our boss is demanding a gift with an accounting of names and how much each person contributed

A reader writes:

Our boss informed us that she’s leaving for a new position at another company. Hooray for the boss, and hooray for us because the boss was truly awful.

Here’s where things get icky: the company is throwing her a farewell party. Everyone has been invited to make a financial contribution to a farewell gift for her. She forces her assistant to organize the gift and share with her the names of those who gave money and the amounts they gave. (Her assistant can’t afford to lose her job.) This has happened before (think major happy life events) and each time everyone has given increasing/outrageous sums of money towards gifts for her, realizing that she received an accounting of who has given what amount.

For many, our generosity is driven by fear because she is an unpredictable, chaotic, and vindictive human being who has inflicted unnecessary suffering upon all below her. She also happens to be in an extremely high ranking position at our teapot company. Her yearly salary is 10 or 15 times higher than most of ours.

The farewell party is six weeks before her planned last day on the job. What happens during those six weeks? She does our performance reviews! This seems like the last in a long string of unfair setups and indignities we’ve been subjected to under her reign. We’ve already given money toward gifts for all the other life events she’s celebrated in the past. Asking us to pay more money for a going away gift seems gauche, especially since a) she is a terrible boss who did nothing but make everyone miserable, and b) compared to her obvious wealth, our monetary “donations” to her come at a substantial cost to our pocketbooks that far outpaces the difference in our pay. The idea of her parting shot being unfair performance reviews deflated or inflated depending on how much we pony up for her gift makes me ill.

We do have HR but it functions purely to protect the company, not the workers. Because this is a high ranking person, we expect HR will shield her and exact retribution on anyone who asks for their assistance with this matter. What should we do?

Well, this is profoundly messed up. There should never be pressure on employees to donate money to anything and especially not upward to a manager. When someone controls your paycheck and whether you continue to have a job, it ranges from tacky to outright abusive for them to expect gifts from you.

But your boss takes this to a new level. Requiring her assistant to collect money from people, and to share with her the names and amounts people contributed?! Your boss is a cartoon villain.

Normally in a situation like this I’d recommend tipping off HR, but it sounds like HR is off the table. I do want to nudge you to make sure that’s really the case, though; HR’s function generally is to protect the company, but that doesn’t mean siding with managers every time. In fact, in a case like this at a decent organization, “protecting the company” would mean putting a stop to what your manager is doing — not because it’s illegal (it’s not) but because it’s a terrible practice that will demoralize people and is a flag that there’s likely a ton of other questionable stuff going on.

But if your experience with HR at your company is that they’re not going to be of help (and nor will your boss’s boss, I’m guessing?), then your basic options are:

1. Everyone bands together and agrees not to donate money to a gift for the boss. Maybe you all sign a card instead, if that. If none of you contribute, it’ll be harder for her to penalize you. Not impossible — she could certainly decide to give you all awful performance reviews because she didn’t get to leave the job with a pricey new handbag or whatever she’s hoping for, but it could work.

2. Everyone bands together and agrees to donate money to a charity in the boss’s name, and then it’s presented to her as “we knew this would be so meaningful to you” because sometimes that approach can work with problem people — when you say, essentially, “I know you care so much about being a good person,” sometimes they feel obligated to try to live up to it in this one narrow situation.

3. Everyone bands together and agrees to donate some low amount, like $5 each. Yes, it’s money you shouldn’t have to spend. But it might be the most expedient solution; you’d basically be paying $5 to make this problem go away. You’d need everyone or nearly everyone on board with this though.

I considered including an option #4 where a group of you pushes back more directly, telling your boss openly that your team doesn’t want to do gifts this way, that people feel pressured to contribute money they can’t afford, and the accounting of names and amounts makes people worry that what they give will be factored into how they’re managed. And that’s an option if enough of you feel comfortable with it. But if she’s truly the cartoon villain that she seems, options #1-3 are likely going to be a lot less drama.

{ 440 comments… read them below }

  1. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Send a memo to her superior saying that you really hope to get a good performance review and wonder if they could give you some advice on how much you should contribute to the gift to ensure that you get a good one.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I think this is the absolute most appropriate response. And who knows – her bosses may have a list of issues they are keeping on her, and may welcome one more thing to add to the stack against her.

          1. cal*

            Agreed! And being responsible for performance reviews? Someone needs to sue this company til they cry.

    2. Hello*

      In the absence of context, this could be construed as OP asking how to bribe their manager for a good performance review.

      1. PostalMixup*

        Yeah. I wonder if it could be worded more as “I wonder how we’re going to control for her knowledge of contribution amounts when performance review time comes.” Flags the issue for grand-boss without inviting accusations of bribery and without making outright accusations.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          “Dear Cruella’s Boss,

          Knowing that Cruella bases her performance reviews of employees according on the amount of money they contribute toward gifts for her — as documented by her assistant per Cruella’s instructions — I was hoping for some guidance on how much I need to contribute for her farewell gift to get a good rating in the review process that will be taking place during the six weeks after her farewell party.”

          1. T. Boone Pickens*

            I’d probably remove the language on including Cruella’s assistant because goodness knows someone as evil as Cruella could easily say something like, “Oh I never authorized that, assistant must be taking things to the extreme” and completely throw poor assistant under the bus.

            1. Virginia Plain*

              Yes I hope the assistant does not suffer. I still think about the poor young person whose boss forced her on pain of firing to put a note to an employee on bereavement leave on the deceased’s grave, then they got fired for doing it.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Rather than “how much I need to contribute to her farewell gift to get a good review” – as that still sounds a little bribe-ey, if I were going this route I’d more likely say “how much I need to contribute to her farewell gift to prevent her giving me a bad review because of the amount”.

            1. Erin*

              Or even “how much you would advise I contribute to minimise the risk of her adjusting my review in either a positive or negative direction – I of course want my review to be as objective and accurate as possible.”

        2. tamarak & fireweed*

          It could be an email message to “all” and formulated in a way that it applies to everyone not just the writer.

      2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Good point. Maybe instead they reach out for legal advice like “I don’t want it to seem like I’m bribing her for a good performance review, given the timing of her gift, the donor list she requested, and her departure. She will receive the list of contributors and the amounts they gave 6 weeks before her last day and then have those 6 weeks to write performance reviews. Given these potential optics of looking like I gave her a larger amount simply for a good review and not out of a genuine desire to contribute to her farewell gift, I am writing for your advice – because of course I don’t want to put her or the company (or myself) in that position. How would you advise I handle this? Thanks!”

      3. Len F*

        Yes, because that’s *exactly the situation*. What the terrible boss is doing amounts to extorting bribes from her staff. That is indeed what OP can make her higher-ups aware of.

        (But yes, it would be wise to be careful to make it clear that that’s coming from the boss, not initiated by the OP)

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Ooo – evil me loves this.

      But I don’t know how practical this is in the real world.

    4. Abogado Avocado*

      Exactly!

      Make sure to keep a copy for yourself and to bcc: HR and the General Counsel. The company’s lawyer is likely to shut down the gift-giving because of the litigation implications. Departing Boss’ self-serving gift practices demonstrate bias in her prior and current evaluations because it shows she is biased against those who don’t pay to give her expensive gifts.

      Knowledge of this bias poses a serious legal problem for the company because this email would put it on notice that a poor evaluation by Departing Boss was more likely to have been based on the failure to pay for an expensive gift, rather than on poor performance. Therefore, once the company (and its General Counsel) are on notice of Departing Boss’ self-serving practices, the company can no longer rely on Departing Boss’ evaluations in constructive discharge or wrongful termination cases to show that the plaintiff had poor work habits and would not have been promoted or retained.

      1. Isabel Archer*

        I appreciate the idea behind this suggestion, but many organizations don’t have a General Counsel.

        1. Eye roll*

          They probably do (and in some states, must) if they’re actually incorporated. Unfortunately for OP, it may be an outside firm rather than an in-house lawyer.

          1. The Nanny Dog*

            Which states? What statutes in those states require it? I’ve never heard of any such requirement, and I’m quite skeptical. Your average dry cleaner or gas station incorporating locally would never be able to hire a general counsel. I strongly suspect you’re confusing it with hiring an agent for service of process, which is likely to be a one-time fee of $100 or so.

    5. Aepyornis*

      I like that. A lot. But it would have good chances to yield a generic boilerplate response (reviews are unrelated to gifts) or as others have said, backfire (convocation to HR to try to bribe manager).

    6. Oakwood*

      I’m not sure I’d be that snarky, but I would start contacting people up the chain.

      If enough people contact your boss’s superior(s) saying they feel pressured to give money because they may not otherwise receive a fair evaluation from their boss it may get action.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      I like the way you think. I’m sure this would be acceptable as evidence in a criminal extortion case? (Insert maniacal cackling here)

    8. Petty Betty*

      This is what I was going to suggest. “What is the minimum required ‘donation’ to ensure my review is good, because the way we’re being pressured to contribute to this ‘present’ before we get our evaluations feels like a requirement and a subtle test and I’d like to make sure I pass.”

    9. RJ*

      This is brilliant! I have no other advice except wondering why the hell any company would give a departing manager the chance to do performance reviews right before departing the company? Gift chicanery notwithstanding, this is monumentally bad business practice.

    10. JSPA*

      Too fancy. I’d instead ask if someone who’s not tracking gift amounts would be available to do the performed reviews.

    11. Ozzac*

      Maybe also ask if you should expect the pratice of money=good performance review with the new boss too.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    One thing I wonder would be possible – when the new boss comes in, get them to re do the performance reviews?

    It’s rare but we have done it here when the outgoing boss was known for playing favourites/being extremely bigoted/accepting bribes. When the entire team goes to HR and says ‘we need these redoing now because ex boss did not do them accurately’ it is hard to ignore.

    But, as Alison points out, a lot hinges on getting the whole team together on a united front. The evil part of me really likes the charity donation and then saying something like ‘since you’re so kind and giving we knew this would mean a lot to you’. While I’m not normally a fan of trying emotional manipulation in cases where the person is a greedy shameless money grabbing tosspot I don’t care.

    1. D*

      How would a new boss do performance reviews when they haven’t been around to see the past year’s work?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s situational dependant granted, but in the cases I know of there’s actual data behind performance – like client feedback, number of cases closed etc.

        1. Just J.*

          Or you just scrap 2022’s reviews and wait a year. (Then again, I’m in private practice where we can do these things.)

      2. Yay, I’m a Llama again!*

        Yeah. I had a new boss last year who didn’t spend any time getting to know me or my job before doing my performance review; didn’t appear to have read any of the information collated over the year, or take into abbot by my track record from the previous 3 quarters… it did not go well and I no longer work in that department.

    2. Jam on Toast*

      My not-so-good side would be tempted to make a donation to a charity the mustache-twirling despot wouldn’t normally support with a ten foot pole. Choose something that any reasonable person would feel great about supporting but that will get under their skin but good. Spent all their time ranting about homeless riffraff? Big ol’ cheque to transition housing. Thinks climate change is a crock? Local conservation effort or a save the endangered cute-and-adorable-spotted-somethingorother campaign. And then sell it, with a big game show smile at their going away luncheon, cheerfully oblivious to their seething resentment.

    3. Sad Desk Salad*

      I like the charity donation suggestion best as well, and I really hope OP and their coworkers can band together on this one. Chaotic good; a nonprofit benefits and is able to advance its important work, and manager can’t say boo about it.

