forced to celebrate the boss’s birthday, snow day favoritism, and more

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

1. Why should we all have to celebrate the boss’s birthday?

I’m hoping you can tell me if I’m off-base to feel annoyed by something that happened at work. I work in an organization of about 20 people. One of my coworkers sent out an email to plan a surprise Zoom meeting to wish our boss a happy birthday because of “all their hard work.” The thing is, the boss isn’t great. We have lost several people because of their management style and many of us do not have a positive relationship with them. When a colleague pointed out it wasn’t a great idea given the power differential and the fact people will feel forced to participate, the colleague who dreamed it up got defensive, said it didn’t put anyone on the spot, and suggested if we weren’t kind enough to say happy birthday then we could schedule a meeting so we had a conflict. So, if we don’t like it we should lie, I guess?

It feels inappropriate and I’m not happy that I have been put in a position that I either have to participate and fake it or not participate when the boss knows I’m at work and could log in to Zoom. I fear non-participation risks retaliation (there is a history of that) and adding more friction to a relationship that is very coolly professional. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if those who want to wish the boss a happy birthday sent their own email? Are the handful of us who raised an objection off-base? Isn’t recognizing the boss a Boss’s Day activity? For the record, we have not recognized birthdays in the office historically.

It’s not that recognizing the boss is a Boss’s Day activity (plus Boss’s Day is BS anyway). If your team normally recognized people’s birthdays this way, it would make sense to do it for the boss too, and it’s not unreasonable to expect people to fake their way through a five-minute birthday thing for a colleague if it’s a thing the office does for people generally. The issue here is singling out the boss for special appreciation simply because it’s their birthday when you don’t recognize other birthdays. That’s a gross power dynamics thing: the boss’s birthday isn’t more special just because they manage a staff and, yes, people will feel obligated to participate because the boss has control over their jobs.

Ideally you and your coworkers who object would have the clout to shut it down. If you can’t, the best move is to show up, say happy birthday, and internally roll your eyes. (Or you can opt out, of course, and if enough of you do that, it will give cover to all of you — but with a boss who has a track record of petty retaliation, it’s likely not worth it.)

2. Only some people get to work from home on snow days, even though we all could

My office is located in a metro area in Colorado. Most of the employees have a commute between 20-45 minutes on a good day. When the weather turns and the roads get messy, that can balloon into 60-90 minutes. Not counting if you have kids to run around before and after work, etc.

My boss, who lives the same distance from the office as I do, has a frequent habit of choosing to work from home whenever it snows more than a couple inches (or if she or one of her kids has an appointment, or her kids — young teens — have a day off of school, or if she’s just not feeling like coming in). A couple senior people on the team are allowed to do the same whenever they want. Everyone else (about 15 other people) are expected to physically be in the office.

And when my boss works from home, she is significantly less productive, and less responsive. Almost impossible to get ahold of, and typically works a short day, only a few hours, and then signs off early.

All of our jobs can be done from home successfully (with the proper setup and dual screens) and were for the better part of two years, but last year the company started requiring most people to come back into the office and made most everyone (except those mentioned above) return the equipment that allowed them to work from home. Those that were noisy about it had their privileges maintained regardless of seniority, role, or productivity. Is it worth raising a stink about this unfair practice?

Yes. Annoyingly, it’s not unusual for this kind of benefit to be available for senior people but no one else else and pushing back might not change that, but it’s reasonable to at least try. I wouldn’t focus on it being unfair — fairly or not, there are lots of privileges built into more senior-level jobs that aren’t available to more junior staff so that argument isn’t likely to carry a lot of sway — but rather on the fact that you’ve shown it’s doable, commutes can get unreasonably long during bad weather, and it would be a morale-boosting, retention-enhancing move at a time when they should be concerned about losing staff to more remote-friendly workplaces.

3. Getting a job offer when you couldn’t ask any questions of your own in the interview

Last month, towards the end of my job search, I was interviewing with a few different companies. I was leaning towards company A (who I ended up accepting an offer from) but was still interviewing with company B. Company B’s process started with a basic 15-minute phone screen, and then I was invited to interview with the department director (she would not have been my supervisor had I accepted). We had a short 30-minute interview and I didn’t get the opportunity to ask any questions, but was fine with that since it was the first “real” interview and a short time slot. I got invited for a second round interview, scheduled for an hour, and was hoping to be able to ask the questions I had then. However, the first 30 minutes was the hiring manager asking me questions and before I had a chance to ask any of my own, I was asked to take a skills test. I finished the test in 30 minutes, asked if there was any time available for me to ask a few questions, and was told no, they had other people to interview.

A few days later, they called and offered me the position. The same day, company A had also offered me a position (and I had been able to learn a lot during my interviews with them). I declined B’s offer and emailed them back saying I didn’t feel like I had had enough of an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the company, so I wasn’t comfortable accepting their offer. The hiring manager got increasingly desperate, basically begging me to accept and offering to increase the salary and PTO, but I reiterated that I didn’t feel comfortable accepting but good luck with their search. She and HR proceeded to email me multiple times a day for the next week asking me to reconsider. I just ignored the emails.

Was there a better way to handle this? Should I have asked the questions I wanted to ask when they offered it to me? I didn’t want to burn a bridge but was so shocked by the way that phone call with the hiring manager went that I just sort of blurted out I wasn’t interested and hung up.

Whenever you get a job offer and still have outstanding questions, it’s absolutely fine to ask your questions at that point! If you have a lot of questions, you can say something like, “I didn’t have time to ask my own questions during our interviews. Do you have time for me to ask them now, or could we set up a separate call for me to do that?” You can ask this even if you did have a chance to ask questions during the interview process; sometimes things come up later that you need answered before you can make an informed decision.

Candidates do this all the time and it’s normal! If an employer balks at answering questions to help you decide whether to accept their offer, that would be a huge red flag. In your particular case, the red flag wasn’t that — it was those multiple emails a day! It’s also bizarre that after you told them you were turning them down because you hadn’t had a chance to ask your own questions, it didn’t occur to them to just say, “Let’s set up a time to do that!”

4. Who should offer who their calendar?

With the “great resignation/upgrade,” I am receiving email requests to meet with new account reps for the vendors that I work with regularly. I’m always happy to put a personal component into these relationships and have made many great friends this way. However, a lot of these requests to meet come with a line that asks me to find time on the sender’s schedule via a link they include in their email.

This irks me. I had previously thought common practice was that the person requesting time on your schedule should be the one to go out of their way to coordinate an appointment. This flip on the onus feels … wrong? Have I reached a point where I’m not keeping up with the times?

I can see the benefits of self-scheduling, but this isn’t an appointment I’m requesting and I very much do not want to dig through a list of timeslots on their calendar to find something that jives with mine … while also guessing at how long this should be (considering I have no agenda in place … because I’m not originating the meeting). What are your thoughts on this?

I see your point that the onus is on the person requesting the meeting to find a time that works — but the idea is supposed to be that this method makes it convenient for you to pick a time that works for you without having to endure a lot of back and forth. That said, if you have your own calendar link they can use to book a time, feel free to respond back, “Actually, would you pick a time on my calendar that works for you?” (I wouldn’t advise doing that if the power dynamics were different, but it’s fine in this case.)

5. Job searching when you’re trans and not out to your references

I may be in a position to start job searching soon, but I’m a bit worried about my references … or rather, my lack thereof. While I’ve been part of the workforce for several years now, I came out as a transgender woman a few years ago. Although I’m normally out and proud about that, none of my previous references are aware.

To me, this means that if i were to use any references beyond the current one who does know, I would either have to come out to older references or share my previous name with any prospective employers. The latter seems manageable for me if it’s kept to HR or recruiting, checking on my previous job history, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with coming out to past references (I used to work in a very conservative environment) or sharing my previous name with a potential supervisor or coworker who I don’t really know yet. Do you have any suggestions for how I should approach this? Who normally checks references, HR or the hiring manager?

Whether HR or the hiring manager checks references depends on the company (and sometimes on the individual manager; I’ve always insisted on doing my own reference checks when I’m hiring); you definitely can’t assume it will be one or the other.

Typically I’ve seen trans candidates advised to reach out to references ahead of time to prep them, but obviously this is tougher if you don’t want to come out to them. One possibility is to use only references who you’re comfortable coming out to but that could be unrealistically limiting. If that’s the case, you’re stuck having to choose between whether you’d rather share that info with the references or with the new employer (in the latter case saying something like, “The following people knew me as OldName”). Neither is ideal since it takes the choice of whether or not to come out out of your hands. Trans readers, what’s your advice on this?

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. Elena*

    I admit it would never have occurred to me that people might find it rude to give them your full calender and let them pick a time. I much prefer that to a bunch of back and forth and in fact really appreciate when people provide that many options instead of just proposing a time. So I would have figured it was well intentioned

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        Yes, and I’d rather be the one to pick the time on the other person’s calendar–that way I can pick a time that is maximally convenient for ME, ha. My calendar would have a lot of time slots that are technically open but would not be optimal.

        The only time it has annoyed me to received a link to someone’s calendar was when the times were extremely limited, e.g. the person who had set their calendar to only accept appointments at 11am on Thursdays, repeating forever.

        1. Fried Eggs*

          Yes! When someone lets YOU pick the time, they’re giving you complete control. Maybe I technically can meet at 10 am, but I do my best deep work in the morning, so I’d rather meet at 2.

          Or maybe I have lots of free time on Monday, but I also have a big project due Tuesday, and I’d rather squeeze in a meeting on another day so I have one less thing to worry about when I’m stressed.

          If you think they should do the admin of scheduling (it’s more work in some calendar systems than others), you can just email back and say. “Let’s do Friday at 1. Can you please send me a calendar invite?”

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes. One could have a slew of open time slots according to the calendar, but according to the headspace know that 10 Tuesday is going to work better than 11 Tuesday.

          That is an argument for the inviter to specify a length with the calendar invite–but if these are Zoom coffees I would guess that’s 15-30 minutes? Maybe they assume the meeting length is evident. Or they have different elevator pitches worked up and will give you the 15, 30, or 60 minute one depending on which you pick.

        3. WantonSeedStitch*

          Yes, very much this. I might not technically have anything scheduled at a given time, and might technically be ABLE to schedule something then, but it might be a time that I would prefer to keep free if possible. I don’t block off time like that because if, say, my grandboss were to schedule a meeting then, I could certainly take it. I vastly prefer “here’s the time I have available. Pick something that works for you.”

        4. generic_username*

          Same! I’m almost always available at 1pm, but I also really don’t like meeting at 1pm when I’m just coming back from lunch. Same goes for first thing in the morning and right at the end of the day… If I’m allowed to pick a time, it’s almost always around 10 am or 2 pm

        5. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, I like this much better than being asked to submit slots when I’m available. Hellooo, I’m unemployed; my calendar is pretty open.

          That said, I prefer not to have to be ready for an interview at 8:00 am my time, a risk with applying to companies on Eastern time. I try to pick something either mid-morning or early afternoon after they’ve had lunch. This lets my coffee kick in and gives me time to get dressed up if it’s a Zoom interview.

    1. Midwest Teacher*

      My boss does this (asks me to schedule), and it’s really frustrating because she has so many meetings listed that she has no plans to attend (think 3 overlapping meetings, multiple times a week). I think it’s more of an FYI for her so she’s aware of what’s going on within our agency, but that makes it impossible for me to know when she’s *actually* available. She’ll often ask me to schedule between X and Y days, and when I look at her calendar, every single second of the work day is accounted for with these meetings.

      1. generic_username*

        My boss’s calendar is like that too. Normally when he suggests a meeting I respond with “I’ll let you pick a time that works for you since my calendar is much more open than yours.” but he doesn’t normally phrase it as asking me to schedule – he’s more opened ended (“we should meet to discuss this” or “let’s have a meeting”)

    2. Raboot*

      Yeah, I love getting a scheduling link. It’s much less work to choose a slot than it is to communicate when I’m free even once, and saves the headache of any back and forths and of wondering if I should keep times open before they’re confirmed or what. They are doing the work up front by giving you 100% of the available options.

      1. BethDH*

        Yes, this is the part that bothers me. Unless they are super fast responding, I’m stuck either waiting to schedule anything else or trying to offer a sub-selection of my availability to each person, which makes things harder for everyone.
        That said, I do feel like we’re in the middle of a cultural shift about how to signal respect for people’s time and availability and some of the signaling and procedure is still emerging, especially coordinating people who don’t work at the same place.

    3. The OTHER Other*

      I agree, the LW is focusing on the work required to schedule the meeting but this allows it to be at her convenience rather than the vendor’s, and cuts down on the endless back and forth. As for not knowing how much time to reserve—this is another advantage of setting the appointment; YOU can decide how much time you want to allot. Some vendors will go on and on if you let them.

      1. Claire*

        If it’s an app like Calendly, then the length of time is set by the person doing the inviting; the link sent to the invitee prompts them to book only the correct amount of time. Very easy!

    4. Courtney Morgan*

      I work across with people across multiple time zones and sharing a link reduces the is that 10 am your time or my time conversation. We all see the calendar in our own time zone.

    5. Gingerbread*

      Are they using something like Calendly by any chance?

      In any case presumably these meetings would be confidential and not something you want obviously showing on your own work calendar!

      1. Mangled metaphor*

        In Outlook you can set your appointments to private. I don’t know how it works in other calendar apps, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t a similar option available there too.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yes, you can set the viewing permissions for the entirety of your calendar in outlook and it applies to all your events at once. It’s actually the default setting in my workplace: we can see each other’s availability in free/busy blocks but not the details of the events. Unless your workplace blocks that setting, you can just remove “everybody” from the “permission to see details of events” setting.

      2. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        I discovered Calendly in 2020 and it saved me so. much. time. And my sanity for a particularly annoying project.

        I put in the dates and times of when the interviewers were available and then told all of our candidates (50 of them) to pick the one that best suited them, and being early or later in the schedule did not impact their chances of joining our program. No more back and forth with 50 people to find the best time. Calendly allowed them to reschedule rather easily too.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          Not to plug a particular product, but Calendly really helped my business. I need to meet with external clients and SO MANY meetings either never happened or were delayed by endless back and forth about when was a good time. It also cut down on no-shows, and clients/prospects were much more focused for the meetings. I’m sure there are other calendar tools but I get a LOT of tech pitches and that subscription was probably the most effective $ I ever spent.

        2. LRL*

          The reschedule button is the best feature of Calendly.

          I am not sure how this thread became a Calendly ad, but I am here for it.

    6. Varthema*

      Oh maaan. I’ve got to reach out to schedule meetings with four people at our sister company today (meaning I can’t peek at their calendars on Google Calendar) and I had been going back and forth about offering them a link to my calendar. Now I still can’t decide!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The language used in the meeting request makes all the difference.
        A. “Please set up a meeting with me.”
        B. “My schedule is more flexible than yours. Here are the times I’m available–what time is convenient for you?”
        I’ve also known people to send a meeting invite and include a calendar invite within that to let the recipient reschedule.

        1. Cold Fish*

          Seconding, I think the language used makes a big difference.

          1) Schedule your time on my calendar, link attached. (is telling the person what to do)
          2) You can schedule time on my calendar, link attached, or let me know a good time for you (is giving them the option to schedule if they prefer but is not demanding the person figure it out)

          I also think the vendor/client relationship magnifies the difference between 1 & 2 and makes the wording even more crucial.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Yeah. It also depends on who really wants/needs the meeting. I took from the letter it’s more like the vendor needs the LW’s time, but LW isn’t super invested in this meeting. LW’s only doing it because the vendor seems to need it. “Please schedule yourself a time to help me” is not a great ask if that’s what it boils down to. Whereas “take your pick for whenever you want me to help you” is handy.

            1. Mad Harry Crewe*

              Yeah. I’m in tech support, and I vastly prefer calendly – I used to have to look at my calendar, figure out a bunch of times based on my best guess about their timezone, email them over, then fairly often reply back with “oh sorry, someone already booked that one. Can you bump back 30 minutes?” Now I just say “you can schedule with me here: (link)” and they can sort themselves out. If one of my days is starting to get too booked up or I have a big project, I can block out a chunk of time and prevent any calls getting added. It’s better for everybody.

      2. BeckyinDuluth*

        In Google Calendar you can make your free/busy visible to the public; that’s what I’ve done because I work on a system campus of a University, and need to work with folks on the other campus frequently. I will usually tell people “I’m happy to schedule something if you can make your calendar’s free/busy visible to me, or if you’d like to pick a time my calendar is visible.” (and I link to the instructions on how to update calendar sharing)

      3. What She Said*

        You can also ask Google Calendar to “suggest a time”. It’s usually near the invite list as you edit the calendar invite. As long as everyone you invite is on Google Calendar it will show you dates and times all parties are available without you having viewing access to their calendar. I use this all the time and it’s great.

    7. Lady_Lessa*

      I liked it yesterday when I was asked to set up a technical phone call with some new folks at one of our vendors. They gave us a list of days (all in March) when it would work for them (we are talking about whole days available). I replied and said, since my boss’s schedule is more complicated, I will let him make the decision, because I didn’t have any conflicts.

