my boss makes me sign personal contracts for every rule he implements

A reader writes:

Recently my significant other told me that his boss frequently makes him sign personal “contracts” at work. These are not contracts through his (very well known luxury car brand) employer, but a quickly typed Word document with a few sentences. The most recent ones he was given stated, “I will work every Saturday or else I will be fired” and “I will not park in the grass or else I will be fired.” His direct boss always tells him that refusal to sign will also lead to his immediate termination.

Is this … okay? It seems manipulative to me, and my partner has been signing them because he is afraid of losing his job. The GM of their store does not know this is a thing and HR doesn’t know either because they approved a recent Saturday off, which led to this most recent “contract.” None of the terms he signed directly with his boss are part of his actual employment contract.

We both understand his boss uses these contracts as a way to avoid actually being a manager. He doesn’t like correcting/managing employees so when someone does something wrong, he makes everyone in their department (about five people) sign them. But regardless, we are scared he will be immediately fired for something like this, despite him having a great reputation there, all because he signed an agreement with his boss.

He is applying to new places as we speak but we imagine it will be a while before he finds something suitable. In the meantime, how should he handle these “contracts”? I suggested that he tell his boss he needs time to review it with a lawyer before he can sign something his boss seems to believe is legally enforceable, but it feels too serious a statement for a single sentence hastily typed on a Word document.

He needs to take off a Saturday nine months away for a wedding we will be going to, and he already knows that when he requests the time off, his boss will be mad and cite the “contract” he signed. Does he have any recourse or does he just have to deal with these half-baked threats?

What on earth? Does his boss also make him stand at a chalkboard and write “I will not talk back” 100 times? If not, that’s probably coming soon.

If his boss wants to fire someone for not working Saturdays or for parking on the grass … he can just fire them for not working Saturdays or for parking on the grass. He doesn’t need them to agree to it in writing first. That makes me think he’s not actually trying to create a legal agreement, but is just using these agreements as a weirdly threatening way of communicating his rules. Otherwise, why not just say, “Hey, I’ll need you to work Saturdays for the next few months” or “You can’t park on the grass?” That is how normal people communicate. Signed statements aren’t required.

I’m not a lawyer and thus can’t speak to the legal enforceability of these “contracts” — but frankly it doesn’t really matter since, again, an employer can fire an employee for any of those things without a written agreement authorizing it. But I can speak to the general weirdness and toxicity of operating this way, and that answer is: very weird and very toxic.

Please encourage your partner to report what’s happening to either the GM and/or HR. Ideally he’d bring them some of the recent “contracts” and say, “Bob routinely asks us to sign contracts like this and I wanted to make you aware of them and ask if I should consider these as contracts with the company.” Or you could frame it to HR as, “These seem like changes to the terms of my employment so I wanted to find out if this is coming from the company officially and whether I should consider these legally binding.” Chances are high that the response will be some version of “what! no” and that Bob’s contract-writing business will speedily end.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 268 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Similar to Alison, I read this as weirdly-worded policy documents.

    “I will not park on the grass or else I will be fired.”

    is the same thing in intent as

    “Employees must not park on the grass. Failure to comply with this policy may result in immediate termination. Sign below to indicate your acceptance of this modification to the employee policy handbook”

    1. Other Alice*

      That means this manager is making changes to company policy without informing the GM or HR. I suspect they would be interested in knowing that.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Bingo. Looking past the weirdness of trying to format policy as a word-doc “contract,” you’ve got a manager setting policies without company approval. Not small policies either, like asking his department to adhere to a slightly nicer dress code, but big deal “you will be fired if you violate this once” policies. Any half decent upper management is going to love that like a pocket full of bees.

        1. catcommander*

          Corporate may or may not be ok with tyrannical boss behavior, but they definitely won’t be OK with the amount of discoverable material he is generating for the next lawsuit.

          1. Lab Boss*

            True! The only thing worse than “putting your shenanigans in writing” is putting them in legalese writing designed to leave no wiggle room about exactly what you were doing.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

              If I were at corporate comma my first response to Bob would be please tell me you gave this to all employees and not just minority employees.

              1. Cj*

                It does sound like the boss makes all of his employees sign each contract he comes up with, not just the “offender”.

                But the whole thing is so ridiculous, it seems like the boss could very well be violating something somewhere at some time, even if these “contracts” are legal.

              1. Lab Boss*

                Much like the axe-thrower in last week’s first impressions round-up: “you’re so stupid, you’re dangerous.” In a legal sense rather than physical one, but still.

      2. Wildcat*

        Yeah, legally this is NOT a contract but HR would likely lose their minds over this weird DIY policymaking.

        1. Introverted Extrovert*

          As an HR person I can confirm I would lose my mind. Managers DIY-ing policies is one of my biggest pet peeves, right up there with employees that move to a new states/country and don’t say anything for months.

          OP please have your husband bring this to someone higher up than his manager. Unless the GM and HR people are somehow cut from the same strange cloth, they’re going to be concerned about this. If he thinks his boss will retaliate, either against him or the team, he can mention that he’s concerned about it and would like them to keep an eye on Manager.

          1. Gilbert Sullivan*

            “Managers DIY-ing policies is one of my biggest pet peeves…”

            Ah, HR types. Y’all would be the very model of a modern Russian general.

          2. Gilbert Sullivan*

            PS, I mean, God forbid, but you could solve the problem of employees moving to new states and not telling you by…dunno….returning to work in the office? Shocking I know…

            1. Introverted Extrovert*

              I’d probably make a terrible Russian general. I ask far too many questions and regularly question my superiors if I think there’s a need. I also hate cold weather.

              That analogy aside, I’m always happy to be flexible when the situation allows for it and I do want to help managers help employees. My issue with DIY-ing policies isn’t the low-stakes one-off exception of a manger trying to be helpful to their employee, it’s the big stuff that can open the company up to legal liabilities because we’re no longer treating employees the same in ways that matter.

              As for returning workers to the office to avoid out-of-state and out-of-country moves, can you return someplace you’ve never been? We’ve been a remote-first company since 2018 so most employees have never been to our office. Even if that weren’t the case, this seems like an awfully heavy-handed, authoritarian approach to solving a problem that’s only a problem for maybe 10% of our employees.

              We wouldn’t tell anyone no if they asked us about moving, so there’s nothing to be gained by not telling us in advance and everything to lose since any personal tax ramifications won’t be covered by the company.

              1. Gilbert Sullivan*

                As for returning workers to the office to avoid out-of-state and out-of-country moves, can you return someplace you’ve never been?

                Sure you can.

                “After a careful policy review, we’ve decided that, as a company, we can no longer offer the option of permanent, full-time work from home. We have found that an atomized, homebound workforce does not facilitate the sharing of ideas or collaboration among employees. Therefore, we need our workforce to be in the office regularly at least part of the time. To this end, we’ve leased office space in [City X] and will be requiring employees to come to the office at least three days per week. We recognize that not all our employees may agree with this policy shift, and we will do our utmost to assist those who wish to pursue other opportunities as a result of it.”

                You’ll find some who quit over this issue, sure — just like Yahoo! did. But you’ll find others who prefer it, and ultimately, it will put an end to people moving without telling you about it.

                We’ve been a remote-first company since 2018 so most employees have never been to our office.

                There’s your problem. Your workforce is so atomized that it doesn’t see any connection to the company and doesn’t think the company gets any say in where employees are based.

                Even if that weren’t the case, this seems like an awfully heavy-handed, authoritarian approach to solving a problem that’s only a problem for maybe 10% of our employees.

                If this issue is occurring with 10% of your workforce, it’s a *huge* problem. 10% is very much a material number. Do you wake up in any given ten-day period and say, “OMG, OMG, today is Tuesday, that never happens!”

                1. LarryFromOregon*

                  The hiring pool for permanent WFH roles is national or international. The hiring pool for in-office roles is local.

                  A state agency director I know was thrilled that the pandemic ushered in a climate where they could recruit nationally to get the best workers for most roles. They would not hire You, Gilbert, because of your narrow view of how to manage employees.

                  Not for everything be to be sure! But diversity is often strength, in many dimensions.

      3. CTT*

        And their legal counsel would probably want to know as well. If the other party to the contract is the company, he’s entering them into agreements without their consent (like Alison said, this could all be stuff within his purview to make rules about, but I’d worry that he’s signing for other things on the company’s behalf that could require payments of money or increased liability…)

        1. Joielle*

          I had a similar thought. If there’s an actual employment contract like the LW mentions, it probably has some language saying that this contract is the entire agreement between the company and employee (commonly referred to as an “entire agreement clause”). Whether that’s enforceable really depends on the situation, but if I was the company’s counsel, I would be VERY unhappy to know there was some manager going rogue and muddying the legal waters. It wouldn’t *necessarily* cause a problem later on, but it could make things messy in the (unlikely, but possible) event that a lawsuit were to arise. And it’s just… totally unnecessary.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Yeah, this is evidence of the boss being tyrannical, but it’s also proof that this boss is an idiot.

