employee threatens to sue us when we tell her to save work files, I don’t want to put up holiday decorations, and more

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

1. Employee refuses to save her work and threatens to sue us when we tell her to

We’re a mid-sized architectural firm that relies heavily on technology to complete our work. We have one employee who is extremely secretive and outright refuses to save her files to company servers. When confronted, she refuses, says the employee handbook doesn’t say she has to do this, and mentions that she will have her attorney husband look at suing us for harassment and invasion of privacy if she is compelled to share her work. It has gone as far as her taking her laptop to the bathroom so nobody can see what she is working on.

Our policies are clear on no expectation of privacy and work product being property of the company, and she consistently cites what she sees as “loopholes” to justify her behavior, along with the “I’m married to an attorney” reminder. Files have been lost as a result of her behavior which has led to cost and expense of re-doing work. She is threatening to sue for hostile work environment if we discipline or terminate her for these refusals. We have consistently documented these circumstances and have no reason to believe we are exposed to any risk or have engaged in any discriminatory or hostile conduct. However, our ownership does not want to spend money on legal advice to address the concern. What advice do you have for us?

Talk some sense into your owner. Paying for a couple of hours of a lawyer’s time will be a tiny expense compared to what you’re losing by continuing to employ someone who refuses to do the work you need and is antagonistic and insubordinate on a regular basis.

This woman is playing you — and doing it badly. “Hostile work environment” doesn’t mean “my employer was mean to me or made me do my work.” It means that you harassed or discriminated against her on the basis of a protected class like race, sex, religion, disability, etc. And invasion of privacy doesn’t even enter into it. Either her husband is a remarkably terrible lawyer, or he’s not a lawyer at all, or she hasn’t even mentioned it to him, or she has and he’s already told her she’s out of her gourd.

If you let her continue to get away with this, think about the message it’s sending your other employees: apparently people can flat-out refuse to do their jobs and threaten you and there will be no consequences. Most people won’t take advantage of that because they’re not jerks, but they will get demoralized and eventually leave over it (and while they’re still there, it will affect the work you get from them — who’s going to be motivated to go above and beyond in an environment where this is going on?) And that’s before even getting into the fact that you’re paying her to do work she won’t let you access.

All that said … if you have everything documented, you don’t strictly need to talk to a lawyer before firing her, given your owner’s unwillingness to do it. It’s smart to cover all your bases when someone is making legal threats, but you don’t need to talk to a lawyer before every firing and this sounds straightforward enough that, unless there’s something missing from the facts in the letter, you’re not taking a huge risk by just moving forward with the firing (assuming you have this all clearly documented).

2. I don’t want to put up holiday decorations

The first winter I worked at my library (2018), one of my coworkers complained to me that the library used to put up Christmas decorations, but “people got offended” and so we stopped. As the new kid with no political capital, I just made sympathetic noises, but I don’t agree with her annoyance at all. She’s complained to me about it every year since, and I don’t think this winter will be any different.

I’m Jewish, and I’m also specifically Not Into Christmas. Years of working retail has left me with no patience for Christmas music. I find the abundance of Christmas lights, and decorations, and sales, and advertisements, and everything that pops up as soon as Thanksgiving is over… exhausting. I think it’s frustrating that Hanukkah, a minor holiday that celebrates a victory against an invading, assimilating army, is culturally considered “Jewish Christmas” in the U.S.! If I don’t have to lug a dusty fake tree out of storage or hang up a bunch of lights on the library’s one rickety ladder, just to take them down in a couple weeks, that is fine by me.

All that aside, we’re a public library, not a religious institution or a store with holiday sales to advertise. She’s talking about decorating the library space, not personal offices or cubicles. And I don’t find them offensive, per se, but I get the argument that Christmas decorations in this setting would be exclusionary. This year, we’ve celebrated holidays by working them into ongoing library stuff: a book display for Ramadan, a kids’ Rosh Hashanah story time, etc., but we haven’t spent staff hours on truly decking out the space for any other religious event. I think it’s the right call by our director to not do a massive Christmas display.

Besides changing the topic, is there a way to head this off as winter approaches? This coworker and I are at the same level of authority, as are most of the other coworkers who’ve voiced any opinions on it. I hate being called a “grinch” so I hardly ever tell anyone the full extent of my Christmas ambivalence, but I don’t want to field more complaints this year. What’s a clear, polite way to tell her that I don’t care?

“Personally, I don’t think the library is the right space for it and I’m glad we’re not doing it.”

And then if she continues: “I’m not the right audience for this, and don’t want to continue to talk about it.”

3. Should I send my highly valued consultant a holiday gift?

I’ve been working with an amazing consultant this past year. I’m their main point of contact at my job. We work closely together. This consultant has been phenomenal and I thoroughly enjoy working with them. My boss has been sorta tough on the consultant and the company where I work historically hasn’t been great at paying consultants on time. I’d love to send the consultant a bottle of something or some sweets along with a note to make sure they don’t sour on this relationship because I literally couldn’t do my job without their help and guidance. Is this a bad idea?

Not at all, and it’s a pretty common thing to do. It’s unlikely to salvage the relationship if the consultant is otherwise fed up, but there’s no reason not to do it if you’d like to.

4. What to say to a grieving manager

I recently began a new job at the corporate offices of a national company. My team is very small — just me and three others — and so far my manager has been great. She communicates effectively and constantly, she supports me in every way, and she is friendly and considerate.

All this to say that I really appreciate her already, even after just a few months. Recently, she disclosed that a few of her close family members were very ill and one of them may be passing away soon. As far as I can tell, she is handling it very well, but I don’t exactly know how to act or what to say when she mentions it, and I don’t know what I should do when one of them does pass away.

I don’t want to just throw the usual “I’m sorry for your loss,” but I also don’t want to look insensitive. I am very introverted as it is and I think 18 months of working from home before this further diminished my ability to know what to do in social situations. What would you recommend?

“I’m sorry for your loss” is a standard for a reason! A lot of people don’t know what to say when someone dies, and when they try to get creative it often goes badly — so it’s very helpful to have socially accepted standards for situations like this. “I’m sorry for your loss” is perfectly fine! (That said, I personally feel like the “for your loss” part sounds a little stilted when I say it, and I usually default to, “I’m so sorry — what an awful loss” or similar.) Anything along those lines is fine! In your situation, I’d probably go with, “I’m so sorry to hear it. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make this time easier.”  (If this were a close friend or a family member, I’d advise just offering to do specific things rather than putting the burden on her to think up something helpful you could do — but with your boss, there are fewer things in that category. Although if there are things you could offer — like handling the X project while she’s out — you should offer them.)

In discussions about very ill relatives, you can say, “I’m sorry — that must be really tough.”

And know you’re not alone in not being sure of what to say! The thing to remember is, there’s nothing you can say that will make it better, and attempts to do that nearly always go wrong. (That’s when you get people saying insensitive things like “everything happens for a reason” or “god never gives you more than you can handle.”) Just express that you’re sorry and you’ll be getting it right.

{ 931 comments… read them below }

          1. 404_FoxNotFound*

            Both of you definitely just made me laugh very hard at Conan and Conconan comments, thank you.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Exactly. It sounds like the powers that be need to put on their grown-up undies and deal with this like grown-a$$ adults.

        1. Liz*

          Exactly. Why does the employee get to “dictate” the terms of her employment, which go AGAINST company policies, and remain employed? We all have to do things related to work we may not want to or like doing. But that’s called being an adult, sucking it up, and doing what needs to be done for your job.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      And I really want that update to be, “Not much to report, actually—we fired her and never heard from her again.”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “The owner decided to promote her. Now most of our projects are secret from everyone else on staff.”

    2. CalypsoSummer*

      I’ll bet Secretive Sue is doing personal projects on company time, on company equipment, and getting paid for it. Nice gig if you can get it — and if you’re unethical enough to carry through with that nonsense.

      “My husband’s a lawwwwwyer! He’s gonna suuuuue!” Really? Any company worth it’s salt would smile and say, “That’s nice. We have lawyers, too.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ll bet Secretive Sue is doing personal projects on company time, on company equipment, and getting paid for it. Nice gig if you can get it — and if you’re unethical enough to carry through with that nonsense.

        I was also thinking “you have no idea how bad her processes are” and “if you don’t save/backup your work, unproductive days look a lot like unlucky ones.” None of those scenarios are ones I want around.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          All of these are excellent points, and I particularly love ‘Any company worth it’s salt would smile and say, “That’s nice. We have lawyers, too.”’

        2. Candi*

          I think OP 1’s company should check Sue’s browsing history. I bet it will be very interesting. And not just “she might be being lazy”.

          I’m reminded of one question to Alison where it turned out that the person hired didn’t actually know how to do the graphics work she claimed to be able to do. IT tipped off that OP when they spotted that the person hired was Googling everything -not every so often as “crap, I forgot how to do this” or “how can I do this better/faster”, but EVERYTHING.

      2. Trillian*

        And so do the clients whose work is messed up or delivered late due to her antics.

        The owners need to contemplate that one a while.

        1. Candi*

          Oooo, yeah. OP could go to the owner and say, “Hey, Secretive Stacy causing data loss ticks off customers, and ticked-off customers are likely to go somewhere else next time. And not give referrals to our business.”

      3. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I had exactly this situation at a former job. My grandboss used her personal laptop for everything, and spent more time running a side business than she did on work. When she left (I think it was a firing made to look like a resignation), she took her personal laptop with her and left no electronic files.

        1. KaciHall*

          I had a branch manager at a bank that was running a cake pop business (not the baking and decorating but everything else) out of the branch. Using the printers, using the computers, using the phones. I got fired for not showing up to scheduled shifts (that were scheduled after I left the previous day) and didn’t have a cell phone with a camera at that time so couldn’t prove it. She finally got fired for her addiction to pain pills causing issues.

        2. Wishing You Well*

          I had a co-worker printing all her side-job ministry handouts at our electronics company. I’d be waiting for a legitimate printout and see half-a-Bible’s worth of her stuff slowly printing out. When her huge job was finished, I put the stack on her boss’ desk. Never saw ministry printouts after that.

                1. La Triviata*

                  The place I worked years ago, we had networked printers so everyone had access to all the networked printers (some people had individual printers, but most of us had to use the network ones). One woman would send something to the printer and if it didn’t pop out right away, she’d send to another printer … and another and another. We’d find her print-outs all over the office. One woman, who’d been waiting for her printout while multiples came out from this one woman got fed up and went around, gathered all the printouts and scattered all of them around the printer-person’s area.

          1. Sylvia*

            At my old workplace, the printers were configured in such a way that half the building never knew where their printouts would end up. I had one next to my desk that an annoying co-worker kept printing store coupons to. I took them and used them myself.

          2. Olivia Mansfield*

            If thou art stealing, thou shalt not leave thy work unattended lest someone take it to the boss.

          3. mdv*

            I had a job where printing personal things was “okay”, but for sure if I ever needed a work thing to come out earlier, I could move it up the priority list on the printer.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              I think when workplaces say “printing personal things is okay” they mean like 10 party invitations or a few coupons, or a quick letter. Not 300 pages of church info.

              My husband worked at a place that *would* allow a long printing session, if the printer was unoccupied (fringe of work hours, or the like) but also asked for the per-page cost back for over a hundred pages. (Since the pages were usually in the vicinity of a penny a page for black and white, this was generally not a big deal unless you were using weird paper and colour.)

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I don’t understand how refusing to save the non-personal projects on the company servers would be an issue if that is the reason behind her odd behavior though. All she’s doing is drawing attention to herself now! They’d probably never even notice otherwise.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Sorry I think I switched POV mid sentence. I don’t get why she would refuse to save company files on the company server even if she has non-company files she for some reason doesn’t want them to see…

          1. SometimesALurker*

            In this theory, it’s because she’s not spending much time on the company files, so they either don’t exist, or would be evidence of how little of her paid job she’s doing.

      5. NYC Taxi*

        I was thinking she’s doing something like pay to play to vendors where she’s getting kickbacks and she’s trying to hide it.

      6. Oh Behave!*

        I agree CS. I can’t wait until tax/immigration/criminal/environmental/insurance/what have you attorney husband sues them……. Update is definitely needed on this one!

      7. Some dude*

        She also 100% doesn’t understand the concept of “work for hire” and will assume that her drawings are her intellectual property and cause a big hassles when she leaves.

        1. Candi*

          Maybe she caught a stream of “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” from the original DCAU Batman series and thinks you have to sign a contract for it to be work for hire. She didn’t consider Mockridge was likely making sure he had absolute rights to what workers like Nygma produced and could thoroughly screw them twice over whenever he chose.

          I don’t know if it speaks to Nygma’s ego or hime not being that smart that, instead of going to LexCorp or Wayne Tech, showing he was the creator of “Riddle of the Minotaur”, and that he could make something even greater, more popular, and better-selling if given the chance, he chose to become a supervillain.

      8. An Actual Architect*

        I agree. There’s some sweet side gig stuff out there like producing drawings for people to use when requesting HOA approval. I’ll bet dollars to donuts she’s using her Autodesk account to do personal work and doesn’t want to get caught.

      9. Candi*

        There’s something I read about a few years ago on This Very Site.

        A commentator mentioned that the computers on their network were set to automatically save to the company’s servers.

        Now, those were desktops. But I don’t see why you can’t have a laptop do that. Just make sure that it only does that when it’s on the company’s network.

        The hard parts are: Do the IT people at OP 1’s company have the knowledge to do that? Will the owner let them? And how do you get ahold of Secretive Stacy’s laptop long enough to fiddle with it, without her getting suspicious?

        1. Dancing Otter*

          Push updates happen all the time. Just set the configuration update to run the same way, addressed specifically to her machine, the next time she connects to the network. (Though it probably wouldn’t be so bad to have everybody set up that way.) Or put it in her user profile, associated with her network ID.
          Then again, I don’t know many people who would turn down a new work laptop, right? So set it up to do the automatic backups. And as long as you’re transferring her files from the old machine to the new….
          But really, she needs to be fired.

        2. Berkeleyfarm*

          IT person here who used to work at an engineering company and have the “laptop files dilemma” –

          It requires some knowledge and some configuration. And I know that the CAD program we were using really complained quite vigorously if the default “home” documents drive was on a network share. So we set up “offline files” to synch when they got on the network.

          With this said: A small firm might not have a full time IT person or good remote-control tools.

          (For this case I’m thinking “Hasn’t been doing the work” is the likely answer, although “Side hustle” is also a possibility.)

      10. Russ*

        Had a Secretive coworker, turns out he was running a small business off his work computer. They didn’t realize how much of his time at work was actually running his business until they fired him.

    3. Momma Bear*

      She’s being hecka sketchy in many ways, and it makes me wonder what else she’s up to. To go so far as to go to the bathroom to “work” so no one can see her? That’s not productive, collaborative or professional AT ALL. I’d bring the facts to the owner – at this point she has cost x dollars in productivity re-doing her lost work, x in capital and goodwill with a customer (if appropriate), and if her entire computer dies (which happens all the time) but nothing is backed up or she has an emergency, then your team/company will lose x time and y dollars fixing it. Show the owner how catastrophic this approach is. It’s a WORK computer on which she is doing WORK for the company. None of that is hers, nor is it private. It’s not harassment to expect standard office behavior.

      I once worked for a company fixing what their disgruntled and recently fired person left behind (no network backups there, either…they learned that lesson the hard way), but I guarantee you that the cost of my labor was better than continuing to have that person screwing around. There are reasons people not only save to networks but actively back those network drives up. Owner needs to stand up to her. Presumably the business has lawyers for a reason. Use them.

      1. That Coworker's Coworker*

        Hmm…. Letter Writer #1, do we work at the same firm? Maybe not, but then I have an exact twin coworker, right down to the lawyer husband. Known reasons for my coworker’s secrecy: 1. she’s running her own firm on the side; 2. she’s also running an MLM on the side; 3. she’s also running a business selling hideous crafts on the side, some of which I think she’s dying in the bathroom sink; 4. she misrepresented herself as having more experience than she does, so she spends a lot of time emailing and calling friends in other firms getting help from them all day, and doesn’t want anybody to know that she’s basically crowd-sourcing her job. Who knows, maybe there are even more reasons too.

        1. Momma Bear*

          One old job someone was running a second business out of the office, and he’d often not be available when required/needed. Never did find out what happened to him – I left before he got any kind of talking to.

        2. Candi*

          ” she spends a lot of time emailing and calling friends in other firms getting help from them all day”

          Okay, I know some companies are/have to be more secretive than others, but I don’t see any company’s leadership being happy about her blatantly letting several personnel in multiple firms know what they’re working on at the moment, even if it doesn’t have to be that secret.

          Is management brushing off complaints, or do they have toothpaste in place of spinal vertebrae?

    4. mairona*

      I’d love for the owner to not only consult a lawyer, but have that lawyer sit in on the firing just so they can thoroughly slap down any accusation of misconduct from Sally McSecrets.

  1. CatCat*

    #1 is bonkers. The “don’t want to spend money on legal advice” stance is so lame that I’m wondering if the problem employee has some kind of dirt on the owner. Truly bizarro.

      1. Albow*

        Op 1, i am dying for an update. Also, please consult with a lawyer before sacking her. People like that have the ability to consume ungodly amounts of time and effort and at least the lawyer will help ensure any loopholes are dealt with. It will still be unpleasant and time consuming but less so.

        1. RJ*

          I don’t think legal advice is necessary, but it kills me that the boss won’t spend money on it when surely they have already lost a lawyer’s fee worth of time redoing the things that weren’t saved properly.

          1. Indoorsy*

            Or just paying someone who’s not doing anything and claims harassment when you ask her about it? Put that salary towards legal fees.

            Or don’t, because you don’t need a lawyer here for any reason at all, and it’s very unlikely her husband was both smart enough to pass the bar and dumb enough to actually bring a law suit over this. One of them has realized threatening one gets every desired consequence regardless of any level of validity.

        2. Observer*

          People like that can be vampires, true. But talking to a lawyer first is unlikely to create problems.

          If the misbehavior and the instructions are well documented, there just aren’t any other “loopholes” to close in a case like this.

          1. Public Sector Manager*

            As Bart Simpson noted when he was on Focusin, there are energy vampires and time burglars.

          2. Public Sector Manager*

            As Bart Simpson noted when he was on Focusin, there are energy vampires and time burglars.

        3. Betteauroan*

          She’s up to something nefarious, that’s a given. Why is she making such a big deal out of it? It’s a big red flag and she needs to be fired for insubordination.

          1. Wintermute*

            Sometimes people just have unusual boundaries or senses of entitlement, I don’t think it’s a given that she’s up to something nefarious. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because what she IS up to is bad enough!

      2. Sue*

        I agree. I can’t even see a need for a lawyer (and I am one) with the situation given. She is hurting your business so blatantly and I would wonder about the quality of her work given her poor judgment. With the potential liability for poor architectural work, I would be immediately taking steps to oust her.

        1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

          I am a lawyer and would recommend an attorney in this case. She will almost certainly make some sort of scene – suing, destroying work on her way out, etc. Go through whatever the proper processes are according to your company handbook, get it ALL in writing, and document document document some more, have IT find the files she’s working on, get her passwords, and move her out.

          Hint: she’s probably taking company files from other architects and using them for her own ends. Have an experienced IT person figure out exactly what she’s doing with her company laptop.

          1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            Sorry, adding on to my own comment: this level of secrecy about “her work” raises a flag. It could very well be that she thinks that she owns her own work product; however, I would strongly suggest that the LW entertain the possibility that she is stealing company IP. She could be grabbing other architects’ plans and changing them on her own for her own side business; she could be grabbing customer lists, requirements, etc., with the idea of going behind your back and poaching your people.

            In my litigation days, I saw a case wherein a former employee walked out with the ENTIRE shared drive, which she would prolifically share with her new employer. Her old company knew that “something” was up after she left; discovery was a flipping nightmare for them.

            1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

              You need a lawyer to walk you through everything you need to document BEFORE you terminate her, because the courts look askance at things that look like pretextual termination or post-hoc justifications. They also expect people to think and act like lawyers; although that’s not a good situation, it IS and it means that people who are facing a potential legal battle should operate with the advice of an attorney, knowing the standards they will be evaluated under if it comes to litigation.

              “I didn’t feel like hiring a lawyer” isn’t a response to wrongful termination.

              1. the other christine*

                Thanks, Hippo-nony-potomus.

                I’d listen to a lawyer any day on this over those who aren’t lawyers and say “You don’t need a lawyer.”

                1. Boof*

                  It was a lawyer who said they didn’t see a need for a lawyer upthread (or at least they say they are)
                  As a not-a-lawyer, I think OP1 could be bluffing and if fired will quickly realize there’s no grounds for a lawsuit, OR it’s I suppose possible they are warped enough to pursue a lawsuit with no merit; it’s up to the powers that be if they want to extra CYA I think (I guess costs a bit of money but buys peace of mind) or just do what they should have done a while ago and see if they need to go there at all.
                  Also, I don’t think most lawyers are THAT expensive, it sounds like the the employee is probably costing the company way more than a lawyer would. I do think Hippo raises a great point though that when someone is acting this strange/protective they may have ulterior motives / be stealing so that’s worth considering.

              2. Observer*

                “I didn’t feel like hiring a lawyer” isn’t a response to wrongful termination.

                There is no wrongful termination involved here. The response to a lawsuit is not going to reference whether they had a lawyer or not.

                They do already have the documentation that they told her to do this. The odds of anyone seeing this as pretextual are slim to none.

                I”m not against talking to a lawyer. But there really are situation where you do not absolutely need one. And this is one of them.

              3. Betteauroan*

                She’s up to something nefarious, that’s a given. Why is she making such a big deal out of it? It’s a big red flag and she needs to be fired for insubordination.

      3. Polly Hedron*

        Yes, fire her tomorrow. If her response is to break down and agree to start sharing her work, fire her anyway. She is indeed bonkers and you’ll have other trouble as long as she is there.

        Allison is right that you shouldn’t need a lawyer (but if I were here manager, and I was sure I needed a lawyer for this yet I couldn’t talk sense into the owner, I’d pay for that lawyer out of my own pocket before I’d put up with her nonsense for one more day).

        If you don’t want to fire her immediately, at least add the requirement to the company handbook so she can’t use that excuse.

        1. Yvette*

          “… at least add the requirement to the company handbook so she can’t use that excuse.” I bet if you do she will argue that she is exempt from it because she was hired prior to the requirement and it does not apply to her.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            Yes she would, but the answer to that would be that an employers has the legal right to change job requirements.