      Looking forward to working with them, even though I am doing more work with a different chemistry at the moment.

    8. Allonge*

      I… kinda understand the frustration of LW? It may be the best method for everyone involved, but I would prefer to see some acknowledgement that this is putting some work on the invitee (so, e.g. to say ‘I think it’s most practical that I share my calendar and you can pick a time, but please let me know if you have a better option?’).

      1. Allonge*

        Posted too soon.
        So that invites an alterate proposal like ‘here is my calendar’ or ‘Thursday 1pm is the only time I can do it in the next 3 weeks’ and still has the option to just go with Plan A.

        But as with all calendar issues, this is a personal / corporate culture preference too, so no major deal either way.

      2. BRR*

        I imagine the reps have frequent meetings with people outside their company and are using software that makes it super easy for external people to make an appointment. It’s such an incredibly small amount of work it feels weird to acknowledge it as additional labor. In my experience the software is just as easy to use as outlook/gmail to find a time (if not easier).

        1. just another bureaucrat*

          Ok, so here’s part of how it’s not just as easy. I have to look on the calendly link and compare that to my calendar which is more painful than using the scheduling time thing. Then I pre-block the time on my calendar because if I don’t someone will eat it. Then I select the time on their tool. Then I get the meeting appointment, sometimes automated but mostly not and then I’m like what on earth is this meeting? I have to go and check see I’ve blocked the time for this and then clear the block and add this new one. Now this is like 7 minutes maybe and that’s just because my calendar is full, but part of it is just another task. I’m going to sigh and do it because it’s better than the alternative.

          That said maybe the thing I hate is that I have to keep building new relationships and this calendly thing means I need to dig deep into the social well and expend a bunch of hi nice to meet you blahblahblah here’s who we are and what we do and what the expectations are to get to a good relationship with people. It’s a kind of pre-exhaustion that these things are coming.

          1. Observer*

            I have to look on the calendly link and compare that to my calendar which is more painful than using the scheduling time thing.

            Except that that function only works properly for people who are in your system.

            Then I pre-block the time on my calendar because if I don’t someone will eat it. Then I select the time on their tool. Then I get the meeting appointment, sometimes automated but mostly not and then I’m like what on earth is this meeting? I have to go and check see I’ve blocked the time for this and then clear the block and add this new one.

            That’s not how this works, if you and the other person are using the tools correctly. You aren’t – you shouldn’t need to block the time out in advance. What happens is that you choose the time, it sends and automatic invite / appointment within minutes which you just need to accept OR it gives you the option to add the appointment to your calendar. If neither is happening, then someone does not have their scheduler set up properly or they are not actually using a scheduling tool, just making their calendar public without actually allowing you to schedule anything. Which may still have some advantages, but is DEFINITELY clunky and should not be happening.

              1. Observer*

                That’s not what I said. But if you prefer to read it that way, I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by repeating myself.

              2. traffic_spiral*

                I’m not sure you can pull the “don’t invalidate my experience” card over not knowing how to properly use a computer program. I mean, it’s not valid or invalid that I still can’t figure out how to pull up my screen on a teams meeting, it just means I don’t know how to use Teams very well, because it’s an annoying program and I hate it.

                I guess you can validly hate a computer program? God knows, I sure hate adobe.

            1. Anonomatopoeia*

              OR, someone works in an organization which manages how calendars work in a way which doesn’t allow the tools to work the way they should, and so using this external product is not tenable. That’s a real thing in the world, and doesn’t mean the person is failing to leverage what they have as best they can. Additionally, when one interacts with people using a whole bunch of different third-party products, it’s a pain in the butt to make them all work together, and that’s also a real thing in the world. JAB, your experience is not, in fact, invalid.

          2. RagingADHD*

            I guess the real question is, how would multiple emails back and forth be easier? You get all the annoyance and having to switch windows or consult your own calendar, plus you get fewer choices and therefore more likelihood that the first round of ask/offer won’t find a match at all.

            Setting up meetings is a PIA no matter how you do it, especially when your social well is running dry anyway.

      3. Mimi*

        I’m never sure of the etiquette on this. My instinct is that the more junior person/the requestor should do the work of scheduling, but I also know that a lot of people prefer to be able to pick their own times. It’s always weird to navigate at a new job, or with people you don’t know well.

        1. Allonge*

          It really really depends on personal preference and company culture, whihc of course makes it really easy to ‘miss’ rather than ‘hit’ the target, especially from outside.

          Again, it’s not a huge extra ask from the vendor, but it will annoy enough people that I would soften the language around it at least. Everyone who is happy to make the appointment will anyway and everyone who reacts like OP and me is more likely to get from ‘why me’ to ‘what alternative is there, really’ faster.

      4. just another bureaucrat*

        Yup this is where I’m at too. I get a lot of these and it’s annoying for some reason that just gets under my skin. I know it’s easier, and I know that my calendar isn’t public and if it was it gives people hives to look at it but thanks for dumping another task on my plate. If I’m going to do that I’d prefer at least to get to use the meeting tool I prefer but that’s not how this works so whatever.

        It’s a mosquito bite annoyance but when you get a bunch of them at once it gets itchy.

      5. Anon all day*

        Yeah I agree. Also, for me, I think it’s that I don’t generally schedule meetings like that in my day to day (I don’t have that many formal meetings, so it’s usually more of me asking “hey, when are you available? These three-four times work for me.” I’ve never gotten major back and forth) so I would potentially view this as the person asking me to take on their responsibility of setting up

      6. The OTHER Other*

        Well, with that “work” (setting the meeting time) comes the power of choice—selecting the time that works best for you. And the saving of time taken up in the back-and-forth to find a good time. Or the vendor suggesting a time you are technically available, but is inconvenient.

        I found people often really don’t seem to pay attention to parameters such as “I can meet any time tomorrow except 2-3pm”. Often the person would just see “2-3” and reply “great, see you at 2”.

        1. LC*

          Actual (paraphrased) interaction I had recently with a third party vendor that I was meeting for the first time:

          Me, on Monday: Here are the best times for me this week – three or four options in couple hour blocks over different days – but I can make other times work with some notice if none of those work for you. I’ll also be in the office on Monday, but then I’m out of the office the rest of the week (date through date).

          Me, Thursday morning: Did you still want to meet this week? I’m available this afternoon, most of tomorrow, and most of Monday. I know we want to get going on this, so hopefully we can do it by Monday before I’m out of the office the rest of next week. Otherwise we can plan for the week after.

          Him, late Friday afternoon: Sorry about the delay, let’s meet on Wednesday at 1pm.

          Me, like 8 minutes later, internally: headdeskheaddeskheaddesk
          Me, like 9 minutes later: I won’t be in the office on Wednesday, I’ll only be here on Monday next week. If you aren’t able to do Monday, we’ll have to push back till the following week.

          I’d have loved to have access to his busy/free time on his calendar, it would have saved a ton of time. Especially since the meeting also needed to include my boss and grandboss, whose calendars are waaaaay more booked than mine.

      7. Observer*

        It may be the best method for everyone involved, but I would prefer to see some acknowledgement that this is putting some work on the invitee

        No matter how you do it, there is going to be some work for the invitee. In fact, if this is the best thing for everyone, that means that it is actually LESS work for the invitee (and that’s true in most cased). Which makes it sounds like what you are after is not really common politeness. In fact it feels like people want the inviters to “acknowledge” the fact that they have reduced the amount of time and effort it takes for them to schedule these appointments as something that is somewhat shady or improper, even though it is actually to the benefit of the invitee.

        I don’t get it.

        1. Allonge*

          Well, the LEAST amount of work I can have as an invitee is to have no meeting at all, preferably without the vendor having approached me in the first place – and that in the end is what I am comparing to.

          If this is a meeting I want, sure, picking a date from a calendar is probably the easiest. But still more work than no meeting at all. So having a nod to that in the request might help, and unless the industry communication culture is wildly different, I don’t see how it hurts.

          1. RecoveringSWO*

            If OP is getting more meeting requests than normal due to turnover at every vendor she works at, I can see how the scheduling process might be taking the brunt of her frustration about multiple rep-introductory meetings taking up her working time.

            If that’s the case, maybe she can reply with something like, “It’s nice to (virtually) meet you! It would be best to meet when I’m closer to ordering X supplies in May. Can you ping me again in April to schedule something?” Then OP is only scheduling something when it’s helpful to her as a customer. I think the option of saying “no, let’s not meet for X months” isn’t a clear choice when you’ve given a Calendarly link with more immediate availability. But you can say it politely instead!

            1. AcmeHR*

              This is what I’ve done as a client when these meeting requests came up. I never got any pushback, we just had the call at the next reasonable time and everyone saved 20 minutes of small talk.

    9. Rav*

      I’m one of those irked by this practice. It depends on context too. The LW’s situation is one of the few that I find tolerable.

      Still, I would prefer to hear a “I’m mostly available X or Y day, what time works best for you?” Than an apathetic “just schedule it whenever.”

      1. Groove Bat*

        I’m with you. I can’t explain why I find it so annoying. I think it’s because this is a vendor who wants something from me who is asking me to jump through their hoop so they can pitch me. I suppose in the end it is self qualifying; if I am not willing to click the link and slog through their calendar, I am probably not that interested in whatever it is they are trying to sell me.

        1. BethDH*

          I’m kind of surprised hearing it described as a “slog” through their calendar. The versions of this I’ve seen don’t leave you seeing all their dentist appointments and specific meetings, they just have a bunch of colored boxes for available times; you click one and after you’ve chosen it it disappears for everyone else.
          I find it much less of a slog then them sending me a list of 4-5 available slots of different lengths where I have to then check each against my schedule. I guess to each their own!

          1. Allonge*

            I suppose from my side it looks like this: vendor wants a meeting from me that would benefit them a lot potentially but may or may not have any benefit for me. It’s interesting enough that I will take the meeting, sure.

            If I am busy enough in general though (and am I ever), I resent anything I need to do for this other than show up. That’s just how things are. A vendor has much better chances of getting me to comply if they acknowledge that they are putting something on me here.

            1. Velocipastor*

              Thank you for describing this so clearly! I’ve been having this same issue with a couple of my vendors and I could not quite put my finger on why I was bristling at it. I even tried to be proactive and told one of them what my availability was right away and they STILL put it back on me to pick a time.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              Then how would you suggest this vendor schedule a meeting? What method would be easier for you?

              1. Allonge*

                At least pretend to offer the option to go with something else? Instead of _telling_ me to schedule this in their calendar, say ‘I think it’s most practical that I share my calendar so you can pick a time, but let me know if you have a better option?’ Certainly not insist that I use their system either way? If I say ‘Tuesday afternoons I am available for this stuff’ then react to that?

                A minimal acknowledgement is enough, this is not a dealbreaker. But my putting this in their calendar is the most convenient option for them, not necessarily for me. It could be! But it’s not a given.

                1. Allonge*

                  Sorry, I left out the most obvious: if I can share my calendar, then that. At my current job this is not an option, but it’s not a complete no-go.

            3. Observer*

              If I am busy enough in general though (and am I ever), I resent anything I need to do for this other than show up.

              The thing is, though, that this would apply to the normal back and forth of typical meeting setting anyway. So if, say, you know that your only availability is next Tuesday at 10:00, and you just want to shoot of an email that says “OK, I’m available next Tuesday at 10:00. Send me a calendar invite and if I’m still available, I’ll accept” that’s one thing. Then, yes I would agree that even that extra step of checking the other guy’s calendar is not something I’m going to want to do. If I’m that busy, though, I’m probably not taking the meeting anyway. But if I’m that swamped and I WANT to take the meeting? This is going to be less work in the long run.

            4. Willis*

              If one is so busy they don’t have time to look at a calendar and identify a timeslot that works for them and then is going to resent having this vendor meeting on their calendar, just reply to the email with a “Nice to meet you! My schedule is really busy at the moment but I look forward to working with you.” These new reps are sending the same emails to all their clients (hence the Calendly approach) …not everyone sets up a meeting.

              1. Antilles*

                Yeah, this is where I land too.
                -If I want to have the meeting, then the Calendy approach is easier than having a few back-and-forth emails to deal with.
                -If I’m too busy/stressed/uninterested/etc to spend 5 minutes on Calendy picking a time slot, then I probably shouldn’t be committing to spend 30+ minutes on the meeting either.

            5. Orange You Glad*

              This is how I saw it too. Whoever is requesting the meeting should do the work to schedule it, unless it’s an internal power-dynamic issue. If an outside party initiates contact with me but then expects me to do the work of scheduling the meeting, I’m going to be annoyed. I’m giving up my time to meet with you, why are you putting the work on me to set it up?

    10. Calendly For The Win*

      I love Calendly, which lets others choose a time in my calendar that works for them, but I am mindful of the “I’d be happy to set up a time at your convenience” convention that typically applies when you’re asking someone senior for a meeting. Now when dealing with senior people I usually state that if they’d like to provide some days and times when they’re available I’ll set up the meeting at their convenience, or if it’s easier for them they should feel free to use my Calendly link. This way I feel like I’ve covered all the bases. And about 99% of the time they end up using the Calendly link and scheduling is much more efficient.

      1. LC*

        This is kind of what I do with my grandboss, who I work with pretty frequently. His calendar is always full, and either I have no idea if he’s even planning on attending those meetings or if they’re there just for his reference, and the other half of the time, or if it’s just personal blocked off time that could be firm or can easily be moved.

        I don’t like putting the work on him to schedule it, but it is objectively soooo much easier to schedule a meeting with me than with him.

        My solution has been to pick any open time that I can find, send him a meeting request, and tell him something like “You looked pretty booked up this week, so it looks like this is the best time for you, but I’m happy to move it around if something else would work better.”

        I think it works okay? He tends to be very quick to accept the meeting requests, and will occasionally write back with a “let’s do this time instead,” so hopefully it doesn’t bug him too much.

    11. anonymous73*

      I’m not one of those “it’s not my job” people, but this is not OP’s job. The person who wants the meeting is the one that should be doing the work to set it up. By sending a link to their calendar, they’re putting that responsibility on OP. And it’s extra work for the OP. They have to pull up the link, look at their own calendar, and figure out a time that works for both of them. Not a huge time suck in the grand scheme of things, but if they have multiple vendors doing this, then yes it’s going to take more time out of OP’s day than sending a response with a handful of times that work for them. And OP doesn’t mention the software being used, but if it’s Outlook and vendors are “sharing” their calendars, OP is going to end up with a whole bunch of calendars to weed through in the future when they say “oh just look at my calendar and pick a time”.

      1. BethDH*

        I guess the thing is that being sent a calendar link feels like less work to me than any other version, other than the imaginary world where I have an assistant scheduling things for me who not only knows my schedule, but also knows my overall workload and how high this particular meeting is on my priority list.

        1. anonymous73*

          I think it depends on context and I would need more details before I decided if it was an annoyance or a convenience to me. Lots of vendors doing this seems like more work for OP.

      2. The OTHER Other*

        What method would you suggest?

        You are going to have to check your calendar for your availability in order for this meeting to happen whether you are sent a calendar link or not. Would you prefer the vendor (or other person asking for the meeting) give you several specific proposed times to choose from? Suppose you look at your calendar and none of them work? Or you wait a few days to respond and some of the available times are past, or no longer available? You are back to square one.

    12. Dust Bunny*

      Same. If I tell you, “Pick any time except for these few exceptions, noted on calendar,” I mean it–just pick any time. If I really weren’t available then I’d have blocked it off already.

    13. MCMonkeyBean*

      I have seen people bristle at this a few times here and I am so confused about it because to me the person picking the time on the calendar has more control over the meeting time. I always feel so uncomfortable if my boss suggests I add something to her calendar because it feels so presumptuous lol. I definitely feel the power dynamic makes more sense the other way around.

      1. alienor*

        I agree, I’d much rather be the one picking the time. That way I can be as choosy as I want–not too early in the morning, not too late in the afternoon, not on a Friday, not back to back with another meeting, not when I might start getting hungry for lunch, etc. I have more than enough meetings that I don’t have any control over, so I’m definitely going to control the ones I can.

      2. Allonge*

        From someone on the other side of this: within my org, my calendar is visible to all. If anyone reporting to me or anyone, really, does me the favor of picking a time there, they took off one task from my to-do list that extends into what feels like early 2023. For this, I am always grateful, forever.

        I control what I can: my calendar is up-to-the-minute updated, always. Everyone inviting me based on this is a helpful, friendly, beloved creature.

    14. Nancy*

      Agree, and it takes only a few minutes at most. No matter what method is chosen, someone won’t like it. No one is going to remember the preferred scheduling methods of everyone, so LW should just it go.

    15. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

      Same- I have a scheduling link and it has never occurred to me that people would find this rude! Very interesting. :) It saves SO MUCH TIME- and it’s less likely to get lost in my email. Plus my scheduling link will drop a time option when it fills up, and I do so many consultations that my time fills up quickly. I was thrilled when schedulers became the norm- it stopped the

      “I can do Tuesday from 3-4 or Wednesday from 9-10”

      (4 hours later) “Okay, I’ll take Wednesday”

      “Well, Wednesday has since filled up, can you do…” type emails.


