updates: un-retiring, the paranoid employee, 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. How to explain un-retiring (#4 at the link)

I wrote earlier this year about separating from my partner and returning to teaching after early retirement.

It turned out that the teacher shortage is so acute due to the pandemic and boomers aging out that literally nobody cares why you left and why you want to come back. On a whim, before trying up north, I contacted the district I retired from, where I currently live. I figured if you don’t ask you don’t get. In the past they almost never hired retired teachers to supply and when they did, they made them reapply as though they were brand new teachers who had never worked for them. But now, when I emailed, they said, “Provide police check and we’ll reopen your file,” and I started teaching right away. But it gets better.

In the past, even if you could get hired as a retiree, it was only for daily supply work. Long term positions were not open to retired people because they have to pay double for experience. But now there’s such a shortage, I landed a 13-week contract. I think there’ll be lots more to come for the next few years. They did ask in that interview why I wanted to return and I just said my circumstances had changed. Thay was it.

Returning to my previous board (I still kinda can’t believe it) meant that my daughter and I didn’t have to go to the far north to keep body and soul together. We stayed in our small community and now live on an acre near our family and friends and I feel confident I’ll be able to earn enough teaching to keep us for the foreseeable future.

I’ve realized with all that’s going on, including the breakup and my daughter’s health concerns, that I really need my support network. So I’m glad I was able to return to teaching post-retirement without having to answer awkward questions, or go far away. I appreciated Alison’s advice because it gave me the courage to think that a return to work was NBD. But I really appreciated the love from the AAM community. Thank you all.

2. My employee is paranoid — can I help or is it not my business?

I really appreciate your and the readers’ concern for Georgia, me, and the rest of the department. I wanted also to let you and readers know that our work sometimes puts us in contact with mental health professionals, and so I also ran the situation confidentially by one of these folks with whom I have a good relationship, and they suggested similar scripts, in addition to giving advice on behaviors that would indicate that things were escalating and needed more intervention. Thankfully, none of these have occurred.

I mentioned our EAP directly after one of the incidents, saying something like “That sounds really stressful, I wonder if the people at our EAP might have suggestions for you.” Georgia responded positively and took down some information, but I have doubts that she followed through. The next time our office bulletin board was due for a refresh, I made sure to put the EAP info front-and-center, and Georgia’s also been required to go to a session about what our EAP offers recently (all staff at her level were at this session), so the information is out there for her.

I was reluctant to inform HR initially—our HR department has a history of having it out for certain people–but after seeing our new-ish HR director handle some difficult situations really well, I set up the meeting. HR thanked me for making sure they were aware and were pleased with how I’ve managed the situation so far.

As many people in the comments wondered, being back in person seemed to improve Georgia’s mental health. However, about a month ago, the paranoia did creep in again as a one-off while she was telling us about (real, legitimate) issues she’s having with her apartment’s management. I’m still concerned for her and keeping an eye on the situation, but it’s not as intense as it was when I wrote.

3. Our boss’s high salary is tanking morale

I was glad to get your advice that basically I could say something, but I was not ethically obligated to. I ended up saying that my role was underpaid for the skills expected, and that they would likely continue to have high turnover at that rate. The broader financial conversation, I think, makes more sense coming from the employees who stayed or came next and might be more invested in the future of the organization. I do know one of the other exiting employees (one who actually might have stayed had things been different) did mention it when they exited. But it was all fairly anticlimactic. Some big conversations that as far as I know led to nothing.

That said, as end of year donations approach and I now make a comfortable salary, I actually checked my impulse to send them a contribution. The 2020 tax filings are publicly available now, so I can confirm that the number my coworker told me for our ED’s salary in 2020 was correct. I can also see that given our pandemic losses it equaled a bit more than a third of our total revenue for the year. Meanwhile they offered us health insurance at a rate I couldn’t afford on my salary, and didn’t offer me any kind of assistance when I explained why I was opting out of healthcare. So um… I don’t think I’m donating this year. And I’ll probably check their tax filings in a bit of a rubbernecking way each year, tbh!

