my coworker went through my trash, using bereavement leave for a vacation, and more

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

1. My coworker went through my trash and showed my boss my doodles

I work in a law firm and was recently off with Covid. During this time, a coworker (I haven’t been told who) went through my trash bin to find a list of things I had done before leaving (why they looked there I do not know). Sometimes on my break I write doodles (song lyrics/pictures/movie quotes), which include Eminem songs.

Whoever went through my bin found my doodles instead of the lists and decided to tape the ripped ones back together and hand them to the senior partner of the firm. She brought me in to speak to me about these notes and told me that it wasn’t an invasion of my privacy because they were looking for a list. I explained the swear words were part of song lyrics and I am a doodler. However, I never expected any of it to be read or passed about the office and I feel humiliated.

Was this an invasion of my privacy? I just feel like whoever did this has just done it to embarrass me. I got no warning, just told to take my doodles home, which I 100% will be doing. But I feel that since they didn’t find what they were looking for, they should have put my doodles back in the bin.

There’s not a very high expectation of privacy at work, but going through your trash and taping papers back together is weird as hell unless there were some kind of dire emergency and the papers seemed to be what were needed to resolve the emergency. I’m assuming it was pretty clear to your coworker that doodles and song lyrics were … not that.

I don’t know what would have possessed your colleague to spend time taping your papers back together, let alone bring them to your boss. The correct response from your boss would have been, “That looks like her trash, please throw it back away.” No one should have any feelings at all about you choosing to doodle on your breaks.

Any chance this is a misunderstanding because the lyrics were violent or threatening in some way? If so, maybe that triggered your coworker’s concern … but once you explained the situation, that should have been the end of it. Either way, it’s best to keep lyrics and doodles at work relatively clean and non-violent going forward.

2. Can I use bereavement leave for a vacation?

My employer provides a very generous five days of PTO for bereavement leave. My grandmother passed away last weekend and various logistical difficulties will keep me from attending the funeral.

Our policy doesn’t restrict use of bereavement leave to attending funerals and I wonder whether I may ethically (and without giving people a bad opinion of me) use the leave to cover a vacation in June. I’m definitely grieving and presume the time away would help me work through things, but cashing in on a loved one’s death to visit museums and restaurants feels vaguely smarmy. Thoughts?

It’s probably a bad idea. In most companies, bereavement leave is intended to give you time for the funeral and logistics associated with the death (as well as, of course, an acknowledgement that you might not be in an emotional state to be working right away either).

It’s not that some time off a few months later can’t be helpful in the grieving process (it can!) but it’s not usually what bereavement leave is set up for, and there’s a pretty high risk that it would come across as outside the spirit of the policy. It would be different if you were asking to use the leave to attend a memorial service your family was holding in June, but the optics of using it on a regular vacation several months later are likely to be a little weird in most workplaces.

3. My interviewer snapped at me and demanded I change my resume

I was in the final interview for a position, meeting the director of the branch for the first time. In retrospect, I feel like the prior interviewer was throwing out hints that the director was difficult to warn me.

She was offputtingly frank but seemed to like me for the most part. But then, at the end she brusquely said, “What’s fall mean?” What she had meant was, why on my resume were two jobs listed with fall/spring dates and not months? She said this out of nowhere, when we weren’t even talking about my resume, so it took a lot of back and forth to understand what she meant. I explained it was because they were semester positions at university. She then told me, “Well, you should change it to months.”

I thanked her for her advice and said I would keep that in mind in the future. And she snapped at me as to why I wasn’t listening to her. We had another back and forth with her growing increasingly agitated as I tried to figure out what she wanted in response. She had meant she wanted me to change my resume and resubmit it. She also said, “I don’t know why you’re being defensive, we do a thorough background check so we’ll find out when you really worked there anyway.” I wasn’t defensive, I was confused because to me it seemed very bizarre to ask for a corrected resume in a final interview and I genuinely hadn’t understood earlier that she meant that.

Since she seemed to be implying I was hiding something or lying, I ultimately emailed my previous contact and withdrew my application. But after all this time I can’t help but wonder if maybe I was being dramatic and this is normal?

What, no. This isn’t normal. It’s fine if she didn’t understand the reference to fall, but then she could have simply asked about it, not snapped at you about it. There’s nothing wrong with listing fall or spring as the dates for college positions (it’s very normal!) but if she wanted to know the specific months, she could have asked that too. It’s odd to ask you to submit a revised resume that far into the process, but if she needed it for some reason, so be it … but she should have been clearer about that, and accusing you of lying (!) is bizarre and adversarial. She sounds like a jerk who’s likely A Problem to work under.

Part of the point of interviewing is to find out this sort of thing about the people you’d be working for, so in that respect at least, the process worked as it’s supposed to. But this is on her, not you.

4. Contact has confirmed Covid and still wants to meet

I recently lost my job in a very competitive field, in the arts. I was able to get a lunch meeting with a director in a place I’d love to work, in my hometown while I’m visiting. This place has a job opening, although it’s not officially posted, and it’s not a formal interview, but I was really excited about the opportunity. I got an email that this director tested positive for Covid, so she instead suggested we meet masked and walk around and chat. She still seems to be planning to go to meetings and events. I’m trying to push it to a later date, but due to my visit length it still wouldn’t be past quarantine dates.

I’m vaccinated but have a one-year-old, so I’m extremely nervous about spending time even masked with a confirmed positive. But since it’s not an official interview and was set up through a mutual friend, I’m not sure what my best options are to keep the connection and potential job. What’s the best way to stay professional and safe without seeming like I’m judging her for her lax approach?

Just be matter-of-fact: “I have a one-year-old who can’t be vaccinated yet, so I’m being extra careful. Could we do a Zoom meeting or phone call instead?”

And if you’d be working for her, consider what she’s telling you about how she operates.

5. Should I put my college humor paper on my resume?

I am an undergraduate student who is starting to apply to internships. It’s a bit overwhelming, but your website has been extremely useful! I’m interested in the field of science journalism, but my degree and most of my experience is in the science half of that, and not journalism. I do have one extracurricular that I thought might be good on my resume — I’m a writer for one of my college’s papers, so I have experience with pitching articles, collaborating with other writers, and working under short deadlines. The only issue is that it’s not a newspaper paper — it’s a satire paper, like a college-specific version of The Onion. I’m torn because it’s really the closest thing I have to experience in the field, but I’m afraid that mentioning it in my applications will make me seem silly or unprofessional. What do you think?

You should definitely mention it! Just because the content is humor doesn’t mean the work doesn’t count (just like if you worked for The Onion or Comedy Central or so forth). Call out the specifics (pitching, collaborating, meeting deadlines) just as you did here, along with any notable achievements (like if you had the most viewed article of the semester or were known for meeting tight deadlines with little notice or so forth).

{ 563 comments… read them below }

  1. Elena*

    Re letter #1
    So… was the senior partner upset with you? Or concerned about it, either because of the content or because they were doodled during a meeting? I feel like the relevant question of “why in the hell were these people looking through your trash and confronting you about it” would probably be much more clear if we knew what they said to you about it

    1. Sue*

      Just the fact that they brought her in to discuss it after she got back is bizarre. The only way I can even remotely understand this is if the lyrics were obvious (not tiny shreds) and were about shooting coworkers or something similar. Otherwise, this is very strange and I would be thinking about whether I wanted to work with these creepy people.

      1. Barbara Eyiuche*

        I wonder whether some of the words were objectionable in a racist, sexist, or homophobic way, those happened to catch the coworker’s eye, and so he or she pieced the papers back together to try to figure out what the OP had been writing.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          It was Eminem lyrics. I’m pretty sure something offensive would come up in that subject matter alone.

        2. Wendy2*

          This. I’m only passingly familiar with Eminem, but my impression is he avoids the n-word but not much else. I definitely think the coworker was questionable in going through your trash in the first place, but – after that point – I can envision a scenario where they found you doodling lyrics that reflect racist/bigoted values and were rightfully concerned that your willingness to meditate on that kind of terminology might spill over into your interactions at work. I hope that’s not at all the case :-) but I think, without more info, there’s a possibility they were right to bring it to someone else’s attention.

          1. Cj*

            I think they also made it worse for themselves by saying that their privacy was violated because it makes it looks like they had something to hide.

            And, no, your trash is not private, at work or anywhere else.

            1. Aaaaa aaaa aaa*

              I suspect if you’re being confronted about something by your boss, it’s rarely helpful to protest that they invaded your privacy to get the information. Either the boss is entirely unreasonable (say, looking through your car windows to figure out if you’re interviewing), in which case they won’t listen when you tell them so and you should worry first about protecting yourself, Or else they have decided that the thing they’re confronting you over is more important than the privacy issue, in which case you will seem like you’re missing the point if you get defensive.

              1. Candi*

                Remember “I got written up because my coworker saw maxi pads in my car”? That was the very definition of unreasonable, like in your first selection -yes, the pads were on the backseat, not the trunk, but they were on the OP’s car’s backseat, which qualifies more for privacy than a work trash can!

                1. Mockingjay*

                  In my industry, due to security and regulations compliance, the company handbooks state that private vehicles and personal belongings may be searched at any time while on the premises – building or parking lot. Even lockable desks and file cabinets assigned to individual employees have master keys held by senior managers. I’ve never actually seen a search, but we are made aware that it could happen.

                2. Lydia*

                  @Mockingjay Yes, but you’re informed first AND they probably won’t give a rat’s ass about your maxi pads because that’s not what they’re supposed to be looking for. Also, if you don’t work in a place with that expectation, someone peeping in your backseat and reporting you for having something reasonable completely visible *is* a violation of privacy and completely bonkers.

                3. BobLawBlaw*

                  In my industry, our personal belongings can be searched at anytime. One of my former employers did purse/bag searches at the entry gate regularly, usually when it was raining buckets and I was running late for a meeting:) They took everything out and poked around in all the hidden pockets.

                  Given that most of our security guards were former Special Ops/Navy Seals and wearing huge side arms, it was considered foolish at best to do anything but comply quickly and without complaint:)

            2. Andy*

              Tho, going through crash is utterly bizzarre action that most people would not expect. The weird thing is that boss was not ashamed to admit they went through trash and taped together lyrics.

              1. Crimson*

                The partner did admit to doing this. They said another coworker did it but wouldn’t reveal who.

              2. Reluctant Mezzo*

                If the office has a shredder, I would consider using it, or taking your trash home with you (and disposing of it there).

              1. RagingADHD*

                At work your wastebasket isn’t private because important stuff gets knocked off people’s desks or gets accidentally thrown away *all the time.*

                Particularly in a business that deals with confidential client information, it’s very normal to check the trash bin from time to time to make sure nothing is in there that should be shredded instead.

                1. anon4eva*

                  But to check another coworkers trash, whose not even in the office but on vacation? This certainty raises a few eyebrows.

                2. DrRat*

                  Maybe “very normal” in your office or industry, but I have worked in multiple fields where PII (personally identifiable information) is a very big deal and where there are strict regulations about what you can write down, what needs to be shredded, etc., and in no office was it considered “very normal” to check the trash bin.

                  The only instance I can think of where a MANAGER (not a random co-corker) might do this would be if someone had been warned about writing down PII before and not shredding it and the manager was concerned that the employee was not following procedure.

                3. Medusa*

                  The part that’s weird is that they taped it back together and then called the LW in for a meeting about it.

            3. Observer*

              Technically, it’s not private. But in real life, expecting that no one is going through your trash is a reasonable expectation.

              I also think that in any case this is a diversion. While it’s true that as a practical matter, the argument is not going to get any traction, both the coworker and boss were out of line here.

          2. Andy*

            I don’t think this is accurate assessment of Eminem lyrics. Eminem actually avoids racism in general and has explicitly anti-racist lyrics.

            He has sexist and violent lyrics. Both anti violent lyrics and pro violent lyrics. He does rap about suicide.

            And a lot of his lyrics are generally about his opinions about life in general. Not falling into any of the above categories.

            1. Well...*

              To someone with a passing familiarity with eminem and no context, his lyrics about race might sound racist. Even if they are explicitly antiracist in context, with no tone of voice and only partial doodles, it could look that way.

              Another good reason not to draw conclusions from snippets you’ve PASTED together from someone’s trash.

          3. Pressed*

            Eminem raps about having violent fantasies and committing violence a lot and is quite angry, I’m guessing it would be more likely to be that. It’s not that he glorifies it necessarily, most of it is meant to elicit horror.

            He is certainly not racist, at least towards black people who he has a good reputation with.

            1. pancakes*

              There’s a word for being racist towards black people one doesn’t “[have] a good reputation with”: Racism! It doesn’t magically transform into something else on account of the racist believing their own racism is justifiable.

          4. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            Some of the songs are pretty violent, and even in context can be disturbing.

            TW for a situation not involving Eminem that turned out OK but had quite a few people very worried about self-harm for quite a while:

            When a person in a tiny workplace with me (the business owners, a couple contractors, and assorted family/friends/hangers-on) was going through a pretty wrenching divorce, he was extremely drunk one night in a group chat and said something that sounded like he was about to hurt himself, with a gun. He happened to be a gun owner, and we did not know where he kept it. (This was an area where you were required to keep it in some kind of gun safe, but it would have been also reasonable to keep it in an appropriate lockup on site at a gun club.)

            For reasons that made sense in the context of one of the owners’ old jobs, there was a pretty clearly defined procedure in the case of someone attempting potentially fatal self-harm. We activated it, and someone with his phone number tried calling him; when that didn’t work, someone who lived close enough to him to reasonably get there showed up at his apartment and pounded on the door for an extended amount of time in the middle of the night. Eventually he answered the door, still drunk/hungover, and mad about having been woken up.

            He had, in fact, been quoting River Tam from Firefly in his maudlin state, and then went to bed safely.

            We felt kind of silly after that, but he was probably the only serious Browncoat in the bunch who had memorized the quotable lines, and to be fair even if someone had recognized it, it was still sufficiently disturbing to treat seriously.

        3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          She said “swear words” and I think we’re supposed to believe the LW. LW has not reason to hide the ball if the lyrics were otherwise offensive because that damage control would be the more important question. Law firms can be very back-stabby, and I think the offender was causing trouble. Maybe it was “take your doodles home so that I don’t have to deal with Machiavellian co-workers trying to make this a thing.”

    2. Casper Lives*

      The whole thing is bizarre. I’d never expect a coworker to go through my trash for any reason. I’d like more details too.

      Going thru the office for a file or to-do list could make sense in a time sensitive field like law. But the trash?

      1. Candi*

        I’m thinking of past letters on here where coworkers deliberately went through the LW’s trash to get them in trouble. Random notes that in work context weren’t a problem, but without context could be presented as problematic, very loopy managers who had Big Hangups about What Should Be Put In The Trash, or the LW actually doing some ill-advised sketching or doodling, and the coworker using the opportunity to blow things up way beyond proportion.

        I suspect that’s the piece we’re missing here -how did the coworker present this? And did coworker present it to that specific partner because the coworker knew that person would take the situation the wrong way?

        The “looking for a list in the garbage” instead of sending a bloody email to OP when they couldn’t find it in the computer files, hard files, or in the desk seems very thin to me.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Well, looking through someone’s trash takes less than five minutes. Waiting for them to respond to an email probably takes hours. I guess you could call, but calling someone who is home sick seems like it should be reserved for issues that cannot be resolved without them.

          The coworker might also have been making an excuse for nosiness, but not necessarily.

          1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            If a list is in the trash there’s a good chance it’s an outdated or inaccurate version of the list, and thrown out for that exact reason, so if the coworker isn’t making excuses I question their judgement even more. And if they can’t spare time to wait for an email response they definitely don’t have time to go taping unrelated scrap paper back together.

          2. Blue Monday*

            Why would a useful list be in the trash and not on top of the desk? Nonsense, this all sounds off to me.

              1. I'm Done*

                And then magically tears itself into pieces that have to be glued back together? Even if I thought that something could have fallen into the trash, it would never dawn on me that something that’s been torn is relevant to what I’m looking for. Unless I’m looking to make trouble, that is.

                1. lilsheba*

                  I agree. There was NO reason to be looking in someone’s trash, that is none of their business. And what someone doodles or writes on scrap paper is no one’s business.

                2. LRL*

                  “Unless I’m looking to make trouble, that is.”

                  I can totally see a scenario where a coworker needed to look through a desk for something when a person is out. LW noted that they were looking for a list of things that LW had completed before being out, so the trash could make sense.

                  I am more concerned with the social piece of this rather than the legal. If I am looking through a coworker’s space for a specific item, I am going to do my darndest to ignore everything but that specific item.

                3. DrRat*

                  THIS. THIS. THIS.

                  Even if someone was supposedly looking for a list that might have mysteriously fallen in the trash, once they taped even 2 pieces of paper together, they would know that the paper that now read, say, “it’s cool for Tom Green to hump a dead moose” is probably not a legal list.

                  And taking it to a senior partner? Gladys Kravitz alert!

              2. Dragon*

                Or gets taken by someone else in a totally unexpected situation where they have to write something down, and they grab the first piece of paper they see.

          3. MK*

            The response to the email will give you the answer you need. Looking through the trash is incredibly unlikely to do so. If instead of “looking through trash” we had “force the lock of a drawer” I would be more likely to buy this, because the drawer would actually be likely to contain this list. Why would anyone think the list is in the trash?

          4. Myrin*

            I mean, I recently had to go through my own trash because I thought I’d accidentally binned something I still needed and I can assure you that it took me decidedly more than five minutes (and I habitually tear paper into four parts whenever I throw it away so I, too, had to go looking for pieces). And I knew what kind of paper it was on and which pen I’d used to write it so I didn’t even have to go in blind like the trash snooper in this case.

          5. NotAnotherManager!*

            Looking through someone’s trash is weird and potentially gross (I’ve had to dig things out of my own trashcan on rare occasion, and they typically have coffee streaks or other discard residue on them). At a law firm, you are expected to respond to emails almost immediately during waking hours, and if it’s an emergency, someone is going to call you even if you are sick or on vacation. Going through someone’s trashcan looking for case information is nonsensical and not a thing. I’m side-eyeing the coworker pretty hard.

            At my firm, we were also not supposed to put anything potentially client-related in the trashcan – it all gets shredded and there are different (locked) bins for that.

          6. Observer*

            The coworker might also have been making an excuse for nosiness, but not necessarily.

            There is no way that this was not an excuse. If the coworker was looking for a list of things that were done just before the LW went out on Covid leave, the only reasonable explanation for doing that is because you think the list got knocked off the desk. In which case you don’t need to dig through the entire basket because it’s likely to be on top. THEN the coworker took the time to look at the small pieces, which could only have come from nosiness.

          7. Well...*

            I feel like this trash-looker lost all plausible deniability when they pasted torn pieces of paper back together. No legit reason to do this.

        2. Abogado Avocado*

          I agree with Candi. There is no reason to be looking through a co-worker’s trash or recycling for “a list” when one can contact the co-worker and ask where one might find that list or arrange to obtain it, etc. Alison is spot on that one doesn’t have legal privacy at work, but the co-worker’s behavior — and the partner’s affirmance of it — raises a red flag for LW about what really is happening here.

          (And, yes, being a lawyer who has worked for law firms, I’m aware that partners who bring in lots of business can get away with odd behavior because they make big bucks for the firm and that the tolerance for that behavior can extend to the behavior of the people who work for that partner. At the same time, LW#1 is right to wonder about the reasons for this incident and whether it signals they’re really concerned about the language in LW’s doodles or whether LW is a team player, etc.)

          Were I LW#1, I’d consider arranging a sit-down with the partner (or HR, if the firm has one) and say, “I am having a hard time understanding why a co-worder would sift through my trash rather than contacting me directly about finding information regarding a matter I’m working on. If there is a concern here about whether I’d be available to answer questions outside the office, I’d like to put that to rest and assure you that I am available for such calls.”

          1. SixTigers*

            I’d also ask, “Is this a situation we can expect to happen again? Are any of my coworkers going to turn back into garbage-pickers and start digging through people’s refuse instead of asking me for what they need?”

            That is such a distasteful action that I’d want to emphasize it.

      2. Nicotena*

        My guess is that that the coworker has been watching OP doodle during meetings (and I used to do this when I was young but trained myself to stop because it does make it seem like you’re not paying attention) and either caught sight of the offensive words then, or has been wondering WTH OP was writing and cracked. Either way, it was poor form of them to go through the trash and extra poor form to try to get OP in trouble over it. But if I was OP’s boss I would tell them not to doodle song lyrics during meetings, particularly offensive ones, and I would feel this was a bit silly of them.

        1. EPLawyer*

          I wouldn’t even tell the OP to not doodle song lyrics if I were boss. They were clearly doodles. They were IN THE TRASH, ripped up. Someone wasted time going through the trash and then wasted more time taping them back together. To then waste even more time running to Senior Partner to complain.

          Senior Partner should have looked at the trash digger and said “Why are you bringing me this? Go back to work and mind your own business.”

          1. Esmeralda*

            Possibly Senior Manager did so. And also told the OP — perhaps as a hint that someone is not their friend.

            I say this because some years ago I posted something (not offensive, but ill advised) on social media, and someone in my office immediately took it to my grandboss (instead of messaging me directly, which would have been the friendly thing to do and, btw, would have gotten the post taken down faster). Grandboss told me, that post was ill advised, don’t ever post that sort of thing again, and “someone in this office is not your friend” (exact quote).

            I figured out who it was, eventually, but it did mean I had a very negative view of all of my coworkers until I did figure it out.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I worked at a law firm for well over a decade, and going through someone’s trash is not a thing. If you need something urgently, you call someone – frankly, no one at a law firm cares if you’re sick or on vacation, they will call you if they need something urgently, which is far more efficient than fishing around in someone’s trash and taping things back together.

        The senior partner’s reaction is also why we never allowed lawyers to handle any sort of personnel matter and had administrative managers. Attorneys tend to be awful people managers and should be kept away from any sort of HR-y discussion. I was an administrative manager, and my first question would have been, “Why are you going through Jane’s trash?”.

      4. quill*

        I could see a situation where “maybe the important memo got knocked in the trash” but taping together shredded handwritten notes? That’s above and beyond and really looks like someone was trying to find an excuse.

      5. marvin the paranoid android*

        I feel like going through your trash and taping it back up (!) is the in-person equivalent of going through years of your social media posts and copying a bunch of the content into a separate document. Sure, it is technically public information, but the level of dedication is a bit alarming.

        What I’m really confused about is why the boss thinks it matters in any way what an employee chooses to write on a piece of paper, tear up, and throw away.

    3. AnonAnon*

      I don’t think it’s super weird that the co-worker brought it to the boss. Quite a bit of Eminem’s lyrics contain explicit, graphic descriptions of raping and attacking women, homophobic slurs, and many other words of violence and hate.

      Not sure if LW is based on the US, but there’s been multiple reports that mass shooters left behind writings and videos full of hate-filled rants against women, minorities, and humans in general. It wasn’t uncommon that coworkers and families of the shooters said they should have seen the signs earlier, and blamed themselves for not telling someone before the shootings occurred.

      Based on the letter, LW1 didn’t even seem surprised that the coworker brought the doodles to the senior partner. The coworker probably didn’t recognize them as rap lyrics – if they don’t listen to Eminem, why would they? But it’s not surprising that coworker became alarmed after seeing it, and probably thought they should err on the side of caution, so they told the boss.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Going through the bin is indeed weird, but I can sort of understand someone’s concern if they found a series of diagrams of what Stan did, for instance. Eminem is a great artist, but maybe stick to Taylor Swift for future doodles?

        1. Yeah, nah*

          If someone’s grown enough to have a full-time job and they jump to mass shooting from rap lyrics, I have more questions about them then about the doodler.

          I got in trouble for printing offensive song lyrics… in trouble wth my mom, in high school in 2003. In 2022, I expect a bit more common sense.

          1. MistOrMister*

            I think the assumption most of us are working with is that the coworker did not realize the doodles contained song lyrics. If i saw someone had printed or written out lyrics to a rap song, I wouldn’t think much of it as long as I knew it was a song. But Eminem’s lyrics (at least for the songs that I am familiar with) are not generally PC. If someone found his lyrics written in such a way that they thought these were OPs original thoughts, it would make sense that they would be concerned, depending on the song.

            1. Yeah, nah*

              They were going through OP’s trash and had to *tape them back together*. Also, we call rap lyrics “rhymes” for a reason; it doesn’t take more than half a lick of coming sense to realize a paragraph of rhyming verse is partif a song.

              This wasn’t concern, this was snitching to move up the ladder. Stop defending desperate invasive weirdos.