          2. Observer*

            It wouldn’t *necessarily* cause a problem later on, but it could make things messy in the (unlikely, but possible) event that a lawsuit were to arise

            The thing is that lawsuits are not unlikely. And this stuff could be a problem even in cases that have nothing to do with the content of these “contracts”. Because the key problem here is that if the company has a policy that is otherwise legal, it’s hard to make a case that the company was at fault for following it most of the time. But if you can show evidence that the manager was actually changing policy whenever he felt like it, that changes everything.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            yeah, normally if you need to add something later, you sign a rider, which usually explicitly mentions the contract it’s being added to and any specific clauses it might replace. I can’t imagine that anything else could be deemed legally binding.
            I live in France where almost everyone has a contract with their employer (if you don’t have one, then the pay slip is deemed to be your contract, so that the only obligations are that the employer pays this much to do this job for this number of hours a month, nothing else being mentioned there.) Any time there are any changes like working hours, salary, place of work, duties, you have to sign a rider.

      4. Meep*

        I left my last job because of my former manager was doing this, sans making you sign – she would just straight up threaten you. They recently got an employment manual (6 years too late) and a former coworker showed it to me. There were definitely clauses put in just to account for her weird power trips. Basically, only the president of the company could change the manual/policy. They will definitely be unhappy about this.

        1. Metadata minion*

          Unless the things he’s making his employees sign are unreasonable, this doesn’t really go above “deeply obnoxious” for me. Yes, he’s terrible at his job, but this feels like a weirdly legalistic version of a pretty average-grade crappy boss, to me, rather than anything worthy of Worst Boss.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            The problem is that he’s not doing his job. You don’t announce a new rule, make the only punishment firing, then have your employees sign a secret contract.

            This is beyond obnoxious. It’s extremely poor management, and it’s probably going to get him fired when it gets out.

            1. Nina*

              In my workplace we do periodically have ‘read-and-signs’ – a SME writes a document outlining the rules for using, say, hazardous waste bins, with a line saying ‘I have read and understood these rules’, then everyone is asked to sign. If you don’t, your access to where the hazardous waste bins live is cut off, because there’s no evidence you know how to behave safely around them. But it’s definitely not a firing issue! it’s a ‘c’mon, man, you know this, do better’ for at least the first three or four foul-ups.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                But that’s really simply a training document, and yes, we have that all the time in a manufacturing plant.
                This is a little excessive considering, as people have mentioned, it’s not like the things he is making the guy sign for are actually training or corrective actions. Requiring him work every Saturday is ridiculous. The grass issue is just rational, but doesn’t need to be enforced through a signed document.

      5. dz*

        Lol, I’m pretty sure the company would not be happy to find out the boss is creating what he seems to think are legally enforceable contracts on behalf of the company. Does this guy even have contract signing authority at the company? I’m betting not.

        1. FrenchCusser*

          In my Business Law class, they told us it’s not an enforceable contract unless there’s a benefit for both sides.

          I wouldn’t think ‘do this or lose something’ would qualify. In fact, I would think that if you were fired over violating this ‘contract’, you’d have a very good basis to sue.

          With the caveat that I’m not a lawyer, I just took this one class as part of my business degree.

          1. PotatoEngineer*

            The usual employment thing is “continuing to be employed counts as consideration.” Also keep in mind that the OP most likely works in an at-will state, and they can be fired for (almost) any reason at any time.

            While the GM and HR will likely be on OP’s side, this still counts as “your boss sucks.” Whether any change is coming depends on the rest of management.

        2. Reluctant Mezzo*

          The company will not be happy to find out that the boss is playing the apparent agency card–as in, the employee is likely to believe the boss is an agent of the company for the purpose of these funny little contracts (Air Force purchasing and contracting is very firm about having its people know about the varying degrees of agency).

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Anyone remember “Jane’s Handbook for Employees of Company Satellite Office”?
      It actually ended well. She did either have good intentions or got over herself after someone reported that the admin in the branch office were new hires were required to sign this handbook stating they would request time off or call off through her.
      She was the office manager who thought she was the manager of the office staff.

    3. anonymous73*

      This isn’t about weird wording. It’s about a bully manager who is threatening everyone to follow his own personal rules or be terminated.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. He just wants to be a bully. A real policy would have some sort of option other than “you can NEVER take x day off.” To be worried about a wedding NINE months from now? I hope LW’s partner finds a new job well before then.

    4. Sean*

      Exactly 100%

      “I will not park on the grass or else I will be fired.”

      The wording reminds me of school, and of lines being handed out as a punishment to a child: “I will not talk in class”, “I will not run in the corridor” etc.

      OP, when the manager issues these diktats, does he make you sign them there and then, and then take the copy away from you? Or are you able to retain copies, which you could present to HR if that is a viable option?

      Without any paper evidence of your own, the manager could simply deny all knowledge if HR starts asking questions, and he could then fire you on a whim. But if you have your own physical copies it will then be the manager who has the explaining to do.

  2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP. I help my boss out all the time by updating our procedure documents. She really appreciates it. Your husband can do the same thing. Tell him to put this into a Word doc:
    I will not [insert situation that occurs because staff are human beings but that manager doesn’t want to deal with] or else I will be fired.


  3. AnonInCanada*

    What a bizarre way for the boss to circumvent company policy to get his way with his subordinates. This is definitely not cool. Your partner should talk to HR to ask them if they’re aware of these documents the boss is getting him to sign. I’m sure this boss will get a talking-to once HR gets wind of this!

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      But mention fear of retaliation if you do go to the GM or HR!

      And I would love an update OP!

      1. True Dat*

        Exactly! I would be very surprised if it hadn’t already occurred to him that he could go to the GM or HR, but he’s hesitant because that person will then say “Hey Fergus, Wakeen just told me about the shiz you’re making him sign! Cut it out or you’re in trouble.” Then Fergus will be looking for ways to get even.

  4. Mental Lentil*

    I would be very interested to know what the manager is doing with these. Are they going into personnel records (where the GM and HR would know about it) or are they going into his desk?

    Just another manager who doesn’t know how to manage and/or doesn’t want the responsibility of managing. Good luck to LW’s spouse. I hope they find another job quickly.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Right? I hope OP’s partner is keeping copies of them to show to HR when he leaves. And I sure hope he leaves soon. Good luck on the job search, OP’s partner!

    2. John Smith*

      Agreed. I’m also wondering how many people are getting these? Maybe the boss ‘s next step is going all Dolores Umbridge and starts sticking edicts around the office. Hope your SO gets out of there ASAP (or better yet, that this boss does).

      1. Mental Lentil*

        I think we need to add “Going all Dolores Umbridge” to the AAM Tarot Card deck.

        1. My dear Wormwood*

          Wildly inappropriate
          What? No!
          Sex in the office

          Could be a huge deck…

            1. The Witch of Sanity's Annex*

              oh that has to go in the Major Arcana, along with The Phantom Pooper, Notes on a Grave, and Drunk Xmas Do!

            2. All the words*

              Isn’t there also a Waving of the Sandwich card that could be added?

              It’s no cheap-ass roll, but still.

    3. MBK*

      HR: “You can’t fire someone without a paper trail.”
      OP’s Boss: “OK look I have this paper trail…”

      1. Varthema*

        LOL, yes, this is what I’m thinking. Regardless of whether or not the OP’s partner works in an at-will state, most companies (especially large ones) have their own internal termination policies, and if they’re any good they’re fairly clear on what documentation is necessary leading up to termination (except for certain specific, named situations where immediate termination is warranted). I bet the manager thinks this counts as documentation.

    4. Certaintroublemaker*

      I am desperate for an update already! (And I really hope that it’s that boss was terminated immediately.)

      1. Clorinda*

        I hope he was required to write out his own contract.
        “I will not create new rules for my employees or I will be fired.”

      2. RVA Cat*

        Second best thing is if all the boss’s employees get new jobs and give their notice by taking Saturday off, parking on the grass, etc. Dare him to fire everybody so he has to do all the work.

  5. Lynn*

    Partner will follow these steps and then the next contract they will get will be: “I will not talk to outside leaders about contracts again”

    This boss is deranged.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      Say no, I’m not signing that. What will happen? The next contract will be to say that you agree to sign all future contracts, or you’ll be fired!

      1. Jora Malli*

        What would happen if he responded with “I’d like a member of HR and/or Legal to be present when I sign this contract.”

        1. Frizzlebee*

          This is what I would do. “As this is a contract that has the potential to directly affect my employment, I would like assurance that this is being properly recorded with the HR and legal teams. I would like to request that the contract be acknowledged by these teams in writing, and that I be given 3 standard business days (Monday through Friday when the HR team is in) to read and fully understand the contract, and have an opportunity to ask for clarification.”