4. Leaving when my contract has a $10,000 penalty for quitting early (#3 at the link)

I had a family friend who is an attorney look over the contract and he told me that most, if not all, of the document likely would not be enforceable if the case ever went to court. With that knowledge, I put my notice in. HR reached out and said there would be a $1,000 fine for leaving one year early. While I still cringe to think I had to pay to leave a job, in my mind it was the easiest way to leave a stressful situation quickly.

I’m grateful it wasn’t the worst-case-scenario I had imagined.. but more than anything I am just happy to be out of a work environment that was draining me in pretty much every aspect of my life. I have a new job that brings me a lot more fulfillment and brings in close to double what I was making in my last role (which also went into my decision making).

5. I’m being pressured to chauffeur interns to and from work

I wish I had exciting news, but fortunately I do not! The short answer is the intern took the bus.

The long answer was my manager backed me up and told her under no uncertain terms was she to ask me to take the intern.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Bookworm*

    Thanks as always to the LWs for writing in and letting us know! #1: Glad it seems to have really worked out (job, you have a support network, etc.). Also want to thank you. I’m not in education, etc., but am grateful that you’re willing to go back and teach. Good luck!!

    #5: Maybe it wasn’t “exciting” but I’m glad it worked out and you don’t have to be a chauffeur. I remember your letter and thinking how *weird* the entire situation was. So happy that you had a “boring” update. :)

    1. awesome3*

      I was going to say, i don’t find #5 unexciting at all, we got a whole entire answer to the situation, and it was a positive one!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly I thought the update to number five, while not exciting was good. We got the full update – and all worked out well for the OP.

      2. Your Local Password Resetter*

        The best updates often seem the least exciting, because everything got handled quickly and painlessly.
        So really we win either way!

  2. Sea Anemone*

    Question about #2:

    The original post had this from Evil HR Lady:

    The guideline from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is that when the employer ‘has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition,’ you can require an exam.

    Assuming that “medical condition” covers mental health conditions equally to physical conditions and setting aside how a manager determines objectively with mental health that a particular problem is actually due to a mental health condition and not run-of-the-mill, non-medicalized emotional states, does the employer have to cover the cost of the exam?

    1. Observer*

      Why should mental health be any different from physical health?

      Same question about objectively determining a danger. In other words, you base yourself on the things a person does or says not on what you think you know about a given diagnosis or suspected condition. So, it’s not objective to say “I think they have BPD which means that they will do this thing that places people in danger” or “Wow, they are really paranoid! What happens if they decide to attack a visitor because they think it’s an attacker?” On the other hand, if the person says “I’m bringing a gun in to work from now on because the zzz’s are likely to try to get at me.” That’s an objective danger.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        Why should mental health be any different from physical health?

        That’s not a helpful question. Whether it should or should not be, mental health frequently is *not* covered the same way that physical health is. If you have an actual answer from the EEOC on whether that statute applies equally to mental and physical health, then go ahead and share.

        Same question about objectively determining a danger.

        I didn’t ask about objectively determining danger. I didn’t *ask* about objectively determining anything. I actually set the question aside entirely bc it is a huge can of worms.

        Since you opened the can, the EEOC guideline, as quoted by Evil HR Lady, explicitly says,

        ‘has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition,’

        A gun at work is an objective danger (for most office environments). Determining that the employee brought the gun to work due to a medical condition is not something an employer can objectively determine.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          “That’s not a helpful question. Whether it should or should not be, mental health frequently is *not* covered the same way that physical health is.”
          Although this is almost certainly true, it still is very sad. IMO, mental health is consistently underappreciated with respect to bio-physical health in most situations, both within and outside workplaces (including WFH).

        2. Observer*

          Determining that the employee brought the gun to work due to a medical condition is not something an employer can objectively determine.

          And that’s not relevant. The employer doesn’t have to determine the reason why someone brought that gun. ALL they have to determine is that the person’s behavior objectively poses a threat to others.

