a fired employee showed up to our office party

A reader writes:

I had to fire someone two weeks ago for serious time and attendance issues. (It’s shift work, so punctuality is really necessary, and this person was routinely 30+minutes late, even after multiple warnings and chances to improve.) In a fit of generosity, I agreed that we wouldn’t contest unemployment, and I even coached the employee as to how to discuss their firing in future interviews. I gave them my personal contact info and told them that I would be willing to give a neutral reference, as my goal is definitely not to prevent them from getting work.

Cut to our recent office party, and our HR manager pulls me aside to tell me this former employee is here! Just grabbed a drink, sat down with their former coworkers, and decided to join the fun. Ultimately we realized that it could be more of an ordeal if we asked them to leave, so we didn’t say anything, but kept an eye on them. At one point (which I only found out after the fact), they pulled the COO aside and asked them to reconsider the firing decision, which wasn’t the COO’s decision in the least. Other than that, the fired employee didn’t cause a big scene, but did go around to others on staff “to say goodbye,” which of course came with a mention that they had been fired.

I feel like we handled it fairly well, but I’d like to know what you would have done in the same situation. It had the potential to be fraught, and I’m mostly just glad it wasn’t worse. I’m not really comfortable giving even a neutral reference anymore, as it just seems so far outside professional norms. Is that petty? Should I reach out to them and ask what they were thinking, or just let it go?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker keeps whispering to me
  • Can I use quizzes to train people?
  • Talking to candidates at career fairs

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessica*

    There are so many ways to use quizzes that now I’m curious what the LW had in mind, because Alison’s thinking went in a completely different direction than mine. My large workplace has a lot of computer-based training for things, and it’s super normal for those to have a quiz at the end that you have to pass to get credit for the training, or to have tiny quizzes embedded as you go along just to spice it up and see if you’re getting it.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I do quizzes all the time for training using Microsoft forms.
      I think it’s 1000% times better as training than just getting people to read stuff.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Yes. Answering questions forces you to actually interact with the materials in a way that reading (or listening) does not.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Totally agree – it makes a huge difference to be quizzed on the material, both to keep your attention while the information is being presented, and also for you to feel confident that you know and understand the information, too.

          1. Lego Leia*

            The amount of people that failed the email scam quiz at my small company was astounding. It’s not really “training” if you don’t have a way to ensure people grasped it.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I do a LOT of quizzes because I need proof of training for audits. It’s vaguely annoying, but I do my best to make it tolerable, and usually people would rather read through and answer questions on their own than listen to me drone on even longer.

    3. Ness*

      A quiz after computer-based training is so normal that I doubt LW would feel the need to ask about it. I assumed it was more like, “I’ll show you how to use this software package, then give you a quiz to make sure you retained the information”, which I think was Allison’s assumption as well.

    4. Artemesia*

      I like to use quizzes at the start; not graded events or whatever, but self tests to sharpen up your knowledge of what you need to focus on. I think when the quizzes are self tests they are learning tools and most people are okay with them.

    5. Rain's Small Hands*

      I used quizzes a lot when implementing service management in IT. Our help desk staff would miscategorize a lot of calls, which threw off the numbers (because we determine what to fix based off how many problems it gave us). You don’t ever get 100% with that sort of exercise – because end users often can’t give you enough information to categorize it, but we stopped tagging “PC problem” as “Password Reset”

    6. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Yes, the financial ethics training I had included quite a few little quizzes, although after the third year I and a friend began to recite the answers out loud together (bad us). And if the boss wasn’t around, gave the people in it evil advice (but we still clicked the correct answers anyway).

    7. GythaOgden*

      Yup. It definitely helps retention. We were the other way around — we were expected to just do a quiz. The questions didn’t change from year to year, so we wrote down the correct answers and did them without actually understanding the issues we were supposed to be training on.

      We had a change in management recently and the new bosses introduced much more thorough and interactive mandatory training modules. My colleague says that she found it much easier to understand the issues in question through interactive modules. Because of the importance of many of these issues (Bribery Act, fire safety, manual handling, diversity and equality etc), actually learning the stuff is the important part, and it’s been so much easier for her to do and, more importantly, to implement in actual working life.

  2. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Not really the point of Letter #1, but what is a neutral reference? I can’t help but think that anything other than a glowing reference equals “bad”, but I think I need to recalibrate that assumption.

    1. anonymous73*

      Outside of a confirmation that they worked there, I can’t think of what else it could be. And I would have 100% made him leave, whether he made it into a thing or not. He had been fired and had no business being there. OP could have handled it calmly and professionally, and if he caused a ruckus, that would have been on him.

      1. M2*

        I am not a fan of neutral references unless it’s a company where HR will only confirm dates if employment (my sibling worked at one but a partner gave them a reference bc they were so good). If the employee was constantly tardy and given multiple warnings you should inform the person making the reference check.

        Another department hired someone who got a neural reference and they are not good and HR basically said it will take a year to let them go due to protocols and policy. They had a 90 day probationary period but were working from home and no one realized what an issue this person was until maybe day 65 but HR said it was already too late.

        Everyone makes mistakes but honestly just give dates if employment unless you are going to be honest about this person. Pushing them onto another company could ultimately hurt your reputation.

    2. CheesePlease*

      I think a glowing reference = this person will be a huge asset to your team while a neutral reference = this person will be an adequate employee. A bad reference = this person struggled with routine tasks at their job but it’s a bad guy

      1. Antilles*

        neutral reference = this person will be an adequate employee.
        In theory, maybe.
        But in reality, I expect a lot of reference checkers would take ‘adequate employee’ as a mark against the candidate.
        Enough people give glowing references that if one of our candidates gets a mild “he was adequate, did an average job”, that candidate would stand out negatively by comparison. Plus a little bit of people going “we want outstanding employees not merely average ones, we’re not just trying to grab any warm body here” vaguely akin to “rate our service from 1 to 10” surveys (where anything less than an 8 is counted as a failure).

        1. JanetM*

          I once called someone’s reference and their first comment was, “If I tell you she was terrible, will that keep you from hiring her away from me?” (She was retiring from a full-time job and looking to pick up a part-time job.)