      Now I’m curious who thinks I’m a terrible person for having this option.

      1. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

        ETA- I use a product similar to Calendarly- they are not looking at my personal calendar! I give them a literal link to a webpage, it gives them a calendar of dates/times I am available, and they can sign up for one of them. I’ve set up perimeters, and it also reads from my Outlook calendar, so it won’t double book. When they schedule, it adds it to my Outlook calendar, sends them an invite, a confirmation, and a reminder. I would never make people try to add it to my actual calendar !

    16. Hillary*

      In this specific context, I think the rep is being rude. If they’re attempting to build a new relationship with me, I expect them to ask me for a time that works and take it. If they can’t meet with me at 10:00 Thursday, they’re free to propose an alternative. At the end of the day I’m their customer. In my last job there were months where I didn’t have time to meet with all my existing reps, much less new ones. Candidly, anyone who attempts to start a relationship with me this way doesn’t succeed. A rep needs to work within the norms of their industry to succeed.

      I’m fine with something like Calendly where it’s an even-power relationship that brings benefit to both parties, or when the person sending Calendly is higher power. A new sales rep is not higher power. When a sales rep wants to build a new relationship they need to remove all real or perceived obstacles from the customer’s path.

    17. Orange You Glad*

      I usually try to get ahead of the back and forth by providing my calendar/availability with my initial response. When someone reaches out internally to ask to set up a time to meet, I will respond with something like “my calendar is up to date with my availability” so the ball is in their court to schedule (we all have public-to-the-organization calendars through Microsoft). For external parties, I try to provide as much about my schedule as I can so they can send a meeting request.

      If someone reached out to me to meet and then expected me to schedule it, I would not respond (unless it were like the CEO or a VP).

    18. English Teacher*

      Agreed. I don’t have a calendar that shows all the time I am free or not free. My email/Teams calendar would show times that I’m in a meeting with a colleague, but I also have classes to teach, times that I set aside specifically for individual work, and personal time. There’s no reason I would put those on my email calendar, but it means that any calendar I sent to a vendor would be incomplete. I’d appreciate them having a complete calendar to send to me. But you could certainly ask them how long they expect it to take.

  2. Miss. Bianca*

    Ugh #1, you have my sympathy! Your colleague who dreamed it up is gross, and I’d be willing to bet they kiss up to management on a regular basis. Your whole office sounds awful and realistically the only way for a peace of mind is to leave. I can’t imagine the office politics of the day-to-day is like. I’m so sorry.

    My last job had a culture like that and it weirded me out. The coworker who was mostly responsible for it (who was also the most sycophantic person I’ve ever met in my life) pressured the rest of us to give our terrible bully (who was nice to her b/c she sucked up) of a boss a week-long event “celebrating” her, ending with a lavish gift. I felt pressured to give money, but it was soooooo over the top. It wasn’t the last time she gave a lavish gift to her boss.

    The only other place where we celebrated Boss’ Day, our team got our boss a bag of candy because he loved candy lol. Stuff like that I think is okay to “gift up”.

    You’re not being annoying! You’re normal!

    1. NorthernTeacher*

      I just experienced the same thing. Staff birthdays are not acknowledged; Not even a mention in passing in the hall. However, the principal threw a big thing (cake, balloons, disco ball ..etc.) for the office administrator who she is buddies with. So when the principal’s birthday rolled around last week, the office admin returned the gesture. Given that nearly all the rest of the staff has felt unfairly judged and unsupported by the principal (myself included), this hit like a ton of bricks. Office admin is a wonderful person, but it was another example of favoritism in a long list of situations over the past two years. The principal’s favourites get acknowledged at meetings over and over again and treated differently. The rest of us are ignored unless there is a problem and then face being harshly criticized. Given that the office admin hadn’t organized a birthday thing for the principal in the past, I think she felt she needed to because of the celebration she received.
      It is easier to smile, nod and play along to stay on the principal’s good side.

    2. Batgirl*

      I believe the traditional response to a brown nosing colleague who keeps putting you into awkward social situations with the boss is to be very cool with them generally, and to put them on an information diet. The coolness is because they have chosen power over being collegial, and the information diet is so they can’t tattle about how you deliberately double booked your calendar. Other options are for everyone to be too busy “but I will just wish them Happy Birthday in the morning! Or whenever I bloody well want to!” Obviously it is better by far if you have the clout to just say no and point out the power imbalance. However a workplace run by a boss like the one you describe doesn’t always have great levels of fairness in play.

    3. Butters*

      My last job we all had to give the bully of an office manager $15 for the boss’ birthday each year despite most of the staff making under that hourly. I tried to push back one year with language I learned here, but she let me have it with both barrels. She would use the money to buy a gift card to his favorite restaurant. What did we get for our birthday if he remembered? A box of donuts to share with the entire office. Heck when I got a gift basket for doing a giant favor for a vendor the boss had one of his minions call and demand I bring it to him because it was “supposed” to be addressed to him. The OM then got the rest of the office to bully me for not sharing.

      The office manager made my life hell and was an awful person all together (discussing why trans people shouldn’t be in public with a client while I was trying to work, ect). I couldn’t go to the boss because I was pretty sure he agreed and she had been there for decades. It was just another symptom of an absolutely toxic workplace that I finally got out of after a few years.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      My head canon is that this colleague has noticed the office tension and asked themselves “What would make everything happier and more relaxed and less adversarial around here?” and this is what they thought up.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I think it’s probably more like a realization that the boss is a mercurial jerk and her job will be much easier and more pleasant if she stays the favorite.

        That’s probably not a conscious thought. I had an abusive manager years back, and one colleague that was never the target of that abuse. Towards the end of our time together, this colleague confided in me that she had been slowly realizing Boss’s abusive tendencies for a long time and she was only then starting to see how much of her own behavior had been subconsciously focused on keeping herself from being a target.

    5. Mockingjay*

      The fact that the coworker pushing this dumb idea suggested that people not wanting to participate could “schedule a meeting so we had a conflict” as an excuse means that even she knows how dysfunctional the place is. She’s trying to curry favor with the boss and has roped the rest of the office into supporting this (doomed) endeavor.

      OP1, as Alison said, if you can’t push back, join the Teams meeting and give the boss 10 minutes of well wishes. Or do as coworker suggests and schedule a conflicting meeting. Make it an interview.

    6. Smithy*

      Absolutely – this is just one more sign of a problematic workplace and problematic dynamics.

      I also just want to both give the OP a hearty understanding of being irritated by this coworker, but encourage them not to dwell on how irritating this coworker’s effort to curry favor is. When we’re in dysfunctional unprofessional and toxic workplaces led by bad leaders, people adopt different coping mechanism – and flattery is one of them.

      It’s not say that you need to respect or admire people who take those approaches, but personally when I started having a little empathy for flattery as a coping mechanism it helped with making me less angry when I was in that situation. And when I was less angry, I could focus more on what I could actually change at work and when I just needed to focus energy on leaving.

    7. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      And nice DARVO by the colleague as well, especially the framing it as an issue of their “kindness.”

    8. Firm Believer*

      You actually think getting on a zoom call to wish someone a happy birthday is gross? That seems a bit extreme.

      1. evens*

        I agree. Plus, is this where OP wants to spend her capital? She’s not being asked to contribute money or anything but a tiny bit of time. Chillax, wish boss happy birthday, and move on with your life.

      2. traffic_spiral*

        Yeah, I’d say it’s a mild pain in the ass at worst. I hate zoom meetings, but if she wants to set it up, it costs very little to click on the ‘join’ button at the appropriate time and spend 10 seconds doing the Smile And Wave. It neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

  3. SG*

    For #4, I think you could look at this another way. To reframe it, the person requesting your time *did* go out of their way to coordinate with you, when they set up a calendar with their available time slots. This is the equivalent of writing in an email, “Here are some available times…. Do any of these work for you?” except that it’s much easier for all involved!
    If someone was requesting some of my time, I would love it if they just sent me their calendar and said, “Pick a time.” You refer to it as, “digging through a list of timeslots on their calendar,” but really it’s just the same as if they sent you a list of available times, and you would have to check them against your calendar. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two, and like Alison says it avoids the back and forth. If on first glance the times they offer aren’t great for you, you can always respond and offer some alternative times, but they are trying to save you the trouble of doing that!
    Also, if the person doesn’t indicate a specific duration (which the time slot offerings may tell you, i.e. if they offer 30-min slots), I would just default to 30 min, since it sounds like this is just an introductory meeting. You could also request an agenda and/or what will be covered during the meeting and how much time they need. But honestly this seems like a good system and that they are trying to make it easy for you!

    1. Double A*

      Yes, exactly, just think of the link as a list of times they are available and they want to know what works for you. Because it…is exactly that.

      I’m confused as to what the LW prefers. Multiple rounds of emails?

      I have a link where people book appointments for me, but when for Reasons I need to make it sound a bit less formal than “please book an appointment,” I’ll say something like, “Here’s a link to my availability so we can find a time that works for both of us.”

    2. SongbirdT*

      The tool I use literally embeds buttons for each availability slot. The entire meeting is otherwise set up when I send the list – subject, description, conference link, length, etc. And I have full control over how many options I send, normally not more than 8 or 10. Once the recipient clicks their preferred time, the invitation gets sent automatically. Reading the other comments, it sounds like other tools are set up differently, but the one I have really does try to make it as simple and convenient as possible.

    3. Dutchie*

      I was just thinking this. This is about a preference for having the times in a written or a visual format. I would much rather compare my calendar (visual) to another calendar (also visual) instead of a list (written).

      Now, someone else might prefer a written format, but that does not mean that that is necessarily the Better Way. It’s just that: a preference.

    4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I agree that the other person involved was just trying to be helpful. It seems like that way isn’t ideal for the LW, though, and I’d take her about her word about that. I have ADHD and weird things can make my brain get its gears jammed. LW can just respond how they want to rather than use the suggested system.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think the question posed here though is less about what works for OP personally and more about asking if it is rude/wrong for the person with less power in a relationship to be the one to send their calendar. I think fully no, it is not. If OP wants to request a different method that is fine, but I think it’s unreasonable to be irked or offended that someone tried to set up a meeting this way.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I think the difference of opinion here makes this clear – there is no one method considered easiest and most respectful!

        2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I agree but I am seeing a lot of posts like SG’s that tell the LW that the way the vendor did it is the same as or better than other ways. A commenting rule is to take the LW at their word, and SG says, “really it’s just the same as if they sent you a list of available times, and you would have to check them against your calendar.” The LW already said it’s not the same for her.

        3. El l*

          I don’t think what the vendors did was rude or inconsiderate.

          For myself, I wouldn’t do it or particularly like it.

          That’s because being in control of my own schedule (and the same for other people) is a value for me, and I don’t like the message it sends of other people getting to look at your schedule or of all times being equal.

          I prefer the back-and-forth – even if it’s more trouble – because it gives them that privacy and veto power, and I’d want that too.

        4. Mama llama*

          Agreed 100%! Of course my calendar link is available to my boss and CEO. I wouldn’t assume that I could just go book time on their calendars… that would feel very presumptuous.

          So if you are using a modern calendaring tool like Calendly, which does save everyone time, the more junior person should send the link. And the more senior person should get to decide how much time they can afford to spend.

  4. Emmy Noether*

    #1 I see wishing someone a happy birthday akin to wishing someone a good morning: if you are in a social situation where it’s expected, you just do it, independently of what your opinion of the person is. It’s just words, you don’t have to mean them (and even bad bosses are humans and deserve a happy birthday).

    Now the fact that your boss is the only one who gets wishes and that it’s supposed to recognize their hard work is BS. Either your office celebrates birthdays, or it doesn’t. Making it about hierarchy or “hard work” is not good, and if it was a gift instead of a few minutes of your (paid) time, I’d say resist. Even now, I’d be tempted to set up calls for everyone’s birthday henceforth to make it fair.

    1. The OTHER Other*

      Saying “Happy Birthday” in passing would be fine, to a boss or any coworker, but having a Zoom meeting scheduled for it is over-the-top.

      It seems a bit weird to me to even know when coworkers’ birthdays are. Most places I’ve worked haven’t done birthday announcements, the few that have would send out an email each month saying “happy birthday to Kathy and Steve, whose birthdays are this month” or something like that. I think even cards passed around to sign were more about milestones—birth of a child, get well from a serious illness, retirement, etc. I don’t think ever for birthdays.

      1. John Smith*

        Same here. In my last organisation, there was a tradition where cake or other treats where brought in by the person whose birthday it was (purely voluntary) but that lead to* one-upmanship and pressure on those who didn’t care about birthdays (inc. their own) or didn’t have the money/time to buy or make such treats

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I agree the Zoom meeting is over the top, but now that it’s scheduled I’d log in, say Happy Birthday, then mute myself and do something else. It’s not worth spending capital on fighting this.

        Most places I’ve worked the birthday person brings in some kind of treat for the team, so it’s polite to stop by and say “Happy birthday! Thanks for the cake!”. My current team tracks birthdays for cake-planning purposes (ever since the cake-overload incident), which I don’t really like, but I don’t think it’s worth fighting it. There’s no pressure on those who don’t bring anything (and their birthday is not tracked).

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          “ever since the cake-overload incident”
          This phrase hanging on its own is making me imagine a comedy of errors… only one cake cutter, not enough space to refrigerate, too few consumers?

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            and I fail to see how there can be too many cakes. If you can’t eat the lot, most will keep. Some (like the pineapple upsider downer hidden in my oven) taste even better after a few days, the goo gets gooier and the syrup gets sweeter.

            1. Dutchie*

              The cake might keep, unless it is frosted and has been out of the fridge for a few hours. You should probably don’t eat that.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Two people had birthdays on the same weekend and brought in multiple cakes each on the monday, plus a random coworker who just felt like it. I think we had 6 or 7 cakes. Not a huge problem in itself (they were in a kitchen where 30ish people will get some, plus we would call other departments over), except the office glutton (I don’t say this to disparage him, he’s a nice guy, but it’s just a fact) could not keep himself from trying every one, some multiple times. He wasn’t quite himself for several days after.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              (upon re-read, I hope the comment doesn’t come across too flip – I’m fairly certain his penchant for cake is not disordered eating, which I would never make light of)

            2. generic_username*

              Oh man, this reminds me of when we did the project where you had to make a replica of a cell during my high school biology class. The teacher said we could use anything to make our replica and even said we’d have a little party eating the edible cell replicas. 30 kids brought in food; 1 pizza and 29 cakes. 29 pieces of cake was a lot for 10 am, lol

      3. Parakeet*

        We do e-cards that people sign, for birthdays – but people’s managers are the ones responsible for picking a card, sending it around, and getting it to the worker. My manager does it for me, her manager does it for her, my coworker on another team’s manager does it for them, etc. The process of making the birthday card happen flows down, not up.

      4. Observer*

        but having a Zoom meeting scheduled for it is over-the-top.

        Sure. It’s also pretty obvious that this is not the most well run office out there, to put it mildly. But “over the top” is not the same as “massive problem”. And worrying about being “inauthentic” in this context seems to be a bit over the top in a different way. I agree that the right reaction here is to just log in with my camera off say “happy birthday” and then mute myself for a bit longer.

    2. londonedit*

      Everywhere I’ve worked so far, the culture has been to do a small thing for people’s birthdays (if they want to, that is) – in the Before Times it’d be a card and a cake (any excuse for a Colin the Caterpillar) and now it’s an e-card. For big birthdays there’s usually a collection so you’ll get some cash along with your card (again, that’s all now online). In some places it’s traditional for the person whose birthday it is to bring in cakes for everyone, but in other places your line manager will buy a cake and you’ll have a little birthday tea-and-cake break at some point during the day. I do think a special Zoom meeting is a bit OTT, and especially if the boss is the only one getting a fuss on their birthday. Either do something low-key for everyone or don’t do anything at all.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I agree that simply saying Happy Birthday is polite, but that’s not what’s being proposed – they are literally scheduling a meetings explicitly for that purpose (which strikes me a super awkward anyway – what happens? you all say happy birthday and immediately leave? Or are you all supposed to sit there awkwardly while the other 19 people say happy birthday in turn? It seems extremely bizarre even without the ickiness of only doing it for the boss, and the weirdness of suggesting it’s for their ‘hard work’)

      Where I work, people tend to bring in some form of treats on their own birthday, there will be an e-mail saying something like ‘cake in the kitchen as it’s my birthday’ and then there will be a few e-mails back saying thanks / happy birthday. It’s voluntary and no one tracks or comments if someone doesn’t chose to mark their birthday.

      1. UKDancer*

        Same in my company (at least pre-Covid). If it was your birthday and you wanted to bring cake or doughnuts you brought it in and told everyone. If you didn’t want to celebrate you didn’t have to. Nobody kept a log or monitored it. Some people preferred to bring cake in to celebrate other things or because it was Friday or brought in sweets because they’d been on holiday or had a festival with a particular foodstuff.

