updates: company punishes single people who have to quarantine more than once — but not married people

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

1. My company punishes single people who have to quarantine more than once — but not married people

Your advice was excellent and many in the comments shared my outrage at the thought of using sick time and still being required to work. Just after I wrote to you Texas went through a snowpocalypse and we all had to work from home due to the storm damage. Then the governor decided that we aren’t in a pandemic anymore so there is no reason to have any restrictions. My employer decided that sounded good to them so we went back to full time work on campus and work from home is at the discretion of HR (forms need to be filled out,etc.) It seemed that the training I went to was just one HR person’s opinion and when my supervisor reached out to the head of HR she was told that none of the content of the meeting mattered anymore since we are now open 100%. My parent coworkers have complained about having to come back into the office and pick up their work again but none have applied to HR to get a work from home exception.

I was able to get vaccinated in March. My team has been great, all are vaccinated (after a big scare when one of my team got COVID and was out for a month and spent some time in the hospital). We all remain diligent in masking and social distancing(though our employer requires neither). Numbers are beginning to look better in our region and most of the public we interact with have just decided that we are no longer in any danger, though public health officials are still urging caution. I continue to pray that people will recognize this serious health crisis and act appropriately.

2. Should I warn our terrible managers that most of our team is about to leave?

I’ve been putting off writing this update because I have bad news. I did not quit with a pack of righteous coworkers (yet). This is for several reasons, but before I get into those, I have to apologize for exactly how vague I need to be since my management team reads your blog (and yet is still awful???). I wish I could give more details, but I can’t be outed at work.

1. I found it both incredibly comforting and upsetting to see how many people are also in this sinking boat with me. It helps to feel less alone in my professional misery for some reason. I hope you all make it out or find peace within your given contexts without your workplace norms being totally warped. This is not an easy environment to thrive in, but it’s a very easy one to get stuck in.

2. You and the commentariat were painfully right when you said that my management would find a way to blame me for the morale they caused. We are constantly being told that it’s safe to bring concerns up to our leadership only to watch people be gaslit, passed over for earned opportunities, and outright bullied for our “negativity in the workplace.” Fake smiles are the currency around here these days.

3. A lot has happened since my letter was published. Even more staff quit, and most of those positions have been filled. I’m doing my best to support the new-hires in any capacity that makes sense for my role. It’s difficult to watch the spark in their eyes flicker out as they realize what type of workplace they tied their financial livelihoods to.

The people we serve and the projects that were left open-ended when staff quit have been left hanging in some areas, but our skeleton-thin crew has really rallied to help. Burnout is real, but the great thing is that we have an excellent staff that supports each other even though leadership doesn’t.

4. And now, why haven’t I left? The answer is simple. It’s a niche field that I don’t have the heart to leave quite yet even though my skills are semi-applicable in other fields. I also can’t move geographically due to some personal factors. So, here I sit. Trying to not let my head get too used to toxic norms

I’m giving myself a few more months of this before I start actively looking for /anything/ else. And, just like the coworkers before me, I’ll have to be dishonest about why I’m leaving in order to preserve the reference in the future. Government and this field is very, very small.

But please trust me that when I do leave, you’ll be receiving a much happier update.

3. I got Covid at work and my company won’t cover my sick time

Unfortunately there isn’t any happy ending here. I almost died from Covid- my O2 sat was in the 80s literally couldn’t breathe, my company declined to pay me at all and declined my STD since it “doesn’t cover Covid.” I interviewed with like a good 20 other companies and because of the way the market is here no one even came close to my current pay or benefits. I decided I had to go back which wasn’t great, and my first day back was awful- the family I was with didn’t acknowledge it in any way and pushed me to stay longer than I felt I could, then I got diagnosed with insane pneumonia two days later and missed another full week of work, still unpaid. I’m currently doing better physically which is great! But it’s been really difficult mentally feeling just completely trapped on top of the whole wow I literally almost died thing. One of the parents I work with told me he was so happy I was back and he was so worried about me and I cried in his house which wasn’t wildly professional but all of this has sucked to navigate. My plan now is to just survive until I’m able to get a higher credential and figure life out at that point. But I did negotiate a four day work week soon and got off the case of the pneumonia pressure people! So I guess it’s not all the worst ever!