          The reference did go on to speak of her in the highest of terms, we hired her, and she was absolutely amazing for several years until she decided to retire in full.

          1. Important Moi*

            “If I tell you she was terrible, will that keep you from hiring her away from me?”

            Through the prism of my own existence, that comment is not amusing.

          2. That One Person*

            I winced at first thinking they wanted her taken away, but now realize it was something of a backwards compliment. At least she’s retired so she doesn’t have to worry about an awkward reference anymore.

    3. Sad Desk Salad*

      Confirming they worked there from X date to Y date, are eligible for rehire (presuming accurate), but no recommendation for or against hiring them?

      1. squeakrad*

        I would assume one issue would be that the OP now feels they cannot say the person is eligible for rehire.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          I think there may have been questions if he was an employee during the times he was late. He was employed but not an employee because he was not working when he was supposed to be.

        2. Kate*

          “He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
          One against whom there was no official complaint,”
          (opening line to the poem The Unknown Citizen by W.H. Auden)

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I’ve done references and if a reference isn’t distinctly positive, I will probe for details. Some people are just understated by nature or are sticklers for giving totally accurate references.

      In the OP’s situation, I’m guessing that a neutral reference will be along the lines of “employee was competent in their skills, produced within expected parameters and got along well with the team, but struggled with punctuality.”

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      “His work was accurate and consistent.” The only mark against him seems to be attendance and not his actual work so a neutral response would be to say that but leave out any actual praise or criticism. But to your point, I’m sure some hiring managers also think that faint praise is a potential problem.

      1. irene adler*

        Exactly-the issue was on-time attendance. Nothing amiss with the work product or other conduct. So if the potential employer has no issue with tardiness, this candidate would work out for them.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Right. There are so many variables on attendance/punctuality…a different employer might be closer to home, so the commute is faster or less unpredictable, or working a different shift might resolve the issue, or maybe getting fired once will really kick them into fixing the issue.

          1. irene adler*

            And some places don’t place much emphasis on punctuality. “Get the work done” is all they want. That’s the case here at my work. Sure employees have regular arrival and departure times. But if you arrive late, just make up the time. Or set later hours for yourself (within reason; we have folks arriving from 4:30 am to 10 am. It works.). There are no issues with getting the work done with this group (<20 employees).

            1. The OG Sleepless*

              It’s a huge deal when there are shifts that need continuous coverage. Imagine being dead on your feet after a 10-12 hour work day and you’re stuck there for another 30 minutes to an hour because the person who is supposed to take over next isn’t there yet, and it’s absolutely essential that someone be there. Happened to me multiple times with the same coworker. It’s a good thing he was such a likable person and excellent at his job otherwise.

              1. irene adler*

                Right! Clearly this guy wasn’t cut out for this position. It requires punctuality something he did not have.
                But he could fit in just fine where I work cuz the work product is good. Just get in here and do it.

                Given this situation, I’d hate to think the reference had to be entirely negative.

                1. Kyrielle*

                  Yup. This guy does not belong in a role where coverage/on-time appearance is important, until he figures out some way to achieve it consistently. But in a role where it doesn’t matter, but his skills do apply? He could still be fine.

                  And hopefully if he does well, he won’t have the opportunity to attend office parties after being fired….

            2. GythaOgden*

              The work this guy is doing is obviously time-dependent. I’m a receptionist and if I were constantly late my supervisor would be very upset (she actually did once when I was arriving from the break room at three minutes to the hour; I need to be up and running by the time I start work.). I do now come in quarter of an hour early, because of the way my buses work, but better that than quarter of an hour late — and if it’s an issue with the commute, you soon learn when to leave to make sure you’re not habitually late.

              A responsible worker in a time dependent job will get into a groove and make sure that the only time they’re late is when they really can’t help it. (I ring in as soon as I know there’s a problem — like, once a year a freight train gets stuck and I have to take a slingshot around Surrey, but that’s once a year). Frustratingly, there’s a train strike this week and so I don’t have any slack in my need to get a specific bus and train, but I knew that last week and as soon as this week’s reduced timetables came out I was able to look them up. I know there was a long period a few years ago when a particular rail network was up the spout due to industrial action on a large scale, but after a while it got a bit frustrating to hear people complain about always being late for work. They knew the trains were borked and they had to leave a bit earlier. Sure, it’s crappy for them, but I know that crud happens occasionally so I leave as early as I can. I’d rather sit around in a coffee shop at the other end than be stewing on a late train that would cut it fine to begin with.

              It’s not rocket science. At some point, people with commutes need to work stuff out. It’s frustrating getting up an hour earlier than strictly necessary, but it’s something everyone who commutes has to do to manage the crud that gets chucked at us by other people.

      1. irene adler*

        Excessive tardiness or attendance issues that compromised the work product.
        Hopefully the reference seeker will ask about the work product itself and the OP would explain that the work was good; but consistent attendance was a requirement. One that could not be met by this former employee.

      2. DivineMissL*

        Well, I’d probably say something about the circumstances, admit that there were issues, and talk about how I had learned from the experience/changed my approach to make sure that never happened again.

        In this case, I’d say “I was having some family issues that frequently made it difficult for me to arrive at work on time. Obviously with shift work, this was a problem; even though my work was stellar, the company had no choice but to let me go. Since then, I’ve resolved the family issues and I’ve made it a point to always be on time or even early for my shifts.”

      3. anonymous73*

        OP can be honest. They were consistently late to a job that requires punctuality. If someone were hiring them for a similar role, they should have the facts. If it’s different type of role, it may not matter as much. If OP doesn’t want to answer, and makes a vague comment about not being able to provide that information, it would make me think it was something far more egregious. In this instance, honesty is probably better. But if this OP no longer wants to provide a reference (neutral or otherwise), she should let them know.

    6. ecnaseener*

      I was wondering that too! I guess it means they won’t bring up the tardiness unprompted, and won’t emphasize how bad it was, but if the reference-checker straight up asks what the employee’s weaknesses are, would it be fair game to say punctuality is a weakness of his? There’s not really a neutral way to answer.