            1. EPLawyer*

              then she would just find another “loophole.” The point is to not keep arguing with her. She will just move the goalposts.

              Because every employee handbook says something about insubordination. She’s been told to save her files, she has refused to. That’s all the reason you need.

              this is past trying to reason with, or show her she’s wrong. This is “you cannot continue to be employed her any longer” territory.

              1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                Definitely this. You can’t argue with an unreasonable person, and she is not at all reasonable.

                1. Hollywood Handshake*

                  This is the best lesson I have learned from Ask a Manager. Distinguishing whether you are dealing with a reasonable or unreasonable person makes a huge difference in how you proceed. This secret architect is the opposite of reasonable.

                2. Ex-Teacher*

                  It’s also important to clearly name unacceptable behaviors, state clearly that they are unacceptable, and then enforce consequences if/when they continue.

                  Too often, people fall in to the trap of believing that they have to convince a person to agree with boundaries and expectations, when in reality all they have to do is state the expectations and what will happen if they’re not met. At that point you don’t have to worry about who’s reasonable and who is not- you’ve set the expectation and you have plans for what to do if they’re not met. Reasonable people will understand that they have to shape up or get canned, and it’s not worth worrying how the unreasonable ones feel, because you have already planned it out.

                3. Candi*

                  “Too often, people fall in to the trap of believing that they have to convince a person to agree with boundaries and expectations, when in reality all they have to do is state the expectations and what will happen if they’re not met.”

                  Can we put this in a book of Top Management Quotes? Cause it’s really true.

                4. Wintermute*

                  bingo, two of my favorite pithy statements are that “reasons are for reasonable people” and my own corollary: “norms are for normal workplaces”

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            I have worked in places that made major changes to the employee handbook and required everyone to sign that they had read it and would abide by the contents as a condition of continued employment. So it she didn’t want to sign off on it and everyone else did, problem solved.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              The whole point of having an employee handbook is that it can be updated as needed.

              In the UK, where most people have an employment contract, it’s very common for those contracts to refer to “the employee handbook” so you’re contractually tied to the terms of the handbook *as it stands at any moment* without needing to update the contract itself with any change.

              1. CreepyPaper*

                Yes and we get informed if the handbook changes – we get emailed a thing with the amendment and a ‘this is the updated handbook, please read.’

                That said, I do sometimes wonder how many people read the amendments to the handbook, because there have been a few ‘oh, wait, what, is that a Thing now?’ comments when things have changed!

                1. Klio*

                  Please read (all the unchanged information in the) updated handbook isn’t very helpful.
                  This specifically had been changed is.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  @Klio – that’s what Exjob did. We were notified by email to read the changes in whatever policy on a page on the company intranet and click the button. The changes were usually in a different color so they were easy to find. No excuse, really.

                3. La Triviata*

                  A former CFO who managed HR matters decided he didn’t have to let people know when he “updated” sections of the employee manual. We all had hard copies and had to sign that we’d read them and would abide by them. But the guy would go into the electronic files, make changes and if anyone protested that it wasn’t in the employee manual that they’d read, he’d say that he’d updated it and they should have been checking the files on the network drive to keep up to date.

                4. Candi*

                  Okay, that CFO was sleazy. It may be legal, but it’s still sleazy. And unethical.

                  This is a good example of why “I’m obeying the letter of the law” is such a low management bar.

              2. Yvette*

                Oh, believe me, I’m not saying I think that argument is valid, I am saying that is what she would argue.

                1. Love WFH*

                  I’m confused by the references to the Employee Handbook, and no reference to an NDA.

                  I’ve always had to sign an Non-Disclosure Document that says I can’t disclose information about the company and its products, and which also says that anything I design belongs to the company, not me. Seems like an architect’s office would have that kind of paperwork for new hires?

                2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  @LoveWFH It’s my understanding that NDAs are quite rare and in a lot of cases unenforceable. The average professional worker will be bound by their workplace policies rather than by an NDA.

                3. Aitch Arr*

                  LoS: I think you are confusing NDAs with Non-Competes.
                  The latter are becoming more unenforceable in the last several years, which is a good thing.

                  NDAs/Confidentiality Agreements are VERY standard.

                4. Aquawoman*

                  I don’t think you need an NDA –what the architect produces belongs to the company and giving it to a competitor would be theft and likely actionable without an NDA. Not my area of the law, but adjacent to my area of the law.

                5. Candi*

                  Yeah, it’s noncompetes that have repeatedly been held up as unenforceable. Biggest problem is they’re written too damm broad. As in make you effectively unable to be unemployed in your career inside X radius from the company with the noncompete. It’s no wonder courts keep smacking them down.

                  I’ve noticed that there’s two classes of such overly-broad NCs: The company never consulted with a lawyer (so many small businesses) or they’re hoping not to be challenged because They’re An Authority (very large and skeavy companies).

            2. WellRed*

              No need for handbook gymnastics when she’s so blatantly not doing the job. Did they check her references because I gave a hard time she didn’t present as bat sht in previous circumstances.

        2. NerdyKris*

          “add the requirement to the company handbook so she can’t use that excuse.”

          No, it’s a bad idea to get into a logic match with someone who is clearly arguing in bad faith. There’s no reason to accommodate their absurd request, as that just opens the door for more arguing.
          It’s like how when you want to disprove something you focus on the biggest foundational issue, not nitpicking over minor details. In this case the issue is the insubordination and hiding company files, not whether there’s a rule about it.

        3. Observer*

          If you don’t want to fire her immediately, at least add the requirement to the company handbook so she can’t use that excuse.

          Don’t even entertain this. Because beyond how bonkers the direct behaviors is, there are also a bazillion red flags (someone mentioned Red Square on Mayday, which sounds apt here), and you want her OUT before she has a chance to do more damage and / or cover her tracks.

        4. marvin the paranoid android*

          I really love these people who try to argue that if something isn’t in the company handbook, they don’t have to do it. “The company handbook doesn’t say that I have to enter the building through the front door! I can scale the building with my grappling hook if I want to! It’s MY RIGHT.”

          1. Empress Matilda*

            I am definitely one of those contrarians who will try to find a loophole in every policy. If the policy is reasonable (you must enter the building safely), it doesn’t bother me so much. But when you start to outline every possible thing that could go wrong, that’s when it gets my back up. So “you must not enter the building by the windows” gets me hauling out the grappling hook to see if I can get in from the roof.

          2. Candi*

            I mean, Bruce Wayne could do exactly that, but he usually walks in through the boss’s door cause that’s what normal people do.

            (Psychologically, the guy is not normal. Understandable, yes, but not normal.)

      4. Willis*

        This. And I’d bet the company never even hears anything from her along the lines of a lawsuit, cause it just has no grounds, whether you’re her husband or a different lawyer.

        But also, if she never shares any of her work with anyone…is she even doing any? My mind is kind of blown on this one.

          1. Willis*

            But there are also tons of times that people threaten frivolous lawsuits that don’t come to fruition. It’s not worth keeping someone on because you’re scared by the threat of a lawsuit so baseless. Deal with it if she does find a lawyer, but there’s also a decent likelihood there won’t be a suit.

            1. Betteauroan*

              OP , this woman is a ticking time bomb. She doesn’t play the rules and is not a team player. She seems to have an ego the size of Mt. Everest. She is blatantly disrespecting everyone with her duplicity. Your company simply needs to do what any other company does when they realize an employee is not working out. (I am assuming this is the US, where we have at will employment). They can fire her for any or no reason, technically. Most companies have a policy for dealing with these situations. Create a paper trail and start documenting everything. That way she will have a very hard time not getting her entire lawsuit thrown out and she might even be ordered to pay your legal fees. This is your only recourse, if you want to do things legally, by the book, and to dot all I’s and cross all T’s. Her lawyer husband shouldn’t even enter ingo the equation.

          2. L.H. Puttgrass*

            True. But if she’s playing the “My husband is a lawyer!” card, I doubt she’d go out and hire one.

              1. Curious*

                The husband may be less than eager to invest the time, effort — and potential professional liability! — to file a lawsuit that they should recognize is frivolous. While it takes a lot to get there, frivolous litigation can result in compensatory sanctions against the lawyer.

                And, if the husband is an employee at a law firm (let alone in-house counsel), their employer may be less than thrilled with the husband filing a frivolous lawsuit (or, actually, any lawsuit outside the scope of their employment).

                1. EA in CA*

                  We had this exact scenario play out with a former co-worker kept threatening leadership with various atrocities and that they can’t do anything to her because her husband is a lawyer, because he will sue them. After she was let go (by our corporate lawyer and HR), she actually cc’d him in her email to the whole company saying that we were all going to be sued by them for harassment, hostile work environment, unethical firing, discrimination. Her husband replied all with “he is absolutely not involved as her legal counsel and that he only focuses on Real Estate law”.

          3. Observer*

            Trust me, if she really wants to, she can find a lawyer to file suit. There’s ALWAYS one.

            Almost. But in that kind of case, it’s not going to matter if you already have a lawyer on tap. And it won’t even matter if you fire her or not. Because she’s already threatened to sue just over being told to do her job.

            Also, these lawyers WANT TO GET PAID. They are not stupid enough to take these cases on contingency. So you might wind up getting a nasty lawyer’s letter, but I highly doubt that it’s going to further than that, unless she’s independently wealthy AND her husband is not going to keep her from blowing a fortune on this.

          4. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            She doesn’t need a lawyer to file a complaint with the EEOC, if she’s alleging some sort of discrimination. That discrimination allegation can be completely unfounded, but she can say that she’s being treated like this because she’s a woman, over 40, disabled, whatever, and she just needs to tick a box, talk to an intake counselor (for lack of a better term), and the complaint has been filed.

            1. Candi*

              And she might get someone who actually listens to the nutty. After all, there’s EEOC workers (well, at least one) who said someone had no case when they had recordings, there will be someone who goes the other way and says the person has a case when they don’t. Because humans.

              (By the way, the person with the recordings did report they got a nice apology from lazy worker’s supervisor.)

          5. Candi*

            True, but about early 2018 I read an article that the Bars of the states were starting to come down on lawyers who filed suits they knew were frivolous. The lawyers in question had a tendency to milk their clients dry and then dump them. Both the frivolous suits and the monetary exploitation made lawyers look extra bad, above the shark and ambulance chasing reputations. The Bars don’t want people to be so frustrated and scared of lawyers they do all their own work all the time -at the coldest, there’s no money in it. For those who are nice, they know people’ll get screwed.

            I don’t know if the Bars scaled back on that later or not, though.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          Came here to say this. The level of bonkers of taking work into the bathroom for privacy [!!!!!!] is entirely capable of wiping files as a final flip-off.

          1. CalypsoSummer*

            I think she’s doing personal work. Or just surfing the Internet. Or doing an all-day blog. Takes her laptop into the *bathroom*? She’s seriously anxious that no one see what she’s up to, which to me means she’s up to no good.

            And the bit about files being lost? I seriously wonder if they were ever done in the first place. Of course, I’ve worked with slough-off fellow employees before, so I’m familiar with some of the tricks.

        2. Suzy Q*

          Yes, fire her immediately, in private, and have someone waiting by her desk to make sure she takes only personal items and escort her to the door. Collect any keys she has and change codes/passwords she has access to. She sounds like someone who may retaliate, even if not via legal channels.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I’d buttonhole her as soon as she gets into the office so she can’t run and get her laptop.

    1. LouLou*

      I’m dying to know how long this has been going on. How does this even work?? As an architect, isn’t the thing she’s refusing to do basically her entire job? It’s extremely frustrating to work with people who don’t do the things you’re all supposed to do, but this is taking it to another level.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I have so many questions about how this works! How are plans being delivered to clients? Are they being printed/shown/shared in some way but not saved electronically to the server? Or do final files get saved somewhere, just not work in progress?

        1. ecnaseener*

          I assume she’s saving the work locally on her computer and emailing it to clients. That part doesn’t confuse me – a company’s internal networked drive is probably not the way they share files with clients.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      If the boss doesn’t want to spend money on legal advice, I’d suggest a nice written warning detailing where she needs to improve and what will happen if she doesn’t. Include a timeframe. I’m thinking a repeated warning after a week. A third warning after another week. Then termination.

      Make sure she gets a copy. If she threatens legal action, the response should be a polite version of “file or shut up”.

      Chances are she won’t file anything. But, if she does, the cost of a lawyer was never avoidable.

      1. EPLawyer*

        She’s already been told to improve. She has REFUSED. She has gone so far as to tkae her computer to the bathroom to keep others from seeing her work.

        A PIP is not going to make much difference. They have already documented all of the attempts to get her to comply. A PIP will only drag things out. She is NOT going to change.

        1. Bilateralrope*

          Sure. But it might be easier to get the boss to approve this plan by saying you think it will make her lawsuit less damaging. I’m not sure if that’s true

          I see four outcomes here:
          – Boss follows this plan without legal advice. Problem gets solved
          – Boss gets legal advice. Also asks about lawsuit threats. Fires employee.
          – Boss gets legal advice about warnings. Doesn’t ask about threats, or ignores the advice
          – Boss does nothing

          The first two are solutions. The last two make the boss tell every other employee that the rot will continue.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Sure, but you’re ignoring the obvious outcome of: Boss fires her right now, secure in the knowledge that they already documented multiple instances of her refusing to follow instructions.

      2. hbc*

        The written warning is good, but it should be more of a “We’ve had numerous conversations about this, most recently on (date) and (date). Our requirement for continued employment is that you save working files to the share drive at least daily. The next failure to do so will result in immediate termination.”

        This is to get rid of her quickly, but also so she has something tangible to wave in front of a lawyer so they can say, “Wait, so what’s the problem here?”

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I’m absolutely fascinated by the idea of what she would tell a lawyer. “They wanted me to SAVE my files to a SHARED SERVER. Isn’t that absolutely BONKERS??? It’s MY WORK, what rights do they have to it?” And of course this argument goes right down the toilet when the lawyer points out the company policy of all work done for the company is the property of the company. I wonder if she has some other argument she would want to put before a judge that might hold water, but if this is all she has, LW’s company has absolutely nothing to worry about. (IANAL but I’m fairly certain I’m right here.)

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            It’s not just company policy, in the US it’s part of copyright law. Any work done during the course of your job is considered work for hire and the copyright belongs to the company, not the employee who produced it.

            1. Darsynia*

              To the point where my music composer husband had to make sure that his compositions and work done on a pre-existing open-source project were both exempted from company ownership, even though the former would have been considered a ‘duh,’ and the latter was the real concern!

            2. bleh*

              Not all work. My work completed on a university laptop as part of my scholarly “duties” belongs to me and I hold copyright.

      3. Observer*

        ’d suggest a nice written warning detailing where she needs to improve and what will happen if she doesn’t. Include a timeframe. I’m thinking a repeated warning after a week. A third warning after another week. Then termination.

        She’s been warned. AND she’s doing stuff that any person at her level can be expected to understand is a problem. They don’t need more warnings. And you don’t want to alert her that the game is up.

        They need to fire her. And then brace for the possibility of a law suit. I doubt it will happen, but the warnings won’t change anything.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      Consulting a lawyer in this instance should focus on advice for getting the computer away from her before she’s terminated. The grounds for termination are already clear without asking an attorney.

      1. Bibliovore*

        Getting the computer back first seems a really important point, given that it’s likely the only way the company can access of most of the work she’s done for them.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Good lord, yes. I have been fired one time, and it wasn’t for a good reason (it’s clear in hindsight that I was hired as maternity leave coverage and not as a permanent FTE like I was told), and the company was otherwise very dysfunctional, but the way they did it was very smooth. They invited me to a routine meeting, and while I was in my boss’s office (shocked to be told that this meeting was my last hour with the company), they shut off my access to my computer. I was allowed to log in to retrieve personal files with the HR person standing over my shoulder to make sure I didn’t do anything malicious, and I’m pretty sure the HR person only did that because he felt bad for me but didn’t have any power to intervene.

          1. Berkeleyfarm*

            I still remember the firing (of someone else) that HR botched … they wouldn’t let us get the laptops and the firees cheerfully deleted a lot of their work product.

            It took many days of my work to retrieve some of it.

            1. La Triviata*

              We had someone who was given an unfavorable performance review. Right before lunch on payday (a Friday). She’d already collected her paycheck, so she went out to lunch … and didn’t come back. No laptop involved, but no one got her keys and security access back. Over the weekend, she came in – possibly with help – so when we came in on Monday, the office television that was used for presentations was gone and, I believe, some other electronics. Also, the person who’d given her the review found (or didn’t find) some personal objects gone.

              Another person – who left voluntarily – left behind a bunch of computer disks that were all infected with a virus. I spent several days cleaning up the disks so we could get at the work she’d done.

      2. All the words*

        No helpful advice, other than to fire her for bizarreness. She’s already received all the warnings needed.

        But I am giggling at the idea of having to bust down the stall door in the bathroom to wrest the laptop out of her hands.

    4. Xenia*

      To me it depends on two things:

      1) where in the world they are/what sort of legal and employment regulations surround hiring and firing

      2) how well owner understands the concept of opportunity cost and how much lawyers cost

      Because a lot of people will prefer to let a slow drip of costs happen rather than the one bigger cost that will stop the drip. It happens all the time, from penny pinching that makes good employees leave to companies that don’t make investments in IT and then have to update everything all at once when it becomes too outdated to function.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I am willing to bet that the cost of redoing one architectural file is equivalent to the cost of one hour’s of an attorney’s time. Especially because it will be a short conversation “Wait, what, fire her already.”

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I’m surprised that a firm doesn’t have council on retainer. A/E typically does, if for no reason other than “they’re first in line to be sued over errors/omissions/etc.”

          (My own experience with architectural files is that you may be looking at a LOT of hours to redo one from scratch though. Back in the old days before it was a “duh” to save to a corporate server, a coworker’s computer lost three files. It was not pretty.)

          1. Alex*

            Yeah I work on the “E” side of an A/E firm and we have in-house counsel for this kind of stuff. Sure, replicating architecturals is time consuming but even having to write off a whole day of billable hours to get them re-made is cheaper and more efficient than having this lady around.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            They may, but they don’t want *an* attorney, they’d want an attorney who knows employment law well enough to give legal advice on it. That’s not always going to be the same attorney they retain for litigation over design work.

        2. A CAD Monkey*

          As my time is billed to the client at about $75/hr and dependent upon the file deleted and how far back the backup is, that can get very expensive very quick. if it’s just a page or two, that can be anywhere from 2-10 hours of work. if it is the xref file (file that contains the floor plate, ceiling layout, sections, elevations, etc.), that could easily be 40+ hours of redraw time.
          i could literally delete 1 file from the shared server rn that could potentially cost the firm i work for $5 million if there wasn’t a backup. now that said, our it guy is very good and has multiple backups of the server. it still sucks to have to redo the work completed between the last backup and now.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            On a similar note – and I’ve seen others comment on this topic as well – the firm’s IT department should be doing remote backups of employees’ computers on a regular basis. So even if something isn’t on a shared drive, there is a backup of it somewhere.

            I think our org uses Druva inSync. Whenever I’m logged onto the VPN from home or the WiFi at the office, the program syncs with my laptop. (at least that’s how I understand it. I’m sure Keymaster knows more. ;) )

    5. Polly Hedron*

      It’s not clear from #1’s letter whether
      1. the owner is willing to fire her and thinks it’s an easy case that doesn’t need a lawyer, or
      2. the owner is UNwilling to fire her.

      1. would be easy, skip the lawyer and just do it.
      2. would be a dysfunctional firm that OP1 should consider leaving.

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      My guess is that the owners hold some magical beliefs about the law (1)that this employee’s threat is a Sword of Damocles hanging over them, with awful consequences should she go through with it; and (2) talking to a lawyer themselves would be fantastically expensive. In combination, they conclude that appeasement is their only option.

      This sort of muddled thinking about the law is surprisingly widespread among non-lawyer professionals. It is very common in medicine. Talk about “defensive medicine” such as ordering unnecessary tests out of fear of malpractice lawsuits is completely incoherent. If the test shows something that informs the patient’s treatment, then it wasn’t unnecessary, now was it? Usually the idea is that the chances of this test showing anything is tiny, with the chance not justifying the cost. OK, fair point. But “standard of care” is a winning defense. You line up a few colleagues who testify that no, this test is not normally ordered in this situation, and you go home. Yet you have doctors who, rather than getting a rudimentary knowledge of medical malpractice law, order those tests while complaining about it. (Only the most hardened cynic would point out that those same doctors get paid their fee-for-service for ordering those tests and reviewing the results.)

      What we see here is the Employment Law version. Oh, and I would love to know what sort of law her husband practices. Unless it is employment law, and unless he is an idiot, they would hire an employment lawyer for any actual litigation. No, I would not expect them to get a professional discount. If hiring a lawyer is too fantastically expensive for the firm to do, it should be even less viable for these mooks. If the firm really and truly can’t afford a lawyer, it is time to polish the resume. This outfit is on its last gasp.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I’ve seen this so much. People without much experience dealing with lawyers think you only get an attorney involved when something is very, very wrong, and therefore, they have enormous power. On the other hand, I pay a retainer every month to handle the stupid little things that pop up so that they don’t become big issues. And this is a stupid little thing that has been allowed to fester into a major business problem.

        OP1, tell your boss to spend $1,000 on an attorney. That is enough to get the advice he needs to fire this employee and shouldn’t break his bank (if it does, you have a whole other problem). But bear in mind that this isn’t really a legal issue. It’s a management issue. Not sure you can fix that.

        1. Betteauroan*

          Op, your bosses are allowing themselves to be railroaded by this woman and I don’t know why. SHE is the employee. It is her responsibility to perform the duties asked of her by her employer. That is what she is getting paid for, not to make up her own rules and do whatever she wants. I don’t know why they don’t just fire her. They have every right to. Her behavior is unprofessional, cavalier, and appalling. Does she have something on them? It’s mystifying to me why they have given her so much power.

      2. CalypsoSummer*

        I’m surprised that they don’t have a lawyer, or a law firm, on retainer. It’s a valid business expense, and unless you’re going for the biggest, most prestigious firm in town, it’s really not that expensive.