              1. MistOrMister*

                Taping something back together could mean it was ripped in half, not that it was ripped into a billion pieces. It is possible they went through the trash to find the list they couldnt find on OP’s desk. And just because lyrics might rhyme and seem to be part of a song – if the person who saw them didn’t recognize them as copied lyrics by an established artist, they might have thought OP wrote them. It is plausible that the person who found the doodles was not, in fact, a desperate invasive weirdo who was snitching. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. There is not enough information in the letter to be able to tell. The point is, there are circumstances in which finding lyrics of that sort could be a cause for concern.

                1. pancakes*

                  Not really, no. Going through someone’s trash and taping the findings together is desperately weird and invasive. Take a step back and look at how you’re using passive language to make it seem ok: “finding lyrics of that sort could be cause for concern.” Finding them while pawing through a coworker’s trash is cause for concern in itself. That was a bizarre and invasive choice even if the coworker saw this person doodling.

                2. Unalaska*

                  I mean, we just don’t have enough information. It does sound as though the co-worker was deliberately trying to get OP in trouble. However, if I were the OP’s boss, I would not be thrilled about the OP writing down Eminem lyrics at work. It would strike me as both poor taste and in poor judgment, and it might be bias on my part, but it would also strike me as puerile. Going through the trash and taping papers back together is extreme, but so are a lot of Eminem’s lyrics, especially if you a) don’t recognize them and b) are a woman. I can’t say that finding them in a co-worker’s trash wouldn’t gross/freak me out. I wouldn’t tape them together and show the boss, but I might be skeeved out. Giving the OP the BOFTD, as is policy here, the co-worker was wrong. But I can envision a scenario in which the co-worker is not totally unreasonable.

              2. mlem*

                Yeah, everyone who writes out lyrics from rap songs does so at such length, thoroughness, and accuracy to convey the rhyming scheme of a purposely complex art form. Certainly everyone in the world immediately recognizes “If she ever tries to fucking leave again I’m a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” in isolation amongst (unspecified-in-form) artwork as a rap lyric and would never have a moment’s concern that it might be the doodler’s personal thoughts.

                … or, you know, the total opposite of that.

            2. Batgirl*

              Yeah, initially I felt embarrassed for the co-worker who wasn’t able to recognise verse! But I think that’s actually unlikely, it’s more probable that they are bothered by them even if they are lyrics.

              1. Lady_Lessa*

                Not being a rap (or any contemporary ) music fan, I probably wouldn’t connect them to an artist, even if they were rhymed.

                Depending upon the content, I think that the person who reported them did the right thing.

                1. jenny20*

                  I worked in an office once where a few young men were using office email to craft their own rap song, complete with rape and other violence. It was flagged by our IT department and the offenders were all quickly fired. I’m very glad for that… even if it’s just a song, I’m uncomfortable with the idea that I’m spending a lot of time with people who think these thoughts.
                  It’s possible that the person who discovered the doodles didn’t know they were song lyrics. It’s possible that the person didn’t care – perhaps just the idea that you’re doodling potentially violent or misogynistic lyrics is enough to make your co-workers uncomfortable, and that should be a good enough reason to switch your doodles to something more PC.
                  Would we be having the same debate if the LW was doodling swastikas?

                2. Lydia*

                  No, they didn’t. The person who reported them is weird and creepy and was looking for a reason to get the OP talked to.

              2. Blue Glass*

                Well, you can be embarrassed for me, too, because I’m older, and while I have heard of Eminem, all I know about him is that his music is misogynistic and violent. And I don’t listen to rap anyway, so if I found something like that I would probably be concerned that my coworker was crazy.

                1. Adultier adult*

                  But they were torn up in her trash can! They were not posted in her office. To me- That nulls all of the “but I don’t like the lyrics, what if she didn’t know It was Eminem”

          2. Felis alwayshungryis*

            Well, me too, but I guess in my head I pictured some older person who might not be familiar with the music, and thought OP was coming up with violent/offensive material themselves. That, and me not being from the US, I wasn’t sure how sensitive to such things people skew.

          3. L-squared*

            I actually disagree here. I’m a huge rap fan myself. But unless the lyrics said something like “by Eminem” at the top, just seeing certain lyrics with no context would absolutly raise some eyebrows. As an eminem fan, I may recognize them and think nothing of it. But if someone doesn’t recognize them as lyrics, its not a hard leap to make.

          4. PostalMixup*

            I dunno, my employer mandates a workplace shooting training twice a year. It’s graphic and terrifying. You best believe anything that feels even a little off gets flagged in my head, and anything that feels more than a little off would get reported immediately. One of the nuggets from that training is that most workplace shootings are committed by coworkers (or former coworkers).

            1. PostalMixup*

              And actually, I’m wondering if there are generational difference in play in this conversation. Those of use in our 20s and 30s went to school after Columbine, and intruder drills are serious. During the insurrection, Capitol Hill interns led the way in barricading congresspeople in offices, because they’d learned how to do it in school. My daughter reports that, in her latest intruder drill, they practiced dragging injured classmates outside. My daughter is five. Welcome to mass shootings in the US.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                That’s so awful. I do think you’re on to something – I’ve seen a few people assuming the coworker was older but I was going to say that it could easily have been a young person who doesn’t know the Eminem lyrics in question because they’re from before their time. That would track with what you’re saying about younger people growing up more aware of school/workplace violence, IMO. Speculation, I know, but if that’s the case and this was someone genuinely worried about possible violence I’d cut them some slack.

                1. womanaroundtown*

                  I’ve got to say, at first I thought this was an invasion of privacy. And then I got to the Eminem lyrics. I definitely think we need more context, because I would be incredibly disturbed if I saw many of his lyrics (he routinely writes about sexually assaulting/wanting to kill his wife, uses homophobic slurs liberally, and is generally invested in coming across as controversial) written by a coworker. Even if I knew they were Eminem lyrics I would be disturbed. It honestly really makes me question LW’s judgment that she writes these at work, even if they are doodles.

            2. Very Social*

              “If you see something, say something” indeed–I would probably report it if I found violent lyrics on someone’s desk. But going through trash with enough thoroughness to tape notes back together is unreasonable.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Or the lyrics to Baby Shark every single day because then that song is stuck in their head.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, the going through the trash bit is wacko but a) it’s work–it’s all really your employer’s property (and even if it were your personal trash, once it’s thrown out it’s fair game), and b) I’d leave the questionable lyrics at home. I’m more of a folkie myself but I wouldn’t doodle murder ballads on my lunch break.

      2. Dinwar*

        “The coworker probably didn’t recognize them as rap lyrics – if they don’t listen to Eminem, why would they?”

        Cadence, rhythm, rhyme scheme, etc. Rap is poetry (doesn’t matter if you like it or not it is poetry; for the record, I don’t), which is very different from prose, different enough that I’d be surprised if someone couldn’t identify lyrics vs prose 9 times of out 10. That should start someone questioning why it’s being written.

        Second, it’s not like rap is a super-deep sub-genre of music. It’s rather wildly popular. I mean, there’s the most recent Super Bowl halftime show. Maybe they don’t recognize the lyrics, but the priors against this are pretty high. To be honest, I find the genre to be a red herring. While I’m not a fan of rap, it’s not like rap is uniquely violent, sexualized, or the like–country music, national anthems, even Classical music all deal with these same themes/subjects, often in a more vulgar fashion.

        More importantly: Why were they going through the LW’s trash in the first place? This is an incredibly bizarre behavior that warrants an explanation. Even if all they found were work-related documents, going through someone’s trash is not appropriate without something major to justify it. By “major” I mean that it should be sufficient to justify a criminal investigation. To go through someone’s trash and THEN become concerned is deeply concerning. What else is this person going through? Who else’s trash are they going through? What boundaries are they violating?

        1. MicroManagered*

          How would someone distinguish “a violent poem written by a famous person” vs. “a violent poem written by my coworker who could be disturbed, based on the content of this poem”?

          I think it’s unusual, but not outrageous that someone looked in the trash to find a paper document that might have been thrown out. I’ve definitely done it before (looked in my own work trash for my own document). It doesn’t need to be at the level of a criminal investigation to do that. It *could* also be a flimsy excuse for snooping… but that’s really hard to tell from the letter.

          1. Dinwar*

            “How would someone distinguish “a violent poem written by a famous person” vs. “a violent poem written by my coworker who could be disturbed, based on the content of this poem”?”

            This presupposes the existence of a causal relationship between violent content in art and violent actions–a relationship that has been tested repeatedly and not been identified. This has been going on for well over a hundred years (G. K. Chesterton wrote on the topic.) At a certain point this position becomes untenable.

            I don’t believe for a second that it’s violence that’s the issue, however. If the LW has been copying an iambic pentameter poem about a man cleaving another man in two and murdering old men by throwing them down staircases, we’d be talking about how sophisticated and cultured they are (most folks accept Shakespeare as acceptable in polite company). If they were writing a religious text we’d be talking about how devout they were, despite the fact that many are more violent than any rap I’ve heard. (That’s not a bash on any individual religion–pretty much every European religion includes incredible amounts of violence and mutilation.) The reality is we accept violence all the time–as long as it’s not presented in certain formats. And guess which culture dominates the rap scene.

            As for rooting around in a trash can, I might be able to come up with a scenario where that’s somewhat justified. It’s still very weird to do without the person knowing about it, but maybe. Taping together shredded stuff you find there? That’s creepy stalker territory.

            1. MicroManagered*

              No, it doesn’t. It addresses the notion that someone should easily recognize rap lyrics even if they were not familiar with that particular rap song.

              My comment also assumes that Eminem lyrics were what was on the paper in question. The LW doesn’t really clearly state *what* was on the paper so some important context is missing.

              Eminem is definitely “my generation” of music so I’m extensively familiar with his lyrics. Depending what lyrics were on the doodle, I could see how it might be alarming and not immediately recognized as song lyrics.

              Taking paper scraps from the trash and taping them together is very unusual–you’re right. It’s not automatically “creepy stalker” behavior though, assuming there was a real reason to look for a document in the LW’s trash in the first place. You are using the word “shredded” to describe the paper, but the LW doesn’t use that word. I was picturing that someone found a larger piece of paper with disturbing, legible writings on it.

              This letter is missing A LOT of context and this is a great example of how that can skew two different readings of the same words.

              1. L-squared*

                Your last sentence hits the nail on the head.

                It reminds me of the letter a couple weeks ago about the “Men’s group”. It was just vague enough where people could easily assume the best or the worst about the situation, depending on their position going into reading it.

              2. Dinwar*

                “No, it doesn’t. It addresses the notion that someone should easily recognize rap lyrics even if they were not familiar with that particular rap song.”

                If that’s the issue, I apologize. I’ve misunderstood the issue in this argument. I believed the issue was “Was the trash bandit right to go to the boss?”

                “It’s not automatically “creepy stalker” behavior though, assuming there was a real reason to look for a document in the LW’s trash in the first place.”

                If I tore a paper in half and threw it away, and someone spent time taping it together, I would find it highly suspicious and fear that the person was a stalker, regardless of whether they have an appropriate reason to be rooting through my trash in the first place. This is not normal behavior. It is deeply disturbing behavior–FAR more disturbing than someone writing lyrics (or poems, or even violent fiction) is. Many, many, many, many, MANY people enjoy violent art–video games, movies, music, TV, literature, poetry, stories, and the like–without committing acts of violence. (I would challenge you to find someone who DOESN’T enjoy violent art. I don’t think they exist.) I don’t know too many people who root through trash and spend time piecing together documents someone obviously intended to destroy that don’t also have other worrying traits.

                1. Allonge*

                  Nothing wrong with enjoying violent art. At home or in appropriate places (cinemas, museums, concerts etc).

                  Writing out violent lyrics at your work shows you have really bad judgment. As this example shows, people will find it alarming out of context (and sometimes in-context too).

        2. Observer*

          Cadence, rhythm, rhyme scheme,

          Not at all. A lot of rap (and other poetry) are not recognizable as such unless you hear it or you see it in format. Especially since rhyme is far from universal, and some rhyme schemes are not obvious – or can’t even be seen if you don’t have a full stanza.

          And it’s clear that the boss was actually unaware that it was an Eminem lyric.

          Maybe they don’t recognize the lyrics, but the priors against this are pretty high.

          That’s actually not necessarily the case. But even if that were true, it is clear that IN THIS CASE, the boss didn’t know that these were rap lyrics. The OP says She brought me in to speak to me about these notes ~~~ snip~~~ I explained the swear words were part of song lyrics and I am a doodler.
          I got no warning, just told to take my doodles home.

          In other words, the boss hadn’t realized that these were rap lyrics.

          That said, I do totally agree with your last paragraph.
          More importantly: Why were they going through the LW’s trash in the first place? This is an incredibly bizarre behavior that warrants an explanation. Even if all they found were work-related documents, going through someone’s trash is not appropriate without something major to justify it. By “major” I mean that it should be sufficient to justify a criminal investigation. To go through someone’s trash and THEN become concerned is deeply concerning. What else is this person going through? Who else’s trash are they going through? What boundaries are they violating?

          1. Userper Cranberries*

            OP has declined to tell us either where the paper was in the trash or how small it was torn up. Since the coworker was looking for a list of completed tasks, checking the top layer or so of the trash in case OP discarded it after checking everything off or it fell in the trash by accident is entirely reasonable.

            If the doodles were on top in large, easily read pieces and included alarming language (a poster above offers “I’mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” as an Eminem lyric), I’d consider it actively irresponsible for the coworker not to check up on the rest of the paper to make sure no one’s life was in danger.

            If the doodles were at the bottom in small shreds that made reading more than a word or two impossible, then I agree that the coworker’s actions are alarming.

            But we have no idea which of those scenarios is true because the OP hasn’t told us. I don’t understand why people are so willing to confidently state that the coworker’s actions are deeply concerning (or that OP’s actions are, if anyone is stating that). It’s not difficult to fill in the blanks of the letter with both sides.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          “Rap is poetry… which is very different from prose”

          This is a bit reductive, no? Rap is an oral/musical art form in which the actual oral delivery of the lines by the artist plays an integral part, which is very different from both written poetry and from prose. Tone of voice, rhythm, sound effects, sampling, interpolation etc etc etc are all hugely important features of rap that are not going to be apparent in a few random doodled lines. It’s not like it’s all moon/June rhyming couplets; many songs have much more complex rhyme schemes going on and if you take a line out of the middle of a verse and write it down it will not necessarily be obvious what it is – I assume that if these are just offhand doodles and not the OP carefully writing out the entire lyrics of The Real Slim Shady, we are probably talking about fairly short decontextualised chunks.

          1. Dinwar*

            “This is a bit reductive, no?”

            I mean, any system that attempts to divide human communication into two rigid groups is going to be reductive. I can cite Chesterton as someone opposed to the view I presented, in his essay defending the language of the poor. And some poets really do straddle that line–Kipling, Poe, Shakespeare, among others. I don’t know enough about rap to know if they do that to any great extent; the stuff I’ve heard and lyrics I’ve read were so structurally different from pros that I struggle to understand how someone could miss it. That said, I am not a rap fan and tend to avoid it so I may simply have not been exposed to it. Still, I think someone handed an example of Kipling’s work, or what I’ve heard of Eminem’s works, even decontextualized, would realize that it sounds rather weird for pros.

            I am not one who subscribes to the notion that poetry must rhyme. I can’t–my favorite poem that I’ve written doesn’t have a rhyme scheme, and some famous types of poetry don’t try to rhyme (haiku, for example). There are other aspects of poetry by which it can be identified. Allusion, metaphor, simile, variances in stresses, syllable count, half-rhyme, call backs, and all the other myriad of poetic devices, while present in pros, are far more prevalent in verse.

            And remember the type of person we’re dealing with here. I doubt that this person cared what it was. If it wasn’t violent/vulgar poetry, I’m reasonably certain they’d cause the LW trouble in some other way. People simply don’t root through other people’s trash and spend time piecing together shredded documents on a regular basis; either this person is suffering from mental illness or they have a vendetta against the LW (or both). In either case, I doubt there’s much the LW could do that couldn’t be twisted into some sort of attack against them.

      3. This is a name, I guess*

        Yes, but I feel like we need to assume the OP isn’t using lyrics with rants against minorities and women. If they did and told the story above, they aren’t writing in good faith, which is what we’re supposed to assume. It’s probably just some swears. Maybe a sexual explicit but nonviolent phrase.

        In that case, it doesn’t show the best judgment, but it’s hardly worthy of such attention from senior partners.

        1. Crimson*

          They specified it was an artist specifically known for their misogyny and homophobia and that they needed to explain that they were lyrics to appease their boss. If the doodles said “I fucking love you” I don’t think you’d feel the need to explain that they were lyrics to excuse the profanity.

          To me this reads as the letter writer admitting that they wrote some thing that a reasonable person would find offensive, written by an artist known for saying horrific things.

      4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        The LW said she and the partner talked about “swear words,” so I think this is reaching fanfic levels.

        1. L-squared*

          I think this sub often does go to fanfic levels. But knowing how A LOT of Eminem songs go, and being that OP specificed they were Eminem lyrics, I don’t think its fanfic to think of some very simple popular songs that would be questionable at best if just written down on a piece of paper in the office.

          1. pancakes*

            Yeah, I wonder if “swear words” in this context might be a euphemism for “stuff that doesn’t belong at work,” including violent lyrics. Similar to the way some people say they were “yelled at” without meaning that anyone raised their voice.

        2. Userper Cranberries*

          Assuming that it must be alarming is definitely fanfic, but I do think it’s important to flag for OP that it could be something other than swear words. I’ve definitely known people who react more strongly to swears than violence, and if OP is one of them, their explanation and assumption about the problem could center around the swear words when the coworker was concerned with other content. Of course, unless the OP comes back and tells us what they were doodling, we’ll never know for sure.

      5. Lady Luck*

        I’m a bit of a doodler myself, but Eminem lyrics would definitely be one thing I would avoid in the workplace. Just way too easy to look bad…even if no one is supposed to see them.

        That said, OP, methinks your coworker has way too much time on her hands.

      6. Carol the happy elf*

        Agreed 1000% about trash and privacy! We have an office shredder AND a facility “Shredmeister”, who reminds us of this all the time. (She talks about a coworker whose medical record and her prescriptions for birth control and a strong antidepressant were confirmed to a spouse- who then beat the living hell put of her. This was pre-HIPAA, but some abusers have the ability to appear like they’re the rational one!)
        Law firm? Violent suggestions? One word will jump out if it’s visible, and violence in workplaces is A THING. A real thing. OP might also unknowingly be sending impressions that raise red flags; it does happen.
        If they saw the slightest hint of danger on the tiniest scrap of paper, (and didn’t recognize Eminem, but your doodle looked more like a gun than a rose- pun intended-) they were doing their duty to investigate.
        Shred your doodles, Eminem is not good for the workplace, and look at your optics.

    4. Felix*

      I wonder if LW has considered the possibility that the boss was the one going through the trash, and non an anonymous co-worker. It explains why the boss and co-worker seem to be on the same page how normal they think this is.

      1. AnonAnon*

        I dunno… looking through the trash hopefully isn’t a super common thing, but my read on it was it can be explained without assuming malice. It’s likely that coworker and/or boss just had a great need for the physical copy of the list. For example, finding the list would save them lots of time and work so they want to find it desperately. Coworker looked around the desk but couldn’t find it, and they weren’t sure they could reach LW via email/text/phone in the timeframe that they needed. So in desperation, coworker looked through the trash as a last ditch effort.

        1. MistOrMister*

          Also, OP said they were out with covid. Depending on the type of leave they took, it’s possible they wouldn’t be available at all for questions on the whereabouts of the list. When I was out for surgery, I had to use FMLA even though I had enough sick leave to cover it. I was not allowed to do any work whatsoever during that time. I only heard from my supervisor to ask how I was doing after the surgery and check if would be back on week X or week Y. Evrything else was strictly forbidden. So I wondered if that xould have been the situation with OPs office. Possibly they were at their wits end looking for this list, were not allowed to ask OP and hadnt located it anywhere else.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            OT but FMLA is the type of leave, not how you are paid.
            So you were on FMLA leave, but were paid using Sick Time.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. There have been plenty of times where I’ve needed to look through someone’s wastebasket in order to find something. Sometimes I found it and sometimes not. But I wasn’t doing it to be nosey. I’ve also had to dump entire shred bins to find, for example, an original of a document someone supposedly scanned but didn’t.

          1. Blue Monday*

            Hmmm, 40 years of full time office work and I have never had to look through anybody’s wastebasket but my own.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              Well, I work in banking so there’s definitely been times I’ve needed to do it because something is missing. And when I was in the IT/information security area, I’ve looked through a wastebasket as part of a periodic sweep to make sure there’s no sensitive information in it that should have been shredded.

            2. Grouchy Oscar*

              I, on the other hand, have had to empty 20-30 gallons of really disgusting trash to retrieve lost x-rays or tiny plaster models that slid to the bottom of the trash in a dental office. More than once.

          2. MK*

            Under what circumstances? This only makes sense if you actually have some reason to think the paper you are looking for in in the trash, like if someone tells you they threw it away by mistake or a meeting room was cleaned after a meeting and an important document goes missing. When I look through a desk for something, the trash isn’t one of the places to look.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          It strikes me that the problem about the list is totally lost here and that was the problem that kicked off the whole story. YET, the boss did nothing to talk about where OP should keep this list in the future?

          Maybe it’s just me, but because the list became a non-issue so fast, it seems that the boss looked around for something to gripe about and she hit on the doodles. So much for focus, that’s gone.

          1. BethDH*

            We don’t know that boss didn’t discuss the list itself. Possibly the boss did mention that but it wasn’t relevant to the rest of OP’s question because it wasn’t a point of contention.

    5. Myrin*

      Yeah, the letter is overall very factual which I usually appreciate but which makes it kinda hard to interpret the situation in this case because the key information is missing.

      1. pancakes*

        It’s factual about some things that happened, but there seems to be a lot missing. The part I am puzzled about is, “I got no warning, just told to take my doodles home, which I 100% will be doing.” A warning about what? A warning that people might go through the letter writer’s trash while they were out sick could’ve made this a non-issue, I suppose, if they had a chance to empty the trash of anything personal, but . . . ? That’s not a thing. A warning that people sometimes take things out of context, or that some coworkers are prying weirdos? It sounds like the letter writer’s first response to their boss was to say that this was an invasion of privacy (rather than, say, “wow, I think there’s some confusion here, those are song lyrics”) but it’s not clear just what they said or what the boss made of it.

        1. Myrin*

          We are in agreement – what you mention is the “key information” I’m referring to!
          But I actually didn’t take the letter to mean that her first response was bringing up the invasion of privacy – it read to me like the boss brought it up first. I thought that was a bit weird – did the boss start the meeting saying “Coworker went through your trash looking for [list] but since it’s the trash, it’s not an invasion of your privacy!” completely unprompted? – so it would make sense for that having been a reaction to OP’s reaction but the way it’s written… IDK.

          1. Myrin*

            Oh, wait, I somehow misread the “warning” part of your comment. So as an answer to that, I’m pretty sure OP meant that in the sense of “she didn’t put a note in my file officially saying I’d acted inappropriately”.

        2. Teagan*

          I thought they meant that they didn’t get a formal “warning” (i.e. a reprimand) from their boss.

          1. pancakes*

            That makes sense, though it still leaves open the question of where things stand with the boss.

        3. Wisteria*

          “I got no warning, just told to take my doodles home, which I 100% will be doing.”

          “Told to take my doodles home” sure sounds like a warning not to doodle those types of doodles at work anymore. That’s all the warning really needed in this instance.

          And if the only consequences were being told to take some doodles home, well, I don’t know what the LW is writing in about. The way it’s presented in the letter, this whole thing was a non-issue.

    6. Yaz*

      This is based on the seemingly important details that DON’T appear in the letter so I could be wrong. But- to me this reads like OP has perhaps been antisocial or weird to the coworker, who, when she found a bin full of misogynist scribbles, was genuinely alarmed. And look- I like Eminem well enough but if you’re just casually doodling the words to Kim in the office, I’m going to factor that into my assessment of whether you might be unstable and violent, especially if our interactions have been off putting before. And I’m sure Eminem has songs that aren’t misogynistic and violent but all the ones I can think of have certainly have those themes.

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        I did not expect the level of fanfic this letter has brought out. There’s no info I can see about the relationship between LW and any coworker in here, why make this assumption?

        1. Boof*

          I mean, “eminem lyrics” covers a lot of territory, some of which would be understandably alarming out of context (or even in the right context). I think the trash/privacy is a bit of a red herring- really weird yes but the big question is what exactly was the issue they took with LW’s doodles, and is that reasonable? I really can’t tell from what’s written here what the LW was actually called out for.

          1. Software Dev (she/her)*

            I mean, I think the trash issue is pretty relevant, but I was mostly responding to the completely made up relationship between the LW and her coworker the commenter mentioned (while noting there was no evidence of that in the text).

            1. Yaz*

              The fact that the OP didn’t say what motive the colleague would have or how the boss responded or what type of lyrics they wrote… to me says they’re leaving things out that might paint them in a less positive light.

