkish and your boss should tell you to stop being an ass. But a small group of coworkers sharing lunch is not a big deal, and your boss appears to believe he’s running a kindergarten.

I don’t know if it’s a battle you feel like fighting or not, but you’d be on solid ground in saying, “This is our lunch break, when we’re on our own time. We’re not trying to be exclusionary, but we’re all adults here and we think it’s up to us who we share our own food with.”

Otherwise, you might consider leaving the office for your lunches.

2. My employee fell for a scam

I run a small retail business and while I was out this afternoon, someone came in and scammed one of my employees into giving him $300 in cash from the register. He told my employee that I was buying some furniture from him and we had spoken about, so she handed him the cash, then realized what she’d done and called me.

How do I proceed from here? I know that confidence tricksters are professionals, but handing over $300 without checking with the boss — I’m good at telling my team when changes are happening and would never ask anyone other than me to pay someone — seems like a big lapse in judgment. That is not an insignificant sum to the business — it’s an average day’s takings.

Any advice on how to handle this with this employee would be appreciated.

The business should cover the expense, just like you would if she made a totally different type of error in her work that cost you money. Absorbing the cost of errors is part of the cost of doing business. You shouldn’t ask an employee to pay for something that happened while they were performing their job in good faith.

But take this as impetus to train all your staff on spotting scams and handling similar situations that could come up in the future.

3. How can we be fair without being rigid?

I’m involved in a formal business coaching agreement with a husband and wife team that own a business near mine. They also happen to be close personal friends, so I know quite a bit about the business, and THEIR business. The business they own is a national franchise of a home services trade.

The question in front of us right now is: how do we accommodate the technicians (employees, not independent contractors) who need flexibility in start times due to circumstances beyond their control, while still maintaining standards and a sense of fairness among all the employees (particularly the other technicians)? Some are single parents, some of them have children whose schools have different start times, sometimes all of them are dealing with the variable of which schools are open in-person and which ones have closed due to exposure or quarantine-style restrictions? (Meaning, the need for flexibility exists for each individual tech, not just from tech to tech.) Explicitly, 7:45 am is considered “on time,” but one or two cannot arrive before 8:30 am without serious disruption to their family obligations. How can they enforce rules around tardiness, provide the needed flexibility, and still maintain a sense of fairness?

Four general principles:

* Strive to give people the maximum amount of flexibility you can without harm to the business’s operations. Stay away from rules that exist for rules’ sake.

* Spend some time figuring out where you can and can’t be flexible. Maybe start times aren’t a big deal. Maybe they are. Maybe you can accommodate a couple of people coming in late, but not everyone doing that. Figure out where the lines are, and communicate them openly and directly with your team. If there are some things you definitely can’t accommodate or can’t accommodate more than rarely, be up-front about those.

* If someone’s flexibility means that other employees get stuck with more work or less desirable work, make sure you recognize that in tangible ways (like money, extra time off, accommodating other things that are important to that person, or whatever makes sense for the context).

* Make sure that your flexibility isn’t limited to parents; non-parents generally have obligations in their lives that also matter. Make sure you don’t set up a parent/non-parent divide on your team. At the same time, though, the reality is that parents are operating under a uniquely crappy set of circumstances right now, and it’s okay to recognize that as long as you’re not ignoring non-parents’ realities too.

4. Should I mention I’m trans when interviewing?

After many years with my employer, I’ve decided to look for another situation. I am a management professional in a progressive city in a progressive region—which is great because I am transgender, and job hunting as a trans person is beyond stressful in any area. I’m very fortunate that I am far enough along in my transition that I’m clocked reliably as male 100% of the time. It would never come up in conversation with coworkers if I didn’t make a point to be open about it. Which I am. I have gotten reasonably deft at finding appropriate ways to disclose this information at what I consider to be the right time depending on the person.

Should I tell prospective employers that I am transgender during the application phase? My partner thinks I should because it could be an advantage to my prospects due to interest in hiring diversity. I don’t think it is appropriate—it’s not relevant to my profession, and as a hiring manager, I find it problematic when someone discloses a protected status before they’ve been hired (after all, one may never know why they didn’t get the job). Also, I already feel uncomfortable with the obvious male privilege I am afforded on a daily basis. I don’t feel right trying to game the system further.

I could find a way to work this information into an interview as a “gauging the culture” question. Should I?

Legally, employers can’t consider it (even in your favor) when deciding whether or not to hire you. In reality, though, employers consider illegal factors all the time, consciously or not. And given that trans people face discrimination more often than they face positive bias in hiring, it’s at least as likely to hurt you as to help you.

But there’s potentially value in that, if it helps you screen out bigoted employers. If you have the luxury of being at least somewhat choosy in your search, it can make a lot of sense to mention things that will help you screen out places you wouldn’t want to work. Doing it via a question about culture is a good approach so it doesn’t seem randomly shoehorned into the conversation.

5. Applying after withdrawing past applications

How many times can you continue to apply at a company after withdrawing previous applications? I’ve applied to the same company twice in the past couple of years, then I withdrew my application each time after they offered me an interview. The first time I had already accepted another job offer and I was honest about this via email; the second time I decided to stay at my then-current job, so over the phone I gave an excuse about my circumstances changing.

Now I have left my most recent job, that same company is advertising again, and I’m interested. But I’m also applying elsewhere, and if I keep withdrawing my application, I’m worried I’ll become like Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation, repeatedly letting down the accounting firm.

So, what’s the etiquette? Am I fine to keep applying to this company? Or should I start to approach this situation with more caution, in case they form a view of me as an unreliable candidate?

You’re fine applying again. The first withdrawal barely counts — there’s nothing flaky about having already accepted another job by the time they contacted you. The second time wouldn’t be remarkable on its own either; it’s only the fact that it’s the second time that could make it more of a thing of interest.

Go ahead and apply again if you want, as long as you’re sure you’d go to an interview if it’s offered (assuming, of course, that you haven’t already accepted a different job in the meantime; there’s no controlling for that).

{ 747 comments… read them below }

  1. PollyQ*

    #2 — Professional con artists can be incredibly glib, smooth, convincing, while somehow also confusing, so that even someone not very gullible can be taken by them. By all means, learn some of the most common business scams and teach your employees what to do if they suspect them. But try not to hold this employee’s mistake against her.

    1. The OTHER other*

      I worked retail for years as an employee and manager, and scams and con artists were a thing. IMO Alison’s advice here is a bit naive. Chalking this up to “cost of doing business” is basically Shrugging your shoulders and going “oh well” . In six month this small business will be OUT of business. Yes, train your staff, but really? She didn’t call the boss who supposedly ordered this? She didn’t get an invoice? Someone just tells her the manager ordered this and she hands them cash out of the register? That is just DUMB. The employee should not be on the register, and if the business is small, well, if she can’t be trusted to run the register then she probably needs to be let go.

      Small retail businesses operate on small margins, especially now. they don’t have a “whoops!” account on the ledger to absorb idiotic expenses.

      1. John Smith*

        You will be surprised at how easy it is to con someone when you know how to do it. It’s all very well thinking of these things in hindsight, but in the there and then, all those hindsight questions are as substantial as rocking horse poop.

        The most common response of a victim of a scam is “I can’t believe I was so stupid to fall for that”. It’s not that they are stupid, con artists are called artists for a very good reason.

        1. The OTHER other*

          Did I not mention I worked retail as an employee and manager, for years? I have encountered many, MANY scammers. I am well versed in cons. Many FAR more elaborate and well thought out than this, and several involving accomplices.

          Someone at a register told “your boss ordered this, pay me” who doesn’t contact the boss or a supervisor in this time of cell phones, and just hands cash out of the register with no questions asked… should not be working a cash register.

          This is not “cost of doing business”, it’s more likely a poor employee that cannot handle cash. Yes, train, but if it were my small business I would lean towards letting the employee go.

          1. violinasaurus*

            the amount of teenagers who work retail and would never receive this training… or even understand how much $300 means! especially in a small business sense where things can be less formalised all the time, invoices sent well after purchase or receipt and always by non sales/register staff.

            1. Bamcheeks*

              >> in a small business sense where things can be less formalised all the time

              I think this is the bit I’d focus on. Are there EVER times when an employee might be required to give out cash to someone who has just walked in? If that’s something that legitimately happens from time to time, but usually OP says, “by the way, Joe will be popping in for the bread money, it’s on the side” or similar, then it’s actually pretty understandable that the employee was caught out by this and just thought OP might have forgotten to mention it. In which case, make it clear what they should do if someone asks for money and they haven’t been warned beforehand: “if I haven’t explicitly left out an envelope saying “Joe’s bread money, 74€”, never ever give money out. Just say sorry, blame me for forgetting and tell them I’ll sort it out later.”

              On the other hand, if you only *ever* pay invoices by BACS, and there’s never any cash being handed out in the store, then make sure your staff all know that.

              If this is a generally trustworthy employee, look at what made this seem plausible and figure out what needs to change. And take it as a wake-up call to look into some training on other types of scam that target small businesses, of course!

                1. ecnaseener*

                  I was responding to Bamcheeks saying that if it has happened sometimes, the employee would reasonably think it was happening again. (You’re not wrong, better to be proactive, I was just telling Bamcheeks that the answer to that question is already in the letter.)

              1. raida7*

                And the best staff can simply be the ones that f*cked up and weren’t fired – they appreciate the job more, they really absorb the training to stop it happening again.
                You can’t guarantee that with a replacement.

                I’d lean towards training, and maybe taking them off the till for cross-training for a few weeks anyway, just to make it clear they aren’t immediately trusted to handle cash.

            2. Threeve*

              I remember my first teenage retail job–I had training on the basics, but nobody ever told me what to do for anything except handing straightforward purchases.

              Can a customer who paid via credit and wants a refund get it in cash? Am I allowed to break a dollar for the parking meters if someone isn’t buying anything? If two irritated customers both insist they were next in line, what do I do? What is that beeping?

              And I was frequently left alone in the store. Basically, I was stressed, confused and off-balance constantly, and just lucky that I never made a bigger mistake than giving refunds I shouldn’t have.

              1. ObscureRelic*

                Oh boy, that sends me back into my youthful experiences. One time I was at a cash register when a customer appeared with a checker-board with no price on it. It probably came from a set that he’d broken open because he didn’t want the whole set. I called for a price check; no response. (The management team was sitting up in the office; I could see them, they never responded to me. Maybe they thought it was funny.)

                The man got angry and abusive and I felt like there was nothing I could do. (This was before price codes, so no scanning.) He yelled at me for a while, holding up the line, and then threw it at me and left.

                Now, I could have solved it easily by picking up the phone, nodding, then telling the man “Okay, got the price check, it’s $49.95, I’ll ring it up for you…” or taking my box cutter, slashing the board and saying “Can’t sell this, it’s defective”.

                But back then, my teenage self had no clue that I could do anything without explicit instructions. Now, I could make it work just fine. Back then, pure stress.

                PS: Who hasn’t gotten tricked (or almost tricked) by the infamous Toner Phoners?

              2. ZK*

                OP, give the cashier a break. My last retail job I was thrown on a register my first day, with a 5 minutes lesson by the assistant manager on how to ring up sales. That was it. No lessons on what to do if something weird came up, how to do a return or anything. That’s retail. Some barely train you, and others that train better, still can’t train for everything.

                While I was there we had a 17 year manager get conned by a couple with a cart load of stuff, who had to “go check on the dog,” and off she went with the cartload, while of course his card declined. While he attempted to “call her” to come back with another form of payment, he slid closer and closer to the door until, poof! He was gone and there was nothing the manager could do but watch, thanks to corporate policy. The original cashier was a teen who had no clue. She at least called the manager, but by then it was too late. These people know what they’re doing, and expecting everyone to know how to handle everything is the real naïveté.

              3. quill*

                Oof, I remember that feeling.

                Worked at a clothing store where because I was new, I didn’t know how to run the register, so I never got to run the register unless they needed my language skills… so ringing people up took forever. Anyone I had to speak to in my second language was incredibly nice, but my boss was not pleased that school had not taught me how to sign people up to a store credit card in spanish.

                Then when I worked at an on-campus convenience store I was supposed to (magically?) stock the place without ever leaving the register, tend the pizza oven immediately without ever letting a customer wait more than five seconds at the register, and fix the stupid displays whenever someone knocked them over with their book bag.

                If I hadn’t been charging to student ID’s so often that I legitimately did not know all the steps to open the cash drawer, I would have been an easy mark.

              4. Cold Fish*

                This is bringing up bad memories. My first job was at a big chain retail store. I was hired as a cashier. Within 1 week they stuck me behind the returns counter, no training other than a “never do a return for X or Y” and “if you have a question or problem use the walkie to call the cashier manager on duty”. People constantly came up to the counter asking for a return of X and Y, get mad when I told them I couldn’t do X/Y, I’d finally call the cashier manager over and without even listening to an entire sentence they would be “that’s fine, do the return.” EVERY….STINKING…..TIME! It didn’t take me long to start wandering into the grey area of returns since I knew the manager on duty would tell me to do it anyway.
                Final straw, the armored truck people showed up. I walkied the cashier manager 5 times and called for them over the storewide PA system (not mentioning the armored truck, just manager please come to return desk). About 10 minutes after the armored truck people left the manager finally wanders over and proceeded to chew me out for not letting them know the reason I was trying to get them was the armored truck people were there. I was to magically know I should have announced a “Code 14” over the PA system. I got a new job shortly after that. All told I worked there 5 weeks.

                I guess my point is,
                1. Stand behind your employee, don’t make rules then constantly break them because you don’t want to deal with an angry customer or want to appear to be the good guy. (Learned this early and it’s become one of my top “do I want to work there?” criteria markers.)
                2. Don’t assume your employee will magically know everything. If something is important, make sure it is communicated or written down for them to reference EARLY in their employment. Not just when something happens. Like when a vendor shows up and demands payment; yes, this time it happened to be a con. However, if there is any doubt that scenario was plausible then employee should be given lee way.

                1. Here we go again*

                  Always train your employees. Even if they’ve been with you months. If something unusual comes up have your employee work with you to solve the problem so they’ll have an idea for the future

                2. Spotted Kitty*

                  Oh god, this brings up such memories. People would come up and ask me if I had a coupon they could use. I would say no, because we’d been told not to re-use old coupons for new customers. They’d demand a manager who would invariably tell me to just re-use an old coupon. I pissed off so many customers because I would NEVER re-use without a manager telling me to do it. I knew the second I did, I’d get in trouble for doing it.

              5. Allison*

                I worked holiday retail a couple years ago, and they didn’t have time to train me, which to some degree was fine because I’d worked a register before (years prior) but in hindsight, they did me a serious disservice by not showing me how to set up a gift card. I did it wrong so many times, and once I realized how to do it properly I felt awful for everyone who bought gift cards before that, the recipients were in for a bad time.

                1. Butterfly Counter*

                  *gasp* This post unburied a LONG buried memory. I was a cashier at Taco Bell. In general I was a smart kid, but along with that, most people assumed I already knew something that they actually needed to train me in doing.

                  I was working at the Taco Bell the first time combo meals were introduced. I noticed new buttons on the register and asked what they did. My manager just laughed. When people ordered combo meals, I just rang up everything individually, trying to incorporate the new buttons somehow. It never worked and for that whole shift, every combo order was just each item rung up separately with no combo discount. A customer finally pointed this out to me and the manager was SO MAD.

                  I basically lasted another week there.

              6. Never Boring*

                Man, I remember getting ripped a new one as a teenage retail employee for the grave sin of working through my evening break because we had a line of people going down an entire aisle from the register and only one other employee in the store. That meant they were required to pay me a whopping half-hour of OT that week. When minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. The store manager reamed me out for not having memorized the contents of an employee manual that I had never been told existed. The undercover security guy came up to me later and told me just how shitty he thought the store manager was to me.

          2. I need cheesecake*

            I also worked retail for years. I think it’s unhelpful to comment without mentioning all the other things to do other than fire them or not fire them.

            1. Wintermute*

              I do think it’s helpful to point out there’s being scammed by a slick scammer (quick-change artist, fake invoices, fraudulent coupons, counterfeit currency) who have done some homework (have fake invoices, photocopied coupons, fake bills, etc) and the utter failure of basic sense to simply pay someone that walks in and says “boss said pay me”.

              You can train someone to spot common scams, talk about copy toner scams and how to spot funny bills, talk about good cash-handling techniques that prevent both change-making and “get them to put a lot of money on the table then grab it and run” theft harder. But you can’t train someone who is simply too credulous to be in a cash-handling position common basic sense like “if someone shows up randomly saying give them money, check with someone before I just fork over cash from the till”.

              1. bamcheeks*

                It really depends! If you see the boss pay cash out of the till to creditors a couple of times a month and sometimes there’s an envelope of cash on the side that someone’s going to pick up, it’s not that unreasonable to think, “boss forgot to mention this to me”.

                1. banoffee pie*

                  Maybe the employee was scared of being rude. They could’ve thought the scammer was a personal friend of the boss and was afraid the boss would be angry if they interrogated them. These things can be awkward. I’m a cynical git and I would find it awkward. The boss might have to let it go this time and give everyone more training. Don’t be too hard on them, I bet they feel pretty dopey already lol

                2. pancakes*

                  Someone who hands over cash to anyone who requests it out of fear that it would be rude to say no is someone with terrible, terrible judgment. Yes, many people find conflict so awkward that they’ll do just about anything to avoid it; it doesn’t follow that centering one’s own fear of awkwardness is a good or reasonable way to make decisions.

              2. Colette*

                A lot of scammers will pressure their victims, threatening to complain about them and pressuring for a quick resolution.

                The OP should be very clear how he pays for things he buys for the store (i.e. never through money in the cash) and how to behave when someone is aggressively asking for money.

                1. DataGirl*

                  This. Scammers know how to create major emotional pressure- screaming at people “You’ll make me lose my job if you don’t take care of this!”, “I’ll report you to the police for theft!” They get you so worked up, scared, anxious, etc that you just get swept up in the craziness of the moment, then later when you can think straight you realize how many red flags there were. It’s easy from the outside to say that a person was dumb to fall for a scam, but it’s not that black and white.

                2. pugsnbourbon*

                  Yep yep yep. This is how a scammer got $200 of groceries off me with a bad check – pretended she was in horrible pain so I rushed. Her married name was on our “no check list” taped above my register – handwritten and barely legible – but the check had a different last name, I think. I was 16 and naive.

                3. Colette*

                  @RagingADHD – “I’ve never had my employees pay for anything” is not the same as “I will never send anyone to you for payment, if someone asks for payment, call me over.”

                4. quill*

                  Yeah. The primary method of defeating scams is by knowing ahead of time exactly what a procedure is. It’s the same reason the IRS routinely does PSA’s about how they will never CALL you about your tax returns. Ever.

                5. banoffee pie*

                  @pancakes I guess I’m just thinking about how it would feel if I had a retail job in the small town where I live. I can imagine the boss/owner expecting me to know their friends and stuff. I don’t know, I would just go easy on the employee. YMMV, we can agree to differ.

                6. Lenora Rose*

                  Raging ADHD: If this employee is new and was never explicitly told that, then the owner knowing he never had employees give out cash to pay is not the same thing as the employee knowing it.

                  You get weird exceptions to “the way things are done” all the time in some small businesses. Even in some large businesses. Sure, we should all be extra cautious when the thing that might be a weird exception involves straight cash, but that still requires training.

                7. pancakes*

                  @banoffee I don’t think the cashier should be fired. I also don’t think fear or anxiety is a good reason to turn over an employer’s cash to someone asking for some of it. The fact that many commenters find either or both of these emotions relatable is beside the point, or should be.

                8. Elizabeth West*

                  I’m currently binge-watching Mr. Robot and there’s a scene where Elliott has scammed his way into a secure facility, and he has to manipulate the employee giving him a tour into letting him up to the restricted area. The hacker dude is talking to him through a hidden mic and tells him to “destroy” the employee, make him feel really small and bad for not getting a supervisor to let him up. So he does. And it works.

                  It’s the same principle as negging in dating, i.e. dissing someone you’re trying to hook up with so they’ll prove you wrong and do it anyway. Con artists are really, really good at this stuff.

                9. Thick skin*

                  I’d love to know the age or experience of the employee. It would be easy for an experienced scam artist to get a very nervous new employee to fork over cash. If it’s a small business the chances are there isn’t fraud training. I think OP needs to 1) talk to the employee and find out exactly what happened 2) give grace to the employee 3) do training for all employees. Yes we can all look at this with cynical and experienced glasses and say we would never do that!! But when we were young? Or inexperienced, or untrained?
                  Personally I would sit down with the employee, tell them I know it was a mistake but I just want to know exactly what happened so we can prevent it from happening again, and go from there.

              3. JB*

                I work in banking. Teaching customers to avoid scams has been a big part of my job for a long time. And it’s just untrue what you’re saying, that scam sense can’t be taught. There are absolutely people out there who are naturally more vulnerable to scams, because they’re credulous, because they’re easily bullied, etc. and many of them ARE able to learn basic steps to keep themselves safe, ESPECIALLY after they’ve already been a victim once. The only repeat victims we usually see are people with actual disabilities that interfere with their cognition (especially dementia and TBIs – anything affecting memory makes a person so much more vulnerable to scams because they become used to the feeling of not knowing what’s happening and trusting other people to tell them what’s going on).

                YOU may not be able to fix this issue with training – I assume you’re pretty bad at training anything, if you feel able to call someone unteachable based on the little information we have here – but that doesn’t mean LW can’t

                1. DataGirl*

                  Thank you for looking out for your customers. My mom has dementia and just fell for a scam last week- gave the guy $500 in Walmart gift cards and was ready to give him a lot more (he claimed she owed $8000) but thankfully the bank stopped her card and when she went in to her branch try to get more money, they were able to convince her it was a scam. I tried to explain all the red flags in the story she was sold, but I’m really worried she’s going to forget everything I said and fall for the next guy with a sob story.

                2. Momma Bear*

                  I’d definitely use this as a Lesson Learned for everyone. Now the business knows it’s a target and it knows it is vulnerable because people haven’t been trained. Companies do training for all kinds of situations to mitigate concerns. I would add this to whatever anti-theft training is offered, count the $300 as a business expense, and hope that the employees learn not to let it happen again. Maybe even look at the situation and make changes to the protocol to help there be less of a chance of the scammer getting the money.

                3. RagingADHD*

                  The basic step here is “call the boss before I hand a random stranger the entire contents of my register.”

                  It’s not that complicated.

                  How are you going to train the staff on that without publicly humiliating the employee even worse, and insulting them all?

                4. not a doctor*

                  It’s pretty easy to set up a training on common scams in general, and give them a set of rules that include “always call the boss before giving any money that isn’t a legitimate refund [with whatever standardized criteria qualify a refund as legitimate].”

                  That’s why it’s a *training* and not a public reprimand.

                5. OhNo*

                  Re: training, it’s also pretty easy for the boss to take responsibility for the lapse (which they should, if they haven’t trained on it before). It’s as easy as saying, “I realized that I never gave you all training on what to do for scams or unusual money requests, and that’s on me. It may seem basic, but I want to make sure we’re all on the same page and that I’ve given you all the tools you need.”

                6. RagingADHD*

                  @not a doctor,

                  I don’t know how many trainings you’ve had to sit through because one person screwed up and everyone knows who it was, but from what I’ve seen it quickly becomes impossible to disguise the issue with vocabulary words or corporate-speak.

                  The people who understand what you’re saying don’t need the training, and the people who need the training most are also going to need you to break it down in such clear and direct language that it’s going to wind up being a callout whether you meant it to be or not.

                  Or else they nod and smile and go do the same thing again, because it went right over their head.

                7. Slow Gin Lizz*

                  JB, you make excellent points and now I realize who is falling for all these scams that I think no one could ever fall for. Lately I’ve gotten several calls asking me to confirm my Amazon purchase of an iPhone and I couldn’t imagine anyone who would think, “Oh, yes, I *did* order an iPhone” when they hadn’t, but now I know, it’s those people with cognitive impairment. Gross that these people get targeted so much. And I suspect that this employee is young and inexperienced and hasn’t had much or any training about how to deal with scammers. Young and inexperienced people also don’t have the cognition levels to realize someone is suspicious when they are very slick, so they probably also fall into that category. A little training, JB-style, would probably make a world of difference to her.

                8. Ace in the Hole*

                  RagingADHD:

                  A lot of safety training is about “common sense” things. I routinely train people on things like how to use a ladder, how to exit a burning building, and to wash their hands after handling something dirty. This is no different. Do most of my colleagues know how to wash their hands and climb a ladder? Of course! But it’s my duty to make sure that if someone doesn’t know, they have a chance to learn before they make a harmful mistake.

                  It doesn’t have to be condescending or humiliating. You just have to fully commit to the attitude that everyone has different experiences and everyone has to learn something for the first time. Ignorance is not shameful, it’s just something to be corrected. It shouldn’t be humiliating to be told you made a mistake and instructed how to do it in the future.

                  As for how you’d train the staff without publicly humiliating or insulting anyone? Easy: “Hey everyone, listen up for a sec. We’ve had an incident with some scammers recently… I want to make sure you all know that I will never tell someone to ask the cashier for payment. If anyone ever asks you for money, no matter what the reason, please tell them they have to talk to me directly. If you have any questions or if a transaction feels sketchy, call me or [lead cashier] right away. Thanks!”

                9. myswtghst*

                  Exactly what Ace in the Hole said.

                  It doesn’t have to be a formalized anti-scam training or even an all staff email that goes over the heads of those meant to learn from it. It can be a quick team meeting, or 1:1 chats with team members over the course of a week, to say “hey, I know we never explicitly talked about this, so I just wanted to make it clear that I always want you to do [xyz] in situations like [abc].”

                  Given the employee who was scammed recognized almost immediately afterwards that it was a scam and trusted the boss enough to fess up, I’d lean towards this being a workplace where this can be handled with direct conversations and forgiveness.

                10. Observer*

                  @RagingADHD I don’t know how many trainings you’ve had to sit through because one person screwed up and everyone knows who it was,

                  I can’t tell you how many times I have dealt with people who have fallen for scams who “should have known better”. To the point that I don’t try to disguise it. I don’t call it out, but I do point out things like “we’ve had staff fall for this kind of thing. So don’t think that all you need is common sense to avoid scams.”

                  And, really, what the OP describes is an EXTREMELY common type of situation. Unless you EXPLICITLY tell people things like “I will never ask you to do X” they really don’t have a way to know that.

                  In a case like this, the cashier knew that the boss was out and apparently was not ever explicitly told that the boss would never ask for her to pay for something from the register . If the cashier had some reason to believe that something was going to be purchased, there were a lot of people in line and / or the scammer used some of the common techniques to throw her off kilter and keep her from thinking things through, it’s totally not surprising that that cashier made this mistake.

                11. Sea Anemone*

                  @Slow Gin Lizz

                  but now I know, it’s those people with cognitive impairment

                  No, it’s just people under enough cognitive load to say, “Wait, what?” and to want to check on exactly what is going on just in case it’s something they did that is going wrong. That’s all the hook that’s needed. Once the scammer has them engaged, they run the scam, and very smart people lose money.

              4. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

                I was 16 working overnight in a grocery story. Man comes in and has me make change from bills.. repeatedly. I got talked to the next shift, because apparently I gave out a lot more than I should have. I remember (now, at 50) how experienced and smooth he was about it. He knew what he was doing, I didn’t. I wouldn’t be too hard on this employee for a first time mistake like this.

                1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                  Quick Change scam. Super common.

                  A coworker at the bar I worked at fell for this once – and he was in his 30’s at the time and working with cash for decades. It can be a VERY effective scam. It’s why we were always told to leave the bill you were making change for on the bar until you counted out the smaller bills. But during a Friday night rush… well. That scammer knew what he was doing.

                2. Retired Prof*

                  I got taken by a quick change artist when I was young and working at a burger joint. Luckily my manager spotted what was happening and scared off the scammer before I lost the whole till. I was so mortified, but my manager was very comforting and I was not docked for what I lost. I was his best employee, a college grad marking time until I got out of that town, and yet I got taken. I agree with Alison’s advice – do some training and mark up the loss to experience on everyone’s part.