        1. CTT*

          Eh, I am outside corporate counsel to a lot of businesses that like working with us and use us a lot, but who won’t get us involved because they think it will be cheaper and easier to handle it themselves (even if the solution is to ignore it)

        2. pancakes*

          When people are this resistant to seeking legal advice I think it’s often a control issue rather than a cost issue. I was a small business owner before I was a lawyer, through somewhat odd circumstances – our boss, who was a sole proprietor since the 70s, died, and myself and two other employees found someone to put together a business plan for us, secured funding, and bought the business. (It was the late 90s and funding was easier to come by). I think a lot of people who set out to run their own businesses really dislike anyone telling them how to do things. There are also lots and lots of people who seem to resent the idea that there’s a body of knowledge they can’t master themselves after investing half an hour or so poking around online. We’ve seen millions of people decide they know better than virologists during this pandemic, and I think people do the same thing with law more often than we acknowledge.

      3. Quinalla*

        I would normally agree, but this is an architecture firm that should be no stranger to lawyers as design firms are going to get sued eventually. This whole thing is super weird. I’m honestly curious as well like another previous poster if this employee has something on the owner!

    7. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      It’s also bonkers from a information technology perspective.

      a) there should be an automated backup of her computer files happening regularly, to prevent catastrophic dataloss. You should have been able to recover files that were lost from that, via your IT department or contractor (to be clear, this should be happening on every employees computers). If you don’t have an IT department, hiring a consultant is cheap, and this is literally one of the first things they would set up for you.

      b) she doesn’t want to put things on the networked drives? No one cares what she wants – talk to your IT department and install a program to copy the files onto the network drive automatically, or to disable local storage and force everything to the network drive.

      c) Also, IT should be able to use a remote connection on the machines in your building, if they need to, which will allow them to grab files. They may need to leave that open on hers, apparently, rather than uninstalling it when not it use.

      But seriously, fire this woman. No matter how expensive your lawyers are, she isn’t worth the lost time, effort, and money that she’s creating.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, yes, these are excellent points. Especially the last one (FIRE HER) but the IT stuff is also really important to consider.

        Boy, I hope we get an update on this in the December updates or sooner.

      2. NerdyKris*

        ” Also, IT should be able to use a remote connection on the machines in your building, if they need to, which will allow them to grab files. They may need to leave that open on hers, apparently, rather than uninstalling it when not it use.”

        My first thoughts as well. Just go in and grab the files. If they can’t even do that, their IT setup is woefully inadequate and a disaster waiting to happen.

      3. Quinalla*

        While I agree that is how it should be set up, a lot of architecture firms are small with crap IT. Most are getting better about it, but this part does not surprise me in the slightest as someone who works as a consultant to architects and has seen what kind of IT most of these small firms have.

      4. Clisby*

        Amen to (a). If files not being stored on the shared server is a problem, don’t leave it up to individual employees to solve. Even the most reliable employee could forget sometimes. Set up a system where files on every employee’s laptop are routinely backed up.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Honestly – I think this is a good idea for a number of reasons. One – just the obvious reason of it being a best practice. But also since other employees clearly know what’s happening and are upset (based on OP1’s comment downthread) it also signals “we know, we’re dealing with it, and here’s what we’re doing to make sure it never happens again”. Also wouldn’t hurt to say that explicitly but the action backs it up (no pun intended).

      5. The Other Dawn*

        Yes to all of this. I came here to say this, but you said it much better. I used to be the amateur IT person at my previous very small company. So many people didn’t know the difference between saving something on the C drive versus saving it their network folder and why the network folder was important. Everything would end up on C drive and then, inevitably, the computer would die or something would happen and they would lose their files. I had to redirect the shortcuts and change the default save locations before handing over their computer to them.

        1. Candi*

          I remember back in high school (1990s!) the computer teacher hammering at that. “Do not save it to the C drive, it only saves it to the computer you’re on. You MUST save to the H drive; that will save it to the server.” (Points to locked cabinet.)

          Inevitably, someone didn’t. Fortunately, it was more inconvenient (they had to ask the person sitting there to move for a minute so they could resave the file) than disastrous.

          (I also still have the Ctrl-S twitch.)

    8. Abogado Avocado*

      This is truly bizarre. Alison is right (as usual!). I would add only, #1, to encourage your owner or HR or whomever to update the employee handbook to make clear that all work is owned by the company and that all work must be saved to the office server, not to the desktop hard drive.

      It strikes me, too, that you may want to suggest that your IT department also get involved to configure computers so that items that might normally be saved to the desktop hard drive (e.g., Outlook archive files) are also saved to the network so that the office doesn’t lose information should an employee leave without having followed the rules.

    9. V. Anon*

      Have they no IT department? Have the tech team physically take her laptop the next time she shows up in the office, lock her her out of email, share drives, company phone, etc., and fire her. Show her picture to Security. Wait for the garbled lawsuit that hasn’t actually been properly filed with any court but uses the word “Whereas” a lot. She’s a crank! Get rid of her yesterday!

      1. A CAD Monkey*

        My small design build firm (16 design, ~25build, 5 admin/hr) literally has a lawyer in the office. He writes or looks over all the contracts for the office. My last firm had a lawyer on retainer and was only 12 people total. never too small to not have a lawyer in architecture. architects are the first ones sued if anything goes wrong with a building.

        1. La Triviata*

          I’ve spent the last 40 years or so working for associations that represent the design and construction industries. One thing that’s often required when a design contract is completed is the design files. It sounds like, maybe, she’s delivering the files when she thinks they’re perfect … but things happen. If the computer dies, if something happens to her, if the computer’s stolen or hacked … the organization needs to have the files as they progress, just in case.

    10. Michelle ma belle*

      Dirt on the owner is a good possibility. worked in a place where there was someone privy to financial records as part of his job who was doing and saying unusual things. (Example: He visted the U.S. hometown (two states away) of one of the managers at an overseas location and went around the small town asking question about the man. The manager was tipped off by a hometown friend.) Despite it all, he was not terminated. He only left when he threatened to quit if not given a large raise and the company took him up on his threat in a flash. He was required to sign a resignation letter with a strong NDA (supplied by counsel) in exchange for a severance and a neutral reference.
      My guess that this guy learned something damaging to the company which likely had some national security implications but the company could not fire him if he did not disclose it. There was definitley unusual stuff in the organization’s history related to its mission but the outlines of it were quite public by that time. My job brought me into contact with some of this past history and I knew it was very likely there were still “a few bodies buried” out there.

  2. Sami*

    Whenever I need to express my sympathies, I go with, “I’m so sorry about your (Grandma/cousin/brother/etc). I hope your memories will bring you comfort (can also add: “in the future” or “someday” or “soon”).”

    1. Bri*

      I would avoid the second sentence. Although I understand the sentiment, I’d find that a really irritating and somewhat presumptuous or diminishing thing to hear if I were grieving. ‘Sorry for your loss’ is enough.

      (I wouldn’t hold it against someone who did say the second sentence to me, interaction around loss can be awkward. I’d just find it annoying in the moment)

      1. anonycat*

        I agree, best to leave the memory part off. When my husband passed away, for a long time the strongest memory I had of him was how he looked when I found him. It was not a comfort.

      2. Purple Penny*

        This, and for an entirely different reason. I kept a deeply toxic parent at arm’s length for many years to preserve my own sanity, and this was widely known among friends and acquaintances, but still I had to ask them to stop with the stuff about memories, etc., because my memories were not great ones. They found it hard because that was what they were programmed to say, and I lost a couple of friends who were shocked because I insisted politely that I did not wish to hear it.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          When my father died a few years ago, I went to the funeral to support my brother – I hadn’t seen either of my parents in two decades because they were abusive in every way you can imagine. Friends and kind people at work told me they hoped my memories would bring me comfort, and I also had to ask them to stop. It was inconceivable to them that I wouldn’t be devasted over losing a parent.

          A few got so pushy and argumentative that I frankly told them exactly why I hadn’t seen my parents in years. Of course, I was the bad guy for ‘shocking’ them and ‘rubbing their noses’ in my history. But at least they stopped telling me to honor his memory.

          1. Anonymous Today*

            This reminds me of a conversation I read about someone talking about a psychoanalyst they knew who would not comment even when a patient came in saying that a parent had passed. The other person, also in the field, said that knowing what a warm person he was, he would convey his sympathies in some other way (nonverbally). The first person said no, because the man would not want to make the patient think that they had to be sad or feel any specific thing in response to the event. What if the parent had been abusive? If the analyst expressed sympathy in any way it might make the patient feel they weren’t free to express their true feelings.

      3. Bamcheeks*

        I have heard “may their memory be a blessing” in Jewish contexts. But I think part of the point of it is that it IS a conventional thing to say. And convention is very, very comforting when you’re bereaved.

        The thing about bereavement is that all the usual stuff about cliche doesn’t really apply. When my mum died, I found cliches are really good to hear! Each time I heard, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “may she rest in peace” was a balm: it was an acknowledgment that this big huge world-changing thing had happened, but also that there was a path through it. I remember being very touched by people acknowledging my mum’s death; I remember specifically a couple of people who should have and didn’t; I have absolutely no memory of who stuck with “I’m so sorry for your loss” and who tried to come up with something more original. It didn’t matter a bit: it was the acknowledgement that mattered, not the form of words.

        I can’t speak for everyone: for some people cliche and repetition is unbearable. But that’s something to worry about with people you’re very close to who can have that “for god’s sake don’t tell me you’re sorry for my loss”. For more formal and structured relationships— and boss/report is the very essence of that— convention is the way to go.

        1. Not Australian*

          I’m not Jewish but I’ve heard “may their memory be a blessing” a lot from friends who are. I genuinely feel it’s a better thing to say than the usual “I’m so sorry”, although I do tend to use the latter with people I know well – in the form of “I’m sorry, I know how much you’ll miss [them].” I reckon very few people know what to say anyway, and as long as you avoid anything about it being ‘a happy release’ or ‘rest after a weary labour’ you should be fine.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It doesn’t bother me when my Jewish friends say it because I know it’s traditional but I REALLY don’t like “may their memory be a blessing”. I find it presumptuous. Relationships are complicated and I’ve had it said to me in contexts where I might have bitten back if I didn’t understand the background.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Even with uncomplicated relationships, this can be a tough one. I had a straightforward loving and positive relationship with my father, who died suddenly when I was a teenager. It was at least a year before I could have any memory of him at all that didn’t leave me in tears.

              Generally, what you want to say to a bereaved person is something that conveys “I care about you, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this difficult thing, and I’m here to help you if you need me.” Anything fancier than that puts you at risk of causing further pain to someone who’s already hurting. Stick with the basics.

              1. Observer*

                It was at least a year before I could have any memory of him at all that didn’t leave me in tears.

                That’s part of what this is about though – hopefully with time those memories will stop bringing you to tears, but instead will bring you comfort in some way. If you notice the form is not “Their memory IS a blessing” but “May it be”, ie if not now the hopefully it will come to pass.

                But overall, I agree. Stick to the basics. Originality is not helpful.

            2. Rose Absolute*

              Hadn’t thought about it before now, but two of my friends lost their mothers recently, and I reflexively tailored condolences to what I knew about their relationships. One was very close so I expressed sorrow at her loss and the hope that her mother’s memory would be a blessing (I’m an atheist but don’t think this has any religious overtones). The other – well, ‘complicated’ doesn’t really cover it, so I acknowledged that, said I was sorry nevertheless and hoped she was as OK as possible in the circumstances.

            3. Indoorsy*

              I agree! This is a cultural thing – it’s our equivalent of “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I would only ever say it to other Jewish people and only in those exact words (or the Hebrew). I think presumptuous is the right word outside of this cultural context. You wouldn’t tell someone “I hope you’re not too sad/you feel better soon” and I feel like it’s perilously close to that. Plus unless it’s just a very loved older person who lived a long happy life the memory is usually just gut wrenching for the first few years at the least.

              Better to just aw knowledge how much something sucks and let the person know you’re thinking of them.

        2. On Fire*

          A family friend died by suicide. I told his wife, “I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.” She responded: “there’s not anything you CAN say to this. There aren’t any words.” So we just hugged. I think sometimes acknowledging that you want to offer comfort, but don’t know how, can help — if you’re able to do that without transferring emotional labor to the bereaved.

          1. Betteauroan*

            This is a perfectly fine thing to say. It is impossible to find the right words when talking about some types of deaths.

        3. Lego Leia*

          I feel that a lot of people are missing the point of saying something. All that is needed is for you to acknowledge the loss. That’s it. Nothing a co worker or social acquaitnence can say is going to make it better. “Sorry for your loss” is an acknowledgement of the loss, and that is enough.
          As someone who has grieved the loss of loved ones, simply having the acknowledgment was more than sufficient from work friends. And, as other people have said, anything else can be interpretted badly.

          1. calonkat*

            This, this, so much this. You are work acquaintances. A brief acknowledgement is FINE.

            Lost my little sister a year ago, and that was all I could stand. Anyone trying to offer me comfort in a work setting would get sort of an awkward silence then a thanks and a quick end to the conversation. Thank the lord we weren’t back in the office yet!

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        I am a big fan of “I am sorry for your loss.” This isn’t the occasion to show off your creative writing skills, much less your improv skills.

        1. EPLawyer*

          THIS. this is not the time to show how witty YOU are. It’s about them. Just a simple phrase and move on. Follow their cues not yours.

        2. seisy*

          Seconding this. It’s really hard to know what to say in the face of other’s pain, but a simple acknowledgement that they are suffering is more than sufficient.

          I used to have a job in CS where we were frequently addressing women who had miscarriages. I drilled everyone on the team to always start out with, “I’m sorry for your loss” even though yeah, it felt robotic and fake the fifth time you write it in a day. But people would *thank us*. I saw comments on other forums where people would say how much it meant to them.

          Same thing honestly with the canned “we’re worried about you, here are some resources” we’d send out when we’d get reports about self harm/suicide/domestic violence posts. Like, they were canned because we’d gotten help from experts in drafting them, and we worked hard to make them sound personal and not corporate, but it felt shitty and shallow to send it every single time, but without fail people would write back saying how much it affected them that someone cared.

          We get too hung up on having the right words or needing them to be original, but that’s about us, not about the other people. The thing I’d tell the team is even if it felt artificial to use canned responses, it was the intent behind the message that mattered.

      5. PoppySeeds*

        When my dad died last year I got a lot of sorry for your loss and thoughts and prayers. Honestly, I appreciate the sentiment but it felt really impersonal, but I get it folks don’t seem to know what to say. Now I tell people “I was really sorry to hear about the loss of your father/brother/mom/etc.” it feels more personal. I also don’t ask them to tell them to let me know if there is anything they need. I just step in if I am close enough to do so or if I am not I send something to the house. My second sentence is usually please take care of yourself I am here if you need to talk. Asking people to tell you what they need is really awkward and I think some things, depending on how they are handling the loss, may be beyond them to communicate to you.

      6. Lily*

        Seconded. I’m a hospice nurse. The second statement is not comforting, no matter how pure your intentions. It can shut down or disenfranchise grief, and grief is necessary for healing.

      7. Candi*

        I think if you want to say the second sentence, you should know the person and how they felt about the deceased before deciding to say it.

        My relationship with my mother was bad. I eventually cut her off about 90% (the other 10% was the grandkids wanting to know Grandma) because of her self-centered, awful, coldblooded behavior.

        If anyone said the second sentence to me upon hearing my mother’s been two years dead as of next Wednesday, I would be MAD. Totally furious. For 25 years one of the strongest memories of her has been her saying, “I don’t want you, you’re too much like your father”. Sure not comforting. (I was 19, so yes I remember clearly, extended family members who need to butt out.)

    2. Chrysoptera*

      “I hope your memories bring you comfort” would not have bothered me.

      The worst thing to do is say something hurtful. I had family members criticizing me for grieving my ex. Don’t do that or use the kind of platitudes Alison mentioned. I couldn’t stand seeing people who barely knew my ex spouting cheap advice on social media.

      The second worst thing to do is ignore someone who is grieving. That happened too. People don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. The isolation hurts bad.

      1. paxfelis*

        The variant I use is “I hope they left a lot of good memories behind.” Admittedly I’m saying this to patients, not to close acquaintances or friends, so circumstances vary.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I think that second sentence is fine IF you know the person well enough to talk about something as deeply personal and unbalancing as grief (so if you’re actually their friend) and IF you know they do have pleasant memories of the person.

      The Jewish version “may your memory be a blessing” has a lower barrier to entry because it’s a platitude, but I still wouldn’t want to hear it from anyone at work.

      Platitudes are perfect for the work environment IMO. The grieving person doesn’t want to start ACTUALLY thinking about their grief at work, they’re trying to keep from falling apart and the easiest way to do that is to stick to predictable scripts.

      1. fueled by coffee*

        I’m Jewish, and would only use “may their memory be a blessing” to other Jewish people — only because the word ‘blessing’ implies religiosity and I don’t want to bring that up for someone who doesn’t share that cultural context.

        “I hope these memories bring you comfort” sounds like an attempt at a neutral alternative to that. But I agree with others here that it depends on the relationship the person had with the deceased.

        1. Coenobita*

          Yeah, I’m Jewish and reserve “may their memory be a blessing” for other Jews, not necessarily because of the blessing thing but because I know they’ll see it as a platitude (in a good way) rather than suggesting anything about the person’s relationship with the deceased. My Quaker friends say “holding you in the light,” which I personally really like but would probably feel weird saying to someone myself.

          I often go with “I’m so sorry to hear that” because it’s literally true and it’s just slightly different than “sorry for your loss” (though now that I look at it, it does kind of make it about me, so…)

        2. ecnaseener*

          Oh, yes, of course I’d only want to hear it from / say it to other Jews. Thought that went without saying lol — my point was, even Jew to Jew I would not like it in the workplace.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Exactly. Platitudes are *GOOD*.

        I’m reminded of a previous aam discussion about how “how are you?” actually means “I acknowledge you, fellow human.”

        The words aren’t as important as the meaning of “I sympathise and feel for you and want to help in this hard time and wanr you to know I care.” – as long aa you steer clear of potentially upsetting words, it is good.

        And platitudes also work because the bereaved knows the dance. It’s difficult for you to improvise – it’s worse for them! Being able to respond to a standard “I’m so sorry” (which means the above message) with a simple “thank you” (which often means a lot more about appreciating your reaching out), instead of struggling with how to say “actually he wasn’t a believer”, “no, it’s not a blessing in disguise” or “we don’t actually have good memories” is appreciated. Auto-pilot can be a blessing.

      3. meagain*

        I think just sticking to “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m so sorry” is safest. I wouldn’t want to hear any platitudes, especially from people at work.

        I think one has to be very, very careful referring to any aspect of loss as a “blessing,” To a grieving person, that can be of little comfort and actually cause distress if they have to smile and say thank you while internally completely rejecting that anything about their loss feels like a blessing.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Sorry, by platitude I actually meant “I’m sorry for your loss” ! I agree, stick with that especially at work.

          1. meagain*

            Oh I got you. Agreed! I was thinking more like “everything happens for a reason” “they’re in a better place” “at least you still had 20 years…” anything that starts with “at least”… etc!

    4. Me*

      I appreciate the sentiment of the second sentence but unless you know that this person had a good fond relationship, its better to stay away.

      There’s a lot of people in the world with everything from complicated relationships to outright toxic and abusive ones.

      Not too mention even in a good relationship their current memories may be very unpleasant ones of sickness and suffering.

    5. marvin the paranoid android*

      When I lost a close family member, the best thing someone said to me was “That just sucks.” YMMV on that one, but I found it refreshing to hear someone talk to me like a regular person amongst all of the carefully worded condolences. It also helps that I knew she had been through the same thing.

      1. meagain*

        I agree. It’s like instinct is not to say that, but I always appreciated more when people acknowledged that this was terrible and sucks, than trying to “fix” or cheer up. Our culture is so weird about grief though, that I never fault people for what they say, even when it’s awkward. I saw a quote the other day that said “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved, it simply wants to be witnessed exactly as it is.” Still, it’s sort of a strange situation at work because you don’t necessarily wanting your boss and colleagues or people you aren’t necessarily close to witnessing your deepest pain.

    6. Cold Fish*

      I’ve also struggled with this in the past, especially with coworkers or colleagues that I’m unsure of their personal life enough to personalize well. “Sorry for your loss.” is fine but can sometimes feel unfinished…like more is required. Combining several of the responses here what would you all think of “Sorry for your loss. May the passing of time bring you comfort.”

    7. ENFP in Texas*

      As someone who has lost a mother, father, husband, nieces, and nephew, leave off the second part. It’s not particularly helpful, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

      1. meagain*

        Agreed. We live in this strange culture in our society where it’s like we have this mindset that bereavement is supposed to last 3 days and then it gets better with time. When in reality, it’s the rest of our lives that we now face without this person. I get people mean well. But I would agree, basically avoid expressing anything that even hints at “feeling better” about a loss. I don’t like that second part because the passing of time doesn’t always bring comfort. It sometimes feels worse, like now I’m getting more and more days away from when I last saw them/touched them/hugged them/called them, etc. And the truth is, loss doesn’t always lessen. We just learn to live with it, or hopefully find some way to integrate it.

        I think it’s really nice that you are putting thought into what type of response is helpful and asking for feedback. That is very kind and thoughtful. I think saying something like “I’m so sorry and I’m thinking of you” is just fine. Even something like, “Wishing you peace and comfort” is okay. But I would avoid saying anything about how their loss can feel better, if that makes sense. Basically don’t try to “fix.”

        Thank you so much for trying to be thoughtful in your responses!

    8. Lily*

      Hospice nurse here. Your first statement is great. Your second statement… do not say this. It is the opposite of helpful or comforting.

  3. RagingADHD*

    LW 4, the non-standard things one can say to a grieving person that are meaningful or helpful come from personal knowledge and insight into them, about the departed person, about the relationship, or from a shared experience of loss.

    You simply don’t know your new manager well enough to do that, you’ve never met the person she may be losing, and you don’t know anything about their relationship.

    Generalizations like “sorry for your loss” are exactly the right thing to say in your situation. Please don’t try to improvise without that underlying personal knowledge, because that’s when people come up with really hurtful and dismissive platitudes, or they project their own issues into a situation, or they make awkward assumptions about how the grieving person “must be” feeling when they may in fact feel all sorts of things that don’t match conventional social expectations.

    1. allathian*

      Standard phrases are the way to go in situations like this. More personal ones should be saved for people you know on a more personal level, and even then standard phrases can be the more prudent option.

      1. Xarcady*

        Yes, stick to the standards!

        When an employee came to me and told me his wife was miscarrying and he had to leave, I was so shocked that I wasn’t thinking and blurted out, “Oh, no! That sucks!”

        Very embarrassing. I apologized when he came back to work the following week. Not my finest moment.

        1. Pixies' Dust*

          I think you got the sentiment right, and that’s often more important than the specific words. Which, as others have pointed out, are often hard to find.