        2. Userper Cranberries*

          It’s just as valid as all the people declaring that the coworker’s actions are bizarre and alarming – both are extreme reads of the situation based on how you want to fill in the critical information that OP left out. Ideally there would be none of either, but given how much critical information is missing from the letter, there’s not a ton left to talk about – I think that’s what’s bringing the fan fiction out.

    7. Ozzac*

      This seems really bizarre. A normal boss would tell nosy coworker to stop wasting time and do their job, instead of going through other people trash.
      But I’m not in the USA, so I’m not paranoid about mass shooting.

    8. Reba*

      I literally got fired from a job over similar doodles in 2019. I returned from time off just like the poster. It was absurd.

    9. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      This reminds me of when I was in 6th grade and I happened to be in the bathroom when the teacher expressly forbid us from throwing away the tests she was returning to us so we could “show them to our parents.”

      When I got back from the bathroom, I decided to throw away everything away from the previous unit, which included the test (which I had gotten a 100% on). A kid dug through the trash can to tell on me, and I got lunch detention.

      It was absurd and immature to dig through the trash to get someone else in trouble as an 11-year-old…. And this is an ADULT?

  2. Anonymouse*

    Dodged a bullet there.
    At least she only wanted months.
    The next person interviewed will be required to specify months and days.

    1. Candi*

      Seconding and calling it a Matrix dodge.

      Someone who addresses problems by snapping at people has something going on. Someone who does it at someone they barely know over a formatting dislike or difference of opinion has more going on then being hungry or tired. In my opinion, it speaks to a consistent negative character trait they’ve had no reason to work on or change.

      1. Antilles*

        Agree. There could be real reasons to want to dig in on the meaning of “fall” or “spring”. Maybe you’re trying to dig in on the experience since “spring” and “fall” are vague terms and can vary (e.g., in a quarter system versus semester system). Maybe you have a candidate tracking form that requires information and doesn’t accept “spring”. Etc.
        But snapping at someone for a very normal description? Getting agitated over a very non-standard request to resubmit a resume? The vague implication that “we’ll find out when you really worked there” as though OP was trying to cover up stuff?
        No, no, and no.

    2. linger*

      This contains a slightly higher level of snark than I’d normally recommend, but I think I’d have answered #3’s interviewer along the lines of:
      “If you do check with [University’s] office, I recommend you specify that you want the month range, otherwise they’re likely to quote you the term season name, as is normal for that institution, which is why that is the terminology used in my CV. We wouldn’t want you to get confused again, would we?”
      (Given enough time to self-edit, I wouldn’t say the last bit out loud, but I’d still be thinking it.)

      1. Lyudie*

        Ughhh this reminds me of the time I was trying to do the tuition reimbursement program at my company and they refused to accept “Fall 2018” as the semester date range. They insisted they needed a single document with both grades and specific semester start and end dates, and when I told them such a thing does not exist I should contact the university and ask for one. Never mind that I had already gotten reimbursement approved twice before without such a document. I finally sent them a screen capture of the academic calendar for that semester and the unofficial transcript and informed them I would not be asking my large university to create a new form for me. They accepted it.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP, always remember people are on their best behavior when they first meet. This is her best behavior. It’s okay to believe her.

    4. Covered in Bees*

      I had an interview similar to OPs except the interviewer simply misread the dates on my resume. They were written in the very standard format of mm/yyyy in 12 point, books, times new roman. She went on a whole tirade about me including such a short job on my resume and then leaving so much time unaccounted for. She was reading off a resume I gave her, so nothing had shifted in printing. Once we clarified that I’d actually been at that job for a few years, she contrived to be curt and aggressive. I later did an internship there in a different division and it turned out the whole agency was like that. Not out of necessity but just aggressive culture.

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      I actually have had to provide months or exact days and months for a government job …. In order for them to enter it in some system that counts the exact numbers of days to prove I met qualifications / count time to negotiate an amount of leave based on my work history before giving a final offer. so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there’s a reason they’d eventually want that information. That being said, agreed it’s a bullet dodged as she clearly addressed it in a bizarre and confrontational way out of nowhere, regardless of whether there was some logistical reason she just wasn’t communicating.

      1. Jora Malli*

        I’m in local government, and we’re required to have a lot of detailed documentation on job candidates to prove we’re treating them fairly in the application and interview process. One of the documents we create is a spreadsheet that lists each candidate’s experience at various things, including both years and months. So Candidate 1 has been doing this job function for 2 years, 3 months, Candidate 2 for 5 years, 7 months, etc.

        That said, some of my recent applicants were former teachers who listed their work experience as “2019-2020” or similar, and since I know what months schools are typically in session, I did the math myself. I would probably do the same for something that was clearly a student job and only listed the semester.

        But I will say, overall, it’s better if you include months. If it’s not a job like teaching where it’s easy to guess the months, a date range of “2019-2020” gives me very little information about how much experience you actually have. Does it mean two full years, or did you only work there from December 2019 to January 2020 and it’s really only two months?

      2. Boof*

        And that’s fine, but saying “could you resubmit your cv with exact dates to help our onboarding team?” Is different than snapping at someone about it then telling them to stop being so defensive when they’re confused!

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

        I had to do that for a job application once. It wasn’t for a government job, but they do work with the government often (Veterans benefits and VA Hospitals) But this was for a very entry customer service job that basically required you be 18 and have your high school diploma. I could understand for a higher job or something that you need licensure for where you need to prove X amount of clinical hours (Like for a therapist or counselor). But not for someone who is just going to direct your call.

    6. Nanani*

      Someone who not only won’t put in the two seconds of thinking to figure out what “fall” means in the context of a higher education job, but also thinks they can boss you around -before hiring you- is not a person you want to work for. Or with. Or in the same quantum plane as.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      Definitely. More red flags than a military parade in Tiananmen Square, that’s for sure!

    8. The Starsong Princess*

      Sometimes, an interviewer is testing you, it might even be unconsciously, to see what you’ll put up with. They want to see if you will fall over yourself to please. This interviewer probably decided to rule OP out because they were “argumentative” because she is looking for someone who will try to appease her when she pulls this crap and believe me, she will pull this crap continually. A bullet dodged indeed.

  3. Fikly*

    Would it be considered appropriate to use bereavement leave if your family, instead of doing a funeral immediately following a death, does a wake 6 months later, to attend the wake? It’s a formal event to gather together and mourn, but it’s not in the immediate aftermath.

    I’m not trying to ask about different grieving/mourning customs, more on how using bereavement leave for that would go over in the US.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I think that would be appropriate, although it’s probably worth a quick explanation for different cultural systems. My FIL’s funeral arrangements involved the cremation and a ceremony right after, and the interment of the ashes 49 days later, as per Buddhist traditions, and we used bereavement leave for both.

      I had two weeks for my Dad’s death – the first week was mostly family gathering and funeral arrangements, the second week I helped my Mom with the surprising amount of paperwork that has to be done (bank stuff, switching stuff to my Mom’s name, cancelling various forms of ID, notifying various professional societies, etc.)

    2. Cheshire Cat*

      It probably depends on the employer, but in general it should be acceptable. My grandparents retired to a state far away from my hometown. When my grandfather died there was a funeral in the town they were living in. But there was also a memorial service in my hometown a few months later, and I took bereavement leave for that.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I just lost my grandmother and took one day in the immediate aftermath, and I’m taking 2 more in June for her memorial service. Covid has changed how death and bereavement works, so i hope most employers would be accommodating.

        But for a vacation… i wouldn’t risk the fallout other people might experience.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          “Covid has changed how death and bereavement works . . . ”

          My FIL passed last December, and we were unable to have a memorial service for him until June. We had planned to have one pretty soon after his passing, but the crematorium said they were so behind they didn’t know when it would be done, and then there were travel restrictions, etc. We finally had a memorial in June in a place where my FIL had grown up and then spent some of his retirement years. I asked if it would still be appropriate to use bereavement leave for that since so much time had passed, and it was approved.

          As far as advice for the OP, I don’t think bereavement needs to be taken immediately to be valid, but it does need to be related to the bereavement (attending a memorial, etc) or like someone said below, it’s going to become a thing that ruins bereavement leave for others going forward.

          1. Anne of Green Gables*

            I agree with this, “I don’t think bereavement needs to be taken immediately to be valid, but it does need to be related to the bereavement” but I also think that A) you get to decide what that means for you and B) you don’t really need to give your employers details.

            I agree with Alison in that I do not think it would be appropriate to use the bereavement days for a vacation planned in June. However, I see no problem with you using them to take some days off now. I don’t think an employer needs to know if there is or isn’t a formal memorial or funeral. Your grief could take the form of sitting on the couch. Helping family write an obituary. Taking walks and thinking about the lost loved one. It doesn’t have to be a formal service to be bereavement.

            My grandmother passed in October 2020. My family did not do a memorial at the time b/c Covid and wasn’t sure if we would do anything later. I took my three days, and while I spent one of them helping with her belongings, I spent one cooking my favorite of her recipes. That was my memorial and worked for my grief–my employer didn’t ask for details and I didn’t give them.

          2. Despachito*

            This is how I would see it as well (only from a layman’s point of view, I am by no means a lawyer) – the important thing for me would be if the bereavement leave is really used in relation to the bereavement. If it is several months later in order to bury the ashes/have a memorial service, I would see it as a totally legitimate. But in OP’s case, I think their doubts are spot on, and I would avoid doing it for the very reasons they are stating.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I’ve had to take bereavement leave three times in the last few years. I did *not* use it for recreational time but did have to take it around three weeks after one of my relatives passed.

      My father-in-law died in 2012, in another state. And I was advised “you get three days for that”… but… since there was going to be a cremation and the funeral/memorial in yet another state, I only needed two days for that. But that was three weeks after his passing.

      When my father passed in 2017, it was on a Monday. We scheduled the funeral/memorial for Saturday. I took Monday afternoon off, then worked Tuesday and half of Wednesday, then took my remaining 2 1/2 days.

      But to answer your question – I would say yes, that’s apropos – if you’re going to the wake. It’s not appropriate if you were, say, going on a ski trip or a four day vacation to Aruba.

    4. turquoisecow*

      That makes sense to me in theory, since bereavement leave is usually meant for attending funerals (/preparing for funeral, if you’re close enough that that is your responsibility), but I don’t recall ever actually seeing it done, and I could see an employer pushing back on it, or having some policy against it.

      1. lilsheba*

        I never did like that. They never provide time to just GRIEVE, which is what everyone would need. If my husband died, I would need more than 3 days to just deal with that!

        As for using the time for vacation, yeah I think that’s smarmy for sure. That’s not what it’s for.

    5. Rebecca*

      I used leave to go to my father’s funeral 3 months after he died. I had to show HR the website of the funeral home to show that the funeral was actually on those dates, which felt weird but made sense, and that was that.

      It probably depends on how reasonable your employers are. Mine went beyond reasonable into extremely kind when I was in the hospital with him and my date to come home kept getting extended, but some employers might not be.

    6. Sleepy cat*

      I think it needs to be something you are doing because the person died and not something you would do anyway.

      A wake is fine. A holiday is not. Unless you don’t tell people what you’re doing.

      Sorry for your loss OP.

    7. allathian*

      I’m not sure about the US, but in spring and summer 2020, there were strict limits on how many people were allowed to attend a funeral, something like 10 people including officiants/pallbearers. Memorial services haven’t been very common here in general, but some people have made an exception now that larger meetings are allowed again.

    8. Artemesia*

      This is not as obvious as immediate bereavement leave after a death BUT it is reasonable. It is not reasonable to take a random vacation and claim bereavement leave and it is the kind of action that is likely to spoil things for others i.e. suddenly bereavement leave gets difficult to get, requires documentation etc etc because ‘someone abused the benefit by using it for vacation.’ And then the person who needs it, like you, for a memorial service may not get approval as it was not at the time of the death.

      1. evens*

        “It is the kind of action that is likely to spoil things for others i.e. suddenly bereavement leave gets difficult to get, requires documentation etc etc because ‘someone abused the benefit by using it for vacation.’ ”

        This was exactly my thought. If people use “bereavement time” for “I want a vacation — and it will help my grief! time,” well, that’s why we can’t have nice things.

      2. Sarah*

        I was TERRIFIED of my company’s HR department getting snarky with me when I needed time off to attend seven funerals in the last 12 months. (Only one was due to covid) I made sure to grab a “program” at each and actually had to take PTO for most people only immediate family get PTO and that only accounted for three of the funerals.
        My fear came from when me grandad past in 2020 and I went to HR and was told by our director “well, I’ll have to check the policy to see if that’s covered by our policy” in my head I was not very nice. I had almost 80 hours of PTO on the books and would take it if needed to attend.
        Now when my grandma died that same year I didn’t take bearvement then because there was supposed to be an interment of ashes at a later date but that either happened without my side of the family knowing or hasn’t happened yet but if it does happen it’s going to be over 18 months after the death initially happened.
        I do wish my company would’ve allowed me to take that bervement time on one of my other deaths this year so I wouldn’t have to burned so much darn PTO going to funerals last year:(

    9. Not So NewReader*

      Up here the ground takes a hard freeze and we can’t do burials after a certain point in the winter season. Both of my parents burial service had to wait until May to be buried. Area employers understand because this comes up often enough. The employee can simply state that they would like a day off in the spring to attend the burial. If the employer is even half-way decent, that time will be granted. It’s part of life in the north country.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        This is what I did last year for my grandmother. She passed in February, and I wasn’t able to travel for the funeral, so I didn’t take any leave at the time. Her burial was in April, and I was able to travel for that, so that’s when I took bereavement leave. (I knew before the funeral that the burial would be sometime later, so I was able to tell my boss what my plan for taking leave was.)

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        This is what I did when my grandpa died last winter, and my work was fine with me taking bereavement leave several months after he had passed to attend the memorial.

    10. Katie*

      It is entirely reasonable to take bereavement several months after the fact to go to a memorial service. Some policies have it so that it’s only so many days after the funeral so that might make it sticky (I could argue that a memorial service is a funeral though).

    11. Falling Diphthong*

      I think you could usually use bereavement leave to:
      Attend a mourning service right after the death.
      Attend a mourning service held some months after the death.
      Visit the deceased’s hometown to tackle practical issues after the death.
      Stay home for a couple of days after the death because you felt too overwhelmed and weepy to work, even if traveling back for any funeral wasn’t in the cards. (Various health conditions, pandemic, etc.)

      More iffy, in part because it’s likely an “as well as the above” rather than “instead of the above.”
      Visit a place where you have many memories of the deceased, to mourn. (e.g. Grandparent passed away in nursing home near Aunt Barb, a few states away from the home where all OP’s memories of Grandparent were formed.)

      Usually not ok, though I could see individual offices being fine with it:
      A trip to a fun locale that would be the mental health break you really need, in part because of the strain of the death.

      1. MK*

        Maybe it’s unfair, but I would usually think the last scenario is totally bulls**t, and just using a death as an excuse to get extra time off. I could maybe buy it if you were a caretaker and desperately needed a break, or if you had to spend six months after the death dealing with the estate and were exhausted, possibly even if this was a sudden death of a close relative, and you needed some distraction from your deep grief. But telling me that you need a gun trip months after the death to help you deal with the death of a grandparent (and if you are a working adult, this is unlikely to be a tragedy, it’s just the normal course of life)?

        1. Lydia*

          I think you need to remember people grieve differently and they also commemorate loved ones differently. If someone came back from a trip and said they went on a vacation to their relative’s favorite place and visited their favorite museum, or even if they said they needed to do something fun to get away from the grief for a bit, I wouldn’t think anything of it. Because grief and the way we grieve doesn’t fit into a neat box and it’s time people stopped telling you how you *should* feel.

          1. MK*

            I do realize that, but the OP isn’t planning to visit her grandmother’s favourite museum, or go to a place that was meaningful to the both of them, or even that she wants to do something to get away from the grief. If she said she wanted to visit her grandmother’s home village in another continent, or if it was late May and she asked “It’s been months since my grandmother’s death and I am still depressed, is it ok to use bereavement leave next month to take my mind of it?”, my reaction would be different. But the tone of the letter is more like “Can I use the death of my grandmother to get extra time off? I am totally grieving and I am sure it will help!”

        2. J*

          Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. Often surviving immediately after the death, even an expected one, is all you can do. You often don’t give time to mourn but that doesn’t mean we finish mourning after our 3 days. I quit a job recently that didn’t give me the time I needed after a death. I moved to a more decent place. I’d really challenge you to rethink your thoughts on grief and death. There’s always Megan Devine and her writings but also even Ed Yong at the Atlantic and talking about the 9 million of us who are mourning recent deaths. Grieving is not a personal failing and choosing to remember the happy moments of your shared experience with someone deceased is much healthier than just giving them time to sit and plan a funeral. Maybe a job doesn’t have to offer more than 3 days but if they do, I don’t think it should be full of restrictions.

          1. MissMeghan*

            No, grief doesn’t have an expiration date, but I think there’s a difference between the necessary activities surrounding death that bereavement leave accommodates, and the ongoing grieving that would better fit under sick (mental health) leave. Taking mental health leave to visit a meaningful place and process the grief of a lost loved one to me makes sense and doesn’t stretch the purpose of bereavement.

        3. Chinook*

          I also would call b.s. if someone called this bereavement leave even though I have seen first hand how such a vacation helped D.H. after dealing with the sudden death of his father. This included everything from dealing with the coroner to being the will’s executor to ensuring the well-being of his newly widowed mother, so he spent a lot of time dealing with things other than his grief. A long weekend trip to Disneyland was literally the first time he relaxed in the month following FIL’s death and was exactly what he needed, but neither one of us could have called this “bereavement leave” with a straight face, which is why we both used vacation time. He, and I, both used bereavement leave for things like funeral planning, paperwork for the estate and the logistics of visiting family members, all of which had to be dealt with during business hours and with schedules we could not control.

      2. Bluebell*

        When my father died (pre-Covid) it was in another country. Because my passport had lapsed, and because I didn’t really get along w his wife and stepkids, and we had different religious traditions, I used my bereavement leave to go be with my sister, and we had sort of an unofficial shiva for a few days. My boss was fine with it.

      3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        When my grandmother died, I used 1 of my bereavement days to help my mom plan the service, and then three of them about a week after the service to go with my mom on an out-of-town trip. However, my mom had been my grandmother’s primary caregiver for years and grandma died in mom’s house after about a month of hospice care, so I explained it to my boss as taking my mother (who she knew had been grandma’s caregiver) on a trip to get her out of the house as part of supporting her grieving process rather than a random vacation I happened to be using bereavement leave for. (It also probably helped that I’d worked there for quite a few years by then so my boss knew my general patterns in terms of taking leave and that I didn’t generally push boundaries on things.) I wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking a trip that didn’t involve another grieving family member using that kind of leave unless it was to fulfill some specific part of the memorial plans or will.

      4. calonkat*

        My sister was cremated in winter and a date scheduled in the following spring for people to meet to distribute her ashes at Yellowstone, her favorite national park. I didn’t have to ask for time off (because my job was caring for our mother), but everyone else who had bereavement leave took it then. And if they stayed longer for a vacation, then they took that time separately as vacation leave.

    12. thestik*

      This is essentially what I did a few years ago when my mom died. I skipped the funeral in July but used my bereavement leave the following month. There were no issues with that from a work or colleague perception perspective. My boss also had no problems with me taking the time later since I was up front about the arrangements.

    13. J*

      Where I work (in the United States), yes. My Jewish family had an “unveiling” of my grandfather’s grave 15 months after he died and I was able to use the equivalent of bereavement leave for that. We don’t have a separate pot for bereavement, though–it just meant I was allowed to use my sick leave for this trip instead of using vacation time.

    14. Venus*

      Our company handbook says that the bereavement leave must be within a week of the death, or include the day of the memorial or ceremony commemorating the death. They are flexible on the type of memorial so an informal gathering counts, and the time can be split in two if there are two ceremonies planned, or if someone wants to take a couple days at first and then attend a ceremony later.

      1. Chinook*

        Every workplace I have been at has had the standard “3 days for immediate family, 1 day for other” type of wording for bereavement leave. And every one of these places has been flexible about what that means and extending it as needed (either as paid or unpaid leave). Even the most unreasonable of bosses has been flexible about giving people the amount of time they have asked for, including one stingy boss allowing 3 related employees to go back to the Philippines for a month. He paid them each a week bereavement leave, guaranteed their jobs for their return and loaned one of them money for airfare from petty cash so they could leave the next day (he was the oldest and need to help his mother with the arrangements).

        Are there bosses who are so rotten that they will show up at the funeral to make you sign non-urgent paperwork, of course. But my experience is that those people are a subset of “bad bosses” who are truly petty or bordering on “evil villain.” As long as no one blatantly abuses the system, I think most are sympathetic about bereavement leave being a benefit that no one wants to have to use.

    15. BongoFury*

      Not sure anyone can define appropriate, it is probably a manager or company decision.
      When my much beloved Aunt died last year I was able to fly out to her funeral on Saturday and still make it back to work on Monday. So my bereavement days were 9 months later when we set her tombstone (it took FOREVER for a tombstone). Because of COVID, the funeral was short and sparse. But the tombstone setting was outside and everyone had a chance to be vaccinated by then, so it was more of a wake than the actual funeral.
      My company would not have approved of the plan, our HR is mean spirited at best. But my boss told me to just do it and he’d take the fall if HR said anything.

      1. Lydia*

        When both my grandparents died, I took my bereavement leave well after their actual deaths to attend memorial services. My stepfather passed away in February and I took one day to drive down and be with my family immediately, but I’ll take the other days this summer when we have a memorial gathering for him. It’s pretty common to have truncated services these days.

    16. A Simple Narwhal*

      A reasonable employer should have no issue with it. My grandfather passed earlier this year, but the funeral wasn’t held until a couple weeks ago. (A lot of our family is scattered across the country so we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to make plans to attend without scrambling for last-minute flights, etc.) When he passed I just told my boss that the funeral was in a month or two and I would need time off then. No issues, just asked me to let them know if I needed anything or more time off.

      I also work for a reasonable employer where they’re also really laid back about taking time off, but ideally all employers should be flexible when it comes to funerals and grieving.

    17. This is a name, I guess*

      If you donate your body to medicine/science, you don’t get the body back for up to 18months. This is a completely reasonable bureaucratic reason for a delay in services, and I imagine most employers would honor it. If there’s 1 reasonable scenario for a long delay between death and services, I imagine employers would see other delays as reasonable, too.

      For reference, my grandmother’s memorial service (we don’t do funerals) happened 5 months after her death. My grandfather’s happened 8 months after his.

    18. Jora Malli*

      I did this. I lost a family member during Covid and we weren’t able to hold services right away because it was before any of my family was vaccinated, so we held it about a year later and my boss was totally fine with me using bereavement leave. It couldn’t hurt to ask.

    19. Mitford*

      My father-in-law is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I don’t know if everyone is aware of this, but the wait to hold services there is epic. In his case, we had a awake shortly after his death in August. I used one day of bereavement leave for that. The funeral service was not held until June of the following year. This was when I worked at a place that had a real butts-in-seats mentality and a points system for unexcused absences, but they didn’t bat an eye when I asked to defer my other two days of bereavement leave till the funeral, whenever that might occur.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Yes, I had the same experience with my aunt & uncle’s service there. We only had to wait 3.5 months in 2016.

        1. Mitford*

          This was in 2012. I think the rank of the deceased service member factors into it. My FIL was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, which meant he was entitled to the horse drawn caisson, military band, 21-gun salute… It was truly an impressive service. A friend whose father had been a private in the Army (albeit a decorated one who was in the Normandy invasion) didn’t have to wait nearly as long.

    20. Daisy-dog*

      100% dependent on your company’s bereavement policy. Ask your manager or HR rep for clarification if you don’t know for sure.

    21. sofar*

      I did something similar. I didn’t travel to attend my grandmother’s funeral (she died over the holidays and plane tickets were WAY too expensive for me), but I talked to my employer and asked if I could take my 3 bereavement days about two months later, when the family was meeting to clear out her house/handle paperwork. I was open and honest about this, and my employer was totally fine with it. In fact my boss recognized that’s when I’d be the most help to my family AND most likely when grief would hit me the hardest.

      I think the key is that the bereavement leave is being used as it’s intended — handling logistics and grieving.

    22. Dragonfly7*

      So many funerals were delayed due to COVID that I expect a lot of folks will be taking delayed bereavement leave. I will be. I don’t think this will be considered out of the ordinary.

    23. Becky*

      My younger sister took some bereavement 4 months after our father passed. Not everyone could come to the Memorial in person because of time/distance/expense, so we made plans to for everyone to be together at Christmas.

