updates: employee got pulled over during a Zoom meeting, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

1. My trainee got pulled over during a Zoom meeting

Thank you for your advice on this. Your answer was about what I was thinking, and I think what I did worked out well. The new employee immediately apologized during our next check-in and admitted she had been driving. I didn’t call her out on her other excuse because while I doubt it was true, I can’t confirm that. I don’t blame her for being shaken up after a police encounter. (I heard the officer be quite aggressive with her over something she denied happened. It went on for minutes before she cut off.)

Turns out, she had a sudden schedule change, wasn’t sure if it was okay to reschedule, and tried to make it work while driving. Some people assumed it was a training, but it was just a check-in, which is probably why she thought it would be manageable. I told her under no circumstances should she put her safety at risk for a meeting, and she promised to keep that in mind.

I didn’t realize this letter would cause such heated discussion on driving during Zoom meetings! It’s something I’m very much against for safety reasons, I know that any distracted driving is dangerous, even if I was sympathetic to her mistake. We don’t have anything in our training materials about not driving during meetings, but I am adding them for our new employees starting in January. We have had everyone from entry level staff to high level managers at our company talking while visibly driving in the past. Admin has only started cracking down in the last year. Now, I have a chance to influence that, so this was a wakeup call that I need to address it right away.

2. Am I wrong in not attending the funeral for my boss’s father-in-law? (#5 at the link)

I saw your call for follow-ups. This one is uneventful, which is good. The day of the funeral, my coworker who pressured me and another coworker were getting ready to leave the office to head over. Other coworker asked if I was coming, I said no, she responded, ok, we’ll be back in a bit. Which is how my original conversation with the coworker who pressured me should have played out. She stood silently by for this exchange, so maybe she learned something? Probably not. But, I’ve not heard anything about it since. So, success? I struggle to stand up for myself sometimes, so I just needed some extra validation that I was in the right. Thank you!

3. Should I tell my boss I hate my job?

I did manage to connect with one coworker at the Bad Place, and I had some more candid conversations with my manager (and his manager), but in the end I had to leave. I work for a competitor now and I’m very happy.

The real hot gossip though is that after leaving, through a bizarre series of coincidences, I just happened to become friends with someone who left the same team shortly before I’d joined. I was hesitant to be frank with someone I’d just met about my experience, especially since they had a long tenure. But they busted that door wide open with some, uh, choice words about what’s going on with that team. Suffice it to say I feel much more confident that it wasn’t just me.

4. Friday good news (#1 at the link)

After almost a year at my “new” job, things are going pretty amazingly. We’ve returned in-person with a degree of safety that I couldn’t ask more from, they’ve been amazingly flexible during a time when my family had all sorts of erratic scheduling needs, and the change in workload and pace from my previous position is almost unbelievable. Three levels of management have checked in to make sure I’m using my PTO, even during the busiest times for the office. The speed and efficacy with which action is taken when a need for change is identified blows me away, and the framework for most of the change is with an eye toward greater equity for the organization across all our spheres of influence. (By the way, this is an organization big on referring to everyone in the community as a family. While I understand the caution, it’s not always a red flag; sometimes it’s just true.)

Just when the first seeds of thinking I might want to have a plan for future advancement started to creep into my brain, my supervisor told me that she was seriously reconsidering her work-life balance and might be requesting a move to reduce her hours. Things moved fast, and ultimately:
–She moved to a part-time mostly-WFH support position, which allows her to work around time with her very young kids. So she’s happy.
–The part-time member of the department moved into a full-time version of the same role, which means he has a stable schedule and moves to salary, as opposed to working literally five different positions and taking hours where he could. So he’s happy.
–I was promoted to manage the department, along with a slightly-over-5% raise and control of my schedule. Beyond that, my new supervisor has said she thinks the whole department is undercompensated and wants to pursue remedies in the budget for the next fiscal year. I am very happy. We’re currently wrapping up this year, and then I will not only have my first Christmas Eve off in ten years, but I’ll be off between Christmas and New Year’s without taking any PTO as an organization-wide year-end practice.