    7. Bumblebeee*

      I’ve done enough reference checks to know any reference that’s less than enthusiastic is an immediate red flag. In this case the LW might be doing a potential employer a favor by being honest about the fired employee’s constant tardiness, ignoring warnings and repeated instructions to come on time, and serious professional misjudgement over attending the party after they were fired.

  3. CoveredinBees*

    Other than the issues arising from his tardiness, it seems like he otherwise behaved professionally at work. If there had been misconduct like harassing colleagues, cursing out clients, stealing from the company, or something like that, I would understand not wanting him there. Since he was fired, it might have felt a bit awkward but not worth doing anything about.

    1. Ann Lister’s Wife*

      Disagree- being termed, even generously, can make people do things they wouldn’t normally consider. I would have gathered another leader as a backup and asked them to leave the party.

      1. never mind who I am*

        How about if he had brought cheap-ass rolls? Would that change the situation?

    2. Alex*

      At my previous employer it wasn’t at all uncommon for employees to use their “plus one” invites to office parties to invite former co-workers who had left the company. If the employee was generally well liked it wouldn’t be strange for them to receive (and accept such) an invitation. I would only expect that to be unacceptable if they left in an “escorted by security off the premises”-type firing.

      1. Zak*

        This has been my experience at places as well, add on that that previous employees coming to visit socially on night shift.

  4. WomEngineer*

    For career fairs, if employers can submit anything beforehand, make sure there is as much info as is relevant. While some of the visitors could be folks who have no strategy, it could also be that the company’s profile is too broad, or they’re only hiring for certain roles that isn’t immediately clear to attendees.

    1. Nanani*

      Also if the career fair is catering to students/new grads, or has such demographics as part of the attendance, then clueless newbie questions like “what can you do for me” are rather inevitable.
      Try not to hold it against them.

    2. Kes*

      Also, knowing how to behave yourself in that kind of situation isn’t necessarily an inborn skill that everyone just knows. Some students may have more experience or role models or just figure it out but it’s not surprising that some of them aren’t the most professional yet and may need the conversation to be a little more guided from OP’s side. Many students probably wouldn’t think to plan or prepare for a career fair. I think Alison’s suggestion to have a very brief intro blurb prepped on what the company is/does and what kind of roles they’re hiring for is good so the students can filter, and then ask the student what they’re studying so OP can filter or tailor the conversation for that area/role

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

      +1 Yes this! I remember for a class in college I had to attend a career fair. We were going to a city about 5 hours away by bus and I knew nothing about who all was going to be there. I probably was like these students (but I neve asked “what can you do for me” that’s just odd) Not everyone is going to know what your company does.

      And really isn’t a career fair at a university more about the students finding more information about companies and seeing what is out there?

  5. Nanani*

    Any chance L1’s fired employee was invited informally by other colleagues?
    Like if Fired is friends with Bob and Jane (but not LW or anyone actually planning the event), they could have conceivably extended a “you should totally join us” type of loose invitation or something along those lines.

    I do think it’s pretty weird for a fired person to show up at a company party but social lines can blur when work and friendship mix, so I just wonder if it has.

    1. NerdyPrettyThings*

      I wondered this as well. OP doesn’t say if it was employee-only (something like a potluck, during the day and/or physically in the office), or if it was more like an after-hours party with family and friends there. If it was the former, then showing up after being fired is definitely well outside the spectrum of professional behavior, in my opinion.

    2. Bernice Clifton*

      I’ve an office manager and I have planned more work parties than I can count.

      Learned the hard way that you do have to spell out on the invite who is invited: “Due to limited space, this event is for present employees of the Springfield branch only” so people don’t invite a coworker who was fired or show up to a wine and cheese happy hour with their spouse and 4 kids under 7.

    3. Kevin*

      I was going to say this. This happened where my wife worked. An employee who was socially popular with other employees was fired for poor performance, tardiness, etc. Then they were having an off-site and after-hours official company holiday party and other coworkers just invited the fired employee to show up and they did. Like the LW said management didn’t say anything and acted like they didn’t see them there to avoid making a scene.

    4. tamarack etc.*

      That’s how it would happen in the workplaces I’m familiar with.

      Employees don’t always have the clearest idea about the role of social get-togethers. They may very well think of them as “our party”, especially if they’re free to bring semi-outsiders (spouses, sometimes children, often former employees, retirees … and then maybe someone who works at a partner organization that they know from work). And frankly, if it’s only that it doesn’t have to be too big a deal. It’s not great for management b/c they have to keep an eye on the situation if situation there could be. But if the ex-employee just hangs out, it’s less of a reference-reducing issue for me than the problems that have caused the dismissal, ie. the workplace failings of tardiness and failure to improve.

  6. Murphy*

    Ha, we use quizzes all the time so I’m glad that Alison didn’t say they were inherently bad! We have a few questions that are a “refresher” on whatever topic we’ve noticed the staff aren’t getting quite right. It’s in a Zoom meeting (not just for this purpose) and people provide answers in the chat. We thought it was better than constantly going “As a reminder, please make sure to do, x, y, z since it’s a bit more interactive, and people can ask follow up questions on that topic or a related one. I think it’s worked out well?

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Quizzes can be difficult. To work the elections in Ohio, you have class (for your particular job) before every election, and the machines and the laws don’t change much if any. Just before Covid hit, I noticed that our trainer seemed to be having trouble coming up with interesting ways to test our knowledge.

      I am grateful that we have gone to a pre-recorded Zoom lesson, do our quiz and turn it in for the hands on portion of the class.

      1. Molly the cat*

        I have a yearly work training thing where you can try to test out of different pieces of it, and you only have to sit through the corresponding lesson bit if you don’t do well enough on the quiz (or if they’ve significantly updated the material in the past year). Makes it a lot less annoying.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      It’s also a really good way to figure out where you may need more training focus. One of my comanagers used a quiz after we had trained the team on a complicated topic during a workshop. We used the results from the quiz in almost real time to be able to go back and hit a few trouble spots where we had low scores. In this case we did not give an opportunity to review and change answers during the quiz, because we wanted the live feedback. We didn’t tell anyone the answers so we were able to requiz after the reinforcement and could see they got the concept the second time around.