          And then in those 3 days, I would look at the handbook I have, find any conflicts, and then go to HR with “I just wanted to clarify how this new contract effects the stated policy”

    2. Splendid Colors*

      I got a letter from my apartment manager during the pandemic “offering” me the generous opportunity to be compensated $300 if I agreed to move out by 12/31/2020 because I had been complaining to outside agencies about problems in the building. They claimed that filing complaints violated the “disparagement” clause in my lease. (Which I’m pretty sure means “don’t curse at employees of the management company.”)

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        You should’ve dickered over the price. If you annoyed then enough, they might just have raised it to a number that would’ve been worthwhile.

        We had to pay a truly exorbitant bribe to get a “tenant” out during the pandemic. She wasn’t even paying us rent; she was only technically a tenant instead of a houseguest because we gave her a letter saying she lived there once, so that she could apply for government aid. She was an acquaintance to whom we’d offered help a few years earlier because she was desperate and couldn’t afford a place of her own.

        But we couldn’t make her leave due to the pandemic anti-eviction rules (which in general I supported; I’m not trying to complain about the law just because we ran afoul of it)… AND she refused to comply with our household’s necessary COVID safety protocols like wearing masks and not inviting strangers into the house. We had a critically high-risk family member and couldn’t have somebody around who was putting her in danger, so when our guest repeatedly refused to take basic precautions, we had no choice but to get her out. Since paying her off was what it took to get her out, we paid her off.

        We learned a great deal about our state’s tenancy laws that winter, most of which can be summed up as “No good deed goes unpunished.”

        1. True Dat*

          What a terrible human being she is. I’m sorry that happened to you, and hope you don’t hear negative things from the commentariat, a few of whom apparently are dismissive that situations like yours are merely “a minor inconvenience” to the good-deed-doer. (Methinks they are not likely good-deed-doers themselves.)

        2. Sweet 'N Lower*

          There’s a mini docuseries on Netflix called “Worst Roommate Ever” that you might find cathartic. A few of the episodes are about stories similar to yours, where tenants abuse tenancy laws and sometimes overstay their welcome for YEARS. It’s crazy.

          1. Sweet 'N Lower*

            Correction: It’s just the two last episodes that are about that situation and they’re both about one specific guy. Still, wild.

  6. SMH*

    I would obtain copies or take pictures of them and send them to HR and CEO. If that doesn’t work start posting them on Glassdoor and watch what happens. Yes he needs to find another job ASAP.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      He needs to find another job ASAP.

      This is a car dealership. The other managers will see him as the butt of the joke. When they see weakness, they want to weed it out.

      But the norms of the industry are also that he shouldn’t hint that he is looking, or he’ll be let go immediately. No notice in either direction. Find a job and leave.

      1. Kammy6707*

        My husband sold cars for two very long years – you are spot on. I could honestly see my husband’s old (the General Manager!) power-tripping manager pulling this move! And frankly, no one at a higher level would have cared and I believe HR processes were contracted out to a firm that handled all the other dealerships owned by the family.

    2. All the words*

      I can’t even imagine having my boss threaten to fire me regularly as a normal fact of my working environment. This isn’t right or normal.

      This person needs to get out. Other employers are hiring. Many of them are even nice and professional.

  7. Parenthesis Dude*

    I’d be interested to know if the direct boss actually has the power to fire somebody immediately without at least talking to the GM/HR first. Could be that the direct boss is trying to scare their reports into accepting terms that they wouldn’t be able to dictate otherwise.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It’s an at will state.
      He can fire people for any reason.
      The real question is, can he make it stick/make them not apply for unemployment? Being fired doesn’t automatically preclude unemployment. If you are fired because the job is a bad fit, or they want to hire someone who has more experience after you’ve been trying for awhile, good companies won’t fight unemployment.
      So, if you get fired because you took off a Saturday that was approved by the corporate system or because you called in sick on a Saturday because you were sick, you can apply for unemployment…and you will tell the UO why.
      And King Leopold, the Manager will have to answer for it.
      But if he convinces people that they must sign away their rights*, then he can do whatever he wants, because the will think they are actually fired for cause.

      *meaning the benefits included in their compensation package

      1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

        The company legally having the power to fire the employee for anything is not the same as Bob having the authority within the company to fire his reports for anythign without approval from HR or his own boss. I suspect Bob doesn’t actually have the latter.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Middle management is so stressful precisely because of the mismatch between things you’re responsible for and power to do anything about them.

          One sentence word documents are an interestingly… small way to try to claw back some veneer of power to do things. Like, you only try this more than once if you have some power… but no one would associate it with an effective top executive. “Maylene, I have typed up “I will not take the blueberry bagel before boss looks over the bagel selection; I can be fired if the blueberry bagel is missing.” Now you sign it.”

          1. Anone*

            Both of them have incredibly poor judgment. Cinnamon raisin bagels are far superior to blueberry.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Sweet bagels are blasphemy. Bagels are only kosher if they are of savory flavors.

              The school of Hillel says that cinnamon raisin is an exception that has been grandfathered in over the ages, but the school of Shammai says that there can be no exceptions, and that cinnamon raisin bagels are even worse than blueberry because, being older, they were invented closer to the giving of Torah and their inventors should therefore have known better.

              Don’t get me into the question of whether it’s kosher to eat a salt bagel whose salt has all melted in the bag on the way home from the bakery. It’ll take an hour at least. ;)

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                And then there was the schism over how much cream cheese to put on it…(the ‘schmear’ guy on TV is a piker. Half an inch thick or I’ll see you at dawn. Bagels for two and coffee…well, that’ll be for two as well, no sense in being a barbarian over it).

        2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          That’s what I was thinking too. Sure, at will states allow *companies*’to fire anyone for any (non-protected) reason, but most companies large enough to have an HR also have policies around hiring and firing. Just because the dealership can fire Jim for any reason, doesn’t mean *Bob* can fire his direct reports for any reason. Which makes me think that beyond the obvious weirdness of these little “contracts” they’re totally unenforceable.

          Bob doesn’t gain any new authority from the company by making them. If he fires someone it’s still going to be reviewed by upper management/HR. The *best* he can hope for is that the firing gets reviewed and overturned. At worst upper management finds out about his “contracts” and he gets in trouble himself.

          Basically all he’s doing is creating a weird paper trail of his inept attempt to circumvent company policy.

      2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        At will still doesn’t mean the manager has the power to fire him based on the organization’s rules. My manager cannot fire me without her boss’s (and likely grandboss’s) approval. She is my manager, I am in an at-will state, but the organization’s policies and procedures do not allow someone at my manager’s level to fire someone without other approvals.

      3. Turtles All The Way Down*

        But surely a luxury automaker has SOME kind of sign-off procedure for firing employees. Yes, they can be fired for any reason, but companies usually like to have A reason to avoid liability and will need to loop in HR so the employee can receive things like vacation payout, severance, information about COBRA, and unemployment. If HR approves a Saturday off in 9 months to go to a wedding and the direct manager flips his lid and fires the employee who has approved PTO and, I’m assuming, coverage, I’d assume SOME questions would be asked.

        1. Cobol*

          I’m reading this as they work at a dealership selling well known luxury cars. This type of activity is pretty standard in that environment.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Which is standard — firing people for minor offenses, or making them sign weird, unenforceable pseudo-contracts for every rule?

        2. NoviceManagerGuy*

          Car manufacturers are huge normal publicly traded companies, but car dealerships are insane puffed-up closely-held nightmares.

          1. Grumpy Old Sailor*

            As I understand it, many/most dealerships are franchises, not owned directly by the auto manufacturer?

      4. KimberlyR*

        I think Parenthesis Dude means-does that manager have hire/fire authority within his company?* Its an at-will state but within the company itself, not every manager has that power.

        *Correct me if I’m wrong!

      5. ceiswyn*

        The question isn’t whether it’s legal, but whether it’s permitted within the corporate power structure.

        It may be legal for an employer to fire someone any time for any reason, but that doesn’t mean that the company is going to be happy if eg a low-level new supervisor without the authority to fire anyone ‘fires’ a star performer without getting signoff from their boss.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It may be legal for an employer to fire someone any time for any reason, but that doesn’t mean that the company is going to be happy if eg a low-level new supervisor without the authority to fire anyone ‘fires’ a star performer without getting signoff from their boss.

          That’s going to be doubly–if not tenfold–true at most automotive dealerships.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            Right?! My dad spent his entire career at car dealerships in various mangement roles. Short of getting publicly arrested or punching a customer on the floor, *no-one* is firing a star salesman. Good mechanics or parts guys are *slightly* less protected, but still very valued. Star individual performers are *huge* at car dealerships

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              That’s very inline with my experience. I’m hard pressed to think of another workplace where it’s so well understood how employees translate to revenue.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                Real estate. People who can get other people to close on houses are often allowed a certain…leeway…in personal behavior.