    4. cal*

      I love the idea of a charity donation. The whole speech ‘we know you care’ would be worth it. In fact, I would pay for tickets to watch it. I know other commentators would also buy tickets. I can be a bit evil when manic so I would just torment her
      ‘You’re such a caring person. We know that a charity donation is the best gift we can give you! I hope you’re so happy with our thoughtfulness..’
      Manager: WTF, flip out. Then you play dumber. ‘I don’t see what the problem is. I would havee thought the charity donation would make you happy. After all, you dedicate so much time to helping others.’ Manger: ‘Don’t do that’. OP: ‘Do what? We all wanted to give you the best send off. Is there an issue that we donated to the needy’?’

      Then just keep going. 2 bonuses. The evil queen gets nothing! HA HA. ‘Playing dumb’ to drive them mad is so sweet it will offset a lof of the trauma from the past!

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I personally love the charity donation idea. Pick a cause and org that it would look especially terrible for her to object to (e.g. food bank, meals-on-wheels, NICU helping hands). Stick it in an elaborate card and then, when presenting it to her do it at the event with a super saccharine speech about her generosity. Bonus points if you can get someone higher ranked than her to present it.

    6. tamarak & fireweed*

      Well, at least one of the points the new boss absolutely needs to know is how these performance reviews came about.

  3. NewJobNewGal*

    Is there a more round about way of informing HR? “Boss is requesting a good-bye gift. Will the company be paying for it, or should her assistant solicit funds from her reports?”

    1. EngineeringFun*

      How is this not a conflict of interest???! I just took training on this. You can not give or receive gifts of monetary value that influence business.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        It is. If this is true, that’s the whole point and why this “boss” is such a wildly cartoonishly terrible person. This is completely unethical and wrong. Maybe it’s juuuuust this side of illegal, but certainly a rotten business practice, and doubly so for someone who supervises others.

      2. SongbirdT*

        An ethics hotline, if the company has one, might also be a good option for the OP to report this.

        1. LikesToSwear*

          Yes, this! If the company has an ethics hotline, they would be the best place to call.

    2. SixTigers*

      That’s a great e-mail, but you need to augment it a bit:

      “Boss is requesting a good-bye gift. Will the company be paying for it, or should her assistant solicit funds from her reports, as usual?”

      If anyone in HR is awake, that “as usual” will definitely jerk some heads around.

  4. Lady Blerd*

    Just in case you aren’t joking, if the boss is as bad as OP says she is, I can see her using this to accuse OP of offering a bribe in exchange for a good review.

      1. Egmont Apostrophe*

        “I assumed I was following company policy, based on what I’ve observed in the past.”

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      What I don’t understand is how this wouldn’t qualify as extortion on the Boss’ part.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        I wonder if OP can get it in writing, because it seems like it would.
        Then it’s a whole other game.

        1. ecnaseener*

          It’s only a whole other game if people are willing to make a police report and go through that whole rigamarole.

          1. Observer*

            I doubt that this is illegal unless this is a publicly traded company or a tax exempt organization.

            In which case, if HR is incompetent enough to not care, going to the Board might work. But that assumes that the incompetent HR is not a reflection of an incompetent Board.

          2. Gumby*

            I might avoid anything that would make the new company reconsider taking this boss off your hands. Like, revenge would be sweet but what if she tries to come back?????

    2. Bagpuss*

      Would it be possible to raise it with HR on the basis of that concern ?
      e.g
      “We have been told to donate to Boss’s leaving gift and that she requires a lidt of the names and amounbts given. This could be seen as an attempt to solicit bribes for good reviews and an implied threat that failure to donate a high enough about will result in retaliation including poor reviews.

      To avoid any appearance of impropriety, please confirm that donations wil be collected anonymously, with all staff being free to donate and much or as little as they wish, to ensure that the company is not left vulnerable to any allegations of finacial impropriety or illegal retaliation for raising concerns about bribery. We assume that boss would not wish to appear to be soliciting bribes and will welcome this arrangement to avoid any such appearance or concern. ”

      See, you;re helping. You assume that of course she isn’t a greedy and morally corrupt bully and would be horrified at having accidentally made her appear like one, and you’re covering the company’s back .

      If HR ry to shrug it off ask them what arrangements they are putting in palce to ensure that reviews are not affected by the amount donated, and that there is no retaliation againt any staff member for raining the issue.

      1. Typing All The Time*

        Definitely. And maybe add in that if a staff member declines to give (or is unable to financially do so) we respect their decision and leave it at that.

      2. Tea and Cake*

        This right here.

        HR has shown to be protective of the company, something this type of written communication to HR may provoke in LW and their colleagues’ favor.

    3. Broken Hearts and Faded Colors*

      That’s why OP needs to ask for advice. They don’t want to give so much that it would be a bribe, but they need to give enough that the manager would be satisfied with the amount and base the review on OP’s success with the Saucer Project.

  5. Hills to Die On*

    Call me cynical, but I would be leery of everyone ‘holding the line’ and committing to not getting a gift, giving only $5, or whatever. Maybe HR would actually help?
    I guess if there’s a silver lining it’s that you can buy a performance review? It really sucks but I would probably pay for favor just to not cause myself problems later. It’s absolutely terrible but I don’t know if there’s a good way out of this one…

      1. Hills to Die On*

        Yeah, people will agree and then get freaked out and cave in. With so much on the line, it won’t be worth the risk for someone. What a garbage situation.

        1. Just J.*

          Can you bribe her assistant to take the total and average across all of the people who contributed? This would cancel out anyone who puts in a large sum.

          1. yala*

            Maybe just average it out across everyone, not even the folks who contributed.

            Could backfire. But the situation’s a mess top to bottom.

    1. Blue Glass*

      I would be afraid of that, too. There are always a couple of people who would refuse to get on board.

      1. BubbleTea*

        We had this at school. My entire class got detention for something stupid (the teacher was in a bad mood, I think one or two people had mucked around a bit and they punished everyone) and we all agreed we wouldn’t turn up. Except for one person (who happened to be my friend, but I thought she was being daft).

      2. Mrs. Smith*

        Ah, but if someone could later correlate dollar amount given with strength of performance review . . . wowie, right? “Let’s see, Jane gave $100 and got a great review; but Fergus, Wakeen and Valentina gave $5 and their reviews are terrible. I WONDER IF THERE’S A CONNECTION?” I don’t think even this collapsed soufflé of an HR dept. could ignore that one.

      3. tamarak & fireweed*

        Yeah, but that’s not really all that relevant as long as it’s just one or two people.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      How loyal is her assistant to her? She could just fudge the spreadsheet. Then give a “corrected” version at the going away party. “Sorry, I forgot the decimals to indicate change. All amounts are 1/10 or 1/100 of what you originally saw.”

      1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        Oh I love this! Forgot to specify the unit…it was cents, not dollars.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This is definitely a possibility and one I like. Just evenly spread the cost to everyone and say every gave the same. How is the boss to to know it isn’t real? And since this is for the boss’s going away party, the assistant might be more willing to help.

        1. Vito*

          I wonder if the assistant might lower other peoples contribution to rais their contribution (or maybe not even contribute but adjust others to create their own)

    3. Filosofickle*

      Honestly, as mad as it would make me I would pony up one more time just to see the back of this person. The time to fight the system was before, not now.

      1. Batgirl*

        My dad always said you only fight when there’s a chance of change; you smile nicely, go along to get along and make other future plans when there isn’t.

    4. Batgirl*

      I’ve worked in teams where everyone banded together and held the line. You always know when that’s the case though. We were unionised to the teeth and didn’t give a shit. It was still better to bite back as a group; picking us off one by one would have made it too simple for them.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Asking for a gift(s) in and of itself is just…wow. The demanding to know who gave what is….wooooooooow

        1. Bexy Bexerson*

          Your uuuuuuuuuuuusername has no vowels…you must be a model employee who would neeeeeeeeever engage in any impropriety!

  6. singularity*

    I nominate this woman as a strong candidate for the Worst Boss of 2022 because *holy crap* this is awful. If she weren’t leaving, I’d suggest the LW think about it because it sounds like the boss makes everyone miserable.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m not sure if it was this year but the ‘my upstart employee complained because we didn’t pay her’ one is still my vote for worst.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        She would have won last year except for the rule that Worst Boss can’t be someone writing in to Allison. :O

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        It won most replies, I’m pretty sure. Definitely set a record for number of replies in the first hour of posting. I know I posted and replied to three and that it had broken 1000 in no time.

      3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I think that was last fall. I don’t know what kind of calendar Alison uses but it probably wouldn’t count for this year’s competition even if the competition happens and even if LWs were eligible.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Alison was considering doing away with the “Worst Boss” competition this year, but I really hope she brings it back, if only for this.

      1. Darsynia*

        I wonder if a workaround could be leaving out the direct links in the poll and leaving it up to commenters to either remember the story or using the site search? That way it doesn’t easily publicize the bad boss story, as a middle ground to not holding it at all. Extra hoops jumped through means fewer people may vote, sure, but it also would add a layer of defense to people writing in (presuming the reason to cancel doing the poll is that people are disincentivized from writing in about bosses in case they’re recognized and ‘caught’ at work?).

        1. BubbleTea*

          I think it’s more about being unnecessarily cruel to someone who at least reached out for advice.

          1. H.C.*

            I think Alison automatically excludes those (bosses who wrote in about their own bad behaviors) from the “Worst Boss” nominee pool.

    3. Working Hypothesis*

      I made the same suggestion further down! I hadn’t seen yours yet. Somehow, I’m fairly sure she’ll be on the list… Alison sounded downright outraged.

    4. Snow Globe*

      Despite the fact that the terrible boss is leaving, I’d still advise LW to consider leaving. This is a company that has allowed the boss to behave this way for some time, and no one trusts HR enough to complain about it. I doubt all the problems will go away once this particular boss is gone.

    5. Inigo Montoya.*

      I agree with the nomination. Amazingly, based on the last few years, she is unlikely to win the award.
      It is an honour just to be nominated…

      1. My Cabbages!*

        I don’t think anyone will ever top the boss who demanded the employee’s liver, though.

    6. bryeny*

      Agree with the Worst Boss nomination. But she might not win — maybe we need a Most Entitled award. She oughta win *something*.

  7. The Sparkly Dragoon Manager - Sir Freelancelot*

    On the bright side, you are getting rid of her!
    On the lesser bright side, I pity the poor company where she is heading. But knows, maybe they have a solid HR ready to put her in her place.
    (I know, but let me dream!)

    1. Hills to Die On*

      How tempting would it be to tip off the new company? (But for the love of Benny Hill, wait until she no longer works at your company first!)

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        A lot of the time, someone whose new job falls through can get their old one back if it’s quickly enough. It’s too great a risk to take when they’re finally getting rid of her. They don’t have to be like the reference who said glowing things about someone in order to get the horrible job candidate off their own team, but they don’t have to be self-sacrificing about it either. Let the other company decide for itself who it wants, if it gets Horrible Boss out of this team’s hair.

        But people don’t change their ways all at once, especially when they’ve got no particular external motivating force making them do it. She’ll behave in ways that her new company’s HR notice soon enough.

        1. WS*

          This almost happened with a remarkably horrible and incompetent person at my previous job (she was, however, an absolute master at knowing who to suck up to) – she got a new, better job at another organisation which fired her for a massive privacy breach in her second week. She came to ask for her old job back but unfortunately for her it was while her #1 fan in management was on medical leave and everyone else said nope!

    2. cal*

      I think there is a good chance she is going to learn the hard way with the new company. The ‘old’ staff at my job treated work like a reality tv show. It would take 10 letters to describe! They soon learned once new staff and new management started coming in.