    3. Anon for This*

      Sort of similar – we get a question of the day when we log on to our computers, and need to answer it before we access other functions. Originally it was on-line security focused, but now it also includes other topics that are common across the enterprise. You get a text box with a quick explanation (sometimes a photo) then the questions and boxes to choose from for the answer. I’ve been around a long time, so just go directly to the question.

      I could see this working for general questions, or being tailored for different divisions.

  7. NerdyKris*

    I think ignoring LW1’s fired employee was the best option. If he was making a scene, or drinking a lot, or shoving food into his pockets, then you’d want to intervene like any other employee, but I can’t see any way of telling him to leave that didn’t risk becoming a scene itself and making the company look bad. And most likely everyone realized how weird this was. He probably burned a lot of professional bridges doing that. I can’t imagine anyone thinking highly of someone who came to a holiday party of a company they were fired from to complain about being fired.

    1. Ann Lister’s Wife*

      Meh. I think someone can still do a lot of damage even without making a scene. The fired employee should have been kindly asked to leave.

    2. anonymous73*

      Disagree. I would have gone over to him and asked to speak with him, then led him away and told him he had to leave. If he caused a scene, he’s the one that looks like an asshole, not me. If he had left on good terms, that would be one thing, but he was fired. He had no business being there or approaching the COO to ask him to reconsider the firing – that crossed a really big line.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. ITA too. Someone who placed an extra burden on the people who work the shifts before him may not be too happy to see him. I work coverage and although my colleague and I work in tandem, we rely on each other when we’re on holiday or ill or whatever to be there. We have each others’ backs. My predecessor ended up flaking out completely, and became unreliable before going out on sick leave. She caused a lot of frustration for my colleague and supervisor who needed someone who could pull their weight.

          A lot of people are handwaving this as a non-issue but from this position, someone being late for their shift is a big deal and I’d be upset if they screwed me over at work then turned up for a company jolly as if nothing had happened. This guy is angling to try and get his job back as well. He knows what he’s doing; he’s already used up his goodwill among his colleagues and management is not doing their job if they don’t put their foot down over this.

          We talk a lot here about management being responsible for getting rid of employees who pull their co-workers down. But in roles like his, what would be kind of OK in an office (though not in mine tbh — it’s not necessarily that people were timed to the second, but I suspect when everyone was in the office they had specific hours, and there was definitely a lot of muttering when people stopped turning up for their days in the office post-pandemic because it was apparently ‘too hot’ to come in) is not OK when others on his team were picking up the pieces. You don’t have to give him the benefit of the doubt — workplaces work when everyone is in a team, and this guy was simply not doing his job properly and putting extra burdens on his colleagues.

          That’s not fair and not worthy of keeping their job or enjoying company perks, and I’m sorry but management needed to step up here.

    3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I absolutely think he should have been removed from the situation. These days you do not know how people will react to a firing or what they might do in response to it. I think the COO should have offered to take him to another room for a private talk, and then once out of the party setting he should have been marched to the exit and told not to come back.

  8. Lindsay*

    Ah the college career fair. I got a science degree at a liberal arts school and our career center was adamant about getting students to attend, offering prizes and raffles and monetary rewards to student orgs if you “swiped in” and walked the full room. But, the companies who had tables were really there for our large population of business and communications students and there weren’t ever fairs specific to scientific roles. So while the students mentioned clearly aren’t handling themselves professionally, chances are some of them are an unfortunate biologist/band kid who was misled into dressing up and attending a fair so their music frat could get a couple hundred bucks.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Yup. I got a strong push to attend my uni’s job fair despite having literally *just* started a very specific masters program. If they had any employers who might hire roles related to my program, I might go to make connections, but there was nothing. Their response was: You never know! You might find something you weren’t expecting. Just go anyways.” I didn’t go.

      1. Kal*

        I went to a lot of career fairs that were often just general faculty of arts fairs. Their lists of who would be there were often inaccurate, since some companies joined late or cancelled. And even if I know that Pepsi Corporate would be there, its not that easy to research exactly what kinds of majors would be appropriate for their jobs, since most BAs don’t have a specific career track connected to them (my majors were German and French – the latter being applicable to almost any job in Canada). And nevermind researching each of the 20-50 companies that were listed as going to be there while balancing coursework and life. So I would only research further into the couple companies that sounded most applicable and interesting to me.

        So I would end up being one of the students mostly just wandering around and stopping to hear the spiel from any company that had someone free to talk. The companies seemed to expect that from students and that spiel would go like the advice suggested and they would about my program so they could then talk specifically about jobs where that could be applicable in their company or they’d tell me that it probably wasn’t something their company would hire so I could move on and we could avoid wasting each others time.

        So to me, the first group sounds like students that already think your company may be somewhere they may want to apply at and have prepped so they can have the most useful conversation for that purpose, while the second group are less decided and may not even be sure if your company would hire someone with their degree (“What can you do for me?” is not great phrasing, but I would probably put that down to awkwardness and unfamiliarity with job fairs unless other indicators are there). Maybe they’ve never really thought that Pepsi Corporate would hire a random person with a BA in languages, but through the conversation they can learn that there’s actually a pretty good career path there and so they go home and do more research and might end up applying in the future.

  9. I'm in HR, that's why I'm so fun.*

    Check your state’s unemployment insurance laws before promising things such as “We won’t contest” – in my state (MN) it is illegal for an employer to tell an employee that they will or will not get unemployment, or that we won’t appeal, etc. It’s not our choice who gets unemployment, it’s up to the state. We recently had to let someone go for excessive tardiness/absenteeism, and the state denied their claim stating that the reason for termination fell into the category of employment misconduct and therefore they were not eligible.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      Sure but saying “you will/won’t” get unemployment is different than saying “we won’t contest.” “we won’t contest” is not guaranteeing they will be approved. I can understand it might be better to not say we will/won’t do x thing because you never know in the future. But I presume OP checked with their higher ups to confirm they could extend the offer of not contesting.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      This is good to keep in mind, but I think OP is only making a promise about their own actions, not whether the employee will get unemployment.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      Saying you won’t contest it isn’t the same thing as saying they’ll definitely get it though. It’s not saying it’s the employer’s choice. Unless the law compels them to participate in the process, they’re just saying “we’ll leave it up to them to decide and not plead a case one way or another”.