        2. FridayFriyay*

          As someone who had 4 miscarriages before having a living baby I would have been grateful for this type of response. It does suck! Better than probably 95% of the horrid things people did say to me (at least you were early, at least you know you can get pregnant, you can always try again, etc.)

          1. Whynot*

            Ooof. I’m sorry you went through that, and that so many people were so insensitive during very difficult times.

          2. Doug Judy*

            I agree. There’s nothing to say but it sucks. There’s not “for a reason” or “you can try again” or all the other bullshit people say. It fucking sucks. Full stop.

            In January 2020 my boss’s first grandchild was still born. Since this was pre COVID I sat within arms reach of her. It was awful. I told her it was awful and I was deeply sorry. I told her I wasn’t going to ask anything more not because I didn’t care, I wanted to give her whatever space she needed. If she needed to talk about it I would happily listen. So sometimes she would bring it up and sometimes she’d be clearly on the verge of tears and we’d just pretend she wasn’t.

          3. meagain*

            Agreed. It does suck and it’s actually nice (and welcome) when someone’s impulsive response is to validate that.

        3. Lexie*

          You may have been embarrassed but you gave a really honest response. And it was probably appreciated a lot more than the people telling them why it didn’t suck (it was God’s will, something must have been wrong with it, you’ll just try again, etc.).

        4. Observer*

          I was so shocked that I wasn’t thinking and blurted out, “Oh, no! That sucks!”

          That’s not a response you needed to apologize for. It’s a difficult situation and while your reaction wasn’t smooth, it was a real acknowledgement of that, and that’s really all that matters.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yup. Scalzi’s Law extra double applies here: ‘the failure mode of clever is asshole’.

      If you don’t know someone well, it’s best to stick to sincere but generic.

      1. Ashkela*

        I… I have never heard of that and as an autistic person who is always working to find better ways to communicate with the folx around me, that just made something click. Thank you!

    3. Sara without an H*

      I lost my dad about a month ago. Trust me — conventional expressions of sympathy are the ONLY way to go in such a situation. I did appreciate hearing people who actually knew my father share some of their recollections of him, but from anybody else, “I’m sorry” is right, proper, and enough.

      1. Le Sigh*

        +1 I almost lost a parent several years ago — they survived, but with significant, long-term consequences. And early on it wasn’t clear how severe those consequences would be. A stranger in the hospital tried to comfort me by saying I needed to focus on the positive, while a few in-law relatives basically said stuff along the lines of “at least he’s alive, that’s what counts.” While I appreciate their attempts and yes I AM grateful to still have my parent, it was a really, really traumatic time and I really resented being told to focus on the positive or just be happy he’s alive, esp. when I was struggling to help my other parent figure out the future. Please just say I’m sorry and let me feel what I’m feeling! That’s enough!

        1. Sara without an H*

          “Positivity” is one of the great modern scourges. I’m sorry you were subjected to it at such a difficult time in your life.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Thanks and I agree re: positivity. It was years ago and it still irritates me. I don’t mind positivity as a general concept and I appreciate the need to not get pulled down into the worst of it for too long, but sometimes it’s okay to just acknowledge that something is hard and just…sit with it. I was eventually able to get to a better place, but I needed time and space to do that. In those first days, all I had energy for was keeping my emotions in check and helping my parents and making a lot of hard decisions. In the few moments I was alone, I needed to be able to cry and breath. I did not need to be told how to feel.

            It feels a little strange saying this, given the conversation on here, but I’m sorry for your loss.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes the standard phrases only sound stilted if the sentiment isn’t there. If you are really expressing care/sympathy, it will sound sincere because it will be sincere.

      The folly of “but I must be original! It can’t be genuine if it’s not original!” leads to disaster – there are soooo many ways to get this wrong.

  4. Jenn*

    ” I’m so sorry for your loss- it can be hard to focus on day to day stuff, can I make you a pot of chili/casserole?”

    1. EPLawyer*

      Please don’t offer a casserole. This is a manager. let’s keep it professional.

      Someone at my sister’s workplace started talking about casseroles and religious services when we went to clear out her desk. It was sooooo awkward. At least it was me not her kids or my mother (who was not handling things well at all and should NOT have come along). So I could just murmur that we had it all covered and get away from this person as quickly as possible.

      1. Riley and Jonesey*

        For another point of view, when I had a bereavement one of my employees made me some cookies and said something similar. There was something about it that really touched me because she was so kind and sincere. So I guess it just shows different people react differently.

        1. Meep*

          It probably also depends on HOW the offer is delivered.

          I have a coworker who would make that pot of chili or casserole all about her and even crack several jokes about how difficult it was for her to make so she almost didn’t do it but how ~you~ are worth it. And no, it isn’t the “I don’t know how to handle deaths” sort of thing. She is just very, very, VERY self-centered. I know because when another coworker’s grandmother died the first thing she discussed was how said coworker needed to take it off as PTO and not to take “too much” time off.

          I was the one who got the sympathy card, made sure it was signed by everyone, and spent $200 out of my own pocket making her a comfort blanket and a gift card for food delivery for her parents to make sure they were eating. Insensitive Sally asked if she could throw $5 into the ring and then bragged about what “we” did. I was absolutely livid as all SHE did was make someone’s death about her.

          1. Betteauroan*

            Oh my. I don’t know how you resisted the urge to not throw her head through a plate glass window or door.

      2. Pixies' Dust*

        It’s very common in my organization to offer to set up a “meal train” during family emergencies, where people sign up to bring food directly to the family’s door, *if* the person wants it. “Please let me know how I can help,” is a fairly standard response, and a casserole is a possible concrete action.

        For a meal train, the person is asked whether they want food at all, what types of food people enjoy, and about family food allergies. People sign up for specific time slots so there’s not an overwhelming amount of food at any one time. Gift cards for restaurants or delivery are also part of possible sign-ups but aren’t assigned a time slot.

        “We have it covered, thanks for thinking of us,” is exactly the response that ends the meal train discussion.

        I’d expect a manager to decline, have this be top-down from the Grandboss-level, or peer-led. I assume it’s because it’s a subordinate is what the professional comment was regarding. If not, I’m not sure I follow how casseroles are unprofessional.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          My org sends some take-out gift certificates or similar when someone has a death in the family. It’s from the org not from individuals so it feels different, like the company is taking care of its own rather than one person being put-out cooking or paying for food out of their own pocket. Perhaps LW could talk to the higher-ups or HR about doing something like this; they might even do it already.

        2. Ally McBeal*

          I think the only thing about casseroles or other meal-type items (I say this to clarify that cookies would probably be fine) is that meal trains are something that family and friends manage because of the amount of labor/cost that goes into it. That’s my perspective as someone who grew up in the Midwest and South, where meal trains or even just bringing over an ad-hoc frozen meal is a very normal practice.

          1. Christmas Carol*

            As someone else who grew up in the Midwest, whenever things get bleak for those we know and/or love, we always head to the kitchen and start cooking, especially, but not exclusively, the women. It’s just what we were raised up to do.

          2. Esmeralda*

            Having been the grateful recipient of a meal train, I can say that the random pot of chili brought to the office can be meant well, but it is a giant pain in the tush. You have to get it from the office to the car (and if it’s the day you walked to work, find a place to store it at work, same thing if it’s a day you are going straight to the hospital after work), you have to get it home, you have to put the food in storage containers or give it to someone else in the neighborhood or, sadly, just throw it away if it is inedible. Then you have to clean the receptacle it came in, dry it, take it back to the office, and spend precious emotional energy on thanking the giver and assuring them that it was delicious.

            Thanks but no thanks.

            This is why the cookies are different — easy to tote, easy to give away, easy to stash in the locked file cabinet til they can be moved or disposed of secretly.

            1. Salymander*

              This is a good point. I was part of a club for stay at home parents, and we would do these meal trains that were nice for some people who like that sort of thing, or who don’t have complex food allergies or aren’t terribly introverted and irritated by people showing up at the house with food every day. Being required to show gratitude and make polite chitchat is a lot to deal with sometimes when it takes all your energy just to walk to the bathroom. I was happy to contribute meals, but hated getting the meal trains delivered to me. I found them to be a burden when I had a rather late-ish term miscarriage, and later when I was hospitalized for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I didn’t want people showing up every day, and some of the club members were really angered by that. I declined politely, before any meals were cooked or delivered, but they kept pushing in a way that made me feel like a desire to help me was not their primary motivation. Later, one of these people tried the same thing with a woman who had suffered a really horrifying loss and didn’t want the meal train because she just couldn’t deal with people for awhile. A couple of us had to get pretty shouty with some of the more pushy meal train folks before they would back off. One of them said that you have to force people to accept help even if they don’t want it. She said that she knew what was best for people because she was always the one to step up and save others from themselves. Barf.

              I mean, in a group that is more respectful of people’s wishes, a meal train might be great. But washing the dishes and getting them back to people is still a pain. Some of us in my group used to get nice but inexpensive dishes from Goodwill and use them for the meal train. Mismatched dishes at a thrift store are super cheap, and you can tell the recipient that you don’t need the dish back. In a group that does these meal trains on a regular basis, these thrift store dishes just keep making the rounds so it works out well. That way they don’t have the worry of returning all the dishes, and they don’t have mountains of takeout boxes and other trash and recycling to get rid of.

              I think bringing some cookies and/or saying, “I’m sorry. That just really sucks,” is actually a nice, low key way to let someone know you care while not making it all about you.

              1. Candi*

                “She said that she knew what was best for people because she was always the one to step up and save others from themselves.”

                What the even ever-lovin’ bleeding screwball bizarro planet did she come from???

                Someone who a normal cycle of grieving does NOT need to “be saved from themselves”. And I’ll go so far as to say that her pushiness could damage someone who was already at risk.

              2. Captain Naismith*

                Most of the meal trains I participate in specify using containers that don’t get returned. It makes so much sense that I’d forgotten it isn’t necessarily the default.

    2. Here we go again*

      I usually go with “my sympathies on your loss, is there anything I can do to help?” Pretty generic but helpful

      1. dresscode*

        Yes, I like the “Im so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” I think this is especially good for co-workers and managers, since the thing you can help with is usually work related.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Years ago, my colleague told us that her mother was terminally ill and we all asked her to let us know what we could do to help. At the next staff meeting, she thanked us for our offers and passed around a sign-up sheet on which she’s listed a number of small favors that would help her and her mother – taking and picking up the dry cleaning, staying with her mother for a few hours so that the colleague could attend religious services and so on. Those of us who could help with these things signed up for feasible days and hours; there was no pressure at all on anyone to do anything. (Yes, our “corporate culture” is flexible and supportive enough to make this slightly unusual approach to answering “What can I do to help?” perfectly normal!
          But it worked very well for my colleague and was a straightforward answer to that question.)

    3. SpaceySteph*

      For people you know personally (vs professionally) this is a really good script. Its hard when people say “let me know how I can help” for the bereaved to then ask for that help. They’re not sure if the offer is sincere vs just what people say, or to think of what kind of help they want or to know what is reasonable to ask for. They may be thinking “what i really need is X but I’m not sure they want to do that.”

      So in personal settings its great advice to offer something concrete that you want to do to help because then it gives them an idea what to ask for, and shows exactly the kind of help you’re willing to. Other things to consider offering are are “can I bring you some groceries” or “can I watch your kids for a couple hours” or “can I help you clean your house” (especially useful if they are going to be hosting a wake/shiva/etc and will have company).

      But with someone who is your boss that you only know professionally, most of these may be too personal although I do think that a plate of cookies or other easy food to hand off would not be misplaced.

  5. Former HR Staffer*

    we had an employee refuse to put her work product on the server. if we needed any adjustments, she insisted on making them and refused to let anyone else touch them. it became such a hassle, i ended up just recreating from a hard copy just to change one sentence… to avoid dealing with her (i’m a designer and also made it look better).

    she eventually saw it and was livid and complained. she thinks gatekeepting her work makes her invaluable, and that if no one else has access to her files then they can’t let her go. guess what, she got let go.

    1. Raine*

      Especially on anything confidential! Good grief, I got over the “must save everything to a corporate server” back in the late 1990s, when most everyone was used to saving it to the drive or to the floppy disk.
      I bet anything the real reason she doesn’t want anyone to see her work is because she’s not competent at it.

      1. LouLou*

        Yeah, I feel like her taking the computer INTO THE BATHROOM is so OTT that maybe her thinking is less about the company servers and more about not wanting people to see her work in progress…maybe she puts things off until the last minute or works sloppily or something similar. Either way, this is so not okay and I don’t understand how she still has a job.

            1. NerdyKris*

              Why is it everyone else has great stories but every time I open the folder marked “private”, it’s just mortgage documents and taxes?

              1. Don P.*

                You don’t it in the folder called “private”, you put it in the folder called “Driver Updates” 3 levels down. Newbie.

                1. Butterfly Counter*

                  YUP.

                  Mine used to be >Documents, ->Other class documents, –>Updates.

                  And even then, it would be initials for the fandom and the working title: xfffyeb

            2. Candi*

              Mmmm, not adult activities fan fiction as such, but years ago I knew someone who would post long, long, long, loooooooooong story posts when she was officially at work (and said so), and they did have some bedroom love scenes between characters.

              She got away with it partially because the owner adored her… then he sold the company. Bouncy bounce time from the new owners when she was foolish enough to keep it up.

            1. Ama*

              Yeah my worry (not as an architect myself but as someone who has some friends and family who are) is that she’s planning to start her own firm at some point and is possibly already laying the groundwork for that with current clients so they will all go with her when she is ready to leave.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          My complete advice column fanfic is that she’s accidentally set a nude photo of herself as the background on some aspect of the laptop (like making it a default template!) and doesn’t know how to change it back, so she has to hide all of her works in progress and only shares completed work where added a white layer and compressed it all down.

          1. BethDH*

            So obviously that’s fan fiction (and I love it), but it also reminds me how often people shoot themselves in the foot because try to cover something mildly embarrassing or silly and in the process they do something that is professionally way worse.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          That is such an absurd thing to do that I’m really curious if anyone has gotten an explanation from her as to why she’s doing it. (Or for not saving things to the server or really any of it, for that matter.) Even if the real explanation is that, idk, she’s farming her work out to randoms from Fiverr, what is her cover?? Like, the first time someone was like “Jane, why on Earth are you taking your laptop with you to the bathroom?” what did she say?? “Go fuck yourself and if you ask me again I’ll sue”?

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          Didn’t we have a story at some point about how an employee was paying some third party to do their job?

      2. Asenath*

        I once lost a day’s work when my computer crashed – it was a temporary job without a network (and a LONG time ago). I invariably saved everything to the official office servers at later jobs. I knew a few co-workers at my most recent job who STILL don’t use the servers, and save everything to their computer’s hard drive, but I think it was because they didn’t know better, or out of habit or something. This person sounds downright malicious – she’s not only preventing her employers from seeing the work they’re paying from, I bet she isn’t providing proper backups either. Boss might want to consult a lawyer just to have all the documentation and procedures from getting the laptop or its contents from her double-checked, and then fire her.

      3. Lady_Lessa*

        I save most of my work to the server, but somethings like small personal work projects, I will do it just to my desk top. Or if I get something personal that I need to deal with during work hours, but nothing else.

        I hope that LW1 finds a way to let her go.

      4. Betteauroan*

        She’s hiding something. She needs to be fired. No PiP. Just show her the door. She is insubordinate and thinks she is above the rules. And your company needs to update their handbook.

    2. Artemesia*

      I really don’t understand how #1 was allowed to pull this more than once. Yeah, she gets fired for insubordination. This is a major management fail. It doesn’t require a lawyer to manage this person and fire them. There is nothing here that is legally questionable. Just weak management (and with that owner, of course).

      1. Mongrel*

        I think there are some managers who are terrified of the concept of legal action (see also: It’s illegal to give a bad reference) and rather than see a professional, who can definitively answer the question, would rather base their decision on internet rumour and hearsay

        1. V. Anon*

          This. Fear of Lawyers is like Fear of Dentists. People will avoid dealing with simple things that could have been handled in an hour for $300. This avoidance creates an absolute nightmare that costs ten times that.

        2. All the words*

          There are a lot of managers who can manage “work” very well but absolutely will not manage staff in any way.

      2. Rich or Poor...*

        Co-signed. And you can be sure that your other employees have no respect for management for allowing this ridiculous behavior to continue.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, that attitude is baffling. People like that should be let go for insubordination, regardless of the quality of their work product.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      “she thinks gatekeepting her work makes her invaluable, and that if no one else has access to her files then they can’t let her go. guess what, she got let go.”

      Yes, I had a direct report like this once and she was a very tight gatekeeper of her work. She really thought she was irreplaceable. Guess what? She wasn’t. She figured when she rage quit we’d be completely in shambles without her. We weren’t. It was tough at first simply because she did so many (SO many) things manually rather than using the system we have to automate most all of it, which meant figuring out where the files were and even WHY she was doing half the things she was doing. But we got over the hump in a month or so. No big deal.

      1. Don P.*

        “The cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.” — Charles de Gaulle

        (I mean, don’t say that out loud, because it sounds threatening.)

    5. Gumby*

      I will admit that I have certain files that I am loath to put on the shared drive. Not because of any inability to let anyone else see them – I regularly do print them or project the files onto conference room walls – but because I have seen other people use this software and… it is not good. Small edits that you make to just fix this thing here end up affecting things that you wouldn’t expect if you aren’t quite familiar w/ the software. Using the software is not an integral part of my co-workers’ jobs and there is no reason they would need to know the ins and outs and best practices, etc. They have much more important things to do with their time. But I still don’t want to put the files where they could get at them because it would cause so many headaches.

      1. Learningfrombumblebee*

        I was thinking it might have something to do with other colleagues messing with their files but that still does not explain the “I will sue” attitude. They could save a back up on their computer hardrive but still work off the server. I second what others have said – this person is not worth keeping around and should be let go.

  6. Rachel*

    LW2 – Also Jewish. Been called the grinch many times. Christmas being everywhere for 1/6 of the year just gets under my skin, and I often also point out to friends that Hanukkah is NOT a Jewish Christmas. That Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur are the big holidays for us. I always feel like Hanukkah decorations are put out to justify Christmas decorations being out. Like they’re trying to say “see, you’re represented too so stop complaining”. But the reality is that most of us see right through it when those same institutions don’t decorate for the holidays that actually hold high importance to us. It’s all a facade and I hate it. Sorry for the rant, but I’m curious see what others say because unless I’m talking to close friends or internet strangers, I usually just shut up and take it.

    1. Sue*

      There are so many decorating options that have nothing to do with any particular religion. A library seems like an easy place to incorporate seasonal decor if the staff are so set on doing it. Snowflakes, sledders, skiers, ice skaters, cozy fireplaces-tons of winter themes that aren’t Christmas or any other religion-affiliated. Same for spring that have nothing to do with Easter.
      I see no need to decorate but if it’s done, be creative and inclusive.

      1. Jackalope*

        My one decoration that I would try to go for anyway would be lights. If I had my druthers, I’d put the lights up and keep them up year-round, not in Christmas colors but just to have twinkly lights.

        1. Susan Ivanova*

          I have a string of programmable twinkly LED lights with seasonal pre-sets – Halloween colors, patriotic red/white/blue, springtime pastels, etc. Plus whatever custom set I can come up with.

        2. It's Growing!*

          The best thing about Christmas decorations is the lights. There are many celebrations around the world that have to do with light during the short days/long nights around the Winter Solstice. December (or June in the southern hemisphere) is positively gloomy and the outside lights bring some cheerfulness as one is making one’s way home (at 6 pm!) in total darkness. I’m always sorry when they go away after New Year’s and am glad for the procrastinators who leave their lights up until Valentine’s Day or March Madness. There will be a full moon just 3 days before the Winter Solstice this year, which will provide some natural light during that darkest night, but lights on houses and lawns and trees are welcome.

          As for all out decorating a public library? Meh. Some snowflakes are OK, but this isn’t a church or gift shop where mangers and Santas are de rigueur. LW, you might suggest that a display of books on the various Solstice celebrations around the world and books on the science of the solstices and equinoxes would be more appropriate than holly and mistletoe and Santa Claus decorations. Literature around Christmas like “The Gift of the Magi” and “A Christmas Carol” and “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” as well as a plethora of winter tales appropriate to the season.

          1. London Calling*

            A lot of houses in my area have Christmas lights (three households down the road from me co-ordinate their colours and have lights in their trees, which is lovely) but last year when the UK was under lockdown over Christmas people really went all out. Lights in windows, trees, bushes by every house that could find somewhere to sling a rope of lights – they did it. Walking round the district at an especially miserable time was so cheering.

            1. londonedit*

              Where I live a lot of people will decorate their houses with lights for Diwali and leave them up for Christmas, and it’s lovely!

            2. CalypsoSummer*

              That sounds so lovely! We don’t have a whole lot of lights in my neighborhood, which I think is sad, because I love them, but for some reason a number of people have gone for those huge lumpy inflatable items that look gross. I mean, I love Snoopy, but not when he’s a 10-ft tall crude-looking balloon.

              Oh, well. Sometimes you can see the tree’s lights through a front window, and that’s pretty.

              1. New Job So Much Better*

                Agree on those inflatables– and they are even more gross in the daytime when they are a puddle on someone’s lawn.

                1. This Old House*

                  My favorite is when Santa deflates in such a way as to appear to have passed out drunk on the front lawn.

              2. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

                I will never give up my 12 ft dragon with flapping wings. He goes up at Halloween and stays up until the new year.

                1. miss chevious*

                  Do you live in my neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs? Because there is one of these a block from me right now, and he is *magnificent*!

                2. Le Sigh*

                  Inflatables aren’t really my thing, but I do enjoy the goofy ones — t-rex holding a pumpkin basket for trick or treating, unicorns and minions standing side by side at xmas, the dragon with flapping wings (which sounds excellent).

                  My true heros are my parents’ neighbors, who like clockwork have inflatables for every major U.S. holiday. I get regular text messages informing me when new ones go up, like the changing of the guard.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                Someone in my old neighborhood put up a giant Santa teddy bear inflatable. It looked ridiculous; their front yard was so small. Then we had a tornadic thunderstorm and I got a rather entertaining video through my front door of the thing blowing back and forth. I’m amazed it stayed anchored.

              4. Anon this time*

                I have family members who loooove the inflatables. Basically every holiday that comes pre-printed on an American calendar gets decorations, and Christmas, Halloween, and Easter get *multiple* inflatables. I hate it. It’s not my yard and it makes them happy (and the neighbors seem to like it-they’ve gotten lots of compliments and even a handwritten note thanking them for bringing cheer), so I let it go, but the first few times I see the finished product, I always draw up a mental meme of the School of Rock kid saying “you’re tacky and I hate you.”