      2. Sea Anemone*

        I tried to get more information from the EEOC website, and I uncovered this in the footnotes:

        39. “Direct threat” means a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. 29 C.F.R. §1630.2(r)(1998). Direct threat determinations must be based on an individualized assessment of the individual’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job, considering a reasonable medical judgment relying on the most current medical knowledge and/or best available objective evidence. Id. To determine whether an employee poses a direct threat, the following factors should be considered: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that potential harm will occur; and, (4) the imminence of the potential harm. Id.

        Your example of bringing a gun to work doesn’t really seem to fit with the intended scope of the statute for most workers. I guess if using a gun is part of the essential job duties, then the statute applies. But this definition seems applicable threats due to inability to safely perform job duties, like inability to operate heavy machinery properly due to a medical condition.

  3. Smithy*

    To LW #3, as a long time nonprofit person, I just want to raise a petty glass to your regular tax filing sneak peak.

    Certainly every now and then some nonprofits get into hot spots over executive staff salaries n such, but in the US that information is public and donors who do care can check prior to giving. While certainly there’s a class of donor of who doesn’t care, but will care if the nonprofit in question is publicly embarrassed or named/shamed – the reality is that “nonprofit news” is very rarely on the front page.

    Therefore, finding the small and sometimes snarky ways to move one – it keeps us all sane.

    1. Ally McBeal*

      Issues like LW3’s are why I usually don’t donate to national charities. I know for a fact that the director of my local food bank isn’t raking in a salary equivalent to 1/3 of their annual net revenue, nor are they spending millions or more on congressional lobbying.

  4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    As someone who rides the train to work daily, the update for number 5 is totally what I hoped would happen. Honestly if the busybody from the original letter was so invested in getting a car ride for the intern, she as the closest employee could provide it.

    I know there are some places and types of public transit that give public transit a bad name – but much of the world makes it work reliably and efficiently. There is nothing wrong with riding the bus.

    1. WellRed*

      I went back and reread the original post. The intern was getting $3 an hour(!) to offset the cost of transportation.

    2. Threeve*

      Sally sounds pretty dreadful. Poor baby intern taking the scary scary bus! The interns probably loathe her.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        There’s a male version of Sally at my current job. The train is scary – and how dare Where’s get reimbursed for their train pass (my job encourages public transit and van shares run through the state by reimbursing you for the cost) when I don’t get reimbursed for my gas to drive to work.

        Yes, I spend as little time as possible around them too.

      2. Heffalump*

        I’m reminded of “My aunt and uncle are extreme helicopter parents — and I work with their son.” The LW’s aunt and uncle had driven their cousin to school every day when he was in college because the bus was too scary.

    3. Lana Kane*

      I wonder if anyone told Sally to go get the intern herself. Especially since she lived closer to the 2nd one that OP.

  5. WFH with Cat*

    OP #3 – Very glad to hear you have moved on — and please don’t feel you have to justify not donating to a badly run nonprofit. As much as you may want to support their mission, any money you give will do more good at a well run organization. There are so many!

    Also, quick note: You mentioned in your original letter that any statements made in an exit interview would go to the Board of Directors as well as the Executive Director. But here’s the thing: A nonprofit Board is responsible for approving the annual budget and the hiring/salary of the ED — so they should already have been well aware of the problem. Whether they knew and approved or did not know what was going on (for whatever reason), it sounds like that Board was absolutely failing to meet its responsibilities.

  6. Lifelong student*

    Reminds me- I haven’t done my review of local nonprofits in a while. Time to log onto guidestar.org and check out a few 99o’s!

  7. Heffalump*

    I’m reminded of “My aunt and uncle are extreme helicopter parents — and I work with their son.” The LW’s aunt and uncle had driven their cousin to school every day when he was in college because the bus was too scary.