        I’ve never worked anywhere with an obligation to celebrate our colleagues or do some form of event.

        1. Mangled metaphor*

          One of my coworkers really didn’t want anyone to know his real age and birthday, so arbitrarily picked a random day in a month when there were no other birthdays, declared he was 24 (he really, and obviously, isn’t – and since he’s now been 24 for the past six years, it’s just a running joke) and that’s when we celebrate.

          And you still have to be careful of how the culture can vary even across teams. I turned 40 during the first long lockdown – I got some vague email comments and a coworker friend (who lives just three streets over) dropped off a box of chocolates. That same lockdown period another coworker also turned 40 and they did a collection for a gift for her. And that actually hurt – I’d always brought treats in. But my 30th had also gone uncelebrated, as had my wedding (more or less – I did get a beautiful card, but unlike all other coworker wedding announcements, no actual gift). At least I have full and unambiguous knowledge of my place in the coworker celebratory totem.

          1. allathian*

            Ouch, I’m sorry, that’s really unfortunate. I guess I’m lucky in that people who want a birthday celebration in my team get it, and those who don’t care one way or another don’t. We used to celebrate every year, but now that we’re at 20+ team members, when our current manager started, we decided to celebrate only milestone birthdays from now on.

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            I had an ex whose mother celebrating her annual 31st birthday. We like to poke fun at her for that.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I had that relative as well. They were celebrating the Anniversary of their 30th Birthday (for about 55 years). It was just a part of who they were, we all just went with it.
              But at work, yeah it probably would have been weirder.

          3. Dutchie*

            This is why I think there should be some sort of regulations surrounding birthday’s. It sounds like it will take out all the fun of it, but it is to avoid situations like this where you actually *hurt* people by forgetting them (or worse).

            I would take boring and predictable over hurtful any day.

          4. Rachel in NYC*

            My office celebrations are by “department”- so you only get a celebration if your group (which can be 1 or 2 people) organizes something.

            And since some of the groups have social organizers (or bakers) as part of their groups- the birthday celebrations are definitely more common in some departments than others.

            But the head of our office does send out a monthly email that lists (for good and bad) everyone who has a birthday and significant work anniversary that month.

            So everyone gets Zoom chat birthday wishes, if nothing else.

            1. Mangled metaphor*

              Yeah, we’re same department, but different sub-teams – e.g. in “IT” I’d be software development, she’s second line support.

              And it hurts because the collection email was only sent to the fifteen or so people in “IT”, so I was definitely on the distribution list!

        2. Autumnheart*

          That’s how we did/do it at my office too. The birthday person brings in treats, or not, and people will typically offer up a “Happy birthday!” while they grab a slice.

    4. glitterdome*

      Unless you have the political capital to expend just log in and put in a few minutes. Just frame it in your head that yes, he is putting hard work, just hard work at being a crappy boss!

    5. Firm Believer*

      Yes, this is the only part of the letter I find egregious – that no one else is acknowledged on their birthdays. Otherwise I don’t see the problem.

  5. Bazza7*

    #4 Dumb question. Vendors are Salespeople aren’t they? If so, this is part of the process of the sale isn’t it? They are going to be pushing for a appointment giving you times and days they are available, even with the initial contact. This is what they do.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, this is really par for the course with vendor sales reps in my experience. If it’s someone I want to talk to, it’s easy to pick a convenient time slot. And in the OP’s case, this isn’t a critical meeting so who cares if the first time slot where they’re both available is a ways away. For cold contacts/advertising spam, the “please pick a slot on my calendar” thing does come across a little presumptuous, but that’s not the case here since the OP already does business with these companies and actually wants to talk to these people. So, I don’t really get the complaint…it sounds more like a power thing than actually related to scheduling ease.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, I get these kind of emails from vendors I’m not actually currently doing business with. I don’t love it as an opening contact strategy (especially as they never seem to acknowledge that I might not be interested in talking to them it’s always “Hi! I’d love to talk to you about our services, click the link to schedule a time.”), but in the OP’s case where these are vendors they have a relationship with already, I see less of an issue with it.

    2. Gingerbread*

      These are vendors that the letter writer already buys from/contracts with and she’s meeting with their account reps.

    3. Hillary*

      In my experience, no. Strategic sales means adjusting your schedule to a customer’s needs, not the other way around. They ask me for a time that works for me, and if they can’t meet my initial time we start negotiating. The only time they’ll propose a time initially is when they’re flying in and offer lunch on a day they’re here. If it’s not lunch they tell me when they’ll be here and ask me what would work for me while they build their schedule.

      Based on comments I suspect this is dependent on both industry and what kind of customer one is. Strategic reps may have 8 or 10 customers. Tactical or local reps may have 200+. The first category always asks what time I have available, the second kind may send a message saying they’re going to be in the area this date & time and can they drop by (in the before times of course, these days we don’t allow visitors).

  6. The OTHER Other*

    #3 Consider this a bullet dodged, not just because they gave you no time to ask questions, but because they just assumed you’d be interested, and their multiple emails and calls to get you to reconsider. Very odd that they are putting all this effort in after the fact yet couldn’t make any time for you to ask your questions during the process. I’m thinking they are having a very hard time filling the role due to job seekers having more options and maybe the work is piling up.

    1. Snow Globe*

      It seems really odd tome that neither of the interviewers thought to wrap up by asking “do you have any questions for me?” That’s so normal, I don’t think I’ve ever been in an interview where that wasn’t asked, even phone screens.

      Sure, ask questions at the offer stage if you are still interested, but I think if you have other options you are fine seeing this as a yellow flag and opting out.

      1. comityoferrors*

        It’s even odder, I think! It sounds like the OP specifically requested time to ask questions at least once and was told no. I understand scheduling constraints, but since candidate questions are such a normal part of the hiring process, I would’ve expected…something more proactive, I guess. The hiring manager could’ve set up a short meeting later that day/week to engage with OP, or requested OP email their questions so she could respond later (which isn’t ideal but better than never making time to answer), or any number of ways to make an apparently strong candidate feel heard and engaged in the process. It’s such a low bar to clear.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          Yeah. I could see if the time ran out for questions after the interview and the skills test. But when the op asked for time for questions they could have said. We’re short on time today because of other candidates. How about we schedule a phone conversation later this week.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, as Alison said, they could have said “oh sorry yes of course please ask all the questions you need” and didn’t seem to be listening to her at all.
      So either there was something about the place that OP would not like, that they knew they had to hide until she was on the team, or … or … they’re just not interested in OP as a person, or both or worse.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Charitably, they are so focused on THEIR need to fill the slot they forgot that interviewing is a two way street. They see this person as a perfect fit and can’t quite figure out why the person doesn’t see it the same way. I mean they were willing to offer more PTO unasked so its not like it is a COMPLETELY unreasonable place. Just … oblivious.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – going for the kindest thought approach, they were just so into considering their needs that they overlooked the fact that OP is learning about them just as much as they are learning about OP. I’m also wondering how many times this group has had to hire in the past, and how much work is backlogged because of the vacancy.
          Hopefully they figure it out and give candidates a chance to ask questions in the next round, but they aren’t going to Change OP’s mind and so should move on now.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        THIS is what gets me. When OP said they weren’t comfortable taking the job because they hadn’t been given the opportunity to ask any questions, the hiring manager didn’t respond by offering another meeting where OP could have those questions addressed. They just tried to throw more money at the situation. This sounds like a company that doesn’t understand that there are reasons people choose or reject jobs that aren’t based on the salary, and that in itself is a reason I’m glad OP didn’t take the job.

    3. anonymous73*

      They’re clearly covering something up if they made all of the interviews conveniently end without allowing OP to answer questions. They’re desperate to fill the role and want her to accept before finding out why they’re so desperate.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”

        Some people are just really bad at handling interviews.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          A lot of us totally are bad at that, myself included! But combined with how much of a hurry they were in to get the interviewing process over with, and how hard they’re pushing to get OP to accept the offer, I sense something’s off. I am also giving the side-eye to their “no, OP, you cannot ask questions, because we have other people to interview.” If they had so many candidates lined up, why didn’t they just offer the job to the next one in line after OP turned it down?

        2. Smithy*

          In addition to stupidity/incompetence/inexperience – I can easily see a situation where a short staffed team is essentially in back to back meetings all day and those 30 minute writing tests are the only time someone gets the chance to going to the restroom, answer a few emails, and get something to eat. The reason for the rush off/no questions wasn’t to be rude but because their schedule has allowed them no time and this is where they’re cutting corners.

          This team could be filled with some of the most wonderful and experienced people, but put in a short staffed kind of situation where the OP wouldn’t be given any kind of onboarding and put in a taxed system that would still feel awful. A lot of times the most unhappy I’ve been at work has been in places where the workplace sets up negative dynamics far far worse than people actively trying to deceive me.

        3. anonymous73*

          Based on the letter, she’s spoken to 3, possibly 4 different people and all of them are stupid or bad at handling interviews? Nope. I don’t buy it. Not to mention 2 of them don’t understand basic etiquette if they’re hounding her via email for a week, multiple times a day after OP declined the offer.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            To me it looks like the people hiring got pressure from above to hire OP and afraid they’d get punished if they didn’t make that happen. It seems really desperate to me.
            Of course, this doesn’t say anything good about that employer.

    4. What's in a name?*

      When someone tells you who they are, trust them.

      Over three conversations, they never gave you time to ask questions. That tells you how they value listening to employees and allowing communication to flow up. This was a bullet dodged even before the pestering to reconsider.

    5. River*

      +1. Yes. Agreed. Makes you wonder why they didn’t allow the OP to ask questions as well as the company sounding desperate to hire OP…..

    6. Kit*

      Note that none of the effort appears to have included the opportunity for OP3 to ask questions, which they clearly indicated was one of their chief reasons for rejecting the job offer. The fact that they resorted to all this effort without addressing the thing they knew was a problem is a huge red flag: either they are not listening to OP’s concerns, or they know that asking questions would reveal deeper problems. Or both.

      Definitely a bullet dodged, and their response has confirmed that.

  7. John Smith*

    #1, you have my sympathy. My organisation’s departmental busybody had a collection envelope with everyone’s initials on it that she ticked off when that person made a contribution to whatever celebration she had decided to organise (for those in power, of course – noone else). There then followed emails (with a ‘read receipt’) reminding those of us who hadn’t contributed of the fact. She mostly stopped when paperclips and IOUs started appearing though she continues to request donations from the regular contributors. Senior management have been asked to put a complete stop to it but they’ve declined because, apparently, it’s a morale booster for her. And they wonder why our dept has the lowest score in the organisation from the staff satisfaction survey!

    1. Mangled metaphor*

      Morale booster for one member of staff at the expense of morale for the rest of the staff.
      What an odd manglement decision.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agree – manglement is a great description of what’s going on. I’m betting that the collection coworker is the squeakiest wheel, and managers just don’t what to deal with her – so everybody else deals with her instead. Nothing in the morale department will turn around until someone develops a spine and actually shuts her down (but betting that won’t happen because it also sounds like they are the beneficiaries of her collection efforts).

    2. allathian*

      Things won’t change until either upper management sees some sense, she leaves, or the last of the regular contributors decide that enough is enough. It’s frankly odd that her morale is so much more important than everyone else’s…

      1. DireRaven*

        Nah, there will be the new person who comes in before she leaves and when she leaves, that new person will take up the mantle of responsibility for the task. And 10-15 years later, although no one is left working there that was working there right now, the tradition continues because “we have always done it this way”.

    3. anonymous73*

      With someone like that, I’d purposefully ignore her emails and tell her to leave me TF alone. I refuse to let office bullies guilt and harass me into giving them money for group gifts.

  8. Director of Alpaca Exams*

    Hey #5, you have all my sympathies. If you decide to use the old references, I’d probably opt to come out to them, because the potential cost is lower (“welp, that reference isn’t a reference anymore” vs “my new coworkers know my deadname”). But it’s a very hard call.

    There is a way you might be able to thread the needle with your new company, since you are out as trans. Explain that when you transitioned, many people cut ties with you and you weren’t comfortable coming out to others, and that’s why you only have one reference. A company that’s genuinely supportive will understand that and work with it. A company that doesn’t understand that is possibly a company you don’t want to work for as an openly trans person. Learning this about your potential employers before you take a new position could be really beneficial to you.

    You could also broaden your idea of what constitutes a reference. The last time I job-searched, my references were a former colleague, a vendor I had a good working relationship with, and a fellow volunteer at a (work-relevant) nonprofit. I liked the variety and the way they could all speak to different aspects of my work. Take a look at people you’ve worked with for a generous definition of “worked” and “with” and see whether you might have more potential references than you think.

    Best of luck!

    1. Transitioned Between Interviews*

      Hi Director of Alpaca Exams,

      I really like your suggestions; the one in the second paragraph seems like a great way to both see how they react, but also not have to be concerned about coworkers/managers knowing your deadname if that’s something important to you. And the broader definition of a reference may be appropriate if you have a relevant working experience – I’ve had one of my references actually be someone who was in the same ERG who I worked with on events (not necessarily great if I wanted to not be out as someone who was in that ERG, but a really good reference for me and how I wanted to be seen).

      I think you’ve really put it well in your post and highlighted a lot of the trade offs of the different approaches, thank you!

    2. SJ (they/them)*

      I was coming to say exactly this! OP#5, when it gets to this point, if you find that neither option (coming out to older references vs. letting new employer know your deadname) is workable, let the employer know the situation and see what they say. Exactly like the poster above said, there may be alternate references you can use.

      If I were hiring, I would bend over backwards to accommodate this.

      Congratulations on coming out and good luck with the search! I will be rooting for you.

    3. OP #5*

      Yeah, it’s a tricky situation to be sure. I like both of the other suggestions you’ve offered, I may have to give one of them a try; from talking to a friend who works in trans advocacy, the employer I’m looking at right now seems better than average when it comes to corporations supporting trans folks, so I’m optimistic that second response would work out. Both options are definitely something to keep in mind for future positions though. Thank you!

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        I don’t know your exact constraints, but I have an alternative, imperfect solution if major issues are: 1) you don’t want to come out to your references; 2) you’re out as trans in the interview process (or would be fine coming out); and 3) you don’t want your coworkers to know your deadname (a real issue that cis people just don’t get).

        If that’s the case, another possibility is asking if HR will do the background checks for your under your deadname and asking them not to share your deadname with your supervisor. HR cannot share protected class information with your supervisor. I don’t know if deadnames are explicitly included in protected class information regarding gender (I’m guessing they aren’t), but I do know that gender covers gender identity. If HR seems open-minded, then you could do a little educating about what you need…”Just so you know, it’s important that my coworkers and supervisor don’t know my previous name because x and y. This is very common among trans people (maybe link a gentle article from, like, SHRM ). I’m wondering if you might handle my reference checks with a and b so that I can maintain my privacy as a trans person and ensure I’m not subject to discrimination by coworkers.” Then see how they respond. It could be a good litmus test about whether a company will be trans inclusive. I asked my HR

        Source: I’m cis, but my partner is a trans woman who transitioned in her late 20s. I run an employee resource group and have worked with our HR to ensure our policies are trans-inclusive. This is what we might do with a trans employee.

        PS: If you haven’t changed your name yet, that’s a good question to ask HR, too. “Who in the organization will have access to my protected class data, such as my gender identity and my legal name? How do supervisors have access to the info in the HRIS?” My org has an answer already prepared for that.

        1. OP #5*

          Oooh, another good idea!

          Luckily, I got my name changed legally about four years ago (and I’ve been out for the same amount of time), so I don’t have to worry about having my deadname in the HRIS (beyond, I guess, potential reference checking info)

          1. A&T*

            I was on the hiring side of this and I’m definitely sympathetic. It is typical for my industry to ask for transcripts as part of the hiring application package, even for those with advanced degrees and have been in the workforce for a while. Hiring is done by committee so everyone on the committee (future coworkers) would get the package. You (or anyone who may be in this situation) may want to contact your school administration to get the names changed so the correct information appears on (un)official documents. Some positions on USAJobs also ask for transcripts to be uploaded prior to submission.

            1. OP #5*

              Oh yeah, already got that one taken care of. Honestly a bit surprised by how easy it was, since I didn’t go to college in a particularly accepting area, but I certainly won’t complain!

    4. Cam*

      Yeah, this. I would come out to references in a brief email, and expect that the usual reasons people have problems with someone else’s transition (it shaking up a power structure, an awkward phase presentation-wise, grappling with whether they do/don’t find you attractive) are moot if you’re a few years out from the job and not embodied in front of them. Conservative people/offices are often better than you expect at treating other people considerately. Give them an out to not be your reference anymore if they think they’re going to scramble pronouns.

      I think being straightforward about it gives you a much better chance at a good reference, since you’ll be top of their mind when the reference checker calls.

      All the people I came out to very late in the process turned out to be lovely about it, and it lifted a burden to reduce the potential awkwardness of a chance meeting.

  9. Mercy*

    #2 Commuting in the snow can be gnarly in the Denver metro area, so I feel you.