                FWIW, I’m on the side of the grinchy LW. I don’t have any quarrel with Christmas itself, but resent the tyranny of Christmas for three months a year, and also have a special burning hate for Christmas music. I do, however, enjoy glitter and lights, and appreciate the pretty winter displays around Christmastime. A local business pulls out a nice winter themed train set around the holidays, and people stop by just to look at it every year. Maybe something like that would soothe the coworker’s decorating urge without invoking Cringemas vibes?

              5. SpaceySteph*

                This is the perennial debate in my house. I think inflatables are cute. My husband hates them. Not just Christmas, he won’t do the Halloween pumpkin either.

                At least part of the appeal is easy storage though. They take up almost no space in the attic.

            3. Bryce*

              Back in NM they do faralitos, paper bags with candles in them. Simple, lovely, look amazing when a whole street does them, one neighbor had a mold to make them out of ice… I miss those this time of year.

              1. Lily*

                When I was a kid living in El Paso, TX, farolitos were called luminarias and I loved them. I didn’t know they were regional until we moved. I miss them.

                1. Huttj*

                  Yeah, both the same thing. Basically used to be small bonfires lighting the way for midnight mass, then round about 1900 paper bags and votive candles got cheap via industrialization. Add in cultural blending from the Santa Fe Railroad and Chinese railway workers (chinese paper lanterns), and the form changed to the candle in bag form.

                  With the form change some areas changed the name from luminarias (lights) to farolitos (derived from lantern), others kept the older name.

                  It’s a tongue-in-cheek “argument” between various parts of New Mexico.

              2. It's Growing!*

                Our local Boy Scout troop here in N.CA sells luminarias (white paper bag with sand and a votive candle) as a fundraiser at Christmas. They sell them in units of 10 and deliver them between the 19th and 23rd for use on Christmas Eve. They’re really pretty when several people on the same street have them. Sadly, there were none last year due to COVID, but maybe this year.

          2. Doc in a Box*

            I read “mangers and Santas” as “managers and Santas” — like some sort of good cop/bad cop display.

            I used to work at a VA where there was a big ol’ Christmas tree in our clinic waiting room for most of December. Didn’t have the capital to push back, but I was so irritated — this was a government building!

            1. Threeve*

              Ooh, petition to buy Alison “askamanger” as a domain name so my mistyping still sends me to the right place!

            2. Momma Bear*

              We used to have a tree in our lobby but they haven’t done anything since the pandemic hit. I miss it. At least it’s better than the giant mints at a prior office.

              I like inflatables but currently have no yard for them.

          3. Jessica*

            ” a display of books on the various Solstice celebrations around the world and books on the science of the solstices and equinoxes” I absolutely LOVE this idea. Yes, LW, please drive your library into a solstice frenzy!

          4. BethDH*

            Totally read that as “managers and Santas are de rigueur” and laughed really hard when I caught myself. But yeah, solstice is good. And actually holly and mistletoe would be great as part of plants that are green/feed birds in the winter.

          5. TechWriter*

            We frequently leave our lights up well into the new year. Like, until March I think. It’s cold and dark here, so a bit of cheery light is nice.

            In a previous rental, the landlord started passive-aggressively turning them off at the end of January. He even asked us to turn them off citing the hydro cost (inclusive rent). My dude, they are LEDs, they are costing you pennies. We ignored this request.

            1. EPLawyer*

              Why I use solar. No energy cost (we pay our own bill anyway but I’m cheap). Last year the lights stayed up until JULY. Hubby finally took them down when we did some work on the deck. Tehy are going back up the day after Thanksgiving. With more added. If he tries to take them down, I may have to body slam him.

          6. Kate in Colorado*

            I live near ski resorts that put up the best seasonal lights that stay up from Thanksgiving until March. I love how it makes everything bright and cheery when it gets dark and cold at 5pm. Sure, they can be called “Christmas” lights, but they are there for the majority of the ski season, so it’s more seasonal thank holiday centered. 5/5 stars, highly recommend this approach!

          7. LITJess*

            Honestly by the time you get to mid-November all the Christmas books are out anyway, so a display ends up looking pretty barren. Same with Hanukkah books and the small selection of solstice books we have (The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper is a favorite in our house). So put up your holiday display and then plan a half dozen backup displays when all those books go immediately.

            Still no need for a tree, Santa, or manger in the library.

          8. PT*

            I am noticing a lot more choices in snowflake/icicle lights in stores nowadays, too. You could easily put them up as a winter decoration, especially if you pointedly didn’t take them down until February.

          1. Virginia Plain*

            I learnt recently that many Americans don’t know that we brits call these tiny lights “fairy lights” and apparently this is adorable, so if you weren’t aware this is my gift to you today!

            1. Yvette*

              We have lights we call fairy lights here too but they are much smaller than the ones I meant. Think ‘o’ as opposed to ‘O’. I meant the small Christmas lights. The ones we call fairy lights are not only tiny but the wires are very very thin. So they really appear to be floating.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Tavern on the Green used twinkly white lights year round, and with LED bulbs I’m tempted.
          (But I do like seeing stars, so I’ll put them on an “off at bedtime” timer if I do. My astronomy friends are vocal about the “residential nebula” getting worse every year.)

        4. Jaid*

          I want ALL the lights, myself. Especially now that I get home at 3/4 pm and the sun is already going down. Programable LED lights FTW

        5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Please don’t: those can cause seizures in some people with photo-sensitive epilepsy. We’re meeting a friend this afternoon, and if we stay out for more than a couple of hours, I will have to walk my partner to the subway station afterwards, so she doesn’t have to look at those pretty blinking lights.

          There’s an ever-increasing number of flashing lights and strobes outside in recent years. Using them to mark crosswalks is an actual safety feature. It’s still an annoying trade-off for people like my partner, but balancing two safety needs is very different from balancing “don’t cause seizures in passers-by” vs. “the blinking lights are pretty.”

        6. lilsheba*

          exactly! I see no problem with the lights, in fact I have string lights up in my house year round and they are my main source of lighting.

        7. lizcase*

          I have pretty purple lights that I used to keep up year round (and hope to again this year). It’s great for telling people how to get to your house – down a block, look for the house with lights.

      2. Violet Fox*

        As long as things are done all year round! Otherwise it just like looks like Christmas without saying it.

      3. Willis*

        This is what my public library does for decorations…seasonal stuff like flowers, leaves, snowflakes, etc. But only in the kids section. It adds plenty of cuteness without being religious.

        Some people really buy into the idea of a war on Christmas decorations though. I work with local governments, was working with this tiny place (like, population under 1,000) and was at their City Council meeting for a completely unrelated matter. They happened to be discussing their upcoming decorations, and felt sure that it would be legal to have a nativity scene, provided that they also had some secular Christmas decorations like a Frosty (which, isn’t he still Christmas?). But anyway, they happily decide to go forth with their nativity scene, along with some negative comments about people that may find it off putting (which would include me, although they didn’t know that). They start to talk about the cost, and their clerk tells them its like $150 per figure or something like that. They were floored and started to whittle down how many people/animals this scene would have, only to ultimately decide their town cannot afford a decent nativity. I really enjoyed the instant karma.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          I am a Christian and I also would find a city-sponsored nativity scene off putting. Our government is not supposed to be about religion. You want a nativity scene, put it up at your church or in your yard.

      4. Harper the Other One*

        This is exactly what I came to say – non-denominational wintery decorations could be a good option to say “see, we decorated” without making anyone feel excluded.

        1. H2*

          Yes, me too. To be honest, I would think it was very strange if our public library children’s section did not decorate at all. They decorate for holidays/seasons pretty much year round and it would feel conspicuously sterile to not have it. But I absolutely think that generic winter decorations are the way to go! And the bonus is that they can stay up for a lot longer—until Valentine’s Day, which is polarizing for other reasons ;)

          1. Librarian the Ninth*

            LW2 here- I agree! We do have seasonal decorations, mostly for the kids area (and made there during craft hours, right now we have lots of hand-tracing turkeys and autumn leave collages), and things like fresh flowers from a local florist in the summer.
            My coworker specifically wants a Big Special Christmas decoration, like a large tree with lights and ornaments, wreaths on the doors, “Merry Christmas” banners, staff wearing Santa hats, the works. These specifics are things that according to her, we have in storage but have not put in a few years.

            1. Salymander*

              Oh my goodness this coworker’s Christmas issues sound really tiresome. I celebrate Christmas, but I would still not want to work in such an over the top Christmas display. I definitely wouldn’t want to wear a Santa hat at work. Even so-called secular Christmas decorations are still in celebration of a Christian holiday. Maybe sticking to a more winter themed decorating scheme would appease your coworker, but in my experience people like this aren’t happy until you give in to the whole nativity scene and Christmas tree sort of thing. She will likely take your “caving” to having a winter theme as the start of negotiations, and will keep pushing for more until you are having to carefully wind your way through a massive nativity scene while dodging rogue Christmas tree ornaments just so you can do your job. Yikes!

            2. marvin the paranoid android*

              I really don’t understand this person’s perspective at all. You need your Christmas fix, you can go to pretty much any public space and be hit with a firehose of festivity. You can also go wild with, you know, your own home. Why impose it on a bunch of people who could use a break from it?

      5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        LW1: Document, document, document EVERY instance of that dingbat employee’s insubordination and refusal to follow normal job expectations. How on earth she can get away with refusing to obey supervisory instructions is beyond me, but the formal termination process should start NOW (it should have started a long time ago, but Dr. Who’s TARDIS isn’t available.) There should be the standard formal warning meetings (again, written up and placed in her file) followed by termination when (not if!) her workplace behavior doesn’t change.

        And IT needs to access her laptop NOW as well. There’s a reason why she’s so obsessively secretive about letting anyone see what she’s doing and it’s NOT because she’s cooked up a brilliant new business plan that will put your company on the international business map and make Amazon look like the corner store!

        She’s damaging your company, LW1: As Alison pointed out, by allowing her to continue this behavior you are tanking morale, and since her work necessarily suffers too she is tanking your company’s reputation with the customers. You need this employee like a jellyfish needs a pogo stick!

      6. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Great seasonal decorating ideas! I’d add snowmen and sleighs to the “secular winter fun” decorations as well.

        But I’d also suggest that the OP rein in any inclination to be a “Grinch” about ANY holiday; would they want their colleagues to grumble about or sneer at Sukkot or Rosh Hashanah, after all? No, they wouldn’t! Well, your Christian colleagues don’t want to hear you bashing Christmas, either.

        It may take time and patience to undo their colleagues’ misconception about Hannukkah being “the Jewish Christmas” but this is also an opportunity to give them some insight into your holidays. And I write this as a pagan who routinely explains to others that no, paganism is NOT Satanism and yes, Wicca is a 24/7/365 faith that doesn’t only exist on October 31st (which is the time of year when the news media hunt up Wiccans to interview for their Halloween stories.

        1. Sal*

          Deeply disagree with this, as someone who was called a grinch for saying that I appreciated that the office was changing the name of the party from the Christmas party to the Holiday party. People who call people grinches call them that when there is pushback to the idea that Christmas should not be established or elevated above other holidays or that doing so is exclusionary. “Grinches” almost never actually act grumpy about Christmas or Christmas-y things, in my experience.

          1. Usagi*

            +1! I was called a grinch because I (jokingly) mentioned to a friend/coworker it was ironic that my exJob was changing the name of our Christmas Party to Holiday Party to be more inclusive, since I’m Buddhist and don’t have any holidays to celebrate during that time (full transparency, though, I celebrate Christmas because my wife’s family is Catholic. To me it’s more a time to spend time with family, rather than a religious thing. But I’m also a theater person so I’m the one that reads the Nativity Story to the kids — I do voices). One of the HR people overheard me, and the decision was made to change the name of the party again from Holiday Party to End of Year Party. I appreciated the gesture? But I also didn’t care, frankly. Free food plus I got paid to be at a party, and what it’s called doesn’t really change any of that for me.

            But then we also had a coworker who was very religious and very vocal about it. She already was unhappy that the company was “taking away Christmas” (her words) but now it wasn’t even a holiday party?? Lemon Grab levels of unaccaptable. She made it a point to find me at my desk and (quite loudly) ask me why I had to be such a grinch. I laughed it off but my coworkers were offended on my behalf and she got a talking to by HR; she was let go soon after for various reasons, including that.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Hard disagree on this. Christmas is one day, but it is Christian hegemony that turns it into a 2 month long, in-your-face sales event, and despite the dominant culture demanding that we go along with this we don’t have to. I can be a non-grinch from December 24th to 25th, but I will grinch all I want when they’re playing Christmas music on November 3rd.

          Also nobody is going to be a grinch about Rosh Hashana because they’re not even going to know its Rosh Hashana unless they look at a really interfaith calendar. Not at all the same.

        3. Salymander*

          I disagree with this comment. I don’t think the OP is “sneering” at anything. This comment sounds like you are chiding the OP for their very understandable desire to not be forced into performative Christmas celebration by what sounds like a rather boundary crossing and irritating coworker. It seems unkind and ungenerous to criticize the OP for something like that. I think that some people who are really pushy about Christmas will call people “Grinch” just because they are less enthusiastic about an over the top Christmas display lasting 8+ weeks and including repetitive and often very religious music. Not wanting to be subjected to that is not Grinchy or sneering. And not everyone wants to have to gently educate their coworkers about their own religion and holiday traditions. That sounds really exhausting and irritating to me, and like something that does not belong at work. Much better to just keep everyone’s religious traditions out of work while still respecting their differences and trying to be flexible about time off needed for holiday observance if possible.

      7. Hmmm....*

        This is pretty standard in libraries. Christmas trees are REPEATEDLY highlighted as a pagan tradition, so I don’t see what difference they make if there’s no religious reference. It’s a federal holiday that plenty of non-religious people celebrate. It’s fine if LW doesn’t want to decorate, but there are plenty of secular ways people celebrate and decorate for Christmas.

    2. They Don’t Make Sunday*

      I’m culturally Christmas-celebrating and I hate all the Christmas crap everywhere too. LW2, you’re doing many people a favor, even some of us who happen to do Christmassy stuff on December 25. Happy holidays! ;)

      1. Ganymede*

        Yep, and *technically* Christmas doesn’t actually start till Christmas Eve. Then it lasts for 12 days.

        November isn’t Christmas

        December is Advent which is a penitential season in preparation for Christmas, and the altars in Anglican and Catholic churches are stripped for the whole month to represent this (as in Easter week). Then the fancy altar cloths come out for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

        I’m no longer Christian (except by heritage) but I do celebrate a sort of Christmas/Yule crossover with lots of traditional trappings, greenery, lights etc. I hate-hate-hate commercial 2-month Christmas and OP’s undecorated library would be balm to my soul. Maybe with some fairy lights though, which I agree are appropriate at any time of year, and make winter more bearable.

        1. London Calling*

          I started bringing in the green at Christmas – ivy, holly and any other greenery tied with ribbons, rather than have artificial decorations. Having lights this year, as well, and leaving them up to cheer up January.

    3. John Smith*

      Christian here – 1/6th of the year of in your face Christmas gets under my skin too (though in the UK its more like a third of the year). I here so many comments about a non-Christian religious festival being described as that religion’s Xmas, it’s unbelievable. I’ve even heard Diwali described as “the Muslim’s Christmas” (I know… it’s not an Islamic festival). Same with Eid al Fitr (at least people get the religion right with that one).

      A shining example of the latter is when I was waiting in a taxi firms office in Manchester for a cab during Eid. For whatever reason, taxi drivers in Manchester are mainly Muslim. The operator was obviously struggling to fill requests for cabs and came out with this line to a caller:
      “you want a taxi for six people? I haven’t even got 6 taxis mate! It’s the Muslim’s Christmas, innit!” and hung up.

      I tried to point out that the clue to determining the religion which Christmas belongs to is in the name to no avail.

      1. Hope*

        I hope that this library is able to put together a Christmas book display, as described for other festivals. That to me, as a Christian, is more meaningful than fairy lights and tinsel anyhow, and a work appropriate response.

        1. Coenobita*

          I live in a pretty diverse area (over 100 languages represented in the local school district) and I remember our library doing a “Christmas through the ages” display with books on how the holiday was celebrated in various centuries/countries. I’m a card-carrying – or, at least, congregation-dues-paying – Jew and I personally thought it was interesting! I don’t think educational institutions need to pretend that Christmas doesn’t exist, but there’s better ways to do it than decorating.

          1. fueled by coffee*

            Yes, this! Parity with what you do for other holidays is great. If you had a book display for, say, Diwali, then a book display for Christmas sounds great.

        2. Librarian the Ninth*

          LW2 here, yes, absolutely! I really enjoy putting together displays on all topics and seeing which books grab peoples’ attention and get borrowed, so I’m looking forward to that part. :)

          1. Momma Bear*

            I think that would be a great theme, maybe continue into Jan with snowmen and snow and related things, esp. in the Children’s section.

            1. Dahlia*

              When I worked at a library, I always did a soup theme in January. There’s LOTS of soup books, and a lot of diversity in them. Almost every culture makes soup. And it’s warm and cozy.

        3. EmmaPoet*

          Every public library I’ve worked at does some kind of Christmas book display, in both the adult and children’s sections.

    4. Tali*

      In many years past I have seen this exact debate here, online, in group chats, at parties, literally everywhere.
      “But why can’t I do this Christmas thing here?” someone complains. When they were young they received presents from Santa, and have fond memories of singing carols with their family.
      “Please don’t do it HERE,” beg the tired retail worker, the atheist, the non-Christian, the citizen nervous about the entrance of religion in public spaces.
      “But Christmas is secular, look, there’s no Jesus,” the Christmas-lovers counter. They have not been to church recently, but they and all their family were baptized. They have never had to go to work on a major holiday.
      “Christmas is NOT secular,” argue the devout Christian, the believers of any other religion.
      “Look, we can add a little Hanukkah,” the Christmas-lovers offer, thinking it’s an olive branch. They rely on autocorrect to get the spelling right. They don’t know what the holiday is about.
      “We don’t want that,” sigh the Jews. “We want our actual holidays respected,” add the believers of other religions, “even if they’re not in winter.”

      At this point the Christmas-lovers must realize that this will require more work and study to make everyone happy. Perhaps as they study, they will realize that there’s no need to do seasonal decorations for just one season, and that they can enjoy Christmas exactly as they like within the comfort of their home, and that white fairy lights and paper snowflakes can make a public space feel cozy in cold months even after December 25.

      And maybe if we have this debate enough times we won’t have to go around and around every year.

      1. Curly sue*

        The trouble comes when most of the secular-insisting Christmas lovers short-circuit at the point of “work and study,” and default to the far more comfortable stance of “you people are just grinches who hate fun.” And then we wash, rinse, repeat annually.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Yep. Have been there. We get told we’re fun-killers who are so MEEEN, which leaves us with the delightful choice between keeping quiet and being frustrated, or saying something and getting harassed.

      2. fueled by coffee*

        I’m so pumped to spend this year snickering in my head when Chanukah is the first week of December and people are still on about how inclusive they’re being by “celebrating” it 20 days later (of course, “celebrating” = sticking a 7 branch menorah under the Christmas tree)

        1. Anononon*

          Or how about the TV commercials where it’s clearly supposed to be Christmas morning, with the tree and the gifts and not, but it’s all cool – there’s a menorah hanging out on the sideboard in the corner. (Looking at you – Old Navy and Target.)

          1. fueled by coffee*

            I mean there are definitely interfaith families that celebrate both but I highly doubt that’s what Old Navy was aiming for.

      3. Katie*

        I love your summation of how this all plays out, esp. “They rely on autocorrect to get the spelling right.”

    5. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Not Jewish, but I agree with you. OP mentioned decorations show up after Thanksgiving…if only? I have pictures of Christmas stuff stock on the shelves beside Halloween stuff…A literal Halloween in heaven,Christmas in hell situation. Also, to the folks that mentioned it, thank you for the education about Hanukkah. I always thought it was one of the big Jewish holidays.

      1. Edwina*

        No, as the OP commenter on this thread says, it’s one of our very minor holidays. Our big holidays are Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur (our “Day of Atonement”). Yom Kippur is a very sober, serious holiday, so it’s also not appropriate to wish us a “Happy” Yom Kippur. (the usual sentiment among Jews is something like “may your fast be easy.”) And I’ll add that we wouldn’t mind Christmas if it was simply celebrated as a simple Christian holiday. It’s the endless, endless takeover of every possible media–the carols everywhere, the decor everywhere, the endless Christmas TV/movies–and, more specifically, it’s the ASSUMPTION that Christianity “rules.” That’s why we’re offended when people insist we join in the carols. Hey, the carols are awesome! We love them! (Most of them were written by Jews, which is why they’re so good haha.) But the assumption, again, that “everyone loves singing carols”–it’s so dismissive, so absolutely erasing our religion. And I’m not even a religious Jew. I can’t imagine how offensive it is to deeply religious Jews, and all the other religions it ignores.

        That’s also why the term “War on Christmas” is so offensive to us. Again, it’s saying that “no other religions can exist–any insistence that they, too, be included, will be regarded as War.” It’s deeply anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu…. anti everything but Christianity. For so many reasons it was assumed that Christianity was the default. Even now, when people talk about “movies of faith,” or use the term “faith,” they mean “Christian.” Christian is not the only faith. That’s all we’re trying to say.

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          No, it isn’t the only faith. And the ever-increasing 3-month commercial blitz is only Christmas-adjacent, and it’s as noxious to many practicing Christians as it is to non-Christians.

          “Angels we have heard on high/
          “Tell us to go out and buy!”

          That’s the spirit of Christmas? Not according to what I’ve read. And all I can do is apologize for the annual aggravation.

        2. fueled by coffee*

          Re: Chanukah as a minor holiday.

          It’s not that it’s not an important holiday (we celebrate it! It’s fun! There’s a nice story behind it and good food involved!), but that Judaism distinguishes between holidays that are mentioned in the Torah, and those that were introduced historically later. For observant Jews, the restrictions regarding what you can and can’t do are more serious on Torah holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot (don’t recognize some of those? *That’s* part of why we’re annoyed about the obsession with Chanukah over all else).

          Since the Chanukah/Maccabee story came historically after the Torah, there’s no restrictions on doing work for observant Jews, no lengthy required special synagogue service, etc. For most of us, it’s a “celebrate in the evenings” day, but not a “travel out of state to see extended family” day, because it’s not that serious of a holiday.