      6. Myrin*

        Apart from what others have already said re: Parenthesis Dude referring to the manager’s authority, we don’t know at all that OP is in an at-will state. In fact, the fact that she states her partner has an “actual employment contract” makes me think they are outside of the US entirely.

      7. Wintermute*

        That isn’t necessarily true.

        By law your employer is the company not your individual manager, your manager probably doesn’t have plenary authority to fire people, because most companies vest that in HR.

        A manager that attempts to fire someone without using the company’s process (which these decrees seem to be an end run around) may not actually have the legal effect of terminating someone’s employment.

      8. Danniella Bee*

        By firing purely based on at-will the manager actually opens the company up to potential lawsuits. It is always better to have documented reasons and to fire for cause. Relying entirely on at will can create all sorts of legal questions including discrimination and wrongful termination. You would be amazed at what lawyers can do. It is also a poor management practice even leaving aside legal implications.

        1. Jora Malli*

          Right. Even in an at will state, you can still lose a wrongful termination lawsuit if it’s determined that you didn’t follow your company’s internal policies and procedures when you terminated someone’s employment.

      9. Rusty Shackelford*

        I don’t think the question was whether it’s legal, but whether he has the authority within that business to do so.

      10. Worldwalker*

        The company can fire people for any reason.

        This specific manager might not have that authority. It’s more likely that he would have to provide a reason satisfactory to *his* boss, HR, the GM, or someone else, and possible that he would require their approval.

      11. JSPA*

        We don’t know at what level they do hiring / firing. At will tells us only about state law. It tells us nothing about company policy.

      12. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        The company may not have given this man the authority to unilaterally fire people without going through HR and/or GM. I know that where I work, all terminations have to go through HR. Yes, we are an at-will state, but any company can have its own policies. And honestly, it is odd that HR approves the leave request for a Saturday and then the manager makes them sign these contracts. It sounds like HR has the authority to authorize leave and he is trying to circumvent them. So I am not sure the manager has the authority he is trying to impose.

    2. Ann Onymous*

      The examples given in the letter are also such ridiculous and petty reasons to fire somebody that unless the GM and HR are even bigger tools than the direct boss, it’s hard to imagine that they’d condone him firing someone for those reasons even if he has the power. It does seem more like a scare tactic or a weird power trip.

      1. Danniella Bee*

        Bingo! Also, potential lawsuits and paying out unemployment which increase insurance rates, etc.

    3. Mockingjay*

      I think so too. Not all bosses have firing power; there’s usually a chain of command to approve such actions. This is a car franchise, which likely has a hierarchal setup.

      Boss is a lazy, incompetent manager who uses threats instead of leadership to manage his team and is counting on their silence to get away with it.

      I concur with Alison’s advice to check with GM and HR. Hope there will be an update to this one.

  8. Reality Check*

    I’m not a lawyer either,but I don’t see how signing a “contract” under threats is legally enforceable.

    1. Anoooooon*

      Given that the OPs husband isn’t getting anything from his boss in exchange it is extremely likely that in a common law jurisdiction the documents don’t actually constitute a contract and aren’t enforceable as there is no consideration. But that doesn’t really matter as the boss is clearly deranged and if the company gives him the power to fire people and he’s not doing it based on protected characteristics in the US he can fire the OPs husband document or not.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        But the circumstances make me suspect he does not have that authority, at least not unilaterally. HR had approved the Saturday leave, and so he made them sign the contract, undermining their approval and authority. And as Alison said, if he can fire them for it, then he can do that and there is no need for a contract. It looks more like he is trying to scare his employees into thinking he can, something he probably wouldn’t bother to do if he really could just fire them. Odds are that he has to involve HR in formal disciplinary or termination processes. But if he scares employees into thinking he can do what he wants, they are more likely to just do it without arguing or to agree to sign a resignation thinking it is “in lieu of termination.” They would think they are better off because they weren’t officially fired, and yet they would not be eligible for unemployment (or would assume they are not eligible).

    2. Wildcat*

      It’s not a “contract” legally because there’s no consideration. So when you sign a contract for a new job or a raise, for instance, you’re getting the new benefit of the job or a raise. But if you’re just going along, you’re not getting anything. This comes up, for instance, when employers ask employees to sign non-compete clauses later down the line. If the employee isn’t gettung a benefit, it’s not a binding contract. Not to say that a manager can’t fire someone as long as it’s not for an illegal reason, but these are not real contracts.

      Normal caveat: this is NOT legal advice.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Agree, this is not legal advice, but in the US this would not be an enforceable contract due to lack of consideration. That said, since an employee in the US can be fired for any (nondiscriminatory) reason or no reason at any time, these are just obnoxious nonsense from a boss that has no clue how to manage.

      2. Another JD*

        Lawyer here: Some states find that continued employment is sufficient consideration for NDAs offered during employment. As always, the answer will depend on your state’s laws and the specific wording of the purported contract.

        1. Wintermute*

          Yup, and most importantly, SOME STATES (including mine) do not consider at-will employment offers to be consideration where contracts are concerned, reasoning that true consideration cannot be unilaterally cancelled by one party at any time.

    3. Construction Safety*

      Yeah we learned that from Pryiya when Sheldon was trying to enforce the revision to the roommate agreement.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It is also not a contract legally. I am a lawyer, and these agreements do not include any consideration, a legal requirement for contracts. It is more an acknowledgment of policy. My question is whether the manager has the authority to set such policies. If HR approved leave, then it sounds like he does not have the authority to create a policy that undermines that authority, especially one that makes no exceptions for extraordinary circumstances. like bereavement, family emergency, or medical emergency. Also, if HR is involved in that process, they probably have policies that require them to be involved in disciplinary actions and hiring/termination decisions. I think OP’s partner needs to alert HR and find out what policies are in place for the company.

  9. kiki*

    I would bring up the working Saturdays contract specifically to the GM and HR. It would even help to do it in a way of confusion. “Hey, I know our handbook says X is the normal policy for requesting time off but Boss has this contract he’s making folks sign that says we will be fired if we don’t work Saturdays. I need to request time off for a wedding on a Saturday in 9 months– how should I handle this?” And then when GM or HR is like, “Ummm, what sort of contract?” you can respond by mentioning all the other wild little ones he’s been making people sign. They’ll probably recommend you request your time off as normal with them and hopefully will talk to Boss and tell him the contracts are silly, especially ones that contradict their normal procedures for requesting days off.

    Sometimes organizations are fully wildin’ out and HR or GM will back up a boss doing weird things and the only recourse is to leave, but a good portion of the time, upper management has no idea something weird is going on and they’ll make the boss stop. Granted, continuing to work with a boss like this may not be great, even once management starts intervening, but it can be comforting to know that the issue is one guy being weird, not a whole org.

    1. Maggie*

      As someone who has worked in a car dealership I would be super careful with this approach! Approaching it as “oh I’m confused due to the conflicting information, what a misunderstanding etc…” will likely work better . Sales / service managers (what I assume this boss is) can be super difficult personalities who sell well and usually have a ton of leeway, with the GM and HR rarely being able to overturn them

      1. Worldwalker*

        And this is where the bizarre idea that management is a reward for success comes in.

        Someone with a super difficult personality should not be a manager. There are attributes a manager needs to have, and attributes a manager needs *not* to have, and “super difficult personality” falls into the latter category.

        Someone who sells well should be treated as a star salesman, rewarded accordingly — but *not* a manager, because that’s an entirely different skillset. That’s like saying that this person in the service department is a really stellar mechanic, so let’s make them a salesman.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          See also: Michael Scott. I really liked how he was a terrific salesman. It gave the show verisimilitude, with him being promoted from terrific salesman to terrible manager.

          1. Koalafied*

            That detail was a master stroke on the part of the writers/show runners that made the difference between the character being a one-note caricature of a bad boss and being a plausible real person.

        2. Maggie*

          You’re completely right! Unfortunately the car industry in my experience is filled with Michael Scotts….

        3. Mental Lentil*

          There was a book from decades ago called The Peter Principle that said people basically rise to their level of incompetence. This manager is a perfect example of that.

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        In that industry, there are two measures of success: (1) Generation of revenue; and (2) Persuading others to submit to one’s will, aka “controlling the customer.”

        If you are employed by an unreasonable dealership where the managers enjoy playing their power games with employees as well as customers, you might as well move on. They won’t change to suit you.

        Taking this to upper management in many dealerships will result in the manager getting an “attaboy,” if not a spot bonus, for showing how “strong” he is.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes to this. Approach the matter in the spirit of “I’m trying to clarify this thing so I will know that I am following company policy.” What happens after that cannot really be predicted, but since your SO is job hunting anyway, I think this is a good course of action.