    3. nelliebelle1197*

      I had an awful boss who sadly was a highly talented woman who could have been an amazing mentor. She got very good jobs at prestigious nonprofits rarely lasted more than two years. This woman hated younger women, lied, manipulated and treated us like dirt. I learned a lot from her but it was hardly worth the pain. None of us thought we could push back because of her C-suite position and what we thought was great love for her in the nonprofit.

      In fact, when lowly entry level me resigned, the corporate VP, one step above her on the ladder, begged me not to leave because Boss would be asked to resign soon. Sometimes it is worth it to talk to HR/boss’s boss because you never know what is going on behind the scenes. People this difficult really do eventually out themselves and the mask falls.

  8. Katie*

    I would go with option 3. Then in 6 weeks throw a bigger party with the leftover funds.

  9. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    What an awful situation an awful person person. Can you risk making a big presentation at the retirement dinner that you’re so upset: the gift has been delayed. It will be coming in the next few weeks. Damn supply chain issues.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          And “monogram” it with Boss’ signature stamp, which surely the assistant has!

  10. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    Make sure any communication about this with HR is in writing, and especially emphasize your point about “compared to her obvious wealth, our monetary “donations” to her come at a substantial cost to our pocketbooks that far outpaces the difference in our pay.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes, I’m sure OP is demoralized. Working for an incompetent or capable yet oblivious person will mess you up; working for an straight up malicious jerk will skew your view of the world.
      HR wants to protect the company, yes. But what this means is looking out for the best interests of the company. This manager is not acting in the best interest of the company.
      Unless you have already experienced incompetence with HR, please try again.

  11. well then*

    This is comically predatory. The woman is leaving, just don’t contribute. Write down a complete list of strengths and weaknesses. Have at least five in each category. For each strength, write down an A/B/C of how you will use that strength to advance the company. For each weakness write an A/B/C smart goal of how you will improve. If you get a poor review, go both boss and bosses boss together (this is reasonable given boss is leaving and it shows initiative to show you take poor reviews very seriously). Highlight three of your main concerns about the review. Show you have an action plan on how to solve. Have stats handy wherever possible. This feels like the absolute end of the world—I’ve been in similar circumstance. If you have literally anyone in your reporting chain that is reasonable it’ll end up OK.

    1. singularity*

      It would also be helpful to have data from previous performance reviews handy in addition to all of this, that way if there’s a marked difference between them with no real change in other metrics, they have clear proof of the boss’ pettiness.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      How will HR react when everyone in this person’s department gets a crap review? That has to raise some flags in HR!

      1. Darsynia*

        Nightmare scenario: With so many poor reviews made after the boss’s departure is announced, HR sees that everyone in the department is CLEARLY heartbroken. They go to the big boss to request a last-ditch counteroffer so the department can lift its spirits up and have their beloved boss back.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I’m shuddering.
          Especially when a demoralized group is run over by higher ups…like, “oh, Satana’s group is so distraught, we will do this for them because I know this is what they want.”
          But you never asked and they’ve learned to keep their mouths shut and their heads down.

  12. Papes!*

    Does your boss hate bad publicity? When i was in a place where HR would only side with the awful management no matter what, I went to the press and social media. They might not listen to the workers, but they respond to reporters.

    1. lex talionis*

      If you know your boss’s new company name then print out this letter with comments and send to their HR. But not until boss’s last day. Timing is everything. And yes, I know I’m an asshole but sometimes the inspiration is too strong to resist.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        But if her new opportunity goes away, she might come back. People pretty often can get their old jobs back if something falls through early enough in a new one.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          That is my fear with being petty as well – I don’t want to do anything that will make my escape from the cartoon villain disappear. They are finally leaving – I want that to continue to be true and not have them return.

    2. Sleeve McQueen*

      Yeah, I would include a line about how bad the optics of this would be if posted to Glassdoor or one of those bad boss round-ups on Bored Panda

  13. Critical Rolls*

    Another option is to just not do it, and live with the consequences. Can you live with a vindictive performance review, especially if it would be wildly out of step with previous reviews? Can she endanger your job? Can you live with the nastiness she’ll send your way? Is it going to haunt you forever if you give in to this? You’d have to answer that for yourself. Alison is absolutely correct that collective action in this moment will protect everyone, but failing that, you get to decide what you can live with, both in terms of spite from her and what it costs you, financially and spiritually, to go along with the madness one more time.

    1. North Wind*

      Yes, especially a stellar employee with persistently A+ performance reviews could do this, keep documentation of the request for and tracking of donations (along with evidence of their good work) and file a formal dissent to the review if it comes back bad.

    2. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      And someone please help protect the admin. I see the cartoon boss berating them because no contributions have been received.

    3. Jora Malli*

      I’ve only ever worked government jobs so I don’t even know if this is a thing in private sector companies, but OP, is there a process to appeal your performance evaluation? In all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve been given the option of signing the evaluation or requesting a new review from my next level supervisor. If this an option available to you, then I’d say don’t donate to the gift and get all your performance related documentation together so you’re ready to make your case with your grandboss if it comes to that.

    4. Miette*

      Yes this. And do you have any kind of documentation of the admin soliciting contributions to the gift? That could go towards proving to new/current management that this person is the cartoon villain Alison says she is, and help to mitigate the incorrect/unfair performance review?

    5. Meow*

      Yes, I had a short lived boss who gave me a terrible performance review after my past few were great. We have a spot on the form for employee comments, so I wrote a lengthy rebuttal and then when we got a new manager, I explained the situation to him immediately but delicately. My next review was in line with what I expected.

      Some companies also allow you to appeal a bad review, but I suppose it would be difficult to prove that your poor review was tied to (lack of) bribery.

    6. cal*

      This has been going on in the past. Simply walk to HR and tell them she will not be doing the performance review. Either they call in the assistant to verify what has happened (and everyone else) or they face a lawsuit. No one is going to take a lawsuit in this scenairo. They will fold.

      1. Joielle*

        What would the lawsuit be, though? It’s not illegal to give someone a bad performance review. “Didn’t give enough money for gift” is not a protected class. Maybe if the OP gets fired, it could be evidence in a wrongful termination lawsuit, but there’s no indication the OP expects to be fired. Libel/defamation likely wouldn’t apply here, except in a pretty unusual situation. I don’t think threatening a lawsuit at this point would be credible.

        Disclaimer: I am a lawyer but it’s been years since I took employment law.

        1. cal*

          The lawsuit would connect the performance review to the blackmail. When you call your co-workers in they are not going to lie in court. The assistant would be forced to give evidence explicitly stating how she acted as part of the con. Takedown everyone’s name and amount. The other co-workers would also have to spill.

          Meanwhile, someone like me could easily analyze data. You ask each person how much they contributed. Then match it to the performance review that happened next. Then, you compare it to other reviews and other data to establish if there is a pattern. Then you do an analysiss of amounts and how that predicts the scores on the review. And on and on….

          A person more advanced than me would be able to look at more than that. But like I siad in another post it is extremely unlikely that the company will go that far. The reason is because they are clearly in the wrong!

          1. ants*

            You are all over this thread giving unfounded legal advice. That’s not how this works and lawsuits take huge amounts of time, money and emotional energy. Please listen to the lawyers commenting that you are being unrealistic.

            1. cal*

              You’ve missed my point. It is unlikely the company will risk a lawsuit for someone who is going to be gone in a few weeks. Threaten if they don’t agree to the simple terms. My argument is that they should fold. All this woman wants is not to donate cash and for someone else to do a performance review. Any sane person would take that on over the risk of a lawsuit. I never said I was giving legal advice and I never said I am a lawyer. Please don’t misrepresent me. Thank you.

          2. Jora Malli*

            This is so far beyond anything that we should be recommending the OP to do.

            Law suits are EXPENSIVE. They can take years to settle. And after all that money and all that time and all that stress and pressure, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that a judge would rule in OP’s favor. None of that will solve the problem if OP or their colleagues get review bombed next month.

            Sometimes there’s not a perfect answer. Sometimes Bad Guys get a fancy promotion at a new company instead of getting punished for their wrongdoing. And it sucks. But OP’s in a situation right now without a perfect answer, and it’s not helpful to them for you to pretend that a lawsuit will solve all of their problems.

          3. Joielle*

            But like… literally what would the lawsuit be? What would be the cause of action? I’m having a hard time understanding what the actual filing would say. Blackmail is a crime, but it has very specific aspects that don’t appear to be in play here.

            Lawyers can’t just file stuff that has no basis in reality, it’s an ethics violation. (Not to say it never happens, but it’s much rarer – and a much bigger deal – than you seem to think.)

      2. Critical Rolls*

        Threatening your employer with a baseless lawsuit is a good way to get fired, especially if they have legal counsel available. This is terrible advice.

  14. KHB*

    If you’re willing to gamble on the boss’s replacement being a reasonable person, you can take whatever performance-review hit you need to take, then explain to the new boss what happened, and ask her politely if she can do anything to correct any inequities that have come about. New bosses often have a lot of power to do things like that.

    You’re almost done with the awful old boss. Stay strong, and don’t let her live rent-free in your head for any longer than you have to.

    1. Gracely*

      This is what I was going to suggest. Just how impactful are performance reviews on your work/worklife? Are you going to miss out on something significant if you get a bad review, or is it just a piece of paper that no one’s really going to look at once it’s been filed away?

    2. LilPinkSock*

      That’s what I did when I moved departments to get away from CRappy Abusive Boss (CRAB). As soon as I got my offer I stopped kissing her feet, and the BS letters started piling up in my HR file. I spoke with New Awesome Boss after a few weeks of excellent performance, and magically it all went away!

    3. cal*

      No. She needs to go to HR and explain what has been going on. Then she needs to state that for obvious reasons someone else will do the review. They won’t risk a suing case that is open and shut just to avoid upsetting someone who is leaving anyway).

        1. cal*

          It doesn’t need to be a protected class to be open and shut. Just threatening to sue when the situation is this bad nearly always works. They can either protect the person who is ducking off in the next few weeks) or they can protect the company. I think the will pick the latter.

          1. BubbleTea*

            If there’s clearly no basis for suing the company, threatening to sue will just make you look unprofessional and ridiculous. I could threaten to sue you for giving bad advice on the Internet but presumably you wouldn’t care because I can so obviously not actually do that.

      1. KHB*

        She doesn’t “need to” do anything. Even Alison presented several options for ways to handle this. It’s OK to want to run out the clock without escalating things to Armageddon-level proportions, then worry about picking up the pieces later.

        1. cal*

          They don’t need to do anything armageddon like. The person is leaving. Unless she is a compulsory reference they can do what they like. If HR doesn’t agree to someone else doing the performance review how will they justify it in a court case?

          ‘Your honour, I thought it was a good thing that the manager blackmailed a lot of emoloyees out of a lot of money. It is a good thing that if they didn’t contribute $100 dollars each a terrible performance review would be completed, thus marring their career’. The employees can’t evade it because the boss makes them take money off everyone individually and note down the amount. Obviously the assistnat can’t say no. Obviously, we couldn’t say no’.

          How do you think that case will go?

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            As clear and logical as your court argument example is, I think it’s important to keep in perspective the cost of bringing a lawsuit, even one with more obvious breaches of employment law, and the potential a company has to dig deeper into their pockets than the average employee has to fight it- the average employee for whom a parting gift for the horrible boss is already a stretch probably isn’t going to be able to pay to retain an attorney, nor use up precious PTO, without making sacrifices.

            It’s nice to think of sticking it to a horrible boss in court on principle; sadly, that is a luxury many workers simply don’t have.