          But so many of us spend precious political capital at work just to be able to use sick leave for the high holidays or not have important meetings scheduled on them, that it rankles when people turn around and pretend to care about Chanukah because it conveniently falls around Christmas. It would be like if (in a US context), your employer made you work on Thanksgiving but tried to convince you that putting up decorations for Flag Day three weeks late was them caring about your cultural traditions.

          1. Biology dropout*

            Oh gosh, yes to all of this. I am religious, and I am so so tired of telling people about my holiday plans for the important holidays and getting absolutely no acknowledgment of them, but then those same people bending over backwards about Hanukkah. It’s so micro aggressive and I am so tired of it.

          2. Hiring Mgr*

            I’m Jewish, and while it’s true Chanukah isn’t as “important” as the other holidays mentioned, if an employer is making it difficult or denying you time off on RH or YK that’s a more serious issue imo

            Also, if you have kids you realize there’s no distinction in importance when presents are involved :)

          3. EmmaPoet*

            “For observant Jews, the restrictions regarding what you can and can’t do are more serious on Torah holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot (don’t recognize some of those? *That’s* part of why we’re annoyed about the obsession with Chanukah over all else).”

            THIS. I’d love to be able to take off for Sukkot, but at that point I’ve already gone through up to three days of my annual leave for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the weeks before and I can’t spend the days off. And I have to take leave, I don’t get them granted to me.

        3. Artemesia*

          You know Christmas is actually a very minor holiday in the Christian church too. It is big because of the commercialization and cultural gift giving and decor. No one even knows when Christ was born, but it surely wasn’t at the Solstice. Easter is the high holy Christian holiday.

        4. Salymander*

          I have always disliked the term “war on Christmas.” In what way is being asked to be respectful of other faiths and customs anything like the wide scale violence and misery of war?

          1. Pikachu*

            It’s this weird idea that public representation of cultures/traditions/whatever is a zero-sum game. As though any representation of non-Christian traditions will decrease the non-Christian market share.

      2. Shiba Dad*

        I’ve seen Christmas stuff in stores as early as late August, including this past August. Like, really?

        I also appreciate the education on Hanukkah.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I think it’s fine to have Christmas supplies early in craft stores, since it takes time to make decorations (and some people sell them), but everywhere else it’s just obnoxious.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Yes! Craft stores very often start selling Christmas-themed kits, supplies, directions for crafts, etc. early because it takes more time to make the finished products than it would take to buy them. People who are making their holiday decorations and gifts usually do start working on them well before December.

      3. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        A good litmus test is whether Jews are allowed to work on a given holiday. Observant ones will be out on the High Holy Days but will be at work during Hanukkah.

      4. Eden*

        Jew here and honestly I am tired of “actually Hanukkah is a minor holiday”. In terms of religious significance ​maybe! But it’s way more culturally significant to me. I’m not religious, I don’t care about Yom Kippur, but my family has always celebrated almost every day of Hanukkah with different people. I get the urge to explain it isn’t “basically Christmas” but it makes me sad that people minimize what is for me a very big, fun, important holiday. I don’t feel the need to justify my important holidays wkth religious significance.

        In Israel you get time off from school for Hanukkah just like in the US you get time off for Christmas, so my view that “it is actually kind of a big deal” isn’t unique.

        1. Ursula*

          Really the fact that Hanukkah is the holiday that’s getting pushed by Christians is pretty ironic, since it’s specifically a holiday celebrating not assimilating into the larger culture. I think it would be pretty entertaining if we were all more explicit about how Hanukkah is a “we’re not likely you” celebration, complete with explaining that we put menorahs in our windows where others can see it to to scream “THIS! HOUSE! IS! NOT! CHRISTIAN!” at everyone.

          New tagline for Hanukkah – “Hanukkah is here, F Christmas!” :D

      5. PT*

        “I have pictures of Christmas stuff stock on the shelves beside Halloween stuff”

        I have pictures of Easter candy shoved in with the Christmas candy in mid-December and Valentine’s Day knicknacks wedged in among the stocking stuffers. We just have a nine month orgy of holiday capitalism from August to April.

      6. Anonymous pineapple*

        I once walked into a local store to see the staff putting up Christmas decorations on August 3rd. I kid you not. They skipped right over back-to-school shopping, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. When I made a comment to one of them that it seemed a bit early, she rolled her eyes and said she agreed but the store manager is super into Christmas.

    6. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I was raised as a Catholic and I’ve been done with the over-decorated and over-long Christmas season for years. There is no joy in hearing modern versions of my favourite carols re-written to sell butter. A Christmas free space is a welcome respite. I am a Grinch with no interest in growing my heart.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I could have written this.

        Maybe it’s my previously having been a Christian privilege, but no one blinks twice at me for being outwardly Grinchy at Christmas around the office. I’m not about to yuck anyone’s yum, but if someone starts asking me about Christmas traditions or any major happy plans, I politely and lightly say, “Eh, it’s not my thing. I just take the time everything is shut down around here to rest, and that is lovely enough for me.”

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      Christian here (liberal Lutheran version). I am happy to volunteer to be the Grinch. Christmas is a religious holiday, beginning December 25 and lasting twelve days. All the Santa and reindeers crap is Something Else, a weird secular quasi-Christmas that combines the worst of everything, being closely enough tied to Actual Christmas to put off non-Christians while simultaneously being at best irrelevant to Actual Christmas, and more often actively subtracting from it. You can find any number of Christians who pay lip service to Actual Christmas, with this translating to going to church Christmas Eve and that is it, with these same people devoting countless hours and energy to Santa crap. And even people who like that stuff are pretty much sick of it by the time Actual Christmas rolls around. And of course Actual Christmas stuff is inappropriate for a public library.

      The irony about being called a Grinch is that the whole point of that story is that the Santa crap is irrelevant. Have these people even seen the special? I assume their having read the book is not even in discussion here.

      1. Anononon*

        This is seeming a bit “no true Scotsman” to me. I think most of the religious Christians (including Catholics) I know are super into the Santa/reindeers/elves/etc. while also considering themselves religious. Just because they’re not part of your particular sect/practice, it doesn’t make them secular in any way.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Reindeer and elves have absolutely nothing to do with Actual Christmas. This is not a matter of individual Christian sects. It is possible in principle to do both. When I say reindeer and elves have nothing to do with Actual Christmas I am not saying that they are incompatible with it, but that they or orthogonal to it.

          This rarely works in practice. Much of this is simply a matter of timing. Secular Christmas in its more restrained form lasts a month starting with a bang on Black Friday, dropping off, and then gradually becoming more and more frenetic, climaxing on December 25, after which most people collapse in exhaustion and spend the next week recovering to be ready for New Years Eve.

          This is tough competition for Actual Christmas. It begins just as Secular Christmas is culminating in its frenzy of consumerism. Secular Christmas tends to overwhelm Actual Christmas, even for those who take Actual Christmas seriously. This is why the Christmas Eve service stands out as the one successful manifestation of Actual Christmas: It doubles as a brief respite from Secular Christmas, giving people a chance to catch their breath before the frenzy of the next day. But notice that only a tiny fraction of attendees at Christmas Eve service also show up the next day, even assuming the church holds a Christmas Day service.

          1. curly sue*

            I mean, we can divide out Christmas and… let’s say, X-Mas… all we like, but both are still culturally connected to Christianity and utterly irrelevant to Judaism. Being forced to grit our teeth and smile through five/six/seven weeks of ever-expanding X-Mas may not rise to the level of forced conversions, but it’s still psychologically very difficult to navigate.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I totally agree. This was my point with “combines the worst of everything, being closely enough tied to Actual Christmas to put off non-Christians while simultaneously being at best irrelevant to Actual Christmas, and more often actively subtracting from it.”

              Here’s a different example: You can find conservative Christians who reject yoga as being a religious Hindu practice. They aren’t entirely wrong, but neither are they entirely right. A modern American doing “yoga” might be simply practicing an exercise regimen. Or they might to varying degrees adopt spiritual aspects borrowed (or appropriated, depending on how you look at it) Hinduism. A conservative Christian denouncing an exercise regimen as pagan is more than a little ridiculous.

              How do actual Hindus regard westernized yoga-as-exercise-regimen? I don’t know. I have never thought to ask. It would not surprise me if they found it annoying.

          2. Anononon*

            Here’s the issue though that you’re still not getting: “Secular Christmas” is an oxymoron, and it’s pretty darn offensive to try to argue that it’s not.

            Also, once again, it really sounds like you’re imposing your specific Christian religious beliefs all ALL Christians. I know tons of Christians who absolutely feel that participating in “Secular Christmas,” as you call it (ugh gag), is participating in “Actual Christmas.” There is no separation.

            1. pancakes*

              I looked up the date because I wanted to be a little more precise than guessing it’s been around 15 years, and US Christians have been railing against the idea of a “war on Christmas” since 1999, though the idea only caught on in a big way in 2005. That’s sixteen years! If there are two separate holidays happening someone ought to let them know.

            2. Eden*

              I am Jewish, don’t celebrate Christmas, but find it pretty clear they’re using “secular Christmas” to mean “christmas as it’s celebrated by the non-religious masses”. I get annoyed when people say Christmas is secular in general but that doesn’t seem to be what they mean.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                Yes. This. Yes there is overlap. Observant Christians might do some of that stuff as well. But they are different things.

              2. Anononon*

                But, generally speaking, the non-religious masses (at least in the US) still have a Christian background. As a Jewish atheist, I really don’t appreciate being looped in the masses of people who celebrate Christmas (because it’s not my culture, so I don’t, despite not being religious).

                1. Eden*

                  They didn’t at all seem to be implying “secular Christmas” is universal, just differentiating it from explicitly religious customs. Both are of course culturally Christian, but that doesn’t mean “secular” in inherently inaccurate.

                  To your addition of “Sorry, to add, if you don’t actually mean “secular” then don’t say “secular”!!!”

                  “Secular” doesn’t mean “not Christian”. It means not religious. Just like us atheist Jews have secular Jewish traditions, cultural Christians also have secular Christian traditions.

          3. This Old House*

            Another religious Christian here, and while I’m right there with you being annoyed about the omnipresence of “Secular Christmas” to the extent that it makes it difficult to focus on the Incarnation, it’s pretty irrelevant to this discussion. It’s not really the same thing at all as being surrounded by any version of Christmas as a religious minority.

      2. I edit everything*

        I absolutely agree. My dad always argued that Christmas shouldn’t be a national holiday–it should be exclusively religious. The additions to Christmas–reindeer and Frosty and crappy Christmas pop songs and the devil Elf on the Shelf–only detract from Actual Christmas and make the whole thing more secular, but not secular enough.

        Christian holidays are the festive equivalent of manspreading, taking up more space than they’re entitled to and making everyone else uncomfortable.

      3. Texan In Exile*

        Yes! When I was a kid, we never even put our tree up until just before Christmas Eve! And we didn’t take it down until the Feast of the Epiphany (which, IIRC, is a holy day of obligation).

        It was always a bit annoying to have to get to Midnight Mass so early – but we had to, otherwise there would be no place to sit because the place was full of the C&E folks who treated the whole thing as just another part of the season, like watching Charlie Brown and the Grinch on TV.

      4. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Having read the book and seen the animated movie, I agree completely – the whole point was that the Grinch could NOT ruin the holiday because the presents and feasting weren’t what it was about in the first place! And the same could be said of all the other winter holidays celebrating the return of light, hope in deepest winter and the promise of renewed life in the spring.

      5. Pikachu*

        The “non-religious” parts of Christmas are literally because early Christians adapted pagan traditions to aid in conversion. Winter and spring festivals (Christmas and Easter) far pre-date Christianity. As Eddie Izzard says, there were no bunnies on the hill. There is also next to no evidence that Jesus was born in the winter at all. It’s a weird coincidence that the Romans believed December 25 was the birth date of Mithra, and some Pope decided to make the same day the birth date of Jesus.

        I don’t know how you can differentiate “Actual Christmas” without at least addressing that quite a few of these traditions were co-opted by early Christians themselves.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This is mostly urban legend. Go over to History for Atheists and search of the holiday of your choice. Tim O’Neill, himself an atheist, has no patience for bad history and has done yeoman work.

    8. Love WFH*

      I was raised Christian, and love Christmas with the family gathering, trees, lights, cookies, etc.

      But there a lot of annoyances! I’ve always thought it must be irritating for people to deal with the downsides who don’t get the upsides, too.

      I shudder at the repeating music in stores and the mad crush of shopping. When my local grocery chain was “super stores” that sold lots of things besides groceries, the parking lot would be full of Christmas shoppers making it tough to just buy some milk and eggs. I used to have a mall located between my job and work, and my commute would be a nightmare from mid-November through January.

      People take a week or even two off, and you can’t get anything done at work. Some companies even shut down and you have to use your PTO. I’ve always thought it must be irritating for folks who’d much rather take time off for their family holidays to be stuck doing it at the coldest, darkest time of the year.

      1. Pixies' Dust*

        I’m taking lots of time off because I can’t roll over past the new year. If organizations would stop tying leave to the calendar year, I’d be extremely happy to be around when no one else is! I get so much done when I’m not interrupted…filled with longing just thinking about it.

        1. Shiba Dad*

          I’ve found that the week between Christmas and New Years to be extremely productive too. That said, my wife likes taking that time off and the way the holidays fall this year means that I’ll only need to take 3 vacation days to have the whole week off.

        2. RegBarclay*

          Personally I always wanted to take my time in Jan/Feb/Mar since it’s a slow time in the industry, as well as dark & cold where I am, but I can only carry 1 week PTO into the new year. I don’t know why my work doesn’t just change the rollover date to encourage people to take time during the slow period and not conflict with people who specifically want time in December off.

    9. Saraquill*

      I belonged to my public middle school choir. Come the year end season we learned lots of Christmas songs and one or two Hanukkah songs. While performing was fun, and missing school to go on singing field trips was even better, I was still aware of the representation imbalance. It also would have been nice to learn Kwanzaa (I’m Black, and I wasn’t the only one in the group,) Solstice, New Year, and other seasonal music.

      This is a long winded way of saying I agree the Christmas hegemony is strong. Throwing in a couple of token Hanukkah mentions doesn’t make things even.

    10. fish*

      OP2–thank you! Also Jewish and really appreciate someone standing up against the almost automatic impulse to Christianize every space.

      I hear all the time “Christmas isn’t religious! It’s for everyone!” Ahahahaha tell me you’re a product of Christian hegemony without telling me…

      1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Shout it from the rooftops! I cannot count the amount of times I’ve gotten, “It’s for everyone! Santa has made it secular! How else will you experience the joy and magic!”

        I understand that for many people, Christmas is a time of joy and togetherness, and they’re adamant about ensuring that others feel the same warmth. But I don’t want to feel Christmas warmth? I don’t desire to assimilate. Passover is joyous and you get to shout “HAGAFEN” every five minutes. Hanukkah is FRIED FOOD WEEK. On Rosh Hashanah, I have lekach and fancy scotch. Ashkenazim have so many rich and lovely traditions that I’ve never wanted for anything. Except learning more about what Sephardim and Mizrahim do, and of course, not being pitied for ‘missing out.’

          1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

            Omg yes, Purim. Cookies that may or may not symbolize cannibalism depending on interpretation, raucous noise making, costumes, and the unfairly vilified Queen Vashti. Purim is great.

          2. Jessica Ganschen*

            Yes!! I just finalized my conversion last year, so thankfully I haven’t yet had a whole lot of people going, “But aren’t you SO SAD that you don’t get to do Christmas anymore?!?! Don’t you MISS IT SO MUCH?!?!” If anybody does, however, I’m ready, willing, and able to fire back, “Aren’t you SO SAD that YOU don’t get to do Purim?”

            1. Allegra*

              I finalized my conversion this year! Mazel tov :D
              (and am still doing gift exchanges etc. with my nuclear ex-Catholic family who celebrate Christmas, but obviously people’s mileage may vary. I am getting them to do Jewish holidays and festivals with me and they’re very into it.)

        1. Here we go again*

          As a Christian I’m not into Santa. Even with a small child. I think he dilutes the meaning of Christmas and makes it too commercial. And working in retail that makes Christmas feel too much like work. I talk more about the birth of Christ than I do about Santa with my son. Instead of Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve we make birthday cake. I don’t tell him Santa presents (other people do). I tell my son we give presents of Christmas because Christ has everything he could need or want in heaven.

        2. Biology dropout*

          Oh yes, I have been told I am “depriving my children” by not doing Santa. Come on, they are definitely not deprived! We celebrate at least one holiday a week (we do Shabbat plus pretty much all the other holidays). I am so sick of the micro aggressive “everyone should do Christmas/Santa, I’m not even religious and I do” thing.

          1. Salymander*

            People can be really weird and aggressive about holidays, especially the ones they associate with children. Even the non-holiday but similar stuff like the tooth fairy gets a lot of bizarrely strident preaching from some folks. My kid always thought that the tooth fairy was creepy. Why do they want all those teeth? Why do they have to creep into a child’s bedroom and get the teeth from under the pillow of a sleeping child and exchange it for money? Why can’t the tooth fairy just buy the teeth online? These are all questions my child asked at age 5-6. She always refused to leave her teeth for the tooth fairy, and still has all of them in a little box that she used to keep hidden just in case the tooth fairy got any funny ideas. She started talking about it at school, which opened up a giant can of worms. You would have thought I was depriving my kid of food and water judging by the way a few of the wackier parents at her school talked about it. A few of them gave us tooth fairy books, a tooth pillow, a tooth fairy figurine, and other random crap in an effort to convert us. They got preachy and insulting about the freaking tooth fairy. It was like I had insulted them personally by not forcing my kid to allow a stranger to creep into her bedroom while she was asleep and feel around under her pillow for lost teeth.
            And that was just the tooth fairy! I can only imagine the ridiculousness a person would have to put up with if they did not celebrate Christmas! People can get really awful about things like that, and it is too much to expect anyone to put up with every year for 2-3 months. Or at all.

            1. fueled by coffee*

              Hahaha I’m cracking up at the idea that having teeth available for sale online is somehow not creepy.

              But I can confirm as a Jewish child that it’s super annoying to be under strict orders under penalty of a time out to NEVER EVER say anything to possibly imply that Santa isn’t real.

              Also, it took me until I was a teenager to realize that “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus” was because the dad dressed up as Santa and not because the mom was having an affair.

              1. Salymander*

                Yeah my kid had some hilarious questions about the tooth fairy, including when she wondered why the kids who lost teeth couldn’t sell them online, and the tooth fairy could buy them and have them shipped to her. My kid had the whole tooth supply chain mapped out in detail.

                Then, she read the book about the tooth fairy that one well meaning busybody gave her (while volunteering at the school and without asking me first), where the tooth fairy builds houses from the teeth. The teeth were bricks. My kid was so freaked out by that.

                It really is just crap the way people who do not celebrate Christmas have Christmas crammed in their faces for 2-3 months a year, while having their own traditions and beliefs ignored or disrespected. My cousins are Jewish, and it was always tough for them to have to pretend about Santa, and all the rest of the pile of Christmas stuff they had to deal with. My dad was always super preachy about it, to an embarrassing degree. I knew that Santa wasn’t real pretty early on, but I had to pretend, both because my younger sister still believed and because I knew my cousins might get the blame. And it totally wasn’t their fault, I was just a nosey kid and figured it out while snooping for my presents.

        3. Texan In Exile*

          I especially loved the Jewish holidays when I belonged to the JCC. I’m not Jewish but they allowed non-Jews to join for the gym and indoor pool. They closed for the holidays, which I always felt was God telling me it was OK not work out.

    11. fish*

      Also: not actually serious suggestion but: really lean into it and make a big deal of celebrating the true meaning of Hanukkah: armed resistance to the cultural, religious, and military supremacy of the dominant religious group of its day. That should make your coworker suitably uncomfortable.

    12. Oodles of Noodles*

      I would think it skews regionally. I’m from the South, and I went my whole life without ever *meeting* a Jewish person until I moved to Florida. They were something that existed in movies. There’s a community around in my home city, but it’s very very small.

      Generally I think the userbase for this site skews towards the coasts, but for the interior of the country most people don’t consider other religions holidays because, for the most part, other religions don’t exist or are extremely in the minority.

      1. fish*

        I don’t understand—are you saying that being respectful and inclusive towards Jews doesn’t matter if there aren’t many Jews?

        Because as a Jew from a small place, I can assure you that recognition and inclusion matters to Jews—*especially* in these cases.

        You even said your hometown has a Jewish community! Even if you’d never bothered to meet them, should they not be given consideration by a public institution like a library?

        1. Artemesia*

          The US south is a hard place to be if you are not a protestant Christian. My husband’s Catholic family was the only one in the country in southern GA and they had to drive about 40 miles to the nearest Catholic church when he was a child. They finally gave up and moved to South Bend when he was 10. As a freethinker who did their career in the south, I was continuously asked about my ‘church home’ or ‘where I was churched.’ When my son was very young and asked his religion he knew that his father’s family was Catholic and so said ‘Catholic’ (although we were not); he was immediately told by the other kids that that meant he ‘wasn’t a Christian.’ The same darling children created a barricade on our street of bikes and trikes to ‘keep the Jews from walking down our street’ when people from the nearby synagogue were using our street to approach a creek for rituals of Rosh Hashanah.

      2. pancakes*

        This is funny because I’m from and on the east coast and tend to think this site skews middle America.

        I really dislike and disagree with the idea that American Christians can only grasp the reality that their culture isn’t dominant everywhere by personally meeting people from other backgrounds. It’s been many hundreds of years since people were limited to only becoming familiar with the little area they were born in. That started to change in a big way with the invention of the printing press. Living in a homogeneous or semi-homogenous place doesn’t mandate incuriosity and insularity.

        1. Oodles of Noodles*

          Now I’m interested if Allison has that’s level of metrics for the site to see where most people are from, or if it just comes from a general feel of the commentariat.

          1. pancakes*

            I used to have a rink-dink WordPress blog (and a blogspot blog before that) and it’s really easy to see where traffic comes from. The commentariat is probably a much smaller group, though, and not necessarily representative. Years ago when the Guardian did a study of its readership (in the millions) they found that less than 1% commented regularly. I think that’s generally true of sites that host comments.

      3. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        I’m confused…you just said there IS a Jewish community in your home city, you just hadn’t met them. Is it really odd to think that people would consider the needs of people in their community that they haven’t met? They “exist” even if people don’t know them personally, and there’s a chance they feel alienated by “Christmas only” decorations. Why not aim for inclusion no matter how small the minority is?