    In addition to Alison’s suggestions, I also think bringing up the issue of safety in not needing employees to risk getting into car accidents on snow days, as well as the potential increase in productivity of employees on those days (by them not being stuck in traffic during potential business hours) could also help make your case.

    1. Becky S.*

      That’s excellent! Make your statement be what’s the advantage to the person you’re trying to persuade.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The safety argument was the winning one in my office. Snow can be unpredictable at times, not having people get in accidents trying to commute in bad weather while the plows are out is just good management.

      Signed, someone who lives in a different mountain state, but add in lake effect snow.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “snow can be unpredictable at times, not having people get in accidents trying to commute in bad weather while the plows are out is just good management.” This!

        1. Hazel*

          Plus, it can be exhausting to drive in bad weather! So you arrive at work not in a good frame of mind for working. And the drive home could be more dangerous.

          AND, why not allow people to work from home when it’s crappy outside?

    3. Rocket Woman*

      #2 – I also live in the Denver metro area and while myself and my vehicle are equipped to drive in the snow I avoid it at all costs because of the the safety concerns! People and their vehicles move here without the knowledge/equipment to drive in snow and there are so many accidents. Go back to your office and say that WFH should be allowed due to safety concerns for employees – they will be more productive if they aren’t stuck in traffic or caught in an accident. You could also point out that more people WFH keeps the roads clear for people who do need to be out, like first responders.

    4. Allison*

      Yes, this! As someone who works for a large public hospital in the Denver metro area, a hospital that runs the city paramedic division, let me add that first responders (police, fire, and paramedics) REALLY appreciate it when people stay off the roads unless it is absolutely necessary! It makes their jobs so much harder when they have to fight traffic to get to people who need help. This applies to every city that experiences inclement weather – please stay off the roads if you can!

  10. Transitioned Between Interviews*

    LW #5: I feel for your predicament! I don’t have a good solution for it, but wanted to add a comment to say things can turn out ok and share my story and some ideas. I had known I was genderfluid for a while, and was partially open with it at my previous job but was still using my birth name and pronouns when I started looking for a new job. This gave me the situation where a subset of my references would have known one name, and a different set (but overlapping at the same job) would have used another and different pronouns. So when I was interviewing, I used my birth name and pronouns for several interviews and it kept feeling wronger; eventually after I was past the opening interviews at one place, I realized that I needed to actually use my current name and pronouns for my own well being. It actually turned out to be a really interesting litmus test for the hiring managers at that job when I introduced myself as “Oh, I go by this name now, and my pronouns are …” when my resume and applications used a previous name. The best ones just took it in stride, introduced themselves and went right on; one of them felt so comfortable with it that I ended up asking a question about diversity and representation on their team, and got to talking about gender presentation and other topics with them. I’m still working with that manager several years later, have fully transitioned to that name (and beyond) and it’s been one of the best working experiences for me.

    So, some ideas, with the caveat that everyone’s experience is unique and especially so with gender. Could it be a situation where bringing it up helps you as a gauge of whether you’d want to work there? Part of the whole interviewing process is you getting to get an idea of what it’d be like to work there, and it may be something affirming for you to see how HR, recruiters or even a hiring manager reacts to that mention of previous names. I went ahead with it in my experience because of reading many things here and at Captain Awkward, about just saying it matter of factly and going on and that guides the other person in how you want them to react.

    It could also be the case that that approach is exactly wrong for you – I know for some of my trans and queer friends it would not be something they wanted to share at all, and would just want to pass and do their work and not have that be part of their experience at work. If that’s the case, I think the best thing would be to make sure to apply at places where you know that HR/recruiting/recruiters is separate from the final hiring decision so you can compartmentalize who has to know for the sake of reference checks. Or maybe there are places that would be ok with a single reference, or multiple references but from the same job with different connections?

    My hope is with you, LW#5, and know you’re not alone in the hard situations with transitioning in the workplace.

    1. OP #5*

      That may be part of what I end up doing! Realistically, whatever team I end up with will end up finding out I’m trans anyway; it’s not something I hide, and even at my current job, I keep a trans pride flag up at my desk.

      Thank you!

      1. KuklaRed*

        I wish you all the best. I’ve worked at several companies where an individual transitioned while working there, and it was always handled very matter of fact – “Seth” is now “Beth” and that was that. I can imagine that this is more difficult while interviewing, but I hope that you encounter the same attitude – you are who you are.

        1. OP #5*

          Yeah, that’s how we handled it when I came out a couple years ago. I wrote up a short, matter-of-fact email for my boss to send out the Friday before I started presenting female (since i was taking that day off), and that was that.

          One of our IT service desk folks even got my desk nametag changed to my preferred name before I came back in. Really made me smile.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            The more you talk about your current workplace, the more I’m thinking you should pick a selection of folks you have worked with there as references to replace your prior industry ones. In addition to avoiding the deadname, your current work is in the industry you want to work in so their assessment of your work is more relevant than those from your old, conservative industry, and it sounds like they aren’t transphobic assclowns. I have done this before when I had one past boss who HATED me (but never could critique my work) and the one before that who went off the grid to a monastic commune in the Spanish Pyrenees, which meant I had about 7 years of no direct manager references. I picked senior folks who managed projects I worked on, senior stakeholders from other organizations, and SMEs in my org. No one even asked about why my prior managers weren’t on the list and I have never had an issue.

            1. OP #5*

              Yeah, my current boss (who knows I’m looking into this; I did end up telling him since I’m 100% positive he has my back in looking at this) is one of the current references, and I’m thinking about asking some other folks I get along very well with too (not just on my team either). The only concern I’d have would be if having all of my references be from the same company might not look great to a prospective employer.

              You had a manager that went off the grid like that? Whoa! I imagine that was quite a surprise to find out.

              1. marvin*

                In your position, I would probably just use all references from the current company and mention to the new one that you’re not including any older references from before your transition. If you have your current supervisor, that will probably carry a lot of weight. I had to do a similar manoevre when I changed jobs (although in that case it actually wasn’t related to my transition) and my new boss was really understanding.

  11. Trans guy*

    #5 I am a trans man and just recently sent out an application that asked for references. Instead of sending names and phone numbers, I simply wrote a few lines explaining the fact that due to personal reasons, past employers know me under a different name and I don’t feel comfortable sharing it. I also said that I’m happy to share more information once we’re further into the application process.

    I see it this way: either this puts them off or it doesn’t. If it does, I take it as a clear sign that this is an environment that doesn’t understand that everyone’s life is different and nuanced, so I don’t want to work there anyway. If it doesn’t, I can evaluate whether to come out later and explain the situation more thoroughly, depending on whether or not I feel comfortable.

      1. Lyon*

        I am trans and applying for jobs now. I’m not comfortable sharing my old name with new employers – part of what interests me about new jobs is the opportunity to work with people who never knew me by my old name. I’m taking a “broaden your definition of a reference” approach and using multiple people (not just supervisor) from my most recent job, the one where I came out, who I can trust to use my current name. I’m not using any older references. But it’s hard! It just doesn’t occur to cis people that you might not want to delve deeply into your past. I’m also going through the anxious process of negotiating with my university to change my name on my transcript in case they ask for that or check it.

        1. Hazel*

          I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this! Regarding your school – since your obviously not trying to defraud them, I hope they just change your transcript to your actual name. I mean, YOU get to decide what your name is, not them. I wish this wasn’t so difficult for trans folks!

    1. Maybe not*

      It is also possible that an employer isn’t comfortable hiring without references, whatever the reason. Since that wouldn’t work for your, it’s best to know that now.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Yeah, my employer’s HR requires 3 references, but I complete them and turn them in in the final part of the process, so Trans Guy’s approach would work for me had they been an applicant. It’s somewhat normal for me to have to work with candidates to figure out three references, due to the fact that the largest employer of my job type in the area will only confirm dates and not answered nuanced questions.

      2. LCH*

        applications that ask for references up front don’t really make sense to me (although so many do it). it’s really more of a question to ask once the person becomes a serious contender for the job.

        1. Data Bear*

          It’s an efficiency thing. If you ask all candidates for references as part of the application process, then you already have them on hand when you get to the point of wanting to check them for the serious contenders. It removes an entire step from the process, speeding things up, giving you fewer items on your to-do list, and eliminating another round of back-and-forth with the candidates.

          1. Hazel*

            It is efficient for them, but I don’t think that should outweigh an applicant’s reasonable wish to not give out that information so early in the process.

        2. marvin*

          In my experience, if your references are fraught in some way, you can get away with asking only to provide them if you are a finalist.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yes, that matches how I deal with it when hiring as well. We do ask for a list upfront for efficiency’s sake, but it’s not required for someone’s application to be complete and considered, and we never do anything with them until someone is a finalist. Then, we always let them know that we’re about to start contacting references so give them a heads up to make sure they’re available. That would be the point we’d ask someone who hadn’t given us the info yet. As long as it wasn’t a long delay to get that to us, it wouldn’t affect someone’s candidacy at all to do it that way.

    2. OP #5*

      Yeah, looking at the application for the position I’m applying for right now, it hasn’t actually asked for references yet. I suspect that if it does come up, it’ll be later in the process when I have more of a sense how comfortable I’d be sharing that information; if I’m not, then as you said, I don’t want to work there anyway. I’m optimistic though!

    3. Pippa K*

      It hadn’t occurred to me before this discussion, but this must be a problem for academics – new names aren’t necessarily a big deal because there are ways to track publications to the same person across name changes (use of an ORCID ID, etc), but if one weren’t comfortable revealing the former name, there’s no easy way around that. If someone said “I’m trans and not fully out,” that would make total sense and there could be workarounds for letters of reference, but not publications.

      But if someone said “I changed my name for personal reasons and don’t want to reveal the old one,” with no further context, my mind would go immediately to previous criminal conviction or public scandal. The legit reasons like gender identity wouldn’t seem likely because I’d assume the person would just say – but of course, a trans person can’t know that outing themselves to us in the hiring process wouldn’t result in discrimination (and with a couple of my senior colleagues, it probably would, I’m sorry to say). But I’m afraid there are contexts in which not revealing a previous name without saying why is damaging, too. What a tough position to be in. Thanks to the OP and to you for describing some of the issues here that weren’t visible to me before.

        1. Dutchie*

          So then my question is: does someone with a criminal history not deserve a job? I understand that some crimes might be prohibitive in hiring, but what if someone committed a crime 10 or 20 years ago, received their punishment and turned their life around? Should they forever be held to what was possibly the worst decision in their life?

          I have never committed a crime, but thank god my worst decisions are private because I would not have a good life if I would be reminded of them every time I applied for a job.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            I mean, if you were laundering money through the copier contact at your old job and went to jail…

          2. Okay*

            Depends on the crime and the job. It is absolutely reasonable to keep people convicted of sexual offenses away from their preferred victims.

          3. Hazel*

            Yes. I had a friend (past tense because he passed away last year not because we weren’t friends any more) who was part of the Weather Underground in the ’60s, and he served time for at attempting to rob a bank. I think he was an older teenager at the time. When I met him, he was in his 40s, and he was a contractor doing admin work. The client company announced they were going to do background checks on everyone, and he had to quit before they did the checks, discovered the conviction, and fired him. I realize that bank robbery is serious, but it was over 20 years since he was released, and he had not committed any crimes since then. He was a very smart, thoughtful, kind, and decent person, and I think he deserved the right to hold a job and support himself and his family.

      1. Parakeet*

        Another possibility worth considering (should someone say something like this to you in the future): Someone having changed their name because of a stalker or because of being a survivor of family abuse. Where they might have justifiable fears about their old name getting out connected to what they’re doing now, but might also be uncomfortable disclosing that level of personal detail in a job application.

        1. Jessen*

          Yes. As someone who’s seriously considered a name change in part to deal with family abuse, that would be a concern. Especially since a lot of that stuff is at best TMI for a job interview and at worst often something that itself opens you up to judgment. (I’ve had a lot of people who automatically judge anyone who has taken steps to separate or protect themselves from parents as an adult as being immature or conflict-prone.) So it would be a real toss-up between not telling people the reason and risk looking like you’re hiding something criminal or fraudulent, and telling someone the reason and risk looking like you have poor boundaries or something.

      2. Applesauced*

        Yep, it made me think witness protection, which leads to…. how do people in witness protection get new jobs? Faux references from your handlers? Redacted letters from past employers?

        1. Okay*

          People in WITSEC get screwed, mostly:

          [W]itnesses receive a fairly spartan deal. Shur notes that imprisoned witnesses have slightly larger cells, but otherwise live in more austere conditions than normal prisoners due to the social isolation that guarantees their safety. Relocated families receive a stipend (perhaps a few thousand dollars a month for a family) that is phased out after witnesses have time to look for a job. They also get funding to pay for housing and other basic expenses, but except in the case of witnesses like Fratianno, it is enough for a basic apartment and used car. Since the government refuses to provide a fake credit history, witnesses also struggle to secure products and services when companies demand financial information.

      3. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yeah, the phrasing here is critical, because at my workplace we have to run multiple background checks (which require full legal name) and have to get transcript verification. If the phrasing on the “I changed my name” is too vague, I think it potentially becomes a negative.

        1. Hazel*

          Presumably, though, the background check wouldn’t happen until the final stages of the hiring process. By then, the applicant would have had a chance to discuss the reasons/situation in more detail with HR or the hiring manager.

      4. Beth*

        “if someone said “I changed my name for personal reasons and don’t want to reveal the old one,” with no further context” — my first thought would be to wonder if they had a stalker, especially if the person presented female.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        That’s interesting. The first thing I’d think of was a stalking situation; deadname second. Scandal or crimes didn’t come into my mind until reading this comment.

    4. Loulou*

      Just to clarify, do you intend for this to mean you’ll never be providing references, and that later in the process you’ll say why, or that you’re not comfortable sharing them (and the previous name) at the beginning of the process but you will later?

      1. DireRaven*

        Not the commenter you were replying to, but I think references shouldn’t come into play until the end, once both parties have reached an agreement and a contingent offer is on the table.

  12. Gingerbread*

    #3 They made you take a test halfway through an interview, simply said ‘no’ when you asked to ask questions and emailed you multiple times after you declined? Very much a bullet dodged.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s that a more normal set-up would be to tell the applicant in advance that the interview would include a skills test that would take about 30 minutes. Rather than spring the test as a surprise that will consume all the remaining interview time.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This – in a previous job spouse had an all day interview (normal in that very technical field), and they warned them that part of the day would be a skills test, please bring clothes to change into and safety boots for it. Spouse said the only time the test was skipped the new hire turned out to be a “card collector” who had the theoretical knowledge but couldn’t turn theory into practice.
          But with it being an all day process there was plenty of time for the candidates to ask questions.

  13. Alternative Person*

    Op 4

    I see what you mean, I wouldn’t mind a calendar link, but I’d also like to have some basic parameters (such as two or three preferred meetings times) otherwise I’d probably be stressing out over whether I’m picking a convenient time for both of us.

    1. JustKnope*

      The point of those calendar links is that any time slot within them is convenient for the calendar owner! That’s why they’re beneficial; you don’t have to worry about that. If it’s still showing as a time slot it’s because the owner chose that to be the case.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Agreed — coworkers often ask me if I have time to meet, and I always tell them they can book any time that looks open on my calendar. I block off the time I want held.

  14. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW1: if this had been submitted to a British column we’d all assume it was a clever joke (current affairs). Rest assured you are not the only person to think this is ridiculous and unfair.

      1. Bagpuss*

        No, it was an ambush. With cake and singing.
        The cheese and wine was a business meeting.
        It’s importnat to keep these things straight. Even if no one told you the rules.

        (We had to have a business meeting last week. We did discuss, briefly, whether it was a genuine business meeting if none of had brought cheese or wine, or invited our significant others…)

        1. londonedit*

          And we all know none of this would have happened if Carrie had just stayed upstairs looking after the children like she’s supposed to, instead of interfering in her husband’s very important running of the country.

      2. Virginia Plain*

        I now refer to all social events as “business meetings where we drink wine at our desks”

        Anyway the LW’s cake-ambush zoom probably isn’t worth it; a few months down the line the boss wont even remember if he’s there or not, even if you screen shot him.

        1. Ginger*

          my first real job, the owner, shall we say, liked a drink. So we all drank with her on Fridays, at our desks, her round.
          She was way ahead of her time

  15. Chocolate Teapot*

    Several episodes of the classic British sitcom Are You Being Served, include celebrations for Young Mr Grace.

    I particularly remember that each floor has to sing Happy Birthday as he goes through the store up to the boardroom, plus everyone gets an awful free lunch.

    1. EPLawyer*

      At least they get a free lunch out of it — even if its awful. LW1 has to take part in a Birthday meeting when they could be, you know, working.

      Honestly this a group pushback thing. No, we will not be having a special zoom meeting just to wish boss a happy birthday.

    2. Tierrainney*

      But one year they got the wrong flowers, the lift got stuck, and Captain Peacock was wearing odd socks.

      I miss that show, I used to watch it every night before bed.