            1. cal*

              I agree. I should have been much clearer. Since she is leaving I thought if it got that far they could make a point that it is highly inappropriate. If HR is as bad as the manager, at the bare minimum I would say something along the lines of ‘a professional corporation should be aware that gits do not flow upwards. Additionally, the demand is a very expensive gift. We have no privacy because her assistant logs who gave the money and what amount. It has also been linked to our performance review for x period of time. As you are aware, it is incumbent that HR does something under these circumstances. If my meeting is not enough please calll in her assistant and colleagues.’

              You don’t need to mention the word court or sue for them to understand what you are getting at. If it doesn’t work at least you’ve tried.

          2. KHB*

            And how do you think LW’s future at this company is going to go after she threatens to sue them?

            The justice system, for all its benefits, is a very bad mechanism for turning bad neighbors into good neighbors – or for turning bad employers into good employers. By the time lawyers and lawsuits get involved – or by the time anyone even threatens to get them involved – everyone else has already lost.

            1. cal*

              The same way everyone else manages after suing someone. On a more serious note, see my response above. No point in copying and pasting it.

  15. c-*

    I’d contribute ¢1 and ask the assistant to add a comment next to my name to the effect of “so glad to see you go”, but I don’t recommend that approach as a good career move.
    Realistically, though: how much damage can she do in 6 weeks that she hasn’t done already? How much weight do her assessments carry in your company? How much weight will this particular assessment carry, so close to her leaving date? Knowing this could help you decide which approach is right for you.
    As some commenters have recommended, I’d make sure to e-mail HR or higher-ups about this, telling them about how this practice has affected you all in the past and how you might protect yourselves from retribution if you decide not to donate. As your boss is on her way out, her power is quickly diminishing, and leaving a written record might help you overturn a bad, unfair assessment after she leaves.

      1. cal*

        For not contributing to a gift? The company would have to be the dumbest. Why would they care about protecting her when she is off in a few weeks? Protecting themselves will kick in.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Because this has been going on for years and obviously the company doesn’t care (per OP, who we take at their word according to the comment guidelines). It’d be a gamble to think that in this situation the company will act differently, and many people would be wary of making that gamble with their job.

          1. cal*

            Per the OP she has never once attempted to go to HR. So, at the moment (without an update) we don’t know how they will react. But it would be bonkers that HR would be in a conspiracy to get rid of her after the problem person leaves. They will probably be relieved that the witch is gone.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Maybe so, but the witch could still very possibly come up with an excuse to fire OP that HR would believe, not knowing the team dynamics particularly well for themselves. It’s not like she has to SAY it’s because OP didn’t contribute enough to her present.

  16. CatCat*

    If I was doing #2 or #3, I would set the financial bar pretty low and have one person who is not be the assistant pool the money/card/donation receipt and NOT keep track of who contributed what. Then that person gives the money to the assistant. “This is from all of us.” And then the person can honestly say they didn’t keep track of who contributed. This also will help people who would be put in a financial bind making a contribution so they don’t have to or can do like $1.

    1. teapot analytics manager*

      Yes, this might work too as long as the person who gives it to the assistant is willing to be the one on whom all the retaliation falls. I could see in this situation the assistant going around to each person and asking how much they gave anyway, though.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. Under most circumstances I’d say this was a good idea but nothing about it actually protects the assistant from being punished for not doing something she was told to do. Crazypants Boss could still punish her for giving up the task.

        1. singularity*

          That was my thought. The boss would only blame her assistant for not doing what she was told and she would reap the consequences. If the LW can get all her co-workers to agree on donating the exact same amount or nothing, that would be best.

        2. LilPinkSock*

          Correct. I’m an admin who was frequently punished for the (real or imaginary) sins of people I had nothing to do with. Pushing back is great in theory but in practice it may just result in an innocent person taking the hits.

      2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Right, because since there are 6 weeks between gift and last day, I can see the boss firing the assistant if she doesn’t produce the deliverable of the list with names and contribution amounts.

      3. cal*

        A) Leave the envelope for the assistant. Neither boss nor assistant will know
        B) Everyone can claim they gave $100 each. There is no way to prove anything after the fact.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          People say they gave $100 each when they didn’t. Envelope left on admin’s desk. Envelope contains far, far less than $100 per person.

          Admin is now accused of theft.

    2. PeePee Halpert*

      +1 for giving the assistant a pool of money that is from everyone. Great suggestion!

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        If I were the assistant, I would take the full amount & divide it by the number of staff. Everyone gave the same.

    3. Used to be the assistant*

      I like this idea but I wouldn’t have any one person be designated to give it to the assistant – just have it show up on the assistant’s desk before they get into the office. That way, no one is a target. Or better yet, just put it directly on boss’ desk. Why put the target on the assistant, who probably hates her more than anyone? Also, sign the card as “Everyone in the Department” so no actual names are on it.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah the assistant is probably most ready to be done with the boss – and also living in constant anxiety about what insane thing they are going to be asked to do next.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        That raises an interesting option …. I was imagining people pitching in money to buy a gift.
        What if they just give boss the cash instead?
        A card, with cash in it, “from everyone in the department” placed on the boss’s desk.

        As long as boss is being transactional and money grubbing, why not bring that to the forefront, instead of converting the contributions to a mantle clock or designer leather goods or whatever.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Oh, that’s funny, because I completely thought from jump that boss wanted an envelope full of cash. I can’t imagine she’d want a physical gift from these “people beneath her.”

    4. cal*

      This is a great idea. Get in there before the last date so assistant can’t do anyting about it.

  17. cubone*

    I’m trying to think of a way for you to get a sense of her general thoughts on your performance, give $5, and be able to show HR that she THEN lowered your review rating………..

  18. Trek*

    I am more and more shocked by the utter hutzpah of some people. That they feel entitled to other people’s money and hold their reviews over their head not to mention their livelihood is a level of entitlement I have never encountered and hope never to encounter.
    I think an immediate meeting or conversation with her boss and HR is warranted. Hopefully it can be scheduled on a day boss is out of the office. If they do nothing then multiple employees should post all of this on Glassdoor.

  19. soontoberetired*

    Maybe tell the assistant you are all planning a surprise for her, and then after the reviews, surprise! Nothing.

  20. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    Can the party be postponed? Also, I believe the LW when she says HR just backs up management, but it may be that that protection would not extend to a manager who is leaving. What an infuriating situation.

    1. Ashley*

      I am wondering if there is another manager who might be willing to help especially with this person on their way out. If she isn’t the head of the organization, who higher help would be appalled?

    2. KateM*

      Why is a farewell party even SIX WEEKS before she is actually leaving? That’s like having a funeral for someone who is still in nursing home.

  21. Clobberin' Time*

    I would strongly consider talking to a lawyer. The company is essentially forcing workers to pay back some of their compensation to a company officer under threat of negative job consequences. Maybe this isn’t enough for a lawsuit, but it could well be enough for a stern chat with HR that at least gets the company not to badmouth OP or others on the way out.

    1. Nanani*

      This. Chatting with a lawyer doesn’t have to mean you’re definitely suing somebody. A clarifying phone call to the legal department, from a lawyer, can also be very effective.

  22. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Is there any chance that the request for the accounting of funds and “donors” be documented via email? And then said email could be attached to the performance review document as an addendum?

    1. Miki*

      Ooh, I like your thinking! Document, document, and document.
      Also, I’d push for her party being on her LAST day, not 6 weeks before she leaves!

  23. Forty Years in the Hole*

    If it was me (enters dreamlike fugue state): If the departure date/annual review time lag wasn’t such an issue, I’d have dispensed with a formal going away gig, presented a card, some nice flowers (yes, I know, gendered), wished her well(ish), and once she’s gone, toss yourselves one heckuva “gone” gig. I’ve actually attended “gone” events…we saw it as rather therapeutic once we realized the resident “raptor” had sprinted off for fresh hunting grounds (to the tune of “Ding-ding the witch is dead).
    But any of Alison’s ideas would work. Your organization is going to take some time to re-build its equilibrium and to trust her replacement. Good luck.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I think you could wish her well-ish by paraphrasing a line from Fiddler on the Roof.

      “May god bless and keep this person … far away from us!”

  24. Mehitabel*

    Another option: Someone other than the admin assistant collects $5 from each team member and then gives the lump sum to the admin assistant (or makes the charitable donation in honor of the boss with a request that an acknowledgement be sent directly from the charity to the boss letting her know that a gift has been made in her honor). When (inevitably) asked who gave and how much: “Oh, sorry, we didn’t keep track.”

    1. Hills to Die On*

      admin: “Oh no – I am so sorry! I lost this list! You know actually, I think it’s possible that someone took it out of the envelope! Darn it! People are just terrible, aren’t they? Regardless, it’s gone now. What? No, I am sorry, I don’t remember at all. I think Jane gave $5. Or was it $50? It definitely had a 5 in it…shoot!”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think you’re jokingish but I want to be clear – DONT make the admin bear the brunt of whatever strategy you use here. “Oh I don’t know who donated they collected the cash on their own and gave it to me” is the most she should have to report. It sounds like she’s already in an awkward position.

        1. Hills to Die On*

          Yes, ish. It would have to be the admin volunteering for this and being willing to bear responsibility. You could not ask that of someone in this position. Just dreaming.

        2. boo bot*

          100%. I think it would be fine to do this and tell the admin “everyone donated $2, here it all is,” if you want to present a united front (generally a good idea!) but give her at least that much plausible deniability.

      2. ferrina*

        With a boss this tyrannical, she will absolutely take it out on the Admin. Don’t make the admin bear the brunt of this- the person that “doesn’t keep track” will need to be someone else (and with enough political capital to deal with the blow back)

    2. Seconds*

      Plus, after this happens, nothing will keep worried employees from going ahead and donating again non-anomymously with a larger amount.

  25. Dust Bunny*

    Donate minimally, divide the final amount so that it looks like everyone donated the same amount, and slip in some fake names:

    1) Jane Jones $2.47
    2) Wakeen Williams $2.47
    3) Sarah Sanders $2.47
    4) Chuck Chalmers $2.47
    5) Tony Soprano $2.47
    6) Paula Peters $2.47

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Oh yes… adding fake names would be epic. You could go SO many directions with this…

      Buzz Lightyear
      Steve Rogers
      Natasha Romanov
      Jon Snow
      Sherlock Holmes
      Mary Poppins

      Truly, the list is ENDLESS.
      I also love the idea of people donating a very small amount (literally change they may have found in their pocket) and including down to the penny. Jon Snow donated $0.21

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Everybody picks a fictional alias. So it’s still a list of donors. Not their real names, but they’re on there.

  26. Malta*

    This is literally my boss! Except, she’s not going anywhere. I would never go to HR for a situation like this because it would immediately come back on me. I reported to HR a situation that was blatantly illegal and I have been punished for months for that.

    1. Jellyfish*

      Yes, this. Every single person who went to HR about my evil boss’s cruelty, petty vindictiveness and/or shady ethics got fired. (That was 18 employees, if anyone is counting). Sometimes when people say HR is not a viable option, they mean it.

      When Evil Boss finally left and the new manager realized what a mess she had to clean up, she had the gall to ask those of us who remained why we put up with it. What choice did we have? All of us were job searching, and none of us had the financial capacity to quit without something lined up. Evil Boss liked hiring inexperienced or slightly desperate people because she knew it was harder for us to leave.

      OP is not in an ideal place here, but if she says HR won’t help, I believe it. Collective action looks like the best option if they can pull it off.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Oh, because it was your fault you stayed in an abusive situation.
        Wow, that’s a healthy mind right there.

  27. Working Hypothesis*

    Welp, we’ve just got ourselves a candidate for the Year’s Worst Boss, haven’t we?

  28. irene adler*

    For option #3- can you get the assistant to work with you and phony up the amounts donated?