        1. Oodles of Noodles*

          ~9,500 Jewish people in a city of 1.5 million, or 00.6% of the population. As far as inclusivity goes, you’d get reach a larger population if you decorated for Tet, and how many people get upset because Tet isn’t recognized by the overall population?

          All I was saying was that I suspect it’s regional, and I reckon most people live their lives with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ outlook.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Nearly 10,000 people isn’t a small amount, though, even if it’s a small percentage. Those people still deserve to be seen. And hey, yes, you should also recognize lunar new year.

            1. pancakes*

              I agree. I also don’t see why “I personally haven’t seen anyone upset that we don’t” should be the guiding principle there. That’s pretty solipsistic.

          2. American Job Venter*

            and how many people get upset because Tet isn’t recognized by the overall population?

            Maybe the people who are annoyed by Tet being ignored figure that none of the people in power will listen to them if they say anything, especially if they see people from the majority explain why another small religious population isn’t worth taking notice of.

          3. Observer*

            ~9,500 Jewish people in a city of 1.5 million, or 00.6% of the population

            And those ~10K .6% of the population are being put on notice that they don’t exists or are NOT welcome. You’re ok with that?

            s far as inclusivity goes, you’d get reach a larger population if you decorated for Tet, and how many people get upset because Tet isn’t recognized by the overall population?

            So, you’ve got a significant Vietnamese population, and you don’t recognize THEIR holidays either?

            The problem here is not that you are not putting up Chanukah decorations, as others have note multiple times. It’s the assumption that everyone is Christian and celebrates Christmas. You claim that it’s ok to do that because “Jews are a teeny tiny minority”. That’s bad enough by itself. But the really big issues here is that you have other non-Christians as well, and you are ignoring their existence too. In other words, it’s not *Jews* that you are ignoring, but ANYONE that isn’t Christian.

            On the one hand, it’s nice to know that it’s not actively antisemitic per se. But it IS disturbing to see someone defending the wholesale dismissal of the presence, almost existence, of a non-Christian minority.

          4. fueled by coffee*

            Yes, I agree that there are definitely certain regions in the country that are more or less prone to include other religious traditions aside from Christianity in decorations on public property. Here’s the other thing about inclusivity, though: it’s not just about seeing that non-dominant holidays are also recognized; it’s also about recognizing that culturally dominant holidays are not universal.

            I’m all for Christmas decorations on private homes and Christmas-themed drinks being sold in restaurants (peppermint is delicious!). I’m supportive of a book display or decorations to recognize a holiday, in the same way other holidays are recognized. But when Christmas-decorating extends into elevating Christmas above all other holidays, it becomes grating. Just because there are small numbers of non-Christians in some regions doesn’t make it appropriate to treat Christmas as the One True Tradition in public spaces (especially government institutions, like public libraries in the US). LW’s question is about her coworker complaining that their workplace is treating Christmas *equivalently to all the other holidays.*

          5. bureaucratte*

            You could solve the “we don’t decorate for Tet either” “problem” by… not decorating for specific holidays and (in a library!!) offering books about and by alll sorts of different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

      4. ThatGirl*

        There are many people of Jewish, Muslim and other or no faiths in middle America. I fear you might not be looking hard enough.

        And the fastest way to feel “othered” in a smaller town is to have people not even realize you might exist. Inclusivity isn’t just for when you know non-Christian people are around! Just like using gender-inclusive or non-racist language isn’t only for when you have a known audience…

        1. Texan In Exile*

          I live in Milwaukee and worked in an office of 250 people. There were two Iranians (one of whom was Jewish), many Indians, one Cameroonian, two Egyptians, a Russian, a Mexican, and two Bosnians.

          I don’t mean people whose ancestors came from those places – I mean immigrants from those countries. And those are only the people I knew personally. There could have been others.

          I don’t think of Milwaukee as particularly diverse, but that’s a pretty good sampling of other countries.

          (I talked myself blue in the face trying to get HR and the entertainment committee to stop it with the Christmas party and decorations and focus on World Winter Celebrations instead.)

      5. Observer*

        but for the interior of the country most people don’t consider other religions holidays because, for the most part, other religions don’t exist or are extremely in the minority.

        Thanks for proving the point that so many of us are making!

        There are VERY few places in the US where the population is 99% Christian (religiously or culturally). But there ARE places where non-Christians ARE the minority. And it’s very, very alienating when their very existence is erased.

        According to you, if someone is in the minority, it’s fine for spaces that are intended for EVERYONE actively exclude them or erase their existence. Because “everybody” REALLY means the majority.

        I hope that you don’t really mean that, and that you just haven’t thought through the implications of what you are saying.

      6. Biology dropout*

        Midwestern Jew here, and yes, we were in the extreme minority (as kids we were usually bullied around Easter too, and sometimes year round just for funsies). However, this should be a reason for public institutions like schools and libraries TO educate about religious minorities, not just pretend they don’t exist because they are small.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Same here. This is why our library does children’s holiday displays for all different holidays, from Eid to Holi to Sukkot. We want to normalize seeing these holidays, not ignore them because we don’t “have to” see them.

      7. GoCards*

        I’m Jewish, I grew up in Kentucky, and I basically hate Christmas because of how it’s been shoved down my throat all my life! We exist!

      8. Ev*

        This is all the more reason that a place in your community like the public library absolutely should *not* decorate for Christmas. The public library is for everyone, not just the majority culture. The staff there should be working to make that clear. It should not become yet another place where the one Jewish/Muslim/pagan/etc in town is shown they’re not welcome.

        I also work in a small-town library in a majority Christian area, am the only non-Christian working at my branch, and have to have this conversation with my coworkers every year (made worse by the fact that my library is located inside a community center than has no such compunctions about decorating). It sucks that I have to keep doing it but it’s important.

        1. American Job Venter*

          Ugh. I send you strength for a yearly tradition you should not have to participate in in the first place.

      9. Salymander*

        But isn’t it possible to be respectful of people even if those people are in a minority? I certainly hope so.

    13. Beth*

      I am SO SICK of twee commercial Xmas decorations, canned twee Santa music, and all the rest of the nonsense, that I would regard a library with none of it as a welcome sanctuary.

      I’ve taken to wearing earplugs if I have to shop any time after October, just so I don’t have to hear the muzak.

      PS. Not Jewish (raised Unitarian, now pagan). My bosses are, and we don’t do holiday decorations in our office, and I love it.

    14. LKW*

      I can’t recall the number of times I’ve had to explain that Hannukah is a minor holiday and one of the many “They tried to kill us and they failed… let’s eat!” holidays celebrated through the year.

      Then I like to dig into the donuts versus latkes divide so they know what’s really important about the holiday (and it’s latkes, but I’m not averse to donuts).

      1. cutty sark*

        Ahh, but you’re missing the real sectarian split that can led to family schisms worldwide – sour cream, or applesauce?

      2. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Where do blintzes fall into that spectrum? Or is it just my family that fries the hell out of a cheese blintze and calls it Hanukkah food? Personally, I prefer latkes because I’m the savory sort, but I will never turn down sufganiyot.

        1. cutty sark*

          We do blintzes at Shavuot (along with cheesecake and a lot of Lactaid pills), but I can 100% get behind adding them to the Hanukkah menu as well.

        2. Jessica Ganschen*

          I’m really into the idea of someday hosting a Chanukah party where all of the foods are fried, but nontraditional: tempura, jalapeno poppers, (vegetarian/parve) corndogs, etc.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            I have done this. The majority of my friends are not Jewish but we bought a deep fryer and invited everyone over one year and invited them to bring “something to fry.” A friend from Mississippi brought a bunch of random state-fair type stuff so we did Oreos and mini snickers bars and corndogs. I of course made latkes as well on the stove in the olive oil, and some donut holes as well for a little bit of tradition.

            My other favorite Hanukkah tradition is to do nachos one night. Nobody said the fried stuff couldnt be a tortilla chip!

          2. Emby*

            my friends do that! they registered for a deep-fryer just for that reason! fried pickles, fried oreos, various fried veggies, fried “oh, we should use up that thing in the fridge”. and since they have a nice patio, we can all still enjoy even with covid!

    15. Here we go again*

      What about seasonal decorations? Like a generic snowman for winter, fall leaves and pumpkins for fall, tulips for spring and beach ball for summer. I can see doing something festive for a children’s library. But keep it simple.

    16. Gracely*

      I celebrate Christmas, but I really don’t like how Christmas shows up the day after Halloween and dominates everything. I love Christmas music, but I’m also picky about what I like, and most of the stuff you hear playing in public is awful and shouldn’t be inflicted on the staff working in stores. I’d rather choose my own music that I listen to at home/in the car/not blasting to everyone.

      I much prefer winter decorations–I’ve decorated with snowflakes and lights at my house for over a decade precisely because I can keep them up through February. Paper snowflakes are easy, cheap, and not dangerous to pets (I like the smell of a Christmas tree, but the hassle of it putting it up combined with cats puking after eating it means I tend to just get a pine wreath that I hang out of reach of the kitties). Plus, the blue/white/silver/wood-brown color scheme of winter is much prettier to me than the red/green/gold mashup of Christmas.

      I would love to see decorations for other holidays year round instead, especially the holidays that are actually important to people. I really hate that Christian holidays are always seen as/made the default.

      1. PT*

        Yes, this. I LOVE Christmas, but 24-7 Christmas is just going to ruin it. Christmas is fun because it is special.

        And the last few years of just-in-time production combined with supply chain challenges meaning “buy it early because once it’s sold out it’s sold out until next year!” means I’m doing some of my holiday shopping in October and November, is just ruining things and making the season stressful and not fun.

  7. RJ*

    I’ve worked in design/engineering for over 20 years and this is insane. OP, if your company doesn’t step up and seek legal advice, IMO she’s going to claim the work she’s done is her own through whatever loophole she and her husband think justify her actions. Get advice now or she’s going to walk away with Goddess knows how much work that your company will never be able to reclaim.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And that’s assuming that she doesn’t drive the from under by chasing off clients who want nothing to do with an architectural firm that has only ONE person who can answer any question about their project.

      Or kill the firm by driving off all the normal employees, leaving you only copies of her.

    2. Orora*

      This was my thought, too. This is more than a paranoid employee being insubordinate. The firm needs to protect their IP rights in this situation. Legal fees are definitely worth the price.

  8. Ginger Baker*

    When my main boss had a parent pass away, I emailed him to express my condolences but also added that I would a) let people know he would be out of pocket for a while and b) aggressively cleared and rescheduled items in his calendar. I know he found that very helpful.

    (I also coordinated both a card (from a bunch of folks) and a food basket (from several his-level-peers, my contribution being the legwork) but I have an 8-year-history with him so obviously different than a new hire.) (OH, possibly HR might be good to loop in if they would usually send something – I did that also and that would apply regardless of tenure as it’s from the company vs you personally.)

    1. Ganymede*

      I don’t quite know what you mean by him being out of pocket here – to me that means having less money, which might be an odd thing to share..?

      However, I do think it is a good deed to be the one who spreads the news of a death so that the person grieving doesn’t have to (as long as it’s appropriate and with the person’s consent). I remember very clearly my Dad going over to our neighbours, having seen an ambulance there in the morning and having heard no news. Our neighbour answered the door and had to tell him her son (well known to us all) had unexpectedly passed away. My mother immediately went round to our other closest neighbour to tell her – this lady said “Oh I know, isn’t it awful, but I was too upset to come and tell you”! So the poor bereaved mother was unnecessarily accosted.

      An occasional colleague of mine passed away a couple of days ago and a mutual colleague rang me specially, even though the death was expected. It was much appreciated.

      1. Jessica*

        While “out of pocket” does mean money (like an out-of-pocket expense), there’s another colloquial usage you might not be familiar with, Ganymede. You can speak of a person being “out of pocket” meaning that they’re temporarily unavailable/unreachable, or you can’t catch up with them or don’t know where they are. I’m pretty sure that’s what Ginger Baker meant, in the context that work colleagues might not be able to reach Bereaved Boss for a while.

        1. Ganymede*

          Ah I see, thanks! I’m completely unfamiliar with that usage – it would absolutely refer to money in a UK setting.

          1. Elle*

            It’s a reference that comes from American football (as far as I’m aware) so it makes sense it’s not used in the UK.

            1. Artemesia*

              I have always assumed it meant the person was not in a reachable place, living out of their pocket (like living out of a suitcase) and not with the usual supports and communication resources they usually have. Someone is for example ‘out of pocket’ when traveling. I had never thought about it in a football context and it never has anything to do with money in my experience.

              A good example of how use of a metaphor can bring confused meaning. (another one is ‘belly up’ — the phrase means ‘to take responsibility’ to me as in ‘belly up to the bar’ — step up — but to some people it means you should ‘go belly up’ i.e. quit and two people using it in different senses can really majorly miscommunicate.)

              1. Don P.*

                From the US: I’ve never heard “belly up” without “to the bar”, and/or with your meaning. Note the song from Unsinkable Molly Brown:

                Belly up, belly up to the bar, boys
                Better loosen your belts
                Only drink when you’re all alone or with somebody else

          2. Marillenbaum*

            And there’s the AAVE meaning, which refers to someone doing or saying something inappropriate. For instance, if OP4 said to her boss “Don’t cry about your loss–they’re in a better place” while aggressively hugging said boss, that behavior would be wildly out of pocket.

          3. turquoisecow*

            I think I understood it to mean that Boss is away from a computer for an extended period of time and is only potentially reachable by phone – which they keep in their pocket. They may answer calls or emails but since they’re not at a computer any sort of response requiring access to files or any kind of program is not likely to be possible. I usually see it used when people are traveling or on PTO or at a conference. They’re available for urgent questions but not going to be much help since they’re working off the phone that’s in their pocket.

    2. WellRed*

      Please don’t loop in HR. It’s up to the employee, who is a manager, when they want to share. At any rate, if they need time off or bereavement, that will probably clue in HR. It’s also likely the manager’s own boss would take care of this. At least, if they are not clueless.

      1. Lizzo*

        +1, and if the grieving employee would like to dispatch anyone (including you, OP) to tell others the news so that they don’t have to, **let them tell you to do it.** You can offer, too, but please get their explicit approval before taking action. I made phone calls on behalf of my mother when my father died, but it was to a specific list of people who we could count on to express their support and condolences appropriately, i.e. not push in and try to be “helpful” in the aftermath. That would create more work for the grieving person, trying to manage others’ emotions.

    3. LKW*

      This. First and foremost – no matter how much time you’ve had to prepare… you’re never really prepared. And if you’re not a wreck, then you’re the one holding stuff together because other family members are a wreck. Work issues are simply not important at that moment. Having team members take care of things and bat issues away or defer them it so, so helpful.

      Second, while at work you normally don’t share intimacies, I will be the first to say: Telling your team, colleagues, clients, whomever know that someone has suffered a loss is good. It ensure that everyone knows to treat this person gently for a short amount of time while they deal with their grief. Short amount can be a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Grief often takes a lot longer, but we’re adults, we know that we have to compartmentalize. But in those first few weeks, compartmentalization is hard. I don’t remember anything from the month following my dad’s death. I looked at my work product a couple of months later and it was good, but I had no recollection of doing the work. I was on total autopilot.

  9. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    OP1, it sounds like this look has the whole office running scared. I think one more attempt is worth it to get you bosses to see reason, because she keep running the office she’s going to drive away good employees and eventually also clients. Honestly a few hours with a lawyer to look over termination paperwork is far, far cheaper than replacing employees that she runs away and clients that are unwilling to put up with her refusal to save work securely.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Sorry, autocorrect got me. The “joys” of posting on a mobile.

      That first line was supposed to read “it sounds like this KOOK has the whole office scared.

  10. Magenta Sky*

    LW #1: The only sensible response to “my husband is a lawyer” is “here’s the contact information for our lawyer.”

    The employee isn’t the real problem, the owner is. He’s put someone who is deliberately sabotaging the company in charge.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Weird – this posted below, meant it to land here.

      I think the true problem is that fear of legal issues are paralyzing the owner. This owner could well find that fear leaving him with just the “problem coworker” though if he doesn’t master his fear and take action.

      Wonder if she has already driven other employees away or caused them to loose projects yet?

    2. Lilo*

      This letter is a.prime.example of why you can’t be scared into inaction when someone mentions suing. Anyone can threaten to sue and can file a suit. But the cost of keeping in a bad employee adds up quickly compared to the cost of legal representation and advice. You can’t give in when she’s clearly got no leg to stand on.

    3. V. Anon*

      And if it was my company, I’d set my lawyer on looking into any grounds to disbar the guy. Lawyers that let their spouses use their profession to threaten others tend to have a long list of enemies just itching to help bring them down if a good opportunity comes up.

      1. Orora*

        Not to mention that the “lawyer husband” might be a tax attorney or real estate attorney and know virtually nothing about employment or intellectual property law, except what they remember from law school 20 years ago.

        Next time this employee says, “My husband is a LaWyEr!!” I’d be tempted to respond, “That’s nice. My brother is an accountant. What’s your point?”

        1. Magenta Sky*

          All this assumes there actually *is* a husband. Given how whackadoodle she seems to be, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          In fairness, there is no way to know whether lawyer husband even knows his wife is threatening her employers with him, let alone consented to such lunacy. All we know is what she says, and I wouldn’t trust her further than I can throw a camel.

          My father, who practiced law for almost fifty years, used to keep a sign on his wall that defined a lawsuit as “a machine into which two parties go as pigs and come out as sausages.” (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary) He said it sometimes helped him do the biggest part of his job, which was persuading people not to sue when they didn’t have to. Still didn’t always work, so I’m not necessarily going to assume that this guy could persuade his wife that she has no case, even though she clearly has no case.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        There’s no reason to believe a) that the husband *is* a lawyer, or b) that he knows what his wife is doing with it if he is.

        The response of “here’s the contact info for our lawyer” is more calling her bluff than anything else. When she realizes that a) you’re taking her claim seriously, and b) know how to respond to it, odds are, that will be the end of that (with a decent chance she’ll just quit when she realizes she can’t play her games any more).

        And if she isn’t bluffing, well, odds are her husband will . . . straighten her out. And if not, then, yeah, let your lawyer deal with him, including the complaint to the bar association. Most lawyers take a *very* dim view of such behavior.

  11. IWorkInIT*

    LW #1 – if she connects to the network, IT people should be able to access her computer remotely and start copying the files. Someone this crazy may decide to delete everything if she feels cornered or is fired. Additionally, personal PCs should be backed up to a network share automatically to prevent data loss but I understand that’s not feasible for all businesses.

    1. Not Today*

      If they’re that resistant to paying for a couple hours of legal advice, I highly doubt they shelled out for in-house IT staff.

        1. pancakes*

          It wouldn’t be free of charge and it would require some effort to arrange, though. Arranging it would require ownership to acknowledge that there’s a problem here that they need to take action on.

    2. Trek*

      IT can also prevent her from saving items to her computer’s personal drive thus forcing her to save items to the shared drive only or not save any work. I’m wondering how much work she is actually doing. My guess is not a lot.

      1. Windchime*

        That’s my guess, too. She’s not letting anyone have access because there is nothing for her to show. Years ago, ex-job hired a contractor to do some work on a custom, in-house program we had. The contractor wasn’t checking any work into source control, and she always had some reason that seemed to make sense. Finally, her contract was up and she checked in…….nothing. Basically she had a non-functioning mockup and nothing else. So yeah. People who are secretive about their work product are sometimes that way because there is no work product.

        Also….at my most recent job, any time I saved something to my C: drive, it was also automatically on my personal network drive. I think they just redirected all files there automatically. It was still a “personal” drive, but it was on the network and I’m guessing that the server people could access it if necessary.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, at my company everything is saved automatically to a backup server, even stuff saved to my desktop. Turns out it’s easier to just have everything back up automatically, rather than trying to change the habits of everyone to save to shared drives. Now, my personal backup is only accessible to me so if I have private-ish documents like pay statements or performance reviews noone else can easily see them. But IT could absolutely access the files in case I’m unavailable.

    4. Bagpuss*

      y first thought was ‘talk to IT’
      Where I work, everything is automatically backed up . Ans I presume that it would be possible to disable her capacity to save to her local drive and/or to automatically back that up to the server as well.

      (I also think she needs to be fired, or at the very least, be give a formal, documented warning that she is required to back everything up to the shared drives / server and that this is a formal instruction and is a requirement of her job. If she starts to blather about privacy remind her that work she does is the property of the company so there is no issue of privacy . I would guess that there ‘s no privacy issue at all if she is using a company machine, even of she also uses it to log in to personal accounts, but none of that would be relevant to work related things such as the work she is being paid to do.

    5. LKW*

      Was thinking about this as well. When I worked in corporate legal discovery we would run sweeps of specific PCs for investigations.

      Also – I’m surprised you don’t have any SOPs or Policies outside of the employee handbook. That would solve the problem almost immediately. Define the policy. Ensure everyone adheres to it. That way you’re protecting all of the IP for the company, regardless of employee.

    6. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

      It doesn’t have to be IT. It can be OP #1 and either asking someone they know for tips or Googling.

  12. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    I think the true problem is that fear of legal issues are paralyzing the owner. This owner could well find that fear leaving him with just the “problem coworker” though if he doesn’t master his fear and take action.

    Wonder if she has already driven other employees away or caused them to loose projects yet?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Nesting fail – meant this to be a reply to Magenta Sky above about OP1’s situation.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Ugh, I hate it when senior management is paralyzed by some imagined fears of what will happen if toxic employees are fired (“we’ll lose institutional knowledge,” “they’ll work for our competitor with all the knowledge they have,” “they’ll sue,” etc.). I’ve worked at places where toxic staff have driven really good employees away, resulting in departments that are nothing but wells of dysfunction.

  13. Allegra*

    I need to know how long LW1’s situation has been going on. How on earth did it get this far? Is she a very senior, tenured employee, or is there a history, or… I just can’t believe she wasn’t fired the first time she said “I’ll sue you for harassment if you keep asking me to save my work product on the work server.” That is not how any of this works!

    If I worked here I’d be looking for another job–one awful coworker and a management team who refuses to rein them in would not make a good work environment. LW1, I’d advise firing her as soon as your documentation’s in place; you’re almost certainly going to lose other people first if you don’t.

    1. LouLou*

      I’m fascinated by this. How can she possibly have pleasant working relationships with anyone in the company? She sounds like such a hostile (not in the legal sense, lol) presence.

      And +1 to your second paragraph. Don’t underestimate how demoralizing it can be to have an awful coworker no one is willing to deal with.