  16. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

    There are religions that are against celebrating birthdays, and I’m amazed Alison did not bring this up! One example are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and by forcing or alienating people who do not celebrate birthdays, the employer (the employee on this case is the one putting the employer at risk here regarding religion in the workplace as totes A-Okay!) Is running a real serious risk of violating laws regarding proselytizing at work… By alienating those who cannot participate, and asking them to LIE! by simply saying “schedules full!” The employer runs even more of a risk here for a hostile work environment, by alienating those workers and asking them to LIE in their workplace on top of that.

    Birthday celebrations at work are… Uncomfortable by many, and a violation of the law by others. I’m amazed Alison is even saying it’s ok to… Just nod and smile and go along with it.

    Really floored by this advice, it’s wrong advice.

    Birthday celebrations need to be nixed from a work environment, and it’s amazing in 2022 that y’all here are okay with that!

    1. Bagpuss*

      Are you saying that celebrating a birthday at work = proselytizing?

      I am aware that JW s don’t celebrate birthdays but generally speaking a birthday celebration is not in any way religious or linked to religion, so I think that seeking to argue that birthdays are inherently religious is a massive stretch.

      If someone whose religion prohibits them marking another’s birthday were to be *forced* to do so then yes, that could equate to discrimination.
      The LW didn’t raise that as a concern so we don’t know whether, in this workplace, simply stating that you were unable to participate due to your beliefs would be an issue.

      1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

        Removed — this is so much of an outlier that it’s not a constructive contribution to the conversation.

        1. Rochelle*

          I’m not going to touch the rest of your bizarre comment, but as someone who is Indigenous, please do not speak for us. Frankly, while there is a cultural component to it, I can promise you that for the vast majority of us, celebrating birthdays is a complete non-issue and I’d be embarrassed if anyone tried to raise that up as an issue on my behalf. Please stop.

      2. This is a name, I guess*

        I think they are saying that forcing a JW to celebrate a coworker’s birthday would be against their religion. However, because the OP was told they should just schedule a meeting during the birthday party to get out of it, this freedom of religion argument doesn’t hold water because the party clearly isn’t mandatory mandatory. And, in every environment where I’ve studied/worked with a JW, it’s been well-established they need an accommodation for celebrations beyond just a single party. It was always known by leaders that “Jane” the JW doesn’t come to celebrations.

    2. allathian*

      I don’t think birthday celebrations need to be nixed from the work environment, but they do need to be handled carefully. The main requirement is that participation in such events must be completely voluntary, and if someone doesn’t want to participate for whatever reason, this needs to be respected without any pushback from anyone.

    3. Alice*

      Celebrating other people’s birthdays does not constitute proselytising or religious discrimination. The main problem here is that this is only for the bosses birthday and that people are expected to attend and there is likely to be pushback if they don’t.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, this is my take on it. Celebrating birthdays even if others in the office don’t do so is not inappropriate. Forcing anyone to celebrate or subjecting them to harassment if they don’t is inappropriate. In this case, celebrating the boss’s birthday more / differently to others is gross (As Alison says) and so is putting anyone in a position where they feel their only options are to participate or to lie to get out of participating, but it’s gross and inappropriate regardless so why anyone doesn’t want to participate.

        In a normal, healthy office environment it’s not unreasonable to acknowledge the birthdays of those who celebrate them – it’s not being done ‘at’ anyone who doesn’t celebrate and it is not proselytizing, birthdays are not a religious observance (although not observing them may be for religious reasons).

        For what it is worth, acknowledging someone else’s religious observances is also not proselytizing- if you wish someone Eid Mubarak or Hanukkah Sameach or Merry Christmas or Shubh Diwali, saying that in front of a person who doesn’t celebrate =/= proselytizing.

        I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that everyone feels the same about birthdays – in fact what most of these comments and indeed Alison’s advice are saying is that no one should be forced to participate, either in celebrating other people’s birthdays or having their own celebrated, and that celebrating the boss and only the boss is gross and that OP’s reaction is reasonable.

        But this is a bad boss/ coworker situation, not a religious discrimination issue.

    4. Nope.*

      A violation of the law? By your logic, coffee should never be offered at any workplace ever, in case someone is LDS/Mormon and doesn’t believe in drinking it.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Unfortunately the person organizing the birthday event did not write in. Allison stuck to the letter writers issue: how do they navigate the office politics here?

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Celebrating someone’s birthday is not a violation of the law, that’s a bridge way too far. There is no indication in the letter that anyone is a JW, and here’s where your argument doesn’t work: if a birthday celebration is against your religion and you bring that up, it’s not discrimination unless you are told to show up or be fired. No one has brought that up. “I don’t like my boss” sometimes, yes, warrants a happy face and some time out of your day. This is seriously not that deep. If you’ve never had to fake a smile and get through something uncomfortable because you know it’s a tiny sacrifice and will make your life a little easier, then I either envy your life or I fear for your blood pressure.

      And honestly, I love a birthday cupcake or a slice of Fudgie the Whale and if I have to wish an annoying peer a happy birthday to get it, I will do that!

    7. anonymous73*

      And I’m really floored by your comment. The issue here isn’t that some religions don’t celebrate birthdays. The issue is that one person is trying to force a celebration on the rest of their co-workers. Alison addressed the issue at hand with the person writing the letter.

    8. Colette*

      If the OP belonged to a religion that didn’t celebrate birthdays, I’m confident she would have mentioned that. But she doesn’t, so whether someone else doesn’t celebrate birthdays isn’t relevant to the question.

    9. Nikki*

      This is one of the oddest comments I’ve seen in a comments section. Because a small number of people don’t celebrate birthdays or celebrate them in a different way, birthdays should be banned from the workplace? If someone falls into one of those categories, it’s very easy to avoid birthday celebrations. I personally don’t like celebrating my birthday at work because I’m not much of a birthday person. I just let the person at my office who coordinates birthdays know that I’d rather they not do anything. No one makes a big deal about it or demands to know why. As Alison said in her response, it’s also very easy to avoid other people’s birthday celebrations if need be. Just invent a prior commitment and don’t show up. Most likely nobody will even blink an eye.

      When we were still working in office, my company provided lunch every Friday. We have a number of Catholics on staff who don’t eat meat during Lent. The company would still provide meat at the Friday lunches and would also make sure there were non-meat options for the Catholics observing Lent as well as anyone else who didn’t want to eat meat. Everyone agreed there was no reason to change the menu for everyone because a few people required something different, even for a religious reason. As long as everyone behaves respectfully, I think it’s totally fine to do things like this. Demanding companies put a stop to any kind of celebration for these reasons is just going to tank morale and it’s a very unusual stance to take.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It is not illegal to celebrate birthdays at work. Someone whose religion prevented it would of course need to be excused from doing it; there’s no indication that’s in play here.

      This is a very unusual and outlier take on birthdays at work. You are welcome to have it, but I’m closing this thread so the comment section doesn’t derail on it. (Also, removed a bunch of it, including some off-topic debate about Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

  17. Asenath*

    I suppose the only alternatives for the birthday greeting is, given the history of retaliation, lying and making an appointment (with yourself, perhaps?) or faking it. Just to provide a data point, I personally don’t celebrate birthdays, and have never worked anywhere that one celebrated the boss’s birthday (or, for that matter, boss’s day) at all. One place did have a very low-key arrangement where a small group of people who worked closely together but normally did not have coffee breaks together would do so on each member’s birthday. We took it in turns to bring in a cake (or, when a diabetic person joined, a more suitable snack) for everybody (the birthday person did not bring food on her day). At one point, I tried to opt out of it on the grounds that it was difficult for me to buy and bring one in because I used public transportation, and the others insisted that it didn’t matter; they wanted to include me anyway. So I went along with it, and those little get-togethers were pleasant. But they didn’t involve extending birthday wishes to a boss; just to co-workers, and everyone in the “co-worker” category in that particular suite of offices was included. In this case, one person is being picked out to acknowledge, and that’s the boss. It doesn’t feel right at all to me. I suspect I’d set up a fake appointment, but it would probably be better to log in and say happy birthday. I will never understand the fascination with celebrating birthdays for adults (or anyone, really) who are outside your circle of family and close personal friends. Who else cares that it’s their birthday?

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      Maybe all the coworkers who would prefer to opt out of the birthday greetings could schedule a group meeting with each other? That way each person doesn’t have to come up with their own appointment or excuse, they all have the same one!
      Although the cynical part of me is slightly concerned that Birthday Betty might just crash the meeting (and bring the boss) anyway if she finds out about it..

  18. Bookworm*

    LW5: I don’t have advice or much to add beyond what others have already said, other wishing you the best of luck. You may be surprised and/or you may find find that some of these people should no longer be references or that an organization is not for you. I do hope that’s not the case but anyway that would say more about them and not you at all.

    Good luck. :)

  19. EventPlannerGal*

    OP2: I get why you included it here as context but I think that if you raise this you should probably leave your boss’s productivity issues as a separate discussion. I don’t think comes across well to be like “when Boss works from home on snow days she’s uncommunicative, less productive and obviously distracted… and we all also want to work from home on snow days”. Those issues are pretty much exactly what employers cite as reasons why they *don’t* want staff working from home! Even if the rest of you have a great track record with WFH I don’t think it helps to highlight those issues if you’re trying to get WFH privileges for everyone.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You’re right, and I think that the boss is not letting people WFH precisely because she herself isn’t able to work in peace with her teens barging in or playing videos games with the volume right up in their room next door, she thinks it’ll be the same for everyone. She doesn’t realise that others might live alone or have more considerate (well brought-up) children, or a friend down the road who is up for babysitting them on snow days, or simply be better at multi-tasking and staying focussed in a non-work setting.

    2. H2*

      I agree, and I would also leave off any mention of dealing with kids adding to the commute. I have kids and I definitely know how frustrating the snow day situation can be, I would keep it as much as possible work-based.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This, as well.

        Side note: We lived in the Denver metro area in the 1980s and my dad no-fooling used to cross-country ski to work on snowy days.

    3. anonymous73*

      Agreed. I don’t think many of the details are necessary here. They worked from home successfully for 2 years, period. In circumstances where it makes sense to stay home (like bad weather), they should be allowed to WFH, regardless of seniority.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Right, and it sounds like if people kick up enough of a fuss about it they’re being allowed to WFH regardless of seniority anyway! So if anything, making it consistent across the board would cut down on the amount of time the company spends dealing with aggrieved employees kicking off about it.

    4. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I had a boss like this once. I also live in the Denver area, and when there was a snowstorm, my 45 min commute became a 2 hour commute. Everyone in the office had laptops, so of course I worked from home in those days. Boss “worked” from home a lot and similarly was nigh unreachable. It was an open secret that he was t actually working when he worked from home. So of course he assumed everyone was just as unethical as he was. He lived minutes from the office, so he came in in snowy days and would repeatedly call me to check in. So I agree that I wouldn’t lead with “but boss gets to work from home!” A stronger argument is everyone successfully worked from home for 2 years. Maybe you could volunteer to draft a snow day/ work from home policy that sets out parameters for how it will be managed.

    5. Rocket Woman*

      I agree, the extra context isn’t necessary. OP2 should say they successfully worked from home for 2 years, and due to safety concerns with commuting during snow employees should WFH those days so they don’t waste time in traffic and have more productive time for work.

      I live in the Denver metro and never drive in on snow days, its frankly too dangerous.

  20. Hmm*

    OP5, I feel your pain.

    Why oh why are reference checks still a thing?! They are always either useless or damaging (to either the candidate or the hiring process), can be very easily manipulated to the advantage (or, usually, disadvantage) of the candidates, so why do it?

    1. Maybe not*

      Because they can be informative and important. I had a colleague who was fired for cause. He led everyone to believe he was laid off during industry-wide staff reductions that were well-publicized. A different former colleague who left before his firing and now runs her own organization had all but hired him when she learned, during a basic reference check, that he had misled her, he wasn’t laid off, and he was fired for stealing from the company.

      1. new*

        Provided references or unplanned? Going beyond the names provided by the candidate may yield some useful information, but limiting reference checks to just those names submitted by the candidate will likely just be good stuff. One must also be careful not to just believe without question bad information that cannot be proven. In the feds, candidates are given the opportunity to respond to adverse information that surfaces during a background check. Other employers should do this too.

        1. Colette*

          In my experience, some of the worst employees think they’re the best employees, and assume that everyone will be a great reference for them.

      2. Anon87*

        They can also be a wonderful source of unfair, dishonest and unverified information that casts an excellent candidate in a bad light for a wide variety of reasons. A referee has no obligation to be honest. Would you trust the opinion of a random stranger on other important decisions?

      3. Anon87*

        If this helps you, I know someone, “Jane”, who had a legal obligation to report a manager for theft. When this manager was contacted for an unauthorised reference check for Jane, they claimed that they had to report Jane for theft. It was complete lies told out of vindictive spite, but it lost Jane the job, and the potential employer their best candidate.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Do a search on this site for references and you’ll find a lot of writing from Alison on this! They don’t have to be useless.

      1. Nah*

        If you have decent interview questions, and work in an industry where you can show a portfolio of previous work and/or complete some sort of quick task, a reference check should not be required at all.

        I hire a lot of people. I don’t use reference checks. The only “bad” hires I’ve ever made are the ones where I’ve been forced to use, and reply upon, the opinions of referees about candidates.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      A past boss of mine was shocked when a friend of his hired a former employee and failed to call for a reference check. The guy had stolen pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down, which is why he was our former employee.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Those anecdotes always pique my interest. Did the boss file a police report, insurance claim, or anything of the like after the thefts? Did the boss’ friend do a background check before bringing the new hire on?

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          There was never any proof, but we all pretty much knew it was this individual who was stealing everything. I don’t know if the police or insurance were ever involved; I’m guessing not because each individual incident of theft was a few hundred dollars or so. We worked on a golf course grounds crew, so he would take things like a commercial grade string trimmer that he could pawn or sell for cash. Some of the stuff he did was pretty brazen. For example, he would walk into the clubhouse kitchen, boldly act like he was supposed to be there, and fill up a trash bag with frozen lobster tails and filet mignons.

          Boss’s friend hired the guy on the basis of a good interview with no background check. The guy is a charming con-artist type who can easily dazzle an interviewer.

        2. Squidlet*

          I worked with someone who stole desktop computers from our office one weekend. There was no police report; he was just asked to resign and leave immediately in exchange for the conpany not taking action. So there was no official record of the incident – technically he wasn’t even fired. But I’m sure it would have come out in a reference.

          (Context. This was a very large listed company btw, but the employee in question had a recent criminal record (with some violence-related charges) and the police showed up at the office one day looking for him. His manager was afraid of him… but he’d been hired by one of the C-level execs. So I think it was done this way to manage risk of violence and/or embarrassment to the executive.)

        3. Hillary*

          In the one I know about the police were never involved. It was a sad situation all around (petty cash taken out of desperation), it was addressed sufficiently for the owner, and the owner didn’t want to create a criminal record for someone who was already dealing with a lot of nonsense in their life.

          1. Anon87*

            And that’s sadly pretty reflective of basically every workplace theft case. Often also includes wage theft and/or bullying.

        4. Observer*

          In many cases companies won’t file a police report for a whole host of reasons. And many companies don’t run background checks for a lot of positions. Sometimes they should, but often if doesn’t make all that much sense. And besides a police report won’t necessarily show up on a background check, although a conviction should.

        5. Anon87*


          Also, these theft cases are never that simple. Was wage theft and/or bullying also involved, or was this person really just a klepto?

    4. anonymous73*

      Because when references are handled appropriately, they tell you a lot about a potential job candidate. Would you hire a nanny to care for your child based solely on their interview? Or would you ask for references?

      1. Anon87*

        Chiming in here, but I would perform appropriate background checks that are legally required for everyone working in such industries.

        Even when they are done well, reference checks don’t tend to tell you anything other than how well the candidate gets on with the person you are speaking to. Referees have no obligation to tell you the truth or to be objective.

        And considering the amount of managers who have no idea what their direct reports do, and who have no idea either how to do those jobs, or what the jobs actually involve, their opinions are frankly useless.

    5. Generic Name*

      This has not been my experience with reference checks. My references consistently give glowing feedback about me that boosts my candidacy. On the flip side, if one of my former managers had bothered to contact a former coworker’s references, she might have discovered he wasn’t qualified for the job before he was offered the job instead of six months later.

      1. Anon87*

        You should thank your lucky stars that you have been fortunate to avoid the terrible, vindictive bosses that most of us have had to endure at least once.

  21. MissBaudelaire*

    OP #2.

    At horrible ExJob, a hospital, we didn’t get snow days for obvious reasons. But we in the hospitality division found out that other divisions were getting extra pay for coming in during snow storms, and this wasn’t even being offered to us. So we kicked up a fuss, because, um, what?

    The response from the hospital was to just do away with that, rather than offer it to everyone. And there was the thinly veiled “Because it was upsetting *some* people, *none* of you can have it! Thank them for ruining it.”