Outside of work, I’ve become a volunteer for the organization I interviewed with directly before my current one. They’ve even asked for my input on future event programming, and I look forward to building more relationships there.

At my old position, I’ve watched from afar while the person I knew would be asked to take over has really made things his own. I knew he could take things in a unique direction, since we have totally different strengths, and I’m so happy to see him thriving. I don’t have any second thoughts about leaving, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to rebuild my relationship with the owners there. When I left, I was in a serious state of overload and could only commit to things I absolutely had to do (all inboxes were an utter mess), so from their point of view, I just disappeared. I truly do love them as people and want to have them in my life going forward, so now I shake myself out of the “it’s been too long to not be awkward, so let’s make it longer and more awkward” to rebuild some bridges.

Thanks again for all the advice, which I’ll be using even more of as a brand new manager!

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephen*

    #1: My work has a very solid “no driving while doing anything” policy, that they recite at our monthly staff meetings. No driving and being on the phone, not driving and text messaging, no passenger is on a call and the driver chimes in, it is strict but it removes all questions.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      Mine, too. The policy is no cell phone use while driving on company business, including hands-free.

      1. Everything Bagel*

        I think I kind of wrote that wrong. The policy is no cell phone use for work matters while you’re driving.

    2. Meep*

      I am a pretty decent driver, but my former manager found out she could squeeze free work hours out of me by calling me to and from work. It took me a while to put my foot down, because, as unreasonable people are wont to do, she would get pissy if I didn’t pick up and would repeatedly call. Putting my phone on airplane mode helped for a while. I could honestly say I didn’t see her calls as she went straight to voicemail and she refused to leave voicemails. (No “paper trail”.)

      I think this is great not only from a safety standpoint but also as a boundary standpoint!

      1. pancakes*

        I haven’t tested it, but recently I read someplace that if you switch your phone to airplane mode during a call, the other party will see “call dropped” rather than thinking you hung up. Seems useful!

    3. Meep*

      I am a pretty decent driver, but my former manager found out she could squeeze free work hours out of me by calling me to and from work. It took me a while to put my foot down, because, as unreasonable people are wont to do, she would get upset if I didn’t pick up and would repeatedly call. Putting my phone on airplane mode helped for a while. I could honestly say I didn’t see her calls as she went straight to voicemail and she refused to leave voicemails. (No “paper trail”.)

      I think this is great not only from a safety standpoint but also as a boundary standpoint!

    4. ArtsNerd*

      I bought a car for a new job, and my new boss was upset to learn that it didn’t have Bluetooth so I wouldn’t be able to take calls on the road. So that was horrifying. (The car just was for my commute but I did have the occasional need to drive to an off-site meeting.)

  2. Milnoc*

    “I told her under no circumstances should she put her safety at risk for a meeting, and she promised to keep that in mind.”

    Translation: she’ll likely do it again.

    1. Software Dev*

      That is a very, opinionated strong read on a paraphrased interaction you weren’t part of.

      1. All the words*

        The phrasing leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Trainee was told she shouldn’t “put her safety at risk”. Well, we saw in the responses to the initial letter that there are a ton of people who believe taking calls while driving isn’t putting anyone’s safety at risk. All the studies that demonstrate otherwise be damned.

        Remove all doubt. If the policy is no electronic communication while driving, no cell phones, no texting, no blue tooth, no zoom calls, etc. then that’s what should be said. I think this is an example of softening a message when very direct communication is needed.

        1. LW1*

          It was a summary of a 10 minute, serious conversation that I typed in a minute or two to update Alison, I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear enough. Yes, I said she should never be on a call or meeting while driving, and she agreed not to.

          1. Software Dev*

            I honestly don’t know why this topic seems to bring out the worst, most bad faith interpretations from people.