    24. fhqwhgads*

      In my experience this would be fine. My grandfather’s funeral – for reasons numerous and complicated – was 8 weeks after he died. The wake. funeral, memorial, whatever is when it is, and that falls under “death stuff” so it’d be odd to blink at using bereavement for it.
      Other reasonable way-after-the-death uses of bereavement leave: need to clear out the deceased’s house, etc. As long as you didn’t already use up the bereavement leave right after the death happened, it’s reasonable to use for death-business later.

    25. Curmudgeon in California*

      When my dad died I had two leaves – one to go to the hospital to see him before/as he died from cancer, one several months later for the celebration of life. While some cultures have the funeral ceremonies within a week of death, others don’t. It literally depends on the religion and the culture. IIRC, most employers in the US are aware of this.

  4. ENFP in Texas*

    #2 – bereavement leave is to take care of arrangements. It’s not expected that “five days and you’re magically done grieving”, it’s so you don’t have to use your PTO to make arrangements and attend funerals and services.

    1. Mid*

      Yeah. If bereavement leave was for us to finish mourning, it would be months long for most people.

    2. allathian*

      Indeed. And that’s why I think it would be perfectly reasonable to use bereavement leave to go to a funeral or memorial service, even if it’s held months after the death rather than days or weeks. But I don’t think it would be equally reasonable to travel “for fun” when you’re on bereavement leave. I mean, if you have to travel out of town for a funeral, it would IMO be perfectly reasonable to, say, visit a museum or park you’ve always wanted to see, if you had a few spare hours between the funeral/memorial service and traveling back home, or I suppose hitting the beach for a few hours, if there’s a beach in the town where the funeral is held.

      People grieve in different ways. Some people want to wallow in their grief, while others want to at least try and cheer themselves up a bit in between the times when the horrors hit them. Only the grieving person gets to say what works for them.

      1. UKDancer*

        I agree. I mean I had one honorary aunt who was adamant she didn’t want a funeral. She had no opinion of rituals and said we should absolutely not spend any more money than necessary and she’d prefer we just threw her out. So my mother arranged a private cremation and was the only one there.

        My mother arranged a memorial lunch at a very upmarket hotel a couple of months later to commemorate her life because she knew those of us left behind needed something for closure. So the 10 people who loved my aunt the best met up for a lunch to talk about her life and share memories. I took compassionate leave from work for the day because while it wasn’t a funeral per se, it was analogous.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          That sounds so much like my mum. She refused to entertain the notion of a funeral at all, thought the whole thing was a racket, and demanded that she be given the cheapest-possible cremation (nice!). So we honoured her wishes and about a month after her very sudden death, I arranged a fairly low-key gathering at her flat, for her local friends, many of whom were older people, with snacks and drinks. Not a party or a wake as such, just a sort of gathering to reminisce and make it more real than her just not being there anymore. I spoke for about a minute, so did one or two of her buddies.

          Then much later we had a wonderful lunch at a hotel she loved, with her very close family and friends, that was amazing and broke my heart completely.

          Anyway, the point of my rambling essay is that these two things happened around 3-4 weeks and then about 8 weeks after she passed away.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes, that was my aunt’s view. She thought it was a waste of time and money and saw no point in doing anything and we respected her wishes. She didn’t see why anyone would want to celebrate her life really and had no religious beliefs so didn’t want a service. The thing is, for people left behind it’s helpful to do something so people can grieve and draw a line. That’s why we settled on a nice lunch at a hotel of the sort she’d like so we could share our memories of her. We invited her closest friends and a couple of the carers from her dementia care facility who had an affection for her.

            I would think it’s fine for someone to want compassionate leave for events later in the year. Different faiths and people have different rituals and some of them are immediate and some of them are later.

        2. J*

          This brings up such a good point. I’ve lost 5 people in 5 years and only one had a funeral or grave or anything. Otherwise I was just supposed to go from alive to dead to work without any clear delineation. For my grandma, I used my bereavement leave for a day of cleaning out her home and preparing for a weekend garage sale. I had no other way to make that happen without that leave and it was 6 weeks after her death. I assure you that going through her items was very much a mourning and grieving process and was directly connected to activities we might have done as a family if she’d allowed us to have a funeral. Instead, there was no gathering and I alone was given the burden.

          1. Despachito*

            I am sorry for that, it must have been very difficult.

            When our very close friend died (she did not have any family and we cared for her during the last two years of her illness in our home) , our circle of friends decided not to have a burial but one of the other friends organized a commemorative potluck where we remembered her, and this was one layer of saying goodbye.

            We did not clean out her home until several years after her death (very lengthy inheritance proceedings), and the distance in time helped a lot. We invited our friends to help with the cleaning and take whatever they wanted as a memory of her. It was the second layer of saying goodbye, and it was nice not to have to do it by ourselves but with people who knew her as long as we did and to whom many a thing in her home brought back memories of her the same as to us.

            I am so very sorry you had to carry this burden alone and so early after your grandma passed.

    3. LlamaLawyer*

      Agreed. Wanting to use it for a totally unrelated vacation comes across as a loved one died, I get a week of leave as compensation. That’s not what it is meant for.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “[B]ereavement leave is to take care of arrangements.”

      That depends on the policy, though, doesn’t it? For example, federal employees have multiple types of bereavement leave. There’s no separate category of general bereavement leave, but sick time can be used to go to the funeral of a family member and make arrangements. There are also special cases allowing time off for veterans, families of veterans, and firefighters to attend funerals. But the new parental bereavement leave law is more general: if a federal employee loses a child, they can take up to two weeks of paid leave over the next year. There’s no requirement in that law that the leave be related to arrangements, grieving, etc.

      But I’d assume that a bereavement policy that “doesn’t restrict use of bereavement leave to attending funerals” still carries an implicit expectation that the leave will be used for something plausibly related to the death. Funerals and arrangements? Obviously make the cut. Going to Disneyland with a bunch of friends of the deceased because they were a huge fan of the Haunted Mansion? I’d allow it—it’s basically a form of (swinging) wake. Going to Disneyland because you want to go to Disneyland and, hey, why not, you have the time? That seems like it’s outside the spirit of bereavement leave to me unless the policy more explicitly grants time that can be used for any purpose.

    5. Kevin Sours*

      I think, though, I need a couple of days to get my head right and able to focus on work falls on the right side of “dealing with the aftermath of a death. And I wouldn’t inspect the exact form that takes all that closely — people process stuff in different ways. I’m not even sure that the time after the event is particularly key. Sometimes this stuff hits on a delay.

      Bu what comes across as dodgy in the OP’s scenario is the planned nature of the vacation. This doesn’t appear to be a reaction to the death or a “I’m taking time off because I just can’t deal right now” but … just a vacation.

  5. Bazza7*

    #1 colleague has given you a favour of sorts – shown you there is no privacy at work, and that they had to go through the entire bin to find the words to tape together, to be seen as the better employee for projects and promotions over you to your superiors. Also not nice you don’t know who it was. Keep doodling (I assume it helps you to concentrate) and please write less controversial words at work.

    1. Casper Lives*

      I’d say to shred doodles. As a lawyer, we have a locked shred bin at work for confidential documents. LW can’t trust their coworkers won’t look thru their trash so…

      1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

        They were already torn up and taped back together. Usually more legible than shredded pieces would be, but we’re already starting from the deeply odd position of ‘rummaged through LW’s trash and taped torn pieces back together’ so I’m not 100% convinced their coworkers WOULDN’T try even from shreds.

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          The shred bins in lawyers’ offices are locked for confidentiality reasons. The average worker doesn’t have access to a key.

          1. MistOrMister*

            I was willing to use those bins for work documents that needed to be shredded, but I would take my personal documents home with me. I never trusted those things. Why the offices do not just invest in their own shredder, I don’t know. But it always seemed questionable to leave sensitive matters in the shred bin where some outside person would collect them and then presumably shred them…but how would you even know if they did?

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I’m in banking, so we have lots of shred bins. Each one is locked and typically only one or two people (usually senior management) have the key. When the shredding company comes to empty the bins, someone is required to go outside with them, watch the bin being dumped and the contents shredded (the shredder is on the truck in a visible location), and then get the certificate of destruction.

              1. MistOrMister*

                In that case, yes I would be willing to use those bins. In the offices I’ve worked at, I am not sure that level of care was taken. I always had the impression that someone from the shredding company showed up after hours and took the papers without any oversight. I’m not sure if I saw that happen or if I just made it up in my head, but I never felt it was as secure as it should have been.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Our office uses shred bins, and nobody watches the documents being shredded; we just assume that they are when the service comes to empty the bins. Also, once somebody accidentally dropped their office keys into the bin while disposing of papers, and the office admin was like, “Oh, I can get those out for you!” and produced a key and did so — So I’m not overly confident in the confidentiality of our shred bins.

              1. Adultiest Adult*

                Our admins have a key, but the policy is that if they use it to open the locked shredding bin, another staff member must observe and is told the purpose (which is usually what document they are looking for). I know other places which use shredding bins have similar policies about where and how they can be accessed. Though I would also say that doodling Eminem lyrics at work is much too risky in general.

          2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

            I’m a lawyer married to a lawyer. I have worked/interned in many law offices and visited my wife at various workplaces, including the federal circuit court. I haven’t ever seen a locked shredder. They’re everywhere because we are encouraged to *destroy* sensitive files instead of putting them in the trash/recycling when we need to dispose of something.

            1. Venus*

              I think the locked items referenced above are bins that collect paper to be shredded later by a company. I once saw a truck on the street with the back open and papers being shredded, which I thought was odd at the time, but now makes some sense based on these comments. I now work in a place that has lockable shredders, but they don’t get locked because the resulting bits of paper are too small to put them back together.

            2. Casper Lives*

              The shredding is outsourced. It’s a bin the size of a residential garbage can. The bin has a padlock and a slit on top that you can fit up to 20 pages through. The slit is too narrow to reach in the bin to retrieve papers. The shredding company comes by once a week to wheel out the bin, unlock it, and shred all the contents in a big shredder to less than 1/4”.

              1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

                Ahhh, yes, okay, I know what you mean now — thanks! I thought the comment meant that you couldn’t access the shredder, which I found very odd!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          ” I’m not 100% convinced their coworkers WOULDN’T try even from shreds.”

          hmm. Have you see the size of shreds now? Our shredder reduces everything to less than 1/8 of an inch square. But even cheaper shredders will go less than 1/8 inch by 1/12 inch or so. The amount of time this would consume would not go unnoticed by a good number of people.

          I do like the idea of shredding the doodles, OP. I usually have a big handful of shredding even if it’s a slow day. It’s not a big deal to throw doodles or whatever else on the pile.

        3. Observer*

          so I’m not 100% convinced their coworkers WOULDN’T try even from shreds.

          In a law firm? They wouldn’t have the chance. Either they are using cross-cut shredders that go to to 1/2 or less. Which sounds easy until you realize that you have to find the matching pieces in a bag full of identically shaped pieces. It’s close to impossible. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they were using even smaller pieces.

          If they are outsourcing the shredding, the bins are definitely locked.

          I agree that there is a problem here, but people getting at stuff in the shredding is not the issue the OP needs to worry about.

      2. Delta Delta*

        Also a lawyer. I’m looking at my to-do list (on the back of a finished crossword puzzle). It’s got client-centered tasks, but also “buy birdseed” and a few other non-work things on it. And a doodle of a flower and a phone number that I’m not sure goes with anything. This should be shredded when I’m done since it’s got client stuff on it. If LW’s lists are anything like this, I agree they should be shredded. If someone decides tape shreds together, that’s indicative of a larger problem within the organization.

    2. Kipianon*

      That seems like a jump to me.
      I could imagine a scenario where someone came across offensive/disturbing words and felt a duty of care to report it to management.
      To be clear, I don’t think I’d be looking in the trash, or taping papers together, or even reporting it myself unless I were really sure and really concerned…. but I think all of those things are just as likely to be true as the idea that the co-worker is on a sabotage spree to get promotions.

      1. Candi*

        The problem is is the lyrics with the disturbing words were in the trash, where most people have no reason to be. If the list the coworker claimed to be looking for is that important, you don’t waste time going through torn paper in the trash -you email the person who should know where it is to find out where it is on the server or in the file cabinets.

        It makes no sense, from a time and work perspective, to put together a puzzle from torn and probably crumbled scraps of paper, pulled from a who-knows-what’s-been-in-there trash can, when a nice clean email will get the same result.

        I’m speaking as a former housekeeper on this one; I cleaned offices pre-covid, and we were often told to just dump the desk cans into our big one, and only replace bags that were obviously dirty or damaged. This including not replacing bags that had snotty, used tissues in them.

        We’ve also had letters here where the LWs did have coworkers going through their garbage to sabotage them. It’s not unthinkable.

        1. Elena*

          Yeah, agree– I think it’s likely that the coworker and boss are being way over the top and invasive, but I think people are trying to figure this out because
          A. OP left out what the actual problem was with the notes
          B. OP mentioned specifically that the lyrics were Eminem, which makes people think maybe they were confronted for writing violent or disturbing lyrics

          So yea, the context could easily just be “Boss is crazy, and wanted to know why OP was doodling at work”, but OP wasn’t clear about that

          1. Candi*

            Some people don’t get why Eminem’s lyrics can be problematic, even though some of them are pretty vicious. They take the view it’s “just music”, so why does anyone have a problem with them? The singers wouldn’t really assault people for not being straight and all those other horrible things.

            So I’m not surprised OP talked around it a bit. But that doesn’t justify the coworker’s or the senior partner’s actions. Going through someone’s trash with a thin excuse to justify getting someone in trouble is a far cry finding out through regular work interaction a person is a fan of a specific person and saying, “we don’t approve of that singer and his material, keep it off the property, and we do not want you agreeing with or endorsing what the media in question says.”

            (I personally have a thing about trivializing soul-rending brain-gouging violence for shallow “entertainment” -I don’t like it, and I think it cheapens true suffering.)

            1. Turingtested*

              Yes. Was the lyric “mom’s spaghetti” with a little drawing of pasta or something violent and disturbing?

            2. NeutralJanet*

              I have truly suffered, and if my boss confronted me about enjoying problematic media, I would start looking for a new job. It is totally your prerogative to find violent media–be it music, television, video games, novels, whatever–upsetting and not like it, but please do not project your personal taste onto other people.

      2. MistOrMister*

        I will join you in what appears to be the minority opinion so far…..I did not read this is the coworker being out to get OP. There are some comments about how OP could easily have been emailed to ask for the list. However, OP was out with covid. Depending on what type of leave I’m on, my office is not allowed to contact me at all for work matters, and I wonder if that could have played in to OP’s situation (I notice the letter says OP doesn’t get why coworker looked in the trash, but they dont say the office should have contacted them to ask instead so…). And if it was a physical list that they hadn’t been able to find on OP’s desk, the trash is a logical place to look.

        1. Venus*

          I agree that there are easily options where the coworker isn’t out to hurt the OP. I can imagine a situation where the OP ripped the paper in half or quarters, and had the pieces near the top of the trash, and the coworker had a quick look at the bin because they saw what looked like a list and instead saw words that were misogynistic and/or violent.

        2. BethDH*

          Especially if “trash” actually means “recycling bin next to my desk that only contains paper,” which I hope it does for environmental reasons anyway. I end up grabbing stuff out of mine pretty frequently and have also at least once knocked a stack of papers off my desk into it.
          In that kind of setup, I actually feel like looking at the recycling bin is less invasive than going through the desk. I certainly wouldn’t mind if a coworker grabbed a scrap paper from my recycling to jot a phone message or something like that.

          1. BethDH*

            I feel like I’m coming across as defending going through coworkers’ trash on this, and want to add that I definitely think it’s a little weird. But I can also see enough reasonable scenarios for that piece of it that I want to separate “is it weird for my coworker to be going through my personal spaces at work?” from “is it weird that my coworker taped together my Eminem doodles and reported them to my boss?”
            The answer to both might be yes, no, or maybe, but they are basically separate issues.

      3. Mannequin*

        No, I think it’s MUCH more likely to be true that a nosy coworker is digging through people’s trash for nefarious reasons than someone felt threatened by a word on a scrap of paper that they only found because they were digging through someone’s trash in the first place.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        In the era we live in, it’s probably wise to just avoid, avoid, avoid these doodles. More and more people are getting jumpy. Just because *I* feel okay about something doesn’t mean the person next to me is okay with it also.
        I don’t like what the boss and cohort did, but I think the solution of not making these doodles fits our times and makes good sense. I mean, look at what happens to kids in school with their so called “doodles”, it reads as a warning sign. More and more people are on the look out for warning signs and they are finding them even where the signs don’t exist.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      This situation is just so wierd. Not “worst” of the year wierd, but bizarre. I have to say “go through trash to find a list the LW may have written” is a flimsy excuse. Unless there’s a standard checklist the firm uses, why would assume that the LW’s prefered method of tracking tasks was a handwritten to do list? Why would someone go through the trouble of taping together torn paper?

      The boss’s response is the wrong response, but the really wrong this thing is this unnamed coworker who is nosey as hell and using someone being sick as an excuse to go through trash.

      1. WellRed*

        And why assume the list is in the trash? I don’t look in my own trash unless I’m fairly certain that’s where something is. I certainly don’t want to stick my hands in someone else’s unknowns.

      2. Sasha soo*

        Agreed that it was odd for them to look in the trash, but the way the question was worded (“a coworker (I haven’t been told who) went through my trash bin to find a list of things I had done before leaving”) made it sound to me like there was, in fact, a list left behind. It sounds weird for them to have gone through the trash, but it doesn’t sound like they were just making an assumption that the LW had made a list before leaving.

        1. Userper Cranberries*

          I can’t tell from the wording if “a list of things I had done before leaving” was a list OP created before heading off sick so their coworkers would know what had been done (making going through the trash more odd), or a to-do list that the coworker had seen OP using previously and wanted to refer to so as not to duplicated finished work (making going through the trash quite reasonable, if the coworker thought it was a completed to do list and just needed to see what was on it).

      3. Susie*

        Agreed. It’s very weird and I believe that’s why some think the coworker may have a grievance against OP.

        OP, this is valuable info. Take your doodles home or shred them. Use a crosscut shredder so if they want to take the time to piece together hundreds of bits of itty bitty paper, you’ll know this person is not quite right.

      4. LP*

        Absolutely, and I’m baffled at the posts defending the coworker here! The technicality of what may or may not be considered private at work is completely secondary to the weirdness of going through the trash and taping shreds back together. God forbid the OP had pitched sensitive medical information that might ’cause concern’ on the coworker’s part!

    4. anonymous73*

      Expecting complete privacy at work is the problem here. Yes what the colleague did was bizarre and the reaction of the senior partner to what was found is even more bizarre, but that’s what OP needs to consider when moving forward, not the privacy part.

    5. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Consider doodling poetry instead. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” comes to mind. Or John Kenney’s “Shakespeare Never Used the Word ‘Ping’ and Neither Should You” (google it).

    6. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      You might want to have somebody fun with your snooping coworker and plant notes with things that aren’t harmful to you in any way but would make Nosy Coworker look like a fool.

  6. Casper Lives*

    LW 3 – you were smart to withdraw! I can’t imagine how draining it would be to work for someone 100% combative, 100% of the time. She was the weird, aggressive one.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      And uninterested in communicating clearly, even when it would help get her the information she’s looking for, and willing to get angry at others for her own lack of clarity!

      1. Nanani*

        And unwilling to even take a stab at what it means!
        “Fall” in the context of a higher ed job? Not that hard to guess! Especially when the person is right there to -ask- if unsure.
        But this person snapped and accused LW1 of lying so… not a good egg there.

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

          Plus “Fall” is relatively the same in most universities, so it’s not hard to grasp. In my experience both in college and now working for higher ed fall starts somewhere towards the end of august to the day after labor day. So really its only going to be a difference of a few weeks. I don’t see how that is going to be that big of a problem.

  7. Bayta Darrell*

    LW #4, you should try to figure out if just your contact is lax about Covid, or if the whole company is. Is she trying to carry on because she wants to, or is it company culture? You’ll need to determine if you feel comfortable with the way the company is handling Covid measures.

    1. Felis alwayshungryis*

      Yeah, I’m giving pretty serious side-eye to a boss that’s carrying on meetings while Covid-positive. Not just for the obvious reason of Covid, but what’s it saying about the company’s attitude to taking sick leave?

      1. ecnaseener*

        If the person is asymptomatic it doesn’t necessarily say anything about sick leave. She obviously shouldn’t be meeting with people in person, but if she’s otherwise up for working that’s not weird to me.

        1. quill*

          Responsible companies are having people who test positive work from home while potentially contagious. At a senior level – and especially for an informal interview – not doing it via some sort of videocall is kind of weird.

          1. anon for this*

            There’s some weird language in my office’s policies that indicate that people who test positive may be allowed to come into the office if they’re vaccinated, asymptomatic, and masked. I am not a fan of this. If you test positive, just stay home – and workplaces should support that!

            1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

              This is probably because you can, on rare occasions, test positive for months after recovering from Covid. Personally I can’t afford to miss much work!

              1. anon for this*

                While yes, that’s a thing, it’s not worded that way – while not super clear on other points, it’s clear that they’re talking about an initial positive test, not a lingering positive result, since it says ‘5 days after testing positive’ and nothing about what’s required (if anything) if you still test positive after X days without symptoms, or any reference to testing positive on repeated tests, which I would understand having different provisions for.

    2. Artemesia*

      I am in Paris right now and was looking forward to spending time with a friend. He is triple vaxxed but alas had COVID. WHY? One of his co-workers came to work coughing and sneezing and sick but ‘had to get the TPS reports out.’ He infected the entire office. People who work while testing positive with COVID (in the initial days particularly) are moral monsters.

    3. Aaa*

      FWIW, I don’t read the contact as lax about COVID. She knows that LW is only in town for a short time, so can’t postpone an in person meeting until she tests clear. She’s offering outdoors, masked, and moving through space. Any one of those should reduce risk to very low, all three make it very very low. It’s fine if that very very low is still too high for someone, but the idea that it’s lax is, to me at least, overly rigorous.

      1. Aaa*

        (And this is assuming that she’s not in a mandatory isolation place, as if she is then that’s a different story.)

      2. Temperance*

        She’s infected and instead of isolating at home, she’s going out in public. THIS is why the US wasn’t ever able to stop the spread.

        1. Juniper*

          Her solution is in line with current covid guidelines in many countries, including my own (Norway) which by any measure has been much more successful at dealing with covid. In fact, I would argue that the plethora of precautions she has suggested indicates that she takes it very seriously. The LW is still right to decline the invitation, however, if it makes her uncomfortable.

                1. Juniper*

                  That and being stationary, across from each other, increases the chance of exposure compared to the dilutive effects of constant movement.

      3. anonymous73*

        If you know you’re COVID positive and continue to go to work with a mask on, you’re lax about COVID. Period.

      4. EPLawyer*

        I’m sorry but outside, masked and distanced when you KNOW you are positive is not “fine.” It is not taking this pandemic seriously more than 2 years in. The CDC still recommends isolating for at least 5 days after a positive test. Not, masking and distancing, isolating.

        It is ridiculous that this person is blithely suggesting a meet up. It’s not even a job interview, so it could be done via phone (ask me how I chatted to Eric Holder right before he became AG sometime) or Zoom. It does not have to be an in person meeting.

        1. Anya Last Nerve*

          The letter does not indicate when the person tested positive. It could very well be 6 days ago so her suggestion is in line with CDC recommendations. I also do not think describing what is presented in the letter describes someone who is lax about Covid. She told her the diagnosis and offered an option if the OP wants to still meet and there is no indication she will be offended if OP declines.

          1. Grogu's Mom*

            Yes, exactly. I think a lot of people are still thinking that isolation is 10+ days, but the CDC guidance is only to isolate for 5 days and then wear a mask for an additional 5 days. And that’s 5 full days after the time symptoms began, not when you got the positive test (unless asymptomatic). In some areas, especially during surges, it can take a few days to book a PCR test and then get the results, so you might already be in the mask stage by the time you confirm the positive result. That’s how it went for me when I had it back in January.

            I’m the parent of a 9-month-old (who was the first in our family to get Covid, via daycare) so I totally understand the OP wanting to be extra careful since her little one can neither get a vaccine nor wear a mask. Taking the OP at her word that the person really is still supposed to be in isolation, I think it could be a yellow flag but someone who truly didn’t care probably wouldn’t have said anything in the first place. Alison’s script is perfect and the answer will definitely give more information about whether this is a real red flag or not. Before taking a job, I’d also make sure there is no weirdness about the OP choosing to wear a high-quality mask every day to work even if no one else is wearing one, at least until a baby vaccine comes out.

        2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          You can still test positive for months after recovering from Covid, though. That’s why you aren’t required to test negative before returning to work.

          It’s possible she tested positive more than 5 days ago and is masking to be extra safe. Of course, it’s also possible she just tested positive for the first time and is being irresponsible!