              5. Cold Fish*

                I can honestly say I’ve never been coached on how to spot funny money despite having several cashier jobs. One job I was told to mark 20’s with that pen that is supposed to indicate if real or not. Thing is, I still don’t know what is supposed to happen if the bill is fake.

                1. Wintermute*

                  Those pens have excellent marketing but are actually completely ineffective. They look for cellulose, so they’ll tell you if the bill is plain paper– or was in contact with plain paper in a wallet, or contaminated with anything that has sugar in it. But a fake bill that’s not made on printer paper will still pass 100% of the time while real bills will fail constantly.

                  Ironically the detector itself is a scam.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  The thing we were told to do is hold it up to the light and look for the strip running through the bill. But I imagine counterfeiters have figured out a way around that too.

                3. Nina*

                  I was a cashier in a country that has plastic banknotes with bright colours and micro-printing and raised sections and holographs and transparent patches that read differently backwards and forwards – the whole nine yards. If the material was wrong, most cashiers would notice immediately just from touching it, but we had photocopies of real banknotes prominently displayed behind the register for checking just in case.

          3. Insomniac*

            I mean others of us have also worked retail and don’t agree with you. Working retail doesn’t make you the authority on the subject. It’s good that you are skeptical enough to not be conned, but confidence scammers are successful for a reason.

          4. truesaer*

            It’s great that you have so much experience with scams. This employee has obviously just had their first experience with one…and hopefully learned a lesson from it! It’s also exposed a gap in the employer’s processes that needs to be corrected.

            It’s very easy to take your years of experience and assume that an inexperienced person should have all the same knowledge. But they don’t have it yet.

          5. JustaTech*

            I’ve seen the high-tech version of this as well, where the person who handed over the money (not cash but a wire transfer of many many thousands of dollars) was the CFO. He’d gotten an email from the CEO asking him to make this wire transfer of $X to account Y. He was just about to hit send when the CEO happened to walk past his office and the CFO said “hey, what’s this wire transfer about?” To which the CEO replied “what wire transfer?”

            So it’s not just untrained cashiers who get caught by this kind of stuff. That’s why you have to have policies and procedures in place for everyone who handles money from the chump change for the snack bar to the CFO.

            1. RosyGlasses*

              Yep- our employees get emails ALL the time from our “partners and leadership” with the original sender’s email address hidden (so it just shows up as their name) asking them to grab a few hundred dollars of gift cards to send out as surprises to the team or for a conference they are at. I’ve even almost gotten caught up in one around changing direct deposit. We got new processes put into place ASAP after that particular one – but the basic habit of check the actual sender’s email and not just the contact name is one we drill deep into our team.

          6. Observer*

            Did I not mention I worked retail as an employee and manager, for years?

            Yes, you did. And to be honest, your posts really make me think of everything I’ve heard about the dysfunction in retail.

            First fire THEN train? No. You don’t fire people because you were to cheap to train people.

          7. Olivia Mansfield*

            “Did I not mention I worked retail as an employee and manager, for years? I have encountered many, MANY scammers. I am well versed in cons.”

            Well that’s where an unseasoned front line employee is different from you. Entry level front line employees aren’t typically coming to the job with years of experience and having seen or heard of multiple forms of scamming. They’re typically new to the workforce and aren’t sure what the norms are, and when left alone with vague instructions that don’t cover every imaginable scenario, they can become confused and get bamboozled. And that is a cost of business, unless the employer wants to pay more for more seasoned help. The answer can’t be that mistakes can never happen because mistakes are things that are never supposed to happen — they happen anyway.

          8. Blake*

            As an alternate viewpoint, they just paid $300 to teach that employee (and perhaps others) a lesson about scams. Do they really want to flush that money down the drain, and possibly invite bad feelings from the rest of the staff?

        2. Worldwalker*

          For a sophisticated con, certainly. And some of them are very sophisticated.

          But a simple request for money, a thing that the OP says that the business does not do, with, apparently, no documentation or anything else to fake legitimacy, and the employee doesn’t even check with their superior? That demonstrates a lack of judgment — and, arguably, common sense — on the part of the employee.

          For the business, certainly, the $300 should be written off as tuition to the School of Hard Knocks. But I would seriously question whether the employee should be in a position to handle cash.

          1. serenity*

            I agree. I don’t happen to think “train your staff on how to spot and avoid scams or phishing attempts” and “an employee who is this credulous may have bigger judgment issues” are mutually exclusive.

            1. Here we go again*

              Honestly a simple YouTube video on how to spot a quick change artist or common retail scams should be helpful training for a small shop. It’s free and would only take about 15 minutes.

            2. raida7*

              yeah but I’d reckon they’re a LOT better at identifying scams now they’ve fallen for one.
              A good talker got $300 from the till by being convincing and leading them away from calling the boss.
              Would the next person who says “You don’t have to call Greg” or “Greg said you could just give me the deposit in cash” succeed? I think not.
              Instead of saying “they fckd up and therefore cannot handle cash” I’d lean towards “they fckd up and will really appreciate this job and not fall for another dumb scam again”

          2. Colette*

            It probably wasn’t a simple request for money. And the OP knows she never does that – does the cashier also know that? I suspect not.

            Let’s imagine you’re a cashier. You have a long line. The person at the front of the line says they’re in a hurry, they’re irritated about waiting, and they just need the payment the boss told them to get from you. If they have to go back to your boss, who they’ve known for years and who they refer to by name, and they say he always pays them this way, they’re going to be really angry – and they’ll complain about you. Meanwhile, the rest of the people in line are getting impatient as well, and you can’t handle their purchases while you’re dealing with this guy.

            1. Gothic Bee*

              And the fact that the employee immediately realized that it was a scam seems to imply that the circumstances, whatever they were, clouded her judgment. This situation on it’s own is probably going to make her more wary of any future scams, but you should still be training employees on avoiding scams, checking cash and checks, etc. IMO she shouldn’t be fired for this assuming she’s otherwise a decent employee.

              1. OhNo*

                Let’s also look at the natural consequences of firing this employee: If you fire her for falling for this scam, what does that tell the other employees? It tells them “if you mess up, don’t tell the boss or you’ll get fired”.

                Then what happens next time? An employee falls for a con, or makes a mistake, and you’re out several hundred dollars. Except this time you don’t find out about it until way too late because they were too scared of being fired to tell you.

                1. The Rural Juror*

                  Or, as it happened in my case, another employee made a mistake and was afraid to tell anyone. I was blamed for it and almost fired! It’s definitely better to make the employees feel like they can tell the boss without fear.

                2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

                  Yup.

                  When I worked retail, we had a district manager come in one day. I, being the diligent person I was, printed out the cash total for the day, as my manager occasionally did, so I could cross check my drawer count with the expected total. I sat down with my drawer in front of her, and, when things weren’t adding up the first time, I pulled out the slip to check.

                  DM lost. Her. Crackers. “Don’t you DARE ever do that! What kind of idiot are you!? That’s against EVERY policy we have! I could FIRE you for this!!”

                  So I (unintentionally) lost my crackers right back at her and dove headfirst into a full-on panic attack. I sobbed for 20 minutes straight, shaking and unable to get a sentence out. DM finally gave up, shoved the drawer back at my manager, and left to go bully someone else.

                  As soon as she left, I relaxed enough to stop crying. Manager was vaguely apologetic, as she’d been the person who’d shown me how to to that. She clocked out as well, and I was left with one other part time person.

                  “Can you cover me for 15 minutes, Katie while I go to the dollar store?” “Yeah, why?” “My drawer is $20 short and I need to get cash back to cover it before we close.”

                  Neither of them ever found out, and you’re darn right I just lied and covered it if my drawer ever was wrong again.

                  Punitive measures just make people lie better.

                3. myswtghst*

                  It tells them “if you mess up, don’t tell the boss or you’ll get fired”.

                  100% this. Absolutely acknowledge this happened, and take steps to prevent it from happening again. But not steps that will make your employees afraid to admit a mistake to you in the future.

              2. truesaer*

                That’s a good point. The employee realized their mistake, which suggests to me that they’re not totally clueless but probably had their buttons pushed with the common means that scammer use (create a sense of urgency, waiting until the store is extremely busy, frame the interaction by seeming to know some facts about the store operations, etc). It could have been much more concerning, like never mentioning the event or it only being discovered when the drawer came up short.

            2. sunny-dee*

              That makes a lot of assumptions, and even a lot of those assumptions are faulty. You keep talking about how the person demanding money will be mad about waiting – but there is no consideration on how the boss would react. Literally her first thought should have been, let me call my boss to confirm. That’s it. You ask them to stand aside, take care of another customer (if there is one waiting – remember, this is a small business that is grossing $300 a day, not Walmart), and call the boss on her cell. This is not a big deal, until you clean out the register and give it to a con artist.

              1. Colette*

                Scammers plan ahead so that the person they’re talking to is under pressure. They’re not going to show up at 10:30 on Tuesday morning, they’re going to show up when they know they”ll be busy. She may have said she was going to call the boss – and the scammer would counter with “I don’t have time for this, he’s the one who sent me here”. It’s easy to blame the victim, but I see this as more of a management issue, because they clearly didn’t have training or procedures for this.

                1. Simply the best*

                  The scammer (or real person who is paid this way) can counter all they want. You still need to check with the boss.

                  I’ve worked in retail, as a cashier. At Christmas (just for that added pressure). No way would I have ever not checked with my boss on something like this. It is absolutely common sense.

                2. Colette*

                  @Simply the best – the best way to get someone to go against “common sense” is to put them in a situation where they’re stressed and afraid of the consequences of not doing what you want – and that’s what scammers do. Just because you were lucky doesn’t mean everyone is.

                3. LunaLena*

                  I feel that a lot of the “this is common sense” responses are going off of “what I think I would have done in that scenario,” when you really don’t know how you’re going to act in any given scenario until you’ve actually been in it. I would like to think I would be wary of anyone asking for money because I usually am, but would I be? I remember getting a phone scam once – someone called and left a message, saying they were from the sheriff’s department and I owed a $300+ fine, and that a warrant was out for my arrest if I didn’t call back and pay it immediately. I remember the initial rush of panic I had of “did I do something wrong?” and how my next reaction was to resolve this ASAP. Fortunately I was reviewing messages while driving, so I decided to call back once I got home. That gave me plenty of time to think, and that’s when I started noticing all the holes in the story, and realized that it was a scam.

                  I was actually really lucky they were dumb enough to leave a phone message instead of calling back until I answered. And that, by the time they tried again, I had already realized it was a scam. But if they had caught me the first time they called and started screaming at me like they did later on? While I was still in that initial rush of panic and mentally off-balance? I think it’s possible I would have just paid the money, and then thought afterwards “wait, that didn’t seem right.”

                  I have other examples too, of grown adults who should know better falling or almost falling for similar scams. And those were mostly over the phone or by email. Can’t imagine how bad it would be to have someone intimidating standing right in front of you, screaming at you and threatening you that they need this done NOW and they are a personal friend of YOUR BOSS and they’re going to get you FIRED if you WASTE ANY MORE OF THEIR TIME.

                  And it’s great if one knows one still wouldn’t back down from that. There are certainly plenty of people who wouldn’t. But the thing with con artists is… it doesn’t have to work on everyone. Didn’t work on you? That’s fine. They’ll just go on to the next mark, and eventually they’ll find a place with a naive teen who is still new and learning and scared that they’ll get fired if they screw up, that they can bully into doing what they say.

                4. myswtghst*

                  What LunaLena said. Looking at the situation from the outside, it’s really easy to believe I would never fall for such a thing, but the whole reason scammers keep scamming is that their scams work often enough to be worth their while.

                  As someone who spent 10+ years working in call centers, training people to work in call centers, and writing process documentation for call centers, I can say from experience that the best way to prevent scams from working isn’t to rely on “common sense” or somehow magically hire only workers who are immune to scams; it’s to have a clear process in place for exceptions so your employee knows exactly how to respond and escalate anything out of the ordinary.

              2. Observer*

                Literally her first thought should have been, let me call my boss to confirm.

                Nope. Because in many cases, the boss would be just as mad that “You are WASTING MY TIME.” And then later berate the cashier after they hear complaints from some of the people who had to wait in line.

                I’m not saying that this is what the OP would have done. But it is ABSOLUTELY what happens in a lot of workplaces. And even when it’s not that bad, the pressure on people like cashiers not to hold up the line can be fierce and enough to cloud their judgement.

                1. banoffee pie*

                  yeah it depends on the boss. Some definitely don’t want to be bothered much and the employees know that, so would be reluctant to call and check.

            3. myswtghst*

              Exactly this. It’s odd to me that so many people seem to think the scammer walked in, said “money please!”, got the cash, and walked out. Odds are high that the scammer knew enough details about the store and its owner to sow a seed of doubt, then put the pressure on the employee to get them to act in a way they normally wouldn’t.

              Given the employee seems to have almost immediately realized their error and brought it to the boss’s attention, I don’t know why you wouldn’t lean into that trust to forgive them and ensure all your employees know what to do in a situation like this in the future. The easiest way to prevent it from happening again is to have a clear process for situations like this, so the employee doesn’t have to figure it out on the spot, while being harangued by someone whose goal is to get them off-balance (emotionally-speaking).

          3. Lolas*

            I second this- arguably, there is a difference between particular scams that you need teach employees to spot and circumvent and having to “train” employees not hand out large amounts of money to random people who come in and ask for it without getting approval from the boss. I don’t mean to insult the employee, but that is something that I knew without being told when I was fifteen and got my first cashier job.

          4. Lolas*

            I second this- I don’t mean to insult the employee, but I knew not to give cash to random person (for whatever reason) without checking with the boss when I was fifteen and got my first cashier job (and I did not receive “training” on that).

      2. Jackalope*

        That’s…. a bit harsh. Yes, this was a foolish and costly mistake. And the LW should probably pay attention to this employee for a bit to make sure that she isn’t making bad choices on a regular basis. But scammers succeed because they can be really good at what they do. Especially if this is a small business that tends to be casual in how it deals with things (not uncommon in smaller businesses, unlike larger companies that tend to have more rigid rules), it could have seemed really logical that someone would just be dropping off furniture.

        As for the “chalk it up to the cost of doing business”, Alison isn’t suggesting ignoring it, she’s saying the employee shouldn’t be the one who eats the cost of the $300. Notice that she also told the OP to provide all of the employees with scam training so they will be better prepared if/when this happens again. That combined with “Never give money to anyone, that’s always my job, even if they say we have an understanding/they’re from the IRS/whatever,” is going to help protect against this in the future. Especially if the training happens regularly, the employees will be more likely to remember.

        1. Kal*

          Agreed, the “chalk it up to the cost of doing business” definitely wasn’t “well, I guess I just gotta get used to losing $300 every now and then”, it was “well, that was an expensive way for me to learn how important it is to train my staff on how to handle scams”. Sometimes learning things the expensive way is the cost of doing business. And the sad fact is that a lot of bosses would make the employee pay the cost instead of taking it as a lesson and fixing the gap in their training.

      3. Typing All The Time*

        Definitely train staff and create a procedure for responding to them. Also, notify the police and file a report.

        1. Asenath*

          Definitely. Way back when I had a job handling cash, we were trained well and the most important rule, emphasized so often I still remember it clearly, was “If you don’t understand what you’re asked to do, don’t do it. Ask Senior Person.” It might not work in a very small business if the owner isn’t present, but it ensured that something was requested that wasn’t part of the standard procedures we learned, we didn’t do it. I still remember one very charming and convincing young man trying to persuade me to hand over cash in some weird process I didn’t understand. He didn’t wait for Senior Person to come, and didn’t complain to the company about me, so I suspected a scam.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            For a few months, a common scam in local stores was a scammer asking for change for a $100 bill and walking away with several hundred before the cashier realized it. The police explained how it worked and the theft level dropped. Educating your staff that they are not allowed to give or exchange money as a firm policy is a good thing.

            1. Not your typical admin*

              This exact scam happened to me as a teenager working in a grocery store. This was the 90’s, so breaking large bills wasn’t uncommon. Thankfully my manager was so kind and understanding.

              1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

                I was 16 working overnight in a grocery story. I got taken like this too.

        2. PT*

          Yes, I am surprised that Alison and OP both did not mention this step. The employee did not “fall for a scam.” A thief stole $300 from the store, in the form of scamming a cashier. It should be reported to the police, with any corroborating surveillance video submitted if possible.

          I know a lot of people are going to say “the police won’t do anything” but this guy is going to hit up other businesses. The more reports that are filed, the more likely it is he will be caught eventually.

          1. Not your typical admin*

            Yes! Please report to the police. While it might not seems like a lot, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this person wasn’t doing this to several local businesses. My police officer friend tells me it’s much easier to tie crimes like these together with multiple reports, and allows them to warn other businesses of what to be on guard for.

          2. raida7*

            Yes! and let the other local businesses know. The owners/managers probably know each other at some level, that’s how in my home town people travelling through shoplifting get caught.
            One store gets hit, they call a couple people with descriptions, someone follows to find their car they’re stashing loot in, they call the cops, other store owners take note of what’s being taken and then give a shoplifter a scare when the cops are ready to stop the car from leaving.
            Lots of evidence, stolen property returned, good training on identifying shoplifting

      4. Wintermute*

        I’m with you on this. This is beyond the pale, this is not losing money to a professional quick-change artist who comes in to break a 20 and gets you to break good cash handling rules, then walks out with 40 bucks with some sleight of hand and the old “oh here, take back those five ones and I’ll give you this five [that you just gave me] and give me a ten… [and so on]”

        This is beyond an understandable mistake. It’s one thing if they displayed a complicated MO and the violation of policy was minor (like violating good cash handling when being run around by a quick-change artist, or accepting a coupon without verifying the bar code), that’s not great, but understandable. This is a fundamental and complete failure of basic common sense, and that’s hard to train for because sure you might train for THIS ONE INSTANCE of a complete failure of credulity, but it shows such a drastic degree of lack of basic sense that it’s probably not a situation where they can be trained to be resistant to other scams.

        1. Bubbly*

          I know people with DOCTORATES who are extremely smart and got scammed by a scam in which they call and say your DEA license is suspended and you need to send gift cards to reinstate it. Being scammed can happen to anyone and isn’t a personal moral failing.

          1. Expiring Cat Memes*

            I agree it can happen to anyone. But there is book smart and life smart, and they’re entirely different smarts. Excelling at one doesn’t automatically make you competent at the other.

          2. RagingADHD*

            Nobody said it was a moral failing. But that’s an interesting leap.

            Why would you equate a lack of common sense or a tendency to panic and choke with morality?

            You don’t have to be smart to be moral. The two are unrelated.

          3. Worldwalker*

            I disagree that it can happen to anyone.

            If it could, then all the training and anti-scam advice in the world would be useless, because it would be impossible to teach someone to avoid scams.

            Given that it *is* possible to teach people to avoid being scammed, it stands to reason that some people already know those things (or think them through when necessary) and are not, in fact, going to be victims of scams.

            1. Gothic Bee*

              That’s weird logic. Just being trained doesn’t make you immune to scams, you’re just less likely to fall for them. So, yeah, it can happen to anyone, especially when you factor in the fact that people can do really stupid stuff when they’re stressed, tired, sick, etc.

            2. OhNo*

              You’ve got a logical fallacy going, there. That’s like saying that anyone can fall off a bridge under the right circumstances, so clearly the logical conclusion is that we shouldn’t build bridges because everyone will just leap to their deaths if we do.

              Falling for a scam can happen to anyone given the right combination of circumstances. Training can help you mitigate the risk, sure. But even the best trained person can be tired, overwhelmed, stressed out, forget a step in the process, or make a mistake that still leads to being scammed.

            3. American Job Venter*

              Are you saying that because people don’t know a piece of information, it’s useless to teach it to them, because if they were capable of knowing it they already would know it? I’m not sure that’s how knowledge works.

            4. Lenora Rose*

              Not even a little. It means it’s possible to *reduce* the chances of people being fooled by a scam. Assuming that training means that that person can never fall for a scam is a fallacy; people who have been scammed have included, for example, judges who rule on scam cases. In fact, the arrogance behind assuming that because you didn’t fall for a Really Obvious (to you) scam means you will not fall for Any scam is something next-level scam artists (And, eg, MLMs) play on.

            5. Kal*

              Recently there was a big thing where a YouTuber who does education on how scams work and regularly baits scammers to show their tactics got scammed into deleting his entire YouTube account. He was just in a situation where he was not at his best and let his defences down for a moment. He realised it near immediately, but what was done was done, and took a whole lot of time and effort to get the account restored by YouTube.

              Are you telling me that you’ve never been tired? Sick? You’ve never accidentally sent an message to the wrong person cause you were running on autopilot? You’ve never had someone you love get sick and it distract you? You’ve never once in your life clicked on something before you thought about it? You’ve never clicked into an email thinking it was something you were expecting only for it to not actually be the right thing? Because if even one of those things has happened to you even once in your life, then you could be scammed.

              And if somehow you have never been tired, hungry, sick, bored, stressed or distracted in any way, then you should probably put those skills to some use to help the world. You’d be news all over the globe! Think of all the things you could do that us plebs who have fallible bodies can’t! And meanwhile, being scammed can indeed happen to any one of us who aren’t infallible like you, even the people whose entire jobs is educating people about scams.

          4. not a doctor*

            Seriously! I know a PhD psychologist who is highly regarded in her corner of the psychology world, has many honors to her name, teaches and supervises doctoral students at a high-level, etc. She’s incredibly smart, is the point. And she got taken by a completely bonehead scam a couple of years ago. It’s so much easier than it seems to fall for these things.

            Everyone that’s castigating the employee should look up the “strip search phone call” scam that happened at not one but SEVERAL fast food places and grocery stores.

            1. Sea Anemone*

              Holy smokes, what. Reading the description of one of the events on Wikipedia as an outsider who never spoke to the scammer, I’m just like, “How did anyone believe this was legit?” And yet, multiple people did and participated in the assault of that poor waitress.

              Everybody in this comment section who has expressed anything close to “People are so stupid and the cashier should be fired” should take a hard look at themselves.

              1. pancakes*

                No one has expressed anything close to that. It isn’t helpful to pretend the comments are a game of telephone.

                1. American Job Venter*

                  “That is just DUMB. The employee should not be on the register, and if the business is small, well, if she can’t be trusted to run the register then she probably needs to be let go.”

                  Quoted from the second comment in the thread, agreed with by many commenters.

                2. pancakes*

                  No, most people are not using such harsh language, and very, very few people have said they think the cashier should be fired.

                3. Sea Anemone*

                  @pancakes

                  What is the added value of counting the exact number of people who are saying things similar to what the OTHER other said?

                  And how does knowing the number change whether they should take a hard look at themselves?

              2. pancakes*

                Sea Anemone, I think there’s a lot of value in not exaggerating. For starters, it helps keeps discussion calm, it helps people avoid needlessly calling their own credibility into question, and decisions that are grounded in an accurate sense of proportion are nearly always going to be more sensible than decisions based on emotive guesswork or a quick skim. In this context, for example, I think it’s important to keep in mind that the person whose advice the letter writer sought out did not recommend firing the cashier. I think it’s also important to keep in mind, reading just about anything on the internet, that a small handful of strong opinions aren’t necessarily representative of a much larger group of people who feel the same.

            2. Slow Gin Lizz*

              OMG, what even with that?? Who would think police need *someone else* to conduct a strip search for them??? Highly stressed managers, I’m guessing, on a phone call with someone who is incredibly convincing.

            3. Boof*

              I’m a physician and TWICE have almost fallen for a phishing scam – i get an email directing me to login to update such and such (happens a lot), it clicks to a website that looks just like our institutional login, i start to type my username and password, like always, then get to a third box that is unusual and asks for the last 4 of my ssn. That is not usual at all. Then my brain kicks in and i realize i clicked on an external link and i report it and IT resets all my stuff (and anyone else, i guess they can trace who clicked and just reset everyone who did since they can’t tell what was entered). I’ve yet to hit “enter” but it’s amazing what habit/autopilot will do.

        2. Anonny*

          Yeah, there’s either a failure of common sense on the employee’s part, and/or a failure to implement clear policy on OP’s part (even just one that says ‘all payments to suppliers are handled through bank transfers, and deviations from this policy are to be handled by OP only’ would prevent this happening for most employees and given them a script for handling this kind of scammer.)

          I mean, if I were a small business owner I would not pay suppliers with wads of cash from the till, but I know some small business owners would just because it’s convienient, even though it’s a bad idea.

          1. Worldwalker*

            The OP did say that payments aren’t made this way, but not whether it’s any kind of official policy.

            Having a policy that “all payments of any kind are made only by company check” (which, of course, requires the OP’s signature) is good for preventing this kind of thing, *and* for much better record-keeping. “Did we pay for that ad in the graduation program book yet?” … “Did we give a donation to the food pantry this month?” … much better if you can just look in the checkbook and find out, instead of rummaging in the desk to see if someone gave you a receipt.

            1. Anonny*

              Also in addition to being a useful script for stonewalling scammers – “sorry, boss deals with that, you’ll need to talk to boss, can’t help you, company policy” – it makes your business a difficult mark. Most scammers want easy marks – that’s why the Spanish Prisoner/Nigerian Prince scam emails are so blatantly scams. They want people who will be taken in easily. Employee who can be intimidated or cajouled into handing over cash is an easy mark. Employee who has been empowered by company policy to say “nope, can’t do that”? Not worth wasting time on, and probably not worth escalating to their boss either.

          2. Gothic Bee*

            I worked for a store that regularly paid people from the register or the safe (everyone who worked there knew the combo, and yes, theft by employees was a problem). Obviously you’d always get an invoice, but since that was my first job ever, it definitely didn’t leave me with the best habits as far as cash handling goes. It’s not hard to think that someone working at a place like that might be more cavalier about money from the register than they should be at their next job, especially if management isn’t actively training them on what to do, just kind of assuming, well obviously I’ve never asked them to pay someone from the register, so they wouldn’t do that.

          3. Observer*

            I mean, if I were a small business owner I would not pay suppliers with wads of cash from the till, but I know some small business owners would just because it’s convienient, even though it’s a bad idea.

            Yes. It’s less common than it used to be, but I’ve seen it.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I have to hope OP comes in to clarify— if there was phony paperwork handed over, some of this speculation could be put to bed.

        4. Cj*

          I had one of these “quick change artists” at my till at a fast food restaurant when I was a teenager. When my manager realized what was happening, he immediately got rid of the guy, shut down my till, and counted the money. If I recall correct, the till was short $5, and I was never short. Glad my manager got there before it was worse, because these guys are *good*.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            You made me think of the time I was charged $2.73 for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The young cashier locked his drawer and called his manager over because I gave him a $5 bill and 27 cents. The poor kid kept saying, ‘I’ve never been scammed before! Did I do okay? Do we call the police now?’ and so on.

            When his manager explained why I gave him that kind of payment, the cashier looked more disappointed than relieved. I think he really wanted a scam story to tell his friends!

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              Maybe you’re approximating your numbers and I’m being pedantic, but that doesn’t even make sense? (Uh, pun not intended. Sense … cents … never mind.) That results in $2.54 change, and I can’t think of any way that that’s easier on either of you than just giving him the $5 and taking your $2.27 instead.

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                Wow, I can’t type this morning, sorry about that. I assure you, I made sense at the counter.

                1. Mr. Shark*

                  I looked at that a few times and was lost on how that was a legitimate amount to give to the cashier.

            2. MAC*

              Maybe I’m not doing math right (always a possibility!) but paying $5.27 on a $2.73 bill results in $2.54 back, I would also be confused as to why someone would give me that amount. (Not enough to call the manager or police, but it would be odd.)

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  You and Red Reader are right – I wish I’d just written that I handed him a $5 bill and the right coins to just get a quarter and dime back, or some such.

                  I think you all understood what I meant, and hope you can forgive the math error. I hadn’t had coffee yet!

            3. Liz*

              I’m so glad my customer service experience never involved handling small cash transactions. I would absolutely be the cashier in this story!