      1. miss chevious*

        How can she possibly have pleasant working relationships with anyone in the company? She sounds like such a hostile (not in the legal sense, lol) presence.

        I can speak to that. My office once had to terminate an employee who was not very good at his job, but was a very nice person in the office — friendly, cheery, outgoing, always happy to lend a hand to co-workers. He was a very pleasant co-worker, as long as you didn’t rely on him to do any work or do it correctly. And the instant his boss let him know that his employment wasn’t up to snuff, the employee started a campaign against him, with multiple emails and accusations of wrong-doing, totally inapposite of his office persona. The boss (who was a colleague of mine) showed me some of the emails after the fact and it was stunning how vituperative and manipulative they were, something I would never have expected from the mild and cheery guy who I saw in the office every day.

    2. John Smith*

      Not that it excuses her behaviour, but I’m wondering if she’s come from a background where this is normal – i.e, that her work is actually hers? I think (and could very well be wrong) architects in the UK are legally responsible for their work for life (and there after their estate) and I’m wondering if some kind of similar issue is making her act this way. But yeah, fire her yesterday.

      1. pancakes*

        What would be the connection between that responsibility and her hiding her work from her employer?

        1. John Smith*

          I was thinking ownership, or rather perceived ownership of work. Is the OP thinking the work is hers exclusively and her employer has no right to it (bizarre as that may be)? I only raised this because a friend’s wife is an architect and he mentioned something a while back that, although she is an employee, all her work is hers and not her employers.

          1. pancakes*

            That still wouldn’t make sense, unless she believes the mere act of seeing it or having electronic access to it would somehow transfer ownership of it, like the cultures that believe being photographed is a way of stealing someone’s soul. It truly doesn’t matter what nonsense she uses to justify this behavior to herself.

          2. anonymous73*

            Is she using company equipment? I can’t speak for the UK and I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I’m aware in the US if you’re using company issued equipment, nothing belongs to you and the company has the right to access everything on that equipment.

        2. ArchAnon*

          Hi. US based architect here. While I’m fully licensed the way it works at my firm (and many others) is while I do the actual work, the stamp that goes on the official drawings is the firm owner’s, thus the liability falls on them if it comes down to it. This is because as employers they pay to have themselves and the firm covered by professional liability insurance. As owners they review the work, stamp it, and take on the liability so they get the big bucks. I very much doubt this is part of what her issue is, it’s just that she’s bananas.

  14. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, I can’t fathom how the owner still has this person employed. I barely got past the line that she takes the computer into the bathroom to protect her precious work. Takes. Her. Computer. Into. The. Bathroom.

    My mind is truly boggled.

    1. Not Today*

      Right? And LW1’s response here in the comments about being powerless to stop a lawsuit is equally mind blowing. There’s no lawsuit here. This employee has found the keys to rule this kingdom and I’m just flabbergasted that they’re buying her lies.

  15. Snarkitect*

    #1 is wild! What software do y’all use that she can work this way? Is she keeping model and/or drawing files on her laptop or is this something like a script she wrote where maybe she thinks she owns the script but the firm owns the drawings she produces with the script? I’m guessing it’s something like the latter based on what you said about relying heavily on technology. My other question is if your firm owns a license for whatever software she’s using or if she’s using her personal license or a pirated license.

    1. CalypsoSummer*

      I don’t think she’s doing architectural work — or, at least, if she is, it isn’t for the company. She’s doing personal stuff on a company computer on company time and getting paid for it, and all she has to do to safeguard this cozy little gig is to get belligerent when questioned.

      I know a few people who would think they died and went to heaven if they ever managed to create that situation! (Useless bums, the lot of them.)

    2. CalypsoSummer*

      Addition to the previous post:

      LW wrote in (below) and says that the hiding-in-the-bathroom employee does good work, but she doesn’t want other people to see it because she thinks it will be stolen, and she wants to do all the work herself and not show it until it’s PERFECT.

      Still have the question of, is SHE actually doing the work? Or has she outsourced it? But either way, it has got to be a really noxious office environment, with that sort of nonsense going on.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I actually get the “hiding it til it’s ready thing”. As a design person with absurdly high standards for myself, I often keep my drafts and work in progress on my local drive until it’s (in my mind) good enough to share. Putting things in shared folders and being seen before it’s ready is really scary! Thankfully I’m not quite so weird about it — I’ll do what’s asked and I certainly don’t think anyone is going to steal my stuff — but I understand the impulse for that little piece of it.

        1. Snarkitect*

          Yeah I see a lot of speculation that she isn’t doing the work herself or that she’s doing work for another business on the side, but the anxiety about sharing work in progress seems like the most plausible explanation here, based on LW1’s update.

  16. Goody*

    My suspicion on LW1’s crazy co-worker is that the woman is SO incompetent that she’s got somebody else actually doing the work for her offsite, so there is no work-in-progress to save to the company shared drives.
    And yes, she’s completely off her rocker with regard to her hostile work environment claim and believing her lawyer husband can do anything about it, especially given the work product and privacy clauses mentioned in the employment agreement.

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

      This is where my mind went too. That she’s likely ‘outsourcing’ the work in some way.

    2. Avi*

      Yeah, I’d be tempted to go back and take a very close look at her qualifications and references, just ’cause.

    3. Joanna*

      Probably not that common, but people pretending to do their jobs while outsourcing the work without the company’s knowledge to someone in India or elsewhere wages are cheaper is a thing that’s happened

  17. Rosie*

    LW2, Alison’s scripts are really good but may result in a “it gets worse before it gets better” situation where she wants to interrogate you about why you don’t like Christmas, what’s wrong with decorations, etc. and you have to shut her down as she seems not super reasonable about this! Another option is just to make non-committal noises whenever it comes up, and always respond “hmm”, “yeah”, “that’s how it is” and so on. If you make it boring for her to talk to you without provoking further discussion you might have to engage with her as little as possible. But of course you can choose your approach! Good luck.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      I think this is a case where the letter writer needs to be explicit. Noncommittal responses didn’t work well last year and would only result in the colleague assuming they have a sympathetic audience. As someone who also would be uncomfortable with Christmas decorations myself, it’s best to just say something along the lines of what Alison said, including the “I don’t want to keep talking about it” part. I wouldn’t want this conversation to keep coming up and see nothing to gain by being vague and implying I would be fine with it when I wouldn’t.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, I agree. I think the OP could also lean on the fact that the library director has already made a call on this: “Actually, I agree with Jane’s decision and don’t want to keep talking about this.” OP’s library’s activities/displays for other holidays throughout the year sound cool though and way more educational than a big decoration display anyway…something like that for Christmas seems more appropriate.

      2. LKW*

        I find that as soon as I say “Jewish” it usually shuts the convo down pretty quickly. I’ve been lucky in that I rarely encounter someone who wants to challenge my perception of living in a very Christian nation. Usually I’ll toss in the memories of winter concerts at school that would be filled with 58 minutes of Christmas songs and 2 minutes of the Hannukah song (while noting Hannukah is not Jewish Christmas).

    2. Violet Fox*

      I also wonder if they could use the whole “I used to work retail” part as an explanation as to why they are okay with the lack of Christmas stuff.

      That being said, at least in my experience people that are that level of into Christmas just really do not seem to get that there are people out there that are not and are happy to have a break from it.

      1. Don P.*

        True fact: my grandparents owned and ran a Hallmark store for 20 years. I assure you, my family is OVER Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

    3. UK girl*

      I love Alison suggesting “I am not your right audience” this could be used in any situation were you are being lobbied on something that you are either not interested in or want no part of.

      1. Bananagram*

        Yep! Works all the time. I’ve used it to shut down all kinds of offensive stuff that I lacked the political capital to call out directly. Someone very senior to me wants to complain about the paltry diversity programs we do have harming hypothetical as-yet-unhired white men? “I am not the right audience for this” + meaningful look + subject change.

    4. JSPA*

      “Philosophy and religion aside, the Christmas stuff is so overwhelming everywhere else, that i actually appreciate the break from the bombardment.”

      “Yeah, it’s amazing how much stuff people used to do, without thinking about the implications.”

      “Oh, I totally understand! We get attached to things, over the years. Luckily for me, Christmas decorations in a public library is not something I would personally ever want, or miss. But I’m sure there are things from my life that I miss, that would be just as inappropriate.”

      “But it makes sense to me that we don’t decorate for religious content and commercial content? We’re a public institution… that’s normal…”

    5. AY*

      I tend to agree that boring is the best approach here. It would be great if the coworker could be open to explanation or reasoning that public libraries need to be maximally inclusive and especially not do things that alienate communities that do not celebrate majority holidays. But the most likely outcome would be endless arguments from the coworker about how xmas decorations actually are inclusive and welcoming. Best to be a blank wall. I like the “I’m not the right audience” script because it calls for no response or further discussion.

    6. anonymous73*

      I disagree. A direct response of “I’m not the right audience for this, and don’t want to continue to talk about it.” SHOULD shut it down and if it doesn’t, OP needs not to engage any further. If you’ve told someone to stop approaching you about a certain subject and they won’t let it go, you owe them nothing. “I’ve told you how I feel” and walk away. Don’t concern yourself with making it awkward, or hurting someone’s feelings. They’re pushing boundaries and need to be put in their place.

  18. MSDS*

    LW1: Intellectual capital/property is your argument here. She works for you. Her work does not belong to her, it belongs to the company. Any argument she makes about trying to protect her work is moot as she is not the owner.

    The company’s owner also does not seem to understand the overall liability she is setting herself up for if she allows this behaviour to continue. Lawyer or not, the insubordination alone is grounds for dismissal. Cut this rebel-without-a-cause loose now before the damage really starts to accumulate.

    1. Clorinda*

      THIS.
      My husband deliberately does certain kinds of work on his own computer at home so that it has no possible chance of being claimed as work for hire. If you want to maintain copyright of your private work, don’t cross the streams. Your work that you’re paid for belongs to your employer unless you have a specific contract that says otherwise.

  19. Double A*

    LW 2, do you have anyone who focuses on children’s programming that might have ideas for crafts kids could do that could serve as decorations? Our library does that. Like, paper leaves you draw or write on in the fall.

    As a public institution I think it’s inappropriate to specifically celebrate one religious holiday (I’m not religious but I do celebrate Christmas). But you could have some paper snowflakes, or holly kids could decorate, have people draw their favorite things about winter, seasonal coloring pages, things like that.

    1. Not Today*

      Holly is a Christmas decoration.

      I wonder if this insistence on trying to make Christmas a secular holiday is blinding folks to what its symbols represent. I had a boss propose placing white holly next to the Chanukkiah she wanted me to bring to the office, believing somehow that if the holly was white instead of red that made it a Chanukah decoration. Also somehow believing that I would bring in a personal ritual object to decorate our office, but that’s another issue…

      1. JSPA*

        Holly is an evergreen plant. Its use as winter decoration in cold climates is pre-Christian. Likely by millennia.

        Similarly, poinsettias, in a warmer climate.

        “It’s a decoration available in winter” tends to mean, “we’ve used it for winter holidays.” But that doesn’t make it “stealth Christian.”

        1. WonderWoman*

          Regardless of the pagan origins (and, to be clear, pagan religions are also specific and valid religions and not “neutral” or “universal” frameworks), Christianity adopted holly and evergreens as religious symbols. For holly, the sharp leaves represent his crown of thorns, and the berries represent his blood. Evergreens represent everlasting life through G-d. Pointsettias are known as “Christmas stars” and “Christmas flowers.”

          This isn’t “stealth Christian.” It’s explicitly Christian and religious in nature.

          1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

            I’m tired of the “but it’s actually pagan” argument. I’m not pagan either. Why has the Christian overtaking of their symbols become a justification for forcing non Christians to put red and green stuff everywhere?

            1. Salymander*

              Exactly. Yes, these were pagan (another religion/s) symbols. Then, the Christian church adopted them along with changing many Christian holidays to coincide with the pagan ones. That was a way for the Christian church to take over the pagan religions. So saying that holly is ok because it was originally a pagan symbol is not great. It is a symbol that is now very much a Christian symbol, and is also symbolic of the way Christianity has overrun many other religions. So really, Holly kind of means the opposite of what a lot of Christmas-for-everyone people seem to think it does.

              1. Salymander*

                Meaning that holly and Christmas trees are a visible symbol of the way Christianity as a cultural force just mows down other cultures and faiths.

                So even if you think Christmas is secular, that doesn’t mean it is ok to cram it down the throats of everyone else regardless of their own customs and beliefs. Or even just their preferences. For goodness sake, can’t we all just err on the side of not being jerks?

          2. fish*

            Yes thank you.

            Just because something *can* have a secondary or tertiary association does not negate its primary association.

            1. James*

              “Just because something *can* have a secondary or tertiary association does not negate its primary association.”

              See, I’d say that the Christian association is secondary or tertiary–they were pretty clear in the early days of the Church about co-opting the symbols of other religions (the Cult of the Saints [I didn’t name it, don’t blame me], the trappings of Easter and the Saturnalia, what the priests wear, among other things). These things certainly aren’t an integral part of the religion the way they are for the pagan religions that practice them, and there was a LOT of debate about whether to allow this sort of co-opting in the early Church. And by “debate” I mean blood running in the streets. There was an empire up for grabs, and more; tensions ran a little high.

              I will agree that these things aren’t “stealth Christian”. If anything, they’re stealth-Paganism–a way for the old ways to endure in a society that was openly hostile toward them. I’m not alone in saying that; one of the main arguments against the veneration of saints, for example, was exactly that, that it was a way for polytheists to continue polytheism within the Christian monotheistic framework.

              All that said, the fact that the Christians adopted these symbols demonstrates that symbols can be adopted by cultures and to have meaning quite different from their origins. At this point, poinsettias, holly, and evergreens are neither sympathetic magic nor representations of Yahweh’s power and majesty; they’re often trappings of a secular decoration, put on with as much consideration for the history as most men give to the history and cultural significance of neckties. You can no longer assume that someone who decorates with holly or fir trees in December is Christian or pagan; they may be completely areligious, and just like the holiday.

              1. fish*

                I’m talking empirically. I guarantee you that if you hold a holly or a poinsettia in front of the vast majority of Americans they will say Christmas. They will not know or care about the early history of the church or Aztec horticulture.

                And lol @ thinking if someone has a Christmas tree but isn’t religious, it’s not Christian. I really wish Christians would better understand the idea of “culturally Christian” just like we have “culturally Jewish.” But they don’t have to, because our whole culture is Christian by default.

                1. Anononon*

                  @James:

                  “I’m arguing that the vast majority of Americans view Christmas as a holiday separate from the Christian religion. The holiday is increasingly secular. ”

                  Hmm, assuming this is even true (as it has generally not been my experience), I wonder how much of an overlap there is between those “vast majority of Americans” that you’re referring and those that are, at the minimum, culturally Christian.

                  Ugh, this comment really rankles. The audacity of people trying to argue that Christmas isn’t Christian.

              2. Threeve*

                Look at some of the comments from Jewish people on this thread and try to understand why the “areligious holiday” argument is…not very good. And if something is used as a Christmas decoration, then in our culture it is a Christmas decoration.

                And it doesn’t matter if you celebrate “Birth of Christ Christmas” or “Santa and Presents Christmas” or “Christmas But Really Just Winter This Used To Be Pagan.” It’s still Christmas, and it’s still excluding people of minority religions.

              3. Allegra*

                Christ. is. in. the. name. Regardless of the origin of the symbols, they have become nearly 1:1 associated with Christmas in America, and that is NOT secular. Arguing “Christianity is so pervasive in America that it forms on omnipresent background atmosphere in nearly every public holiday and ritual, therefore its holidays are now secular” is not how it works. People should not have to be forced to participate in Christian practice to exist in the workplace or in public life, no matter how benign or non-religious people raised *culturally Christian* believe these practices are.

                also as another Jewish pet peeve, “yahweh” is not the name of any god and is a weird Christianized misreading of the tetragrammaton, which IS a very holy name of God to Jews, and it’s a little offensive to use it in this context.

          3. pancakes*

            Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America and grow wild there year-round. Your framing is just that, your framing.

              1. pancakes*

                They’re terribly blinkered if they think seeing everything and anything, even flowers, through US-centric glasses is going to give them an accurate view of the world. If you think being terribly blinkered is without consequence I don’t know what to tell you.

                1. Anononon*

                  I’m still entirely confused. If we’re talking about how Christmas is celebrated and perceived in the US, why wouldn’t we focus on what certain symbols have come to mean and represent in the US???

                2. Threeve*

                  “Hey, children from minority religions wondering why the world is decorated in symbolism for a holiday that isn’t yours: it’s not the whole world and your perception is only based in the culture you live in.

                  Don’t be so blinkered! Let me explain the global and/or pre-Christian history of every individual symbol and you will understand why your feelings of exclusion are invalid.”

                3. pancakes*

                  Anononon, I’m not sure this is confusion so much as simple disagreement. You seem to think it’s perfectly fine for Americans to have some really inaccurate ideas so long as those ideas are popular or widespread, and I think I the inaccuracy matters on some level, or should. I also think it’s inaccurate to say that American Christmas is entirely secular. The fact that there are a number of people here insisting it is doesn’t make it so.

                4. Anononon*

                  But they’re not inaccurate. Meanings and symbols change over time and have different meaning in parts of the world, and I think it’s ridiculous to argue otherwise.

                  When I lived in Italy for a year, for a split second, I was really confused at all of the stars of David hung across the streets as holiday decorations. But I very quickly realized (and googled, for more background as well) that 6-sided stars weren’t automatically seen as Jewish.

            1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

              But the OP isn’t in South America. If you generally read this blog under the assumption that it’s based on US laws and practices, it’s…curious to act like you’re unable to do that when it comes to silencing minority viewpoint that you find inconvenient.

              1. pancakes*

                I’m sorry, I can’t make out from the threading whether you and Alison are replying to me or someone else. This whole discussion is very strange. I would hope it’s clear from my 10:44 comment that I’m not trying to silence anyone!

            2. Carlie*

              Which is what’s being discussed. We are talking about how ponsettias are used in the US, where you only see them sold and displayed AT CHRISTMAS. They aren’t even left out through January; they aren’t even a “winter” decoration. They are used as a symbol of the holiday Christmas.

              1. Carlie*

                (Sorry, had the tab open forever and didn’t refresh so didn’t see Alison’s admonishment to stop derailing.)

        2. JSPA*

          I’m not saying it’s pagan. I’m saying that the few clearly live plants available in winter are used for each and every celebration or ritual. Birthday, coronation, academic investiture, funeral. Allowing Christianity to “take dibs” on every single plant, object, relationship or person that they have used as a parable? That is allowing Christianity way too much power to subtract items from our collective lives.

      2. Double A*

        Okay, so, not holly or any plants since most of the are associated with Christmas decorations. I was trying to think of a winter plant that kind of generically associated with the season but I’m not sure if there are any now that I think about it.

        The idea is to have a display that is partially creates by patrons and they can include elements of the season that are important to them, which for many people will be Christmas but also leaves it open for any winter holidays people celebrate and just generally wintery things.

      3. Eden*

        I mean, maybe holly and evergreens are a Christmas tradition, but maybe not. At some point you can’t separate cultural traditions from religious ones. Judaism and Islam and Hinduism have flourished in countries that probably have less holly and evergreens and snowmen and reindeer. But at some point, I think taking out this bit that are explicitly unique to the holiday, like Santa, is enough. I hate adding this tag to all my comments but yes I am Jewish, and not born in the US.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Please do a winter activity. Or even just a generic activity.

      Also, there are Christian sects that do not celebrate Christmas because they believe it has too many pagan associations. A family member works in the education sector and there are a number of students at their school from one of those sects. It bothers family member to no end to find students from that sect inevitably sitting in the library while their classmates are watching Christmas movies, cutting out Christmas trees, being read Christmas stories, etc., in the classroom.

      (I myself have known people from this sect, some of whom have left it, and most have negative feelings about this time of year due to feeling left out).

    3. Librarian the Ninth*

      LW2 here, yes we do have craft hour-type decorations in the kids room and small seasonal things like flowers or plants on the circulation desk. My coworker specifically wants things like a fake tree with lights and decorations that we apparently used to have.

  20. LW1*

    LW1 here… thanks for everyone’s comments. I can’t disagree with any of them.
    Some additional background…
    -employee does very high quality design work, but does not want anybody seeing it until it is 100% complete in her mind. Suspects others of copying/stealing her ideas. Sits at workstation in a way that nobody can ever see her screen. Work is eventually shared with clients/managers when complete.
    -suspect senior management feels like they are paying under-market salary for the level of talent and quality they are getting and are willing to overlook or discount the issues because of what they are saving in salary.
    -absolutely has created a toxic environment where she cannot collaborate with anybody else and co-worker morale is very low because she is perceived as getting special treatment and being “above the law”
    Many good suggestions here. It is unfortunate that we are in the situation because the employee produces very high quality work, but the anguish, stress, and morale drain are not worth it. Everyone’s comments about this being an issue that could drive people away are spot on. And the bottom line is that we are powerless to stop a lawsuit, we can only document and respond.
    Thanks!

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Yes. You are powerless to stop a lawsuit. If she’s bluffing, there will never be one.

      If she isn’t bluffing, expect her to push further until you do something that triggers one.

      Either way, delaying doesn’t help your employer. Best to call her bluff quickly. Maybe immediately, maybe after getting legal advice.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        This is spot on. As for the idea that she does “very high quality work,” there are many talented architects in the world who do high quality work. Your firm can hire one of them for her position, without causing this kind of grief and tanking the morale of the entire firm and the associated financial and opportunity costs associated with that. Document her very visible insubordination and terminate her. Who would want to keep on someone who threatens their employer regularly? I don’t get the concept that somehow the firm is trapped into keeping her on the staff.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. I think too often we as humans are loathe to rock the boat even when we know that something isn’t right. There are other people who can do that work. Maybe they will cost more. Or maybe they will cost the same and be a little less efficient or brilliant at it BUT what is the cost of allowing her to continue to behave that way? Would the company prefer to replace one of her, or three of other roles when people get fed up? Do you use PIPs? Might be grounds for one, or a formal reprimand. Depending on the company, if you ever want additional certifications (like CMMI) there are protocols that must be followed re: drafts and keeping work and whatever. Sounds like she can’t work with a team, she does no peer review, etc. I’d be worried that she’d delete the hard drive and leave you with nothing if she gets angry enough.

          She can sue the company at any time. They might as well just bite the bullet and formally reprimand her or fire her for her behavior.