          (Personally I would take any excuse to do a virtual meeting and not have to go to a meeting location, but that’s just me!)

      5. pancakes*

        Nah, you are trying to bargain with a virus. All of those things reduce risk but they don’t whittle it down to nothing. Meeting up in person with someone who is positive is riskier than meeting online, or making it a call instead of a meeting. If those risks are acceptable to you that’s your choice, but if you have an unvaccinated baby at home like the letter writer does I’d ask what is so important about meeting in person as to make that seem like a good choice.

      6. Jora Malli*

        If a person knows that they are sick with something contagious and they still want to go out around town and meet up with people, that tells me an awful lot about that person. Masks aren’t foolproof and being outside isn’t magic. If you are sick with something you know is contagious, yo don’t go out and you don’t meet up with people. Period.

    4. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      Absolute shame on anyone who still expects people to meet with them when they have COVID. I would absolutely switch the Meeting to virtual. If they refuse, cancel the meeting. This person is being irresponsible and reckless with your health and that of anyone else they come in contact with.

  8. Formerly Ella Vader*

    #2. I’m sorry for your loss. If there’s a funeral and you’re unable to travel for it, it’s completely appropriate to use some of your bereavement leave to spend some time away from work while your family is spending time together for the funeral. If some of the things you do on the bereavement leave might be perceived as fun or vacation, don’t talk about them. And maybe don’t take the whole five days. If you’re unable to attend the funeral or you’re choosing not to, and you want to use the bereavement leave to meet with your family later in the year, like for an ashes-scattering or a property-distribution, it’s probably a good idea to let people know what your plan is, so nobody thinks you’re using the leave to have fun. It’s definitely not on to treat bereavement leave as a bonus vacation week to be taken any time.

    #5. The university humour publication that I worked on included material that nowadays would be understood as sexist, racist, heterosexist, and otherwise offensive. Even at the time, I knew it was NSFW and didn’t have it on my resume. So … know your audience.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      While I was on bereavement leave, we buried my dad and then went to Disneyland. This sounds incredibly bad, but he would have been into that and he hadn’t been able to go for so long. Not that I mentioned that at work at the time, mind you…. and I was out with Death Stuff before that, of course.

      But technically speaking, bereavement leave is supposed to be “I’m out planning a funeral and crying and they’re doing me a favor by not making me work and do that stuff at the same time,” I suspect.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        We went to Disney World on the same trip as my grandfather’s funeral. It was a usual thing the younger family did together on visits, as he leaved nearby. (Also I had the only small children, so this was a chance for the local relatives to do something fun and memorable with the visiting little people.)

      2. Shiba Dad*

        I have friends who live in West Coast US City and had a close relative die in East Coast US City. They were off work and had the kids out of school for a week, Wednesday to Tuesday or something like that. While on this trip they planned to take the kids to see a couple of historic sites.

        They didn’t mention any issues with work, but school gave them a hard time about their kids being out for a week for a trip that had no “educational merit”, or something like that. The fact that they were going to visit historic sites actually satisfied the school that there was “educational merit” to the trip.

      3. PhyllisB*

        My beloved stepfather was buried the day of my youngest daughter’s third birthday. My mother insisted we have her party that afternoon as planned. We felt like it was fitting in a way; celebrating the end of a well lived life and then celebrating the early beginning of another. The whole family felt comforted.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I think it can be comforting to do sometime fun like that. JFK Jr. turned 3-years-old the day of his father’s funeral and Jackie Kennedy had a birthday party for him in the residence of the White House when they came back from Arlington.

          My family has batched tasks like that — my great aunt died in the US South and since my grandmother had not been to their home state in like 15 years, we stayed for a few days longer to let her visit places and see how the town had changed. My manager at the time was really nice about this, because my great aunt didn’t qualify for bereavement leave. Manager was a VP and had some leeway with the classification, and since I semi-worked during my time off, she put in the first 3 days as bereavement leave. In OP’s case, though, I think it’s not being used in the spirit of the leave time.

      4. J*

        My brother-in-law’s funeral was the day before his daughter’s 20th birthday. When his ex wife took her out of town immediately after the funeral to go sit on a beach and cry, I thought it was the best idea I’d ever heard. Her professors said if she was healthy enough to go on vacation, then all her assignments needed to be turned in immediately. As if she hadn’t spent the last 5 days picking out her dad’s casket and planning his funeral instead of taking care of herself. So I got to be the one on the phone talking to the dean, asking if she knew the professors were behaving this way. We really need to rethink immediate bereavement. Giving her the extra time in the end allowed her to continue via remote school upon her return (thank goodness it was an option thanks to Covid, otherwise she would have withdrawn), rejoin the campus after winter break and now she’s signed a lease to stay at school for her junior year. She was preparing to drop out completely when they told her that.

      5. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        I think that makes sense, since you actually used the leave to attend the funeral/burial.

        Sounds like OP wants to save up the bereavement leave and then use it in June for her scheduled vacation, which…definitely goes against the spirit of bereavement leave!

      6. Chinook*

        From the number of people here who have included Disney as a form of bereavement recovery (including me), I wonder if it would be appropriate to pick up one of their “I’m celebrating…” buttons at guest services and just put in the deceased’s name? Or would that just single us out at for being searched before entering the Haunted Mansion?

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      It sounds to me like LW2 isn’t thinking they’ll take time to do something else to honor their grandma because the funeral isn’t an option, but that they want to use it to cover an unrelated trip that was already planned. It kind of sounds like they’re trying to justify it with the “technically I AM grieving and and this trip WILL make me happy…” while knowing the purpose of the trip has nothing to do with the loss.

      1. Artemesia*

        And this sort of thing fools no one. I have made a few really bad decisions in my life using this kind of tortured logic. It fools no one — shouldn’t fool oneself either. It is an abuse of the bereavement leave process and as noted also may louse it up for others in the future by forcing the company to make the policies more rigid.

      2. Broadway Duchess*

        Thats how it reads to me, too. Incould see going to someone’s favorite pub as part of a celebration of life type-thing, but this is using the the designation wrong.

    3. anonymous73*

      There’s a big difference between using bereavement leave to honor your loved one (that may or may not include travelling) and using your bereavement leave for an already scheduled vacation because you’ll still be sad then. Bereavement leave is not extra PTO, it’s for making arrangements and attending them.

  9. Turnip Soup*

    LW #5 – science writer (not journalism, more scicomm) here! Definitely include that on your resume – there’s a lot of people in the field who are of the opinion that science can be taught but writing can’t, so anything that shows evidence that you can write is very valuable.

    Having evidence of very non-academic writing is also fantastic; it means you won’t default to scientific writing. Just make sure you pair that with appropriate writing samples (~3 science journalism pieces aimed at a lay audience) when you apply.

    1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      +1 to this. I hire technical writers, and resumes that show diverse kinds of writing as well always stand out to me. They show that the application has experience with writing and likely understands that it’s not as easy to do well as non-writers often think it is. A person who has written for different audiences also likely understands the *concept* of writing for different audiences, and knows (even intuitively) how to think about their audience when designing a piece. And, it shows an interest in writing, and enjoyment of it. It’s a good sign all around.

    2. Human Woman*

      I recently interviewed someone for an early career role who had their college satire newspaper experience on their resume. It was a great opening for her to discuss relevant job skills like creativity, teamwork, and deadline adherence while also revealing a bit of her personality. I also feel like it takes a certain sort of cleverness to craft satire that works, and that might reflect well if your interviewer has an appreciation for that sort of thing. Definitely include it!

    3. Hot off the press*

      Journo here; agreed it is fine to include! Campus paper experience has proven to be invaluable for entry-level hires. Even though this is a satire publication rather than straight reporting there is a decent amount of value and you presumably want to highlight your writing experience.

      I would advise you to think about how to frame it in your cover letter – is it the writing to deadline, or regular submissions, or the fact that a good comedic is writer is one who understands the source material at an intricate level? Framing it off the bat emphasizes the experience and allows you to downplay any of the negatives other commenters suggest could be factors.

  10. Prefer my pets*

    I’d be rethinking this organizationong and hard myself. Do you REALLY want to join a work culture where from the top down the expectation is that you willfully put not only your own health but everyone you encounter from coworkers to your household to the barista who can’t require you to mask anymore?

    I know nothing about that director, except that she’s willing to kill people like me rather than work from home.

    1. TheSüperflüoüsUmlaüt*

      “I know nothing about that director, except that she’s willing to kill people like me rather than work from home.”

      I mean, where I live, it’s *illegal* not to isolate, let alone “Oh, I’ll just carry on working like I don’t give a crap about anybody else’s health/safety/LIFE”. Sheesh. That would turn me off any potential employer without a backward glance.

    2. Juniper*

      I really don’t think that’s fair, without knowing anything else about her. She is presumably triple vaxxed, and has suggested 3 different ways to mitigate covid transmission risk. My country has now adopted a covid strategy where her solution in fact goes above and beyond current recommendations. So while presumably she’s not in Norway, I hesitate to see this behavior as evidence of moral failing when it’s been sanctioned in other places that have had robust and effective covid response measures.

      1. pancakes*

        I’ve seen a lot of this sort of reasoning throughout the pandemic and it’s backwards to me. Public health policy and “sanctioned” behaviors are based on broad compromises. They’re not a guide or roadmap on how to make ethically sound decisions. A person whose ethics are grounded in what is or isn’t legally permitted is under-developed and is going to run into a lot of problems making sound decisions.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Especially now, when we’re being told that the goal of public health isn’t to keep the public healthy, only to avoid overwhelming the hospitals. At “moderate” levels of transmission, the advice for immune-compromised people is to talk to your doctor about whether you should mask indoors.

        2. kitryan*

          Yes, it’s bonkers to me that per CDC you can test positive, have active, current, symptoms, and waltz into the office in a mask 5 days after symptoms start and lose the mask after 5 further days, whether or not you’re still showing symptoms.
          It’s respectful to stay home until you don’t have symptoms and aren’t testing positive. I feel like this was what we expected people to do generally (before covid) about anything with higher risk or higher contagiousness than a common cold. If I had strep, pink eye, noro, flu, pneumonia, anything like that, and I’d stay home when I had symptoms (barring lingering coughs, which for me can last up to 2 months and are due to the airway irritation of the initial illness, not an active infection) and during the contagious period, whichever was longer.
          I do understand that sometimes people are in economic binds and the problem there isn’t solved by allowing people to come into work but by supporting people at all levels with more than adequate paid leave.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            You can still test positive for weeks/months after having Covid, though. That’s why a negative test isn’t a requirement for returning to work. I can’t afford to just not work for weeks because I’m testing positive.

            Also, it’s easy to say that companies should just provide adequate leave. However, I work for a small business (a private psychologist) and the business just doesn’t have the funds to pay more than the allotted sick/vacation days.

            1. anon for this*

              I’ve very clearly said that there are economic reasons people might not be able to do this and that there should be assistance in these situations rather than shrugging and allowing people to endanger others. A governmental safety net should assist with smaller businesses/freelance employees and other similar situations.
              And yes, it’s easy to say what ‘should’ happen, but until we decide what the world we want looks like, we don’t have a chance at having that. I’m saying that the solution we work towards should be compassionate and allow people to care for others.
              If you have an abnormally extended period of testing positive then one solution would be to have a doctor’s note explaining that this is the case and that you are not actually infectious. This also doesn’t seem to be the situation in the letter. We don’t see anything where the interviewer is explaining that they recovered a month ago.
              Bringing up outlier scenarios with extended positive testing in the comments is a bit ‘not everyone can have sandwiches’ – I’m not drafting a policy document for the CDC, I’m saying, stay home for a decent chunk of time when you’re sick and possibly infectious with a (still) deadly illness (and if you can’t for economic reasons, this is a bad thing we should try to fix).

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                I agree that there should be a government safety net, but I disagree that businesses should require a negative test to return to work. I also don’t think a doctor could definitively say that you’re not contagious when you’re testing positive for Covid for a prolonged period. Also, requiring a doctor visit is expensive and time-consuming.

                1. kitryan*

                  I accept that there could be an abnormally extended period of testing positive and that there could then be an additional consideration for that.
                  If there were a safety net, then a doctor’s visit would be part of that, if a responsible public health mechanism determined that it was an effective way to address the issue of lingering positive test results. As I am not an epidemiologist, I hesitate to comment on exactly what procedure would be best for that scenario, but ‘hope it’s ok’ is probably not the best option either.
                  I would just really like it if everyone I’m around wasn’t hell bent on killing me as part of the cost of doing business and it’s really sad that people seem to think that because this might be difficult to achieve, there’s no point in trying for that or for doing what we can right now.
                  (also, everyone ignore that I messed up being anonymous)

            2. pancakes*

              Not having the funds isn’t a roadmap to sound ethical decisions or good public health either, though. If the business can’t afford to give workers sick leave without unacceptable (to who, exactly?) cuts into its profits, there are ways to subsidize that. Likewise testing for the uninsured, which was subsidized earlier in the pandemic in the US but no longer is. These are a series of choices and compromises. Framing them as unaffordable is also a choice.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                Our business is doing so poorly that my boss doesn’t make a salary, and he put all his savings into saving it during Covid, so in our case, it truly is unaffordable. We get 10 days of sick/vacation days a year, which isn’t amazing, but if we’re not generating revenue, there isn’t money.

                This is the natural of private practice in psychology in the US, sadly. Mental health is underfunded.

                1. pancakes*

                  This isn’t “natural” or “nature” in the sense that this state of affairs fell out of the sky like weather. This is exactly what public health funding looks like in a country where people like to pretend there’s no such thing as society. Where people like to pretend that their own politics are some sort of natural law of the universe. And it isn’t just mental health that’s underfunded! How are you saying that when we recently ended free corona testing for uninsured people in March? That was pretty important physical healthcare.

                2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                  …where did I say physical healthcare wasn’t underfunded? I’m only talking about what I know about.

            3. Juniper*

              Yeah, I was specifically instructed by our municipal contact tracer not to test before after ending my isolation since odds were good I’d still test positive. It’s also the reason airlines don’t require proof of a negative test if you’ve had covid within 3 (or 6? I can’t remember) months of contracting covid.

        3. Juniper*

          I don’t disagree with you — we all have a responsibility to use our personal agency and make decisions in terms of our ethical obligations. But to say, as the OP I was responding to did, that she’s willing to kill people rather than work from home, is needlessly hyperbolic considering she is operating within the prevailing covid parameters set out by many public health authorities.

          I’ve also noticed that this appeal to the personal moral compass instead of public health guidelines generally seems to apply when the guidelines become more lax than an individual comfort level. But to use it in the other direction invites scorn and accusations of being a covid denier, or worse, anti-science. So while there is room for our own moral calculation, if we are to continue to maintain trust in our public health institutions, we also have to give credence to what they say, even when it’s not what we personally want to hear.

          1. pancakes*

            We are approaching 1 million deaths in the US, so the idea that it’s “needlessly hyperbolic” to talk about mortality in stark terms three years into this pandemic isn’t one I have a lot of patience for. Your own personal preferences about hyperbole are whatever they are, but people have in fact been dying all along, lots of them.

            I’m not sure if your responding to me or more generally with regard to “this appeal to the personal moral compass instead of public health guidelines,” but that doesn’t resonate with me at all. I want strong public health guidelines, and have all along. We don’t have them. We don’t even have free testing for uninsured people at this point, in the US! You mention “trust in our public health institutions,” and I would say we don’t have that either. (I’m sure there are a number of people who are trusting, still, but they are probably under-informed). This isn’t a binary choice. You’re also saying “we have to give credence to what public health experts say,” but 1) experts aren’t a monolith and some are more credible than others, and 2) none of us have to give any particular credence to non-experts attempting to summarize or explain what public health experts have said.

            1. free tests*

              I have received 2 batches of free covid tests through USPS. There are free tests available. (I am insured and my insurance provider sends free tests to me once a month also – but I know you are talking about uninsured).

              1. Broadway Duchess*

                I ordered mine the day after they qere available and I never got them. I did get a reimbursement through my insurance for the ones I bought, but there are people who can’t afford to wait until Cigna or whoever gets around to sending the check.

            2. Juniper*

              Hyperbole isn’t a preference. It’s extreme exaggeration, and to suggest that this woman is killing people, no matter how much you may disagree with her choices on a personal level, is extreme. The claim simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, based on what we know about transmission rates outside, masking, and omicron mortality rates.

              The reason I brought up trust in institutions is that time and again they’ve been appealled to to encourage everyone to take covid seriously, to take the necessary precautions, to follow the recommended guidelines, to get vaccinated, to get tested. I’m not passing judgment on the quality of the guidance and effectiveness of the measures (or the lack thereof), though I daresay the CDC seems to have fared much more poorly than my own country’s public health institute. But we can’t have it both ways: on the one hand, when the recommendations align with our personal views, it’s wrong to question the authorities, but on the other, when we disagree, then there’s suddenly room for a critical read and individual risk assessments. This might not describe you, but I’ve seen it throughout the pandemic from my (admittedly leftist) news sources. I’d say the most sensible spot lies somewhere in between, where sound medical advice, individual lifestyles, social and economic status, health status, and responsibility to the greater good meet. That calculus will look different to different people, so a decision someone else makes doesn’t necessarily have to reflect my personal ethics to also be grounded in an ethical framework.

              1. pancakes*

                If you recognize something as hyperbole that is a good reason not to simultaneously treat it as an earnest, fact-based proposal that needs to “stand up to scrutiny.”

                You’re saying “we,” but I don’t know that there’s a “we” on this point. I don’t even know what country you’re in. You say “we can’t have it both ways” but in fact there is no limit to how long people all over the world might continue to disagree about this virus, or about anything else.

                1. Juniper*

                  Now we’re debating whether hyperbole can be sincere, or whether the person making the claim is only using it as a rhetorical device not meant to be taken at face value. I don’t think it makes much difference, since you and I both know that there are people who genuinely think like this — that someone like the woman in the letter is killing people. I could call it a wild exaggeration, absurdly dramatic, hysterical, take your pick. But would that have changed your response?

                  And I think you know that a specific definition of “we” doesn’t matter to the point I made.

                  Since it seems like this conversation has devolved into a debate about semantics, I’ll take my leave, but wishing you a good week.

                2. pancakes*

                  No, we’re not “debating” that — I pointed out that you want to treat mortality talk as both harmfully outlandish “hysteria” and factually, substantively incorrect, despite the death rate being what it is, and your response is that it doesn’t really matter because you’re responding to “people who genuinely think like this” someplace else in the world, like people who want a cocktail early in the day and joke that “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”

      2. New commenter from Canada*

        I wouldn’t assume she’s triple vaxxed at all. Less than half of the *vaccinated* population of the US is triple vaxxed. In that context things like failing to isolate are at least as likely to be an indication of not vaccinated at all. You’d really have to ask, but I generally assume that if I see someone taking a risk I’m not comfortable with they are likely to be taking other risks I’m not comfortable with. I’m in Canada but we do have an anti-vaxx minority and a lot of cultural bleed from/ overlap with the US (and my partner and I both have family there/ are dual citizens so we have a fair sense of things are in a couple states).

        1. Juniper*

          I see your point, just based on raw numbers. But most anti-vaxxers would probably not test in the first place, much less cop to having it. Add to this the fact that she suggested a masked, outdoor, ambulatory activity leads me to believe that she takes precautions seriously, at least as defined by public health authorities.

      3. quill*

        The crux of the matter is: this person could easily be taking more precautions and still getting this specific task done. Instead they’re pushing for this interview to happen in person instead of offering a no-contact option right away. They’re imposing their risk assessment of “do I think someone in my position would catch it from me during a half hour walk outside? Nah.” on OP.

        1. kitryan*

          Yes, there are other scenarios that would involve other factors but this one seems totally avoidable with no/minimal loss of efficacy. Why can’t this be remote?

  11. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW3, sounds like you got interviewed by someone who forgets interviews work both ways. If someone is that oddly adversarial about something that might be a little weird outside of education but which has a perfectly benign explanation, they’re probably going to be adversarial about lots of other things if you actually work for them. She could have just asked that question normally and kindly suggested that outside of education “fall” isn’t really a thing on resumes, but choose to be weird about it.

      1. Nanani*

        And they’re all wrong. And no doubt wondering why the hell their top-qualified applicants turn down their offers, such a mystery.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          And then they’ll cry “nOboDy WaNtS To WoRRRRRrrrRRK!!” Correction: nobody wants to work for you!

  12. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW1, you have me stumped. I’m just confused why the trash seemed like a logical place to find a needed list to begin with, and the senior manager stating that it wasn’t an invasion of privacy to dig through your trash and tape your doodles back together (which makes me wonder if the coworker did that on their break or if your employer literally paid someone to tape this back together instead of doing whatever their job is) because they were looking for a list feels…like a very stereotypically lawyer-y excuse.

    No offense intended to lawyers, but you probably know the stereotypes about your own profession.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I am finding it odd that so many people think this trash thing is a ruse. Granted, it very well might not have been on the up and up. I have been tasked with looking for a physical copy of something and, once you go through someone’s dekstop papers and haven’t found it, the trash/recycling bin at their desk is the next logical place to look. (Granted, I would go through the recycling but probably not the trash b/c I don’t want to be touching anyone’s used tissues!!). And I don’t necessarily think it’s weird to mention no privacy on the trash can. I think usually if you tell someone you found something in their trash they will get a little put out by it. But people really should expect not to have privacy in their trash or recycling bins and I think the partner was doing OP a favor by pointing that out.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        I don’t necessarily think it’s a ruse, or that the colleague was trying to get LW in trouble, it’s just a weird jump to make – though I guess a lot there also depends on how important that list was but if it was so important…Why would they think it’s in the trash? Wouldn’t LW have kept it in a more logical place if it was an important document, like a filing cabinet?

        1. Zelda*

          Just gravity. My trash can sits right next to my desk, and if there’s an odd breeze at the wrong moment, or my klutzy elbows do what they do, sometimes stuff falls in. And if you’ve looked everywhere a thing *should* be and can’t find it, then it’s time to start looking in places where it shouldn’t be, but might have ended up anyway.

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            Hmm, yeah, that might be it, actually. I would expect it to be on top in that case, but if the coworker is anything like me they probably read some of the torn pieces without intending to.

          2. EPLawyer*

            Yeah if it happened to fall in the trash, okay. But, I would expect an unripped up sheet of paper in that case. Not a ripped one that had to be taped together.

            This is just a bizarre over the top reaction for some ripped up doodles. Honestly, OP I would be looking around for more evidence of weirdness in this place. Things you might have overlooked because they just seemed odd but not overly so so you mentally wrote them off.

            1. Rocket*

              What does it matter what the paper they were looking for looks like? You can be looking for an un-ripped piece of paper and find a ripped one with offensive stuff on it.

        2. Userper Cranberries*

          The way it’s worded, I can’t tell if it’s an important document or not. It could just be that the coworker wanted to reference OP’s last to-do list to know what had been done, and if OP uses paper to-do lists the trash is the most logical place to look for that. I wish there were more details so we could be sure we’re discussing the correct scenario…

      2. Andy*

        I our office, people would call me and asked where the list is. And whether I could have trash it.

        Looking through trash as first resort is bizarre behavior, even if no lyrics were found.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Interesting – in my office when people are off sick (especially with Covid), people really try to avoid contacting them for work stuff unless it’s something really important. I quite like that, it’s a good work/life balance thing, although I appreciate that in a law firm that’s probably not how things work! So if I was looking for something like a to-do list and really really couldn’t find it anywhere logical, the bins wouldn’t be my *first* resort but I probably would look just on the off-chance because I wouldn’t want to bother an ill colleague only to realise it was in front of me the whole time. I wouldn’t go rummaging through heaps of trash, but if I could see pieces of paper right at the top I’d probably think “oh, maybe that’s it, better check.” My office is pretty communal about a lot of stuff, though, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t seem that weird to me.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Apparently this list was so important that they looked through the trash for it. So yeah, I would contact the person for a quick question “hey where is X list” rather than dig through trash.

          2. BethDH*

            I guess I’m with you that in my office contacting someone out sick would be considered more invasive than checking their recycling. Sounds like this is very workplace specific though, and in my workplace the taping together something ripped would be extremely weird. Though catching a glimpse of a scary sentence on a scrap of paper and reporting that wouldn’t be …

      3. Temperance*

        Because this person went through the trouble of taping papers together that they found in the garbage. That, to me, suggests motive and snooping. If this person actually needed a list, they could have asked OP or kept looking. Not taped together papers that clearly weren’t what was needed.

      4. anonymous73*

        I’m finding it odd that so many people are hung up on the invasion of privacy because that’s not what this is at all. You’re at work to work and if the company feels the need, they have every right to check out what you’re doing on your computer and sift through your trash.