            4. Former Cashier*

              The reason the cashier was confused is because cashiers make change by ‘back counting’, meaning they would automatically calculate the change as two pennies, one quarter and two dollar bills. They don’t subtract the amount of the item from the amount the customer gave them to determine the change, which is why customers giving another 12 cents so they can get their change in all quarters throws the cashier off.

              1. Anon Supervisor*

                That’s when you upcount the change to the next quarter dollar (count up from the original total till you’re at the next quarter dollar (or dollar, which ever’s closer, then count up to the amount given). If I was given a $5 bill for a 2.70 order, I would count back a nickle (2.75), a quarter (3.00), then two $1’s (4.00, 5.00) to equal $2.30 in change. Easier than counting backwards when you’re looking at a cash drawer, IMO.

                1. Anon Supervisor*

                  Also, when I was a cashier at a grocery store, I would intentionally call out their payment they gave ($5.00) and then be a little bit slow to enter it in the till if they were still gazing into their wallet. That way I could mostly avoid the “Oh wait! I have 3 pennies!” schtick.

              2. Clisby*

                It’s been years since I’ve seen a cashier count back change – I seriously doubt many of them can do it these days. The ones I’ve dealt with have a cash register where they enter the amount paid and the amount owed, and it tells them the change amount.

            5. JustaTech*

              I once had a cashier run out into the parking lot and insist I come back into the store because I had paid with a really old $10 bill and all the cashiers and the manager decided it must be counterfeit. I was like “look, this bill is older than all of us, but if you don’t like it give it back to me and I will pay with a $20.” It took some doing to get the math even (they tried to give me too much change) but we got it ironed out. I think I might still have that ten (it was from like 1971 or something).

        5. Risha*

          I know a very smart, highly trained IT guy that two weeks ago had to dip out of a conversation about an issue we were having because he had just fallen for one of those “CEO asked for emergency money” scams, something I know for an absolute fact we had both been trained on (multiple times), and he had immediately realized what had happened and needed to go report it. Three days ago, the CEO sent out an email to the company alerting everyone to not fall for it, so apparently he wasn’t the only one.

          Smart people, even trained ones, fall for these ALL THE TIME because scammers understand how our minds and emotions work. Relative credulity and having/not having common sense don’t enter into it nearly as much as you’d like it to.

          1. Loredena Frisealach*

            I used to be the treasurer for a neighborhood sub-HOA. My name and the name of the sub-HOA president were on the website for the main HOA (I don’t recall if my email was also listed). I received and email that looked like it came from the president asking if I was busy, and I replied. I then got a follow-up email asking me to wire money as a payment from the HOA account. I no longer recall the details but at first glance it looked legitimate and I almost replied asking for clarification – except that it was something we simply didn’t do! I could easily see someone being caught by this type of thing.

            1. Loredena Frisealach*

              And I should add – I work as a consultant in IT and am trained on phishing. I absolutely think some of the much-older residents of our neighborhood (who were most-likely to be on the board) would have fallen for this.

              1. PT*

                I live in a city where all of the neighborhoods have neighborhood residents alliances (so they’re like HOAs with no legal teeth, basically and mostly exist for harassing city services for ignoring your neighborhood. Like say forgetting to pick up our recycling for most of 2021 grrrr.)

                We had an incident where email scammers got into one of the accounts and started emailing all of the neighborhood associations, using the names of neighborhoods as if they were first and last names asking for money. Like, “Dear North, How are you today, I am in jail and need money for bail, please send $200 in iTunes giftcards ASAP. Sincerely, Mr. West Side,” and this repeated for, say, North Side, South Side, East Side, West Side, etc. (made up neighborhoods.)

                It was *hilarious.*

                1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                  Haha, that’s hilarious, and also why would you need an iTunes gift card for bail money?? Lol.

                2. Loredena Frisealach*

                  oh that is truly hilarious! Honestly I’m kindof glad the emails went to personal instead of through the HOA email – would have looked a lot more realistic if they’d spoofed that!

                3. LizB*

                  @Slow Gin Lizz, a friend’s elderly relative very nearly got taken in by a scammer who asked her to send Sephora gift cards to help fund their liver cancer treatment. To us that’s obviously complete nonsense, but apparently it can really work on a slightly confused and very un-tech-savvy person!

      5. mikeyc*

        I think if you sack someone who makes this kind of mistake all you do is prevent people from telling you about it at the time. You just find out months later when you’re doing some tax statements or whatever. I’m not saying you can’t give them a mild bollocking or keep a watchful eye on them but it is important to provide an environment where people own up to mistakes for your own sake.

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          I agree, and I think the employee deserves some credit for promptly calling the OP when she realized what had happened. She must have been mortified and terrified she’d lose her job (note how many people in the comments are saying she should have been fired). She made one big error of judgement, but then she handled her error well.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Every small business I’ve ever worked for has you count out the till at the end of the shift. It would have been immediately obvious.

          1. mophie*

            Fine, but the reasoning is still sound. If you penalize mistakes harshly, then mistakes won’t get reported. Process is more important with people. And training usually fixes most of these things.

        3. RagingADHD*

          The letter says $300 is an entire day’s takings.

          If they wouldn’t notice that for months, their business is doomed anyhow.

      6. Mantis Tobaggan, MD*

        I worked at a small retail operation as my first job as a teen, and I think I could have fallen for something like this tbh. My old boss was really cranky about us calling her and wanted us to figure things out ourselves as much as possible. Especially in this climate where it’s so hard to hire for service jobs, I wouldn’t jump right to firing without exploring other options like training first.

        1. Sleepless*

          Me too. I was also very easily intimidated when I was young. I was raised in a somewhat harsh family environment, and if somebody in authority told me to do something, I did it. (Good thing nobody ever made me do anything very bad.) I would have been terrified not to comply with a convincing adult.

          1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

            Yeah, this was where my mind went too. A convincing, authoritative person who sounds completely certain of what’s going on, and a young cashier who’s been bossed around a lot and never been encouraged to question instructions.

          2. American Job Venter*

            Exactly, exactly. This was also my experience. It’s chilling to see how many people here, given a bit of power, would have chosen to fire me over it without even a discussion of what I did wrong.

        2. OhNo*

          I’m honestly very glad that I didn’t work retail until I was an adult, because I probably would have fallen for something like this as a teen.

          Luckily I didn’t do any retail work until I was an extremely tired and easily irritated adult, and my response to anything unusual was just, “I’m not doing that until my manager gets here, I don’t care if they’re three hours away with traffic. I will shut this whole store down and you can deal with the other cranky customers behind you, I give zero f***s.”

      7. Lacey*

        It is dumb. But people without a lot of experience don’t know that yet.

        The owner needs to have a process for handling any unusual requests, be clear with the employees that this process will ALWAYS be used, so that when someone tries this scam it’s clearly not part of the process.

      8. FD*

        Speaking as someone who has spent the last five years working for a small business, if you don’t have a margin for ‘Whoops’, your business is going to fail because a ‘Whoops’ ALWAYS comes along. If you can’t get a margin for error, plus pay and treat your staff decently, your business model is fundamentally flawed and you’d be better off realizing that and shutting it down.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah. What if that whoops had been some customer letting their unruly kid knock over and wreck a bunch of merchandise and leave?

          I get that retailers work with very very tight margins. But you can’t take it out on your employees.

      9. CommanderBanana*

        I part-time off and on at a small bodega-style store (the owner is a friend of mine) and he constantly has small cash-only stuff going on with various contractors, so it’s not unusual for someone to come in saying that Owner owes them money for doing such-and-such. But I ALWAYS text or call him and verify it first and usually keep him on the phone while I pay them.

      10. Nonke John*

        “Someone just tells her the manager ordered this and she hands them cash out of the register? That is just DUMB.”

        You’re right that there’s an advantage to a healthy sense of cynicism in these cases, but it’s also the case that employees who have never been managers are often used to doing what they’re told by someone authoritative. It’s easy for even a smart person to fall for a line they’ve never encountered before. It’s probably wise for the LW to give her employees a version of the warnings that you get in notifications from bank and shopping websites: I’ll never ask you to pay someone without express confirmation from me, you’ll always need to get a signed receipt, that kind of thing.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I may be misunderstanding which comment you’re replying to, but are you actually suggesting that giving away money you are supposed to be safeguarding is just a matter of “different values”? Really?

          1. pancakes*

            I am responding to the commenter who said,

            “Alison’s advice here is a bit naive. Chalking this up to ‘cost of doing business’ is basically Shrugging your shoulders and going ‘oh well’ .”

            It’s a misunderstanding to read the advice as, “you should continue to eat the cost of this mishap over and over again, forevermore.” It’s also a misunderstanding to read it as requiring an “oh well” mindset. The advice is to train the workers so that it doesn’t happen again, not to pretend it was fine or no big deal.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Ah, okay. I did misunderstand which comment you were replying to. The threading here can be a bit hard to follow sometimes.

      11. BluntBunny*

        A con artist is a thief, in retail you are told to just hand over the money if you are being robbed for safety.
        Even if they thought it was a scam there is the possibility to escalate to something more dangerous. You would still lose the money either way not sure if the insurance would take a different view however.

        1. raida7*

          con artists often avoid confrontation and violence, particularly due to the variance in legal consequences.
          In my retail experience we simply kept a low enough amount in the till that it was absorbable by the business in case of theft, trained staff how to hand over money or to abandon the till, go to safety.
          But for a scammer staff were trained how to identify and manage common scams by being friendly and helpful but ultimately useless. Constant offers to get the boss, apologies, saying they totally understand and that it sounds great, flustered behaviour.

          Good cameras, good training including de-escalation, is useful for unhappy customers even more often than scammers anyway.

      12. Tinker*

        Ehhh, I don’t know.

        You’re right to point out that it’s necessary to take a loss like this seriously and not ignore it, but I don’t know that “chalk it up to cost of doing business” necessarily means that. In this particular case, the money in question is definitely gone, and it’s not as if firing the employee will cause it to reappear (if that were to happen, there’d be some different questions). Things like that are a risk associated with the business’s current practices, and if the resulting degree of risk isn’t acceptable, it’s the practices that need to change rather than waving one’s fist at the sky.

        Should the practice change in a way that, say, this particular employee should be fired? I can see where that could be the case, but I’m inclined to think twice about it.

        First of all, there’s a pseudo-apocryphal story in a lot of technical fields about how a person very early in their career made a small mistake that damaged a large and delicate instrument, or brought down an essential server, or otherwise did something that cost their company, say, $300,000, and they go to their salty old technical manager with hat in hand expecting to be immediately fired, whereupon the manager delivers the punchline: “Why the hell would you think I would fire you? I just spent $300k training you!”

        If OP fires this cashier, then what will happen the next time a scammer comes in the door? You’re going with the idea that the next cashier will be a better cashier than the previous — by the way, will the next cashier be hired by the same hiring process that produced the current cashier? — and that could be the case, but it could also be the case that you fired the cashier who now had experience with what a scam looks like on the ground level, and hired another similar cashier who is again yet to learn the lesson. What’s going to come of that?

        Additionally, establishing an expectation that people who make mistakes in confusing situations will be fired when the mistake comes to light is a classic way of increasing vulnerability to scams, among other similar negative outcomes. There’s been a lot of talk about psychological safety in recent years, and it amounts to that if the stakes are high, it’s all the more important to create a culture where people’s first reaction to being confused or thinking they made an error is to bluff forward and try to hide it lest they be fired.

        There are a lot of folks in this comment section telling the story of their memorable encounter with a scammer where they learned what to look out for. I think it would probably be good to check and see if this cashier now seems to be of the sadder and wiser type before deciding that they should take their experience elsewhere.

        1. not a doctor*

          Late, but that tech thing does legitimately happen. I’ve spoken to some of the people it’s happened to!

      13. Cle*

        I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s incredibly dumb when people fall for phishing emails– it seems super obvious to me. Like this person you never ever email is now emailing you a random PDF and saying your attention is needed immediately? No. That’s fake. Hovering over a hyperlink to see the URL is second nature to me, and if it’s not quickly recognizable I’m not clicking that. In my view, this is all super common sense. And yet there is an entire sub-industry dedicated to training people do not fall for that, and another industry dedicated to cleaning up the mess when they do. What seems obvious to some is not obvious to all; we all don’t know what we don’t know. The cashier probably didn’t even know that scams like that existed, just like people don’t know that you can fake an email address or phone number.

        1. JustaTech*

          “The cashier probably didn’t even know that scams like that existed” – this right here.

          When I went on a tour of Europe a few years ago one of the early parts of the tour was telling you what the “fleece the tourists” scams were in each area we went to, so we would know what to be on the lookout for. Things like in City X you’re likely to get shortchanged, and in City Y there are people who will hand you a flower and then ask for 10 euros for it.

          Since we knew what to look out for we managed to avoid the scams without having to feel like we were on high alert the whole time. But something like the “pretty flower for a pretty lady (that’ll be $10)” is just not a thing that happens in my city, so I might well have fallen for it, because it’s outside my experience.

      14. Simply the best*

        I agree with a lot of this. I found Alison’s answer kind of lacking. No where did the OP suggest making the employee pay the $300 so it was odd that the answer was mostly that instead of what the actual question was: “how to do I deal with this employee.”

        I don’t know that I would jump right to firing. It would depend on of this was a the last of a series of poor judgements (but I agree with you, this was *extremely* poor judgement). I would for sure be monitoring this employee more closely after such a lapse.

      15. Oakenfield*

        The employee should be fired, or at least not given any more access to the register. That’s either a level of stupid that precludes handling cash, or a thief giving money to her boyfriend. Either way, she’s not a good employee.

        1. Observer*

          I hope you have absolutely no authority or input into managing people. Your total lack of understanding of how this stuff works would make you very, very bad at it.

      16. LizM*

        I don’t think Alison is telling LW to shrug it off.

        This is where I find a conversation with the employee helpful, and really understanding what happened.

        Maybe you find that additional training on scams is helpful, or having more firm procedures in writing.

        A one time $300 mistake is hard to absorb, but your business should have that much of a buffer, and you learn from the mistake and move forward. If an employee is consistently making mistakes that cost the business a full day of proceeds, then you start looking at whether she’s a good fit for position. But I don’t think falling for a scam once justifies on the spot firing unless there was some kind of gross negligence or it fits into a bigger pattern.

      17. Observer*

        Chalking this up to “cost of doing business” is basically Shrugging your shoulders and going “oh well” . In six month this small business will be OUT of business.

        It may be out of business, but that’s the fault of the business. If they are not doing the training and not making processes extremely clear that’s on them.

        Making the employee pay is basically shrugging your shoulders and going “oh well, I don’t make enough to cover costs, so I’m going to make my employers do it.”

      18. Winston*

        I’d say the boss needs a specific policy, maybe just as simple as saying, “Nobody but me pays for anything with cash out of the till.” Then if the employee is hanging out cash contrary to direct instructions, that’s a cause for discipline.

        The other part of this is to make sure the employees are comfortable that they won’t get in trouble for following policy if it’s not a scam (not that it’s likely, but if they’re worried that they’ll be in trouble if the story is true, that’s a hook the scammer can use).

      19. tamarack and fireweed*

        I’m not sure what you’re getting out of using words like “idiotic” and “dumb” – I don’t think they’re an appropriate register for a workplace blog comment section. Regardless of the unsavory connotation of the words, you literally know nothing about the employee other than that she fell for a scam, which isn’t an uncommon thing.

        If the business owner *really* needs people with superior scam spotting skills and dismiss the ones who don’t have them, it’s the least of their duties to provide training and guidance.

    2. Mami21*

      I was scammed to the tune of $200 while working retail (the scammer convinced me that the credit card network was down and to make a manual copy of his card, as is procedure when that happens, but the card was stolen) and I can assure you that the employee feels awful enough without any request for compensation from their manager.
      I felt (and still sometimes feel) really, really, really stupid, as I had an inkling that something was off here but couldn’t figure out what to do about it, and the guy in question was also absolutely huge and was subtly using his build to intimidate me into keeping the interaction ‘pleasant’.

      So yeah. Have a little empathy here. The owner wasn’t pleased about being scammed, but he didn’t for a second suggest that I should refill the register from my own pocket, either.

      1. The OTHER other*

        Removed because you’re being pretty aggressive with people. Take it down a notch, please. – Alison

        1. The OTHER other*

          Apologies Alison, and anyone else if I came too hot. Clearly my specific experience with this particular issue has made me… run too hot.

      2. Wintermute*

        You were taken by a common well-prepared scam though, you weren’t just told “give me money” and did without any basic logic of checking involved. Yes scammers can be very slick, this guy didn’t even HAVE to be slick. And that’s the key difference. There’s a certain basic level of diligence that you must be able to expect from people you give the keys to a till.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          You’re hearing this story third-hand with, I’m assuming, a lot of nuance and details left out for clarity and brevity. Obviously, the owner feels like the employee just “gave [him] the money,” but I strongly suspect there was a lot more to it than that.

        2. JB*

          You’re making a lot of unkind assumptions about how this went down.

          All we KNOW is that the guy asked for money. Because that’s what the LW shared, because that was what was relevant to the question.

          We don’t know if he presented a fake invoice; if he was a regular that she knew and was friendly with; if he was involved in delivering the furniture that he said he was collecting payment for (or happened to be hanging around at the time and was able to make it look as if he was involved); if he was a fast-talker; if he was intimidating and may have convinced her it was either physically dangerous or a risk to her job to question him; etc.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Why on earth are so many people in this thread coming away from this letter assuming the extent of the interaction was “give me money” “oh okay.” The LW didn’t go into any detail about what the actual con entailed but there is no reason to assume it wasn’t just as well-prepared and convincing.

      3. QKL*

        I was once scammed while working when I was 18. The manager hated me(he was constantly bad-mouthing me to the owner who trusted me, I was the only non-manager with a key to the store) and told me he was taking it out of my check along with a speech about not “being stupid.” My mom, a business owner, was pretty furious, she told me when that happens, it’s up to the manager to report the con and file an insurance claim, not take it out of the paycheck of an untrained kid. I still don’t know what proper protocol is, but the manager was literally 3 feet from me during the scam and within earshot and waited for the scammer to leave before counting out my drawer and performing a lecture. It didn’t end up coming out of my paycheck, never asked why, figured it was because the owner did payroll himself and the owner was a stand up guy.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          The manager didn’t try to stop the scam??? Was the scammer a friend of his he hired to “teach you a lesson?” Even if not, the manager should have been fired for not trying to stop the scam. Sheesh.

          1. QKL*

            I’m pretty confident they didn’t know each other, the scammer was a professional quick change dude who hit up the entire row of stores. It didn’t help that he was aggressively angry when I offered to get my manager to straighten things out but was not allowed to talk back to customers per this manager. It was just a typical power hungry manager who played gotcha games all the time. I don’t think he actually cared about the stolen $40. My gut did go off, but I had recently seen same manager give away $50 in product after a Karen couple threw a tantrum over the price of the product they ordered even though I explained the cost every step of the way, which was obviously another scam. He ended up getting fired shortly after I left, I was there for 6 months and had 4 different managers hired and fired. This manager was the reason I left, it wasn’t that bad of a job otherwise and the owner was a good guy.

    3. Artemesia*

      Giving someone cash from the till because ‘the boss bought something’ seems incredibly gullible and stupid though. I sort of understand the buying printer ink scams but someone walking in off the street and asking for cash on the spot without paperwork or the boss’s okay — you have a real weak link there. I would definitely review possible business scams as there are many and train everyone in the office about them. Yes cover this incredibly gullible mistake, but if possible remove this person from situations where they could handle cash and certainly consider it in evaluating things like raises.

      1. darcy*

        It seems obvious from the way the letter writer describes it but it may have been more convincing as presented!

        1. londonedit*

          I agree – the OP wasn’t there, and it sounds like a brief description of what happened. Maybe this bloke did just wander in and say ‘Hey, Jane owes me $300 for some furniture, can you get it out of the till?’ but maybe it was a lot more detailed and convincing than that. I’ve worked on a reception desk before and the lengths people would go to in order to try to get me to put them through to the boss on the phone were quite extraordinary. We’ve had people turning up at our offices insisting they have a meeting with one of our senior editors about their book when they have nothing of the sort and all they’re trying to do is get a foot in the door and a meeting with someone about their idea, and they can be very insistent and very difficult to get rid of. Maybe this guy had a printed invoice, or showed a fake email, or stood there for 20 minutes telling the cashier that they’d lose their job if they didn’t hand over the money because this was an incredibly important transaction and the boss would lose all of this furniture if they didn’t, look here’s the signed invoice, here’s the email where she told me to come and pick up the money this morning and someone would organise it for me, I don’t understand why you’re being so difficult about this.

          Should the cashier at least have phoned the OP? Absolutely. But these are all things you can say in hindsight, and I don’t think it’s fair to keep on punishing the cashier for one mistake. Yes, train your staff, yes make sure that there’s a clear policy where if anyone comes in and claims the boss has said something you should always phone and check, doesn’t matter how insistent they are, you’ll never get in trouble for checking. And if this was part of a pattern of the cashier being lax with the till or things not adding up at the end of the day, or whatever, that’s different. But don’t deny this person a pay rise or demote them or fire them just because they made one error of judgement.

          1. None*

            If possible, maybe the business owner should train employees to put any amount over $X in a specific safe away from the register. If $300 is a day’s worth of revenue, it should be better protected by the business owner.

            1. Gloucesterina*

              Ooh yes. In my experience working at a store that had this practice in place, supervisors would do it periodically, more frequently during high traffic seasons. (Cashiers did not have access to the one big safe, just leads; tweaking this structure as you describe for a smaller store makes a lot of sense.)

              Does this practice of proactively safeguarding sums of cash from the till have a name?

              1. Shad*

                We always called it a drop at the go kart track. We had a drop safe to put that money in, so each cashier could use their judgment (to a point; policy was to drop over a certain dollar value when there were no guests in view of the register) and drop the money off with no further access to it. But we also all had access to the safe where extra cash was kept for change making, so making the drop really only prevented some kinds of cons.

              2. Littorally*

                I don’t recall it, but my retail experience was the same. Our registers were programmed so that after taking in X amount of cash, you had to stop and empty out the cash drawer except for the standard amount needed to make change. I don’t know what the amount was offhand (they didn’t actually tell us cashiers that) but it made sense for reducing what was exposed by an open drawer.

              3. doreen*

                When I worked in fast-food many years ago, the individual safes below each cash register were called “drop safes” – because you dropped all bills over a certain denomination or all cash over a certain amount into the safe through a slot . Unlike the big safe, you didn’t need to open these ones to put money in them , and each safe was for a particular cash register, so you didn’t need to go through the process I’ve seen at supermarkets where someone goes to the register and picks up cash periodically with counting and signing apaerwork.

              4. Cochrane*

                When I’ve worked retail, it was skim & drop. The register itself would tell when you were holding too much cash and a manager would be called over to remove the excess, do the sign off, and drop it into the safe in their office.

              5. turquoisecow*

                When I was a cashier supervisor at a fairly large supermarket, we called these pickups. Since everything was electronic, our computers told us how much cash each cashier had, and we supervisors were expected to do at least a few pickups on our shift – usually when the drawer reached about the thousand dollar mark.

                When my mom was a cashier back in the 60s, pickups would be about once an hour, especially when it was busy. By the time I worked the same job in the late 90s/early 2000s, more people had switched to credit cards or even checks so you might work a four-hour shift and not get $1,000, especially when it wasn’t busy. I’m sure nowadays there’s even less cash in the drawers of most supermarket or big-box type stores.

              6. raida7*

                Another option is drop boxes attached to the till that only the manager could remove and open.
                Just drop bills once there’s more than xx of each type – no admin or paperwork needed, it’s just a secondary part of the cash drawer that can’t be opened.

                Anyone coming in to steal from the KFC I worked in would have found that any one till on a normal day would have a couple hundred bucks in it but never a few thousand.
                And on *really* busy days when the drop boxes were difficult to add more notes to, the manager could take it, count it into the safe, add a signed safe slip to the till for that money. good god we could pull in some cash some days!

          2. banoffee pie*

            If the scammer comes in all charm and smiles and acts like *of course* this is OK it can be really hard to say no to. These people should be on the stage, they’re such good actors. There was a UK TV show called the Real Hustle that really opened my eyes. The scammers put on hi-vis vests and hung around a car park and said they were some kind of officials. They told people they would need to let them park their cars for some reason (car park closed or something), and loads and loads of people fell for it. They just tamely handed the keys over. Of course they got their cars back because it was a BBC TV show but what if it had been real? Looks like some people will do whatever you tell them if you have a hi-vis vest. And they cost about £2 online!! The show did all kinds of scams, not just the car thing, and plenty of sensible-looking people fell for them.

            I try to remember too that when somebody falls for a scam they could have been tired, hungry, distracted, just got bad news etc. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid. The crappest scam anybody tried on me was in Paris. A Candadian guy started talking to me and when he realised English was my first language he gave me a sob story about losing his wallet/passport/everything. He said I ‘had’ to go the the cash machine and give him 4oo euros. I told him to go the the Canadian embassy lol. He looked at me like I was some heartless person.

            1. londonedit*

              Absolutely – The Real Hustle opened my eyes, too! And an ex-flatmate and I were once burgled by two men in hi-vis tabards – the police said they’d done several houses in our road and were able to wander about carrying TVs and suchlike because people assume anyone in hi-vis is meant to be there. There’s also a woman who’s sometimes seen around where I live who will walk around in the evening pulling a small suitcase behind her and going up to people saying she needs to get to the hospital/get to her dying relative/get away from her abusive boyfriend and she just needs some money. None of it is true because she keeps coming back and repeating the same sob stories over and over again, but plenty of people are nice enough to be taken in by it.

              1. NoviceManagerGuy*

                There’s also the people who hang out in train stations and say they need exactly $4.63 to get back to Norristown. Always fun dealing with them.

                1. ThatGirl*

                  Wow, I don’t see a lot of references to Norristown (I grew up there). I did give money once to a woman in Chicago’s Ogilvie Station who said she just needed money for the Metra. But in that case it was money I could live without and I knew I was taking a risk.

              2. Lacey*

                People in my area often come up to you in the parking lot and say, “Oh I ran out of gas, I just need a few dollars so I can get home” It’s so common that I doubt many people here fall for it.

                But until recently I worked in a small town 45 minutes away and while I was on lunch someone approached me in a parking lot by a gas station. He greeted me and I said, “I don’t have any cash”
                He looked shocked and said, “Oh, I guess you saw me coming!” But I imagine that he made out pretty well that day, in spite of that miss.

                1. wordswords*

                  Yeah, like JB said, what you and NoviceManagerGuy are talking about sounds like just panhandling to me. A lot of the folk around here who ask for a spare buck or two say it’s for public transit money to get home, to get a sandwich, to get a cup of coffee, my car’s in the shop, etc. I figure it’s not my business whether it’s true or not; anyone panhandling is having a very hard time in life, and they’re not exactly making bank with or without a sob story. It’s a world away from putting on hi-vis vests to carry off people’s tvs.

              3. Sylvan*

                A woman in my neighborhood does the same thing. She got me… She said her mother had collapsed at a nearby store and been taken to the hospital. An ambulance had been at that store 20-30 minutes before, so I believed her. She was dealing with tl;dr life/finance problems that all checked out, so I still believed her. I gave her gas money and a little extra. She sounded like she needed it.

                Later, neighbors and I started comparing stories. She wears wigs, changes outfits, puts on orthotic devices, and comes up with stories that sound real to every target. IMO she works harder and makes less money than she would if she had a real job.

                1. banoffee pie*

                  At least it means you’re a good person so you can take comfort in that. Sometimes there’s a grey area where you think it might be a scam but you don’t want to risk not helping if it’s legit. A couple of times I gave someone money when I wasn’t 100% sure. But I thought it wasn’t worth the risk. If they were legit I didn’t want to turn them down. I don’t know if that counts as getting scammed or not.

            2. pugsnbourbon*

              With a clipboard, a lanyard and a confident walk you can go pretty much anywhere. Wear a polo tucked into khakis if you really want to sell it.

              1. Threeve*

                Also, be only the phone confidently talking business gibberish. “Tell Gina I have approval to authorize that, she just needs to complete the C75 form. It has to be done by the end of the day because my assistant submitted the B86 this morning.”