            1. Artemesia*

              it might be because we all see people driving and texting every day. I have observed on a high speed freeway someone using a laptop propped on the steering wheel as they rolled along at 70 mph. And we see people holding phones and driving all the time. And lots of people make the ‘hands off’ excuse. This is an area that calls for a very rigid rule.

              1. SnappinTerrapin*

                I’m not sure how to write a rule to cover those people who cannot be trusted to drive a car while conversing with a passenger, listening to the radio, or thinking about what they want to do this weekend.

                On the other hand, I’ll never understand the folks who think they can read and write while driving.

            2. londonedit*

              It might be a cultural thing – here in the UK, using a phone while driving has almost reached the sort of level of general disapproval as drink-driving or not wearing a seat belt. Of course people do it, but it’s hugely frowned upon and has been illegal for many years, so I’d be thoroughly shocked if I heard someone was on a Zoom call while driving. My phone automatically switches on driving mode when I’m in the car now and it’s amazing, you really do get distracted if you can see messages coming in while you’re using your phone as a sat nav.

              1. Calliope*

                Keep in mind, she wasn’t using the video. Just audio like a phone call. My phone also changed to driving mode but still allows phone calls which come through the car Bluetooth. I agree it’s still distracting to take calls while driving and not a good idea but I think the use of Zoom has led people to assume it was a video call while driving.

          2. After 33 years ...*

            You were there. You’re the best judge of her sincerity. Your clarification of the policy is a very good move, which could save someone’s life.

          3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            LW1, that was definitely the wisest rule to make for EVERYONE in your organization! And sadly, this is especially true for your employee – a POC in a racist area. Black people have wound up shot to death by the police for minor (or NO) infractions; it isn’t safe for her to give them any possible cause to say “She asked for it by breaking the law!”

            And of course, even using a hands-free cell phone has been found to be very distracting indeed when you’re driving. Your rule should help make it clear that no meeting is more important than your employees’ safety.

    2. Your local password resetter*

      That’s reading a lot into a very normal response.
      This was caused by scheduling issues and an employee who wasn’t clear on the policies. Nothing in the letter or update points to her being reckless or underestimating the risks.

  3. Echo*

    #4: “this is an organization big on referring to everyone in the community as a family. While I understand the caution, it’s not always a red flag; sometimes it’s just true.” I think your org is what a lot of red-flag-filled “we’re a family” companies THINK they are!

    1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

      Maybe it is just like real families – some are supportive and look to lift everyone up. And some aren’t. :-)

      But you are right – they all think they are the best family- not the manipulative abusive ones.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        This is actually a really good comment on the “we’re a family” phrase.

        If it’s a company that has really good health benefits, PTO, possibly some other employee centric perks and polices, low turn-over, and generous (or heck even fair) compensation, then that phrase might really mean: we work to care about are employees as people and not just cogs.

        If you are seeing other issues during the interview process than that phrase might actually mean: we want you to feel indebted and incredibly loyal to this company so that you are overworked and feel guilty about every Dr.s appointment, sick day or even when you clock out on time.

        The truth for most places I’ve worked at who have used this phrase as actually been somewhere in between.

        1. LW#4*

          Absolutely. I’ve also worked at “family” organizations where the owners really did care about the staff as people…but they also sacrificed a lot for the business personally and tended to lose track of the fact that employees shouldn’t be as invested as owners in that manner. In the end, no amount of genuine affection can counteract work not providing the things work needs to provide in a way that preserves physical and mental health.

  4. Software Dev*

    Some of the comments on LW1’s original post were pretty uncomfortable. A number of people calling for the woman to be fired or saying race wasn’t important in a story about a Black woman being pulled over by a cop.