    A variation: Everyone puts in a nominal amount. Assistant records donation amounts that are similar to the last time a collection was taken up for this boss. Then a gift is purchased with the funds provided.

    What is the boss going to do when the gift is something far less in value than what the phonied-up donation amounts indicate? Quibble that the funds should have been large enough for something more extravagant? She’s got the donation amounts listed right in front of her. Go to her boss or HR and complain?

    Hey, inflation hits hard, baby.

    1. Anony mouse*

      She could accuse the assistant of pocketing the difference. It isn’t that difficult to check the current price on an item if you’re petty and it sounds like boss is most certainly the type to check.

      1. irene adler*

        True. Maybe stall for time (order delayed -supply chain issues!) so that the gift is presented on boss’ actual final day.

        1. cal*

          Forget the last day. That should be horrible for her. They can all line up and point and laugh at her. If she complains the whole group can say she imagined it all.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Make sure the gift is not easily googleable.

        Buy something on etcy. Get it personalised. Make sure it;s big and awkward to carry, and preferably ugly / weird / not in keeping with her tastes. Very hard to identify how much something like that costs.

        Thaere are some amazing craftspeople making beutiful things, and selling them via Etsy, but there are also things there and anywhere selling hanfmade goods where stff is very overpriced.

        If the list says eveyone put in $20 and you then spend $50 on something which has been made to order then it’s very hard for her to prove that you spent less than was collected.

        Then make sure that the card gushes about how you’re sure that she will love the gift as it’s so personal, and eveyone agreed that it was best to get something hand made for her than any mass produced rubbish, and that you hope it ill be a wonderful reminder of her time with [company] .

        the malicious compliance of gift giving.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Oh – and also don’t give it to her at the party. Give her a box with a note in expalining thatthe gift is hand made and has been delayed.

          Then by the time she gets it (on her last day) it’s too late for retaliation but she’s had a list saying eveyone put $50 in.

  29. Essentially Cheesy*

    Life is too short. Good riddance. I would practically be willing to get the bad review in exchange for skunking this horrid manager on a gift.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Agree. This sounds like a hill I would be willing to die on. (if by die you mean get fired.)

    1. CCC*

      Nope. Trumps big tax bill got rid of nearly all un-reimbursed business expense deductions.

  30. Pghde*

    OP should put a decorative donation box in the breakroom. Plausible deniability no one would know who put what in the box! There could be note of encouragement (to be a better person) Notes of thanks (for leaving) Money (pennies from the floorboard of your car). Then you present it as everyone wanted to show their own congrats!

    1. ferrina*

      Clever! “Oh, I donated to the box, I don’t remember the exact amount, so sorry!”

  31. EPLawyer*

    I wonder if HR would actually help here. Boss is leaving. So why would HR care about protecting someone who is going to be gone soon?

    1. GarlicMicrowaver*

      It’s protecting the best interests and reputation of the company. This idiot is setting a precedent by demanding this ludicrous thing happen. It would be in HR and the company’s best interest to nip it in the bud now and going forward.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      I was wondering the same. I get how OP feels about HR, and they’re correct, but a supervisor demanding gifts from lower paid subordinates and tracking contributions is not something that reflects well on the company.

      Of course OP will have a better sense of whether HR has a track record of ignoring egregious behavior, but if not, it might be worth a shot.

  32. Be Gneiss*

    ooh…I work someplace with this vibe for 3.more.days. Every year they collect for a Christmas gift for the owners from all the employees on the factory floor….where the majority of the employees are just barely above minimum wage, and a large number are seasonal migrant workers. It’s pitched as “you need to show your appreciation, because without them, you wouldn’t have a job.” They even continued this “tradition” during the pandemic, when they cancelled the holiday party, which was the only perceptible way they expressed any appreciation at all to any of the employees.
    I tried to very gently point out the extreme gross-ness of this practice to one of the owners, suggesting that maybe…pandemic and all…it was a good idea to “pause” this tradition. You know – because people’s financial situations might be trickier than usual. She told me I just didn’t understand how much it means to the employees to have an opportunity to show how grateful they are.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Literally I started screaming as I read this. So much wrongness. GRATEFUL to have a job? You should be grateful you can find workers to put up with you. It’s has nothing to with gratefulness. They do work, you pay them. thats it.

      Then employers like this wonder why “no one wants to work anymore.” People want to work, just not for YOU.

      Saw an article on the Great Resignation the other day. It “discovered” folks aren’t just quitting and doing nothing. They are quitting BAD employers and going to work for GOOD employers. Like THANKS CAPTAIN OBVIOUS.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        When I put in my notice, the response was “we’ve been hearing about the Great Resignation, but we never thought it would happen to US!” Then they offered all the things I spent the last 2 years asking for.
        The most satisfying part was “how much more money will it take for you to stay?” “Actually, I’m taking a little bit of a pay cut to leave, so I don’t think there’s a number.”

        1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          “It’s my opportunity as an employee to show how grateful I am to this company.”

        2. Despachito*

          “Actually, I’m taking a little bit of a pay cut to leave, so I don’t think there’s a number.”

          You are the best.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        What? Actions have consequences?! You don’t say.

        – Signed Daughter & Granddaughter of Proud Union Members

    2. Observer*

      She told me I just didn’t understand how much it means to the employees to have an opportunity to show how grateful they are.

      I wonder what she is on? Must be REAL good.

      Or maybe she’s delusional. Or just a garden variety jerk trying to put a good face on her grossness.

    3. Bagpuss*

      If th employees wanted an opportunity to show how grateful they are they would be perfectly capable of organising their own card or sending a nore expressing their appreciation.

      I have only ever once had a gift from an employee and I spoke to her privately and told her that it wasn’t appropriate as it could cuase other employees, especially junior one, to think it was expected and that’s really appropriate, so while I appreciated her thoughfulness I was also telling her, as a direct instruction, that she musn’t do it again, either to me or any other member of management .

      (In her case, I was and remain deeply suspicious of her motives, but I wanted to shut it down without accusing her of being manipulative, and I think it worked as she hasn’t done it again)

      I have, on th other hand, had employees express grtitude / appreciation – not , obviously, becuase they have jobs, but for things like extra paid leave in a crisis over and above contractual entitlement, or things like that, and it’s been a short e-mail just to say thanks and ocassionally a card, which I think is totally reasonable and appropriate.

      1. cal*

        I did accept a gift once from a group of 3 students. All were aware I provided support way above and beyond what the university set in our workload. I didn’t want to accept a gift but between them, it was £5 each and I accepted it with gratitude.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes, I think there are rare ocassions where it’s OK or where refusing it would be a biggger issue than accepting gracefully – it sounds as though in your case it was gnuinely from the relvant stedents / employees with not pressure, and it was a one off and of low value, so not an issue.

          1. cal*

            I told them I couldn’t accept it and they explained all 3 chipped in nearly £5 each. I told them watching them flourish was more than enough for me. They knew (and said) that private tuition at that level would have cost a stupid amount. I’m just happy they worked hard and progresses based on feedback.

      2. TiredAmoeba*

        When I worked in office, every year I would buy a couple boxes of Holiday cards and candy canes and everyone got one. I always made sure to get the generic Happy Holidays type cards with pictures of cute animal and outdoor scenes. Win win. I got to get almost everyone to smile and I was out maybe $10 if I bought the fancy stuff that year.

    4. LilPinkSock*

      Yuck. Here’s the thing: I DO show my appreciation every single work day–by showing up, being a pleasant teammate, and doing my job well. I’ll be darned if some seven-figure exec demands I pay her for the “privilege” as well.

  33. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Sorry, but my jaw dropped at suggestion number 2 from Allison:

    2. Everyone bands together and agrees to donate money to a charity in the boss’s name, and then it’s presented to her as “we knew this would be so meaningful to you” because sometimes that approach can work with problem people — when you say, essentially, “I know you care so much about being a good person,” sometimes they feel obligated to try to live up to it in this one narrow situation.

    This approach would be framing the horrible boss as a philanthropic saint which would be kind of gross. A thousand times no. 1 or 4 or throw a sandwich at her.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      I think it’s actually a fantastic short-term survival tactic. IDK if you have ever dealt with someone abusive, but methods like this one are usually really effective for protecting yourself from their wrath because their ego and self-perception is so important to them. It’s really grating, but if your choices are to be right or to be able to pay rent…

      Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of good options.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It sounds like OP and their coworkers are in one of those “no good options, just some are less bad than others” situations. Survival and paying your bills sometimes is the only option available.

    2. Lizabeth*

      It depends on what charity is picked…maybe buy a cow for a village in Africa or something along those lines?

      1. Ochre*

        I’d be tempted to pick something a little more pointed, like the local chapter of Habitat (building homes for those with low incomes), a legal aid or job development center, something to protect the environment (I’m just assuming this isn’t something she thinks a lot about), etc…

    3. Lyonite*

      But their money wouldn’t be going to her, and if they can’t get out of spending it at least there would be the comfort of knowing it was in more deserving hands. Sometimes you can’t win on all fronts.

    4. Wisteria*

      Yes, but so what? What is the actual impact to OP of framing her boss as someone who cares about a cause?

      Life is not a comic book. The boss is a villain, but she’s not a criminal. She’s leaving. Let go of this idea that she needs to be brought to justice.

      1. GarlicMicrowaver*

        Well, super. All well and good then, but other side of the argument is employees would still be donation money. Not everyone can afford to.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          People who can’t afford to wouldn’t have to if there’s no collection record, which there wouldn’t be in Alison’s scenario

    5. Tricksie*

      But when you’re dealing with narcissists, this is often the best approach! They find themselves unable to show their anger when you’ve backed them into a “good person” corner. Plus, the office could make sure a worthwhile cause gets supported.

    6. Auntie Anti*

      You think someone looks like a saint when someone else donates to charity in their name? That’s not usually how it goes.

      #2 was my favorite suggestion. The boss doesn’t get personally enriched and she looks like a jerk if she complains.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That nothing happens except her name getting on a mailing list she didn’t want and the employees looking good for choosing the gift

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Yeah, this is pretty much what happens.

            We’re also talking office collection levels of funds for a one-time donation — it’s unlikely to be a saint-like sum.

    7. cal*

      2. You don’t understand. It is delectable. They know a donation to charity would make her lose it. But when she gets pissed off you can just act confused and say ‘You are such a generous person and have helped so many people we knew this was the perfect leaving gift for you’! Then just enjoy as she tries to get pissed off about charity :) It is a popcorn /movie event.

    8. Former Radio Guy*

      I’m assuming the boss is both selfish and a narcissist so #2 is the perfect passive aggressive approach in that if the boss reacts negatively towards the employees in any way, it reveals the selfishness and the narcissism of the boss. It’s also a good idea for the employees to document all of this if possible (copying any memos or saving any e-mails) which would come in handy if the employees are retaliated against (such as applying for unemployment benefits if an employee gets fired). The OP doesn’t seem to have a good option and in a no win situation, I prefer the passive aggressive one.

    9. Bluebell*

      If you donated to a charity, you’d want to make sure it’s a big one that can ignore her if she contacts them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been bugged by people over the years, trying to get a list of donors and amounts for memorial or honor funds. Many years ago a senior staffer at one nonprofit got married and requested donations to a specific fund as wedding gifts. (The guest list included quite a few of their direct reports) Then they leaned on the fundraising dept to give them a detailed report.

    10. Batgirl*

      It doesn’t frame her as a saint, everyone knows what’s going on including the boss; she just can’t argue against the idea without looking petty. It’s how you deal with toddlers.