              2. Salsa Verde*

                Clipboard is great, and if you want people to perceive you as too busy to bother, carry a box. It should be large enough that you can’t easily carry it with one hand. People will get out of your way, and not try to stop you to ask you things, and if they do, you just gesture to your box like you’d love to stop but you’ve got to get this box to its destination, sorry!

              1. Lab Boss*

                More like the best way to walk at all times and in all circumstances, including weddings and funerals.

              2. Worldwalker*

                I’ve done it. Yeah, it works.

                And then there was the time I did something of the kind by accident. It was at GenCon, when it had just been moved to Milwaukee’s big new (at the time) convention center. I’d parked in the wrong place — convenient to where the door was at the *old* one — and realized that I was at the back of the building, not the front. There was a door marked “Employees Only”. I forget whether it was unlocked, or whether I walked confidently up to it and someone held it for me. Either way, I walked right in. Then up the back stairs, through various doors — sometimes in the wrong direction, but I acted like I belonged there — and eventually out into the expo floor, and over to my booth. Then someone else who I was splitting the booth with called my cell, saying that he needed his badge (I’d gotten there the day before, so I had the checkin packet) — he was at the door to the expo. He thought I was out there too, somewhere. So I went out to give it to him, and the security guy almost had a coronary. Nobody should have been on the *inside* of those doors. Yeah, some “security” if a random person — mostly by accident — could just wander around the non-public areas of the building and get into a room full of millions of dollars worth of stuff.

                Because I acted like I belonged there, none of the people I passed on my way to my booth even challenged me.

                1. EvilQueenRegina*

                  That exact same thing happened to my cousin while visiting a client at a prison when she didn’t know where she was going and someone let her in a staff entrance without question.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  People had to be warned repeatedly about piggybacking at Exjob. Our buildings had a lobby anyone could walk into through the front door, but you couldn’t get past that without a badge. It was very common for employees to hold the door for someone hurrying up behind them.

                  Of course, this is how someone who shouldn’t be there gets in. It was part of our security training along with phishing scams and other social engineering hijinks.

                  I put that in my book—a character needs to get into a secure building without a key fob. When I mentioned it to someone, they told me, “That doesn’t happen.” It absolutely does!

            3. Parakeet*

              A couple of years ago I got scammed (out of credit card and Social Security numbers – fortunately I got it locked down before anything happened) by someone claiming (and calling from a spoofed number such that it looked based on the number like they were telling the truth about where they were calling from) to be from the federal government, saying that my info had shown up in a major crime investigation (there were a bunch of details) and that there was a warrant out for my arrest on multiple felonies, and demanding various information from me when I said my identity must have been stolen. The guy pressured me pretty hard – saying that I was about to be arrested within hours, berating me and raising his voice every time I expressed confusion or hesitancy in any way, showing a lot of disgust. I have PTSD from (among other things) police violence, and a history of experiencing abuse (such that that kind of berating sent me into trauma response mode), and I know people who have been interrogated by feds or had pressure put on them in deeply inappropriate ways in order to intimidate them, so it didn’t seem at all strange to me that law enforcement would behave that way, despite the sketchiness of the circumstances. I’m autistic and probably that didn’t help either. It was during my lunch break on my first day at a new job, after a long search/period of unemployment, and all I could think was that my life was ruined.

              I only realized what was going on and ended the call, because he pushed too far, demanding that I walk to the nearest ATM or bank branch or something and do some kind of monetary transaction (I forget the details) while remaining on the phone with him the whole time so that he could give me instructions. When I started saying that I wasn’t comfortable with doing that, he turned up the anger and disgust and started warning me that I was going to be arrested within hours and this was my last chance to avoid multiple felony charges carrying decades in prison. Even after hanging up on him, and calling/talking to my partner, and starting the process of locking down my accounts, I was still afraid for hours that I had somehow made a mistake and that he’d been telling the truth and I was about to be arrested. It was an incredibly upsetting experience, not least because it was hitting some PTSD triggers in a big way.

              I tell this story to illustrate that, yeah, successful scammers are good at what they do. Sometimes they manage to hit on a specific person’s vulnerabilities. I’ve provided context as to why I was taken in (and I was embarrassed enough as it was), but you could just as easily present it without those details and make me look a lot sillier.

            4. LunaLena*

              There was a similar show in the US called To Catch a Thief, where a pair of former thieves would rob houses in broad daylight just to show how easy it was to do. There are several episodes where neighbors would even stop and chat with them, they would pretend to be movers or cleaners or something, and the neighbors would go away none the wiser. You can find some episodes on YouTube, it’s a very interesting watch. I’m guessing they had to end it because they were giving people ideas.

              Also the scam banoffee pie described in their first paragraph reminds me of Mr. Wednesday’s bank con in American Gods, haha.

          3. nerak*

            I have a feeling it was WAY more complex than what the OP described–they’re boiling it down to the simplest explanation. OP also does not say how old the employee is. I was robbed/scammed badly while working solo in an independent video store when I was 19. It was probably at least $300 worth of merchandise that was stolen. I felt like a total idiot, but in hindsight I was a 19-year old young woman who was working by myself for 8-hour shifts, I’m frankly surprised that it didn’t happen more than once.

            Mistakes happen, this one is a big deal, yes, but like a lot of other people have said, scammers are artists.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              Scammers are artists.

              And they LOOK specifically for those who look young/new. Those “in training” ribbons on name tags that my first employer used to use (in the hopes that customers would be more patient with us I guess?) simply meant that loss prevention employees spent a documentable lot of time lurking in our departments to make sure that the usual suspects didn’t try to scam a newbie.

              I spent a bit of time in retail management when I was quite a bit younger (in all honesty, I was too young, too inexperienced, and the salary offered was just above the income threshold for “yeah, you still have to pay OT for this”…) and we had “frequent flyer” scammers who would WAIT until there were no visible adults to try and pull their crap. We made sure there was always an adult on site, and made sure the teens knew that “I don’t have the authority to do this, I’ll have to wait for a key holder”.

              1. pancakes*

                Not all of them are! And they don’t have to be built up as criminal masterminds in order to justify the business owner absorbing the cost of this one incident as a cost of doing business, nor to justify training the staff about scams.

                1. American Job Venter*

                  I think people are pointing out how scam artists work to disagree with the “just fire this employee, she’s clearly got no common sense and is worthless and unteachable” advice, certainly not to disagree with the “train the staff about scams” advice.

                2. pancakes*

                  Right, but I don’t think exaggerating the incredibly skill and slickness of each and every scammer in the world makes that a more compelling argument.

            2. Observer*

              I have a feeling it was WAY more complex than what the OP described–they’re boiling it down to the simplest explanation. OP also does not say how old the employee is.

              Of course – the OP is just trying to convey what they see as the heart of the problem. And, to an extent they are correct. But that means that when people are acting as though what must have happened is that some Joe Shmo wandered into the store during a quiet time, asked the cashier for money and she just gave him the money with no thought, that’s just not likely it’s at least as naive as they claim the cashier was.

              1. pancakes*

                I don’t think it is nearly that unlikely. That’s a fairly common scam where I am (NYC), or used to be. The more common variation I’ve heard of locally is that the scammer says they’re from a utility company and a bill needs to be paid immediately, or they’re a restaurant or safety inspector and there’s a fee for inspection, which has to be paid right then and there. The letter doesn’t give a lot of details, but it does say the scammer told the cashier something about the owner buying furniture they hadn’t paid for. That’s the same type of scam, basically: Someone walks in and asks for money, with a vaguely plausible story about why the business owner owes it.

          4. Catnip*

            Yes! I feel like we’re getting very hung up on the “give me money” part of this without considering how the scam may have been carried out in practice. Technically, even the most elegant scams boil down to someone demanding money who shouldn’t be getting it, so I don’t think there’s enough info here to judge how big a lapse in judgment this was on the employees part.

            And as others have mentioned already, if she’s young and hasn’t been trained in avoiding scams, ‘common sense’ probably won’t take her very far. Plus, I would say it’s on the business owner or manager to have explicit policies to prevent young, inexperienced employees being taken advantage of – like never pay a vendor out of the till, period. If this was a policy that was explicitly made clear, then broken, that’s one thing. If you’re relying purely on employee’s personal judgment to protect you from scams, you can’t really complain when they have a lapse in judgment (as even experienced, street-smart people occasionally do).

        2. Elaine Benes*

          Honestly! I can easily imagine someone coming in with full confidence and chatting me up, acting like he’s an old friend of the boss who’s here often and then mentioning oh yeah, the reason I’m here is she told me to come in to grab the money she owes me for the furniture. She said she’d tell you to set it aside, she must of forgotten to mention it to you, weird! etc. etc.- that social pressure would have probably gotten me when I was younger, or newer on the job, where the situation he’s presenting seems perfectly plausible.
          Double that possibility if my boss was the type who seemed annoyed if I ever called to double check something or just generally gave the vibes that they always wanted me to figure things out on my own.
          And I could see just generally not thinking of myself as a form of security for the cash register, because it’s just a nice little boutique with a bunch of polite shoppers and I wasn’t specifically warned about a threat. That probably makes me naive but it just would not have occurred to me when I was younger and my instinct was to trust people.

          1. Colette*

            Yeah, exactly. And the scammer was likely talking about how she in a hurry, and didn’t have time to wait for the boss to show up.

          2. I edit everything*

            It’s like Alison always advises, right? State things like *of course* it’s the most natural thing in the world for the other person to be understanding about whatever workplace issue you’re bringing up. In the same way, *of course* it’s no big deal for you to give me a hundred bucks out of the register for this.

            Not saying Alison is advising us to scam our coworkers or bosses or HR. But it’s the same principle.

          3. banoffee pie*

            Yes. It’s good to remember people come from all types of homes. I was raised very cynical and told to always stand up for myself, and not to automatically do what I was told by adults/authority. But I still can’t say for sure I will never fall for a scam. What about people who were raised to be diffident and respect authority? If I did get scammed I would hope people would have some sympathy for me. My bet is, this guy was pretty good. I doubt the employee just opened the till and invited him to help himself. And then threw in some money from her own pocket!

        3. Oakenfield*

          “Convincing” isn’t the point. An employee running the cash register shouldn’t think they can pay company bills in cash, period. This employee either was involved with the con artist, which is what is most likely, or so stupid she shouldn’t be anywhere near any of the company’s cash. Sometimes, people are dumb. It’s ok to admit it and to remove their ability to harm the company and their coworkers’ abilities to get paid. Good grief.

          1. Observer*

            An employee running the cash register shouldn’t think they can pay company bills in cash, period.

            Except that that’s not how a lot of small businesses work. A LOT of them do pay bill in cash. Directly from the register.

            I work with non-profits. And there are some fairly strict rules around documenting “petty cash” (ie any use of cash, in practice.) Yet, I walked into one agency who had managed to spend almost the entirety of an ~$7K grant via petty cash. Fortunately they were actually on the up and up and had receipts for it all. So, even though there was no check register (something that funder normally requires), they were able to survive. But they were required to institute a new policy around the use of cash and prove to the funder that they had implemented it. And this was an organization that DID have a checking account and could have written checks for all of this. They just . . . didn’t. Because someone thought it was easier. (Not the people who actually disbursed the money.)

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I worked for a family-owned business and it was common for certain family members to take cash from the till. Usually, they told the cashier so they knew when the cashout was short at the end of the day. They also left envelopes of cash for suppliers to pick up later, it always seemed like it was a disaster waiting to happen.

    4. Boof*

      I agree, if it happens once. If there’s an employee that seems to fall for scams repeatedly that might be cause for letting them go (unless there’s an alternative less vulnerable position to move them to). I know that’s not the case here, so far, but I could see some people being more susceptible to scams than others and at a certain point (3rd scam? Exceeding a certain dollar amount?) it might be time to move on.

    5. Stitch*

      I’m on the fence here. I worked retail and we were given video presentations on common scams (like what quick change artists do and what to do) and so I don’t think even 17 year old me would have fallen for this…. but in part because I was given training on it. I think you should be able to find free videos on common scams to show employees.

      I don’t think you’re 100% wrong if you do fire someone for this (it depends on the circumstances and this person’s over all behavior, there are instances when the employee is in on it). But it’s a judgment call based on overall circumstances and performance. If this employee keeps falling for scams, I’d definitely fire them because they’re either incompetent or faking falling for them.

      1. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

        I work for a bank: even with the best scam prevention stuff we can do, people loose millions. Scammers know exactly what buttons to press to panic you into an action, and your common sense kicks in later once the panic wears off. This employee will no doubt be feeling awful about this, but one in three people in the UK will be a victim of a scam – it’s the most likely crime you’ll be a victim of. Training is an excellent idea, but the scammers are always a step ahead and it’s ongoing training that’s needed. In the UK we have Friends Against Scams and Action Fraud’s Take 5 campaign to help raise awareness of common scams.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, the most common reaction is ‘But I’m an intelligent person and I know all about scams, I don’t know how I fell for this!’ I am an intelligent person and I know about scams, but a few years ago I was almost taken in by an Amazon text scam (they didn’t get my details but it was to the point where I got a new debit card just in case) and also more recently by one of the ‘There is a fee to pay before we can deliver your parcel’ texts. Those ones work because they’re only asking for a small fee, it’s something that people have genuinely encountered before (if someone doesn’t put the correct postage on a letter, you’ll get a card through the door asking you to pay the balance and a fee before it’ll be delivered) and the scammers were using the double whammy of Christmas and Covid to scam people who had ordered more online than usual and who were probably waiting for three or four parcels at any one time. I definitely had a moment of ‘Hang on…what am I waiting for in the post?’ and even asked my sister as I thought it might have been something I’d ordered to her address. The scammers are also now sending out messages telling people to go to a website to pay for their new NHS Covid Passport (which is not a thing you need to pay for; it’s a QR code on your phone from the NHS app or website, or a letter from the 119 vaccine service) and from the images I’ve seen of the page you’re taken to, it’s so uncannily similar to the actual NHS branding and website layout that I imagine many people will absolutely be taken in by it, especially with the constant news about whether vaccine passports will or won’t be required (Scotland and Wales now require them; England says it doesn’t but many events will ask you to show proof of vaccination and/or a negative test). All they need to do is catch you off-guard and it’s easy to be at least partly taken in.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            Those ones got me to the point where I got a vague message from Hermes about a delivery, couldn’t remember what I ordered and was convinced that was a scam until I suddenly remembered it was my Mr and Mrs Cat craft kits (I’d ordered just before Christmas and they came in New Year, hence the confusion).

            I actually seem to be getting a lot of those at the moment that are so full of spelling mistakes that I just laugh at them and my phone flags them as spam anyway, but some of them do look very convincing.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I’ve read that the spelling mistakes are deliberate — they’re to filter out alert and clueful targets. People who respond to scam emails/texts full of spelling mistakes are more likely to be profitable marks.

          2. MsSolo (UK)*

            The worst response is “I’m an intelligent person and I know all about scams, so it CAN’T be a scam”. Very hard to get someone to back down on that, or report it, or even admit there was an issue. And that created the secondary risk of covering up the scam to save face, and causing even more problems down the line.

          3. UKDancer*

            My friend (a smart and intelligent woman) was sent a letter from some anti-vaxxers about teenager vaccinations which are currently a thing. She showed it to me and it looked really like the NHS branding and could well have passed for official correspondence. I doubt I would have noticed it being fake either. It basically gave people a list of possible side effects and asked them to confirm they were ok wth their child having the jab in an effort to dissuade people. It was only when her partner saw the news report about it being a scam that she stopped.

            They can be scarily good facsimiles of official correspondence sometimes.

        2. Smithy*

          For the kind of job I have, the majority of scam training we get is around phishing – and it’s genuinely miserable because the test phishing emails that work are ones that push my workplace anxiety buttons.

          While AAM has discussed what line of pushing those buttons is acceptable, it also has made it far more clear that what makes any kind of scam work is that they’re successful in pushing those anxiety buttons that then make slower common sense take over. And the reality is that my personal anxiety buttons at work/in life aren’t the same as another colleagues. So the phishing likely to get me, is less likely to get others. There was a recent very successful phishing scam of nonprofits that appeared to be an email from USAID – and I can only imagine for people who are responsible for meeting very rigid USAID reporting guidelines, thinking they’d maybe missed something would cause MAJOR panic. Whereas an organization who receives no USAID grants or a person who’s not responsible for that kind of reporting will have that second, third step of “what is this? why did it even come to me?”

          1. Worldwalker*

            “Why did it even come to me?”

            I’ve heard of people responding to scam emails about bank accounts at banks they’ve never had money in and credit cards they don’t have. Really? If I get an email about my account at, say, Fifth Third Bank (yes, that’s a real bank name!) I’ll be dead certain it’s a scam, because I’ve never done any business whatsoever with them. And if I were to read an identical email from my real bank, I’d be equally certain it’s a scam because I’ve gotten exactly that email with a dozen other bank names on it.

            On an amusingly related note, I used to get snail mail trying to sell me an extended warranty for my uncle’s truck. The only problems being that a) he never owned a Ford in his life, b) he died the better part of a decade before the purported truck was even made, and was in a nursing home for years before that, and c) he never lived in this state, let alone at this address. So one day I called the number provided to explain this. (I was figuring they’d bought a rather worthless mailing list) The rather pleasant CSR I talked to agreed that they’re wasting their money trying to sell things to a dead man. Then, being good at his job, asked about *my* car. I asked “Do you have anything for a ’91 Honda Civic?” He laughed, said that was a bit out of their range (at the time, my car was merely old enough to vote, not yet old enough to run for Congress), and they have subsequently not tried to sell me anything. I think they realized this was a lost cause.

            (I still have the Honda)

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              I remember seeing a Fifth Third Bank building for the first time, in MI, I think, and thinking it was the goofiest bank name I’d ever heard.

              I once got a robocall purportedly from the electric company in my area saying I was late on a payment and my service would be shut off and instructing me to call some number to avoid service interruptions. So I went to the company website and opened an online account with that company so I could pay quickly that way and then remembered that my town is one of the few around that actually has its own electric company and I didn’t use that company that had supposedly called me. This is why you should always check with the actual company directly and not call some random phone number that someone gives you to make a payment. But I’m amused and alarmed that I completely forgot at first which electric company I used, amused because I didn’t ultimately get scammed and alarmed because it speaks to the panic buttons that scammers are able to push by saying something like, “YOUR SERVICE WILL BE SHUT OFF!!!”

            2. ErinWV*

              Same as the bank phishing attempts: I got a spam phone call a few weeks ago about how a shipment of drugs was seized at the border and my name and contact info was among the documentation, and I needed to connect with the FBI (or whoever) to straighten it out before I was arrested on trafficking charges. I’m sure they would have demanded a fee at some point if I had continued listening to the message, but I felt supremely confident that no seized contraband has ever had my name on it for any reason. Like, you don’t even know how law-abiding I am. But for people who have maybe done some questionable things in the past, or had relationships with sketchier people (e.g. have friends who are dealers, have family who has used your name for fraud before) – I could see falling for this.

              1. pancakes*

                I think people who aren’t nearly as law-abiding as you are probably more rather than less likely to be aware that law enforcement doesn’t tend to call people to give them a heads-up that their arrest is imminent. Flight risk would be increased. It doesn’t really matter, though – people fall for this stuff often enough that others find it worth trying!

        3. Stitch*

          I do think the videos worked for me though. When someone tried to short change me, I spotted it pretty instantly (to be fair, they weren’t very good at it). I did work for a large company so my first day of work was watching videos and practicing what to do (we role played some situations with trainer).

          It wouldn’t hurt to run down really common things like short changing and things like those ink scams.

        4. Worldwalker*

          I had someone try one on me a couple of weeks ago. I’m selling a 3D printer on Craigslist. They pulled the “we’ll pay you a lot more than the asking price” (which I knew would be followed by (“and ask you to return part of it”) bit. Their whole email had more flags than a Chinese Communist Party congress. Why would someone offer to pay me more than they could buy something for on Amazon, for one? Needless to say, when I replied “I’m not comfortable with those payment arrangements” they vanished; if they’d been a legitimate buyer, they would have replied suggesting an alternative. If you want something so bad that you’ll pay more than retail for it, you’re not gonna ghost because the seller wants a less-suspicious payment.

          Anyone wanna buy a 3D printer? :)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            My favorite thing to say is “I don’t have any money.” That usually shuts it down, besides being true.

            I would love to have a 3D printer—if I had any money. :)

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Many years ago I managed a chain convenience store. I don’t recall any training on spotting scams from customers. All the attention was on employee theft. My sense is that the corporate office considered outside scammers a minor cost of doing business, with internal theft the real issue.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Random trivia: When I was getting set up for my first CC processing account, the CC clearinghouse sent out a person to photograph my place of business (a desk in a spare room — I did have a nice banner that he and I hung up over the desk, though!). One of the things he told me was that the majority of credit card fraud is on the part of merchants. Some of that is employee theft and scams (I remember getting a call, years ago, from a store loss prevention guy asking “Did you buy X expensive item yesterday and return it immediately? No? Yeah, we didn’t think so.” … I suspect someone went to jail over that one) but a lot of it is the merchants themselves, double-billing for things, etc.

          And then there was an incident that made the papers around here … what was in the papers only mentioned that an employee of a particular restaurant had been arrested after being caught doing that, double-submitting CC bills. The next time we ate there, I asked our server about it. Nope, wasn’t some random $2.13-an-hour waitress who did it… it was the catering manager! (who presumably had access to much larger bills to double-submit) Basically, one level below the franchise owner. Yeah, she got arrested (though given the lack of follow-up in the paper, I’d guess they probably dropped the charges in exchange for restitution) but how many get away with it?

      3. Littorally*

        Right, yeah.

        When I worked retail I was never trained on identifying scams. I was also handed a counterfeit detection marker and told to use it on bills $20 and up, but never told what to do if it actually flagged a bill as counterfeit. Glad it never came up, but my bias is generally toward assuming retail cashiers don’t know this stuff.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think any of us need to form assumptions about which particular scams retail workers do or do not tend to know about. I’m not going to assume they’re all afraid or unable to ask questions, though. It would be reasonable to ask, in that training scenario, “What should I do if it identifies a counterfeit bill”?

    6. Jenna Webster*

      This probably didn’t happen here or it would have been more than $300 but I know someone who told their boss this happened when they had pocketed the cash themselves.

    7. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t know. When does a retail employee take money out of the cash register to pay someone? Doesn’t all money in and out need to be part of transactions ie an error is made and the cashier can’t just open the register to fix it; they must first ring up the next customer before the register opens again?

      You cannot make the employee pay for their mistake with money from their pocket. You can decide this employee is unreliable and fire them or put them on a PIP of some sort. This is a big mistake.

      1. pugsnbourbon*

        In the past retail jobs I’ve worked I could either enter a “no sale” code or button to open the register, but it was recorded (either on the tape or electronically).

      2. JB*

        Sounds like you’ve worked for incompetent or untrusting managers. Of course any register can be opened at any time. Sometimes it just requires a code, and if the manager didn’t give you that code it’s because they think you’re going to steal money from the till.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        “When does a retail employee take money out of the cash register to pay someone?”

        I don’t know how common this is nowadays, but it used to be pretty standard for outside vendors to be paid in cash from the till. The chips guy comes in, restocks the chips aisle, hands the cashier an invoice, and gets cash back. If the case of the LW, there is no mention of an invoice. That is really the only thing that makes me raise an eyebrow.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Should add: This was for mom-and-pop stores. Larger operations were more likely to have more sophisticated systems.

        2. doreen*

          I could see if it was a mom-and-pop and it was a vendor who is there regularly – the chips/bread/soda/hardware supply vendors who get paid in cash are there regularly, they aren’t on-offs like a furniture company. And those usually happen either simultaneously with a delivery or after a delivery – they don’t come in looking for money in advance of delivery, which seems to be what happened here.

      4. Worldwalker*

        A lot of that depends on the specific cash register. In particular, a small boutique might have a beautiful vintage register where you just need to push a “no sale” button to open the drawer.

        When I worked there, Radio Shack had POS on computers, but not computer-controlled cash drawers; those were opened manually. You pulled on a certain pattern of 4 finger grips under the drawer. I realized it was easy to tell which were the correct ones because the pattern was never changed, so those ones would have weaker springs — you could feel that they pulled easier with your fingertips. So when I transferred from one store to another, they didn’t have to tell me the code — I just opened the cash drawer. The manager almost died of shock. I could probably have done that in any location that had been open more than a couple of years.

        Yeah. A company which, at the time, had more US locations than McDonald’s (that was, for some reason, a big thing among the higher-ups) had such insecure cash drawers that someone who, say, had worked as a holiday temp last year, could have opened the drawer in practically any location where they could get access to it, if they had sensitive-enough fingertisp and a confederate to keep the staff busy.

    8. PhyllisB*

      Absolutely!! I’ve been scammed before. One I was pretty sure was a scam, but the lady had children with her and I gave because I felt sorry for the kids. (She tried to pull the same thing on me a couple of months later, but just ignored her that time.)
      The one that really got me was at a church bake sale I was in charge of. The most popular item we sold was over-sized cream puffs. I mean, folks nearly got in to fist fights over these things!! Anyway, one of the ladies working at another station had reserved and paid for a dozen to be picked up at the end of the day. Boxed them up and put them aside with her name on them. No problem. Well, a few hours later, right at the busiest time of day another lady approached me and said she was there to pick up the cream puffs because other lady had to leave to take her husband to the hospital. At first I refused, saying I had to give them to lady in person. Lady was very pervasive and convinced me that she had indeed asked her friend to do this for her. Line was backing up and co-workers said, “Let her have them!! We have people waiting!!” So I did. Well, at the end of the day the original lady showed up for her purchase, and I told her that her friend had already picked them up for her and asked how her husband was doing. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she had NOT sent anyone to get them, and that she wasn’t even married!! Well, of course I felt awful, all I could do was refund her money and give her another dessert for free. Of course everyone at the booth started berating me for being gullible, when they’re the ones who told me to let her have them!! From that year forward we did not reserve products. Moral of this story is: Anyone can be scammed.

    9. stampysmom*

      Reading the responses has changed my thoughts but the VERY first thing that popped into my head was that the cashier took the $300 and gave that ridiculous story. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but this seemed so surprising to at least not check on something like that before you hand it over. But you never know!

    10. Yet Another Admin*

      We have been doing a lot of cybersecurity training because one employee clicked on a thing and inadvertently let in a bad actor. Thankfully after a lot of time and effort, including hiring an agency through our liability insurance, we discovered that only one piece of confidential information had been compromised – a teen volunteer’s CORI form. So we sent her a nice letter vetted by the liability folks.

      One of the things they tell you in cybersecurity training is that it’s the social engineering. You might pick up a phone and hear that you need to confirm a toner order (this was a HUGE scam 5-15 years ago) and not double-check with the person in charge of purchasing.

      Training is a really, really good idea. Here’s a good link provided by the trainer we worked with:
      https://security.berkeley.edu/resources/best-practices-how-to-articles/top-10-secure-computing-tips

      These can be applied to any form of communication – including a random person walking into your office and saying he was sent by your boss.

      Also, if your company doesn’t have very specific cash-handling procedures, I recommend:
      – keeping all cash in a safe.
      – the CEO or CFO (or equivalent) keeps the key.
      – use a two-part sheet to record cash going in and out (one part stays in the safe, one part goes to be recorded in accounting software).
      – speaking of accounting software, create a “bank” account in your accounting software and record every petty cash transaction based on the records handed to you. You can then also record these against your general ledger.

  2. IsbenTakesTea*

    #2–At least your employee realized something was off and let you know! I’d take it as a lapse in judgement, but at least a coachable one, especially if it’s a relatively inexperienced employee.

    If they hadn’t felt anything was off and you’d discovered it later, I’d look at it much more seriously.

    1. High Score!*

      Actually this is the part that smells to me. I have small business owners in my family and one issue they have is when am employee wants more money (they already pay as much as they can afford) then a “con man” or “thief’ will con or demand money and the cash register is drained. Most of the time when this happens it is the employee’s significant other or friend (they have cameras).
      Naturally offenders are fired but it hurts the business.
      I suggest having a system where not more than $20 is kept in the register.