      My educated guess is that, after someone higher up knows about this, the contracts will stop appearing and the boss will be annoyed. I’m the sort that don’t much care if the manager is annoyed for being called out on crazy stuff like this, but your SO might find that a cause for concern.

      1. Joielle*

        Yep, I think of it as the plausible deniability question – “just asking for clarification” to call attention to something shady. Very effective in lots of situations!

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I still got fired once for asking that kind of question… it’s not foolproof! But it does give you better odds.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      If boss gets mad, you also have the avenue of being able to say you were assuming all of this was above-board. Because the only reason the GM and HR shouldn’t know about this is if the manager knew the whole thing was sketchy. And you weren’t going to assume it was sketchy.

  10. Stevie Budd*

    Ugh, this reminds me of when I was a vet tech many years ago and a supervisor with a power trip used to hand write things I did wrong and made me sign them. When I think back on this, it makes me squirm and I wish I had stood up for myself better.

    1. Zephy*

      Dysfunctional crap like that was why I only lasted like, six weeks at a private vet practice, and I was just a receptionist.

    2. ecnaseener*

      That’s basically a write-up, right? Not uncommon, but yeah definitely demeaning and bad management.

      1. Stevie Budd*

        But I’m fairly certain these were not official and just his way of reminding me that he was in charge. I was very well thought of there, and the “write-ups” were for subjective things, like a client complaint that I thought was unreasonable.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      I had a boss try to get me to sign a formal write up on my first day. I refused so she called the district manager. He ended up coming in the next day to talk to me about it and determine if letting me go was sufficient or if an investigation/authorities was needed – when it came out that the day before had been my first day and I was supervised the entire time, he was really confused since that is not when he had been told in the phone call (security breach and significant monetary losses).
      The write up? I put a key on the “wrong” hook. Keys were color-coded, hooks were not so I just put in on one of the dozen or so available hooks. Keep in mind, she was the one training me and stood right next to me as I did this. 6 hours later at the end of my shift, after not saying a word to me about it when it happened or at any point throughout the day, is when she tried to write me up for it. Apparently I was supposed to KNOW that it had to be returned to the hook she had pulled it off of, which I didn’t see her do because my attention was on the other things she was pointing out at that time.
      I wasn’t the one who got a write up that day, although there was a definite target on my back from then on.

  11. CatCat*

    It sounds like the boss is trying to create authority he may not even have via these “contracts.” Does the boss have actual authority to fire someone if they don’t work on a Saturday (especially since it sounds like taking a Saturday off is acceptable to the organization) or if they park on the grass?

    Like… are they really going to fire a top performer for taking an occasional Saturday off? I think HR and the GM will be surprised to learn this.

  12. Dragon_Dreamer*

    Is OP in the US? It sounds to me like their husband has an actual employment contract. If so, these “addendums” might not be legal.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Sales is a bit of a different animal as commission structures and stuff tend to change with seniority and product, so there might be a fixed-term contract that outlines all of that information and what needs to happen to get the max payout.

  13. Bernice Clifton*

    I can see how staffing needs would dictate an expectation that staff work most Saturdays, but I think it’s telling that the boss is making this the LW’s partner’s problem because they requested a day off from HR. The boss’s beef is with a HR if he wants to say in approving time off.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Right, he has to use these intimidation tactics because he doesn’t believe HR will back him up.

      Or he’s just a real jerk and gets a kick out of making people sign contracts. One of the two.

  14. Liv*

    The way OP worded this to say that these ‘contracts’ are entirely separate from his actual employment contract makes me think OP is not in the US where I understand employment contracts aren’t a thing.

    So with that in mind, basing this on my experience as someone in the UK where we do have actual employment contracts as standard: if your husband has an actual employment contract, then there will also be procedures his manager has to go through before he fires him (Where I work, the process is Informal perofrmance plan > Formal plan 1 > Formal plan 2 > Firing (which employee can challenge), otherwise your OP would be able to take his employer to tribunal for wrongful termination. So this sounds like the manager’s weird way of trying to avoid that.

    Good news is, the actual employment contract your husband has supersedes all these weird contracts, and these weird contracts aren’t in anyway legally enforceable since your husband has been coerced into signing them, and they void a separate, actual legal contract.

    So honestly if I were your husband, I’d just keep signing them for a quiet life while he aggressively job hunts. And/or bringing it to HR’s attention cos, er, they’d probably want to know that this manager has just gone totally rogue.

    1. Danniella Bee*

      Employment contacts ARE a thing in the US. They just are rare and usually for management or executives. At will employment is absolutely the standard and companies usually avoid contracts unless there is a specific business need for them.

    2. CoveredinBees*

      I wouldn’t assume that it isn’t in the US. Lots of people here play fast and loose with legal concepts all the time. “I declare this a contract because I say so!” can push around employees even if it wouldn’t hold up for a second in court.

      Things like signing off on having read a company handbook (not actually a contract but frequently misunderstood), non-disclosure agreements, and non-competes exist here, so I could see someone thinking this is also a thing. Luckily OP and her partner seem pretty clear that the actual pieces of paper are far less of an issue than the boss’ behavior.

  15. Ginger Pet Lady*

    Does he get to keep the copy of the contract? If not, I’d start asking for a copy for your own records. If that’s denied, take a photo. If boss tries to prevent that…ask them why.
    My guess is if controlling boss knows these side contracts are going on the record and he can’t just deny them if asked he will stop.
    Because if boss is having you sign a contract to work every Saturday when HR would approve those days off, this is not official policy.

  16. Green great dragon*

    We have been thinking a lot about the role of grandbosses, and whether we should be more prescriptive about this role. Letters like this make me think it should be a basic expectation of a grandboss that they should speak directly and privately to every one of their reports’ reports on a regular basis, to at least give them a fighting chance of finding out about this sort of isolated madness.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Skip-level meetings once in a while are a good idea. It gives the grandboss a chance to see what’s going on in the trenches, and to get the employees’ perspectives on stuff. It also gives the employees a chance to discuss any issues they may have with their managers.

    2. kiki*

      Yes! It’s important to give managers autonomy but senior leadership does need to have *some* insight into what’s going on with employees lower down on the org chart. Sometimes in nefarious situations I suspect that upper leadership banks on this separation so they can plead ignorance, but I think in most cases wild stuff happens and upper leadership would intervene if they had any idea what was going on.

  17. ecnaseener*

    Hahahaaha this is what my sister and I used to do when we were children!! We would sign contracts for things like “we hereby promise not to take each other’s toys without asking” and “if Person A thinks Person B is getting cranky, she will politely suggest Person B have a snack.”

    Actually, we were at least trying to make the contracts fair to both sides, no one-way decrees……so this boss is even MORE childish than actual small children!

    1. Forrest*

      The SECOND my 7yo finds about this, she’ll have the 4yo signing them. It’s so up her street.

      (4yo will happily sign anything and then do whatever she wants anyway.)

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Ironically, the 4yo’s approach might be correct for this employee! “I solemnly swear not to wear blue shirts on the same day as my boss” yeah, okay. *signs and then ignores*

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      For small children, that actually sounds like a surprisingly mature way to handle conflicts! Your examples sound kind of like roommate contracts I’ve seen in the past, which is basically just people agreeing on terms of coexistence to keep everyone satisfied.

      (Obviously not an effective way to manage though)

  18. Llellayena*

    I would definitely take these immediately to HR, especially the “I will always work Saturdays” one. For one, HR approved that Saturday off, so this is the manager overriding HR’s approval. For another, what if LW has to get intermittent FMLA for a health condition, gets sick and calls out on a Saturday. Will the boss fire him for taking LEGALLY PROTECTED time off? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. Oh, and if he gets Covid he’s supposed to still come in with symptoms on Saturday? Hmm….

  19. Veryanon*

    This is very odd! I mean, if the employee is required to work Saturdays, surely that would have been explained during the hiring process, no? And there would be a process in place if the employee needed to request the occasional Saturday off? Likewise with the parking on the grass thing (although maybe they park on the grass because there is no parking available anywhere else?).
    This is just really bad management and I agree with everyone that the GM and/or HR would be extremely interested to know that this was happening.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      It’s pretty standard in the industry to expect sales staff to work every Saturday. If you aren’t there, someone else might close a deal with your customer without splitting the commission. The customs on splitting commissions vary from one dealer to another, but I’ve heard that the luxury brands tend to be “winner take all.”

  20. LadyJ*

    Dear God I thought my childhood friend’s job in college with her supervisor doing this was the only one. Things reached a head and basically, she had to go to the general manager and say look I can’t do this and showed him a stack of the same thing. The GM was FURIOUS ! He marched into the guys office and said what is the meaning of this. He said she would work his way or the highway isn’t that what they wanted go getters. GM had to explain that is NOT how you get go getter and how many of these had he done prior to my friend. Everyon. It explained the high turnover

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      There are more of these people? Seriously? Glad your friend stood up for herself.
      Go getter? Go get what? A lawsuit? A never ending process of interviewing and hiring? A reputation as the worst place to work?