  22. Minerva*

    LW #2 – The bosses’ behavior is EXACTLY why THEY object to their people working from home. They treat is as a quasi-PTO and project that everyone else must. They are insisting that everyone else come into the office because they are projecting their own bad behaviors. Our SVP absolutely had this attitude until COVID forced him to reevaluate it since we’ve been WFH for 2 years.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      This is how my boss used to be before Covid and we all went home permanently. He used to “work from home” randomly, always on days before he leaves for vacation. He never had a laptop or anything but insisted he was completely available and then never answer his phone or emails. He proudly explained how he would pack for vacation or run errands those days. When I approached him about occasionally working from home, he would say yes in general but then get really suspicious when I asked for a specific day. I worked from home for about 5 days total in 10 years before switching completely remote.
      When the pandemic first started, he would call constantly just to make sure I was working. I would like to think my work product showed that I was working (and with more productivity than in the office) but it took him about 6 months to become comfortable with it.

  23. Rebecca*

    LW5: I hope you find a route that works for you! As a hiring manager, I’ve had numerous candidates let me know what name/pronouns their references know them by. It’s not terribly unusual, at least in my field, to go by a chosen name, middle name, nickname, etc, so we’re all pretty used to navigating those conversations with former employers (although I hate making calls where I have to deadname somebody! It feels so icky). You could also potentially ask the manager to inquire after “[former honorific] [last name]” and skip the first name entirely.

    You mentioned being out and proud in your current life, so it’s likely worth inquiring about their policies before handing any sensitive info out, and see what — if any — procedures they have in place to respect your boundaries and to avoid outing you to former contacts. As others mentioned, it’s a good litmus test for what you might be walking into.

    1. OP #5*

      Sadly, I don’t think the “[former honorific] [last name]” approach would be all that workable here, at least with one current reference; last time I spoke to him, it turned out he worked for the same company my father does (and one of my siblings used to), and I think they may have crossed paths at one point. Seems like it’d cause needless confusion in my case, but I appreciate the thought nonetheless!

      I do intend to ask about related procedures as well, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m hopeful it’ll work out.

    2. Phoenix*

      My circle of variously-out folks has started using “zombienaming” to refer to times when you have to use someone’s deadname for their protection and with their consent – it seems silly, but it’s actually helped me a lot when I need to do it! Reframing it as a protective act and giving it a silly name makes it feel a lot less terrible to do. (Again, this is only in cases where it’s with the person’s consent and for their benefit.)

      1. Caffeinated Panda*

        As a teacher of kids who are sometimes out to their school community before they are to their parents, I love this and will keep it in mind. I have students who need me to zombiename them to their parents and I will definitely frame it for myself this way in the future.

  24. JelloStapler*

    LW1- if this is special for the boss, I’d still go and just say HB. But it makes me wonder why this person is pushing it so hard- personal clout or brownie points?

    LW#- I ask more questions all the time at that point, I took a week after an offer to negotiate salary and ask a whole page of questions and it was fine. But if they were still brushing off you asking those questions I would back off.

  25. anonymous73*

    #1 I would send an email wishing boss a happy birthday and conveniently have something to do during the “meeting”. I refuse to let office bullies force me into doing something I either have no desire to do or feel is inappropriate, but in this case if you fear retaliation from boss and have no way to report the behavior, I’d make something up.
    #2 Definitely push back. You were all able to WFH successfully for 2 years so there’s no reason to deny you the opportunity to do so when needed, regardless of seniority. I had a boss once with the opposite problem. She told us if we weren’t comfortable driving in bad weather, we could WFH. But we soon found out that if SHE thought it was okay to drive in, we all needed to drive in. One day the whole team was in and she bought us lunch because we were the only ones in the building. Ummm that’s because you basically forced us to come in!
    #3 you dodged a bullet with that one. They conveniently ended all of the interviews without you being able to ask any questions – they were definitely hiding something. Good management wants a candidate to be just as comfortable working for them that they are having you work there. The fact that they were emailing over and over after you declined just confirms that they were hiding something.

  26. Office Rat*

    OP 5 I have been in this situation. I transitioned in college moving from my first career to my second. Turns out, the folks in my first career were exceptional bigots, and when it came time to reference check I could not be sure how they would react. I reached out to them, and 2 of them outright told me they would not have anything to do with me, despite giving me glowing references before my transition. The third was weird, so I had my wife call and sure enough, they gave a shit reference, after assuring me it was all fine and previously literally giving me a written letter of recommendation.

    I had to get super creative super fast. I asked my friends, whom I worked on a volunteer project with to reference me as they had overseen my work, and I asked schoolmates that I had worked on projects with. We all knew this wasn’t a traditionally cool way to do references, and stretched the truth a bit on my work for them.

    I just didn’t see any other choice as I was literally cut off due to my previous references becoming my literally worst-case scenario because I transitioned. The good news was I got a job out of college, and they became my first new reference with my new name and gender, and it went from there. It’s just that first job.

    I guess just be flexible and creative, and have someone call your references to ensure there are no surprises. If I have learned anything in the last ten years since my transition you can never tell how someone is going to react until they do.

    1. Just Me*

      I’m so sorry that happened to you, Office Rat. (It feels weird to say that but here we are.) I was going to say that while I’m not trans I have worked with a few trans people who were in this same situation and it turned out fine–like you say, you never know how someone is going to react, and some people I would have expected to be pretty bigoted (ex. my former conservative coworker who would complain about women holding doors open for him) ended up being very encouraging and provided good references, but in both cases the applicant in question spoke to them privately first to say “Just so you know I now go by and am applying for jobs as Fergus.”

  27. Salad Daisy*

    #1 Sorry, I would just go to the stupid Zoom meeting and play Wordle or something on another screen. Yes. I know, that’s an hour of your life you will never get back but you will gain something in currency. We have all sorts of mandatory Zoom meetings at work that are supposed to last an hour but always go to almost two and some of us play Buzzwords Bingo to make them more interesting. Or Take A Shot. Pick a word or phrase, such as Green Shoots (my least favorite term). When someone says that word, the first person to send an emoji of a drink (beer, martini, etc.) to the group wins.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      This is where I land; I’d feel differently if it meant contributing money or effort. If OP can just log on, fake a smile and a “Happy Birthday” and duck out ASAP (or otherwise let your attention wander), it doesn’t strike me as a hill worth making a stand on. Sounds like the boss is terrible enough that there are other places for OP to direct their energy.

      I’ll neither confirm nor deny having played Buzzwords Bingo myself in the past. ;)

      1. Meep*

        Yeah. It would be one thing if you had to contribute more than half-assing a birthday song. I had to get my abusive former boss a tart last year for her birthday. The entire thing made my skin crawl so I sympathesize with not wanting to do anything for someone who is so nasty, but say happy birthday and then spend the remainder of meeting ignoring them.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes I think I’d probably just go and if possible keep my camera off. I get that it’s an annoying waste of time but I’m not sure it’s worth the fallout of trying to avoid it if there’s a risk of retaliation. I’d save my firepower for more significant issues. Obviously it’s a matter of personal choice.

  28. STG*

    I didn’t see a problem with the birthday Zoom up until the very last line. IF this was being done for everyone, I’d say you should suck it up and go.

    However, it’s not. I’d probably just send an email earlier that day saying Happy Birthday and go about my day without attending the meeting.

  29. lunchtime caller*

    Re: the schedule link, I feel like if you’re important enough for it to be valid for you to be annoyed at not being catered to enough, you’re important enough that you have an assistant to foist this off on. And if you don’t, well yes, you must suffer the occasional indignity of comparing two schedules side by side and clicking some buttons, I think you will will ultimately recover. You’re actually wasting more of everyone’s time by turning this into an elaborate social status dance, if the meeting is that useless to you just ignore the invite entirely then.

    1. Bob-White of the Glen*

      That’s a bit harsh considering they were writing in to see if their feelings were out of touch.

    2. Maybe not*

      And this isn’t necessarily true. I work for a Fortune 10 company, and even VPs don’t always have assistants who manage their calendars, much less directors or senior directors.

  30. PB Bunny Watson*

    I actually don’t think the situation of the boss’ birthday sounds nearly as bad as the bosses who want gifts to flow up. I mean, I understand LW and others don’t like the boss, but it’s not like the boss themselves is setting it up. I’m also wondering if there is a big birthday for the boss. Like turning a certain age, which might explain the sudden interest (as opposed to just assuming the other colleague is a suck up). Also, is that colleague closer to the boss? Is it possible they know something is going on with the boss that prompted this? I’m just thinking of all sorts of scenarios that have been in play when something like this has happened in my experience that not everyone was aware of. I mean, I get it… you don’t like the person, but it’s a zoom pop in. Not a night out where you have to spend money, or a gift you have to pay towards, or anything that actually costs you a lot of time and money. To me, the better option would have been a card, which is what I usually do when there is a birthday. Just buy a card and let everyone sign it. But a zoom pop in sounds really rather harmless… and easier than trying to seem interested at an in-person breakroom party.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      As Alison mentioned, the real concern is why does the boss get this birthday treatment, but no one else?

      1. PB Bunny Watson*

        That’s why I asked if it was a special birthday (40, 50, 75, etc.) or if, maybe, the colleague knew something about what might be going on in the boss’ life (divorce, loss of a loved one, depression). I appreciate that it’s odd that it’s not for anyone else… but I have too many questions to judge. Is the colleague maybe trying to change the culture of the place and the boss just happens to be the first birthday of the new year? Is it a newer colleague who maybe doesn’t know this? Again, it’s not coming from the boss… and while it might be annoying, I’m not sure it’s worth wasting capital on–or even worth wasting the time being annoyed enough by it to make up an excuse.

  31. PolarVortex*

    Hey #5
    Transmasc person here. I’m assuming you’re going to be out about being trans at work at some level with my response here.

    Start by ensuring whatever company you’re working for is doing more than the bare minimum of LGBTQ stuff – do they have an LGBTQ ERG/BRG as an example. That first step is going to go the longest way in ensuring you’ll be at place that understands the complexities behind hiring trans people. I find businesses who actively are supporting their queer employees with $$ are more likely to actually be listening and learning.

    It sounds like you’ve changed your name, which I am so happy for you! You’re right that it does complicate things when calling past jobs/references who knew you under a different name. You have a few options here, many of which were outlined before, but I’m going to share what I would do in your shoes. (And kind of have done, although I haven’t changed my legal name, I just go by a nickname permanently.)

    When we get to the references part of the spiel, I have gone very blunt starting with the HR person and it has worked. I’d start by asking if they have any experience hiring trans people as an HR rep or as a company as a whole. I explain that my name is Polar, but previously people have known me as Polaria. I say, I have a list of people who’ve worked with me as Polar and a list of people who’ve worked with me as Polaria. If they’ve seemed understanding and respectful so far, I explain I’m happy to give them the list of both, but that you’d need to reference me as Polaria to those people, as it is not SAFE for me to be out to them for reasons I do not wish to disclose.

    The point right there is to emphasize the SAFE part. It isn’t safe for you, because you’d potentially lose that reference if you came out. You can go through the same spiel with the hiring manager too if you want. (I know this seems daunting, terrifying, and complete crap to have to out yourself as trans, but honestly I’ve learned the hard way to better find a manager who’ll be understanding and supportive than a complete $%!*)

    If at any point in time you get the feeling the HR person isn’t going to use your references right, you can go with what people above have said and just say you only have a reference who knows you as Polar and due to the culture of the companies you’ve worked for in the past you don’t feel safe providing references from those places but they can certainly confirm you worked there under the name X.

    Also something you likely know, but start volunteering, get references from places outside of work that know you as the true you. This is just another transition problem to add to the list, but one that’ll go away the further you get from that point in time.

    Good luck, know I’m wishing all the best for you and a great supportive place for you to work in the future.

    1. OP #5*

      Yeah, I think I’m leaning towards something like what you’ve done. We’ll see how it shakes out though. Thank you for the advice and well-wishes!

  32. Esmeralda*

    This is why my policy is that I do not participate in any non work related celebrations at my job. None. Birthdays, wedding showers, baby showers, none. I only contribute to the end of year envelope for our housekeeper, otherwise I give no money at all for any party, gift, recognition at work.

    I used to participate. Then I had to miss one for personal reasons I did not want to share, it got weird, some people were butt-hurt that I didn’t attend THIS event but I had attended OTHER events, others said Leave Esmeralda alone, lots of people got huffy…blergh.

    That batch of colleagues has moved on, thank goodness. But I learned my lesson.
    Now I take a walk or get some work done or take a nap. And nobody expects me.

    1. OhNo*

      People are really weird about these types of things, aren’t they. Like, we’re not friends or even acquaintances. We are only coworkers here to do a job. Why be so butt hurt if someone doesn’t attend your party? Why care if a coworker you’ll never see again after you quit says happy bday or not?

      On the flip side of it, there are probably a few coworkers that don’t want anything and feel uncomfortable. The manager and admin of my old job used to throw bday parties or baby showers for staff, whether they liked it or not. When I was pregnant with my 4th kid, they asked me if I wanted anything done. I said NO! Well, guess what? They still planned it behind my back. The manager invited me to an important staff meeting and that’s when it was sprung on me.

  33. OhNo*

    LW1 could you possibly be part of a religion that doesn’t celebrate birthdays? Of course that won’t work if everyone already knows you aren’t religious or if your religion doesn’t forbid bdays. I used to work with a woman who was Jehovah’s Witness and she told me they’re not even allowed to wish other people happy bday.

    That is my go-to whenever I need to get out of any kind of celebration at work. It is highly effective, and people usually do not pry because they don’t want to veer into religion discussion territory. I’m all for keeping work and personal life separate and I find bday (or any other) celebrations at work really inappropriate. My job now doesn’t even know when my bday is.

    I’m sorry you’re going thru this because I know how frustrating and fake it feels to put on a smile for a manager you can’t stand. Also, start brushing up that resume and look for a place that has better boundaries.

  34. Hailrobonia*

    I have a favorite Boss Birthday story: Although it’s wrong to armchair diagnose people with psychological conditions, I swear our executive director has narcissistic personality disorder. Once we were all called into the conference room to celebrate his birthday. Not content with a simple “happy birthday song” he started fishing around for us to sing happy birthday in other languages (we have Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese speakers in our office).

    After we finished 3-4 happy birthdays in various languages, he asks our receptionist (originally from Jamaica) to sing happy birthday in “Jamaican.” As background: Our executive director is ostensibly an expert in cross-cultural communication and teaches courses on cultural sensitivity and understanding.

    When informed that there is no language called “Jamaican” and people speak ENGLISH there*, he doubled down and said “no, you know, ‘Jamaican'” (said with a hint of fake accent). So the receptionist responded “as I said, the official language of Jamaica is English.”

    *As we all know, the linguistic creole language of Jamaica is normally called Patois. Our receptionist code-switch between Standard American English and Patois seamlessly but was not going to give our ED the benefit. Later I joked to her she should have sung “My boss is such a racist, he should cease and desist, trying to teach us, instead he should just shut his face” to the tune of happy birthday.

    1. Mitsuko*

      On the scale of narcissistic behavior, this doesn’t sound too terrible, though I agree it’s a bit cringe-worthy. In the end for the OP#1, it doesn’t sound like the biggest deal to me (just to log into a zoom meeting, do something else and hum happy birthday).
      But what you said is intriguing. Are you saying your exec was racist for asking that the Jamaican person sing in Patois (sorry I had never heard of that, I just though Jamaican people speak a dialect of English), or wrong because they didn’t know the correct term? Is it any worse than asking someone to sing in Spanish or whatever?
      I’m not a native English speaker. I guess I’d find it offensive if somebody asked me to sing something with ‘your funny accent’. But is that the problem here? Would it have been also offensive if he had asked someone to sing in “Scottish” just because it’s a dialect?

      1. Daisy Gamgee*

        English is the official language of Jamaica. One of the versions of English in Jamaica is referred to as “Patois” [the reasons why can be easily researched]. In the US many people mock Jamaican accents as risible, so in that context the Boss was effectively saying “sing something with your funny accent, which I find So Incomprehensible I first thought it was another language entirely.”

        Also, making people sing Happy Birthday five times is time-wasting and disrespectful to begin with, even before that bit. I applaud the receptionist for pushing back.

      2. Observer*

        Are you talking about Gaelic or Scots. The former is definitely a separate language, and the latter is considered a separate language by many although others consider it a dialect. Or are you talking about English with a Scottish accent?

        Someone who is supposed to be an expert on cross-cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communications should understand that the clear implication of “Jamaican” being “English with a funny accent” is really, really offensive.

      3. Hailrobonia*

        The fact that he is an “expert” in cross-cultural communication and DOUBLED DOWN when informed that the language of Jamaica is English is what really crossed the line.

  35. infopubs*

    It seems to me that LW#1 doesn’t need to lie to have a conflict with the birthday party. Simply schedule something legitimate, perhaps a meeting with one or more of the other coworkers who don’t want to participate. Then do actual work at that meeting. “Sorry, we really needed to discuss that teapot design discrepancy.” Or if your office norms allow blocking off time on your calendar for focused work alone, schedule that. And then, you know, do some focused work. No lying, work gets done, brown nosing avoided.