        1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

          I’m finding it odd, too, but maybe that’s because I’m a lawyer and my organization is VERY Big Brother-ish.

        2. Software Dev (she/her)*

          I mean “they have the legal right” does not mean I want to work for a company that goes through my trash or monitors everything I am doing on my computer? People can still want a certain amount of privacy at work and a certain amount of—personal respect, I guess? This is very tattletale “look what LW” did behavior that would make me think less of my coworkers. The taping it together is especially weird—this isn’t “hey I found a ripped up sheet with some foul/upsetting phrases and it made me uncomfortable”, this is a careful reconstruction to use as evidence against the LW. I don’t want to speculate on what her coworker’s thought process was but it is a weird thing to do.

          1. anonymous73*

            I agree that the taping of paper together and showing the boss was weird, but OP’s privacy was not at all invaded. Most companies don’t have time to sift through every single thing their employees access on their computers, but if you give them reason to be concerned, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will look. You are on their time using their equipment and they have every right to look at it.

        3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          I think I’m less concerned about the “invasion of privacy” and more concerned that it’s a super weird and gross thing to do. Especially with a coworker who is out sick… they might have snotty tissues in there!

        4. Curious*

          There’s a difference between “has a legal right to” and “acts reasonably in doing so.” Additionally, there are approaches that are appropriate in the context of an investigation of wrongdoing that are wildly inappropriate outside of that context. Taping together torn up documents seems to me to fall under the latter category.

      5. Blue Monday*

        Suppose there are used tissues, old masks, food containers, etc. in t he trash. It’s not sanitary to go rooting around in trash cans without gloves. I hope the trash searcher at least washed their hands afterwards.

        1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          Especially since LW is out with Covid… there could be snotty tissues in there, or disposable utensils with saliva. Ewww. (I mean, it’s gross even if they didn’t know she had Covid).

    2. Batgirl*

      The fact that it was torn up might have attracted attention. Usually sensitive stuff goes to the shredder, because torn things can be simply pieced back together! If OP habitually doodles and tears paper this might have been something the boss was concerned about. However the healthy way to deal with that is “I see you tearing papers and they should be shredded if confidential”.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        I’m not in law so I’ll have to take your word for it, but people do tear up unimportant things all the time (I do it with to do lists, which are hardly state secrets and I’m frankly not sure why I tear them up) so I guess I didn’t make the connection between “torn up in law office” and “might be confidential”.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I tear stuff here at home because that is part of my paper control system. I look it over and then tear, so torn up paper means I double checked it before tossing. I do a similar thing at work, but after I tear it then I add it to my pile and shred it before I leave.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Stone Soup had a whole little series on the importance of not helpfully emptying Joan’s trash because sometimes the thing she needed was in there.

      For this scenario, I can see someone checking the desktop, then the recycle bin, and finding some torn-in-half pages with really alarming workplace murder spree scenarios, or why these people should die scenarios. And if you don’t recognize them as song lyrics…

      It’s interesting to me how strongly “these words are perfectly okay and nor alarming because they are song lyrics first written by someone else and copied out by this person” resonates–and it works for me too. Whereas if your coworker came up with them fresh, that feels so much more alarming. Maybe the perceived depth of conviction and effort?

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        I will admit I wasn’t even considering the content of the lyrics (don’t know the first thing about Eminem so I wouldn’t recognise the lyrics either), more “why would you go through the trash in the first place”.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Agreeing – I wouldn’t recognize Eminem’s song lyrics, but you can bet I would recognize a word here and there in something torn up, possibly get concerned about what on earth the coworker was writing, and think that perhaps the other person is an individual with violent, misogynist thoughts. I might just go as far as putting the shreds together, if I felt there was a some kind of threat, and might just inform a senior exec, given the issues of workplace violence in the news all the time.

        Of course, that begs the question of why I would be going through a coworker’s trash in the first place, but if a senior partner told me to look in the trash in case something got dumped by accident, I’d do that.

    1. Artemesia*

      And finding notes with violent messages would require a sensible co-worker to alert the boss. How many massacres in the US have been preceded by people making lists? I would not know it was a rap song, but if I saw notes about killing people or misogynist words, it might make me pretty nervous.

      1. BookMom*

        Totally agreed. Regurgitating violent and misogynistic language is not an appropriate way to clear one’s head between tasks in an office setting. Full stop.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Yeah let’s not tell people they can’t clear their heads with writing if they want. There is absolutely NO indication that OP intends to ACT out anything in the lyrics. She just … doodles. Right up there with freedom of expression. Which only prohibits IMMINENT threats of harm. Writing out lyrics that aren’t great is NOT an imminent threat of harm.

          1. Yaz*

            Right now I’m in the office kitchen and the tv (which is set to CNN) is showing a list of the HUNDREDS of mass shootings that have occurred so far in the States just this year and we are only in April. I worry about my safety and my loved ones’ safety at work. That’s not pearl clutching that is being aware of our society. Also- MOST mass shooters have a history of misogyny so it’s not crazy to be alarmed by misogynist notes. That’s not to say it was wrong to doodle lyrics or listen to Eminem – but it’s also not “wrong” to be freaked out if you come across violent sexist writings with no context.

          2. pancakes*

            I haven’t seen anyone say that people categorically should not “clear their heads with writing.” Saying that people probably shouldn’t write down violent or hateful lyrics at work is not that. At all. I’m wondering whether the letter writer somehow missed the same basic point you seem to be overlooking, which is that context always matters. “Clearing your head” by writing down violent lyrics can be harmless in many circumstances and harmful in others, depending on who sees them and what context they do or do not have for seeing them. Whether the particular lyrics do or do not seem to reflect an imminent threat would be the relevant legal issue, but that is not going to be the beginning and end of, say, a coworker’s thoughts on the matter! “What do I now think and feel about the person who wrote this” is much broader. You can’t make rules around when people can or should be perceived by others. That’s always going to be happening.

            1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

              Yes to all of this. This isn’t about clearing your head with writing. It’s about the actual content of the notes and the environment in which they were written.

              Even though OP says it was just swear words, some swear words are worse than others in a work context. If notes were found in my workplace declaring “women are C**TS” or something along those lines, that would be a much bigger problem than a note that said “F**k this.”

          3. Koli*

            Obviously there has to be some line drawn about what is acceptable to doodle at work. I hope you wouldn’t argue that OP doodling sexually explicit or violent pictures of their coworkers, or violent fantasies naming them by name would be appropriate “free expression.” So if any line can be drawn, it’s just a matter of where – and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to draw it short of “Eminem lyrics with swear words.” (By the way, OP: which ones?)

          4. Starbuck*

            “Right up there with freedom of expression. Which only prohibits IMMINENT threats of harm”

            This isn’t relevant for the workplace though. Your employer can have a different standard, a stricter one than the government.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          Yes, key words here being “in an office setting.” OP is free to doodle whatever they want at home, but at work, most Eminem lyrics are just not appropriate. Someone could see it on OP’s desk, etc. I would feel uncomfortable if I saw misogynistic or violent lyrics written by a coworker.

        3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          You don’t know that that’s what the lyrics were. We’re supposed to take the LWs at their word here, and LW said the lyrics contained “swear words,” not violence or misogyny. There’s really no point in speculating that the LW is lying.

          1. LP*

            Yeah I’m getting increasingly steamed at the commenters thinking they’re nobly crusading against misogyny and gun violence here- I’ve known coworkers struggling with hiding medications and conditions they didn’t want colleagues to judge them for, do they not have that right bc their trash is everyone’s business now? Occam’s razor says this coworker is snoopy. I also think it’s a bit much to make assumptions about the exact specific lyrics here instead of taking the OP at their word- these contained swear words and that by itself gave ol’ Nosy what they went looking for.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I have googled the lyrics to Eminem’s “Kim.”

      Yeah, no. These powerfully portrayed emotions do not belong at work, even on stuff you don’t think someone else is going to see. Same goes for any misogynist/homophobic/racist drawings that are also copies of album art. I can see the art aspect and still say that specific art doesn’t belong in a lot of shared spaces.

      I can picture contexts where someone looking in the recycling bin at the edge of the desk is the obvious next stop in looking for the Bowman Thing, and contexts where that is a flimsy pretext to go through your work enemy’s garbage looking for dirt. But I think the content of the lyrics (and drawings?) is going to be alarming regardless of the purity of the motives of the finder, in a lot of coworker minds.

  13. Willis*

    Yeah, I was in my hometown for a relative’s funeral and spent one of the days at the beach with a friend. I think it’s fine to spend bereavement leave decompressing in ways that are helpful to you as you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, but the OP really sounds like they’re just straight up trying to plan a vacation. Maybe the time now and do some things closer to home.

  14. voyager1*

    LW4: I can’t wait to see how this one gets updated. You mention visiting, maybe push it out as far as you can with contagiousness/ quarantine timeframes.

    It feels like she wants to meet you, hate to lose that opportunity, but in the end it is your safety. I would probably meet her, but then again I don’t have a one year old.

  15. nnn*

    #2: I agree that using bereavement leave for a museums and restaurants trip would be bad optics.

    But do you ever use vacation time to visit family? If so, you might be able to make use of bereavement leave for next time you visit family (framing it as something like “We’ll be memoralizing Granny later in the year, when it’s logistically possible for the whole family to get together, so I’d like to use my bereavement leave to travel back home then”) and then use the vacation time you’ve “saved” for the museums and restaurants trip.

  16. Varthema*

    At first I was with OP and Alison that this was pretty weird, but then I remembered Eminem in the 90s and looked up a few lyrics. Oh boy. OP, if you’re talking about an f-bomb or two from a song like “One Shot”, I’m still with ya, but if the lyrics were from stuff like “Low Down, Dirty” or “Kim”, I’d assume your coworker caught a glimpse of a problematic word or two, got scared, went to see what was up, especially if she didn’t realize they were lyrics. She’s probably feeling pretty freaked out now if that’s the case.

    1. misspiggy*

      True – but wouldn’t the rational, collegiate response have been to Google the words to see if this is a well known song or verse, before taking steps that could get OP in major trouble?

      1. bruh*

        If you see words possibly threatening violence that appear to be written by a co-worker, especially in an environment where there has been a mass shooting not that long ago, would your first instinct be to google them?

        1. Myrin*

          Where does it say that there’s been a mass shooting at OP’s place of work recently? Am I missing something?
          But also, OP specifically calls out “the swear words” so I’m assuming that’s what the coworker/senior partner took issue with.

          1. Artemesia*

            There is a mass shooting every day in America — it is not unreasonable that seeing those kinds of words and apparently lists of violent ideation would trigger concern.

            1. Mannequin*

              We have a lot of mass shootings in the US but saying we have one every day is an exaggeration.

              1. Alli*

                By definition of a mass shooting, there is one that happens every fay. Just because it involves people that live in low socioeconomic areas, or involved in gang activity, or may have a previous relationship with the shooter doesn’t mean its not a mass shooting.

                1. Important Moi*

                  Low socioeconomic areas? Gang activity? Previous relationship?

                  This whole comment is uncomfortable.

              2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

                There were 3 mass shootings this weekend alone. It’s not irrational to be concerned about them.

      2. MistOrMister*

        I cannot imagine finding questionable writing and googling it to see if it’s original or a published song lyric. Maybe its my age showing, but that would never occur to me. Unless the doodle was annotated in such a way that it was clearly a quote. But, since this went to the level it did, I assume the coworker didn’t realize it was an Eminem song. I also don’t think the burden should be on the person who finds something concerning to look into it to that point.

      3. L-squared*

        Not for me.

        I’m an Eminem fan, so I’d probably recognize those lyrics. But there are plenty of other artists with dark and violent lyrics that i wouldn’t recognize, and I can’t say my first thought would be to google them. Mass shootings and work shootings happen too often in America for me to worry about getting people in trouble.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Googling the violent threats to see if they are a quote from something else would not usually occur to me, no.

      5. anonymous73*

        If the words sounded familiar I might turn to Google to figure out where I’d heard them before, but with all of the mass shootings nowadays, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been alarmed if I saw some problematic words written on paper and then torn into pieces.

      6. Blue Glass*

        Maybe it’s a bad idea to Google misogynistic and violent words in your work computer. Maybe the coworker doesn’t listen to rap (I don’t) and never connected it with lyrics. I’d probably be really freaked out if I read some of these songs about raping and hurting women. I don’t understand why that’s entertaining. And if the LW is a man and a female coworker found the lyrics, well, I can see how that could have concerned her. I don’t see how any of it is appropriate at work anyway.

      7. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

        No, I wouldn’t Google them. I would be concerned about Googling something like that at work. It wouldn’t occur to me to see if they were song lyrics unless they were in a bubble of doodled music notes or something.

      8. learnedthehardway*

        If I didn’t know it was a song or poem by a famous person, I would assume it was the colleague’s own composition. It wouldn’t occur to me to go googling the words.

      9. Koli*

        Playing this out, say the coworker did google it and found out they were lyrics. If the content was still inappropriate enough that it was worth raising to the boss in their opinion, I’m not sure knowing it’s a lyric makes any difference.

    2. LlamaLawyer*

      Agreed. And it’s not a thing I’ve ever seen anyone do at work before- write out lyrics to a song, let alone one that has questionable content. This isn’t a common thing and I can see why a coworker would be alarmed. However, the trash can thing is weird but maybe they saw you writing this stuff another time and we’re concerned, and made up this cover story? Workplace violence is a very real concern.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’ve occasionally written down a line or two that gets stuck in my head, but never the entire song lyrics (or even an entire verse). In a circumstance like that, I could see someone not realizing what I’d written was someone else’s words, and potentially being concerned (especially for a line or two taken out of context).

        The trash can thing is still weird, though.

      2. sb51*

        If “doodling” = “doing calligraphy & decoration of letters”, having a source of words that don’t require thinking makes sense; I know people who doodle that way.

        (If that’s what OPs doing, I’d suggest starting with the title and author at the top of the page — even if you’re going to tear it up, it makes it clear that it’s not your own words. Alongside picking things that do not contain swear words or controversial topics, obviously.)

  17. Caroline Bowman*

    OP2 a compromise would be to, for your upcoming June thing, ask if you could specify 1-2 days for some kind of memorial thing to honour your granny, and yes, that might mean meeting with loved ones at her favourite museum or park or attending a particular show or something specifically ”her” focused, and then take the rest as normal leave, and be clear with your company that your granny actually passed away at X time, but due to specific reasons you were unable to go then, so had planned to do a life celebration. Just give them a precis of your idea and see what they say. If you are honest, the worst they can say is ”no”. I realise that bereavement leave is really intended for the time immediately following a death, but it can’t hurt to have a good-faith conversation about it.

  18. IHireScienceWriters*

    LW5: I hire science writers, and I would want to know about your college humour writing. Your best work should be in your portfolio as well.

    In fact, if it came up in the interview I would want to see some of it as part of assessing your writing skills.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Not science writers, but technical documentation in the past and the best guy I ever saw in that job had a huge background writing comedy material. The ability to make dry subject matter enjoyable to read? Gold.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      My layout & production work on our college humor magazine definitely helped me land a layout & production job. But we were mostly innocuous whacky humor, So I did not have to juggle any worries about targeted humor that skirts the edges of sexes and racism etc.
      Keep us posted what you’ve decided to do!

  19. All The Things*

    As long as OP#4’s contact is proposing they meet outside and masked, and maybe don’t walk super close to each other, it seems fine to me (and I am extremely careful about Covid safety). OP, if you ever spend time indoors with unmasked people (at a restaurant, on public transport, in a supermarket or even a pharmacy) that’s more dangerous than this. If you are concerned about the work culture where you are supposed to still work while ill, that’s valid, but the odds of getting infected while outdoors and masked are close to nil. Of course it’s fine for you to say you don’t want to risk it, but I would actually be pretty impressed with your contact’s safety standards around Covid based on this interaction (disclosed Covid infection straight away, happy to wear a mask, etc.).

    1. All The Things*

      PS Get some good masks though (N95)! Cloth masks aren’t great at protecting you or others.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Deliberately spending face-to-face time with someone who has already told you they have a confirmed and active case of Covid is … the opposite of “extremely careful about Covid safety.”

    3. ACanadian*

      Infectious disease specialists advise Covid positive individuals to stay home and self isolate. Continuing to meet with people and go about your daily business, even if masked, is not advised and is not a responsible action.

    4. anonymous73*

      I’m sure I come into contact with strangers that have COVID when I go out and I no longer wear a mask unless it’s mandated. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to meet with someone who I know for a fact is infected, even if it’s outside and we stay apart from each other. The bigger problem I have with this letter, is the boss’s lack of care for her employees and colleagues. She should be isolating at home, not going into the office masked. Those meetings can wait or be done virtually. Nothing is so important that adjustments can’t be made.

      1. kitryan*

        Generally agree- I consider anyone whose status I’m not personally aware of to be possibly infected but overall, in aggregate, the risk is low if the overall infection rate in the area is low (but don’t get me started on reduced testing artificially lowering those numbers). However meeting a person who you know for a fact is positive for COVID means that the specific risk in that interaction is not based on an overall low local infection rate, at that meeting the ‘local’ infection rate in your immediate area is now 50% – in your meeting, half of you are positive, for sure. And this person, masked, outside, whatever, should not be attending meetings or events in person.

    5. Your Risk Tolerance May Vary*

      I think Alison’s advice is good — seriously, you should consider what this exchange is telling you about this person and how they are as a leader. She SHOULD be the one saying, “I’m isolating until I test negative.” But she’s not. And I recognize that it is a more complex question when you may be weighing serious career opportunities in a limited field alongside this.

      I will tell you, I had been extremely locked down and careful for 2+ years; but finally had to go work indoors at a client site during Omicron. I spent about 4 hours indoors working in a small-ish room with someone who had COVID (she became symptomatic later that night, tested a few days later). We were both wearing N95 masks the entire time, and tried not to get super-close to one another. I didn’t get COVID from that, and it gave me more trust in my (very snug) N95 masks (and hers).

      So… as you weigh the risk-reward (given what you said about limited opportunities in your field and the location you want to be): outdoors, both wearing N95 masks, moving, keeping some distance — it’s really not the worst scenario, IF the face time has way more potential career reward than a Zoom call. (If you were rolling in options or if this meeting is just a little extra bump, then I’d say nix it.) But, even if it’s high reward and this all still feels too risky for you — then absolutely, stick to the (totally reasonable) position of nothing in-person while she’s positive.

      At this point, each of us needs to do our own risk calculus when faced with other people’s decisions that we can’t control.

    6. MeepMeep02*

      I dunno about that. I got a cold that way – not COVID, but I could have easily gotten COVID that way too. I was masked, outside, and spent about 5 minutes talking to a child. I came back with a sore throat and the sniffles. There was no other way I could have gotten it – I’ve been extremely COVID-careful. I think that assuming that meeting a COVID patient outside is safe is magical thinking.

  20. Ms. Moneypenny*

    OP1, long term law firm employee here. All the sirens and horns are blaring DANGER! DANGER! in my head right now. This is some seriously crazy stuff and I do not buy the partner’s story behind you. I would be super peeved if I were you, not embarrassed. Lawyers curse as much or more than anyone I know. Lawyers have dark senses of humor too. Someone was going through yiur trash and reported you. What?! This firm and its people are showing you who they are, so believe them. Don’t be careless now. Keep your guard up. Things like this have a way of coming to the surface so don’t be surprised if the who, what and why comes out later.

    1. Mannequin*

      I agree and I’m astonished that so many people here are making excuses for it. It’s absolutely boundary violating behavior to go through a coworker’s trash, and it shouldn’t be normalized.

    2. arjumand*

      Thank you! I had to scroll all this way to see this perfect response!
      They literally went through OP’s trash instead of
      1. making a phone call
      2. sending a message
      3. sending an email

      I could go on, but better not. OP had covid? So did I, didn’t stop me from checking my messages or emails.
      A sensible/non-malicious colleague wouldn’t have gone through the trash. A sensible/non malicious boss would have rolled their eyes, thrown it away and told the colleague not to go through people’s trash.
      So many red flags.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Going through the trash seems off to me, but I don’t think it’s weird that no one emailed or called. Some places actually have firmer boundaries about not contacting people who are on leave unless it’s an emergency.

          1. Corporate Lawyer*

            100% agree. Law firms are well known for having NO respect for time off. Being on call at all times, no matter what else may be going on, is just part of the law firm culture. So it’s completely bizarre that someone would go through OP’s trash without contacting them to ask for the thing the searcher is looking for.

            1. kitryan*

              Yup- I get responses to emails from attorneys on vacation *all the time*. Even if there’s other people on the email who could have answered (and often who have been specifically put on said email so the vacationer did not have to respond). I feel like the firm *tries* to let people have time away but it’s more often observed in its breach than in its observance.
              I once had a sr. partner ‘loop in’ a partner who was at their parent’s funeral that day to see if they could answer a question – I actually emailed them back to note that we were trying to keep that partner uninvolved that day, if at all possible, and that I was resolving the issue with another attorney. Pretty sure sr. partner had forgotten, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          The thing is that if it’s urgent enough that the colleague felt the need to go through the trash, I feel like it’s also urgent enough to contact the person on leave–maybe not urgent enough to badger them for a response, but urgent enough to send an email or a text.

        2. I'm Done*

          I would think those same places would have firm boundaries about searching through someone’s trash can.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      I can’t help but wonder WHY the colleague was going through OP1’s trash. That’s seriously f’ed up.

    4. Sasha soo*

      I agree that the going through the trash is very odd, but I think it really depends what the lyrics were. I’m not super familiar with Eminem and when I first saw this question, I thought the response to the lyrics was extreme, but out of curiosity I looked up the lyrics for some of his songs and some of them go way past just swearing or a dark sense of humor (descriptions of domestic violence/murdering women for example) Like if I saw some of these lyrics written down without knowing they were lyrics to a song, I would have found it very disturbing and would not have seen any dark humor.

      1. Myrin*

        I do think, though, that the fact that OP specifically says “I explained the swear words were part of song lyrics” means that the lyrics in question were more likely the ones where he just says “fuck you, motherfucker” five times in a row, not the violent or misogynistic ones.

        Of course I could be completely wrong about that but I feel like OP wouldn’t have phrased it quite like that if she’d used some of the lyrics of “Kim” or “Stan”. A lot of the comments here hinge on OP’s having doodled around The Top 10 Violent Eminem Lyrics when that’s not actually proven in any way.

        1. Peaks*

          Right. Eminem has a huge catalog of work. As someone who is familiar with it, I wouldn’t assume violence, homophobia, or misogyny just because someone said it was a lyric of his–not every song is “Kim.” I think we have a lot of projection going on in the comments. Particularly because the resolution was “Take your doodles home,” the description of the words as “swears” seems plausible. I’d say not ideal to write down at work–it’s just not professional language–but suggest we don’t leap to the worst possible conclusion.

    5. e271828*

      I’m really surprised by the excuses from the commentariat. You need to know something, you phone or email. Rummaging in the trash is not the first recourse. Someone in that office (including the possibly-nonexistent unnamed coworker and the partner) has it in for LW1, they are setting LW1 up, and LW1 should be keeping an eye out for another job.

      I’d say calling LW1 on the carpet for a meaningless “ooh we’re concerned we just HAPPENED to find this in your TRASH” session is to start establishing a case against them.

    6. DrRat*


      As I mentioned in another post above, this is what I call a “Gladys Kravitz alert”. You have a super nosy busybody in the office and it will keep causing problems because people like the senior partner are enabling this person rather than shutting them down.

      For all the people arguing about the song lyrics – what you are failing to grasp is that the pretext was that the busybody was “looking for a missing list.” You don’t have to tape together more than a couple of bits to realize that this is IN NO WAY the supposed “missing list.” Yet they kept going.

      Once you see “chicka, chicka, chicka, Slim Shady” you pretty much know this isn’t the missing list. But they kept taping together. And then took it to a senior partner. Who did not chew them out for wasting time taping garbage together instead of finding the list.

      And for all those saying “well it’s legal to go thru your trash” – just because it’s legal does not mean it happens in a functional office. It’s legal to make every day Talk Like a Pirate Day. It’s legal to make the dress code pink polka dots. But do you want to work in the Pink Polka Dot office?

      Okay, yeah, so I want to work in the pirate office, but that’s another story.

  21. 653-CXK*

    OP #3 dodged a major bullet by withdrawing from consideration, because the interviewer was giving a sneak preview how much of A Problem they will be to work with (my guess: exponentially).

  22. urguncle*

    I think OP2 has opened up a previously untapped business idea: the destination memorial service.

    1. Katie*

      My husband spread his dad’s ashes in New Mexico. He made it a trip when he did so (doing things his dad would have wanted to do). He owns his own business so bereavement wasn’t a thing, but I think that would have been an acceptable use of bereavement.

    2. pancakes*

      Jennifer Coolidge’s White Lotus character is the perfect spokesperson! The scenes with her mother’s ashes on the boat were some of my favorites.