        1. Stitch*

          Maybe $20 is too little but if you have low cost sales and don’t accept $100s (many places don’t) you don’t need a lot of cash.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think it’s probably pretty common with conmen like this that while they are there they get in your head and make you feel flustered or pressured and not quite able to think straight and then as soon as they are gone and you have a second to think clearly you would immediately realize what happened. I don’t think that’s suspicious at all.

        1. Tuckerman*

          $20 is pretty low, but when I worked at a grocery store we weren’t allowed to keep much in our drawers and periodically we could put the cash in an envelope and drop it into a locked safe.

      2. Observer*

        I have small business owners in my family and one issue they have is when am employee wants more money (they already pay as much as they can afford) then a “con man” or “thief’ will con or demand money and the cash register is drained.

        If this keeps on happening repeatedly, then they are TERRIBLE at hiring *and* they are not paying as much as they can. Because all of these thefts should have put them out of business.

        And anyone who thinks that you can run a retail establishment that is not cash free with $20 MAX in the register is not someone who I would take any employment or business advice.

  3. Maybe I'm wrong*

    If $300 is make or break and it’s enough to lose an employee over, I have to wonder about the stability of the business. Seems a bit precarious to have this type of incident be a significant event for you financially. As Allison says, it’s a cost of doing business.

    1. MK*

      The OP didn’t say it would bankrupt her to lose that money, but saying that a business should be able to consider losing a day’s earnings insignificant is unrealistic. And sure, employee mistakes are part of the cost of doing business. What does that have to do with whether the employee should be disciplined and how. As far as I can tell, the OP isn’t considering asking the employee to pay for the loss. I have to agree with the OP that this is a pretty serious mistake, not one anyone might make.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s in line with what one might pay for scam- prevention training? I’d frame it as “an expensive lesson that could have been far worse. ” Unless it turns out the employee was in on the scam, this is a valuable reminder that what employees consider normal will include not only your way of doing business (or rather, what that looks like to them) but also local norms and their past experience, in previous jobs and life, in general.

        I’d spend the time to hash through why and how it sounded even temporarily plausible; whether there was some level of implied threat (physical or reputational, to the employee, to you or to the business), and broadly, whether the reason was more a “seems plausible” or a ” cognitive dissonance makes people’s brains shut down.”

      1. Small business chick*

        Because the AAM commentariat never misses a chance to tell small business owners that they are supposed to have giant boxes of money just sitting around, and if they don’t, they suck and they should just close up shop.

    2. The OTHER other*

      And *I* have to wonder whether you know just how thin profit margins are to run a retail business, especially during COVID. Hello, businesses are closing and struggling everywhere. It must be great for $300 not to feel like much money, TO YOU. But for many retail businesses, that is a day’s or multiple days’ profits. If it means so little to you, please reimburse OP’s $300, I’m sure Alison will be able to put you in touch with them. After all, it’s just a cost of doing business.

      1. rudster*

        LW said “take”, not “profits”. That implies revenue/turnover, for which 300$ would indeed be miniscule for a retail business with one or more paid employees.

      2. Elaine Benes*

        I mean… I run a solo business, I don’t even make enough to employ someone else, and I have absolutely made mistakes in the $300 arena and considered it the cost of doing business / a very expensive lesson.
        I’m with Maybe I’m Wrong- if the LW’s got someone on payroll, I really don’t think $300, even if it’s the day’s take, is that much of a threat level. At a minimum I wouldn’t be employing someone else if I’m only $300 away from it tanking my business.

        1. EPLawyer*

          OP didn’t say tank the business. Can we PLEASE stop saying any time a business owner says something about costs stop saying “Well if you can’t afford X you deserve to go out of business?” Small retailers especially run on small margins. $300 might not tank the business, but it might make it harder to refresh inventory or add someone at holiday time or something. Or you know, we could have Walmart and target be the only retailers because all retailers closed up shop because everyone felt because they weren’t absolutely perfect employers they had no business being in business.

          1. Elaine Benes*

            The OP didn’t say it but I was responding to “The OTHER other” above, who seemed to be pretty much implying that $300 was an extreme hardship to the business, and I just wanted to add my two cents- as a small (micro?) business owner- that if I was at the level of $300 seriously impacting my business, I would consider it irresponsible to be employing anyone else. Because clearly my margins are too thin. Obviously, it’s an unexpected expense, which is always annoying- but I agree with Alison that it is an amount that is well within “the cost of doing business”.

            1. Another small business owner*

              I felt like EPLawyer was responding to a general sentiment the comments section that “any time a business owner says something about costs” people comment “Well if you can’t afford X you deserve to go out of business.” Which I think is an accurate impression, regardless of relevance to this literal thread.

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                It’s mostly in response to the frequent letters from small businesses owners saying they can’t afford to pay minimum wage, provide sick leave, not treat their employees badly… to which I do think it’s extremely fair to say, if your business isn’t viable while still testing its staff decently and operating honestly, it doesn’t have a right to exist.

                That’s different than saying that if your business has very thin margins, too bad so sad, etc. That’s applying a harshness that’s necessary for shady business owners onto just maybe struggling business owners, which isn’t fair. But that vibe is seen in the comments as a result of the shady or exploitative ones.

                1. American Job Venter*

                  It’s mostly in response to the frequent letters from small businesses owners saying they can’t afford to pay minimum wage, provide sick leave, not treat their employees badly…

                  This. I nearly responded to this thread with a couple of links to discussions of wage theft in small businesses, then envisioned the resulting chaos and decided not to.

          2. pancakes*

            My goodness, this is some catastrophizing. There are numerous reasons why huge retailers have become dominant in the US. Small business owners closing their businesses because they read comments on the internet that made them feel bad is not among them.

      3. FD*

        If $300 is a big deal for the business, then it’s safe to bet the employee isn’t making much either, right? Let’s be wildly and probably unrealistically generous here and say the employee is making $15/hour. Even if the employee had no taxes (which they will), that’s three full days of wages for them, so I tend to feel the person with the more power in the situation should be taking that hit.

        Look, the harsh reality is that there are a lot of businesses out there that were only viable so long as there were large numbers of cheap laborers, and the price of labor has been really low for a really long time. The pandemic has removed a lot of workers from the workforce–some through death, some through child care needs, some to go back to school, and some for better opportunities opened up through the other three. (Cost of supplies factors too–but bluntly, that’s basically the result of extremely low wages in some parts of the world.)

        Bear in mind that the consumer spending in the US Is *higher* now than in July of 2018, so it’s not like people aren’t spending money. The customers are out there. But some of those artificial factors that businesses are used to are being removed and that’s going to reveal that some businesses really weren’t viable.

        I have compassion for the fact that the people who own those businesses have often put a lot of their lives and personal time and energy into running those businesses. But just working hard at something doesn’t magically mean that thing is going to work and sometimes something happens that reveals that the whole thing really was a house of cards.

      4. CommanderBanana*

        Same. I part-time in a little bodega that a friend owns, more as a favor than anything else, and while it may seem like we do a high volume of cash sales, the actual profit is razor-thin on most items. Like, less than 25 centers per unit of some items thin. So I could sell $3,000 worth of that unit and the profit is literally $10.

        1. Mizzle*

          I hope for the OP that their margins are better, because if $300 is a full day’s takings, the profit would be $1 per day…

    3. None*

      I mentioned it above, but I think a procedure in which employees cash out and put $x in a safe, would be appropriate for this business. The employee should not be responsible for a day’s worth of revenue at all times.

    4. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      OP didn’t say it would break them, she said it was significant. Actually, to me she seems much less worried about the money and more worried about the gullibility of the employee. Because she wants to be sure it won’t happen again.

      My advise would be to think about whether this is an expensive lesson that the employee has LEARNED, if OP believes that next time a scammer walks in the door the employee will be immediately on guard and 10 times as suspicious, or if OP thinks that the employee would fall for it again.

    5. FD*

      I’m scratching my head over this too. That seems like an extremely small amount for daily revenue for a small business that has employees at all.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        $300 a day x 7 days per week x 52 weeks per year = $109,200 per year.

        But please note:

        *We have no idea what their margins are
        * We have no idea how many hours the employee works
        * We have no idea if this is just a side-business for LW who has a full-time job on the side
        * We have no idea if this is a day’s take on a slow day, or in a slow season

        LW is wondering how to handle this situation with this employee. Let’s stop giving business advice when we have very few facts to go on.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          I, for one, am heartily enjoying the expert business analyses from the Ask a Manager University MBAs.

        2. Your local password resetter*

          100k for employing at least two people and maintaining a store seems pretty low? Not that I ever ran one, but I wouldn’t sleep soundly on those margins.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Agreed, but a few more of these $300 mistakes could well mean the difference between a profitable business and a money-losing one. It is a teachable moment for the boss to the employee to learn from this mistake. Though honestly, I would never take something like that at face value. Then again, I’ve got a few years under my belt dealing with scammers and con artists. This employee may not have that.

    7. Sleepless*

      I mean…my husband runs a tiny business that probably grosses $3K a week. $300 wouldn’t break us, not even close, but given the choice I’d rather not lose it. (What account do you even assign that loss to? Can you make a “theft” or “scam” line item?)

      1. Former Employee*

        I think there’s a deduction you can take on your taxes for theft. As long as it isn’t an outrageous amount, I believe the IRS will not expect documentation.

        Unless I am understanding this wrong, in which case feel free to ignore this comment.

  4. Gelie Fish*

    For #1 i would consider the size of the office. If it is a small office and you are doing potlucks, I could see the company discouraging it. Large company, no big issue.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. Employees should be able to choose the company they keep on their own time, including unpaid lunch breaks. I assume that the employees in question are more than simply coworkers, close work friends at the very least, if not actual friend friends who hang out in their free time as well.

      That said, if the company decided to ban employees sharing food because we’re still in a pandemic, I could live with that.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Ban sharing because of pandemic is reasonable, but the LW says her boss explicitly said it was bevause they were being exclusionary.
        The person who complained is being petty and childish, unless their complaint was literally “LW and friends could be spreading the virus by being so close for an hour and potentially making physical contact sharing Tupperware boxes” which is in itself a bit of an overreach – if there were such extreme concerns, the company should social distancing policies considered, not a telling off just from the boss.
        LW has accidentally found herself in a kindergarten.

        1. Vanilla Bean*

          I’m wondering if there wasn’t more to the story than the OP shared, but based on my own experience with a similar complaint as a manager.

          I took on a few new employees as part of a restructuring a couple of years ago. One of the new employees, Jane, shared with me that her old group had a clique routinely ate lunch together, but that Jane and one other employee from the team were always excluded. The same clique organized their own Secret Santa exchange and excluded the same two teammates. Most of the members of that clique went to the same team after the restructure, and they continued the same habit of planning voluntary social fun things that excluded a small part of their team.

          The members of the clique were, without exception, white women under 30, and the people excluded were not. I didn’t have the standing to address the social exclusion, but it was troubling. The real root issue was a lack of diversity in the working group, which I did try to call attention to and influence. It was partly a field diversity issue, but the manager who hired most of that group and allowed the team’s culture to develop that way was a white woman under 30 herself and there was some unconscious bias going on.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Ding ding ding!

            Problematic group/department that exists in my building – if you aren’t X, Y, or Z, you’re not just excluded socially, but you’ll be on the receiving end of their drama and nonsense. And believe it or not – the group demographic is early 30’s to late 40’s white men.

            1. Chris*

              I agree. It is hard to know the office culture or size, but in my office of about 100 people, this would feel really exclusionary. It would be super weird to walk into our office kitchen/eating area and have a group that was basically saying “you aren’t welcome to eat with us.” Why not open it up and suggest that others are welcome if they contribute to the food? Or if the group really doesn’t want to include others (which I do think is fine, we don’t all have to be besties) go so someplace else. We don’t all have to be friends, but we do all have to work together and to me this has a little bit of a “not part of the cool kids club” vibe and IMO impacts people’s ability to work together. I feel like there is context missing in the letter, but this was my take.

          2. EPLawyer*

            That is what I am thinking. Its this one group of friends who won’t let anyone else join their little exclusive club. I mean have they thought about asking if anyone else wants to join their little potluck? No it’s just whhhhhhhy can’t I eat with my very good friends?

            OP look at how welcoming you are to adding others. Would it be the end of the world if you offered to let others join your potlucks? Also if you are such good work friends look at what is going on outside the lunches. Do you make up teams on collaborative projects only of your friends and not include others? Do you discuss work over lunch that would make it easier for your group to do things that leaves out others?

            1. Nia*

              This isn’t kindergarten, if they don’t want anyone else joining them for lunch that’s perfectly fine. The complainer needs to get over themselves. People are not obligated to like them.

              1. lilsheba*

                I completely agree. The person complaining is acting like a 5 year old. It’s not kindergarten, you don’t have to share the cupcakes with the whole class.

                1. Vanilla Bean*

                  I disagree, I don’t think we have enough information to determine that. People can socialize with who they want, but it’s worth looking at your own unconscious biases and really examining why certain people are your friends and certain people are not, and being critical of your own personal reasons for treating people differently, ESPECIALLY in the workplace.

                2. STG*

                  I absolutely agree.

                  I have to be cordial and work with my coworkers. I don’t have to like them or hang out with them on my time.

                3. Roscoe*

                  @vanilla bean

                  Yes, we all have unconscious bias. We are also tribal. Its not shocking that similar people would gravitate toward each other. The problem is people are ok with some similar people gravitating and not others. But as long as they treat everyone professionally on work time, what they do at lunch shouldn’t matter.

                4. James*

                  While I agree with you in principle, Vanilla Bean, that principle cuts both ways. There’s no reason to assume a priori that the LW is in the wrong. It’s entirely possible that the complainer is in the wrong–especially if they didn’t communicate their desire to join the group activity to the group itself. That indicates a certain entitled mentality, an attitude of “I want it, therefore you are obliged to give it to me.” That’s just as problematic, for the same reasons, as being exclusionary.

                  And there are valid reasons for why certain people socialize together. I was excluded from many such lunches because I’m not into fantasy football or Seinfeld (two different groups). And that’s fine. Those groups are bonding over a shared joy that I do not share. It would be wrong of me to insist that they stop sharing that common interest merely because I want to be included.

              2. Nicoteen*

                Lately I’ve been reflecting on the term “clique” and it seems to apply if you’re *not* in the in-group, but when you *are* it’s just “my friends.” I’m in a group where one person is always crying “clique” but really that’s just her FOMO and always wanting to be the center of everything. It’s hard to say from here what the situation is with the lunches IMO.

                1. Roscoe*

                  This is very true. Everyone has “cliques” by that definition. But people like to pick and choose when it is or isn’t a problem. If they are jealous of the clique in question, its a problem. If its a clique that they have no desire to hang with, no one cares

              3. EPLawyer*

                But they ARE expected to act in a professional manner. And if their exclusionary tactics are leading to work consequences — like the buddy group gets all the good assignments and the excluded one is left with the scut work, then it is a problem. The manager probably handled this badly by focusing on the food. But having cliques form at work can lead to a toxic work environment.

                1. EPLawyer*

                  Also OP didn;t say they didn’t like the person. So it could be just a case of not looking beyond their group of friends. They could be justified in not including the person, like the person is always complaining about work and is just draining. OR it’s a case of NOTD for some socioeconomic reason which is not good.

                  Who knows, the person excluded might make the most delicious dumplings and the group is missing out because they won’t expand their horizons beyond their own friend group.

                  It’s not just as cut and dried as “this is not kindergarten we don’t have to like everyone.” Sometimes you have to stop and examine a situation to make sure it’s not a problem. Especially at work where the manager has already raised it as an issue.

                2. Nia*

                  They don’t need to justify excluding the complainer but even if they did they’ve still got a reason. The complainer is the type of person who whines to their boss instead of dealing with things like a grown up. Of course no one wants to hang out with them. Delicious dumplings are not a good enough reason to spend time with someone so thoroughly unpleasant.

                3. STG*

                  It’s a lunch hour. There’s no reason to think this group is getting any sort of beneficial treatment because they eat lunch together. That’s really a stretch.

                4. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  The other thing that I haven’t seen mentioned is that while a lunch break is the employee’s personal, unpaid time, these group lunches still appear to be happening on company property. So while it’s true that your boss doesn’t get to tell you what to do with your personal time, it’s very much within his purview to decide what behaviors and activities are allowed to take place on company property.

                  If the lunch clique is dead set on continuing their group lunches, they should find a local park or something along those lines, and take their personal socialization out of the office entirely.

                5. MissBaudelaire*

                  I don’t disagree with you that those cliques can form in workplaces.

                  I also don’t think having a group that you chum around with at work is bad. I don’t have enough information to say if LW is or is not being a snot towards the complainer. It’s just as likely that the complainer things everything had to be for everyone when that is not true at all.

                  If Complainer wants an office potluck, there’s nothing stopping them from starting one, either.

              4. Momma Bear*

                If the issue is “they are having fun and I am not” what about a team building thing a couple times a year arranged by management for the department? That said, though, you can’t force people to be friends. I’d be peeved if my boss dictated who I needed to spend my down time with at work, especially if I felt forced to include someone I did not like.

                Also, someone mentioned that a group in their office was strictly women under 30. If that is who is being hired, um, yeah, they’re going to hang out. I work in a very male-dominated field. A lot of the people who go to lunch together are…surprise!…young men who have similar jobs. It’s not their fault that there isn’t more diversity in the company or department. People with similar interests will tend to associate with each other. That’s human nature.

                I would start taking my lunch out of the office in this instance, but that’s still annoying and takes away from the break time.

            2. James*

              “I mean have they thought about asking if anyone else wants to join their little potluck? No it’s just whhhhhhhy can’t I eat with my very good friends?”

              On the flip side, did the complainer talk to the group first? Or did they immediately rush off to the boss to complain? If it’s the latter, that’s fairly juvenile behavior for a workplace.

              There’s going to be friction entering into any group. Any group has in-jokes, and jargon, and social cues that prospective newcomers won’t be aware of. That’s the nature of groups. And while an effort can be made to include people in some groups, there are limits.

              “Do you discuss work over lunch that would make it easier for your group to do things that leaves out others?”

              The DM for my D&D group cuts two of us off because he’s learned if he doesn’t, we’ll spend an hour talking about work. It’s the nature of being friends and coworkers–you see the opportunity to talk to them about something, you take it. Understanding that is part of being a professional. This is why networking is important–and what networking IS. It’s actually something I encourage in my sampling teams. At least once an event we’ll all go out to eat, so that people can make these connections. It’s panned out, too. I know for a fact that at on multiple occasions folks who met on my projects reached out to each other for help on other, unrelated projects (they asked me for the other person’s phone number).

              Yeah, it sucks if you’re the one left out. But again, how much effort are you making to join in? If you’re expecting the group to just open up and let you in as a full member, you don’t really understand how humans work. We’re tribal, and every tribe has initiation rituals, from the extreme (boot camp for the military) to the almost-undetectable (“Let me buy you a drink”). You’ve got to make an effort yourself. It can be something as small as “I saw you doing a lunch thing, and brought some brownies to share, I wanted to try this new recipe”.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                This.

                It may well be that LW has a little group that is exclusionary and it is harmful. It’s also likely that Complainer is sulking because they expected to be included and no one read their mind and just did that. It could be that Complainer never approached/tried to share with them. If Complainer feels that they can’t try and break into the group and therefore there should be no groups of friends at all, at least ones that don’t include them, that’s on Complainer, not LW.

                Now that is all conjecture, of course.

              2. Olivia Mansfield*

                There are three staff members in my department, total, and the rest of the group are faculty. The three of us have a weekly taco Tuesday three-person potluck. We decided to open it up on a few Tuesdays to whoever wanted to participate, and then we were the potluck organizers for a 40-person event. Which was fine for once a semester or so . . . but not something we’d want to do frequently. A small, informal sharing between 2 – 3 people is different from what it becomes when you add more and more people to it. I understand the concerns about being exclusionary, too, though . . . maybe they could still have their friends-sharing lunches, but just more irregularly / infrequently?

            3. Roscoe*

              I think that is absurd. If I have a few people in my office I like to go out to eat lunch with or whatever, because that is the time of day I can literally engage with who I choose, why is that a problem? We are adults. Everyone doesn’t have to be included in everything. If we are going to start policing who can eat lunch with who, then you better pay me for that time. Otherwise, if its MY time, its MY choice.

              1. Simply the best*

                Same. My mind is boggling at these comments and I am thanking any and all deities I’ve never worked somewhere with this level of pettiness over WHO ADULTS WERE EATING LUNCH WITH.

            4. Loredena Frisealach*

              I’m wondering if this is a potluck, where containers are on the counter being served from and there’s probably excess because there’s 2 entrees 3 veggies and desert. Or if it’s more like Samir brings 4 portions of an entree and Amhad brought 4 pieces of naan with some hummus.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                I suspect it’s the second. So and So is bringing the chips and dip. Such and Such is bringing four portions of soup. BlahBlah is bringing four cupcakes.

                1. Loredena Frisealach*

                  In which case I’d honestly question more why someone is complaining. A potluck is very open and excluding someone would be egregious. Just swapping around a small set amount of food is more personal, and then only becomes an issue if as others mentioned it’s 4 out of 5 team members.

          3. LifeBeforeCorona*

            At an old job, the office clique routinely planned in and out of office events and I was routinely excluded. I was a young, single POC and didn’t have much in common with slightly older married women so I wasn’t really bothered. However, one morning before a meeting my boss asked me if I enjoyed the previous day’s social event. I replied that I hadn’t been invited. The silence in the room was deafening. The organizers looked embarrassed and my manager looked at them for a minute and the meeting began. Nothing else was said and after that, they made a point of inviting me and I always politely turned them down, which for them was probably worse than me accepting their invitations because it was clear that I didn’t want to socialize with them.

          4. yala*

            Oh hey, basically my deal too. Except that none of the clique fit that demographic.

            But yeah. The rest of my department all take their lunch together (and often get to take a longer lunch because of that), and generally do things together. The year before the pandemic, they passed over the general Christmas party in our section (snacky foods, hanging out and chatting, nothing big), to have their own private Christmas party. Which, again. Excluded from.

            And the word “favoritism” came up and…that’s a weird thing to bring up if they’re all peers.

            Our previous supervisor was someone I’d known a bit from high school choir. We were friends, but we were friendly. But she refused to go to lunch or events with just one or two people from the department, because she didn’t want to create ill will or seem like she was showing favoritism. That seems like a good policy if you’re dealing with folks you manage–either everyone, or none.

          5. Anon for This*

            The most cliquish behavior I ever saw was from people of color who would have lunch together. One group would be Filipinos and they would speak Tagalog; another would be from Mexico, Central, and South America and they would speak Spanish; a third group would be from the US and possibly the Caribbean, too, but all would be Black.

            I would be willing to bet that no manager would say a word to any of those groups about being exclusionary.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Sharing food (and touch generally) isn’t how covid is spread – the risk factor is eating at a shared table. Though you’d be less likely to catch a stomach bug if you didn’t share food.

      3. Chilipepper attitude*

        I think a key component for situation #1 is that the boss should be coaching the employee who complained about this. Instead, managers just want the problem to go away for them, so they don’t have to manage.

        I work in a place where those who complain about things like this are not told that employees can choose who to have lunch with and they are not having lunch together “at you.” The boss should say, I’ll check in with them to make sure that they are not purposely excluding you but I am not going to manage their time off the clock.

        Where I work, one coworker used to wave at people she saw but were far away, end of a hallway, across the large workroom, etc. But one person complained that the waver did not wave at them as much as she waved at others. How was this managed? Managers asked the waver to stop waving at people.

        Everything here is managed this way.

        1. Roscoe*

          Yes, this reminds me of when I was a teacher.

          I remember once having a kid who was basically an outcast. She seemed nice, but no one, even the nice kids liked her. I remember eventually finding out it was because at the end of the previous year, she was caught stealing from A LOT of the class.

          I told the kids, if you are in groups working together, you HAVE to include her. I won’t tolerate icing her out for school work. But I’m not going to make them eat lunch with someone like that either.

          I think we forget, sometimes its not just “mean girl” behavior, sometimes there is a reason someone has become the outcast, and its because of their own behavior

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            You make a god point here. Sometimes there’s a reason someone isn’t included, and it isn’t always “Hahaha, we like making someone feel bad.”

            My friend group in college had a kid who trailed after us between classes and really wanted to hang out with us. No one cared until he started doing things that would get us kicked out of the breakout rooms that we hung out in. Of course we didn’t want to hang out with him after that kind of stuff.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          I remember a big scuttlebutt at OldJob because Sally said good morning to Jane, and Jane didn’t say good morning back. That instantly made Jane a nasty brat who hated everyone and did it just to hurt Sally’s feelings.

          Not like Jane was actually getting her work done and didn’t hear. Not like Jane was hard of hearing and you had to get her attention before you spoke to make sure that she could really hear you.

          These were adults in their 50s and 60s.

          1. Kammy6707*

            I experienced a similar situation – a co-worker always said “good morning” to me in a tiny room that contained several large printers (that’s just where we would cross paths as it was the “back way” into our office closest to the restroom). I would say “good morning” back, but apparently I wasn’t saying it loudly enough to be heard over the hum of the printers (I’m a quiet speaker).

            She apparently thought I was just ignoring her, and exploded at me almost a year later! I was extremely confused…but it suddenly made sense why everyone else in the office ignored me/ended conversations when I tried to join them and why the admin assistant would go down the row of offices/cubes saying good morning to everyone by name – except for me. I did say I was replying to her, and that I guess I wasn’t speaking loud enough, but I know she didn’t believe me.

            These were also women in their 50s and 60s. Like – okay, maybe I could have spoke louder, but apparently you weren’t looking at me either or you would have seen my lips move! I was so glad to leave that place.

            1. Denver Gutierrez*

              At my current job, the most obnoxious employee was a woman in her 60s. She acted like a cross between a toddler and a high school mean girl. No one was sorry when she finally quit.

    2. Snuck*

      It’s odd that the boss says “exclusionary” and the letter writer says someone who doesn’t eat with them complained…

      I wonder though if there’s more sauce in this potluck? Whether they take up the only large table? Do it very often so there’s no space for others? Are noisy? It’s almost all/many of the employees and only a few left out? There’s other little clique things happening like after work drinks, weekend BBQs or even just in work hours chats and handing off of tasks to your friends….?

      If all of that was bye the bye, then the boss is being daft and choosing to manage the group rather than the individual, but if there’s possibly smoke/a hint of the other things, then it’s worth thinking about.

      1. Artemesia*

        yeah — there is sharing food and there is doing an elaborate potluck party where one or two people are having lunch in the break room at the other end of the table and not being asked to participate. If it is trading half a sandwich, who cares? If it is having a little party while one person sits there and eats their own lunch that feels ugly.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          Size of the department matters.
          If my friend group of five sit and have lunch together while the remaining eleven members of the department are “excluded”, that would suggest we are just a group of friends who are under no obligation to invite more than double our group numbers just to make sure someone doesn’t feel left out.

          Swap the numbers (team of eleven “excluding” remaining five) I can maybe see how it becomes problematic. But without knowing the numbers involved, it can certainly be interpreted as though someone is projecting their feelings of highschool cliques.
          Perhaps LW1 can reflect on who is in their clique and who has been “excluded” and determine whether a rational person would say whether it could genuinely be favouritism, lack of diversity, or the boss being a twit. I’m not sure it changes the advice, but it might help change the framing.

          1. Snuck*

            I agree numbers matter… but I’d say even half the department (5 out of 11) is too high a number to not throw a cursory “hey guys feel free to join if you want” on occasion!

            Especially with the silly season of many celebrations coming up. (Silly because it’s fun for some, hell for others, and everyone goes a bit bonkers somewhere in the mashup)

            1. Snuck*

              Whoops my math bad… But still.

              And sometimes it can be appearance – if you have a department of 16… 5 are pot lucking… 5 are off doing errands, two eat at their desk… two work through lunch for phone coverage… and two are sitting alone regularly…. That’s problematic possibly.