  36. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Allison says you could have arrange to ask Employer #2 questions. But I think the fact that they didn’t give you the opportunity was a big red flag, borne out by the dumpster fire that was their desperate followup actions to get a body, any body, in that position. They answered any questions you had with the mess their hiring process was.

  37. El l*

    OP4 – I actually completely agree. I’d prefer the back-and-forth to someone outside my organization looking at my schedule (even if scrubbed of personal stuff).

    Same goes for looking at someone else’s schedule – I genuinely don’t want to know.

    I mean, it’s not horrible practice, but I don’t like the message it sends about a person being in control of their own schedule.

    1. Observer*

      Except that typically, if someone is sending you something like a Calendly link, you’re not going to wee what’s on their schedule, just what’s open.

    2. L-squared*

      Its not looking at your schedule. Its seeing the time slots that are available. You have no idea if the reason its not available is lunch, a doctors appointment, or a meeting with their boss.

  38. 404_FoxNotFound*

    Transmasculine nonbinary human here. OP5, couple of potential options for you that I’ve tried out in the past, depending on what you’d like to do:
    – staying under the radar probably would mean getting slightly creative with the definition of reference. I cobbled together references that knew me under my current set of names/pronouns so I had four references that were a mix of supervisor, coworker I’d worked with on one long term project, teammate, etc.
    As previous folks have said, asking for a reference, with a note that you now go by ABC name/pronouns would be useful in gauging who if anyone would be less likely to screw things up for you.
    – I’ve been open to only HR folks, once hired, ex “legally I go by X, so you’ll see that on this paperwork, but every day I go by Y, could you please make sure Y is entered into staff/public facing systems to avoid confusion?”
    – I’ve also been open throughout the interview process, usually to gauge trans friendliness of the company, asking pointed questions (ex I’m curious about how trans friendly your healthcare policies are, could you provide details about what the health insurance covers?), though many of these can be asked openly without being open about what you’re looking for (ex I’m curious about the health insurance benefit, do you have a more detailed handout about what it covers?)
    Usually I keep my questions pointed rather than general, as any average person can happily say their company is “trans friendly” (or accessible, or equal opportunity) without having any sense of what that entails.
    – I have put context re references whenever possible/feasible. Sometimes when giving references later in the process my commentary is as simple as “supervisor in X capacity/student worker supervisor/[job title]”, but especially if I’m communicating this directly/verbally, that commentary could also include “knew me as ABC name”

    1. OP #5*

      You know, I was considering adding context to the references anyway, that would be a good place to put it. Thanks for the idea!

  39. IndyDem*

    #2 I’d also suggest that you stress how less safe it is to drive when it’s snowing. It’s not just that it adds so much time to your commute, but that the chance of sustaining injury and death are much high during inclement weather.

  40. Gresham*

    Rank has its privileges. I admit that as a manager if a lower-level worker complained about having a lower level of flexibility, I’d look askance. It’s called paying dues. That said, an objective standard of who may work from home might alleviate hard feelings. In past situations, the rule was that if one’s school district declared an official snow day, one could work from home — not to do childcare, which was expected to be handled separately, but to avoid dangerous commuting. Sans the snow day, be best to prepare to leave home earlier than usual to avoid being late to work.

    1. Observer*

      It’s called paying dues.

      That’s absolutely the WORST reason for this kind of disparity. Especially since it’s so commonly used to “justify” mistreating people who are lower in the hierarchy.

      Don’t get me wrong. I do get that rank has it’s privileges. But arbitrarily keeping people from something reasonable and beneficial that doesn’t have a significant cost to the organization is not a good idea. Doing it to make people “pay their dues” is just. . . not good.

  41. Firm Believer*

    My goodness the responses to LW1. It’s definitely yucky if they don’t normally do birthdays but hardly rises to the level of furor I’m reading. Just because someone is the boss doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their birthday. No one is asking for a donation for a gift or anything. It’s a zoom call. It’s ok to make people feel good even if they are in charge.

    Part of dealing with the workplace is acclimating to a certain level of politics and relationship building. I’m worried about how emotionally charged this is for people. It’s really not worth some of these reactions. Consider it an investment in your own growth.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      “Part of dealing with the workplace is acclimating to a certain level of politics and relationship building.”

      Yes, and this is exactly why celebrating the boss’s birthday and *only* the boss’s birthday is not okay. It doesn’t build *good* relationships.

  42. JB*

    To OP #5 and everyone who has been responding-thank you!
    I’m HR at my small org and this conversation has given me some ideas that I’m going to implement in our processes specifically:
    – telling candidates ahead of time who will be completing their references (it’s the hiring manager/future supervisor, not HR)
    – Asking for preferred pronouns and name if different from legal name on the employment application

    1. marvin*

      I would recommend making the preferred pronoun field optional if you’re going to include it, because any trans candidates who don’t want to disclose their preferred pronouns (or don’t know what they are) could be made unnecessarily uncomfortable by actively choosing pronouns that don’t fit them. Somehow it does feel worse than just having people assume (at least in my experience).

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        IMO, pronouns and names are subject to change with time. This probably should be allowed for in the application process as well and in the continued employment.

        For example, I changed my pronouns and preferred name during my last job. I was a bit of an issue getting people to use my preferred name, even though I literally administered the LDAP database that had everybody’s name in it. Turns out there was an upstream systems that “maintained” people’s names, administered essentially by HR. Other people had the same trouble, and I would do my best to help. It often wasn’t enough.

    1. Texas*

      Sure, if one assumes that people always have the absolute worst intentions towards others. But why? It seems far more efficient to be able to see when someone is and isn’t available so I can look at my availability and find a match-up than to do a back-and-forth email chain listing out each time I could meet.

    2. Antilles*

      How would this be a power play?
      It’s account reps for vendors. OP is the client in this situation and can just decide to politely decline the offer to meet. And if the rep gets overly pushy, OP always has the option to just straight up find another vendor.

    3. Rana*

      This is so so stupid. I love getting a Calendly link or some other scheduling system. It means I can pick exactly when I want to meet, giving me complete control over my calendar. I think the power dynamics are actually the opposite – assuming there are a lot of slots available (which has always been the case in my experience), I get to pick when I want to meet and they accept it. I have also never had an issue if none of the slots work – just email back and say “none of these work for me, can we do sometime Thursday afternoon?”

      It would be a little weird to get a Calendly link from someone in my own company who could see my calendar. In that case, I’d expect them to pick a time and then say something like “feel free to propose another time if this doesn’t work for you.” I do think the person requesting the meeting should do the work of finding a time that works (especially if there are multiple people in the meeting) BUT that only works if they can see your calendar. If they are an outside vendor, how the heck are they supposed to do that?

      “Matching the urgency/importance of what we have to talk about, both our schedules, etc.” is insane to me. Do you expect a phone call to set up every meeting so that we can hash out our various priorities? Oh but I’m sure you’d find it incredibly rude if I called you out of the blue because I am expecting you to talk at the time I choose, so then we have to set up a time to call, and then… Just treat everyone like an adult! It’s really not that hard! “Here are the times I can meet, do any of those work for you” is so simple and respectful, I really can’t understand who is offended by that. If you are super rigid about proposing only a few times and can’t make it work if the other person is not available at those times, that would be rude, but that has literally never been my experience.

  43. Person*

    #4 I get messages like these a lot to and what annoys me about them is that they always seem to provide no detail whatsoever about why I should be interested. Like yes, you have a job that you think I “may be a good fit for”. But why should I care? Do you have a job description? What about be makes you think that I’d be a good fit for this job you have open? Did you actually look at my profile, or did you do a random key word search that picked up on some obscure thing I did 5 years ago? Giving me the calendar link on top of that just feels like icing on the cake because they want to take time out of my day to chat, but can’t give me even the most basic information about the job which just feels rude and presumptuous to me, but this has less to do with who the onus is on to do the scheduling and more of just my general annoyance with recruiters in general.

  44. idwtpaun*

    LW #5, would it help to think of this as a way for you to evaluate your prospective new employers? Because the hiring managers/HR should handle it as matter-of-factly as, for example, a woman who got married or divorced between jobs mentioning that a reference knows her under a different last name. People changing their last names is a fairly common occurance, a hiring employer should be able to deal with a full name change and/or a pronoun change just as easily. If the hiring manager/HR can’t do that, that tells me something about them.

  45. as*

    This is what I was thinking about. There could be good reasons for people from one’s past not knowing a next potential employer.

  46. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Letter 1: I would be so pissed if someone blocked out time from my schedule and that of all of my staff to have a Zoom birthday party.

    My coworkers set up a bogus “meeting” to have a surprise baby shower for me and I was so irritated because they claimed it was for a topic where I had nothing new to offer, so I kept trying to cancel it.

    This Boss might love all of this nonsense, but I’m thinking they probably have more important things to do.

    1. Observer*

      This Boss might love all of this nonsense, but I’m thinking they probably have more important things to do.

      Well, it depends on what you consider “important.” The vibe I’m getting from the OP is that he boss would absolutely NOT be worried about waste of time here. And, whatever else is going on here, that’s not the OP’s problem either. Fortunately!

  47. River*

    #3. I had an experience where I interviewed for a management position at my company. Although I was able to ask a few questions on my own, the interviewees ended the interview unexpectedly and said “Alright well thanks for your time. We will let you know when we make our decision”. That’s not exactly what they said word for word but I am just elaborating from a year ago when this happened.
    Anyway, my point is that I didn’t feel that the interview did me justice as I did not have more opportunity to ask additional questions. I felt hurt that the interviewee decided to end the interview even though I didn’t get to ask more questions to things I wanted to know. A part of me feels like the interviewer didn’t want to go on and they already had the other candidate in mind for this position. They were just doing their due diligence as an organization and interviewing me because in all honesty, it wouldn’t have been fair to interview ONE person and then give them the job. I think they were somewhat relieved that another person was applying so it looked a little more fair and reasonable. Anyway, if an employer doesn’t give an opportunity for you to ask questions, that would certainly be a red flag for me. You would think in this day and age, a candidate having questions most of the time is a given. If your gut is telling you something, go with it. There may have been some obstacles or difficult things in the job and maybe that’s why they were sounding desperate. Maybe not many people applied. Makes you wonder huh….

  48. Your favorite trans manager*

    #5 is exactly why I as a trans hiring manager don’t ask for references. I get why many people (including Allison) insist that they’re necessary, but for me, the convenience of references is NEVER worth forcing trans people to out themselves. I’ve personally been having the same struggle that #5 is having, and unfortunately the best solution I’ve found is just… only applying to companies that don’t check references. If I reached out to my old managers and came out to them, that could very easily backfire on me, because it’s highly possible that they’re transphobic and would give me an intentionally bad reference because of it (cis people, please do not tell me there’s no way that could happen, I can assure you with 100% certainty that it absolutely does).

    1. Nah*

      I agree so, so much with this comment. There are so many reasons that reference checking is utterly ridiculous, and safety of candidates is a really, really important one. I’m always baffled that people don’t realise that forcing someone to contact people from the past, just so that they can get a job that gives them the money needed for food and shelter, is often a really bad idea.

      Also, having hired people for a very, very long time, I am yet to be convinced of the supposed value of reference checks. The couple of times someone more senior than me interfered with the hiring process and insisted on using and putting way too much stock in reference checks, we ended up with “bad” hires (or the weakest candidate in an otherwise really strong field).

  49. Don't Gift Up*

    #1 – I’m late in responding but things like this really, really get under my skin.

    Our department VP just had routine surgery last week. Nothing urgent, some chronic back issues finally getting fixed.

    One of our four managers sent an email to the entire department — including junior-junior staff — to collect money for a Get Well gift for the VP.

    I, a senior staff person and who was a peer of this manager until she was promoted a few months ago, immediately messaged the manager and asked what our department’s budget was for this kind of thing, since the junior-junior staff is made up of: Current college students, a mom of two children who are still in diapers, recent (as in, Dec 2021) graduates from a Master’s program. . . and all of which have only worked REMOTELY for us for the past 4-6 months and therefore have exactly zero relationship with the VP.

    The manager equivocated and tried to implicate the other three managers (“They said maybe the staff would like the opportunity to chip in. And it’s *voluntary*!”)

    And this was someone who, pre-promotion, had wanted the staff to take turns bringing in goodies on Fridays whenever we returned to the office. I shared all of AAM’s posts about not gifting up, not asking staff to pay out of their own pockets for office “perks”, and explained why someone paying $50 every 5th Friday for the privilege of leaving their home at *least* 30 minutes early to stop by the donut/whatever shop on the way in was a really bad idea; and how that $50 might have been, oh say, a utility bill. She seemed to “get it” back then.

    But now she’s a manager and the VP is her direct boss and she wants to. . . suck up? She comes from money and married money so maybe she’s just really clueless about paying bills and living on ramen, rice, and beans, never mind the really bad etiquette of “gifting up” in the workplace.

    She collected ~$400 from 13 people and gleefully announced that she’d be buying an expensive food gift basket plus several gift cards to the VP’s favorite fast-food restaurants.

    The VP makes 6-7 times what our junior-junior people make. We should have just given him a card.

  50. psykins*


    I am trans, just changed my name, and will be starting a job search soon. Whenever I’m job searching in earnest and begin sending in applications, I alert my references that I am searching and double check that it’s still OK for me to use them. This is the *perfect* time to casually drop “you may remember me as X, but I now go by Y” and sign your email with your pronouns. If your references have a problem with you being trans and will be assholes about giving you a reference, this is the time for them to make up an excuse and recuse themselves. It can feel scary to come out to people we suspect may not have respect for us, but if you are matter-of-fact about the details of your life and keep this email professional and relatively transactional, it’s less likely you will get a negative reaction. The only power your previous employers have over you is the ability to withhold a reference or give a bad one. They can no longer meaningfully impact your life in other ways. So, why not find out, up front, whether they will continue to be references.

  51. Snowy*

    #2 – I’d play up the safety aspect of being able to work from home in bad weather, since you can – a few years ago, my area had an extremely dangerous cold spell (not exaggerating, it actually hit -50 F). We knew it was coming. Many businesses, even places known to never close, closed early the day before as temperatures were falling. The whole city basically shut down in preparation.

    My boss told us we all had to come in to work and we had better not call in even though HE “probably won’t be in because they’ll cancel my kid’s school” !!!! I, against my better judgement, begrudgingly tried. My car made it a mile down the road before blowing out two tires due to the cold. I did manage to drive it home on the rims (I’m used to cold and was appropriately dressed, but this was just too dangerous to be outside at all and it was worth risking damaging the car instead of my body) but it took four days of attempting to get it towed (it stayed cold enough and there were so many car issues that the tow companies were only working life-threatening emergencies) and a hefty repair bill that I couldn’t really afford. It would have been in everyone’s best interest to just close, or tell employees to not come in if they didn’t feel safe. If my car hadn’t broken down so quickly, I could have been stuck in a very dangerous situation as there’s a stretch of my commute that’s through an open area with no buildings to take shelter at, in weather where frostbite occurs in minutes. My job can’t be done remotely, but if it could, this would have been the perfect reason to do so.

    #5, I don’t have any advice, but I hope your job search goes well and you end up in a great, welcoming place!

  52. P*

    I love how reference checks normally don’t even weed out bad candidates, they’re just very effective at creating barriers for people who would be put in a weird spot like #5. Just recently I had to decide if I wanted to reach out to an abusive former manager or if I wanted to just exit out of an application instead.

  53. TheFutureIsBright*

    Letter writer #5: I’m late to the game commenting, but my transgender wife went through a similar job search a few years ago- complete with prior conservative employers unaware of her transition. She did the following things: upped her existing involvement in some non-work activities like volunteer work which use some of the same skill set as her desired jobs, so that she could expand her set of references without going back to prior employers, and she reached out to multiple people at a job where she was out and used them as references with some context, like “Jane is my direct supervisor and can give you a good idea about me, but if you’d like to know more about my skillet with X, I worked closely with a different manager Roger” so that she was able to use just one friendly workplace for multiple references. She also went the extra mile in preparing for the job search- doing informational interviews, practicing interviewing, brushing up her skills, really polishing her resume, with the idea that if she is a gold-star, first choice candidate a new company is less likely to ask for references or to actually contact those references compared to checking for red flags on a candidate they would be on the fence about. It is annoying that transgender people face this situation and that there are barriers in place like this, but hopefully this is concrete advice from lived experience about how to overcome and avoid some of this awkward situation. It worked out well for her, and I hope that you have equal success in your search

  54. Erica*

    At my old job, my GM’s birthday was coming up and for some reason we were making a big deal over his birthday. My department wanted to do a bagel breakfast AND and an entire afternoon party for this. I was tasked with buying the bagels and cream cheese and the coffee for the whole department for GM’s birthday.

    Well. This was happening at the same time new ownership was taking over and many of us were losing our jobs. Minutes after having this dumb bagel birthday nonsense (and after spending a decent amount of $$ to feed and caffeinate my colleagues), I was called to HR and AND LOST MY JOB.

    “Thanks got the bagels”

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