  23. Anyadmin92828373*

    Worked at an office years ago as an admin assistant with a supervisor who was a trash can snoop. He’d see crumpled papers in worker’s trash cans and berate them saying “look how much paper you wasted” He’d snoop through workers trash cans after hours. He was a nut job. I kept an insulated lunch bag in a drawer and put paper trash. Tossed out the paper trash at lunch and at the end of the day in the large lunch room trash bin. It had a lid so no one could see what was in it. Nut job never caught on and actually praised me for not wasting paper.

  24. BBB83745*

    25 years experience working in offices. Desks and office trash cans are never private. Shred any personal or confidential papers or toss them in the shred bin. Toss non confidential work related papers in a public office trash can used by many people. Put your personal writings in your purse or briefcase and take them with you. Leave nothing behind in a desk or office trash can that can be used against you by coworkers or the boss.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’m just realizing that I’ve got the sheet of paper with the notes from the call from my cat’s vet sitting on my desk for days. It’s a good thing no one looks at or cares about what’s on my desk because it isn’t super obvious that the notes are about a cat (until you get to the bit that says “TikiCat tubes”).

      Also, people in my office don’t go for the cut-throat “anything to use against you to raise me up the ladder” approach to work. (Not the vibe in our line of work.)

  25. L-squared*

    #1. I gotta admit, when you wrote “Eminem lyrics” I can’t say I was surprised at the outcome. Even as a fan, his lyrics can be SUPER dark, and taken out of context, yeah, I may pass that along to management as well if I found that. There have been far too many workplace shootings, and this is the type of thing that, without context, would give someone pause to read. Was it an “invasion of privacy”? Possibly. Do I think that, based on some lyrics that pop into my mind, it was the wrong thing for her to bring it to management? Maybe not.

  26. The Lexus Lawyer*

    OP1 – as a lawyer, I have to remind you there’s generally no expectation of privacy for your trash

    That being said, it was still weird and probably a red flag about your coworkers and senior partner.

    1. Delta Delta*

      As a criminal defense lawyer, I have a soft spot for the 4th Amendment trash cases and the subsequent state cases that deviate from the feds. That said, no, don’t ever put personal stuff in your work trash that you don’t want someone to find.

      I worked at a law firm central in the heart of CrazyTown. More than once I got a call from a colleague stuck in court or mediation or meeting somewhere who needed a piece of information from a document and called looking for help finding it, and said things like, “oh! I know! it might be jotted on a post-it and if it’s not stuck to my monitor it might have ended up in the recycle bin under my desk” (I can think of 4-5 times off the top of my head this happened) and helped out. Then I ended up rooting through the recycle bin to find the document, and seeing personal notes like, “pick up dog food” and “make dentist appointment” and stuff like that. Never to the point of taping things together, but probably stuff not meant for others to see.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        *raises hand*
        I work at home, but have on rare occasion dug through the basement paper recycling bins looking for that thing I can’t find.

        I am pretty sure I recently did exactly the above, scribbled some stuff I might need to reference in a couple of months on a post-it and stuck it to a pad of paper, which I now can’t find, and I bet a general clearing of paper off the desk took it out.

        1. quill*

          And this is why I keep an office notebook. It’s like a lab notebook with no correction standards, but everything I’m reasonably sure I won’t be throwing out this week gets shoved in it or written in it. Between that and the legal pad for the to do list I don’t tend to lose papers anymore. :)

  27. Shiba Dad*

    On the other extreme, trash related: I worked for a guy who I’ll call Lou. Lou put a lock on our dumpster. He did this because he thought competitors might dumpster dive to find info. The only thing I think locking the dumpster did was piss off the garbage men when someone didn’t unlock the dumpster before they showed up.

    1. quill*

      Oh, I remember we had an ENORMOUS office scavenger hunt for an R&D lab book once, because it potentially held proprietary data. Everyone got their trash and recycling inspected. The LAB got it’s trash inspected. We stopped short of inspecting the biohaz bin because we’d already changed the bag that morning, so we already knew it wasn’t in there.

      We never found the sucker and think it must have fallen behind a filing cabinet that was too heavy to move.

  28. anonymous73*

    #1 I’m not sure about this one. As Alison said, you shouldn’t expect a high level of privacy at work. You’re there to work and you’re using your company’s equipment, so they have the right to know what you’re doing while you’re there. But this screams of middle school pettiness. It’s extremely odd that they would be looking in your trash can for important paperwork to begin with, but a colleague taped doodles back together and ran to the boss, like she was trying to say “look what OP is doing at work instead of working” without any sort of context. I might have a second conversation with boss and try and figure out why they handled it this way. And if you get the se response, I’d seriously consider dusting off your resume.
    #2 bereavement leave is not for extra vacation time. A reasonable manager will not strictly adhere to policy for a death in the family. When my mom died, I took the 3 days given, but went back to work because I needed a distraction. My manager told me if I needed more time to let him know and he allowed me to take off additional time when needed without using PTO.
    #3 you made the right decision. At the very least the director has very least the director has terrible communication skills. And they shouldn’t be snapping at you, EVER. Being a manager (or director) means having the ability to provide feedback without being an asshole (i.e. being flippant, snarky or yelling).
    #4 I agree with Alison. Ask to meet over video and take her attitude toward continuing to work while knowing she has COVID as a sign that maybe this isn’t the right place for you.

  29. MsM*

    LW5, I’d just like to note that I have a LinkedIn/Facebook contact who has a regular gig writing “lighter side” columns for general interest science publications, so you never know: even the comedy aspects could very well turn out to be relevant to your future career. Good luck!

  30. kitryan*

    Re: Letter 3 – in my last job search I was coming from theater so much of my work was seasonal. I’d applied to a receptionist position in late August and was currently working at a store, answering phones and doing social media/basic bookkeeping for them. I’d put that job down as ‘Summer 20xx-Present’. Well, one day I answered the phone at the store and it’s someone asking me to confirm my own employment. And when I said that [my name] had been working there since May, the person on the phone insisted, no, it was June, I must be wrong. They were rather insistent about it, and when I said I was [my name] so I’d know, the wanted someone else to confirm as well (which was fine with me, they knew I was looking) so I asked my boss to confirm, which he did.
    The interaction was so weird I called my contact at the new office to explain. Turns out they hire an outside company to do basic background/employee checks and my ‘summer’ start date got translated to specifically ‘June’ when the info was passed on to them.
    The contact understood the mixup (and I got the job) but the whole thing didn’t reflect well (in my opinion) on the outside background checker, who insisted for some time that I was wrong and did not check to see whether he was talking to the person he was checking on before asking about their employment status. I had no need to lie about anything but it would have certainly been easy to, if I’d wanted to.
    Anyway, after that I’m putting months down since summer jobs that start in May are, apparently, confusing (despite many of my summer theater jobs running from mid May to mid August).

    1. learnedthehardway*

      That really does reflect badly on the background checker – I mean, if you were there for June onwards, that’s really all that mattered. Besides which, they should have asked who they were speaking with before they asked if the person they were checking on worked there. They also should have reached out to you in advance to make sure you had signed off on permission for them to contact your employer – at least where I live, you have to have that signed off on, due to privacy legislation.

      1. kitryan*

        Yup, it was very weird that they didn’t check to see who they were speaking with. If it hadn’t been for the May/June mix up, I’d just have verified my own employment.
        And I’d think that rather than insisting I was wrong, it’d be better for the checker to just make sure they’d heard correctly and then report back that there was a discrepancy on the dates from what they’d been told and what the employer confirmed.
        It shouldn’t have really mattered- it would be about a 2-3 week difference, and this job didn’t overlap with any other job, I was just worried that the whole thing would look weird and I didn’t know if the checking company might spin it as a flat out lie or something, like they’d caught me out.
        As it was about 9 years ago now, I may have already agreed to the check/employment verification and/or had a contingent offer – I really don’t remember-but I do know I wasn’t really surprised to get the call, just that they were being so slapdash about it. Also, I think most of the employee protection legislation surrounding this stuff in my jurisdiction (and also generally) has happened more recently.

  31. Blue Monday*

    No, just no. If you aren’t the police or some other investigative agency, you don’t go through your coworkers trash, period. What a boundary violation. Working at home for the win.

    1. anonymous73*

      Assuming you have complete privacy at work is a very naïve way of thinking. If you don’t want someone to see something, put it in the shredder.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Actually, no. When a coworker is unexpectedly out and you need updates on current work, you look everywhere. Looking in the wastebasket / recycling bin is a normal thing to do in that instance.

      Taping together ripped up papers that are quite obviously not a to-do list, and making a big deal about doodles — that’s the WTF part.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        For the second part, I could see the content of a few phrases on a half piece of paper being alarming enough that the coworker figured they had come across plans for a workplace/home shooting, and looking for the other pieces. Which could be 2 pieces/page–it needn’t be confetti.

        I can see contexts in which checking the bin is usual or bizarre; contexts in which this means “minor weird misunderstanding no one thinks of again” and contexts in which checking the garbage is a flashing sign that OP should be looking for other work because this office is looking for a reason to fire OP. But I think a graphic description of the violence you want to enact on the people you hate (if that’s what ‘lyrics’ or ‘doodles’ means) is an alarming thing for a coworker to find anywhere. Including in your recycle bin.

  32. Wilton Businessman*

    #1 They own you from the second you walk into the building until you leave. Anything you produce during “their time” is theirs. This is not 100% true, but a pretty good guideline.

    #2 OMG, no, no, no. Do not do that. (From someone who “called in sick” on a day I was at the beach and one of my coworkers stopped by my apartment to give me some soup and I was out of town). It will not end well.

    That’s all I got. #3, #4, #5 you’re on your own.

    1. Nanani*

      Re: 1 doodles and quotes from song lyrics surely don’t count as work product the firm would own. For one thing, LW doesn’t own the song lyrics they scribbled down with their doodles.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure that the smiling crocodile I doodled the last time I was on hold with IT is not something the company is licensed to use for advertising automatically because I did it while in their cube. My job description does not pertain to art in any way.

        Conversely I don’t expect that, if someone was looking for my handwritten to-do list for a few days ago, they would NOT see the crocodile I drew on it

  33. Rehtaej*

    I worked for a company where one person saved their bereavement leave to extend the winter break, and the contract was amended to require use within four weeks. (Had anyone asked about a wake or memorial later, I am sure it would have been accepted, but it didn’t come up. It would not have been accepted to extend a vacation or a stat holiday.)

    Don’t cheat on your use of it.

  34. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

    LW1: As a horror writer with a day job, I recommend you stick to doodling something innocuous like “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over and over again.

  35. RagingADHD*

    Wait, a *lawyer* was upset about *swears*? What stunted timeline of the Multiverse is this happening in?

    Weirdly officious and sanctimonious legal secretary/admin goes through the trash and tapes the papers together: that tracks completely. I’ve known plenty of those people.

    It’s the senior partner giving a flying fig that has me scratching my head. How senior is she? Because if she’s younger than like, 103, I can’t imagine any lawyer getting bent out of shape over some foul language. Or doodles of any kind, for that matter. I’d expect anyone with a healthy respect for workload and billable hours to ream out the person who wasted time taping trash together, and then wasted the sr partner’s time showing it to them.

    I guess the solution here is take everything to the shred lockbox. Let the firm pay the cost for their own bizarre choices.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      Eminem lyrics can be more than just foul language; his lyrics can get pretty violent and even bigoted sometimes. I can understand why the coworker was concerned by them, but they were reaching when they taped up ripped papers, in my opinion.

      1. Myrin*

        The OP specifically says “I explained the swear words were part of song lyrics”, though. Of course, maybe she worded that poorly but IDK I feel like she would’ve used different language if this were about the lyrics for “Stan”, for example.

      2. me*

        Excerpts from Kim, cut in half:

        Sit down b!tch
        I’ll beat the sh!t

        So long b!tch you
        I don’t wanna go on
        Living in this world

        You can’t run from me
        You’re only making this

        Don’t you get it b!tch
        Now shut the f#ck up
        You were supposed to
        Now bleed b!tch bleed

        If I glimpsed that out of the corner of my eye, yeah I’d go straight to the boss. Might or might not wait to find the missing part to see who apparently unhinged coworker was talking about.

        Also, who doodles that? Is that what’s going through the back of LW’s mind during a meeting? I really hope it was a less violent song, but I’d be pretty wigged to see something about a dead moose too.

          1. Wisteria*

            It’s just part of song lyrics.

            Do we suddenly have sympathy for OP1’s coworker and senior partner?

            1. yala*

              Considering that OP1’s coworker only wound up reading any lyrics (which may not have been anything like those) because they were not just snooping, but putting EFFORT into snooping…no, not really, no.

          2. me*

            I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable, but I’m not understanding how this could be both too graphic for this site and not a big deal if someone spotted it in a colleague’s trash at work.

            1. jane's nemesis*

              There’s no indication those were the lyrics OP was doodling.

              Here’s a different example:
              “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
              You own it, you better never let it go
              You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
              This opportunity comes once in a lifetime ”

              Other than “swearing,” there’s NO INDICATION in the letter that OP was writing anything violent or racist or misogynistic or homophobic. Why are you assuming that those lyrics you posted are what was on the doodles?

              1. me*

                LW is evasive about what exactly they wrote except that it contained profanity. If it had been so innocuous, I think they’d have said so.

                We also don’t know that colleague was rooting around in the trash, it could have been on top. And I haven’t met someone who uses violent language like I posted who didn’t have serious anger issues. No way I’m asking that person directly.

        1. Dinwar*

          Name a genre of music that doesn’t include violent songs. I can’t think of any–even “Classical” music discussed violence and sexually explicit material.

          It is a very serious error to believe that listening to violent music–or enjoying any other violent art form–indicates one is violent. They have tried to correlate the two over and over again, for generations, and there’s simply no connection.

          1. pancakes*

            I probably haven’t read every single latest comment, but I haven’t seen anyone claim there’s a correlation. I have seen a lot of people saying they’d be uncomfortable or worried if they saw lyrics like these written down at work without context, which is perfectly fair. I would be too if I didn’t recognize them.

            1. Dinwar*

              To be clear, I think it’s fine that the LW’s boss had a talk with them about not doing this at work. It’s not work-appropriate. I’d say the same thing about Hammerfall lyrics, some of the more violent Psalms, or really any other violet poetry. If they want to do it at work do it in a notebook they take home with them, and keep in a drawer when not in use. Problem solved.

              I do not understand the visceral reaction, however. And it’s not like I’ve lived a safe life–I’ve been shot at, stabbed, beaten rather severely, put on a hit list, strangled so many times I can’t wear ties due to my reaction, poisoned, and a few other things. I still wouldn’t be worried if I saw those lyrics. The gulf between “writes violent things” and “does violent things” is simply too great, at least in the absence of other evidence of violent inclinations. Most of the people who have tried to kill me haven’t been obviously violent.

              And to be clear, this isn’t a random scrap of paper left on a desk somewhere in plane view. The person was rooting around in the trash can to find this. Then they went straight to the boss instead of talking to the LW and finding out what was going on. There’s a pretty significant difference.

        2. Peaks*

          Why does everyone keep assuming it was lyrics to “Kim”? He’s been around for over 20 years. There are other songs.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I googled the lyrics to his “Kim” when someone cited the song above. I am not paraphrasing what they describe because that content would be clearly outside the rules of the blog.

      It’s a graphic depiction of plans for a mass murder, not someone saying a swear word.

      1. Yeah, nah*

        Except that OP mentioned swear words, and we’re supposed to take the OP’s post in good faith.

        Assuming that it’s the absolute most violent feels like people going out of their way to justify the kind of pearl-clutching over Eminem that went out of vogue 20 years ago.

          1. Yeah, nah*

            Also, as a person with a passing knowledge of pop music — the song being continuously referenced here was never a single or even particularly popular. To assume that OP was quoting a hyperviolent deep cut is a super bad-faith argument. It’s like talking about Britney Spears and only referencing album tracks instead of “Oops! …I Did It Again.”

            …and this is officially the most time I’ve spent thinking about Eminem since making fun of his dumb “windowpane” lyric in a Rihanna track.

            1. jane's nemesis*

              THANK YOU, exactly.

              Also, lol at that lyric. Rihanna shoulda sent him back to re-record with notes on that one.

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I didn’t read the letter as saying that the partner was upset. LW1 said, “I got no warning, just told to take my doodles home.” To me, that tracks with your scenario of a legal secretary/admin going through the trash, taping the papers together, and taking it to the partner—who doesn’t really give a flying fig but figures they have to at least have a meeting about it (especially if the lyrics in question have more than just some naughty words).

      1. RagingADHD*

        Unless the LW is the Sr Partner’s own direct report, it would be highly unusual to be called into a meeting with them to discuss it at all. That is a pretty significant calling-onto-the-carpet in a law firm.

        If it were a “meh, don’t do it again,” they would normally have left it to the LW’s direct supervisor.

        But then this whole scenario is weird, so who knows?

        1. Calliope*

          I’ve never known a law firm where lawyers have “direct supervisors”. I would assume whoever found it went to the senior partner either because he’s the managing partner or because they have a good relationship with him (like his assigned assistant) and he dealt with it informally.

          1. RagingADHD*

            I meant if the LW were the Sr partner’s own assistant or paralegal, vs being someone else’s. I used the terms direct report & sipervisor for the sake of translating to corporatespeak.

            The LW doesn’t say they are a lawyer. It’s even harder to envision them getting in trouble for this if they were.

  36. Purple Cat*

    LW1. I definitely understand why you feel embarrassed about the situation. But, let’s look at this scenario by assuming the best of intentions on everyone’s parts.
    There was a list of work items that your company needs.
    CoWorker looks on your desk, doesn’t see it. Glances in the trash and instead sees writing of “shoot, kill, violence, blah, blah, blah”. In today’s unfortunate environment (#murica) mass shootings and disgruntled employees turning to violence is all too common. So coworker brings the papers to senior partner for follow-up.

    I’m not quite sure what the senior partner’s response actually was. Yes you were “talked to” but was it just a check-in to make sure everything was okay and “keep this content out of the workplace”?

    1. Wisteria*

      Yeah, based on what’s in the letter, this is a non-issue. Nothing of note happened to OP1 in terms of consequences, so just take a note that Eminem song lyrics are not welcome in your office and move on.

  37. Late Luncher*

    #4 – Setting aside COVID, I’d be leery of organizations that hire for non-posted positions. I work in the arts, and that style of hiring is a huge problem in addressing DEAI issues, but also in hiring the right skill sets. A director hiring like this AND suggesting it’s ok to meet while they have COVID, is a big red flag. Use care.

  38. Fabulous*

    #5 – I initially thought you meant CollegeHumor (the website) rather than a humorous paper you wrote for at college. That website, if you’re unfamiliar with it, can be a bit… ahem… bawdy at times. Not that there would be anything wrong about working for the website, but I imagine it’s a different caliber of work and therefore might be worth the distinction. I’d recommend using different phrasing if you’re referencing the paper on your resume so as to avoid confusion.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I actually suspect it’s very much in line with the kind of publication the LW is talking about.

      1. Fabulous*

        I wouldn’t necessarily compare CollegeHumor with The Onion. I liken CH with shows like Jackass and Ridiculousness. I see The Onion as a different caliber of humor – more like Steven Colbert or SNL.

          1. quill*

            My alma mater’s satire editions were far more oniony. One year we announced new dorms being built… on a pontoon boat. Mocking the fact that every time we “needed more room” the college built a more expensive, lower capacity dorm building.

            Several people who saw the weekly paper several days after april 1 believed it briefly.

  39. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP4: No, just…no.

    My best friend recently tested positive for covid and is spending her time indoors and I’m getting her shopping and dropping it at her door for her. Both of us are vaccinated up the wazoo but both also have medical problems, family members who are even higher risk and coworkers who can’t be vaccinated too – to say nothing of the general public.

    She wears masks all the time and still caught it. I don’t give a toss what the official guidelines are, I want to keep people safe and so does she.

    So I’m one hundred percent behind anyone saying ‘even with masks and distance I cannot be around a positive case’ without having to give a reason. There’s plenty of electronic methods of communicating that are virus free (well, viruses that can infect humans anyway…)

  40. El l*

    Re Bereavement Leave:
    No, don’t do it. Bereavement isn’t vacation, PTO, or even sick time, it’s a special category. The reason it gets treated special is because it’s something that (a) everyone goes through, (b) is rare, (c) is not under your control or plan, and (d) requires your attention.

    Which is a long way of saying: It’s given under a certain amount of trust of what you’re doing with the time. Vacation isn’t it. Spend the day(s) of the funeral watching the ceremony livestream or calling family. But vacation time for vacation. Don’t give cynics (“bereavement time will be abused!”) a leg to stand on.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      A bit of a tangent:

      I find it interesting how people commonly define PTO as vacation only.
      I’d consider any time off that you’re being paid for to be PTO (paid time off). So vacation, sick time, and bereavement are all PTO, but they’re used in different circumstances.

      1. El l*

        I was under a system where you got PTO (vacation and sick indistinguishable) – and bereavement. So when I had to take a day off for my grandma’s funeral, I could count it as bereavement.

        By the way, the similar logic for bereavement (I mean (a) thru (d) above) also basically applies for jury duty. That’s why these things get treated special rather than just, “I need a day off.”

      2. Purple Cat*

        this very much depends on how the organization “buckets” the time. Yes, generally, all time is PTO, but at my org Vacation and Sick are now combined into one PTO bucket. They used to be separate. Bereavement and Jury Duty are exceptional one-off categories. That although are paid, are completely separate from the PTO bucket.
        Using the correct bucket in the correct way is important. And that’s the crux of the question.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Yep, which is why I said it’s a tangent.

          It’s interesting how the acronym PTO (paid time off) in colloquial usage does not seem to literally mean “paid time off”. Instead, people use it to refer to a specific bucket of paid time off.

        2. doreen*

          Yes, it depends a lot on how the organization buckets. Most of the time, when people refer to “PTO”, they are referring to a system that has a single bucket of time off to be used for vacation, sick days and the day you need to take off to wait for the plumber. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone with separate buckets for vacation and sick days ( and sometimes personal days) refer to PTO. But there are sometimes “special” categories that are separate from any bucket – jury duty and bereavement are probably the most common, but I’ve heard of others such as breast cancer screening and blood donation.

      3. Leenie*

        In my company, the “p” stands for “personal” time off not “paid” time off. And it is for sick and vacation time, which I guess is what our HR considers personal. Bereavement and jury duty aren’t included in PTO.

  41. Verthandi*

    #1 – Years ago I had a similarly nosy roommate who would routinely go through my trash. I found out and I began treating everything potentially explosive as if it were PHI, PFI, or PII. (Personal Health Information, Personal Finance Information, Personal Identifying Information) My bedroom, my trash bin, but good luck trying to explain to a nosy roommate to stay out.

    At work, if you have a To Be Shredded bin as we do at work, tear in half and put in two separate bins. Nosy shouldn’t be digging into shred bins and much less not two of them.

  42. Hailrobonia*

    #1: Write this and rip it into challenging-to-reassemble bits: “REMEMBER TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE”

  43. El l*

    OP 5:
    Is it great writing? Did you meet deadlines, do proper revision, etc when performing it? Then show it.

    At this point in your career, you are pitching your qualities and potential rather than your experience. Maybe they’ll find it funny and it’ll make you stand out – stranger things have happened.

    1. Turnip Soup*

      I don’t know what you mean by show, but I wouldn’t necessarily submit the pieces. I’d put the experience on the resume and maybe the best piece or two in my portfolio. But I wouldn’t submit any of the pieces as writing examples – they’re too far from science writing.

  44. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    About story #1: I’m reading over the comments with interest and agree that the garbage is not private. Hell, nothing on a desk that is work related is private. I felt weird about it but also totally justified to go over every bit of paper when a coworker was on leave because we needed to figure out what was left undone. (plenty…)

    But if the OP is away with COVID, unless they left that very same day that the person taped their doodles back together, how is there still anything left in the trash? I know that cleaners operate differently everywhere but at any major office I’ve worked, garbage and recycling are emptied nightly! There would be no doodles after 12 hours at my desk’s garbage or recycling bins (as evidenced by the empty bins in the wrong spots).

    1. BadWolf*

      Our garbage/recycle system depends on the location. I work at large facility. They pick up “main area” garbage daily. They pick up office garbage cans weekly, and only if they can access it. So if you close your door for a meeting, they aren’t going to interrupt you, looking for your garbage.

      Usually there’s at least an annual memo about not putting food trash in your office garbage because fruit flies…again.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I’ve worked several places where trash pickup was nightly, but paper recycling pickup was less frequent, presumably because it shouldn’t have have anything in there that will smell bad or otherwise cause issues if left for a few days. I’ve even worked places where the expectation was that you’d dump your own paper recycling bin from your desk into the larger bin yourself as-needed.