    Obviously distracted driving is bad. Driving is one of the deadliest things a person can do and one of the biggest risks people take and thousands of people die tragically and for no good reason in car accidents. But driving is also necessary to the everyday functions of life in most of the USA and I would be shocked if most people haven’t gotten behind the wheel in some state that increased the danger of driving. Not talking about drinking or other substances, just road conditions, car conditions, life distractions, in car distractions etc. In this case the person took a risk to drive and talk on the phone, presumably out of fear of job consequences if they didn’t and probably incentivized by other events in their life where this might have been an expectation. It was the wrong call, but the LW reacted exactly correctly imo, calling it out and letting the employee know not to do it again. The absolutist nature of the comments last time felt pretty harsh to me.

    1. CoffeeBreak*

      I’m honestly surprised the comments are so quiet now. People were SO up in arms about talking on the phone while driving. I’d wager that probably 80% of the people I know talk on the phone while driving. Texting is my hard line. My mom avoids calls if she can, but she still will in a pinch. I think this is one of those moments. Lesson learned.

    2. Cj*

      She should ever be driving while on the phone unless it’s handsfree, and especially when it’s a call you have to be paying a lot of attention too. Since she hadn’t been told that by her employer about work calls, I in no way think she should have been fired.

      But while it may be true that she may have been pulled over because she was “driving while Black”, it doesn’t have anything to do with why her employer doesn’t want employees on the phone while driving.

      1. fort hiss*

        The initial question was about whether to address the employee fibbing about why she’d dropped out of the call, which is why her race came into it. OP pointed out that she may have been especially shaken up when she made that excuse. The driving during a check-in being unacceptable was never in question.

    3. Curious*

      While it clear that traffic enforcement in general is significantly tainted by racism, the fact that the employee was pulled over while driving distracted makes it more likely that this particular traffic stop was objectively reasonable.

      1. Software Dev*

        Regardless of whether it was a valid stop or not, the experience and feelings a Black woman is going to have about any interactions with law enforcement are going to be different than those of white people. My point was not whether or not the stop was valid, as only the police officer and the woman in question can answer that, but that pretending her ethnicity didn’t matter in the situation was and is ridiculous.

        For the record, though, it is absolutely possible for someone to commit a minor traffic infraction (the only thing we know about why she was pulled over from the original post) AND be pulled over for reasons related to race. No one can ever know if that was the case here except presumably the cop in question, but let’s be honest that the standards for “objectively reasonable stops” are often different by skin color.

      2. Calliope*

        Oh come on, white people are virtually never pulled over for distracted driving while taking a hands free call.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        This assumes the officer knew she was on a call (when it sounds like she was handsfree which leaves no visible evidence) and she was pulled over for distracted driving (which the OP has made clear in both letters was not the case; what little she has described of the overheard interaction has implied she was pulled over for a different minor infraction). Justification after the fact doesn’t work.

      1. BigHairNoHeart*

        Ha! Just my opinion, but you seem very level headed and have handled the situation well. And that’s especially difficult to do when subject to so many intense opinions from commenters.

    4. Calliope*

      Yeah I thought it was really inappropriate. Especially given how understanding the commenters were to the LW who drove while looking into the camera for a Zoom meeting for an hour! I think the additional context that a lot of the higher ups at this company also take phone meetings while driving demonstrate why she probably thought she should too, and the LW’s clarification to her that she shouldn’t was helpful and probably appreciated by her.

  5. Glamour Toad*

    #1 reminded me that I once moderated a forum for a local political race (over zoom) where one of the candidates was visibly in his car driving around the whole time. It was not the oddest thing about his campaign.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The saddest part of your comment is that “that wasn’t the oddest thing” about his campaign. What does it say about us as a society that people like this are running and sometimes winning elections in our society?

  6. Alice Watson*

    LW #2 is exactly why I didn’t tell anyone at work when my Grandmother passed. I just told my boss I needed to use bereavement time and told my team I’d be off x, y and a days but not why. It’s no offense to the co-workers; I know mine would have come to the wake and I think it’s lovely that we support each other that way. But they didn’t know her, they’d have been there for me and I like some (or perhaps many) others just don’t have the emotional room to handle those extra condolences especially in person. Others may not be comfortable going to wakes and services because it brings back bad memories. This is just one of those very personal occurrences that really has no rule one way or the other and nobody should ever be shamed or feel bad for attending or not attending.