  34. North Wind*

    Can you post this situation on an anonymous Glassdoor review? Public shaming of the practice might do more to sway HR to take action.

    1. cubone*

      This is actually a pretty good idea. Might not pan out but if everyone is aware of this practice, there’s no way for them to accuse you and it makes it clear there’s discord (plus the threat of reputation harm).

  35. Person from the Resume*

    I was thinking a twist on option 3 before I saw Alison’s answer. Everyone bands together and agrees to donate some set amount … pick something lower than increasing/outrageous sums of moneyfor her last present.

    It’s not right but assuming the LW is between a rock and hard place at least no one on the team gets singled out hopefully resulting in a neutral response from the bad bass on performance reports.

  36. Purple Cat*

    Oof, is there any way to get the Admin on your side? Remind her that there’s absolutely no reason to track and share how much $ each person is giving. Or better yet, YOU take one for the team and volunteer to arrange the gift and put a stop to this nonsense. I’m out of F’s to give, so I would absolutely go to her Boss AND HR and explain the situation and put myself on the line for her retaliation. I know I’m in a place of privilege for many reasons though and recognize that’s not necessarily feasible for most people.

    I hope the company gets dramatically better for you, but a company that allows her to fester for so long has lots of bees everywhere….

    1. EPLawyer*

      The admin isn’t doing this because she agrees with the boss. She is getting orders for a LOON. She knows if she doesn’t follow them either her life just gets more miserable or she gets fired. ANY solution has to protect the Admin from consequences. She’s as much a victim as the rest.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think the admin is even more between Scylla and Charybdis than anybody else in the team/company. The Admin is completely dependent on keeping a seemingly unreasonable and entitled person happy. And that’s what the Admin’s job security probably rests on. That’s why so many of us are saying whatever play the OP and her team goes with some care needs to be taken to protect that Admin.

      2. LilyP*

        I would also say that any plans to do things differently as a group should have the assistant’s explicit approval before moving forward — she knows best what the likely reactions or fallout could be, and she’s the most likely to suffer significant consequences in retaliation, even if it’s not “fair” or she wasn’t actually involved. This is not the time to shoot for “plausible deniability” by doing things behind her back, the boss might not believe her that she didn’t know about something and she deserves to get to sign off on something that could be risky for her.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          In 6 weeks, she might not have a job anymore … given that bad boss is sticking around for those 6 weeks after everything comes out.

        2. Jora Malli*

          We don’t know what the power structure is in OP’s workplace. If the abusive boss has firing authority she might not need six weeks to ruin the assistant’s life.

    2. Ayla*

      If there’s anyone involved who is bulletproof (either too valuable to the company to fire, or in a situation where they don’t need the job to survive and are similarly out of Fs) that’s who needs to take the lead. They take the envelope of cash in to Boss, say, “I know [admin] normally does this but I wanted to do it personally this time to show how much I’ve appreciated working with you,” and leave.

  37. Remote Drone*

    I had a situation like this years ago. I got my co-workers to contribute to a relief fund dedicated to a recent natural disaster. We made the contribution in the boss’s name.

  38. Eff Walsingham*

    As I consume my second cup of coffee (left coast) I start to think: Isn’t this kinda the plot of King Lear?

    “Tell me how much you love me (and make it A LOT!) or I’m giving your future share of the kingdom to someone who’s better at sucking up!”

    I don’t really have any useful advice, except to point out that Lear is a tragedy, and that this workplace sounds that way as well! Hopefully the absence of this boss will spark some good change, but I’d be keeping my resume up to date in an environment this dysfunctional.

  39. I edit everything*

    Volunteer to do the collection. Submit the list, include everyone, and *lie* about how much everyone gave.

    1. Cocafonix*

      No need to lie. Here is the group that collectively contributed $X. Only the assistant is required to give an individual accounting. She gets a list of names and one number/thing/donation.

  40. Randi*

    Another option is to donate as you normally would, attend the party and wish her well. When she completes performance reviews, refuse to sign them (a team approach and everyone refuse to sign and accept their review) then submit a written account of why it was unaccepted/unsigned to HR and once she is gone, ask to have those reviews redacted/revised/removed from personnel file. If these reviews are not tied to bonuses there really is no negative impact for employees disagreeing with her review. The situation can be communicated to superiors above her and to the incoming manager.

  41. Observer*

    OP, is it possible that some of the staff most likely to be negatively impacted by this are in a marginalized category? Because then you might have an argument to take to HR. I know that in all likelihood your boss isn’t targeting any particular group – she’s just an over all tyrant who abuses her power. But if she’s doing something that’s going to have disparate impact, that’s a legal problem for the company.

    So while YOU would never ever, no would not even THINK of, going to the DOL, you know there is no way to keep OTHER people, including people who have left the company! from going to the DOL. And that could get “us” into a lot of trouble and expense, even if we don’t get sued or fined.

  42. Lady_Lessa*

    Snark, I would not want anyone to risk their jobs doing this.

    For most folks, record the contribution in a currency like Turkish Lira, the last time I bought some 50 lira was under $5.oo. Worst one that I just found was $1 buys 12,900 Sierran Leonean Leone. For brown nosers, chose a currency that is just the opposite, where dollars buy much fewer units

  43. Sharpiee*

    Wish there could be the equivalent of those exploding ink packs that banks put in with the cash that a robber takes. You could hide it in that high-end purse, or whatever gift it is, with a timer that releases it the day after she leaves.

    1. linger*

      It’d be easier just to shower her with glitter at the party. Glitter is forever.

  44. Emilia*

    Everyone just giving $5 is the easiest, low-drama option if it works, but I think there’s a good chance somebody will break ranks.
    The horrible boss is leaving, so it’s possible HR / upper management will care more about the remaining employees than in the past. I do think it’s worth talking to them in this case, explaining that the boss is specifically asking to know exactly how much each person contributed is making you feel uncomfortable. If you have evidence that in the past, performance reviews seem to correlate with donation amounts present that… I mean even the fact that employees are saying that should give HR or upper management some cause to say donations have to be anonymous.

    1. cal*

      If people break ranks what does it matter? The only question is if the person can be avoided as being a reference.

      1. ferrina*

        This is how low-performing folks can get promoted. Get an in with the boss (in this example, give extra money), then the boss talks up their work. That person gets lined up for the next promotion, and no one double checks that the boss’s assessment was correct (because the boss’s job is to provide accurate assessments).

        I’ve seen it happen several times, including having this person promoted to be my boss despite not having the required experience (I had to do 60% of her job for her; the other 40% just didn’t get done).

          1. laser99*

            Yes, I have learned that through this site…if one wanted to work in that field, what would be your advice?

  45. cal*

    She’s leaving. Unless you desperately need her for a reference just play the game ‘sorry you haven’t had my contribution yet, I had to pay for an emergency for a family member. I’m currently in my overdraft. However, I willl pay up in 6 weeks (i.e., after your performance review). Then tell her to suck stones if she ever contacts you. In fact, if she contacts you block her. I am willing to bet my balance most people will block her when she is finally gone.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The gift will be purchased before that I don’t think that quite works

      1. cal*

        That is what I mean. It is a period of 6 weeks. You are having an emergency and you are in an overdraft. Therefore, you will buy a separate gift once y0ur account is in credit (I know my original comment is incorrect because then you would be promising your colleagues money that will never emerge).

        Then spend the money on yourself and enjoy a nice glass of booze.

        1. Batgirl*

          That doesn’t protect the employee from their performance review being tanked. This is not a boss who cares about someone’s financial emergencies, her instructions were clear and neglecting those instructions has to be carefully managed if you’re not going to follow them. I once had a student who started neglecting his reputation because he was leaving in a few weeks for a different institution and his new place got wind and rescinded his offer. I told him it’s not over until the fat lady sings. You behave with your boss on their last day the same as you did on your first day. Six weeks is neither here nor there except for OP’S countdown purposes.

  46. Tired Social Worker*

    If boss is leaving for a different company what repercussions can there be now? Why doesn’t everyone donate $0 as they will not be there after this?

    1. Person from the Resume*

      It says in the letter: The farewell party is six weeks before her planned last day on the job. What happens during those six weeks? She does our performance reviews!

      Clearly these perfomance reviews impact the LW and their coworkers.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Party is 6 weeks before she leaves. Between party and her actual last day is performance reviews.

      WHY is the party so long before her last day?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It FEELS like that was deliberate on boss’s part to have this last power play. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

      2. laser99*

        I’m guessing someone figured out there is less chance of the beleaguered employees “making a scene” than if it was on her last day. Behavior this flagrantly horrid does not go unnoticed.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have to think someone who makes the admin keep an itemized account of who gave what towards prior extorted gifts is probably petty enough to pull a power trip like this.

          Hoping the new boss will be an improvement upon this person.

    3. Panhandlerann*

      The letter writer states that the party will happen six weeks before the bad boss leaves. In those six weeks, bad boss will be doing everyone’s performance review. That’s where the repercussions will come in.

  47. I should really pick a name*

    I’m curious what’s the worst she can do with the performance review.

    Are your performance reviews 100% subjective, or are you able to push back (preferably to someone above her) and say something like “Boss said I didn’t meet expectations for X, but I actually hit all of my targets”

    1. BA*

      It also sounds like the boss is the kind of person who wouldn’t just give a negative review, but might also consider firing someone.

    2. ferrina*

      She could even put people on PIPs if they raise too much of a stink. Even if it’s ridiculously unfair, it can impact your career at the company indefinitely (“Oh, So and So was on a PIP, so let’s not give them that promotion/project/responsibility”)

  48. K in Boston*

    Not sure how feasible this is with group dynamics and how difficult your boss is making it for everyone, but would it make sense to collect and present it as a group gift? Like, instead of everyone giving money to the assistant and the assistant recording how much each person gave, they give money to you, and you all present it as a ~group gift~ rather than gifts from individuals. And, oh, you didn’t think it mattered how much each person gave unless there’s some reason that’s important that you’ve overlooked, so you didn’t write down how much each person gave.

    Or do you think your boss is cartoon villain enough to make her assistant go around asking everyone what their piece of the pie is, or to make it reflect badly on you that you didn’t document each person’s exact “donation”?

    Doesn’t solve the actual problem of WTF SHE SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS but may alleviate some of the pressure to hand over a significantly larger amount than they’re comfortable with. Only if it makes sense, though — I recognize it might not, for a myriad of reasons.

    1. K in Boston*

      P.S. Other ideas that I recognize don’t solve the core issue but could alleviate some points of pressure (and admittedly these rely on you trusting that either HR or Boss’s Boss won’t go back and tell Boss about it, and/or that Assistant feels comfortable asking any questions deviating from what Boss told her to do):

      – Even with HR/Boss’s Boss being noneffective, a potential CYA move could be to email one of them with something like, “I’m concerned based on past behavior that our monetary contributions to Boss’s farewell gift will affect our reviews. Is there a way to ensure this doesn’t happen? Or if it does happen, do you think it will be possible to get new reviews under whoever takes over for her that could retroactively apply?”

      – Or just come out and say to HR/Boss’s Boss in terms that may not be illegal but are red flags: “I’ve noticed based on past reviews that better ratings appear to correlate with better monetary contributions to gifts for Boss’s life events. Is there a way to ensure that no bribery is occurring?” If her assistant has past accounting of this stuff she’s willing to share with you or your coworkers themselves feel comfortable sharing their last contribution amount, and presumably HR or Boss’s Boss has access to ratings, you may be able to present it more like, “Hey, I’m concerned that bribery may have been occurring in the past, but not sure. I got these numbers of amounts/donations, can you check if there’s any correlation between that and this, or if I’m just worrying myself over nothing?”