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      It’s almost hilarious that the guy thought that micromanaging was the way to get “go-getters.” About 100% backwards.

  21. lisette*

    This is how my former employer handled a lot of personnel issues. The CEO (the only direct manager for everyone in the company) would get upset about something and direct the individuals involved to “write themselves a memo” about whatever he was upset about.

    He asked me to write myself a memo once , and I followed the same personal policy I followed for all directives I deemed ridiculous: I did not consider doing it until I was asked a second time. I usually wasn’t asked second time and so rarely had to directly refuse to do something, and I never did write myself a memo.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yup. I would just say “OK” to any crazy request. I intended the “OK” to mean “I am acknowledging that I heard you.” The person with the crazy request would interpret my OK to mean “Yes, I agree with you and I shall do that” (or something…who knows) and mentally cross it off of their list, and never circle back. Most silly things just just blow over.

      I wonder if the LW’s SO just stopped signing the things saying “Oh yeah, I forgot” if the manager would come back with a Word doc saying “I need to sign these contracts or be fired for not signing the contracts.” My guess is yes.

  22. Magenta Sky*

    I’ll bet you a steak dinner their employee manual says that nobody except the CEO can enter into any kind of written employee contract. I’ve never seen one that didn’t.

    And that is something HR should be very, very interested in exploring.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This makes me think of the Steak Dinner/Alexander bit from Letterkenny. And if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching just to hear people say “steak dinner” a bunch of times.

    2. TPS reporter*

      So true. I cannot fire anyone at my company without going through a standard HR process. Most companies have this so they can avoid any discrimination claims, i.e. everyone gets the same due process regardless of sex, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, etc. I can as a boss lay out my expectations for the job (such as being available during certain times, treating clients in a certain way) but still to fire anyone I would have to prove to HR that this person is not meeting expectations and I have given them a fair opportunity to course correct. Also HR would be able to stop me if my expectations were unreasonable/illegal.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I wasn’t sure if the boss is referring to them as contracts, or if this is how OP characterised them. My theory here is that the boss doesn’t see it as a contract as such, but rather has taken a process that probably does exist, where someone gets a written reprimand (for something real, not just “taking time off on a Saturday”) and has to sign wording saying something like if this happens again they’ll be facing termination — and extrapolated that into his own petty process.

      1. TPS reporter*

        that is entirely possible, at my company we do have corrective action forms that lay out in detail what the person is doing wrong, their plan to correct it, the timelines, etc. I know for me HR would never let me even suggest immediate termination for violation of a “rule” unless it was egregious like harassment, physical altercation, honestly something bordering on criminal.

    4. Too Much Iced Tea*

      Oh yeah, we’re not even allowed to agree to terms of service on like, a notepad program download because that would be “entering into a binding agreement” and only the university president and their approved proxy are allowed to do that.

  23. Purple Loves Snow*

    I am not sure how happy the GM or HR will be with these “mini contracts” outside of their employment contracts. And, when bringing this up with the GM/HR, I would be inquiring about how they will prevent the boss from retaliating.

    1. Worldwalker*

      This. I really, really want this one in the year-end updates if not sooner.

      Probably not quite bad enough for worst boss of the year — the bar is pretty high for that, thanks to a world of truly awful bosses.

  24. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I can’t stop commenting on this one. Was it here or on Bored Panda recently that a hospital worker was reprimanded for talking about salary by a manager? The manager kicked it up to HR who reprimanded the employee. So the employee told HR that what they and manager are doing is illegal. HR feigned surprise and ignorance, took a break and came back a bit later with the official word, “yeah, it kind of is, but we don’t like and you are just going to upset people so please don’t do it, umkay?”

  25. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    This is 100% something my worst ever boss would have done. We also had a small staff (3 people in the office who weren’t her, 3 people on the maintenance staff) and this is exactly the sort of thing that she would have passed out during our never ending weekly meetings. Actually, she kind of did something similar, except it was with “anonymous surveys” that she would pass out and then claim that the majority of people filling them out all agreed to things like:
    1) Specific employees not being allowed to speak throughout the day
    2) Workers needing to “step out of their comfort zones” and handle things that are very far removed from their job duties (think leasing consultants being required to repair washing machines or perform other maintenance tasks, maintenance workers being required to wade through dumpsters with rats in them, etc)
    3) Specific people covering weekends and working 7 days a week with no relief indefinitely so she would be able to be “refreshed” and able to perform her weekly duties

    Needless to say, the company was NOT aware of any of that. I would definitely follow Alison’s suggestions, OP–it should nip the “contracts” in the bud and improve the working environment for everyone.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        The Hellmouth stories were … let’s just say this was’t that strange.

        I think the entire website cheered when “I WORKED on a Hellmouth” got to change their screen name to past tense.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        This commenter used to post nearly every week on the open thread for a year or so about the horrors of her job on the hellmouth! If I can find the link to their posts, I will paste it here (unless someone else has)! It is the stuff of legends, except it is non-fiction. You can always tell. Fiction requires plausibility, whereas real life has no such restrictions!

        1. La Triviata*

          I once had a boss who told me I was not allowed to speak to other staff members without her permission. At one point, I had someone I dealt with on a routine basis ask if I was mad at her.

          And this was the same boss who, two weeks after I’d had two (minor) strokes and was working partial days when I would be back to working full time.

  26. Essentially Cheesy*

    This situation is strange!! I mean, not parking on the grass is a pretty standard thing. If the business is a car dealership or retail operations that normally function on Saturday – then there’d be no reason to sign .. a contract .. right??

    The only thing to do is to go straight to HR with copies of this stuff. And take the day of vacation as normal – blocking legitimate vacation time is not good.

  27. Maggie*

    Okay so I worked for a car dealership before and this isn’t striking me as as strange as some of the other commentators think it is. They are a weird eco system with dumb rules and customs (and the personalities to boot). I would be careful in how exactly the OP’s husband approaches this – bringing it up in casual conversation with GM/HR will likely work a lot better than straight out reporting it. Sales/service managers usually have a lot of leeway in how they manage their staff, if the OP’s husband is a top performer they likely have more negotiation room here

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      that may be true, but the boss is basically retaliating against employees with these contracts. By signing a contract that he will work every Saturday that means the boss is not allowing him to take his vacation.

      1. Maggie*

        I do understand that from a normal workplace point of view. However – for car dealerships, Saturdays are above and beyond the most profitable days and usually are blacked out vacation days

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Just to clarify, you are saying that NO one can ever take a vacation that includes a Saturday.

          I know that I appreciate the fact that the service department works on Saturdays, but do expect them to be able to take that day off, if needed/planned.

          1. Maggie*

            Honestly – from my experience at multiple dealerships, but all in the same auto group (same corporate ownership) and speaking to coworkers who worked for other groups, essentially yes. My last dealership was the best with this, there were blackout dates (sales etc), and only one employee could possibly be off on a Saturday. But we were limited to like 1 or maybe 2 Saturdays off a year. It’s a sucky industry – and almost everyone is entirely paid commission, no base, so it’s also money wise in employee’s best interests to work Saturdays as they are the most profitable.

            (You can see why I no longer work in this industry)

            1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

              He is trying to sign up now for a single Saturday 9 months away. That sounds like one a year to me!

          2. Clisby*

            I spent years working for newspapers where more often than not I had to work on Saturdays. (Subscribers tend to want their Sunday paper delivered. Assholes.) That never meant I couldn’t take a vacation that included a Saturday. That would be weird.

          3. SnappinTerrapin*

            Well, I was glad to get off early enough on a Saturday evening for my niece’s wedding. And I worked for a sane dealership.

      2. The OTHER Other*

        I was going to say this, OP’s husband is wondering how he can attend a wedding months away because his “contract” says he works every Saturday. So he can never take a full week of vacation? This is nutty, I hope he finds a new job soon!

    2. Nanani*

      That’s bizare?
      The business is open on Saturday does not mean no one ever takes Saturday off. A lot of businesses are open on Saturdays.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        Yes, many businesses are open weekends, but the distinction is that car dealerships are frequently, if not universally, closed on Sundays. Dealerships do a huge chunk of their business on Saturdays, which is pretty significant when most employees are working off commission. There’s plenty of incentive for the business not to give Saturdays off, or to limit them very strictly. It may be less than ideal for lots of employees, but it’s an industry standard in a lot of places.

        1. Colette*

          If the company wanted to say that no one could ever take a Saturday off, they could presumably do that (even if it would be self-defeating because eventually somsone is going to want to get married/go to their kid’s graduation/have a family funeral on a Saturday. ) But if the company allows it, it’s unlikely they want a low-level manager to forbid it.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          Sounds more like heavy incentive for anyone who wants to get that commission to work on Saturdays, not incentive for the management to deny them a holiday request 9 months in advance.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            And I’m pretty sure even car dealerships don’t want their managers doing things like creating rogue contracts that might involve legal liability.