    4. doreen*

      Determining eligibility is always up to the state – but it’s based on the information they received. That employee who was let go for excessive absence/tardiness, how did the state find out the reason for the termination? If the employee disclosed that to the state, there was no reason for the employer to appeal the determination. Typically what “we won’t contest” means is ” If the state finds you eligible , we won’t fight it even if we would be justified in doing so”

    5. L.H. Puttgrass*

      It’s been over a decade since I did anything involving MN unemployment law (and then only briefly), but I believe the way the process works in MN is that the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) asks the employer about why the employee was terminated. The employer doesn’t “contest” or “not contest” unemployment, they just respond honestly (or not). So if the state asks and the employer says the reason was chronic tardiness, the state will mark that down as being fired for cause (and thus ineligible for unemployment).

      I believe that once DEED has made a benefit determination, an employer can appeal that determination. That’s where contesting unemployment comes in. But if DEED determines that the termination was for cause, the employer can’t appeal. The applicant can appeal, but if they were fired for being repeatedly late, they’ll lose.

      (Disclaimer: I’m a lawyer, but I’m not an unemployment lawyer and I’m not your lawyer.)

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        And by “can’t appeal” in the second paragraph, I mean, “has no reason to appeal.” And by “for cause,” I mean “for workplace misconduct.”

        Like I said, I haven’t done this in ages (or I’d be more precise in my language…probably).

  10. Curmudgeon in California*

    #4: Ooof. I realize that some of these career fair people are pretty much still kids, but “What can you do for me?”??? Yikes, that sounds very entitled.

    It’s a very charitable take to interpret that as “What does your company do?” My gut level response would be to say “Nothing. We do Teapot Manufacturing. We have open roles for teapot designers and potters.” If they come back with “Well, I’m studying Llama Grooming, can I get a job with you?” I would say “Sorry, we don’t deal with llamas.”

    1. irene adler*

      I’m seeing myself in the sense that my parents told me that a job with BIG Company would set one up for life. So just let them hire you. Yeah, the 1940’s are over.

  11. yala*

    There is so. Much. WHISPERING in my office and it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. Folks just talking normally? Sure, tune it out. Or even if I can’t tune it out, it doesn’t STRESS me like whispering does.

    Hearing folks nearby converse in a barely-audible murmur just sets every one of my hackles up. It’s like some threat response I learned back in grade school and then never unlearned. Especially if there’s also laughter.

    I remember for a while we actually had a “no whispering” policy, and that was nice.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      SAME! So much same! I thought I was the only one who had a nails-on-a-chalkboard response to whispering!

    2. pancakes*

      I’ve worked with a couple whisperers over the years and really don’t like it either. It seems easy to handle, though. The most common response I’ve seen — and I’ve done it myself when I’ve had the chance — is to whisper back something along the lines of “hang on, why are we whispering?” And smile. Keep it friendly. It’s a fairly gentle way to get the person to reconsider and nearly always seems to prod them to speak normally, in my experience.

    3. anonymous73*

      So if I want to have a private conversation with a co-worker, I have to move them to a separate location to have that conversation? I’m sorry the sound of it gives you “nails on chalkboard” vibes, but I’d prefer people whisper so that I know to mind my business. If someone if speaking at a level I can hear, I may or may not butt into that conversation because it’s clear to me that you don’t want it kept private.

      1. Morgan*

        You might be the anomaly. Either way, hopefully you can read other cues that tell you not to butt in besides volume, otherwise I imagine you get into a lot of wacky conversational shenanigans. Like:
        Priest: “You may now kiss-”
        You: “I don’t wanna kiss her!”
        Priest: “I was talking to the groom.”
        You: “Well how was I supposed to know it wasn’t directed at me? There is literally no indication because you’re having this conversation in public at normal volume!”

      2. Kal*

        If you want to have a private conversation where you are worried about coworkers overhearing, moving to another location or doing it in an email or message or something does seem the better plan than whispering. Whispering is a sound that, as you should notice from these responses, tends to pull peoples attention, making it more likely for someone to notice the conversation, and anyone particularly nosy will tend to pay even more attention to whispering than a normal conversation, since it advertises that you’re talking about something you don’t want overheard.

    4. Cookie*

      I hate whispering SO MUCH and about 50% of my colleagues do it regularly. I’d honestly prefer shouting, if I had to pick. I don’t care if it’s business or personal, I cannot work when it’s happening. It seems to scratch up the soil of my concentration and plant seeds of madness.

      It is one of the things I dread so much about our return to office, still on track for next week. I have loved not wearing the pinchy over-the-ear headphones, but that’s my only defense against the whispering.

      1. pancakes*

        That sounds like such an odd, awkward atmosphere. What is going on that half the office think that’s normal?! New people who start don’t ask why people are behaving that way?

  12. mlem*

    I admit, I always thought university career fairs were more about companies trying to sell themselves, and less about companies agreeing to show up but expecting the students to have researched each company they approach beforehand. (Is “What can you do for me?” literal, or an interpretation of a student hoping to inspire the booth rep’s quick pitch?)

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Agreed. I haven’t been to one as a job searchers in a long time, but we did just participate in one for where I currently work.

      We absolutely expected no one to know anything about us or the job – we were there to sell it to people interested in a career.

      The bit about people with degrees in no way related – I’d venture that jobs that require a very specific degree/field, vs jobs that don’t are the minority. And just about any company would potentially be hiring for a range of positions, yes? A finance company still has HR and administrative positions. A bio company has buyers, and communicators and other non directly bio jobs. So it’s not weird, strange or rude for people to be inquiring what your business “does” and what positions are available.

      If people are actually explicitly saying “What can you do for me”, yeah that’s a bit much, but just the premise of expecting to learn about your company and available jobs is a completely normal expectation for a participant to have.

    2. Em*

      That is pretty much how I approached them back in college! I showed up with a stack of resumes and didn’t usually research any companies since I thought that was why I was there… to get information. There were usually a few companies that I’d never heard of and I’d have to go ask what they did. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with approaching a booth when you’re not necessarily in the same field they’re hiring for.