  7. Lois Gory*

    Paramedic here.

    Just. Don’t.

    No texting, no calls, no nothing.

    You think that the worst that could happen is being pulled over? Or a fender bender?

    The worst that could happen isn’t even being killed, although it will bring agony to those who love you.

    The worst that could happen is that you could kill someone else. Another mother on her way to pick up her kids at day care. A distracted pedestrian. The passenger in another distracted driver’s car. The child in a stroller as the parent pushes them out into the cross walk at a light change.

    Your employer will abandon you, you’ll lose the respect of a lot of people (who may do the same thing, btw) and the horror of that moment will never leave you.

    Just. Don’t.

    1. anonymous in airplane mode*

      Thank you for saying this.

      A member of my family caused a fatal accident this way and to be brutally honest the (legal and social) consequences would have been far worse for the entire family had this person survived, when the person they hit did not. They would have lost their home at a minimum. And I can say with absolute certainty that the guilt and horror would have destroyed them.

      Never. Ever. Take on additional distractions while driving. And don’t let other people normalize it either. People do these things because they’re taught that it’s common and expected; it absolutely shouldn’t be, and we can control that. If something needs your attention, pull over. If you can’t pull over, then it just has to wait.

    2. redvelvet*

      Thank you. The degree to which this is downplayed and normalized is honestly terrifying to me.

  8. AB*

    I’m actually surprised at how much taking work calls while driving is frowned upon. I’ve been in tech/consulting for 15 years and while you wouldn’t, like, do a big presentation in the car, we constantly do 1×1 or small group calls while in the car. I don’t know that it’s a great move in your first week or two of work while you figure out the norms, but I think there are plenty of situations where this isn’t an issue.

    1. Casper Lives*

      It’s always a safety issue. Just because it’s extremely common doesn’t make it safe. There’s lots of studies showing that talking on the phone, hands free or not, leads to distracted driving. The driver’s reaction time is increased in an unsafe and statistically significant manner.

      Yes, even people who are normally great drivers. Yes, even people who do it often.

      My work is related to car accidents. Distracted driving is far and away the most common reason for an accident. Further collisions are getting more serious and medical injuries are increasing. It’s horrible.

    2. allathian*

      It’s a significant risk. Driving while distracted is as dangerous as DUI, multiple studies have shown this. According to at least one study, 25% of all car accidents in the US are caused by people texting while driving. Granted, the number of crashes that are caused by the driver being distracted by a phone call is probably smaller than this, but no doubt it’s significant.

      In my area, cellphone use while driving is illegal. It’s rarely enforced, as in, you’re extremely unlikely to be pulled over for cellphone use, but can get fined for it if you’re pulled over for some other reason, like the OP’s employee was. The significant thing is that if you’re in a crash while distracted, you’re always deemed to be the guilty party, even if someone else rear-ended you (that’s usually considered to be the fault of the driver behind you who didn’t keep a safe distance) and that will affect insurance payouts and premiums. If you’re driving a company-insured car on company business, your employer isn’t going to be happy about this.

  9. Hlao-roo*

    #2: Thanks for the update, and I’m happy for you that it was a boring one!

    #3: Glad you got out and also got confirmation that it wasn’t you! “The Bad Place” is an apt name for the previous company.

  10. B*

    #3 – It’s always a great feeling when you are trying to be diplomatic with someone, but then you discover they feel the same way as you and suddenly the gloves can come off.

  11. Elle*

    #2 reading through the initial post and the comments, one trend I noticed is the people who did appreciate coworkers attending the funeral, it was often when the attendees were above them in the organization and the deceased was directly connected to the coworker, rather than something more distant like an in-law. This might be more down to an individual’s personality but it was something I noticed and think might be relevant in these kinds of decisions.
    In any case, I’m glad OP2 found a situation they were comfortable with and wasn’t subjected to any more pressure.

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