        3. KuklaRed*

          I don’t know where you are, but in New York, car dealerships are ALWAYS open on Sundays.

          1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            In Oklahoma, state law requires that car dealerships be closed on Sundays. Because *reasons.* The law allowing cold beer sales for beer over 3.1 ABU passed less than five years ago. (Prior to that, any beer above 3.1% was required to be sold at room temp.) The law allowing liquor stores (because beer and hard liquor are treated differently under state law, and you can’t buy liquor anywhere except a liquor store. We can buy wine at Target now, so /shrug.) to be open on Sundays is newer than that.

            We also still have dry counties.

        4. Maggie*

          Yep. We frequently had half of our sales revenue come in on Saturdays, and often had people try to walk in and we wouldn’t have a sales person available to help them – hence why managers never want to let sales people have the day off (not saying any of this is right – just that it’s my experience lol, definitely industry standard)

        5. workswitholdstuff*

          But ‘limit very strictly’ shouldn’t mean ‘never’ surely?

          I worked in a call centre, and we had busy points and times where they’d not let *as many* people off on leave at the same time to ensure coverage, but there was still some leave allowed to be booked!

        6. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes that is still also true for many, many retail businesses. Almost every store in my downtown area is open Tuesday-Saturday and then closed Sundays and Mondays. That means employees should basically treat Saturday like a regular business day and expect to work it just like Thursday or Friday–but that doesn’t mean people won’t sometimes be sick on a Saturday or that they should not be allowed to *ever* take a vacation that includes a Saturday even for rare special life events like weddings. It’s just not reasonable to expect someone to work every single Saturday ever for all time with no exceptions, even if that is your busiest business day in your field.

    3. Just another queer reader*

      Maggie, I’m fascinated! Maybe sometime Alison could do a Q&A with you about your experience working at a car dealership.

      It sounds like they operate in a different world than what most of us are used to.

      1. Maggie*

        Bahahah oh gosh, well I left because I was told I’d never be promoted as a woman because women are too scared of going on test drives alone with men…. Definitely an awful, regressive workplace, and apparently the group I worked for was one of the better ones in our area

      2. Kammy6707*

        My husband sold cars for two years – it is a different world! I can back up Maggie’s statement that getting a Saturday off is a miracle. And yes you have vacation – 1 week after you have worked there a year that can ONLY be used in that one week chunk – you cannot take days off here and there. If my husband needed a Saturday off for a wedding or something, he had to work his normal day off in it’s place and still get manager approval to do so. And yes, you can only have so many people off on a Saturday, so it wasn’t certain he’d get the day off. Also – that is the biggest sales day of the week so you want to limit how many you take off.

        And I can also back up Maggie’s statement that they are sexist cesspools based on the harassment/turnover of women at the dealership my husband worked at. If you were a woman, you had to walk a fine line that lead the boss to think he had a chance with you/flirt with him or he’d find some reason to fire you. Or you’d quit because you were treated so badly.

        The dealership he worked out was so awful they would literally hire salespeople in batches of 6-8 and see who was still around after a few weeks (with no training on anything other that what you could wheedle out of other salespeople). Most people quit or were fired within the first week or two.

  28. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    Is the boss Sheldon from Big Bang Theory???
    OP Please update us. And I hope your partner can find a new place to work soon, one that isn’t run by such a jerk

  29. Katara's side braids*

    My fantasy is that the grandboss and/or HR will find out, and have boss sign the following: “I will not make further arbitrary changes to company policy via Word document, or I will be fired.”

      1. La Triviata*

        A number of years ago, we had a formal employee manual. Everyone was required to rad it and sign that they had read it and would abide by the rules. Which, I understand, is not unusual. What was unusual – and quite probably illegal – is that the finance director also handled HR matters and he would go into the file on the network drive, revise the text, not tell anyone and if an issue with his revised rules came up, he’d say that it was in the file on the network drive.

    1. TPS reporter*

      That would be amazing. And if the employee gets HR authorization to take off a particular day, they could send a contract back to the boss to say- I [boss] am aware that you [employee] are taking day ___. I always get days off in writing it’s very helpful for many purposes

  30. Annie*

    Does it make a difference if this is not an at-will state? Could these ‘contracts’ make offenses that normally would not be considered just cause legally defensible?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Generally, a contract, or addendum to a contract, has to provide some recompense. It’s one thing to change the employee handbook to read that parking outside of the marked spaces is now a firing offense; it’s an entirely different matter to state that Saturdays are now required as a condition of employment. That’s a substantial change to the terms of the job, and would require some compensation.
      Also, the GM of the site and the HR rep seem to be unaware of these shenanigans, so I think it’s unlikely that the business would actually attempt to hold the signers accountable to these documents.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          Montana is a funny one.

          Technically they are not an at-will state, but their Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act (especially as amended/updated in 2021) inches them nearer to at-will. Long story short, after a probationary period of 12-18 months, an employer needs to have ‘good cause’ to terminate an employee. The definition of ‘good cause’ is pretty broad. The Act does provide for a grievance procedure.

    2. TPS reporter*

      Even if the state is at-will the manager/boss could not have the authority per company policy to fire someone in a particular way, for a particular reason. Employment is with the company as an entity and the manager can’t override company policy by having an individual sign a contract that the manager is not authorized by the company to enter into with employees. If this employee is already under contract, any addendums have to be official addenda approved by the company and signed by an authorized official.

  31. Butters*

    I worked for a toxic boss (small company owner) who told me I was no longer allowed to take off Mondays, Fridays or Saturdays. I worked every other Saturday and he would often try to guilt me into taking his shift at 5 pm Friday because he wanted to go to a football game. This was always through his office manager. When that decree came through I straight up told the OM that wasn’t happening and she said she would handle him.
    I ended up leaving due to the toxicity, but I knew they needed me more than I needed them and had the upper hand.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “I started a business because I want to make myself wealthy and not someone else. No, I’m not going to miss a Friday night activity for my business.”
      You tell ’em, Warren Buffet.

  32. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    HR needs to know about this.
    I understand Saturday must be a normal workday given this is an auto dealership.
    I’m also assuming here that it IS indeed ok to request an occasional Saturday off regardless as long as it is done well in advance (or that people may fall sick on a Saturday for that matter). If the boss is trying to override the corporate policy on those time off requests, HR needs to know as they are the ones approving the time off.

    This boss is really weird! Their “requests” read like a write up for an infraction.

    1. workswitholdstuff*

      This is my understanding too. That yes, management would prefer people didn’t take leave on saturdays, but that given sufficent notice and staffing levels (ie. there’s not already someone booked for that saturday), an occasional saturday’s leave is ok.

      So many life events take place on saturdays, (because of everyone else’s general availabilty), that there’s got to be some flex in the system surely.

      I mean I could understand saying ‘you can only book ‘x’ number of saturdays off in a given leave year, when there’s flexibility with other days, but I can’t understand banning taking them outright unless the managers completely unreasonable (which TBF this one sounds like he is)

  33. Midwest Academic*

    Anyone else imagining a wall full of Dolores Umbridge-esque decrees?

    Manager Decree 1: You must work every Saturday
    Manager Decrees 2: You must not park on the grass.

  34. Ellie*

    I would bring it up to HR, as if I were confused about the two systems of time off approval.
    I worked as a retail manager in an at-will state, and while yes, technically I could fire anyone I wanted for whatever reason (so long as it wasn’t protected under the law) every company I worked for had some strict requirements for termination. A hastily typed word document would not suffice. We had very specific forms for documentation that required specific examples of an employee’s inappropriate behavior. You had to meet with an employee to discuss the behavior and counsel them on how to fix the issue. There were some grounds for immediate termination (drinking on the job, theft, violent behavior, sexual misconduct), but most terminations required three or more incidents of the same behavior to have the termination approved by corporate. We did this so we never had to pay unemployment insurance. I’m not sure if this specific car dealership is corporate owned, like let’s say a clothing retailer, but my guess is that HR has at least SOME protocols for documenting issues.

  35. LGC*

    …like, I’m pretty sure even Christian Grey would disapprove of this use of “contracts.”

    Also, his boss is weird but you already knew that.

    On your note about asking to bring these “contracts”to a lawyer before signing: Because you’re afraid of him losing his job, I wouldn’t do that. I really want him to because 1) I’m messy and 2) his boss is unreasonable and thus deserves to be dealt with in an “unreasonable” way, but there’s too much of a risk of being fired.

  36. Jo March*

    I had a manager that would do something like this, but a bit more unhinged. We’d come in to an email sent at 2 or 3 in the morning (we all worked in office 9-5) that said we all had to (do or stop doing something) or we’d be fired. We were to print and sign and slide it under her door because she wouldn’t be in that day. And then we’d never hear about it again. They weren’t going to HR and they weren’t in my actual file because after I promoted out of the department and had established a good rapport with my new boss, I asked if those signed emails were in there.