      – Talk to her assistant to gauge how Boss might feel about physical object gifts rather than monetary contributions. Again, still sucks and someone may very well go and buy Very Fancy Designer Handbag, but at least that obscures the amounts a bit, like if people buy it secondhand, find it on sale, use discounts, etc.

      – Similar to above, see if Assistant might be open to collecting some other non-monetary gift, like baked goods or something specifically “meaningful” (whatever that means to y’all) between Employee and Boss, you know, because you all love her soooooo much and worry that donations to a group gift is waaaaaay to impersonal for how much you loooooooooove her. A few years ago I had a boss (whom we actually did like a lot) who retired and made it known that her plans were to jet off to Florida ASAP — One of her employees had a running joke with her about his Beanie Baby collection and he took one of the original alligator Beanie Babies from his collection to give to her, since she was moving to Gator Nation, which I always thought was much sweeter and more valuable than a $20 Amazon gift card would have been for her.

    2. anonymous73*

      It IS a group gift. The boss just wants to know how much each person contributed towards that group gift.

  49. Sad Desk Salad*

    I so very desperately want a follow up letter in six weeks. I will be checking AAM feverishly with the hopes that LW will write in again!

  50. BA*

    While HR may not be a great option, I do think any documentation you can gather would be helpful to share with HR and the boss’s boss (if there is one), making sure to point out the vast pay discrepancy, the previous demands the boss has made surrounding gifts, and (most importantly) the fact that there’s actual fear that too small a contribution may negatively impact performance reviews. Even crappy HR would know that the power imbalance that would result, whether positively or negatively, could definitely pose problems for the company. The employees need HR’s protection from the boss and potentially vindictive reviews. The company needs HR’s protections from the employees lawsuits after vindictive reviews.

    1. irene adler*

      A penny is good luck! So here’s a bunch of them to bring you lots of good luck at your new job!

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Sounds great, until she does the performance reviews. And possibly fires her admin.

  51. Luna*

    You are correct in that HR is there to protect the company… make sure mention to them that this type of (financial) blackmail is not okay, and could make the company look really bad. Sure, this boss may leave soon, but the stain on the company will remain. Once HR realizes that this is a potential thing that could hit them in an almost legal fashion, not ‘just’ a case of inter-personal issues with a boss, they might change their tone.

    In the meantime, do your job, and don’t worry about contributing extensive money to someone whose ego needs a bit of a prick with a needle.

  52. Drewby*

    If it’s because she’s leaving, I would donate nothing knowing that there will be no long-term consequences. Seriously, screw her.

      1. anonymous73*

        I would rather get a bad review and refuse to sign it, then submit to a bully.

  53. Churlish Gambino*

    Your boss is so outlandishly horrible that I’m really wondering why it took them leaving for you to ask for advice about this. Unless this outgoing boss is a reflection of your workplace’s culture at large (and if it is, start job-hunting yesterday), this seems like the problem is going to solve itself soon enough. I don’t know that it’s worth making some last grand stand when performance reviews are on the line and, again, your boss is leaving anyway!

    *Should* you have to do this ridiculous dance one last time? Absolutely not. But as frustrating and unreasonable as that is, you really need to weight that against how much a bad performance review would negatively affect the rest of your career at this company. Maybe it won’t! In that case, definitely don’t pay up (or do the absolute minimum that feels most comfortable to you) and let the chips fall where they may. But again, you know your workplace and your boss best. I really can’t stress enough how much I hate that you’re in this position, but based on your letter, that feels like the reality right now. You’ve gone through this enough times that maybe this last time is the price of getting this awful boss out of your life forever without repercussions to your professional life at this workplace.

    And yes, while HR exists to protect the company, consider that any reasonable HR department would consider an extortionist, vindictive boss harassing her team about gifts and tracking individual giving amounts *not* in the best interest of the company to keep on board. They should have been looped in much, much sooner, but hindsight is 20/20.

    When the new boss comes in, that would be a great time to band together for a culture shift in your team: no more gifting upward and *certainly* no more tracking who gave what and how much. Unlike your STBX-boss, that is trash that will not take itself out and will need steady effort from everyone to clean up.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Frankly, I’d throw money at her just to make her Go Away and not penalize me one last time. It’d be worth it. This workplace sounds so bad that doing anything that isn’t throwing money at her is far more likely to hurt OP.

      That said, I love the idea below of this “somehow” making the media, if that could be swung “anonymously.”

    2. Be Gneiss*

      In defense of the LW, sometimes it takes time or experience for you to really grasp how awful a work situation is. It took a lot of reading AAM for me to go from “hm, that’s weird” to “I don’t think this is right” to “this is downright toxic” at my current employer. And even when I knew it was toxic…it still took time to take steps to leave. I liked my work and I enjoyed a lot of my coworkers.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      That’s a very good point. The Admin now thinks this is normal, co-workers may not like it but think it is normal – unless steps are taken, it very likely will continue. The new boss might not be a good enough one to shut it down, might think it is a genuine offering of support.

    4. TPS reporter*

      yeah this company is very suspect. What kind of company solicits donations for someone’s goodbye gift anyway? It should be on the company’s dime if any at all. She’s not even retiring just going somewhere else.

  54. MidWasabiPeas*

    For the departing boss, I really like Option 2 because it will brilliantly facilitate malicious compliance…”We put a great deal of thought into this, wanting to pick a gift which perfectly captures our feeling, and reflects your warm and generous nature, blah, blah, blah.” You can pile on the compliments, then donate to something she would absolutely loathe.

  55. Meow*

    How is this not illegal? Surely it’s illegal to require your employees to give you money. Is she just snaking around it by calling it a gift and being such a generally terrible person that people just assume there will be retributions? IANAL by any means, but the taking down of names and amounts seems like it’d at least be supporting evidence for blackmail.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      IANAL but I am in HR and it would be nearly impossible to spin this as illegal. Unethical there’s a stronger case for, but even then it will depend on the company culture and how effective their HR department is.

  56. Bagpuss*

    AS the main problem is that the party is soon butthen the boss isnt leaving for 6 weeks, would it be possible to frame it as ‘we need more time to plan the gift’ – get something cheapish but visible like a balloon bouquet for the party and say that you’re putting together a gift for when she actually. Admin’s list is marked ‘ to follow’ for eveyone’s fonaation then you buy her a chaep box of chocolates on her final day and walk away

  57. Cocafonix*

    What about gathering most people, each contributing a small amount in a pool. Then putting all names as contributors with the lump sum/donation/2nd hand marketplace buy/local artwork, then giving that to the assistant. Then the assistant can’t provide an individual accounting because she simply won’t know. That way sure, one or two will give separately, but include everyone’s name, donated or not, and then push back after directus horribilis is gone.

  58. Oakwood*

    Most performance reviews provide an area for employee comments.

    If you get what you think is an unfair review, write in what you wrote here. The outgoing boss was keeping track of how much everyone gave to her going away present and you felt pressured to give or otherwise you would not receive a fair performance review.

    Daylight is the best disinfectant. Make everyone in the company (not just your boss’s subordinantes) know what is going on.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      And get everyone else to do the same.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      THIS.

      I think there is benefit in going to grandboss with the situation (which should be shut down in the first place!) and asking “We respectfully request that you ensure our performance reviews are not impacted by knowledge of our individual or collective monetary contributions to her gift. Can you detail how you will achieve this? At the very least, it would remove the implied relationship between the two to reschedule the party and gift-giving until after our reviews are complete.”

  59. MrPotPuffer*

    When is this “gift” supposed to be given to her? Can you wait until like her last day then give her nothing (or something small)? Is she really demanding the gift before your reviews ? I figure its not unreasonable for the gift to be given on her last day… but she doesn’t sound reasonable unfortunately :/

  60. Oakwood*

    Glassdoor.

    Go to HR. Remind them that if nothing is done about this multiple employees are likely to post reviews of the company mentioning this on Glassdoor. Reviews that emphasize that HR was notified and did nothing about the situation.

    Nothing gets HR moving faster than realize they will be the center of negative attention.

  61. yikes and away*

    “she is an unpredictable, chaotic, and vindictive human being”

    Were we co-workers once?

  62. Inca*

    Can someone preemptively set up an anonymous donation place and request donations through there ? If it were someone higher up, even better. (And this would be something where a higher up could shoulder some work without being directly confrontational.)
    Then the assistant can come in and say “I’m not supposed to tell you this because it was of course meant as a surprise but [senior manager] already set something up and people have already donated.”

    Because pressuring to send a second donation request mail is just a bit less easy to deny.

    1. ferrina*

      This is a great idea! If it hasn’t already been formally announced how to donate, “competing” donations where one is anonymous is so smart.

  63. Darkwing Duck*

    Option 3… but for a quarter.

    “Here’s a quarter, call someone who caaaaares…”

  64. NeedRain47*

    This is slightly adjacent to the point, but, Who has a going away party six weeks ahead of time? I’ve attended or been invited to lots of leaving/retirement parties over 20 years, none were that absurdly early. Collect the gift but tell her she can’t have it ’til her last day, and then Surprise! There’s no money? IDK, this is the kind of situation I’d be seriously considering letting them fire me.

    1. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

      Someone who is absolutely using the performance reviews in those six weeks to tacitly force everyone to go along with this absurd villainy, I’d assume.

  65. ferrina*

    What about a “nice homemade gift”? Instead of donating money, provide a “personalized, homemade gift” that took “time & effort” (or find a local artisan that does your hobby and purchase from them). You’d need to have a certain degree of wide-eyed plausible deniability, and you’d have to lean on a real hobby that you do- you don’t want something coming out after the fact about how you faked it (this boss sounds like she’d go out of her way to go vindictive).

    This was a strategy I used on certain family members I didn’t care for but still needed to get gifts for. In college I taught myself to knit, and my least favorite family members got “homemade scarves” from the cheapest yarn I could find. I gave it to them with maximum enthusiasm, and none dared to complain about their “thoughtful” gift.

  66. kiki*

    Is the boss the founder or so high up she really has nobody else above her? If not, boss’s behavior so clearly absurd that I think bringing it up to boss’s boss is merited and wouldn’t be perceived as “tattling.” If there’s someone higher up within your division who interacts with boss’s boss from time-to-time, it might be worth scheduling a meeting and laying things out plain. It’s gone out of style to give gifts to bosses and it’s definitely not at all normal to have your boss monitoring the contribution amount.

  67. yala*

    Wait, is this not illegal? Not the whole asking for a gift thing, etc, but the implicit threat that an inadequate payment may result in a poor performance review?

      1. yala*

        I guess you could compare reviews of people who donated to those who didn’t, or didn’t donate much, and objectively look at the quality of work they’d done the past year, any reported issues over the year, etc, and see if it all adds up.

        The appearance alone seems like it could get the company in trouble, though.

  68. CoveredinBees*

    That is beyond bananas. How about collecting money from everyone (small amounts) and then just leave an envelope on admin’s desk when they go to the bathroom. Label it as the gift money from the department. It sounds like boss might still retaliate, but at least it would be everyone.

  69. I'm the Pheoebe in Any Group*

    How about writing a Glassdoor review now, printing it out (if staff are in office) and leaving it for HR and execs? If not, send an anonymous email? I know Alison hates this, but putting a name on it is too risky.

  70. I'm the Pheoebe in Any Group*

    Are you and your colleagues looking for other jobs? Upper management might not know about this, but they must know he is awful and they are doing nothing about it.

  71. Data Bear*

    LW, just to be clear, because nobody else has spelled it out yet: this behavior is not gauche. It’s immoral.