4. Hiring manager encouraged me to apply for a job (#5 at the link)

I asked in late 2020 what it means when someone asks you to apply for a job. In this case, it ended up meaning “you are a good candidate and we would like you in the pool”, but the pool had >100 applicants. I made it to the second to last round (of ~15, of which they would hire two), but did not get the job. However, as I mentioned before, I felt sad about this and used it as a spur to apply for an internship I thought I would never get. I did, in fact, get it, it was amazing (I love the team I work with and I feel so grateful I get to work with such smart, interesting, kind people). It has just converted to a full-time offer. I am thrilled.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. The Smiling Pug*

    OP#2, this update saddens me greatly. I’m so sorry that you feel trapped in a horrifically toxic workplace. :(

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    OP 2 and 3, I’m glad you wrote in even if it wasn’t an upbeat update about your new job. It’s the actual range of human experience.

    I particularly note that you both talk about choices and plans, rather than claim there’s nothing you can do. Framing the job you want to leave as a choice you make this morning for sound current reasons seems to be a much better mindset for people than helplessness.

  3. not a doctor*

    OP#3, I’m so sorry you’re stuck in this situation. :( I hope you find a better company sooner rather than later.

  4. Artemesia*

    #4. When I was a young professional I was asked to apply for a prestigious prof group with rigorous standards and was flattered and applied only to be rejected because I wasn’t quite far enough along in my professional visibility. It really pissed me off and I never applied again and ignored later overtures from this group to speak at their meetings etc. THEY ASKED ME in order to reject me? Screw that.

    You are more mature; it is common to be asked to apply to things; it does mean they have a high regard for you, not that you are a slam dunk. And because you handled it with maturity and insight, you ended up with a good position. Congratulations.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I had a company in OldCity ask me to interview in person three times. They never hired me. The same thing happened here, two in-persons and a phone interview. Although I would be polite if they ever reached out again, I put both of them on my I-don’t-think-so list. Why waste my time? Life’s too short.

      Of course, I do have a little fantasy that they call me after I’ve already found a fabulous job so I can say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” >:)

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I don’t know; I wouldn’t be surprised if both the state government and the company have doubled down on their beliefs that there is no danger, seeing as they’ve apparently managed to delude themselves over the last year or so.

      1. Wisteria*

        They say numbers are looking better in their region, which was the case recently but is definitely not the case this week.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s unfortunately a global problem with some politicians. This idea of ‘the pandemic is over because we say it is’.

        I wish it were that simple.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. And then they need to backtrack when they realize it isn’t over after all, people are getting sick and dying like flies all around them, and they’ve just been engaging in wishful thinking. Seems to be a global phenomenon, sadly.

        2. Beth*

          Yeah, my bosses went down that path back in June, and they’re still there. They just keep doubling down every time things get worse.

    2. A Sad Texan*

      Oh, our illustrious governer still doesn’t think we are in a pandemic so this could have been written anytime in the last year (including last week).

  5. Purely Allegorical*

    Well these are all fairly depressing updates. I really feel for those OPs who are stuck in their situations for a while longer.

  6. MissMeghan*

    OP2 I’m sorry you’re not able to leave yet, but please remind yourself (as often as necessary) when these projects are left hanging, that MANAGEMENT is responsible for that, NOT you. Don’t internalize responsibility and lose sleep over things that are out of your power and are not fixed by the people who could fix them. You are one person, not 4, and it’s not a failure to do the work of a single person.

    1. PT*

      “People we serve” makes me think it might be a human services adjacent field, in which case, a lot of employees in those fields will put up with a LOT of garbage because they care about their clients/customers/patients/students. Which is how employers in those fields manage to get away with being so terrible. They know that half of their employees will serve as a buffer and not let the garbage trickle down to the clients/customers/patients/students because they care too much.

  7. Kevin Sours*

    A good rule of the thumb is that when management is telling you it’s safe to bring up concerns, it’s emphatically not. If it safe is they’ll show you by their actions and it won’t need to be said.

    1. Loulou*

      This really isn’t a good rule of thumb. It’s a good rule of thumb that if they say it’s safe to bring up concerns *but their actions indicate otherwise* then believe the actions. But there’s plenty of room in a healthy organization for leadership to explicitly encourage people to bring up concerns and reassure them they won’t be penalized for doing so.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Right, and I would play it safe by waiting and seeing what happens to others who legitimately bring up concerns before bringing up any myself. Even those feedback polls they send you that say they are anonymous often are really not anonymous, I’ve learned that from reading this web site over the years.