              Also where else do people have to go and eat…. Is there somewhere nice? Maybe the weather was nice up until now so it didn’t matter because people could go for a walk to eat, but now they have to sit in a noisy lunch room as a large group exchange pot luck?

              Generally pot luck shouldn’t be an issue (except in a pandemic – why oh why are people eating pot luck in an pandemic? Oh wells! Maybe they are all vaccinated, or had it already :) ) but it’s a ‘time, place, culture’ thing a bit too.

              1. I'm just here for the cats!*

                I don’t think it’s a pot luck tho. It sounds like it’s more like they bring a little extra of their food and share among their small group of friends.

                1. ItIsWhatItIs*

                  Sounds awful lot like a a potluck in essence to me and I wonder if that’s how it reads to other coworkers.

          2. Coffee Bean*

            I know I am speculating here, but maybe this is a situation where OP works in a department where coverage is required? And this one team member is left alone to cover everything while the others are at lunch?? That could cause some resentment. I again am speculating, but I just think there is more to this.

              1. Yvette*

                But if it is the same person left to cover day after day I can see that causing hurt feelings. But just going by what is in the letter that does not seem to be the case.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, I can see this easily. Numerous teams worked on our floor at Exjob, but we only had one small lunchroom. They usually used a cube in their group for potlucks but it wasn’t uncommon to see a little party for whatever—a shower, a birthday, just for fun. Nobody really cared if they weren’t invited to another team’s party. In a smaller office with only a couple of teams, it would definitely be more awkward.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Or worse, if the excluded employee(s) HAD ASKED to join and been turned down. Our OP might not even know if one of their friends was telling someone it’s not an open group.

          1. Nia*

            Why would that be worse? People are not obligated to like all of their coworkers and they certainly aren’t obligated to spend their own time with coworkers they dislike.

            1. Sylvan*

              That would explain the “exclusionary” complaint, even if they’re not wrong to be “exclusionary.”

        3. LifeBeforeCorona*

          The layout of the breakroom matters. If one group is monopolizing the largest table and everyone else is stuck with the small one next to the microwave then it’s obvious. We had one lunch table and everyone used it and people constantly changed because not everyone had the same lunch hour. Even if there was food sharing it wasn’t done in a way to make anyone feel excluded. It might be, “hey try a bite of my organic onion salad.” or “there’s an extra sandwich if anyone is interested.”

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        It really sounds to me like a – perhaps poorly communicated – clique-breaking effort on the manager’s part. Like, of course it sounds absurd when you frame it as “we’re not allowed to share our food??” but I kind of wonder if that’s just the part OP is focusing on *because* it’s a bit absurd while ignoring the bit about exclusion and group dynamics. Honestly I think it’s worth the OP really considering if their group is making other people feel unwelcome or excluded – it could just be a weird OTT complaint but I agree it’s worth thinking about.

        1. MissMeghan*

          I agree. The issue could be difficult to communicate. If people are feeling routinely excluded and unwelcome at their own workplace individual examples may sound silly on their own, but the pattern and the feeling are there.

      3. Smithy*

        I also wonder if there’s something else going on here that’s just….not as obvious.

        I’ve been on a few teams that went through growth where the gift giving traditions of previous size were clearly becoming a problem for new size. For example, a team that put out the call for people to contribute whatever they could/felt comfortable for everyone’s birthday in addition to major life events. While there was no inappropriate pressure to give, it was also clear that there were just too many people to truly expect everyone to be give for everyone every time. But then inevitably certain members of the old guard with more friends (and often more connected to leadership) would be getting larger team gifts compared to newer staff members. It was a practice that had previously worked in a very inclusive way, but due to team size changes was becoming problematic.

        It may be that in genuine ways, the OP and their friends are doing absolutely nothing differently that they have for years. However changes have happened around them that make this practice more problematic now than it was six months ago.

      4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        There was a large group of “friends” who would push several tables together in the break room and regularly eat together. Very cliquish. Very Lindsay Lohan Mean Girls vibe. Regularly could be overheard talking crap on people not at the table. Loads of employees didn’t really feel comfortable even being in the break room while they were feasting. While I think policing friends eating together and sharing food is under normal conditions childish, at the same time if their very bad behavior got reported they would have wrote in a letter spinning it in the best possible light and I could see their side sounding like this letter.

    3. anonymous73*

      Yes the size of the office is important, but this isn’t elementary school. If the OP wants to have lunch with a few friends, there shouldn’t be rules around what they are allowed or not allowed to do with their food. Would it be different if they didn’t share their food? Would this person complain if this group went out to lunch? What about happy hour, or if a small group got together after work for dinner or on the weekend? People don’t have to be friends with everyone they work with and they shouldn’t be obligated to invite everyone in the office on their down time just because they all happen to work in the same space. As Alison said, unless this complainer is the only one excluded, just because Susie got her feelings hurt because she saw a small group of co-workers enjoying their lunch together, doesn’t mean she’s right.

      1. Be kind, rewind*

        Agreed. I’m a little concerned about how many people are assuming an exclusionary clique is what’s going on. A lot of projecting here.

        1. Simply the best*

          It’s especially funny to me considering this is a commentariat that so often claims “I’m not a work to make friends.”

          1. Roscoe*

            Yup.

            I think there are a bunch of people who want to be the ones to CHOOSE to not be friends with others, but don’t like not being invited, even if the outcome is the same.

            I also think a lot of people are projecting their past experiences onto this situation to make the OP out to be some kind of mean person.

        2. Denver Gutierrez*

          Me too. I don’t see anything wrong here. Maybe it is because I have always worked in small departments where breaks are staggered and everyone takes lunch alone? I have never worked anywhere where everyone goes to lunch at once.

          Now, if this group is excluding people while on the clock and working, that is a different story. That would need to be addressed.
          And lastly, I know it is bad to assume, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that an employee who would complain to the boss about what their coworkers are doing on their break is probably not the most pleasant to be around and no wonder they aren’t invited to join the lunch share.

          1. anonymous73*

            That was my initial thought about the complainer. I’ve always been independent (only child here), and very shy when first meeting new people. But even once I’ve developed friendships with people at work, I would never be offended if a few of them go to lunch without me, and I don’t feel obligated to invite all of them on one of my outings. I do what I want, treat people with kindness and don’t take every action of everyone else personally when I’m not included in every last thing. It’s called being an adult.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          It seems to me that there are two groups here:

          * “There is a sinister interpretation of the facts as stated, and unless I see evidence to the contrary I will put it forward”
          * “Unless I see evidence of the contrary I will assume that the way Alison is interpreting the facts and the LW stated them is a fair representation of the situation”

          Alison has asked us to lean towards the second. And that’s why excessive speculation about how the complainer might be right is not something I want to engage in. (Also, Alison may know things we don’t from editing the letter.)

          I think we all are aware that there is a big bucket of situations where what an affinity group of coworkers do on their lunch break is 100% their own business, and a continuum of cases where such activities may be to some degree not ok – depending on relative size of the out-group and in-group, whether everyone takes lunch together, and in particular the nature of the job and the participant’s roles, that is, whether these exclusive social lunches are a place where networking and socializing happens, and someone may be disadvantaged at work by being excluded from them, especially if it’s ostentatious.

          I could easily sketch out 3 stories where it’s totally fine, and 3 where it’s a little suspect, but – and that’s important – for the suspect ones I’d have to invent details that aren’t in the letter.

          (I don’t think whether the lunches are shared or just taken together has any impact here, so that the complainer would focus on this aspect is a bit odd already.)

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        You make a good point about where this ends. If Complainer still feels that way because this group wants to go out for a drink on a Friday night, does the manager get to ban that? If Complainer gets upset because they have a BBQ with their families on a Saturday, or go shopping together on a Sunday, or whatever, does that get banned?

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        I find this really confusing because I could not tell you who did what with whom during any lunch break at any job I ever held.

    4. James*

      The size of the office and the size of the team. If you’re a 15 person team and 13 people are involved in the lunch-sharing, it’s going to feel exclusionary. If you’re a 50 person team and 6 people are sharing lunch, that’s just people being people.

    5. Not your typical admin*

      Yes! And I think employees need to keep the optics of the situation in mind. I work with 2 close friends who I hang out with outside of work frequently. Our kids are around the same age and get along, and we’re involved in community activities outside of work together. I can easily see how if we were eating lunch together frequently and not including other co workers would be perceived as being cliqueish and exclusionary.

    6. yala*

      I would also consider the size of the department. As the one person in my department who is never invited to lunch or any of the other things they all do as a group, it definitely feels hostile after a while (and if that includes anyone in a position over the person excluded, it does start to feel like favoritism)

  5. my 8th name*

    #2. I have questions for LW2 if they see this!
    Did you know the scammer/did they know you?
    Did they know you were out of the store?
    Did they mention you by name?

    No advice. I’m genuinely just curious. This just seems like a really specific scam.

    1. Lessie*

      Not OP, but it’s possible the info is easily obtained online. Or it’s as simple as OP and employees being pretty well known in the area.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        My workplace quite often gets calls that are either scammers or garden-variety junk/sales calls asking for people by name; I’m pretty sure they’re getting the names either from LinkedIn or from online business registration documents like Companies House listings (not sure what the US equivalent is). You can get a ton of information like that from a quick Google, and they often sound very confident and familiar. It was worse when I worked for a restaurant that was actually named after the owner – think, like, Tony’s Pizzeria, and every asshole who wanted the best table or a comped meal was a “friend of Tony’s” – eyeroll. I think it’s a pretty common scamming strategy.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly – when I worked on a reception desk, that sort of thing happened so frequently. It was a small company and the boss gave her direct line to anyone she actually wanted to talk to – so you’d know that anyone else who phoned and claimed the boss was desperate to speak to them was lying. It was still fairly intimidating at times, though – people would ring up and insist they knew the boss by name, that they were incredibly important, that they had a call scheduled with her and that they would get me into serious trouble if I didn’t put them through. We’d just say ‘Oh, it’s better to call her on her direct line, thank you’ but they’d say no, I’ve called this number already, just put me through to her, she’s expecting my call, this is extremely important, don’t you know who I am, I’ll make sure you lose your job over this, etc etc etc. The thing was that you knew the boss would never tolerate us actually interrupting her with one of these calls, so in the end you’d just have to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t put you through, I suggest you call back on her direct line, thank you, goodbye’ and put the phone down. One guy clearly thought we had some sort of elaborate switchboard system going on, rather than one receptionist at any one time, and called back about 15 times clearly trying to get through to someone else who might believe him.

          1. Colette*

            Yeah, in one of my past roles, I did some fraud prevention for recorded calls and chats. It’s important to remember that scamming people is their job, and successful scammers are really good at it. They are persuasive, and they know how to pressure people to get past their initial resistance.

            1. Clisby*

              Interesting … I have never once gotten a recorded call that was even remotely persuasive. My experience has been that they’re all so obviously fraudulent I can’t see how anyone would fall for them.

              1. Colette*

                Not phone calls you’d receive on your own phone, people calling a call centre and running a scam.

              2. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

                I think Colette was talking about recordings of calls & chats, rather than robocalls.

              3. LunaLena*

                That’s exactly who they target, though – the people likely to fall for it. Ever wonder why scam emails are riddled with typos and grammatical errors? It’s because they’ve found that it’s an easy filter for the gullible vs the less-gullible. Only the really really gullible ignore the mistakes and respond, which means the scammers can focus their efforts on someone who’s more likely to fall for it.

                1. Sc@rlettNZ*

                  I was listening to a podcast about a woman who was caught out big time by a fake romance scammer and lost a lot of money. The journalist who produced the show actually managed to track down a couple of scammers who were prepared to talk to him and they both said something similiar. Right at the very start of the ‘romance’ they make it clear that it’s a scam as they want to quickly filter out the folk who won’t fall for it.

              4. LQ*

                Just for others this is a really dangerous way of thinking about scams. If you assume they are all really easy to spot and that you would never fall for any scam you make yourself more likely to be conned. Vigilance about them, emails, new romantic partners, phone calls, people stopping you on the street. Whatever the scam is…a bit of vigilance goes a long way. Even if you haven’t been caught in one yet, and I hope you never are, be a bit wary.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  I think that there’s often a bit of confirmation bias going on. Of course people remember the comically bad robocalls or misspelled Nigerian Prince emails and don’t fall for them, and consider themselves smart, unscammable people. But there are tons of small, low-key scams in which you might never actually realise you’ve been scammed at all – you get a fake text from DHL, click the link to pay your two dollar “shipping fee” or whatever, forget about it and never realise that nothing’s turned up. I know for a fact that I’ve never fallen for a silly OTT scam email – I got one by letter the other day and it’s hanging on my fridge – but it’s entirely possible that I’ve fallen for one of these small cons and just never noticed… because the con worked.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          I remember getting one of those once from someone who was going down those routes you describe – unfortunately for the scammer, he’d used old information and picked someone who had been arrested and fired seven years earlier. That one didn’t get very far.

          Same for the one who tried that route claiming to be offering us PAT testing – the recently-retired employee whose name they got hold of would never have been responsible for arranging that, and it happened that I knew that Facilities had had someone come out and do that a couple of weeks earlier so did manage to get rid of them by saying the service wasn’t required.

    2. Missy*

      I worked for an office equipment company and there was a common scam where people would pretend to be us and deliver toner or other office supplies and then say they needed cash for it. Then the victim would open the box and it would be empty and they’d call us up angry. How could they know we were their copier company?

      But it was pretty easy. The machines had a sticker on it with our name and number to call for service or supplies. Guy walks in off the street and then looks for that sticker and says the name. Or they call up and pretend they are getting a meter reading and say “can you verify the phone number on the sticker” and then google search for it and find the name so they can later pull off the scam. It wouldn’t be hard to find out the name of the boss. They or an associate could have come into the store and talked to the owner previously in a friendly way to get enough info to make it believable.

    3. Pennilyn Lot*

      This is actually a really well known and very common scam. It’s fairly trivial to get enough information about the way a store operates to pull it off, or to get someone’s name – a lot of the time if you just google [store] and [owner] it’ll come up with a LinkedIn profile, or even a website company page if it’s a small business. There was a lot of press earlier this year about a woman who did something similar, by going to different Walmarts and saying she was a manager and got cashiers to give her money to “put in the safe.” The thing with scams is that it’s easy to pick them apart and analyze them after the fact but difficult to do so in the moment because of charm, manipulation, and misdirection — scammers rely on social pressures and confusion to succeed, not foolproof heist-level schemes.

  6. Non non*

    I’m sorry but my first thought in response to #3 was: Is LW certain the money was actually given to someone else and not pocketed by the employee? (I learned an ex stole from the cash register at a retail business as an adult.)

    1. John Smith*

      I think we just have to take OPs word otherwise we could speculate all sorts. Did the employee steal it? Give too much change away and covering up? Got robbed at gunpoint and too embarrassed/scared to say? Ran a lotto to make money but got it wrong? It’s not really the point.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        To me the other commenter means more that the LW should check the cameras and watch the till for other shortages as it seems suspicious and possible that the employees was lying. Rather then not taking the LW at their word.

    2. Kesnit*

      The OP said the employee called them and reported the scam. I don’t think it’s likely an employee would steal and then report the theft. It isn’t impossible, as that would let the employee get their “story” out first, but that takes a lot of forethought.

      1. Metadata minion*

        I don’t see any reason to think this actually happened, but reporting the theft seems like a pretty solid way of getting away with it — you’re admitting that *someone* stole the money, and it’s likely going to be nearly impossible to track down the scammer anyway so if a police report goes nowhere, that’s not going to be suspicious.

        1. raida7*

          Agreed, as long as the thief only does it once it is a pretty effective, if limited, way to steal

  7. Dodubln*

    Back in the day, (1986) I got scammed by a short change artist while working the register at my first job in a fast food restaurant. They took me for $100 but it felt like $1000 at the time. My boss was really cool about it, as was the owner of the restaurant. They just let everyone on staff know that there was scammer in the area, and what to be on the lookout for. I thought for sure I would get fired at the time. Eventually, I ended up as head manager for a few years before moving on. And as head manager, I had to deal with my staff getting taken by short change artists. It happens, and is the cost of doing business, like Alison says.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, reminds me of my first retail job, where someone walked off with a case of beer and said his friend would pay for it, and walked off. I had no time to react and the store was so small that we didn’t have any security cameras. I was 18 at the time, drinking age’s 18 in my area. My store manager shrugged her shoulders, called the cops, and they asked me to go to the station that day after work to look at some mug shots. It just happened so fast that I couldn’t identify the guy, just that he was tall, slim, and had dark hair.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Not to mention, in that type of situation I was always told to let them do it. It’s not worth your safety to try and stop someone!

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          This as well. I’m not going to chase someone down for stealing a case of beer. My life is worth more than the beer or whatever they’re stealing.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I got taken by one of those guys at a hotel I worked at shortly after college. Guy was super smooth, came from a direction that made him look like a guest, totally believable. My manager handled it the same way – with the exception of having us lay on the counter the change going back to any customer for quite a while.

  8. Jackalope*

    For the start time question, I would strongly encourage flex time. If you can’t you can’t, but it can make a huge difference to all of your employees. For example, your start time is 7-9 and then everyone stays 8 1/2 or 9 hours after they arrived (depending on if your lunches are 30 min or 1 hour). That gives you core hours of 9:00-3:30 or 9:00-4:00 (depending on the lunch issue), which is a big overlap in time, but people can also have the flexibility to arrive later and leave later, or arrive and leave early, whichever works for their schedules. Again, I don’t know if that will work since I don’t know what your schedule needs are, but if it’s at all possible I would recommend something like that. That way everyone gets the flexibility and you aren’t being unfair to childless employees.

    1. John Smith*

      #4. Would it be possible to research potential employers beforehand – Glassdoor reviews, social media posts etc that may give an insight to company culture? Larger employers (or rather public sector, I think) in the UK publish details of employee diversity (don’t know if this is a thing in the US), though these are just numbers and rely on employees providing the information which they don’t have to. You could also ask questions in interview without revealing your trans status if you didn’t want to. Of course, you may not get honest answers! Wishing you good luck.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. Negotiate other time benefits for the person who must be there at 7:45. They leave earlier for starters.

    3. BatManDan*

      OP#3 here, about fairness / punctuality, etc.
      It’s a trades business, so people are dispatched first thing in the morning to do the day’s work at various homes and businesses that need the services. I’ll get some more details tomorrow from the employers about how coming in late impacts the OTHER employees, so hopefully the comments will remain open for a few days. I really appreciate the commenters on this site for years of good advice (and entertainment!), and Alison’s advice on this topic, but I’m hoping for some more concrete ideas from y’all as I’m able to elaborate. (Mine is not an office-based job, so I’ll be jumping in and out of this thread over the next few days; would love to consolidate most or all of the comments under this one thread.)

      1. Snuck*

        So they are sending trades out to clients homes to complete tasks?

        I can see a few scheduling issues if you need multiple trades on a site at once and you can’t build similar schedules for the few who are a ‘late’ start.

        A lot of trade sites start early early – I had a new dishwasher install at 730am this morning – so someone not being available until 830 could be tone deaf, or missing connecting with other trades and site meetings.

        If none of these are in play and it’s just people grumbling that they only get the all day jobs because Bob always starts late and dodges the trench digging (or whatever else) then pay them more for trench digging, or make sure Bob gets his fair share of the same type of work. The reality is that different tradies (Aussie for ‘trade qualified person’ such as electrician (sparkie), plumber, carpenter (chippie) or concretor) even within the same qualification have different skills and experience, and won’t all get hte same jobs because “Bob is good at sinks and dishwashers, but Jenny is good at showers and below ground drainage”.

        While trades like to start early and get hte job done, there’s plenty of people who like to have someone come for the end of the day and take the afternoon off to get jobs done too – your late starters could start even later and do mid morning to 7pm or whenever your noise ordinance rules apply.

        It sounds like it could be more a culture problem than a practical one.

      2. doreen*

        Can you be more specific as to what the technicians do – from your description, I can’t tell if they shampoo carpets or provide extermination services or handyman services or lawn care or… And the reason it matters is because the nature of the services is likely to have an affect on what times the customers will agree to or the service can be performed – just because I don’t mind the furnace cleaner showing up at 8 pm doesn’t mean I want the carpet shampooer showing up at that time.

        1. BatManDan*

          Inside the house, or outside. Could be disruptive, or not so much. Unless it’s an emergency of some sort, we don’t many people wanting “after hours” service.

          1. Colette*

            Do they not want it (i.e. later service would be a negative, as in carpet cleaning), or do they not request it (but would be OK with being offered a later time)? The specifics are going to matter – as will whether you want or are able to offer later times

            1. Metadata minion*

              If people work business hours and need to be home for this service, they may actually appreciate later service but assume it isn’t going to be available for non-emergency maintenance.

          2. Cle*

            I would love after hours service for stuff– it would be so much better than rearranging my work schedule. But seems like the question flow for scheling residential work goes like this “Is this an emergency?” “No.” “Okay, we will be there tomorrow between 7:30 am and 9:00.” If someone said “We usually come first thing in the morning, but we have someone available at 5:00 pm 2 days from now if you prefer,” I’d leap on that so fast. I generally don’t even ask anymore, because usually there’s an upcharge. If it was offered at no additional cost I’d be thrilled.

      3. JB*

        Would it make sense to have two shifts? One group gets dispatched at the current time and works to a set time, the other group gets dispatched X number of hours later and works until that number of hours later? This may not work for all potential employees but hopefully most people would fit into one or the other schedule.

        1. Ali G*

          I was thinking this or – can the Early Starters do all the prep work for the day, while the Late Starters do all the end of day stuff?
          So ES shows up at 7:45, preps the truck, fills out the schedule, etc.
          LS shows up, gets on truck and they leave for the day.
          When they return ES gets to go home and LS stays and cleans up, puts fuel in the truck, etc.

      4. BRR*

        And if you haven’t already, make sure to ask the employees if they have any suggestions. In situations like this I like to frame it as “here’s the issue that arises, here are the things I need to consider. Do you have any ideas?”

      5. Anne Shirley*

        I am in the trades as well (I’m not a tradesperson myself, I’m office support, but I’ve been doing this for 10+ years). I will admit that our company does not offer specific start-time flexibility to our technicians. The first appointment of the day is the #1 most-requested appointment by clients, and it’s a time slot that needs the most coverage. I’ll be reading these comments as well to see what commenters have to say for sure, but for now, the start time is a non-negotiable part of the job (barring, of course, one-off emergencies.) Some things we do try and do to make up for that are:
        – Good compensation. Technicians are some of the most highly paid in the company, and they get additional benefits for on-call time. Being on-call or having a rigid start time is a detractor, and we compensate accordingly.
        – Flexibility when emergencies do come up. It’s still not fun for dispatchers or for clients to have their schedules messed up, but we take a family-first approach and really try to be flexible on a case-by-case basis. It’s usually the business eating the cost of this (making it up to the client) rather than another employee covering.
        – Lastly, if this is an ongoing issue, maybe another department is a better fit for them. Our service/repair division has the most rigid scheduling, and receives extra compensation for that. However, we frequently have technicians transfer to the install side, which has a little more room for flexibility.

        1. Emily*

          My husband is also a technician and this is the situation at his work too. First thing in the morning, and end of day on Fridays, are the two busiest times at his work. They just can’t be flexible on a regular basis. This is why I absorb most of the changes to our schedule, whether for kid stuff or home maintenance or whatever.

      6. Not Your Sweetheart*

        Can you have tiered start times? Rather than everyone scheduled to start at 7:45, have some start then, some start an hour or 2 later. That would allow you to schedule appointments later in the day, too. (not all homeowners can be available for daytime appointments)
        The techs who don’t have other morning obligations can start earlier. Those that do start later.

  9. Sleet Feet*

    #2 In my first week on the job I released a trojan on the network… I work in IT. This wasy first post college job.

    Sometimes you get tricked.

    I think it’s a good thing your employee brought this up to you so quickly. I do think instituting some anti fraud training will help. Think about your controls and who double checks the money when. There are tons of courses on best practice anti theft/fraud practices.

    1. many bells down*

      My spouse works with programmers. One day someone put in the company Slack “hey I got an email with this weird link I think it’s a virus.” Then, for some inexplicable reason, they pasted the link in the chat.

      Then 4 people clicked it.

      A bunch of adult computer professionals and they clicked it.

      1. Becca*

        I have to say my last job people seemed very on top of it. Someone once accidentally scanned something to a good portion (all?) of the company (what had happened was obvious to me; some of the others might have not used our scanners as much for their jobs or whatever) and a bunch of reply alls came in “what is this?” “don’t open it, it could be spam” “why am I getting this?” It was amusing and slightly annoying, but rather that than the alternative.

      2. Joielle*

        One of my coworkers recently got a phishing email and instead of clicking the “report phishing” button, he forwarded it to the whole department to ask if we thought it looked like a scam. Cue panicked emails from IT telling us all to PLEASE NOT CLICK THE LINK

        1. Shad*

          I work at a smallish business, and one of the partners seems to forward every scam email he receives to the entire company with “don’t open links in emails like this. It’s a scam”.

      3. Unaccountably*

        We had an enormous issue with spam for a while at my last job. Like 25 emails a day along the lines of “Dear Unaccountably, I was thinking about what you said in the meeting yesterday and you are right that Kohler water fountains got your contact details from the South Africa Exchange Information On-line Service on my personal programmed search on the internet…” and then fifty links. I put in a help desk ticket with our IT department.

        It came back with a condescending message from one of the techs saying that I had clearly signed myself up for a marketing list without realizing it, and I should open the email and click on the “unsubscribe” link. There were helpful screencaps. From the IT tech.

        I declined to start opening up spam emails and clicking on links.

    2. LKW*

      And this is why my company (and many others) require us to take training about spotting phishing emails, social cons (calling and asking for information) and other ways to scam/disrupt a company. We even get random phishing tests and if you click any of the links in the email, you have to retake the training.

      1. JB*

        So does ours. Our security specialist still informs us that at least five people within the company click on actual, real, not-for-testing-purposes, external ransomware links per year. So far our firewall has caught them, but that was kind of a terrifying thing to learn.

    3. Erin from Accounting*

      I know several people who have fallen for scams as new professionals… especially the one where the scammer impersonates an executive and asks an entry level employee to buy a bunch of gift cards for them ASAP through email.

      All you can do is train your people (especially about the power of “social engineering”) and make sure you’re creating an environment where everyone is comfortable speaking up if something seems suspicious. There will still always be an occasional fraud that slips through.

  10. Asha*

    LW4: My partner thinks I should because it could be an advantage to my prospects due to interest in hiring diversity.

    I don’t think your partner’s right here, any more than people who have been saying for 20+ years that its an advantage to be a woman in tech! I think that disclosure is going to be a disadvantage to you in more places than it will be an advantage, and you’ll also find a lot of places that are interested in having a diverse staff but aren’t actually interested in improving their working environment.

    But that said, and like Alison said, you can also find good places to work by asking about their culture in their interview whether or not you talk about how it would affect you personally! I trust your skills in figuring out where (if at all) it’s comfortable for you to talk about during your job search, but I wanted to make sure you’re reminded that you can also ask more questions after you’ve received a job offer and before you decide if you want to accept it! Or, of course, any way that you want to, including taking the job and then having conversations later.

    Good luck with finding a new job in a place that feels great for you!

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      OP4, if you disclosed being trans and were hired as a token by someone who thinks tokenism is the road to diversity and inclusion, is that a workplace you’d want to be part of? Genuinely wondering. I think some folks I know would be glad to get in the door and others would not, often dependent on what their options were otherwise.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        When I was a mere youngster, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I would have been absolutely horrified at the idea of getting hired in a male dominated field as a token woman. In actual fact, I spent a moderate amount of effort to make sure I never appeared “that way” and that my merits were never exaggerated.

        Now, 25 years later… I’m a lot more cynical about it. I’m pretty sure that I’ve already missed out on a lot of mentoring and helpful hands that would have been forthcoming for a man, so in the unlikely event that someone offers me a long-term job, and they think that I check a “diversity” box that they’ve been asked to get checked off… then I won’t question the decision twice.