    It may not meet the legal bar for prosecutable criminal behavior, but it definitely fits the common usage definition of extortion. This is a matter of ethics, not etiquette, and the wrong she’s doing to you shouldn’t be downplayed as mere rudeness. You deserve better, and that includes recognition of the seriousness of her misconduct.

  72. anonymous73*

    I would go to HR and tell them that this person is demanding a goodbye gift, is having their assistant keep track of who donated and how much, and it’s coming off as a threat towards a good/bad review depending on if/how much you give. Tell them you want it documented and that you’d like a copy. And then give nothing. I would also try to rally others to join you. I realize that this may result in retaliation from boss, but I would refuse to let anyone bully me into something that is not required of my job and that I don’t want to do.

  73. Somewhere in Texas*

    If you need a gift idea, here is one that is worth the cost!

    Print this letter and ALLLLL the comments into a fancy photo book. If we find some cited legal precedence, include those too.

  74. Lara Cruz*

    From the letter:

    “We do have HR but it functions purely to protect the company, not the workers.”

    That’s every HR department. The better you learn that, the sooner you can protect yourself. There’s a reason people are unionizing again.

  75. I Don’t Know It All*

    Why does the gift need to be given 6 weeks before she leaves. I think I’d be campaigning for a going away gift to be given on her last day. Then everyone can chip in a token amount and you can give her a card and whatever you bought with the amount you have and call it a day.

    I think the key is to get when the gift is given changed if at all possible.

    1. Batgirl*

      Okay but the boss has already set the time parameters in HER favour, essentially saying: “Donate a lot of money before review time, or get a bad review”. Of course they’d rather do it afterwards, but if they don’t do it earlier and with generosity, their review is toast.

  76. Anon 2.0*

    Forward it to her manager/upper management with something along the lines of “Please see attached collection instructions for X’s party. Please ensure you give your gift directly to X’s assistant as this will be documented as noted below” Thanks! :)

    This loops them in without being accusatory if they do indeed have her back for the crazy gift grab plan.

  77. AlanM*

    Make a report on the company’s ethics hotline, as any half decent company would want to know that a manager is abusing their position for personal financial gain.

  78. Future employee*

    Isn’t anyone else concerned about this person’s future victims at her next job? This is *awful* and it seems clear that this is only her latest BS that the LW wrote in about.

    Refuse to give her anything, not just money but your time, dignity, mental/emotional space, effort, etc.

    Band together. Make a plan to bring it to HR or senior leadership first. Make it clear that you’re aware of just how wrong this is (whether its extortion or just srsly forked up) and that while you’re sure they’ll do the right thing, you feel morally compelled to make sure this isn’t brushed under the rug. (Don’t make overt threats to go public with it.)

    Have a backup plan to go public depending on how they respond. Figure out who’s best at social media to make sure it gets seen on a fairly large scale if not viral. Be prepared to start a gofundme for anyone who gets fired for speaking up, though I don’t think they will. I would HAPPILY donate if it means making sure this person fails at this attempt at extortion and never does it again anywhere else.

    Don’t be rude or mean, try to remove emotion, just be factual. Maybe ask a lawyer or legal asst for help to make sure you’re in the clear if the boss were to accuse you of defamation.

  79. Righteously Indignant*

    I’d go with Option 4: Everyone bands together and anonymously chips in using a donation box (or envelope, whatever). Then present the total to the assistant as a fait accompli. Card optional. In fact, I wouldn’t even include a card. Metaphorically stuffing a wad of cash in this freakshow of a boss’s greedy fist.

    1. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking – somehow make it impossible for the assistant to have a reliable record of who contributed what, ideally for reasons outside of the assistant’s control.

      When I worked in an office in-person, we’d essentially do gifts this way – an envelope circulated that people could put cash into with a card that people could sign or not, and you checked your name off the circulation list once the envelope had crossed your desk, with no record of what each individual might have contributed.

  80. irene adler*

    I’m curious if, in times past, anyone has done a comparison between gift dollars donated and degree of shoddy treatment received from boss. Is there a correlation?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      It sounds like it, though I don’t know how well you could quantify the situation.

  81. Geez*

    Another nominee for the Worst Boss of the Year, yay! Start documenting, printing emails and saving them. I would send an email to HR and a few high ranking people in the company alerting them to what is going on. If they chose not to do anything, in case there is a retaliation by the bad boss, there will be a trail.

  82. AnonInCanada*

    It sounds like a back-handed extortion scheme to me! “You get me a good going-away gift or I give you a nasty performance review, as totally unfounded as it may be.” You bet I’d get HR on that one! And when last I checked, extortion is 100% illegal.

    I’ll tell you what this boss deserves: automatic consideration for Worst Boss of 2022!

  83. Murphey*

    This is what I would do.
    1. Create a fake email address using one of the many email services.
    2. Set up a VPN.
    3. Send a copy of this article from the fake email address and from behind the VPN to everyone in the company with a subject line: Is this about Cruella?

  84. BBB the Cabinet Builder*

    My knee jerk reaction: This needs to go viral. Or maybe a little birdie needs to whisper in HR’s ear that it could go viral because the situation is so awful. Does your company want that kind of press?

  85. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    With people like this boss, I would happily and proudly display that I gave $1.00.
    What she gonna do?

    1. Despachito*

      I was thinking of that, too.

      I do not know how likely it is to pool together with the other employees to do the same (someone mentioned that there is always someone who does not do it).

      And I would definitely ask the assistant to make a copy of the contribution list, to be used later to see whether it correlates with bad reviews, or even firings. Would she be willing to do that (she may hate the Boss, but she may also be loyal and refuse).

      It is still possible though that the boss will NOT retaliate – these are speculations given the previous awful behaviour and the time span between the collection and the leaving, so they are a fairly likely possibility but not certainty.

      I am wondering about the company as well – will everything be sunshine and rainbows after this one toxic person leaves, or is it rather a toxic dumpster given that the upper management let her get away with her chutzpah manners for so long? Or was there a last straw the employees possibly do not know about, which would mean the bigwigs will not support the Evil Boss?

      I think it might be a good idea to loop in a higher-up, unless the entire suite is toxic as well, but then the best tactic would perhaps be to lie low, donate a moderate amount and brush up on your resume. (Although I hate the idea to give this greedy, vindictive person even a brass farthing)

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Give you a bad performance review. Maybe put you on a PIP. Possibly fire you. Possibly fire the admin.

  86. wine dude*

    Everyone needs to look up the Prisoner’s Dilemma, because that’s what’s in play here. The Wikipedia entry is good.

    Once one or more employees who have mouths to feed breaks ranks and departs from whatever you all choose, it may all fall apart. But really the best option is the one where you ALL get bad reviews because that only reflects back on the boss.

    I like the idea of sending this post to the whole company from a throw away email. And maybe the boss’ next company.

  87. Brian*

    Reminds me of my old boss. His sycophant would tell us she was buying him a gift card and anyone who wanted to chip in $10 could sign the card. So it was very obvious who paid and who didn’t.

  88. RR*

    This sounds like some hybrid of my MIL and former boss combined.

    Previous place we were asked to gift $75 to get a gift for the couple that OWNED THE (high end jewelry) STORE. When I was asked I just started laughing and said I’ll give 10. A few others were just afraid to say anything. The response i got from the organizer: “well they just so so much for us and give us nice Xmas gifts and bonuses.” then I pointed out that they can most likely write those off of their taxes, bonuses are for work, not just to be nice, and that the organizer had been there 7 years with NOT A SINGLE RAISE.

    1. RR*

      Oh, and there were 15 of us. They would get them Gucci stuff, that the owners could buy at a discount otherwise, and a high end restaurant gift cert

  89. Wondering Me*

    I don’t know if this has already been suggested, but you could gather everybody’s donation and have one person give the lump sum to the boss’ assistant.

    But I don’t like the idea of giving money to this person anyway. I’d probably rather do something like a group-bought coffeehouse gift card instead.

  90. Meep*

    Send her a bounced check and then give her the run around for six weeks. I am not kidding.

  91. Worldwalker*

    “Nice job ya got there. It would be a shame if something happened to it….”

  92. Liz T*

    All these suggestions involving the admin helping them out in any way are pure fantasy, and in no way useful to the OP.

    I say that with complete sympathy to the admin. The admin has to follow orders or lose her job, and her orders are:
    1. collect the money herself
    2. record the amounts
    3. purchase the gift in time for the party

    The admin COULD take a risk and help, but we have to assume she will not. If anything goes NOT according to plan, she will likely be yelled at, whether or not that makes any sense; accept that now.

    This must be the starting point for any plan.

    1. Catherine*

      As an exec assistant myself I am kind of appalled by the amount of risk the admin would be asked to take on in some of these suggestions. My boss isn’t bad in this particular gift-grubbing way (he has other, different ways to be awful), but if he asked me for an itemized list and I came back with a lump sum and a “they beat me to it,” he’d send me around the desks with a clipboard to demand a full accounting from everyone involved.

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      I’m probably too late for the party here, but if no one else has suggested it and assuming nothing is going to change in the next six weeks: If the admin is amenable, ask them to save the spreadsheet. Once the cartoon villain is well gone, perhaps a copy gets into the hands of anyone looking to file a complaint over a poor performance review or even passed along to the new boss, who surely would want to know about a pay-for-reference scheme.

  93. Eagle*

    I was thinking of an anonymous letter, on company stationary to HR and grandboss, saying something like “As the cost of gas and groceries continues to climb, many employees are not in a position to make ever increasing donations to [horrible boss’s] goodbye gift. Understand that we are embarrassed to have to ask for help with this, but since she requires an accounting of how much was given by each employee and is very punitive towards employees as in example A, B and C (times horrible boss was punitive but without names), and since we cannot ask [horrible boss] we were hoping you could ask her for us and put out a memo stating how much of a donation is required toward her goodbye gift in order to not receive a final poor evaluation so that each employee has time to raise the necessary funds. I’m sure you’ve had to do this for other teams who were put in this awkward position of their boss leaving, requiring an expensive goodbye gift six weeks before they leave and then doing employee reviews while the amount donated by each employee is still fresh in their mind determining what their performance review will be and we are sure you can help us out too. Thank you so much. Team X”

  94. Pennyworth*

    If the demand for money has not been put in writing, insist that you get an email from your boss before you will act. Forward email to HR asking how you claim back this mandatory work expense If HR says it is not mandatory – in writing of course – forward email to boss.

    If you have to pay up, get together as many like-minded people as you can to pool your ”contributions” in a single envelope and say you have no idea who contributed how much.

  95. T*

    Place a box somewhere in the office where people can anonymously contribute to the gift by X date, then provide the box with the combined contribution from “the entire team” to the assistant.

  96. Jane Smith*

    Does the company have a compliance or whistleblowers hotline you can report this to, maybe even anonymously?

  97. Anon for This*

    I think the best option is for all of the employees to band together and refuse to contribute. Getting a farewell card and having everyone sign it is appropriate.

    Then, she can give everyone poor reviews, which will all say something to the effect that all of them were “disloyal”, which brings to mind Captain Queeg (“The Caine Mutiny”).

    That way, when the new boss comes in and sees that all of the employees were essentially given the same terrible review, they will know something is up and look into it.

  98. Princesa*

    I want an update on this once everything is said and done. I love Allison’s 2nd option. Charity is a great way to twist the situation into something better!

  99. Dr Sarah*

    Is it possible for the assistant to submit a faked list listing large amounts from everyone, thus keeping her sweet for your performance reviews, while meanwhile you all *actually* chip in a few bits of spare change and someone buys her a really cheap gift to present on the last day when she can no longer do anything?

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