  37. Cat Lover*

    “These seem like changes to the terms of my employment so I wanted to find out if this is coming from the company officially and whether I should consider these legally binding.”

    Yep. Bring it up to HR as a question of employment changes and they will handle it (if they are good, that is).

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I really like that language because, at least in the US the common practice is to sign a long an very detailed “employment agreement” that while is expected to be binding on the employee is somehow not a “contract of employment” and explicitly says as much. The suggestion that these “contracts” change the terms of employment to being a “contract of employment” is likely to light a fire under somebody’s ass.

  38. winger*

    It sounds like this person already has an employment contract.

    As such, it is possible that he could not actually be fired for violating any of these rules, regardless of whether he signs a contract promising to, because none of it is covered by the original contract he signed. It also seems likely that whether or not he works this or that Saturday is also contemplated by the contract he already has.

    This kind of sounds like a bad manager trying to alter a contract after the fact.

  39. Becky*

    Not sure if someone has said this before:

    If your husband has an actual employment contract, it might be worth reviewing to see what the policy is around amending the contract. The boss might well be in violation of this.

    Either way it should be reported higher up the chain.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      And if he doesn’t, which is more probable if this is the US, I’m sure people higher up the chain are going to be *very* interested in a manager attempting to institute a contract of employment.

  40. lesbian opinion*

    My biological mom “parented by contract.” This is exactly how she would respond when I made mistakes or acted out. She is a lawyer – and one of the few people I’ve ever met that seem to not feel any remorse about controlling and hurting other people. This guy’s boss is “managing by contract.” Neither approach makes any sense. It’s like internalized capitalism mixed with an out of control ego (which I guess go hand in hand.)

  41. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    He needs to take off a Saturday nine months away for a wedding we will be going to, and he already knows that when he requests the time off, his boss will be mad and cite the “contract” he signed. Does he have any recourse or does he just have to deal with these half-baked threats?

    This is easy to say from 10,000 miles away, but in that scenario, I would strongly consider requesting the time off as normal, and when the day comes, simply not showing up. If the boss ignores it, that’s that; if the boss tries to invoke the contract or reprimand me, then I’d send it to his boss and ask if there are any objections. I’d probably CC HR, the CEO, etc. IMWO, it’s a bluff and can be treated that way.

    My hunch is that if your husband is a good employee, no one will with a scrap of authority will let him get frogmarched from the building over being a guest at a wedding. Especially in an establishment as revenue-oriented as an automotive dealership if he’s a profitable employee.

    If they do let him go, they’re going to have the devil’s own time trying to contest the unemployment claim.

  42. Terranovan*

    It would be funny for HR to write a contract for the boss saying, “I will not write crazy contracts with my direct reports or I will be terminated. Signed, Boss”.
    Petty and unenforceable, but funny.

  43. GreenDoor*

    To me the idea of “sign this document agreeing that you understand a workplace regulation” comes after you’ve had multiple offenses, multiple conversations with the boss, and gotten multiple warnings…..and now they want something in writing because you’re about to be put on an improvement plan or something equally drastic.

    This is an extremely weird way of managing. I agree that this should be escalated to the GM or HR. Especially if any of these “contracts” are in conflict with the actual employment contract. They’d be very interested to know that, I’m sure!

  44. CCC*

    I hate to be pessimistic, but I’m sure HR and probably the GM know about this boss’s weird behavior, and are unlikely to care as long as he makes his numbers. I have several family members who have worked at/currently work at dealerships and they seem to be a real zoo.

  45. Mental Lentil*

    At this point I would be tempted to park on the grass and let the chips fall where they may.

  46. MrsThePlague*

    I’m not in the U.S. so pardon my ignorance if this is a silly question but: does at-will employment mean that the manager could actually fire this guy for parking on the grass, or eating the last bagel, or wearing a cologne that reminds the manager of his ex-wife, etc.? And if that’s the case, what kind of protection (besides not being fired for being part of a protected class) do workers have against the whims of a rogue (or even just lazy/incompetent) manager? Doesn’t that mean there’s no job security at all? And what leverage do employees have to make any kind of changes or adjustments in their work place?

    I feel like the meaning of this concept is hitting me all at once, and I’m struggling to get my mind around it.

    1. mythopoeia*

      1.) Does at-will employment mean that the manager could actually fire this guy for parking on the grass, or eating the last bagel, or wearing a cologne that reminds the manager of his ex-wife, etc.?


      2.) And if that’s the case, what kind of protection (besides not being fired for being part of a protected class) do workers have against the whims of a rogue (or even just lazy/incompetent) manager?

      None. Their whims can rule your life. Which is one reason this site is so popular.

      3.) Doesn’t that mean there’s no job security at all?

      Formally, yes.

      4.) And what leverage do employees have to make any kind of changes or adjustments in their work place?

      Depends on the workplace. But basically you have to talk the people around and above you into it, and you have to work somewhere functional enough to roll with change or dysfunctional enough nobody notices or cares.

      NOTE: The above likely does not apply for unionized jobs. Most jobs and most sectors are not unionized in the US, but there are notable exceptions. Police officers, public school teachers, nurses, and skilled tradespeople are often unionized, to give a few examples.

      NOTE 2: The one compensation for this is that it is rare for workers to have any obligation toward the company around quitting. You can quit at any time, for any reason, and it is a courtesy to give a couple of weeks’ notice but it is rarely required.

      1. MrsThePlague*

        Wow. That is…wild. And extremely stressful?!

        I know that Reagan ushered in an era of extreme union-busting that continues today, but I didn’t realize how few protections legally remained for workers in light of that.

        I was already really happy for the Amazon and Starbucks workers who unionized, but now I’m thrilled for them, and I hope their successes inspire more work places to do the same.

        One last question: it’s not every state that is at-will employment, right? Are there substantively better worker protections in the states that don’t have it?

        1. mythopoeia*

          I’m not an expert in this area, so to the best of my knowledge–most worker protections around unionizing came in under FDR in the ’30s. For all that Reagan famously fired the unionized air traffic controllers, I don’t think Reagan actually rolled those legal protections back. Those protections are about who can unionize and how they can do so; they don’t mandate that any group of workers actually needs to be (or needs not to be) unionized.

          As far as I know, the default in every state in the U.S. is at-will employment. Some states are what’s known as “right-to-work” states, which make it more difficult for people to unionize; they might do things like ban public sector unions, or allow unions but prohibit certain jobs from striking as part of union negotiations.

          States that have better worker protections, like California (where I live) have them in the form of more strictly enforcing regulations about safe workplaces, higher legally mandated minimum wages, more extensively defined protected classes, a stronger state disability insurance program, requirements about vacation time and paid sick days (there is no federal requirement to offer either), etc.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        That is very slim compensation, since in places with worker protections, one can also quit at any time, for any reason – firing needs a reason, quitting does not. Only inconvenience then being the required notice (often 1-3 months, sometimes more). But since it’s that way for everyone, new employers will wait.

        And if one really, really needs to get out NOW, usually one can come to an agreement with reasonable employers (prob. the one true danger is getting stuck for a bit longer in a toxic job – though I would recommend trying to get medical leave if it’s truly impacting mental health). Also there’s usually a trial period with much shorter notice.

    2. Sarah*

      Only legal protections are for protected class- like race, religion, gender. If you are in the small minority that are in a union, there are a lot more.

  47. Sarah*

    I have to sign an agreement that I read certain policies and agree to them- like anti-fraud, sexual harassment, etc. This is so if you do any of these things, you can’t claim ignorance and “get away with it”.

    But these are just bizarre.

  48. Squirrels Ahoy*

    Does your partner work for my abusive ex? One of the fun ways he expressed his coercive control was making me sign insane behavioral agreements. I finally threw out the stack of “I shalt nots” recently, having determined that he no longer is stalking me, and having gotten myself into a job that he cannot blow up if he chose to rear his ugly head.

    But yeah, this is bananas and the extramanagerial policy maker definitely wants a firin’!

  49. ArianJ*

    The contracts are probably unenforceable due to duress but as Alison pointed out that doesn’t really matter because the manage can fire employees at will. The right thing IMO is to push this up the chain starting with HR. If the boss fires the employee they can sue for retaliation.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Probably. But it would be hilarious to argue that these “contracts” are a contract of employment superseding at will status and laying out the exclusive list of reasons for which employment can be terminated.

  50. RedinSC*

    Years ago I was looking to purchase my first ever new car. The sales guy I was talking with had this thing where he’d write something down on a piece of paper and have me sign it. So I really wonder if this is a hold over from ancient sales tactics. It was weird then, and No, my signing that you’re looking into financing doesn’t mean that I will, in fact, purchase the car from you, but if you want me to sign this napkin, OK.

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