updates: old boss is now my peer, Secret Santa gifts with a message, and more

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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Was I fired or laid off? (#3 at the link, first update here)

I wrote to you in 2016 asking if I was laid off or fired. It’s been something like 5 years now. At the time I wrote the earlier update, I was still almost giddy from having a new job in this new career after such a long unemployment. I loved it then, and I still loved my job up until… let’s say March 2020.

In my five years with that company I became a well-respected resource. I had no management responsibilities, nor did I want them, but by the time I left I was only eclipsed in seniority in my department by the manager. If there were questions, I was nearly always the first stop. I learned everything I could and added a bunch of skills to my resume. My contributions were showcased many times, which was sometimes embarrassing for an introvert but also very nice for my ego. I also regularly stayed after work and socialized, mostly with one of the owners of the company and many drinks. That was great for me, but they probably should have put a little more distance between us. I heard so many inappropriate things.

I knew all the inequities. My state has a higher minimum wage than most states, but it’s still minimum wage in a HCOL city, and that’s where nearly everyone started. They depended on people not being experienced so that they could under-pay their employees for the work they were doing. At least on the Admin side. I have no idea what they were doing with their field staff. The company owners, and most of the management, were not shy expressing political opinions, and at times were dismissive of labor views that did not match their own. One thing that didn’t affect me but definitely bothered me was the holidays. I was salaried; I got paid, but hourly employees didn’t. They got the day off (if it fell Monday-Friday), but if they wanted to get paid for it they had to make it up on the weekend at their regular pay rate. I just thought that was horribly unfair.

2020 comes around and we start talking about this coronavirus thing we’ve been hearing about. I’m sure you can imagine the talking points, you’ve had them with someone at some point. It’s just a hard flu, the flu kills more people every year, there’s less than a 1% death rate from covid. All of that. Our city went into lockdown. We were considered an essential service and so were exempt from that. They mandated that everyone come in. Eventually they let some very small groups work from home, but they didn’t spend any money to support that, so of course someone managed to get a computer virus that ended up messing up our servers. They started asking everyone to come back. COVID started waning… or so we thought. When it flared up again around November 2020, they refused all requests to work from home, no matter what the reason. Oh, I could go on (and with worse), but I’m sure you get the picture by now.

I left the company for a 100% remote job. I’ve been at this new place for 6 months. I’m really enjoying working from home full time. My commute is bed to desk/couch which is less than 30 seconds. The work is interesting. I’m still learning the ropes, but I can look at our product and say “I did that” in so many spots.

And money… In 2016 when I was fired I was making a laughable salary for my field, even for the most junior of people. My salary, after taking in a nice but not unreasonable bonus, is now more than twice what I was making then.

2. My cost-of-living raise doesn’t cover my increased costs of living

I ended up leaving this job while going through some challenging mental health issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic. My employer did tell me that my mental health issues were a big part of her decision to let me go, for what it’s worth, and we agreed upon a mutual parting of the ways with a small severance. I spent some time off dealing with those mental health issues, and really came to the realization that this job and the culture (particularly with how unsupportive my employer was of her employees) was just not a good fit for me.

I am now currently employed as the executive director of another nonprofit in the same field! It’s a much better fit and the community is supportive and enthusiastic, and I feel like I’m really thriving here in a way I didn’t at my previous job. I just completed my 6-month review and it went superbly, I am so happy to be a part of this organization!

One final update: I’m paying close attention to my staff’s wages and the board and I have plans to increase wages incrementally to make them competitive in this (pretty expensive!) area of the country and we also have plans to ultimately tie cost of living pay increases to the actual COL numbers instead of setting them at a set (usually lower) rate! I’m thrilled that I can help make nonprofit life more equitable at this small organization and I’m hopeful that more organizations will also consider the regional cost of living when setting wages in an already notoriously underpaid environment. Thank you for all your help!

3. Secret Santa gifts with a message (#2 at the link; first update here)

I am the high school teacher that wrote in a while ago about whether I should make a statement with my Secret Santa gift to another teacher who made a racially-charged statement.

I don’t have much of an update but thought I’d check in anyway. Some time after our conversation, Sam asked if he could observe one of my classes. I said sure, and he visited without incident (we have a culture of visiting each other’s classes, and it’s possible the principal suggested it). During remote learning, my school did contract an outside provider for some professional development around issues of race, and I know Sam participated. Unfortunately, it was all virtual and individual work, so we as a staff didn’t really get to connect with each other over the training, but hopefully it had an impact. This year we are working with another provider for racial issues and culturally responsive teaching, so I feel optimistic.

Secret Santa is back this year, and hopefully it will be boring!

4. My old boss is now my peer — but keeps acting like my boss

Thanks so much for the advice from you and the commenters. It was helpful to hear that I could take a step back and didn’t need to be so engaged with my former boss. As for the update, things got better as they adjusted to the new role, although I had to rein in my responses and response time. They recently resigned and have accepted a new role outside the company. I suppose it was just their time to go!