      I’ve also worked places where my co-workers kept papers in “to be shredded” bins under their desks for months until they were full enough to feel worth walking to the shred bin, but that feels less defensible as a practice. (I used to work in an much more security-conscious industry than I do now, so I’m pretty good about keeping that sort of thing either in a locked drawer or in the locked shred bin when I leave for the day.)

    3. JustaTech*

      Year’s ago my mom’s friend (a lawyer) got a high-level government job with an interesting quirk: because of the nature of her work, she had to empty her own trash can every day, because the janitorial staff didn’t have the security clearance to maybe see what was in the trash.
      (She was bemused and filed it under “things you’ve never thought about before”.)

    4. Cheshire Cat*

      I keep wondering about this, too. Unless the OP means recycling instead of actual trash?

  45. Salad Daisy*

    #1 I would be so tempted to put a loaded mousetrap in my trash, or a dye pack, or spread superglue on the papers. But that would probably get me in even more trouble! The only real solution is to make sure you take your trash with you when you leave for the day, while you are looking for another job.

    1. Aggresuko*

      And how ridiculous is that that you NEED to hide your trash :( But true, though.

      Hell, I found a coworker’s love poetry accidentally once and I didn’t do a darned thing with it other than go “oops” and put it back.

  46. Ellen N.*

    #1 I believe the coworker was going through the trash looking for exactly what they found.

    Prior to reading this post I was completely unfamiliar with Eminem’s lyrics. I read some of them and I would be concerned if I saw a coworker doodling them. They contain graphic descriptions of violence against women.

    Eminem has admitted to committing domestic violence.

    1. quill*

      I think I’m only familiar with his songs that are more in the vein of “I’m f-ing awesome,” (and maybe containing the N-word, which OP probably knows not to repeat or write)because that’s what I assumed when the LW said the probable concern was the swearing. Also, LW saying that the thing they thought was the concern was “swears” would be burying the lead if the concern was “hey, stop scaring your coworkers by leaving around lyrics to a song about wanting to shoot someone.” Though it’s always possible on here to bury the lead.

    2. Aggresuko*

      I don’t know what lyrics OP was writing down (I don’t think “Lose Yourself” has anything offensive in it off the top of my head), but probably most Eminem lyrics would come off as bad, I fear.

    3. yala*

      “Eminem has admitted to committing domestic violence.”

      So did John Lennon and many other well-known musicians.

      LW said it was the profanity they were admonished for, so I’m going to take them at their word that that was the issue and not violent lyrics.

  47. cardigarden*

    LW 5: Definitely include the humor paper (but be prepared for the hiring committee to look it up). I once (years ago) had an applicant list improv club work on their resume and that was the piece that advanced them beyond the phone screen because of the soft skills it implied– ability to think on your feet, verbal communication skills, sense of humor/personality that could fit in the department.

  48. Lizbrarian*

    LW four: I would say, “Thank you for taking the time to arrange our meeting. I’m so sorry to inconvenience you but I’m unable to meet in person because I have an unvaccinated child. I would love to talk over Zoom or phone if possible. I appreciate your consideration and I hope you have a great week!”

  49. Cataclysm*

    Re: #1 – I’m seeing a few people saying the coworker should’ve realized it was rap music from the rhythm/rhyme of the words, but even if the coworker did notice that (and some lyrics don’t have an obvious rhythm without the music), if the coworker didn’t already recognize it as a song, the coworker might have assumed it was the *OP’s* self-written rap music or particularly angry poem. I don’t think that’s a super unreasonable assumption, and that would certainly make you concerned.

    Re: #2 – from a coworker perspective, I would certainly view a vacation-y bereavement leave more favorably if the vacation was explicitly tied to the deceased. Ex: if you visited your grandmother’s hometown, if the museum was a place she took you often as a child or where she volunteered, etc.

  50. Critical Rolls*

    I’m surprised by the number of people who are okay with the snooping coworker’s actions based on the potential content of the lyrics. Coworker started off her series of actions not by glancing in the bin but excavating it, which is a dubious decision. You don’t have to have an overdeveloped sense of workplace privacy to be taken aback that someone has gone through your trash, extracted non-work scribbles, jigsawed them together, applied the worst possible interpretation, and involved a senior person. I get that we live in an age of mass shootings, but doodled lyrics (with a structure and rhyme scheme that would be pretty evident) that she found while *digging through the trash* aren’t substantial by themselves. Taping the pages together and reporting it was an overreaction at best and active undermining at worst.

    I wish I knew the content of the conversation with the senior person! I’m not clear if “take the doodles home” means don’t do them at the office or don’t throw them out at the office. I’m not sure how I feel about the former, but the latter would be bizarre, since it implies that the LW can expect to continue to have her trash monitored!

    1. Dinwar*

      Yeah, that’s my take as well.

      The LW may not be entirely innocent here, but the LW’s actions warrant a “Maybe use different lyrics for this exercise” at best. A lesson in professionalism, not something to be concerned about. The solution here is easy: Buy a cheep notebook, keep your doodles in there, and keep the notebook in a backpack or something, where the clients can’t see it.

      Going through the trash and piecing together torn-up bits of paper is beyond unprofessional. It’s downright creepy. If I found out someone was digging through my garbage for random sheets of incriminating paper I’d report them to HR; if they were spending time taping things together I’d have serious questions about their mental health (I’ve known some people with mental health issues and this sort of behavior indicates things are pretty bad). If this person isn’t suffering from a mental illness, the first question that popped into my head was, what other boundaries is this person violating? Are they rummaging through my desk? People’s purses? People’s cars? There isn’t a good solution to this problem–this person has violated the trust of everyone in the office.

      I’d also be VERY concerned as to why this person targeted the LW. If this person is randomly targeting garbage cans it’s bad; if they’re targeting the LW, it’s downright dangerous. This is stalker behavior. As you said, they had to put in a fair bit of effort to get something they could take to the boss; this wasn’t a casual “I saw something and got concerned” deal, this was obsessive. While there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in an office, there should be a reasonable expectation to not have to deal with stalkers.

      I think the issue here is that the lyrics included rap. Rap gets a bad reputation, unwarranted in my opinion (for the record I can’t stand rap; I’m approaching this from a hostile perspective). Literally everything rap deals with that makes it offensive is dealt with in other genres. I mean, look at a translation of the French national anthem sometime, or look at what some of the Classical composers were writing when they weren’t doing symphonies and the like! But because it’s rap, the reverse-halo effect is in play and people view the situation in a much worse light than they would if the music had been a different type. I saw this trend in high school, with Country music, only in reverse. We were allowed to listen to music that dealt with sex, drugs, violence, and the like, often in explicit detail (see “Cocaine Blues” by Johnny Cash) so long as it had a twang to it. Same topics addressed on a pop station? “That’s horrible! Who would listen to this?!” The height of absurdity was someone trying to argue that a song was evil when it was on the pop station, but perfectly fine on a country station.

      Replace “rap lyrics” with LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE and the horror of this scenario becomes obvious.

      1. Aggresuko*

        As someone who’s been targeted at work, this scares the bejeezus out of me. OP is going to have to be so clean they squeak or else anything they say can and will be used against them. Any manager entertaining listening to this crazy is not on your side.

      2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        That’s a good point about rap music’s reputation. People here defending the trash-digger are automatically assuming LW was writing out violent and misogynist lyrics when, per the letter, the problem was “swear words,” not misogyny.

        If this were about Beatles lyrics, I think the responses would be much different. (“Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head…. Maxwell’s silver hammer made sure that she was dead” “You better run for your life if you can, little girl, hide your head in the sand, little girl, catch you with another man, that’s the end… little girl.”) (although, to be fair, if I didn’t realize it was a Beatles song and openly saw that sentence of “Run For Your Life” sitting in the top of a coworker’s trashcan, I might be concerned. It would have to be on top of the trash can because I would never dig through someone else’s trash because that’s just disgusting).

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Because this has come up a few times: I have no particular musical ability, and when I googled the lyrics I had to double check that there was in fact a rhyme structure–it reads as very stream-of-rage-consciousness. The rhythm is there if you read aloud, and it makes the words more powerful, but this isn’t a sonnet, or “Roses are red.”

      Hearing it performed, I would get the rhyme and structure. But those wasn’t at all evident looking at it in writing, even when I knew that I was looking at lyrics.

    3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Yeah, and if we take LW at their word (which is really all you can do; speculating that they’re lying is pointless and I believe against the rules here), the problem was the “swear words,” not violence and misogyny.

      It seems like everyone defending the trash digger is jumping to the worst Eminem songs, when he also has songs that aren’t violent or misogynistic.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        “VOMIT on his SWEATER?!? And the f-word! My eyes!” *marches to manager’s office*

      2. Calliope*

        Or the lyrics are fine in context but with swear weirds but alarming in just a snippet without context. We can take LWs at their word without assuming that there’s no other possible interpretation of something than the LWs.

      3. Starbuck*

        I don’t know why people are treating “swear words” and “misogyny” as somehow totally distinct categories when I can think of several misogynistic swears/slurs off the top of my head!

  51. quill*

    LW5: Please keep your writing samples (Attributed correctly! I cannot stress enough how many times I was incorrectly attributed at my college paper!) available in your own files, as a college paper’s memory is approximately 2-3 years, and anyone who calls may have to wait a while for someone to dig up evidence that you got paid for those articles.

  52. Essess*

    OP #4 – No matter how great that job might sound, the director has just told you that they don’t care if they pass on a life-threatening disease to you, your family, or the people that they work with. You truly can’t trust your safety around this person and this should be the biggest concern of any possible red flag in a job.

  53. SRJ*

    LW #5, definitely highlight the satire publication. I have a background in comedy writing/performance, and for a long time downplayed or excluded it entirely from my resume. But people in my relatively straight-laced industry are utterly fascinated by it. It’s only been an asset. When something creative I’ve done comes up in interviews, it’s a great opportunity to talk about embracing big challenges and collaborating and making improvements to your work.

  54. Dancing Otter*

    #4 — I know the term “director” is used in many types of business, but my first thought was theatre. If so, any Equity theatre in the US has COVID precautions written into their union contract.

    The walk around outside suggestion could be because the director isn’t allowed in the building yet, rather than organizational laxity. This could be true if other types of workplaces, too.

    Yellow flag, not red, to my mind.

  55. Adrienne*

    #5 – I work in healthcare communications and regularly hire interns and my advice is definitely to include your writing experience. It would be very useful to me as a manager to know that an internship candidate with a science background has a good sense of how to write for a non-scientific audience. Best of luck with your internship search!

  56. BadWolf*

    OP1 is an interesting case of either “best scenario” or “worst scenario”. Either a coworker was covering for an ill coworker and trying to avoid contacting them while they were out, saw something concerning, “said something” and then the OP was chatted with, determined things were fine, asked to toss doodles at home, minimal change. Or OPs coworker was digging for dirt, found something and gleefully ran to the boss hoping to stir up trouble.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I agree on how open to interpretation it is. I could see both:
      • Looking in the trash was a normal step 2; looking in the trash was wildly over the top.
      • The lyrics and/or doodles were disturbing without context; the words were innocuous save for a couple of f-bombs.
      • Coworker had an understandable reaction to something disturbing they stumbled across in the course of doing their job; coworker is plotting against OP and regularly goes through their garbage.
      • If that last one, that this is okay with the company which is looking for dirt on OP; that this is okay with the company in the sense that it’s hard to hire right now and so ignoring Margaret’s drama and giving OP a word about not leaving NSFW stuff anywhere in the work cubicle is the easiest way to handle things this week. (Possibly Margaret was told that this was over the top, and OP told to take the NSFW doodles out of the office, and neither was told what was done re the other one.)

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

        This just made me think of something. Is the OP’s office private or do they have more of an open concept where there are cubical “offices” where people can walk by and everyone has their own garbage? Because if they don’t have an office that is completely private, and it’s more of an open plan how could anyone specifically know that what was put in the trash can was the OP. I’ve worked where we had high cubical walls so it gave the allusion of office walls, but we could all very easily go to someone’s desk and drop something off on their desk or throw things away in the garbage can.

  57. Observer*

    OP #! – I’m overlapping with a lot of people here. I have 3 takeaways that I think you need to think about.

    1. Don’t write NSFW stuff at work. Not even doodles and not even rap lyrics by famous rappers. It’s just a bad idea. If you DO have to do this particular type of doodling, make sure that you don’t leave them around in any sort of findable form.

    2. Unless your employer tells you otherwise, you don’t have a technical expectation of privacy concerning your trash can. That’s true no matter where you work. Functional workplaces don’t regularly go through your trash, but you will almost never come out well responding to a legitimate question about something found in your trash by standing on your privacy.

    3. While #2 is correct, people going through your trash is almost always a very, very bad sign. I do see the possibility that your coworker genuinely thought that an urgent work list had fallen in the garbage (hard to tell from what you write), but the rest of the detail make me believe that you are dealing with a problematic trash searcher here. The thing that really concerns me here is your manager’s response. The fact that she brought you in because she didn’t recognize this as lyrics doesn’t bother me so much – the situation was one she had to deal with regardless of where her information came from. However, telling you that you should take your doodles home indicates that she expects trash searches to happen again, and that speaks to a real dysfunction.

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

      Ok I can see the rap lyrics especially if its using NSFW language. But are doodles themselves taboo?? Am I missing something? If the Doodle was something not good, like a cartoon making fun of another coworker, then I can see the problem. But a drawing of just random things like flowers and cats and such? How is that wrong? Often people doodle to keep their minds active, especially during slow days or when they are waiting for something or someone.

      1. Aggresuko*

        I think the key thing here is that it’s acceptable at that workplace to go through someone’s trash(!) and anything OP says/writes can and will be used against them. Possibly even if all they did was doodle flowers and hearts on paper.

        You’re doing “sane world thinking,” and OP is not working in a sane world once someone starts going through their trash and taking it to the boss. Yes, that’s not “wrong” in a sane world, but OP isn’t in one…

        1. Observer*

          Two things can be true at the same time.

          One – this is a workplace that seems to normalize searching people’s trash. That’s nuts and a sign of a very dysfunctional workplace.

          Two- writing NSFW stuff AT WORK is a bad idea. Don’t do it.

          Both of those things are true. And it’s especially important for the OP to keep that in mind. Because hopefully, they will be able to move on to a better workplace, and it will help them if they have some clarity on what a healthy workplace looks like. But also that even in a healthy workplace that doesn’t routinely do this kind of thing, writing NSFW stuff is a really bad idea.

      2. Observer*

        I have no idea what the answer to your question is. I specified NSFW stuff – not kittens and flowers etc. for a reason.

  58. monogodo*

    My maternal grandfather died in late June, 1995. I was able to use the two bereavement days for a grandparent death, my two-day weekend, and the Fourth of July holiday to get 5 days off in a row to travel for his funeral and visit family & friends unrelated to the funeral.

    When my paternal grandmother died in early November, 2009, she donated her body (specifically her brain, due to having Alzheimer’s) to science. When her cremains were returned to the family, we had a family-only interment on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was able to use the (again) two bereavement days for a grandparent death (different employer), and the two days of the Thanksgiving holiday, and only used one vacation day to travel from Texas to Wisconsin to visit. The service was at least three weeks after her death, and my employer didn’t question it.

    Take the time. Check to see if your employer requires any kind of paperwork to prove the purpose of the visit. My brother had to get a letter from the funeral director for his employer. I simply took a cell phone pic of my grandma’s grave and emailed it to my supervisor.

  59. Sadcation*

    I just had a question like Letter #2, because I had a family member die immediately before a couple planned unpaid days off where I was going out of town. There was no memorial service then (there was a small one many weeks later) so I just went on my trip anyway. Under any other circumstances I would have taken that time as bereavement leave instead, which in this case would have taken it from unpaid time off to paid. Since I was carrying on with my little trip, though, I felt like it would look like I was just trying to get paid time off when I was not in fact particularly bereaved. I don’t think anyone would have protested, but I didn’t think it would make the most charming impression on the office (and the way our leave approvals work, a lot of people would have actually seen it). In hindsight I’m wondering if that was silly.

    1. Workin' 9 to 5*

      For what it’s worth, I think you made the right call. For me, it’s not so much what other people think (though sometimes perception needs to be considered), but it’s more just honoring the spirit of the policy so that the policy remains intact for those who need it and intend to use it as it was meant to be used. (In other words if people start abusing it, it might not always be there) I do not know what exactly the spirit of your company’s policy is but MOST bereavement policies expect people to use this time for things specifically related to death of a loved one. The key word being “specifically”. A good company will be able to reasonably support the grieving needs of their employees in other ways whether that’s flexibility in work schedules or taking “mental health” days or even offering assistnace with meals, etc.

      1. Sadcation*

        This might be foolish of me but I have always assumed bereavement leave was primarily to give bereaved people a couple days to compose themselves before having to act normal in public again and/or go to services for the deceased, not to handle all the paperwork?

        From that perspective, I could see an argument for it matching the spirit of the leave either way. The purpose of bereavement leave, to me, is for you to be able to comfortably take a few days in grief without working about paid leave banks or your paycheck. Since I was already taking that time off, I wasn’t going to get paid anyway, so the situation doesn’t change whether I was crying on those days or not, and I didn’t feel like I could ask to get them covered based on how I felt during that time. That would feel like the letter and not the spirit since it was technically allowed but not necessarily needed, since I was already planning to not have to be at work on those days.

        On the other hand, if I was my manager and someone else was in this position, it would absolutely not come down on that side. I can’t imagine being asked about this and replying “ah, well, you may be bereaved, but you happened to have already asked for those days off before they died, so no takesies backsies.” That would feel to me very much like following the letter but not the spirit of the thing, since you’re quite literally bereaved regardless of the schedule and if the point is to relieve some stress from someone who’s grieving then being stingy about that defeats the purpose.

  60. Anonamoose*

    For #2 writing as someone in HR – we normally only know what is told to us. For our bereavement leave, employees input that time off in the system and note the individual that it is for (but days don’t have to be used sequentially, you just get X days per qualifying person). So from that perspective, while I don’t think it’s the “right” way of using bereavement leave what I don’t know isn’t a problem. However getting the approval from your individual team/department is another thing and where it could feel more questionable. You’ll have to decide if it’s something you’re going to give a while lie about (is that going to make you feel dishonest?) or maybe you and your manager are on good terms and they get that its a grey area of using bereavement leave.

    However, I think if the vacation has no connection to your family or your relative that passed it will be a harder thing to “sell”/maybe not appropriate use of bereavement time. It would be one thing to say that you’re going to FL to see relatives and for some time decompress versus I’m just going to FL to have a beach vacay and decompress.

  61. Workin' 9 to 5*

    Letter #2–I try to live my life professionally and personally with the thought that if you have to even ask if something is wrong, then it likely is. The fact that LW was even questioning whether using bereavement leave as vacation was appropriate should be a clue to them that it’s probably not. I am in HR and fought for years to have our bereavement policy re-written to be more “liberal”. We used to give from 1-3 days depending on the relationship and/or distance traveled. I was finally sucessful in getting them to expand that and we now give “up to 5 days” with no relationship or distance stipulations. (The whole relationship thing felt kind of icky because people’s family dynamics are different and your closeness to someone isn’t necessarily related to their official “title”.) We fully recognize that in no way is 5 days (or even 25 days) enough for someone to complete the grieving process and that is not the intention. The intention is to give them the time to take care of at least some of the logistics, attend services, spend time with family, etc. In addition, we have very generous vacation leave and medical leave that can be used for mental health and we are flexible and supportive in other ways as well but realisitically, we have to draw the line somewhere in what we can reasonably afford to provide both finanically and operationally. But I would not be pleased if someone wanted to use the time we have designated for bereavement for a vacation (to attend belated services–yes. To go on a cruise–NO.) In agreeing with Alison, I feel that is not in accordance with the spirit of the policy and I’m sure that if the powers that be at my company realized that was happening, we would be right back to the old policy.

    1. retired3*

      In government it’s called the “front page test.” No matter what your job, what would this behavior look like on the front page of your newspaper.

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

    In regards to # 2: I can see why you are asking, and I could see if there was some gray area. For example, if you were planning your vacation for a family reunion and now it’s turning into a memorial for your grandmother, I could see you maybe wanting to use some of that as bereavement instead. Or if you were going to have a few days back home where your grandmother lived to celebrate her life and then you were going on your vacation. I

    However, I wonder, does bereavement leave have to be something specific like a memorial or funeral for you to take it off. I’m wondering if the OP could just take a few days even if they cannot make it to the funeral. Could they do their own private memorial and still use bereavement. Or even just use the days when it normally would have been for the funeral. There might be specific rules but it would be a thought. I think regardless if someone can physically make the funeral I think they should be able to take the time.
    On a side note, OP check with the funeral to see if there is some type of streaming ( I know some churches had started doing that upon request from family during covid). Or maybe there is a family member who would be willing to have a tablet or phone propped and record or zoom the service.
    I’m very sorry for your loss and I hope you can do whatever is best for yourself.

  63. ONFM*

    OP#1 – this happened to me years ago. A grandboss stopped by my work area on a day that I was out, misinterpreted something innocuous that was tacked up in my cubicle, and notified my supervisor. About a week later, I was confronted by my boss and grandboss; when I explained the original item, they started bringing up other “notes to self” they took issue with. After the ambush, I realized a few of the items they mentioned were notes I had scribbled off during meetings, addressed at my cube, and tossed in the bin. My boss was literally going through my trash every evening to see what he could find.

    Lucky for me, there was a company-wide shakeup a few weeks later and my boss and grandboss were both transferred away. Otherwise, the environment had become so toxic that there was no way for me to recover. (Benign comments were interpreted in the worst possible way, simple email requests were met with counseling – apparently signing off with “thanks for your help” was sarcastic, for example.) My new boss came in, asked a few questions, saw the quality of my work, and never brought any of it up again. That’s the only reason I’m still with my organization.

    I did make a couple of changes. I started keeping notes in a notebook that I either took home every day or locked in my desk. I started throwing my discards in the shredder instead of the open bin. I cleaned out my workspace and removed almost all personal traces of personality. (I’ve slowly returned them over the years, but at first I cleaned everything out completely because I didn’t want to take chances.) If you think you can still be successful in this workplace, good luck to you.

  64. yala*

    ‘I thanked her for her advice and said I would keep that in mind in the future. And she snapped at me as to why I wasn’t listening to her. We had another back and forth with her growing increasingly agitated as I tried to figure out what she wanted in response. … She also said, “I don’t know why you’re being defensive…” I wasn’t defensive, I was confused because to me it seemed very bizarre to ask for a corrected resume in a final interview and I genuinely hadn’t understood earlier that she meant that.”‘

    Boy howdy, is this a familiar feeling. People like that, you have to walk on eggshells with all the time, because you never know what will be read as not listening/defensive. Did you say “Ok, I’ll do that” too quickly? Not make eye contact at exactly the right time? Is Mercury in retrograde? Who knows!

    If she was someone you were going to have to work with, good call opting out up front instead of risking months/years of reading tea leaves and second-guessing your every word and expression in case it’s going to be the next thing to set her off.

  65. Dax*

    LW#1 – this EXACT thing happened to me! At the time, the wife of one of the managers was hired to clean the office after hours, and her husband was helping her. He was a real ass, a hothead who frequently got in the way of progress. I had written out some of my workplace frustrations, including names, torn it to shreds, and put it in my trash. He saw his name on a shred of paper while he was emptying my trash. Next thing I knew, I was pulled into a meeting with HR, the plant manager, and the trash picking manager, with my torn up notes reassembled on the table between us. I was absolutely humiliated, and furious. I pointed out to the hothead ass multiple times throughout the meeting that he went through my trash to find dirt on me, and pointed out how weird this was. This infuriated him, and his face got redder and redder until I thought he might combust. The next day I made an appointment with a recruiter and got the hell out of there.

  66. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#2: No, it is just plain wrong. Sheesh. Your planned vacation a couple of months from now has nothing to do with bereavement, grieving, a funeral or a memorial or anything else relevant. I can see your Transactional Thinking: you were entitled to bereavement leave because of your kin’s death but you chose not to use that leave, and now you feel the company owes you some corresponding paid time off for a reason of your choosing, since you didn’t use the bereavement leave. Um, nope. It doesn’t work that way. Bereavement leave is not PTO owed to you to be used for any purpose.

  67. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: Well, that is very curious indeed. Why would a co-worker go through trash unprompted, and tape back together a piece of paper that had been ripped up? Seems like there must be more to this story. The trash and work product belong to the employer, and no, there should be no practical expectation of privacy (from one’s employer) for any work product, not even for work product that is put in the garbage. But heck, what was going on here with the reassembly of garbage? Sounds to me like someone has it out for the OP, knew about the doodles, and weaponized the doodles.

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