    3. kiki*

      Yeah, maybe the college career fairs I went to were different and intended for a broader audience, but I felt like part of the point was for companies to get their name out there for candidates who may have never heard of them or known they’d hire somebody with their major. As an anthro major, I had mostly learned about the options of staying in academia. I was pleasantly surprised to go to a career fair and find out a tech company hired a fair amount of anthropology grads as UX Researchers.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m in university career services and we regularly hold career fairs. Employers generally use the fairs to increase employer brand recognition and many of them actually love the opportunity to connect with students who have never heard of them. However, some recruiters come to the fairs with goals for number of resumes collected and/or number of applicants, and it makes them hyper-focused on connecting with probable candidates. These recruiters can get frustrated when approached by students who don’t already know about the company or have the qualifications for open positions.

      1. nnn*

        It might be useful if you can get employers to provide a very brief blurb about what they’re looking for at the career fair, to post on the career fair website so students can figure out who they should talk to. There’s a big difference between “We’re an accounting firm looking for accounting students to become accountants” and “We’re looking for people from all fields who are passionate about our mission! Check out our website to learn more, then stop by our booth if you think we’d be a good fit for each other!” And students can easily handle both if they know what the particular employer is looking for

  13. Bernice Clifton*

    I did pre-emptively tell a former employee that she was not welcome to attend a work party, but it was a specific situation. It was a regulated industry and where the public was not allowed in certain areas of the office where she had already tried to gain access after leaving, and the party took place in the office. I let the boss decide though.

    1. JourneyOfMan*

      I am here to admire your user name. Are you wearing a Christmas tree skirt as you type?

  14. periwinkle*

    L&D professional here – Quizzes after training are excellent for reinforcing learning! While it’s a good way to see how well people remember what they learned in the training, the real advantage is that it forces their brains to move that info back into active memory.

    1. Internist*

      100%, this is really true. There’s something called ‘the testing effect’ where people remember knowledge better *because* they have been tested on it, independent of time spent studying and so on.

      1. Llama Zoomer*

        I know I am days late to this conversation, but I came here to say exactly this! I now work in an area related to cognitive & learning sciences and I’ll admit that I think way too much about metacognitive skills and memory strategies in my day-to-day life!

        BUT – I hadn’t really thought about it in relation to training new employees. Brainstorming now….

  15. Sharpiee*

    “What can you do for me?”

    Am I a relic or is this a question that is wildly inappropriate and off-putting? I get that these were just students asking questions at a job fair, but this seems more like a question you would ask yourself when evaluating employers and not actually a question you’d ask out loud to a representative of the company. Again, I might be old………

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Not just you. That feels very off-putting and unclear. Are they asking if the individual can hire them on the spot? Company benefits? Pay scales?

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      LW said “something like ‘so, what can you do for me?'” so I suspect that it is more her interpretation of those folks’ approach than it is a direct quote. She doesn’t seem to have a good opinion of people who hadn’t researched her org in advance. I’ve never been to a career fair but it seems like learning about each employer is probably part of the deal? As an actual question, it is quite blunt.

      1. Gumby*

        I agree. Sometimes the list of attendees isn’t available in advance, and sometimes it is but it is a quite large list so a reasonable attendee shouldn’t be expected to know much about each individual company. For a college-hosted career fair? I would expect way more “never heard of you, what does your company even do?” type questions. It’s also possible that even if an attendee prepared to talk to a few of the companies represented, something about the table for one that they hadn’t researched grabbed their attention so they decided to find out more. Or it just had cool swag and they needed an excuse to take the chocolate/pen/socks/water bottle so asked a few awkward questions.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        Yes, this. The OP is off-put that people aren’t researching them in advance and knowing they want to apply.

        I dare say its a relic of hiring where employers believe they have all the power and people should be lucky they’d even consider your application.

        I believe the reality is more students not knowing anything about the company and asking what they do and what they are hiring for – all very reasonable normal things.

        Especially when paired with the tidbit that these students degrees aren’t anything they would find useful – as I stated above, most companies hire for a wide variety of positions that can be filled by people with a wide variety of degrees. A company only wanting to talk to basket weaver degrees for specifically basket weaving roles isn’t the norm. And even if you are – blowing off people because you are looking very specific right now isn’t a good way for people to remember your company years down the road when you are hiring for jobs other than basket weaving.

        I personally would remember it and not be particularly interested in your company.

    3. PlainJane*

      You’re not a relic. It sounds terrible. I have a feeling, though, that if there are so many people doing it, someone, somewhere is giving out a very bad piece of advice, like, “Career fairs are companies looking for workers, so start out in a position of strength by reminding them that it’s an employees’ market right now…” (I know someone who was given the horrendous advice that she should try to show how she would be valuable by finding a problem in the company and explaining how to fix it. She carefully studied their website, and at the interview, basically informed them of everything they were doing wrong, and why she knew better. Needless to say, the person who’d been her reference and recommended her for the interview was mortified. And even more needless to say, she was not offered anything more than an insincere, “Good luck in your job search.” I had to explain to reference, who I knew, that the person was not being deliberately awful, but following awful advice which I had also seen in the course of a job hunt and rejected because my sixth sense was screaming DON’T DO THIS RIDICULOUS THING. So… is there someone out there telling college students that a casual “What can you do for me?” is somehow an appropriate way to address a potential employer?

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I remember getting the “solve a problem for the company” as advice circa 2011. Sounds like the person in the anecdote was going further than what they suggested to me, which I never got a chance to put into practice because I couldn’t get interviews.

        But if I were interviewing, I would still be put off by someone who’s never been an employee/customer/vendor who thinks they understand my company well enough to give me unsolicited advice. I get plenty of spam from people who think I just need them to do X to grow my business and of course they are consultants in X and it’s not relevant to my company. If I’m hiring a teapot packager, I don’t need them bothering me about more Instagram followers or whatever. If they’ve been reading my Etsy reviews and realize that good packaging is important it might be worthwhile to emphasize their experience packaging fragile items. But if I’m hiring someone to package large wholesale orders, I don’t need advice about optimizing Etsy SEO for retail orders (when I’m pivoting away from Etsy).