  8. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#4 — I went back and reread your original post. Given that your employers agreed to a fraction of the penalty that was stated in your contract, I wonder if they already knew that they couldn’t enforce it if any employee actually chose to go to court???

    Glad you got legal advice and moved on. Hope your new job continues to be satisfying and here’s to a happier 2022.

    1. Mid*

      Yeah, I’m a little sad that OP 4 paid at all, but I understand them not wanting to deal with legal complications. (It wouldn’t hold up in court but that doesn’t mean the process to determine that would be quick or easy.)

  9. Worker bee*

    LW#5, I’m glad it worked out and your manager backed you up!

    When I was a summer intern, the other intern (who was a friend of mine) asked me if I could drive her as well, since she didn’t have a car. I didn’t really want to, as it would double my travel time, but she offered $20 a week in gas, so it seemed like a fair trade. That lasted a bit over a month, until she told her parents, who were OUTRAGED that I was taking advantage by asking for gas money, since I was going there anyway.

    Yes I was going there, but I was also driving 10 miles out of my way, one way, three days a week, to pick up their daughter. If I had said no, she either would have to spend upwards of 2 hours on the bus or spent three times that on cabs/Ubers.

    Heffalump’s comment about the helicopter parents completely applies to my fellow intern. Granted, I was a decade older than her (I was going through a career transition), but was constantly astounded about the complete lack of self-reliance a 23 year old who lived hours away from home. She lived in university apartment housing and lost her keys 3 times in 4 months, because she wasn’t used to carrying keys, so she had to pay penalties every time they had to rekey her door.

    She did something to her phone (something mundane like broke the screen, got it wet, etc), called her parents, and her mom immediately took off work to drive 3 hours to deal with it. I had driven her to her carrier’s store and they said they could take care of it, but just needed her parent’s authorization since she was on their account and that could be done with a phone call, but no.

    Something happened to the new Macbook they got her, which was under warranty and would have been fixed for free, but rather than walking to the Apple store, another call to the parents, where her mom left work again to come up to take care of it.

    The weirdest was when she came back from winter break. Her parents got home after driving her back, noticed she had left her winter hat, and turned around to drive it up to her. We have hats here. Lots and lots of hats, of all shapes, sizes, colors, and price ranges.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I feel bad for that person Worker Bee, their parents have helicoptered them into being helpless. I lived with a few of them in college – the ones I knew back then (this is going on two decades now) either:
      -failed out in a semester (because they had no idea how to cope on their own)
      -glommed onto someone in the dorms who had pity on them (big mistake made with the best of intentions)
      -or the smallest group, cut off their parents to almost never talk to them again because they finally weren’t being smothered anymore (these folks had some bumps, but went on to be successfully independent).

      Parents – it’s hard, but part of growing up is making mistakes and learning how to fix them. Not learning also ends up leading to some of the letters we get here – from managers frustrated that junior employees don’t know how to do things.

    2. allathian*


      What did you do when her parents got mad at you for charging her the gas money? Did you continue to drive her for free, or did you tell her to take the bus?

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 – director’s salary – I had to re-read as I was agog that more than a third of the donations (in the pandemic year) ended up being paid back out as his salary! And OP said even in a normal year his salary was a third of the total budgeted outgoings (not just a third of salary) … If he truly is being paid double market rate it seems like bad “optics” not to donate part of that back to the organisation (in the pandemic year)… I understand that non-profit people need to make market rate rather than be paid well below “for the cause” but double market rate is grotesque.

  11. lb*

    OP2, thank you for the update. Georgia’s stayed in my mind since you wrote your first letter, and I’m glad she’s trending upward. Hopefully she can get the help she needs.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: I’m late to this but having got a paranoid disorder I can say you did VERY well in handling it. Seriously, there is no talking someone out of a delusion – it takes trained medical professionals.

    Additionally can I just say I am overjoyed that nobody said to get her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital? That’s one of my greatest fears – that someone here will find out I’m schizophrenic and claim I’m too dangerous to others and should be locked up. That’s a persistent paranoid thought of mine.

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