    3. Artemesia*

      Learned this the hard way on an anonymous survey. Yeah, a good place routinely gathers feedback informally and adjusts. When they have to announce it is confidential and safe, it won’t be.

  8. Former HR Staffer*

    a former mgr of mine suggested i apply for a position in another area, saying it was a good opportunity and a good fit for me… i reality, one of her forker subordinates she had a crush on was not doing well at the co he left is for, and wanted to come back, so she was plotting for me to open up that headcount for her.

    i wasn’t happy working under her and had been looking anyways, but i decided to stay out of spite. so i stayed until he gave up and landed a job elsewhere, and the dept she kept trying to push me to? it was dissolved 6 mos later (they decided to outsource the entire team).

    she ended up quitting, and i eventually got a much better mgr… sometimes the only way to won the game is to just outlast your opponent.

  9. Love to WFH*

    How on earth could Short Term Disability not apply to an extended time out sick with COVID?! :-(

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You’d be able to use it for a car crash at my place, or a contagious disease, or surgery… can you check with the insurance company who administers that?

      1. Out & About*

        I wonder if the employer even submitted the claim to the insurance carrier or denied it themselves. If OP inquires with the carrier on coverage they should ask for a copy of the claim just to see if there is one. If not, this might be a lawyer situation.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I have a thought–what if the compaby determined that short-term disability does not apply for covid *quarantining*, and the individual mixed that up with actually *having* covid?
      Could OP make a retroactive claim?

    3. LGC*

      It looks like it depends on the state? LW3 was out for a month according to them, which might fall in their state’s exclusion period. In my state, it looks like there’s a waiting period of 7 days, but some states go up to 30 apparently (I referred to my state’s TDI page and then Paychex’s disability insurance page).

      (The kicker with my state is that they’ll retroactively pay the first 7 days given that your disability lasts 22 or more days. So using my state’s law, LW3 would have initially been paid from days 8 through 21 initially, and then gotten back pay for days 1 through 7 along with days 22 onward. The fact that my head didn’t immediately explode upon comprehending this structure makes me think I should consider a career in payroll.)

      So basically, it’s not COVID that was the problem, it was most likely the duration.

      And yes, this is absolutely shameful that we as Americans let this happen, I am fully aware of that.

      1. LGC*

        (…and I just reconsidered my new career shift to payroll because I forgot it was biweekly, so you’d only get paid for 8 to 14 initially, but then either 15 to 21 or 1-7 and 15 to 28 on the next payment. I don’t get why it’s this complicated, but thanks?)

  10. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’m sorry, LW #2. But it’s good to hear updates even if they are not positive. I hope you have a “Team You” and support outside your workplace so that it doesn’t completely mess with your head.

    Niche fields, while many can be super fulfilling IF you are in a great workplace, can really stink for that very reason – they are small, tight-knit, and don’t have a lot of openings. I believe that people who have their hearts set on niche fields need a backup of some kind in case they find themselves in a toxic situation. (A POV I have developed since reading Alison’s blog. AAM has taught me a lot, and I wish so much there had been an Alison and AAM around when I was young and starting out!)

  11. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*


    I continue to pray that people will recognize this serious health crisis and act appropriately.

    Right there with you. There’s still too many people and companies who think that this ‘situation has gone on too long so let’s go back to normal’ on top of those refusing the vaccines. It’s demoralising how truly uncaring and narcissistic people can get.

  12. Engineer*

    OP #3, check your state’s COVID relief fund. In some states, if you’ve burned all your vacation time, there is a fund that will pay you 40-80 hours of your salary (some at a reduce rate) if you can’t work for COVID related issues. I know Colorado and CA have this in place.

  13. Nay nay nay all the way home*

    This quote: “It’s difficult to watch the spark in their eyes flicker out as they realize what type of workplace they tied their financial livelihoods to.” Reminds me of a Canadian airline which used to be wildly popular, both among the public and its employees, but has since had a significant turn for the worse. I was interacting with this company on a professional matter and found most of the people I talked with seemed bored, apathetic, tired (the words “dead inside” are probably most accurate). Then I was transferred to a worker who was unlike any of the others I had previously spoken with at that company. She was incredibly energetic, happy, and very much in service, eager to help me. I asked how long she had been with the company. “One week!” she replied, “I’m so excited to be here!” and I just imagined the life force would soon be sucked out of her.

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