        1. PlainJane*

          2011 or so tracks–maybe a little earlier or a little later. (I was last job-hunting in ’07, so that’s probably when I saw it.) The advice is marginal even if followed well, but yes, the interviewee in question probably overdid it, thinking it would make her stand out. Well… mission accomplished. It’s very bad advice to take from a written document, without someone to kind of say “NO! That’s not what I mean at ALL!” And if it’s taken by someone who’s non-neurotypical in a way that makes social cues hard to read… uh, yeah. Disaster.

  16. anti social socialite*

    LW #3 as long as you do something with the quizzes, I don’t see a problem. In the retail world, quizzes on policy etc are used all the time.

    However when I started my office job, I was given a few quizzes after I had completed my training and then never heard anything about the results. That to me felt like a bit of a waste of time.

    1. Kal*

      To me at least, quizzes that give you immediate feedback seem more useful (and more directly like they have a point) than those where they go off somewhere to be reviewed – which feels too much like grading for most workplace things. If its something like a safety thing where a certain passing standard is required to be allowed to do the associated work, then the grading path can make sense, but if the goal is information retention then immediate correction seems like it’ll do a better job of the goal of making sure people remember the right info.

      A quiz that just goes into a black hole can do the opposite – making it seem like its being graded, and in doing so making it very possible that the quiz taker remembers any wrong information they put in as if it were correct, since if they made a mistake wouldn’t they have been told so?

  17. An Australian In London*

    I have ever been invited to project wrap-up parties that happened 6+ months after my time with that client was done. It was a multi-year project and I as a freelance consultant had been on and off the project for most of the years (as in: 6 months on, 6 months off, 3 months on, 6 months off, 9 months on, 6 months off), all due to natural project cycles and the need for my specialism.

    Never in a million years would I have invited myself. I wouldn’t even have gone if invited by current workers without confirming it with the organiser and top management first. I am cringing now imagining a client’s reactions to my showing up without a specific invitation from the specific organiser.

  18. PlainJane*

    For the quizzes… make them a game! I’m not even kidding. Just toss something out to everyone, kind of a scavenger hunt. My bosses did this to get everyone to try out some of our resources–it’s a library, and it was a list of ten reference questions they made up–and the winner (first person to return all the right answers) got a little swag bag. It was fun, and it incentivized going out and learning.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Yep, when I worked at a theatre box office they would have monthly meetings for all box office and FOH staff, and when it was coming up on the new seasons they would break us up into teams and have a trivia contest about the new season (and the theatre in general). It was fun and helped me remember a lot!

    2. History Teacher*

      There are quiz game websites out there, like Kahoot and Blooket, that are a lot of fun and help to reinforce what you learn! I use it with my high school students to help review for tests, and it makes a difference.

  19. nnn*

    When I was younger, I was a candidate who would show up at career fairs and look expectantly at the people in the booths while bringing nothing to the conversation. Here’s where that was coming from:

    1. I thought that if an employer was attending my school’s career fair, they were actively seeking to recruit students or graduates from my school, and had specific positions in mind where they would put us. I figured they would tell us what they had in mind, since they’re the ones who know this information.
    2. The employers were the grownups and professionals, the people with power and authority in the situation, and the people who had actually been to a career fair before. On that basis, I figured they’d be the ones leading the conversation.
    3. My entire life, I’d been told that employers value having a degree – any degree, doesn’t have to be directly related to the job! Then I went to a career fair, went up to a booth of an employer who seemed interesting, they asked what my major was, I told them, and they said “We don’t have any jobs in [major]”, seeming particularly baffled that I’d even consider talking to them. That was literally the first time in my entire life I’d ever been exposed to the notion that a degree wasn’t valued in and of itself.

    1. Just Me*

      I agree, and I’ll add that working as a higher ed admin now, many of my students are talking to corporations that hire grads en masse for entry-level positions or boot camps and expect to be molding their ideal workers (ex: they got computer science degrees, talked to Microsoft, and were recruited for a coding boot camp, or they’re recent law graduates who are clerking or were recruited in a cohort with 100 other recent grads to do grunt work for Ropes & Gray or Dechert). Sometimes when I suggest that they talk to the person who will be their manager if they have questions about their upcoming job, they are genuinely confused because some of these corporations just don’t operate that way–you get a slot in a low level position at a prestigious company and just do what they say.

  20. Reality.Bites*

    Back in 1990 I worked in the telecom side of what was then a fairly large call centre in a large company. The Christmas party in those days was a banquet with an open bar.

    We had an employee with chronic attendance and other issues and she flabbergasted all attendees, including management, by coming to the party after calling in sick for her shift that day.

    Also at the same party, I took my friend Dorothy. Her partner, Stanley, has also worked for the company and had recently quit, so he asked if me and another friend of ours, Harry, would take her. (Harry and I are both gay).

    She and my boss had been too friendly for a while, and that was the night they hooked up. Harry and I were, quire frankly panicked – what’s the protocol for not bringing your date home to her boyfriend because she hooked up with your boss?

    Of course Dorothy and Stanley broke up, which really annoyed me, because Stanley was the one I actually liked as a friend, and I got “custody” of her.

    It was quite the workplace. These stories aren’t anywhere close to the juiciest.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Question: why did you have to stay friends with her rather than Stanley, if you didn’t like her but did like him?

      1. Reality.Bites*

        Well because she worked there and he didn’t, and he moved out and this was 1990, where if someone didn’t have a landline in their name there was basically no way to find them.

        Oddly enough, his first and last name are both pretty uncommon – this is not his name or close to it, but you’d think a Malcolm Neuwirth would be easy to find. But I’ve never found a trace of him online when I’ve thought to check.

        (For the record I did NOT write the erotic novel that’s the only thing google returns for the name Malcolm Neuwirth)

        1. Reality.Bites*

          Should also say that I didn’t DISlike her.

          That night of the party was also the night Harry came out to me. It was time. The stress of pretending he was straight was getting to me. We went to his place for drinks before the dinner. Me to Dorothy: Straight roommates just do NOT put ticket stubs from musicals they’ve seen together on the cork board in the second bedroom that doesn’t have a bed in it.”