        But the operative term here is “unlikely event”. Yeah, people are trying to check diversity boxes, but the outcome is still that the people from the most advantaged backgrounds have a better chance of getting the jobs. They also get more support for building their careers, which makes them look better. (Standard disclaimer, law of averages, women are just as likely as men to be assholes, yadda yadda.)

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I very, very rarely hear people say “Disclose that you’re a member of [discriminated against group] and it will help you get hired because diversity” when they’re actually a member of the discriminated against group. It’s said by people who see boiler plate language about diversity in job ads and think this actually means something when it comes to hiring.

      Disclosure, even by asking pointed questions about company policies and current diversity, could be useful in screening out places you don’t want to work for, but it’s not going to increase your chances of getting hired, and could easily hurt them.

      1. Amaranth*

        Also, if OP isn’t hired, I wonder if he’d always wonder if his disclosure was a factor. Some people can handle the uncertainty of that, while others would find the uncertainty really aggravating.

        1. Bamcheeks*

          I totally understand why people worry about this, but it is absolutely a function of difference being stigmatised. Nobody ever talks about the straight white guy lying awake at night worrying that he got his job because he *wasn’t* a member of a minority group, even though it’s statistically way, way more likely.

          1. darcy*

            it’s way more likely that a straight white guy won’t get hired because of being a straight white guy than it is that a trans person won’t get hired for being trans? no…

            1. lailaaaaah*

              I think what Bamcheeks meant was that a straight white guy may well have been hired *because* he was the straight white guy, rather than a more qualified marginalised candidate, but would never ever think of his identity as being the reason why he got a job.

            2. JSPA*

              “Got his job” not “didn’t get the job.” This refers to the “fear of being a token,” which people are somehow expected to (and do) internalize despite the relative rarity. Compared to “fear of privilege.” People don’t seem to get impostor syndrome based on matching the demographics of most people in that job / the people in power, in the Department or company / the dominant social group.

              1. Student*

                Speaking as somebody who has been afraid of being a token (woman in male-dominated field) hire – I’m not afraid of being a token because of worry about my own self-worth for the job.

                I’m worried about being a token because, if I am a token hire, I get treated a lot different than if I’m hired based on my qualifications – the people who make hiring decisions based on tokenism are not going to treat me as if I am qualified for my role, no matter my credentials or my personal attitude. Also, it’s 2021… and women are about 50% of the population everywhere…. Places that need to hire women as tokens in this day and age are doing that for a specific reason: they are lousy places to be a women employee, they want to patch up their image around sexism, but have no idea how (and/or no desire) to actually address why they are terrible places to work as a woman.

                1. JSPA*

                  In my experience, for better or worse, the rationale for one’s hiring has little to do with the way one is treated by everyone outside that (very small) decision-making group.

                  People who expect [person from under-represented group] to be a “token hire” will treat them as such. No matter how qualified, nor how “blind” the hiring process.

                  People who expect [person from under-represented group] to be a competent employee will likewise treat them as such. No matter how biased the hiring process.

                  And employees [of any outward description] will be more or less competent by virtue of being human beings, who do not spring fully formed and fully informed from the brow of Zeus.

              2. Observer*

                This refers to the “fear of being a token,” which people are somehow expected to (and do) internalize despite the relative rarity.

                Being the token is actually not rare at all. Not because various marginalized groups are less competent and capable. But because all too often the people doing the hiring think that way.

                A white guy who gets the job because he’s a white guy wasn’t hired because his employer needed a token, but because the employer either doesn’t like X group / prefers white guys because, or because the hiring manager just assumes that the white guy can do what he claims to be able to do. (and yes, I know what happens when you assume.)\

        2. Anon for This*

          ” if OP isn’t hired, I wonder if he’d always wonder if his disclosure was a factor.”

          This.

          I am also a transman. I live as male. My legal name is male. I no longer look female in any way.

          Several years ago, I applied for multiple state jobs in one agency, but at different offices around the state. The on-line state application asks for any previous name you used. Because this was a state job and I didn’t want to be accused of hiding anything, I listed my “dead name.” (My dead name is clearly female.)

          I interviewed twice at Office A, but eventually was hired by Office B. The supervisor of Office B used to work for the supervisor of Office A and they are still close friends. When my now-boss mentioned to Supervisor A that he had hired me, Supervisor A commented on me being a transman. My boss didn’t know because he had not noticed my dead name listed.

          Both the office where I work and Office A are in semi-rural, conservative parts of the state. I still (years later) wonder if Supervisor A decided against me because she worried what would happen if my trans status became known in the community.

      2. Disabled trans lesbian*

        AcademiaNut is already saying what I wanted to say. Disclosure is far more likely to hurt you than it is to help you. A lot of places pretend they’re on board with DEI, but they actually want a feel-good blurb with no action required on their part.
        If you can afford to screen employers, asking pointed questions and grilling them on their current DEI efforts is likely to give you far more useful information than disclosing.
        For me, I only disclose the fact I’m Disabled because my disabilities are visible and directly affect how I work.
        I never disclose the fact I’m transgender during interviews.

        1. Disabled trans lesbian*

          I forget to mention: I only disclose as much as I ‘have’ to regarding my Disabilities. So I disclose my deafness, but I leave my cane at home or in the car.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        And to extend a bit

        If a company is genuinely and honestly committed to supporting diversity and an equitable workplace, disclosing still isn’t going to increase your chances of getting hired. It will mean that it won’t decrease it, and it will likely be a good place to work if you disclose after you are hired. But they’re not going to hire you so they can tick the trans square on their diversity bingo card. What they will be able to do is point to their diverse workforce, particularly at management levels, talk about how they actively and practically support a variety of different people and work to reduce bias in hiring/evaluation, and things like that.

        1. miro*

          Yes, this is such a good point!!!

          It’s also worth keeping in mind, OP, that organizations that are looking for a token person to check a box tend to assign a lot of unpaid DEI work to those token folks and expect them to be a spokesperson for their group. Given that it sounds like it’s pretty important for you that you tell people that you’re trans, that may actually be right up your alley! Or maybe not. In any case, it’s just another factor worth keeping in mind.

          1. EE*

            >organizations that are looking for a token person to check a box tend to assign a lot of unpaid DEI work to those token folks and expect them to be a spokesperson for their group.

            You’re so right! Happens so often with the “women in tech” example mentioned above.

      4. Asha*

        I do sometimes hear it from people who are part of the group that’s discriminated against, but they’re usually not part of the group working in that field. (Or the other way around.) Sometimes it’s just that they want to believe that things are better than they experienced in another time or field, or they think that their experience was their fault and not representative of how people they love will be treated. It still sucks, but it has a different reason behind it.

    3. Bamcheeks*

      I thought this too! LW, I don’t know if your partner is trans too, but if not I would be side-eyeing the heck out of them for this assumption that being trans gives you an advantage. Hmmmm.

      1. Kate*

        I think it’s inline with people who encourage home buyers to write letters to the seller talking about their family.

    4. lailaaaaah*

      As a gay disabled former recruitment worker, seconding this. Absolutely do not disclose anything that might give someone a reason to discriminate against you during the hiring process unless you absolutely have to; the only places likely to treat your status in a marginalised group as a positive in their choice to hire you are likely to be charities focused on that specific group (in your case, trans rights/support charities). Your partner likely means well, but they sound like they’ve never been on a hiring committee.

    5. Hotdog not dog*

      Once upon a time I used to hire for a position that had very specific and difficult to find skills and licenses. (Back office financial) When I found someone who met the qualifications for the job, I hired them. It didn’t matter what someone’s body looked like, who it loved, or how it functioned as long as it could support the brain and bring it to work. Over time we ended up with a very diverse team. When I hired a 40 year old white man, the recruiter told me I was the first manager she didn’t usually have to ask if I had considered any “diverse” candidates, but as I was planning to make an offer to a middle aged white man her job required her to have that conversation with me. Joke was on her, I found out later that he was in fact trans. He was also an outstanding employee. In the interview he asked about culture and met part of the team during his 3rd and final round of interviews. He never mentioned being trans in the interview, but he later told me that meeting the team showed him that he would fit in. It wouldn’t have made any difference to me if he had said anything about being trans, but I realize my team was unusual. I would recommend asking about culture and diversity and ask if you can meet some of the team to get a sense of things.

    6. Nanani*

      Agreed – even if the place is genuinely interested in improving diversity you never ever ever want to be hired for a quota, acutally or just in appearance. Even if there isn’t a real quota. The people who hired you thinking of you as “the trans one” instead of “the new X job person” is a bad thing.

    7. PolarVortex*

      I know people who were token hires for diversity – including LGBT ones. The problem isn’t just knowing the job because you’re a checkbox, it’s also others knowing that. People will assume you’re not as good as others, people who are bigots will be worse because of this. And you’ll forever question whether they hired you because you were the best candidate or because they needed to look better. Honestly all the people I know were forever either angry or bitter about being hired for that reason.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        The fact is though that people will think this whatever the rationale of the hiring decision.

        You can be a woman with twice as many publications as the next candidate, or a huge portfolio of open-source engineering work, or have built up a regional section of your professional society, or … and people will STILL say you got hired as a token. And then there’s, you know, genuine attempts to increase the diversity of some institution, *to further its purpose*. So belonging some group or other becomes part of your whole package, and this whole package may be relevant to the hiring decision. Do you work with client/students ? Do you design software for the general public? Your office may strive for a composition that reflects the diversity of these stakeholder groups, and expects that a team with a range of backgrounds will also have a wider toolset for some aspects of the job.

        So it can get blurry what is a “token” – I’d argue that the vast majority of people who are considered token hires are in fact hires that either *actually* stood out regardless of background, or were hired to address a diversity gap, which ultimately is a skills gap, in the hiring organization.

    8. another_scientist*

      I came here to say the same thing. This is such a huge pet peeve of mine. Please allow me to step on my soap box.

      This myth just will not die. I was told as a woman in science (each time by well meaning mentors who I am sure tried to encourage me to pursue a difficult path) that I will have an easier time getting a job, since diversity is so important nowadays. Racial minorities often get the much more blunt version of implying that they got where they are because of affirmative action. Obviously noncishet gender conforming folks are getting the same bs.
      This is not true for any field for which I went and looked at statistics. If the minority representation at the top of your field doubles, from 5 to 10% over a period of time, that is neat. But if the minority representation in the entry levels also doubles, from perhaps 15 to 30% in that same time frame, that means it is now just as hard as it was at the beginning for those minority employees to get to the top! It has not gotten easier for them, compared to minority candidates in the past, and it is still harder for them compared to majority candidates in their cohort!

      Now assume that you constantly hear from white men (with the credibility of having been in the business for decades before you), that you are being given a leg up. Meanwhile, that doesn’t match the reality you are experiencing. Now, lucky you can either be aware of the statistical reality, and decide all these more experienced people happen to be wrong. Or, you can conclude that it must be true on average (everyone is saying it, after all), and just doesn’t apply for you, because you are, in fact, less competent than your peers.
      Gaslighting and triggering imposter syndrome. Please people, let go of this myth. If you don’t have numbers to back this up, you might be doing more harm than good.

      This was first described by Marisela Martinez-Cola in a brilliant article about white mentors to students of color. I have been obsessed with this ever since.

    9. Cat Tree*

      Exactly what I came here to say! Oh how I wish employers were throwing money at me (a woman) so they can get some of that sweet PC cred. But nope, although I’m pretty successful I had to pass a lot more hurdles to get to this point, and would almost certainly be further in my career if I were a man.

      At my first job out of college, one of my coworkers – a white man – complained to me that another coworker got away with sloppy work because she was a “double minority” (female and Asian). Her work was fine and as good as the guy’s work. He some other racist gems that I won’t derail the thread with. But I was the youngest and newest employee so I just rolled my eyes internally and looked for a different job in my spare time.

    10. Wolfgang*

      Hey, LW4 here. So thrilled to be included! I hear the justified skepticism that being part of a class that faces discrimination could be an advantage, and typically I think that is correct. I’m not sure if it’s the industry I’m in or where I live but I honestly think it *has* been an advantage in at least one instance where diversity was a stated value for the company I was interviewing with. I need to caveat that by saying that for reasons I can’t detail here, my situation is not typical, even for most trans people; that I read the room relentlessly to look for bad vibes; that coming out to strangers is not always the right move; and sometimes that decision has to be made in the moment with potentially negative outcomes.

      I’m still looking through comment, thank you all for your wonderful advice. AAM has the best comment section on the Internet!

  11. John Smith*

    #4. Would it be possible to research potential employers beforehand – Glassdoor reviews, social media posts etc that may give an insight to company culture? Larger employers (or rather public sector, I think) in the UK publish details of employee diversity (don’t know if this is a thing in the US), though these are just numbers and rely on employees providing the information which they don’t have to. You could also ask questions in interview without revealing your trans status if you didn’t want to. Of course, you may not get honest answers! Wishing you good luck.

    1. PolarVortex*

      It’s a good call out. I’d also recommend looking into their Pride month posts. Of course a lot of corporations will seem superficial regardless, but as the example if you look at my company’s pride month posts, you’ll see a post from our LGBTQ ERG and actual names of out LGBTQ peoples at our company. I’m not going to say it’s going to give you clear markers about how great a company is – the gods know that mine can use some improvement with trans stuff (speaking as a trans person) – but it’s going to give you a clear idea if there are out people at the company who feel safe enough to be a face of that.

      Also there’s a lot of great LGBTQ career fairs out there, which may be an option for you too.

  12. scmill*

    OP3: For most of my career, the companies I worked for had flexible hours (ex: 7-9am arrival; 8hrs later leave). It worked well. Employees were able to avoid traffic, run errands, drop off kids etc with less stress. Unless they’re on a production line or a call center or some other type of position that requires butts in seats at a certain time for a real reason, give your staff freedom to adjust their hours to their needs.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      “requires butts in seats at a certain time for a real reason”
      This is the key point. What’s the *real* reason?
      Coverage of the phones? Those who come in early, leave early, those who come in later, leave later – everyone does their 8 hours. Have a two hour flex window.
      Legally mandated to have X persons with a certain qualification on site at a certain time? Make sure you have enough people trained, and consider an increase in pay to make up for the total lack of flexibility.
      I… am now struggling to think of legitimate reasons to require people to be at their desks for anything other than “the boss wants it” (I’ve also only been awake for 20 mins)

      1. Green great dragon*

        Covering phones with high demand at the beginning of the day, jobs that need people to work in teams, sites that are open to the public so the only time you can have a team meeting is before 8.30 or after 5, most things that are predominatly reactive customer service… I’m very much in favour of flexibility where possible, but it isn’t always.

      2. Xenia*

        Don’t discount the increased scheduling difficulty. If you have any sort of job where your people aren’t all interchangeable and you need a variety of skill sets, trying to make sure everyone is available at a given time when everyone’s schedules are changing all the time is a huge time suck for both management and employees. Asynchronous communication is useful but only goes so far.

      3. lailaaaaah*

        At my workplace, the phones are slammed from 7:30am to 9am. The rest of the day is much less of an issue, but the absence of people who do come in later is sorely felt by those of us who are there early.

      4. Colette*

        In many places, there aren’t multiple people covering things like the phones – it’s someone’s job, and if they’re not there, either someone else gets pulled off of their job, or the calls don’t get answered. It wouldn’t be a good idea, for example, to let the receptionist come in 2 hours after the office opens and put an engineer in charge of covering.

        Similarly, in companies with multiple locations in different time zones, coming in late (or leaving early) might mean you can’t attend meetings with people at other sites.

        Sometimes having people come in outside of regular hours means security has to work longer, or they have to be given a building key, which you don’t always want to do. If one of the few people with a key wants to come in later, then they need a new plan for opening the building.

        Sometimes there are deadlines that get missed if people come in late. If FedEx shows up at 11, your shipping person can’t show up at 10.

      5. LQ*

        Because you get annoyed when you get a 4 hour window for your cable service, and that’s with them having a very strong schedule.

        Because otherwise no one answers the line at 911.

        Because again you get annoyed if your coffee shop, help desk, website, or doctors office isn’t open when it says it is supposed to be open.

        The idea that no job needs to be done at a time or coordinated is so absurd and so prevalent around here it’s like no one has a job that needs to get done. Some work does actually need to be done at a time. Can we stop assuming that no work matters and that doing work doesn’t matter on a website about work?

          1. LQ*

            I… am now struggling to think of legitimate reasons to require people to be at their desks for anything other than “the boss wants it”

            There are reasons other than “the boss wants it”.

            1. Batty Twerp*

              I believe I mentioned phone coverage and legal coverage (e.g. there must always be a first aider on site, etc.)
              Beyond that, there is no good reason for the boss to want the payroll person to be at their desk at exactly 9am, when they could still get their job done at 10am. Certain jobs do require it, certain jobs do not. To say that *all* jobs need butts in seats just because the boss wants it is as ludicrous as saying *no* jobs should require it.

              1. Colette*

                Unless, of course, the payroll person needs to get paryroll done before the check run at 12, and being there at 10 isn’t enough time, or there is a critical meeting at 9 that they need to attend, or payroll is in charge of the timecard system, and they need to be there in case there are problems, or getting in at 10 and leaving at 6 puts security staff into overtime.

              2. Observer*

                What others are pointing out is that you haven’t even scratched the surface.

                Your payroll example is really bad. You assume, for instance, that the a payroll person could of course do their jog just as well at 10:00 as at 9:00. That’s very often not the case. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time – payroll is not going to be done on time if Payroll Clerk starts an hour late. And if payroll isn’t done by x o’clock people’s checks get delayed. Oops! Sometimes it’s a matter of coordination – which means that people simply can’t traipse in whenever.

                I’m a big believer in not getting hung up on schedules where it’s not necessary. But really, it’s necessary far, far more often than you seem to realize.

          2. Resident Cripple*

            LQ seems to have comprehended perfectly well to me… Maybe YOU should give it another read.

            Signed, someone who can’t stand waiting around for doctor’s offices to open because the office staff can’t be bothered to show up on time because there’s no “legitimate” reason to be on time to their jobs. What an out-of-touch comment – but par for the course for this site.

      6. Bucky Barnes*

        Finance here. We need to have coverage to help the public and employees in other departments. I can come in a bit late or leave a bit early if I need to but we have to have coverage. If a number of people are out or off, it’s a no go.

      7. American Job Venter*

        As much as I hate to give ammunition to the “butts in seats” crowd, there are a lot of jobs which do legitimately need for people to be at their desks at a certain time. I’ve worked as a receptionist in a school — I was responsible for opening the school at X time. I’ve worked as a desk clerk in a hospital — I was responsible for making my shift on time to ensure seamless coverage. And so on.

      8. Observer*

        Coverage of the phones? Those who come in early, leave early, those who come in later, leave later – everyone does their 8 hours. Have a two hour flex window.

        Not really. If the phones need to be covered at certain hours, you need to schedule that, and you don’t have a whole lot of flexibility. If there are hours where volume is higher than others, you have even less felxbility because you need to make sure there are enough people at that time.

    2. BatManDan*

      OP3 here – it’s a trades company, home services (let’s lump a bunch of them together, to maintain anonymity) – HVAC, roofer, plumber, landscape, electrician, etc. So, uneven start times can produce situations that aren’t typical in an office environment. I was careful to specify that in my original letter; Alison edited out one that that made it explicit, but left in enough detail for y’all to see that it wasn’t an office job. So, discussions from a white-collar perspective aren’t going to help much in this situation.

      1. JSPA*

        It still holds. Nothing requires a plumber or roofer to work “until 5” or “until sundown.” Early-on should come with long lunch or early off or the occasional (biweekly?) morning off.

        1. Asenath*

          But you presumably need enough plumbers or roofers reporting early in the morning to ensure that all the jobs scheduled for that morning window are started in the morning, and completed in a timely fashion. Otherwise, customers are going to complain loudly and maybe find another plumber, or other tradesman, as the case may be. You also probably need enough workers present at all hours to allow for emergencies. And neither a plumber nor many other trades workers can suddenly drop tools at a specified moment, saying they need to leave now since they came in early, and will be sure to come back the next day to hook up your toilet. Mention of plumbers reminds me of recent problems I had. I was quite impressed at the dispatcher’s ability to find and dispatch teams, but she couldn’t have done so if many of the team members had varying and unpredictable start times.

        2. Metadata minion*

          This assumes they’re working solo — if you need three people on a job site and someone back in the office to coordinate, they probably all have to be working at the same time.

        3. Cle*

          This is really going to depend on specifics. If it’s going to snow tomorrow and there is a hole in the roof, yeah, you’re going to need that person to work until sundown and they can’t see anymore or until the job is done, because there isn’t going to be another opportunity for awhile.

      2. Batty Twerp*

        I’m very much white collar office, but currently living on a building site (new build estate) and I’ve observed the onsite comings and goings of the various contractors – they are literally building outside my home office window right now (one of them had brought a radio and likes to sing…). So, while not a direct comparison by any stretch, I can see what other industries do and I’ve spotted the patterns. Granted, this is also residential, so they have my and my neighbours’ needs to consider (can’t keep working beyond 7pm or before 7am for example), and this may be different to how commercial contractors operate.

        What I have observed is that there are still flexible shift patterns – the important part is coverage. The guy with the radio, for example, seems to start at about 9am with one other, but finishes at 4pm, an hour after his two other colleagues who started at 8 have gone home. They have the same, or similar work (they’re doing the plumbing and radiators in the new houses). They work two per house, and can swap among themselves if someone needs an extra pair of hands. It’s fair, because no one is working longer than anyone else. Everyone suffers from his impromptu karaoke sessions. They need to finish what they are doing before the next lot can move in and do the windows (or whatever the next step building a house is).
        Is there a specific reason why you need *all* your plumbers to start at 7:30? Do they *all* need to finish at 4pm? If it’s just about fairness, rather than to do with a specific business need – the trade supply store is only open til 3pm or whatever – that’s not a real reason.

        1. BatManDan*

          Will collect more data tomorrow morning and continue this thread. As I indicated, I’m doing some coaching/ consulting work for this company, and this question came up at our last leadership team meeting.

        2. doreen*

          Since a franchise was mentioned, it’s going to be different than new construction. Nobody is trying to live in that new construction and nobody needs to coordinate appointments with their work schedule – if I am the person paying for house A to be built, it doesn’t matter to me what day or time the plumbers are working on it as long as the house is finished approximately when it’s supposed to be . On the other hand, if I’m already living in house B, it very much matters that I know what day and time the plumber is coming and therefore the office needs to know what time the plumbers will start work. Otherwise they might assign my 9 am appt to someone who can’t start until 8:30.

          Now there might be a way around this, such as having a fixed schedule for each technician and varying the times so that some start at 7am and others at 8:30 am every day and assigning the jobs as they are booked so that Joe (who starts at 8:30) never gets a job that starts at 9am. But that’s going to depend on exactly what kind of work they do and what times they are willing to work – if I’m hiring a lawn care service, an 8 pm appointment isn’t going to work.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            People ARE already living in this new build estate. BattyTwerp lives there & mentions neighbours. (7am-7pm reference. )
            It’s rough, but there are ways.
            There can also be advantages. I use a furnace&plumbing company that used to be strictly 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is now offering evening appointments. Some techs now start at noon. Evenings fill up first!

          2. Someone On-Line*

            Well, with building it can really matter when the plumbers show up, because there are some things that can’t happen until the plumbing is done – like drywall finishing. Waiting a few hours could absolutely push construction schedules back. I’m not saying there isn’t a way for OP and this business to get around it, but endless flexibility isn’t always possible.

            1. doreen*

              I was referring to nobody already living in the house that it being built- if I’m paying to have a house built, my presence is not required. There’s someone overseeing the whole project , so that person can stagger schedules or move someone from one house to another if it’s suitable or necessary. Not the same thing if I need work done in a house I live in -if the Roto Rooter employee assigned to my 9am appointment can’t start work until 9 and therefore can’t get to me until 10, they can’t just pull someone off my neighbor’s job down the street to get to me on time. I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve never heard of deadlines being that tight in new construction or major renovations – where the plumbers have to be done by noon so the drywall can start by 1 pm or something similar.

      3. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I can see where you couldn’t have flexibility in the sense of show up for work anywhere between 7 and9, but it might be possible to schedule staggered starts depending on employee needs. I would be delighted to find a company where the late starters were available to come at 4 so I could run home and meet them after class.

  13. learnedthehardway*

    OP#5 – you’re fine to apply to that company again. You never got far enough along in the process to have taken up anyone’s time, and even if you had, the first time you got an offer before the other company was prepared to make one (and nobody can fault you for that), and the second time you had a perfectly good reason to not continue on in the process.

    The only time it would make sense for an employer to decline considering someone who had previously withdrawn from consideration is if they felt that the individual had gotten to an offer only to use the offer to leverage a better deal with their current or another employer, or if the person had accepted the offer and then reneged. Even then, you might make an exception for someone who reneged on an offer because they had a serious personal situation come up, vs. someone who decided to take another company’s offer at the last minute. You might also decline to reconsider someone who did multiple interviews while knowing there was no way they would take the position (eg. because they were planning to move to Europe or despite knowing the commute was simply impossible for them to do). In all of these situations, the candidate would have wasted significant amounts of the company’s time, done multiple interviews, and delayed the company from hiring someone else.

    You haven’t done any of those things, so you should be just fine. In fact, if they’ve approached you twice before, the odds are pretty good that they would consider you.

    1. OP#5*

      Thank you so much! I did zero interviews for the first application and I only did a HR phone interview for the second one, so I wasted very little of their time. In fact, I applied for a third position in between these two, and they gave me a HR phone interview and then ghosted me for that one, so we’re almost even!

      1. BethDH*

        We just advanced someone to be a finalist for a role who had withdrawn at least once that I know of. If anything, it was a plus — we knew they were familiar with us and watching for relevant positions and it was pretty obvious they weren’t just applying for any position we had open because we’d run other searches they hadn’t applied for.

      2. Threeve*

        If it comes up in an interview, you can say something about how you’re confident that it’s a company you want to work for, since you’ve previously had a chance to get a sense of their culture, and that means that feeling the specific position is also a good fit makes it particularly appealing.

  14. TG*

    I think it’s insane to say people can’t share lunch – however I will say that when not included with coworkers at lunch and then always sitting together at a table where there’s no room for anyone else – it can feel a bit cliquish and isolating. Before my current position I worked with a group that always made room for one more and would invite anyone to sit down who wanted to.
    So again – totally agree monitoring who can share is crazy but someone could have complained because they genuinely feel isolated and not included.

    1. Mockingbird*

      I’ve been the isolated one in the office and it was miserable. It was done publicly, too, a coworker got coffee on his way in for every other assistant in our group but me. I never complained to my boss because he’d already contributed to empowering the bully at the center. Other managers knew she was a problem but no one did anything. Anyway, like TG said, people should be allowed to share food, but cliques at work can be just as nasty as they were in middle school. That’s something managers should discourage as much as possible. I doubt I’m the only one whose productivity suffered because of one.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I worked in an office where one coworker always ate alone and never wanted to have any cake that someone had baked, but we always invited him to share even though we knew he wouldn’t.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        It’s kind of you to have always asked your colleague if he wanted cake. I have food allergies which preclude any cake-eating. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to explain my allergies and sometimes people forget even if I’ve told them previously (which is fine, because there’s no way to memorize everyone’s dietary requiremens.)
        Anyway, I really don’t mind being offered cake or other foods I can’t eat, because it means that people are trying to include me.

        1. raida7*

          I had a team mate who was vegan and also couldn’t have soy for a few months (pretty restrictive!), plus another team mate who was lactose-intolerant, and one with a mild egg allergy.
          All three of them were *so* delighted when I rocked up with a coffee cake that had no animal products or soy in it AND tasted so good nobody knew it wasn’t a bog-standard cake recipe (helps to put alcohol in the coffee icing, hah)

          The vegan lady just said “none for me thanks” on autopilot, so used to not being able to eat cake as she was.

    3. BethDH*

      Also the answer doesn’t have to be “share lunch with other person.” A lot of this isolation appears when the same group does everything together and lunch is just the most obvious example. So keep the lunches if that’s what you really care about, but make more effort to ask the other people if they want to grab coffee, go for a walk, draw them into pre-meeting chatting more, or whatever makes sense.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        A meanish thing to do: bring in something to share ostentatiously that almost nobody likes. After all, you tried to share your bitter melon/sea cucumber/authentic haggis, but nobody took any.