5. My manager doesn’t believe I’ll be back two weeks off after having a baby (#2 at the link, first update here)

I thought I’d give another small update after the last one since it’s update month. After reading a lot of responses to my comment on money (a LOT of people said I should definitely try asking for more) I actually did. Something I left out previously is after I came back I got a new manager in between my old manager and myself and while my old manager wasn’t unsupportive of me I did feel intimidated talking to her sometimes. My new manager is younger then me and I’m technically more knowledgeable in our area so it’s it’s lot easier to talk to her. So I had a meeting with her and she noticed I hadn’t been given a cost of living raise at all since I started so I did get an immediate raise.

However, while that helped, I still felt I needed a little more to get ahead of the game and have a bit in the bank, and I kept seeing you say that now is a good time to reach out for jobs. It’s an employees market. So I did and I am happy to say that I was able to get a second full time remote job! But the real kicker is they were offering a certain range and they liked me so they initially offered the top of the range but then I told them (after reading a bunch of your advice about not lying to your jobs about working two jobs) that I also had told my main job about working the second remote job so everyone had complete transparency on where my time is going and they were so impressed by my courage and honesty that THEY INCREASED MY PAY ABOVE THE TOP OF THEIR INTIAL RANGE OFFER. And! When I told my main job about the second job they let me know that I will be receiving a bonus this year AND I’ll be getting another raise of an undisclosed amount in January (I think because they just want to be extra certain they retain me).

All in all I’m very happy that I took your advice and that of the comment section to bring up money. (Also my baby is doing great, absolutely healthy and happy!)

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Madame X*

    LW5 – That’s great news! I’m so glad you finally felt empowered enough to ask for your overdue raise.

  2. BubbleTea*

    I can’t quite imagine, as a new mum myself, doing two full time jobs on top of that, but more power to your elbow if you can!

  3. Another Chris*

    I am very curious about the field of work where, not only can you balance two full time jobs, but each one will pay you more to do that! :)

    1. Silver Radicand*

      My guess is that full-time was meant to describe how much of the time the job is remote (i.e. 100% remote), rather than 40 hr/wk. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly agree.

      1. LW5*

        Accounting. My day job let me adjust my hours so I get a full 40 still and the second job is just helping out with another company’s backlogged AP after a little turmoil earlier this year. It’s also 4o hours a week but I don’t expect it to be a long term position. I’m still on the lookout for a more project based 2nd job so the hours are more flexible around my main job.

            1. Morrigan Crow*

              Er, she clearly said that she’d talked to both employers about doing both jobs and that they were ok with it.

            2. LW5*

              …Yes? Like that was a big part of my update…?
              Both jobs are on the up and up of what I’m doing and are okay with it.

  4. Bumblebee*

    “My employer did tell me that my mental health issues were a big part of her decision to let me go” – is that even legal?

      1. feral fairy*

        Not a lawyer, but I think that the potential legal issue here is explicitly saying “I am letting you go/firing you because of your mental illness/how your mental illness manifests in the workplace.” That language is the red flag and not professional. If the boss had said something like “The way you have been reacting to stress by losing your cool towards your coworkers isn’t working here” or “Your chronic lateness are causing issues that we’ve already addressed” (just giving some examples of how a mental illness can impact a person’s behavior at work) that wouldn’t be legally questionable. I have bipolar disorder and at times in the past this had bled into work so I have thought a lot about what can be accommodated by most workplaces vs what isn’t considered acceptable regardless of the cause.

      1. Wisteria*

        Well, look at the very next update, where the LW was wondering if her employee’s exhausting anxiety behaviors were coachable or not. That employee was able to turn things around, but if she had not, it would have been accurate to say that the employee’s mental health played a large part in the LW’s decision to let her go.

        1. Samantha F*

          Yes, I’m curious what ADA laws say about this? Is it a ‘reasonable accommodation’ for employers to put up with employees who miss work / need constant reassurance because of diagnosed anxiety or depression? How about paranoia / delusions and other conditions that are even more clearly disruptive to work (assuming those got diagnosed by a medical professional). There was a letter on this site about a person with bird phobia who severely injured another co-worker but kept their job (though I think that was not in the US). In practice, all the people I know who have diagnosed mental health disorders eventually quit, so maybe the situation where somebody requests ADA accommodation for a mental health issue is unusual?

          1. AnonforThis*

            I don’t think it’s unusual at all to request accommodations for mental health issues. However, they’re usually things like schedule changes so you can attend therapy, medical leave, or maybe things like “desk with back to wall so my PTSD isn’t constantly triggered by people walking behind me,” ability to wear noise cancelling headphones… You can easily find lists of possible accommodations online. I’m not sure how you would have knowledge of whether or not people had accommodations?

  5. Decima Dewey*

    As to #3, there are so many ways a Secret Santa can go wrong. What’s the point in adding another way?

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