  21. Pseudonym*

    Just wanted to point out that university careers fairs (and uni careers services in general) are really inaccessible to students who don’t have family already doing the kind of jobs they’re recruiting for. I went into job searching after I graduated not knowing what any jobs beside teaching involve, because surprise! My entire family are either primary school teachers or do working class jobs. I don’t know any accountants or actuaries or engineers. I tried to find out what these jobs involved by asking people at careers fairs and they looked at me gone out (and didn’t answer my question). How was I supposed to know all of this stuff in advance? I had tried googling and it wasn’t very helpful. The absolute worst was some company called EY that was basically just yellow banners and nothing else. I don’t even think their rep knew what the company did. If he did, he wouldn’t tell me.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I’m really surprised you couldn’t find anything helpful by googling EY (formerly Ernst & Young), because if you google “EY” or “EY career fair” it is the entire first page. The top Q&A result is “What does EY do as a company?”

      (They are an international accountancy, audit, and risk-management firm, by the way).

      1. Esmeralda*

        If you just went to the career fair without researching ahead of time (because many students do not know they need to do that), and you saw an EY booth, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask.

        Those EY recruiters were snotty. Answer the damn question! Don’t they have a three or four sentence answer? Yes, yes they do. Not telling Pseudonym was a crappy thing to do. And I’ll bet not the impression the company wants to be giving Pseudonym, their friends, and everyone reading this right now.

        You’re making Pseudonym’s point. If you don’t know — and you don’t have any reason to know that you should know — you’re in Pseudonym’s position.

  22. RagingADHD*

    If we’re talking about literal whispering, it is generally more noticeable than talking in a quiet voice because it cuts through other noise. If you really want to be discreet, just speak at a low volume without going all breathy.

    Bonus 1: Actually more private.
    Bonus 2: Much less distracting and annoying to others.

  23. Patrick*

    Pertaining to the ex-employee coming to the party, one key factor plays into this: Was the party one that was planned days or weeks before their termination, and did they already RSVP? If the answer is yes to both questions, then they probably felt obligated to come. They had probably been raised up that if you RSVP to any event, you show up, unless you’re completely incapable of doing so ie being sick or having some other emergency come up.

    Maybe the ex-employee felt obligated to come to the party, especially if it was a year-end party, since they had been with the company for a better part of that year, and made their contributions as well.

    Still, it would be awkward either way.

    The only other way I could think the ex-employee knew about the party was if a current employee told them about it; if they were “good friends” outside of work, and the still-employee told the ex-employee, “You are coming to the party, right? This Friday, 12 PM?”

    1. Sean*

      What’s the betting that Mr Tardypants broke the habit of a lifetime and actually turned up at 12:00 on the dot?

  24. Crazyoboe*

    LW #3 – if you want to make the quizzes fun and not tedious, try using Kahoot. It’s a really fun way to make quizzes and do reviews and both kids and adults enjoy it. You would have the quiz running on a main screen somewhere and your employees would use their phones to enter answers and would get more points if they answer faster. It will get the competitive juices flowing, and then they’ll study up for next time!

  25. Yellow*

    LW1 I think you handled it correctly. Your other employees notice how you treat people you fire – frog matching him out because how dare he would likely have been noticed and you would have come off looking bad probably more so than him. People can understand why turning up late gets you fired. But it’s not going to be viewed the same as embezzlement or violence.

    Also important to consider – was he invited by someone he could have thought had the authority to do so? If it was a +1 type event then he may very well have been someone’s +1.

    Maybe in future, if you’ve already issued invitations to events that read as social rather than business, it would be worth explicitly mentioning that those events are now off limits.

  26. Medusa*

    I was assuming that “something like” doesn’t mean that they all literally said that. I hope I’m right, lol

  27. Just Me*

    LW4 – I would cut some of these kids a little slack. I used to do recruitment and college/career fairs and I agree that you should have a very short spiel saying, “We do x and we are hiring for y. What are you interested in?” You have to keep in mind, though, that a lot of people end up at career fairs specifically because they Do Not Know What They Are Doing, and a counselor or parent told them, “Just go and talk to people! Explore a bit!” If they are not at all a fit for what you are looking for in a candidate, give them some inexpensive branded swag to get the logo name there or (if it’s a company where they may reasonably purchase something or use the service) invite them to use the product. For example, when I did recruitment/admissions for beauty school and went to college/career fairs, only a few kids would actually be interested, but as our school was also a functioning salon, so I would also hand out service coupons and actively encourage everyone to come to our location to have their hair done.

    I’ll add also that these are students, so they don’t really have a “field” yet–many of them are pretty open to do whatever.

  28. That One Person*

    That first one had me a little worried in this day and age, but glad he was just a little socially inept.

    I hate whispering. My hearing isn’t the best, I like to refer to it as “dyslexic hearing” even though it’s likely a mix of some hearing loss over time tied in with not getting my attention first so my brain will just supplant words that are close enough to what someone said (to hilarious effect at times at least). So figuring I don’t just take it as creepy background sounds its likely to go misunderstood. I’m a little curious what the general noise level of your area is because I will say that sometimes people don’t want to be the one to “break the silence” so to speak. Like back in high school tests would be silent until the first person coughed or cleared their throat, then suddenly everyone felt comfortable doing that (to the point the teacher would roll their eyes at us and the sudden silly cacophony). Being at work however isn’t like being in a library or taking a test at school – conversation should be expected in a shared environment like that and nobody’s asking them to scream and shout. If they don’t feel comfortable doing that though then either they need to ask to move to a conference room like Alison suggested, or just accept they might feel a little silly messaging someone a desk over through whatever program the company uses (Teams, Slack, etc).

    1. Kal*

      If you haven’t encountered the term before – look up auditory processing disorder. I’ve heard people refer to it as being dyslexic but with hearing before. Basically, with your brain just can’t process the sounds right in some contexts (with different people being affected to different degrees), so like with other forms of hearing problems it tries to use other systems to compensate – and one of those other systems is the brain’s autocorrect making its best guess at what it thinks you’ve heard (and like autocorrect it often makes silly and sometimes baffling mistakes). As you can imagine, having APD and hearing loss together just makes things even harder for the poor brain to make the right guess.

      I’ve personally noticed my brain making those hiccups for a while now, and am just thankful for good subtitles when I can get them since at least that way I can read to fill in the blanks instead.

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