    4. Meep*

      So it CAN be used as a bullying tactic. We have a manager who uses it (and the “power of information”) as a way to mark who is “in” and who is “out” of her favor. The silly part is that she will make her “favorite” pay for her lunch on top of it. So I get it, as the person who was the recipient of her favor and her ire at various points over the year. It sucks on both sides.

      However, part of being an adult is having the maturity to know you aren’t going to be invited to EVERYTHING. Does it suck when someone talks about their plans in front of you? Sure. But people are allowed to have lives outside of YOU. And some people mesh well and better together. As a supervisor, I am willing to invite everyone to “unofficial” company events (except her because she makes EVERYONE uncomfortable – but mind you the median age in our office is 27 and she is 60 so there is a huge gap there in age and ideals (she is the office bigot, for example)), but I find that a certain group of people are the ones who always are willing to come. Are they not allowed to do things together, because they get along great and the person who is standoffish keeps declining?

      My point is, it could be a case of purposeful exclusion – aka bullying – or it could be that they just assumed if that person wanted to join them they would’ve by now. Having seen and experienced both, though, I am more inclined to say it should be taken on a case-by-case basis. I hate to say it, because I want everyone to feel comfortable, but sometimes they really do do it to themselves.

  15. Liz*

    Regarding letter 2, I wish I’d known this in my 20s when a customer stole £90 during a busy shift. There were 2 of us on the desk at the time and the manager basically just told us to decide between ourselves how we were going to cough up the money. We split it between us and paid £45 each, which basically meant we both worked for free that day. We were minimum wage and had recently had our hours cut due to the recession.

    1. I need cheesecake*

      I know this won’t help you now but for anyone else who’s ever in this situation (as £ tells me you’re in the UK): you can’t just dock employees’ pay like that, especially if it takes them under minimum wage.

      Sadly it’s probably too late to report them for violation of minimum wage laws. But if this happens to anyone else, you can and should report them to HMRC, including after you leave the job.

      1. Liane*

        This is also true in the US. Even legitimate deductions cannot take an employee’s wages below minimum wage. Although here it might be reported to a state Department of Labor, as a number of US states have minimum wages above the Federal minimum.

    2. Asenath*

      I don’t know about the UK, but in Canada, I think young workers often don’t know their legal rights. I learned this by observation. A friend of mine hot one of those low paying jobs we all tended to go for back then, being young, inexperienced and untrained. It was for a kind of fundraising office, which looked OK initially, and all the other employees were also young workers. The employer suddenly shut down operations without paying them. Most of them perforce accepted the situation, my friend checked out the legal situation from publicly available information, filed a formal complaint with the appropriate government office and got her money eventually. I learned from her, and hope any reader in a situation like yours or hers will now know to take appropriate action in such cases!

      1. Student*

        From my own observations, I think many workers put up with forms of wage theft for practical reasons, rather than because they don’t know any better. Your friend had an advantage when filing this complaint: the company couldn’t possibly do anything worse than they already had done; the company had already shut down and she was already out of a job. She had the time (and possibly money?) to file the necessary complaint.

        Your friend’s co-workers could’ve been concerned with things like their professional reputation, potential legal fees, or the amount of time necessary to do the relevant research and file the correct complaint to the correct person. They may not have been able to afford the time investment, nor any potential filing fees.

        My friends who’ve experienced wage theft are generally too scared of losing their jobs to report it. They know it’s wrong, or at least have a general sense that it seems off – but they are also aware that it’s an open, ongoing thing. Which tells them real information about the practice – it’s unlikely a complaint will change the business practice or get them money, and it’s possible a complaint will cost them their job. They feel, rightly so, cut off from help from authorities – not out of some misguided personal feeling, but because they have witnessed authorities ignore the same or substantively similar problems for years and see no likely benefit to speaking up.

        What we need is better, more consistent enforcement of wage theft laws. Easier processes for average workers to file meaningful complaints that get acted on.

    1. JSPA*

      I’m thinking it comes near-even on their taxes, as a theft or loss. (Unless they do a lot of [cough] cash-from-the-till business, in which case, the finger points back at the owner, not the employee.)

  16. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    #3 When you say technicians, do they work onsite for the business or go out and serve customers (like plumbers)? Either way, I agree to be as flexible as possible. It’s good for your company and is great for employee retention. If they can do the internal work or you can schedule with external clients/customers around those hours, it would be great. It could even get you better coverage with some coming in earlier and others leaving later.

    1. BatManDan*

      Yup, like plumbers! I get the drift of where you are headed, but the same thing that keeps technicians from coming on “on time” in the morning, is that same thing that would make it hard for them to extend their shift into the evening – single parents, and/or multiple kids and/or schools closing and/or partner’s schedule at work. Keep those ideas coming! Love the help and support here.

      1. JSPA*

        Sounds like you may be an employee short, if they’re all scheduled to the max, with no flex. Whether hiring is a possibility, especially now… who knows. But the underlying problem may be a business model based on understaffing (a common problem in the trades).

        1. JSPA*

          I should add that it’s a self perpetuating problem, as more people enter the trades when those jobs are perceived as being good pay, good hours, and a certain level of flexibility and autonomy.

      2. Snuck*

        Some of the ‘things that make it hard to keep schedules’ are things that we all just have to lump and live with – you can’t please everyone, and thus it’s important to identify the best options for the greatest number of people, particularly people you cannot afford to lose /want to retain.

        If a person genuinely has to start late at 830, and finish at 4pm on the dot… then just make them a 0.9 FTE or whatever the equivalent is and they take a 10% pay cut for the 10% of time they take off work (calculate this properly – I haven’t!) … and with all the little bits of 0.1% that is needed employ another part time person – who is specifically employed to cover the needed hours. It’s an option! Part time, flexible work, with more workers. (I’ve done this with an employee in the past who took a day off a fortnight for ‘mental health breaks’ and kept running out of leave (and then couldn’t take holidays). Offered him a day off a fortnight, with a 10% pay cut, and no repercussions about not showing up to work anymore (and a 10% workload cut too obviously). It was a win-win. He wasn’t happy about the pay cut obviously, but he was happy to get the time he needed off AND to be able to retain his holidays for longer breaks. (I had ‘mental health’ in inverted commas because he didn’t lodge any official paperwork with us ever about his medical needs, and generally just said “I needed a break” and “I’m not sick”.)

        The schools open/closed thing is tricky. The reality is this is in clients home where children aren’t allowed (obviously) – so the staff will either have to take leave (paid, or unpaid, as per the policies), make up the hours (could you do some kind of hours accrual like Time in Lieu – not sure your legal options there), or make other arrangements for their children while they work. It’s kind to offer some kind of work from home or partial retainer, but it sounds like the work doesn’t really allow for that and it’s not required legally I presume (at least not in Australia, although the various COVID JobKeeper programs etc did mean there was some rules earlier in the pandemic).

        Another option is to hire some juniors/assistants who can show up to sites a little earlier and do some set up, clean up etc. They can off set the delays in job start by the ‘professional trade’ that shows up to do the serious work. (Just thinking of my dishwasher install). This will bump your prices and costs dramatically though for some work, but might be more cost effective on other jobs (trenching!).

        I know I read in here sometimes of staff who pool leave or income bonuses or other benefits to support each other – I feel personally like this is a slippery option because it’d be hard to make it ‘fair’ for all, but maybe there’s something there. Although I assume charitable donation of benefits would be low in a pandemic.

        I agree with Alison – don’t presume it’s just parents that are facing issues. Even middle aged women are caring for parents, young men are working second jobs (or doing cash jobs on the side) to bring income home to families that are plagued with unemployment, or people just need time to de stress and cope – it’s lonely being 25, living alone and working long hours. It’s really frustrating when those with children get to scoop the benefits pool under the assumption that the ‘young people without kids don’t need it’ – they do! Maybe not in the same way, but they are usually working very hard, for low wages, barely making rent and working out how to adult. Give them some flexibility too, particularly if you want to retain them.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Yes, sounds like official part time work could help. And can you make teams of ‘short day’ people? No idea if that would work for you, but I can imagine some people might quite like employing a team which works during the school day and clears out before their own children return from school.

        2. JB*

          Agreed, if they absolutely cannot work the hours then the solution may just have to be to not pay them for the hours that they can’t work. But if you want to retain them you’ll probably need to be mindful of benefits. You’ll probably want different ‘levels’ of full-time, rather than reducing some to part-time and taking away any benefits.

          The alternative, if you expect this to be a temporary situation (i.e. if it’s entirely related to the shortage of childcare due to COVID), may be just to pay an extra bonus to those who are able to work all of their hours. As in extra money. Basically bribe them. My company has exercised this option at various points throughout the pandemic when things just couldn’t be made ‘fair’ (ex. some departments absolutely had to come in/be in contact with the public while others were able to work safely from home, there was no way around that) and for the most part it worked very well in keeping people in a ‘generous’ mindset towards one another.

      3. LDN Layabout*

        Then what it comes down to is that if they’re doing the same work, but doing less hours than other staff, they get paid less. Simple.

        These are not temporary arrangements you’re referring to, this is not helping out someone who is in need for now. Currently employees are being penalised for having different life choices and that’s not OK.

      4. WellRed*

        Sorry, no. The business still needs the employee to work the number of hours it hired them for. Employees can’t just say I have to come in late and leave early.

        1. JSPA*

          If you look at the number of people quitting jobs, and the number of employers going begging for employees (even completely untrained employees, which these obviously are not!), that’s not a safe assumption, at the moment. If you’re lucky enough to have excellent people whom you’d like to keep, it makes sense to make the job resemble people’s baseline definition of, “a good job.” That’ll vary from person to person, but decreasing stress, increasing flexibility and at least a modicum of autonomy tend to rate highly, across the board.

          Of course, for many trades, you’re also in competition with DIY videos on YouTube. I’m not in great health, not young, and I’d still consider replacing a toilet myself, again (yes, even if the flange is warped and it needs a double-depth wax gasket) or installing my own kitchen sink again (as much of a pain as it is to fight with those counter clips and get the slip joint lined up right on the trap).

          On a level that doesn’t involve major recalculation of loads, I’ll also do minor modifications on electric circuits (like turning a 2-way light into a 3-way, or changing out three ungrounded 15 amp outlets for two 20 amp outlets on grounded, heavier gauge wire.

          As a homeowner, these things don’t take me all day. So the idea that “any” trades call is likely to run for unforeseen hours? I don’t buy it.

          I hire tradespeople when the job’s above my skill level, risky, or time is tight–and I do that because they do, in fact, have a darn good idea how long it will take to replace/rewire an electric box, or put in a pressure regulator on my water supply line, or attach an overpressure tank to the water heater. Pay people who know what they’re doing to do what they know how to do, and have parts, and there’s none of that faffing around.

        2. Snuck*

          Then you could miss out on some great employees!

          If it’s a service call out type of job, where they are going to 4 houses a day doing jobs, why not retain a great employee by letting them go to 3, and having a different staff member pick up the fourth and get paid for the fourth?

          Flexible hiring is where it’s at! If you are rigid you’ll miss some great opportunities (and I’ve found rigid policies breed rigid mindsets so when you ask for a little extra you get a “no we aren’t paid for that” response rather than a “hrm, but can I take some hours off next Tuesday to make it up? Or some overtime to cover the extra?” … I know what I’d rather!)

      5. RecoveringSWO*

        Can you make a team of weekday “short shifters” who then makeup their hours on a weekend day together? Then you still have a team working a shift and everyone is working their full time hours. Ask for volunteers from any employees regardless of parental status and you might have a large enough group of employees to make it work…

      1. Amtelope*

        Are these jobs salaried? If they’re hourly, it seems easy enough to just figure out what schedule these people can actually work and get them to commit to it; if they’re scheduled from 8:30 to 3:30, then you can consistently assign work outside those hours to other employees. If they’re salaried, I agree with the commenters above that you should offer them 90% or 80% schedule with correspondingly reduced pay; at the company where I work, 80% of full-time still qualifies you for benefits, although anything less doesn’t.

  17. Gimmeausername*

    I swear this is relevant to OP2, just a bit of lead in. My hobby is reading old advice column books etc for the historic insight. One I’m reading just now was written in the 1930s.
    One of the chapters is about not letting budgeting make you stingy.
    “Do not deduct the cost of a broken plate from the maid’s salary. If you can pay a maid you can afford the cost of the plate better than her”

    OP2 if you can pay a cashier, you can afford $300 better than them. Do you have theft insurance? Would that cover it? As others have said, do find traing on scamming and phishing for all your employees.

    And I know this one goes against human nature but if you do use this as an example of scammers in the future try not to do it too often in front of the scammer’s victim.

    1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

      Well said. In most cases, it’s illegal for employers to charge employees for damage or loss. I had to point this out to a neighbor who tried to short my 10 year daughter for broken window blinds when she was cat sitting. It actually happened when I opened the blinds, and the whole thing fell down. I opened the blinds because my daughter wanted the cat to be able to see outside.
      I researched the law, explained to my daughter that he was wrong and owed her the money. Because she was young, I also told her I would handle it. I did warn her that even though she was right, if we insisted on payment, there was a strong chance he wouldn’t hire her again. I agreed that it sucked, but I wanted her to have all the information and make her own choice. She chose getting paid what she earned, and he did not hire her again. Disappointing to find out he was such a crappy person.

    2. Bamcheeks*

      >> “Do not deduct the cost of a broken plate from the maid’s salary. If you can pay a maid you can afford the cost of the plate better than her”

      I love this. So clear and true.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Down here we say something similar to “if you can buy the Coke, you can buy the ice”.

          1. Snuck*

            What if we just don’t like ice in our coke? Can we pay a 25c ‘no ice’ fee? I’d be ok with that!

            1. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

              Oh! I was fooled too. But I guess we’re not talking about cola or frozen water, are we?

  18. ThisIshRightHere*

    #2- and obviously, you discipline (if not fire) her. I mean sure, take this as a lesson, increase training, absorb the cost and all that. But you do not have to continue to employ someone with judgment so poor that she’d hand over a full days revenue to a complete stranger knowing she had no authority to do so.

    1. I need cheesecake*

      It’s not actually that simple. Was there a silent alarm or a security guard? Was it safe for her to tell the person no? Why was she even able to open the till at all? And if you fire her, what will your employees do next time someone makes a mistake?

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        This, all of this.

        Was “no” or “please wait while I get my boss on the line” safe for her? Are there cameras/other customers/panic buttons? A way for her to remove herself from a threat without further endangering herself?

        Why did the drawer even open without a valid transaction or manager override?

        Why was $300 in cash in the drawer and accessible? Cash drop into a safe every time you have over XX large bills or $XXX would mean even a successful scammer would walk away with less than $300.

        Humans are gonna human – some will con and some can be conned. Putting controls in place to eliminate some of the risk (including training) is the business’s responsibility.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            You never know when someone is going to turn, though. What starts as creating feelings of discomfort (which is where scam artists eat), can easily become intimidating and frightening in just the next sentence. Ask any young woman asked out by someone she doesn’t want to date. We’re told to just be nice and let him down easy, so we don’t hurt him (make him mad), but to also be direct and forceful in saying no so as not to lead him on (make him mad). Really, the only thing that wouldn’t potentially lead to danger is to just say yes even though the situation isn’t one where any danger has been suggested yet. YET. This may be like Schrodinger’s robbery in a lot of ways.

            1. I'm just here for the cats!*

              exactly! especially if the person was threatening that the boss will get mad and he’ll get them fired.

              Why blame the employee by firing her. Give her a warning and a stern talking too yes. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are costly. I think the biggest mistake here is the OP not training the staff on what to do in these situations.

              I’d also like to know how old the staff person was. Are they young, high school age, or just out of high school? If so they may not have realized that this is a thing that happens. Same thing with older people.

          2. A Non E. Mouse*

            If the employee didn’t feel safe it should be described as a robbery, not a scam…

            Not necessarily – if she felt intimidated, boxed in physically, or otherwise distracted (was there someone else in the shop at the same time she was trying to attend to?) – then her ability to devout full cognitive ability to the task at hand (not being conned) was diminished.

            So if the con man was a large man, crowded her in anyway, stood where she couldn’t retreat….her fight or flight would kick in, and even just a little of that would make her more likely to give in – make the threat leave. Even if that threat wasn’t overt, but instead more of a gut feeling.

            I’ve been the cashier that wasn’t technically being threatened but was definitely being intimidated – and you are definitely operating with your lizard brain for the duration.

            1. Boof*

              Eh, I guess it’s a language thing. To me “not safe” means “I’m worried about my physical being if I don’t comply” instead of “I’m flustered/intimidated” (I mean, there’s certainly a continuum there but for me personally those are very different sensations)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s very common for employees not to be able to open the till without a transaction going through or a manager code being put in.

      2. Oakenfield*

        What would the employees do knowing that their coworker casually stole $300 from the company and that they are still working there? Anyone with remotely any working history can see this was the employee stealing from a mile away. I’d worry far more about that, and what they’ll do next time.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          This assumes facts not in evidence, and the fact that the employee told the boss as soon as she realised undermines that theory.

          I mean, yes, look for other red flags, do retraining, take her off the till or keep a much closer eye, but you’re presuming a lot.

        2. Anon for This*

          “What would the employees do knowing that their coworker casually stole $300 from the company and that they are still working there?”

          I thought this was a retail establishment, not the Psychic Friends Network.

      1. Oakenfield*

        Many many mistakes are terminable. This is one of them. That is poor judgement on a fire-able level.

      2. raida7*

        totally! There’s a few very very successful business owners that use the rule that they specifically don’t fire people for cockups, because those staff are often the most open to training, appreciate the job more, and speak well of the boss.
        So many more positives, and you avoid having to hire and train a new person who won’t have experienced being scammed as a training basis

    2. Catnip*

      I just want to point out that we don’t actually know if she knew she didn’t have the authority to hand over that cash if it had been a legitimate merchant.

      Something like this can be relatively easily prevented with both good training and clear policies. I used to work counter at a couple of chain food service locations, and I would NEVER have paid someone out of the till – but that had little to do with my judgment (I was a sheltered teen) and more with the fact it was completely, unambiguously clear that I was never, ever authorized to do so. If I had, then yeah, I could have been fired, even if it was a legit expense. If I refused to do it when it was a legit expense, and a vendor got angry about it, there would be no pressure because I would know it absolutely was not my responsibility.

      I think a key factor to consider is – was the LW’s employee ever explicitly told they weren’t permitted to do that, or that they had to check with LW, or whatever failsafe measure the LW wanted to put in place? If so, then yeah, I think there’s absolutely grounds for discipline. But if they weren’t (and especially if the employee had seen people being paid out of the till, or had to do it herself on occasion, or was otherwise in a situation that could cause her to think this was a plausible business practice) then the lines are a lot blurrier. If you’re going to rely solely on human judgment, you have to be prepared for that judgment to lapse occasionally. Even intelligent people occasionally have brain farts.

    3. Squeeble*

      Nah. The employee told her boss what happened as soon as she figured it out, which indicates that she’s a conscientious person and probably mortified. She got scammed because that’s what scammers do; it doesn’t mean she has poor judgment overall.

  19. I need cheesecake*

    #2 What nobody has mentioned yet is that your other employees will notice how you handle this mistake, and it will affect whether anyone tells you the next time someone screws up.

    A good rule of thumb is that people shouldn’t be penalised for disclosing mistakes as you don’t want to discourage them from telling you in future. So it’s important that the outcome isn’t worse than if they kept it quiet. That includes not making them cover the mistake.

    As well as training like some people have mentioned, it sounds like you need to set up new standard operating procedures. If this is a day’s takings, it should not be possible for one person to take it out and hand it to anyone, let alone without authorisation or involvement from another person.

    So I’m wondering if you ever have people take money out of the till for any legit reason? If so, stop doing that. Make a rule that you only take money out of the drawer unless you are giving change after receiving a cash payment or you are cashing up after hours. If someone asks you to do this, it’s a scam. Put this information on posters and display them where your staff can see them. Put a notice INSIDE THE REGISTER reminding people that if they’ve been intimidated into opening it, they’re being scammed.

    The other thing you need is an alternative course of action. Because that scammer could be dangerous – maybe they’ll leave politely if told you cannot open the till, it’s not possible, or maybe they won’t. So you need to get some training for everyone not just on how to spot scams, but what to do next.

    When I first worked retail we had a silent alarm under the counter to press if we were threatened etc. And if we seemed to be in danger we were meant to just hand over the money. In my next retail job we did not have a silent alarm. When I asked what to do if I got threatened, I was told to walk to the intercom and page a manager. (I’m in the UK, but this is still totally absurd.) I was like: ok, whatever, I’ll be handing over the money then.

    If your employee didn’t know what to do to safely manage this situation, it’s possible they actually made the least-worst choice anyway. Consider getting a silent alarm and/or a security guard.

    1. Becca*

      “So I’m wondering if you ever have people take money out of the till for any legit reason? If so, stop doing that.”

      It sounds like no (if OP doesn’t ask them to pay for things (in context I’m reading from the till because asking them to personally pay for things wouldn’t be relevant) the closest would be OP taking it out of a till, probably not theirs, in front of them? Not that that would be much better) but I wondered the same. I know con men are convincing and retail employees are often young and inexperienced, but it still seemed like such a strange thing to believe, that the boss would pay for furniture from the till (did it even make sense as a business expense, or did the cashier think/the scammer indicate that it was *personal* furniture?) that I wondered if some sort of precedent had been set where the scenario seemed more plausible to the employee.

    2. Becca*

      Regarding silent alarms, at WalMart we couldn’t open the tills without a sale, but there was an option on the screen for a silent alarm that I believe also opened the till. This was not covered in our training. I only knew about it because I kept accidentally bringing it up. I never did figure out how to do so on purpose.
      At another job we had physical buttons, but mine was on the other side of me from my drawer, and the idea of potentially finding a time when a robber wasn’t looking, or trying to explain why I was fiddling with things over there rather than where the money was made me anxious. One time we were discussing after security training and I brought this up and my manager insisted that we press it ASAP, while a robber was there, quite forcefully. After some back and forth she acknowledged that we wait until it is safe to do so, but in a dismissive way. Luckily everyone there was experienced enough to not take that to heart, but it still makes me angry. That sort of pressure that ignores safety first gets people killed.
      Bottom line, I like panic buttons in theory, but the potential for poor implementation worries me.

    3. Rainy Day*

      “What nobody has mentioned yet is that your other employees will notice how you handle this mistake, and it will affect whether anyone tells you the next time someone screws up.”

      THIS.
      This is so important. If you want to cultivate a culture of blame, ensure no one feels safe to report incidents because they’ll be punishing and ultimately cultivate poor morale, firing the employee is the way to go.

    4. mreasy*

      The threatening point is a good one, as it sounds like the employee was alone. Also at many small retail businesses I’ve worked for, everything from the boss’s lunch to the electrician were paid out of the till, so changing that is a great idea as a step away from this type of thing. If nobody is used to paying for things out of the till, they will be less likely to be scammed like this.

    5. Thursdaysgeek*

      When I worked one of my first retail jobs, my boss (owner) was showing me the ropes. He opened a drawer behind the counter, and essentially said, “Here is my gun, but if someone threatens you, just give them the money. Do not touch the gun.” I guess that was the safety protocol there.

  20. Cici*

    #1 Leaving one person (or a small number) out can be excluding depending on the composition of the “in” group. (I’m speaking from experience as the one who has been the outsider.) Whether it is okay or not depends on the size of the department. A useful general rule is: less than half or everyone. So if you are organising something where the majority are invited, you should include everyone. This applies to subgroups like teams as well e.g. if the person left out is the only one from their team not included in your lunches – even if overall there are lots of people from across the department – it would be excluding.

    Workplaces are effective if everyone works together for a shared purpose. This is the point of “inclusion”. – it’s about more than just specific characteristics. If a group are so obviously close compared with others, I would be asking questions like: will I be heard equally in meeting compared with their friends? what additional knowledge are they sharing within the clique that I don’t have access to that will disadvantage me compared with others? Cliques and exclusion undermine equal participation. (Maybe think about how you would feel if – say – your senior white male managers went to their private members club every lunchtime?)

    I think the boss hasn’t framed it too well by making it about sharing food – it isn’t, there’s a wider point, which maybe the boss has missed or maybe you (LW) have missed. Question for the LW: do you invite others to join in with your lunches and sharing? If not, maybe work isn’t the place for catch-ups with your besties. Even if it’s on your lunchtime, it’s still creating visible alliances and exclusions.

    1. Rebecca*

      Yeah, I worked at a small school where a core group of teachers had formed a clique and made a thing of making and eating lunches together, to the point where the staff room got uncomfortable and a bunch of us ate in our classrooms. It wasn’t just about lunch – those were the teachers who had coffee with the boss in her office, who got told first about important things, who dominated meetings, who got opportunities for extra pay, who were put forward to parents as the ‘face’ of the school – but if you asked them, they were just having lunch with their friends.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        Yes, I’ve seen this play out in academia many times. As the ‘outsider’, it’s always uncomfortable. To the ‘insiders’, it’s usually “oh, we just like getting together, there’s nothing exclusionary about it” – but, the result is the same.

    2. Meep*

      I am on the fence about this. I have been on both sides of it and I know it can sting to watch people make plans in front of you or have some “inside” jokes between them. And I NEVER want to make anyone else feel this way. With that said, I don’t feel like having a lot of compassion and including the office bigot, for example. She always disrupts a nice time to complain about how she “can’t eat” something before eating the bulk of it too, so wanting to share with someone who whines about the food while shoveling it into her mouth and contributing nothing is not high on my list of priorities either.

      My point is, it could be a clique (and most likely IS a clique) and the complainant at worst is “weird” (which someone who befriended people others saw as “weird” is a wonderful trait to have) or the complainant could be unpleasant. I think people’s experiences color how they few this letter and Alice is right. A no-sharing rule is out of bounds.

    3. sometimeswhy*

      This.
      Is it possible that the person who complained is the problem? Sure.

      Have I more frequently run into situations where “We’re just having lunch/playing golf/going out for drinks! We’re off the clock! What does it matter?” yielded a group that helped each other out and were promoted in lockstep with each other because they had that additional layer of support? Yes, yes I have.

      My previous boss used to organize cocktail hours and invite everyone knowing that the two teetotal people on the team he didn’t want to go wouldn’t attend. His boss was not only okay with it but he also attended! I brought it up to HR and THEY didn’t see a problem because PreviousBoss invited everyone. I went to two when I was new before I caught on and still feel gross about it.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        I will also add, before the chorus of “but he was the boss, that’s different,” that eventually he realized it wasn’t a great look and made a big show of not doing it anymore than included an entirely unsubtle, “But if anyone else wants to keep it going, be my guest. I can’t stop you.” They only ended after he left.

  21. I need cheesecake*

    #5 I think you’re missing an important point here, which is: it’s perfectly fine and respectful to cancel an interview and give people their time back if you’re not going to take the job, so long as you do so professionally.

    I wouldn’t do it too many times, so I’d only apply again if you’re sure you’ll want to interview. But these things happen! Maybe they have a system that says you applied before, or maybe they won’t know or notice or remember.

    1. OP#5*

      Good point – surely they would prefer that I cancel, rather than waste their time after I’ve already accepted another offer.

  22. Foxgloves*

    OP2: when I worked in retail, under the till (register) we had a box that looked a bit like a letterbox – slot in the top, and only accessible with a key the manager had in a safe in his office. Whenever our till had more than a certain amount of money in it, we were required to put the excess into this box. Perhaps you might want to consider getting something like that, if you’re worried about this happening again? Then the staff can’t access large sums or hand them over to scammers. For what it’s worth though, I agree with Alison- you need to train your staff better, and swallow this expense.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The one job I had where I put the take in the drop safe at the end of the day, I didn’t do so ahead of time because occasionally it meant I wouldn’t have enough change if somebody paid with a big bill.

        Also, if the employee was alone and busy, she might not have been able to leave the register to drop the excess.