my coworker is high on pain pills, mentor gets credit for my work, and more

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

1. My coworker is high on pain pills

I work in a lab. We have a chemical engineer on our team who is the only one who knows how to make our chemical solutions and fix certain machines. Dude’s brilliant and I like him as a person, but he has some serious problems. The one that bothers me most is his addiction to pain pills. He’s been on and off the wagon every couple months since I started, and when he’s off the wagon his behavior is worrying. One incident ended in him trying to grab my chest and saying he’d beat up my boyfriend. He backed off after an HR report, and I’ve made sure to not try to be his friend at all since then.

Over the last few days, I’ve noticed his behavior is odd, in the way it usually is when he’s using. Normally he isn’t very affectionate at all, but right now he’s giving arm slaps and side-hugs, making jokes, being really friendly, that kind of thing. Called me “his angel” for helping with testing, as is my job. He’s forgetting things he’d been told a few hours before, and is really fuzzy on communicating in general. I’m worried about the guy, but I can’t reach out or be his friend after the incident between us. I don’t want him fired, he’s kind of indispensable and honestly if not for the thing I’d call him a friend. Our manager also has a habit of not listening to personnel issues, so I worry this would all fall on deaf ears. How do I approach this? Can I even try?

Someone under the influence of pain pills working in a lab is a genuine danger. You have to speak up, for the safety of your coworker, yourself, and the rest of your colleagues.

Even many managers who generally suck at handling personnel issues would act if aware of a situation like this so unless you’ve seen your boss wave away serious safety issues in the past, it’s still worth talking to her and sharing what you know. If for some reason that doesn’t work (which would mean your manager is remarkably negligent), escalate it. Go back to HR if you have to. This is dangerous enough that “I don’t want him to get fired” can’t be a concern.

2. My mentor unintentionally gets a lot of credit for my work

I am a woman in my 20s, and I have a male coworker/mentor in his 50s. He has been extremely helpful in lending his expertise and wants to see me grow and develop in the role, for all of which I am very grateful. We work closely on many projects and I have learned a great deal from him.

Perhaps I’ll just have to learn how to deal with this, but I find myself often growing frustrated that he will get credit for projects which I have taken the lead on and have done the lion’s share of the work for, when he is just in an advisory role (or has not contributed to said project). This is no fault of his own, as he’s not actively trying to take the credit, but people seem to think of us as a pair, and assume that as the older figure he’s automatically in charge and I’m more like his assistant. I feel that many times my contributions are completely overlooked. He also comes across more confident and knowledgeable, so will sometimes cut in to answer the question briskly rather than letting me deal with it, which probably doesn’t help.

I find myself desperate to explain to other people how much work I’ve really put into a certain project, which feels very petty. I don’t know what else to do as some days I can leave work feeling very disgruntled and that as a young woman in this field, I’m never going to be taken seriously. Sometimes I feel like quitting, which I know is the wrong thing to do, because I love this job, really. Is there anything I can do, or do I just have to toughen up and ignore it?

Can you talk to your mentor about it? He might be totally unaware it’s happening and he’s well-positioned to help you counter it. I’d frame it as, “I notice that because we work together closely, people often assume projects like X or Y are yours and don’t realize I’ve done things like Z. Do you have advice on making my contributions more visible?” Depending on his answer, you could also say, “If you’re able to highlight my work when that happens, I think that would carry a lot of weight too.”

You should also try speaking up yourself. For example, when those projects are being discussed with others, make sure you’re jumping in and talking about your role, how you came up with the idea, why you took a particular approach, etc. There’s advice on how to do that here.

3. How should I talk about my abusive boss in interviews?

A couple of years ago, I had a boss who was incredibly abusive — he’d yell, throw things, swear at people, tell people they were bad at their jobs, etc. He seemed to have it out for me in particular, and often targeted me personally. It completely destroyed my life for the time that I worked for him, and I left the job about a year in with quite a bit of trauma to work through.

Recently I was asked several questions about this role in a job interview — in particular, what made it hard, why I left, etc. — and I burst into tears. The interviewers handled it graciously, but I don’t think it was the best impression.

While I like to think that I’ve mostly processed and gotten over how it felt to work for this guy, it was still a traumatic experience that I’m not fully over. I’m continuing to go to therapy for this prior experience, but in the meantime, how should I handle it when I get asked about this experience in job interviews? What should I do if (and probably when) I get emotional?

Honestly, I’d pick another reason for leaving. This one brings up too much emotion for you and makes it too likely that you’ll look/sound more upset than people are generally comfortable seeing in job interviews and risks moving the focus way off where you want it in an interview.

If it’s at all plausible to say that a better opportunity fell in your lap or you realized you wanted to do more X than Y (or anything else that doesn’t raise lots of questions about what it was like there), you’ll be a lot better served by that.

Related: should I not tell interviewers I left my last job because of bad management?

4. I’m being recruited for jobs that are way out of my league

About six months ago, I received a double promotion (woo!) and have gotten a chance to start managing projects and teams of people (whereas before I was mainly executing on those projects). This has been great, but it seems like there’s some sort of vacuum at this level and above in my industry because I’ve started getting recruiters reaching out every week. Even more strange is that these roles often seem way out of my league — for example, director level positions that list 7-10 years of project management experience. I’ve been getting so many messages that I either turn them down or send back a very blunt list of questions to see if I should consider it.

Am I right to be scared that I’d crash and burn if I trust these recruiters and try to jump up the ladder so soon, or should I go for it and maximize my earning potential?

Well … six months of management experience is not a lot, and if these are really director-level management roles I’d be very wary. Recruiters often do cast a very broad net, especially at early stages.

That said, there’s no harm in talking to those recruiters to learn more about the jobs and — crucially — what it would take to do well in them. Personally, though, I wouldn’t look at this through a lens of “should I maximize my earning potential” unless you’re comfortable with that being a very short-term gain. If you end up in a job you aren’t positioned to do well in, you could end up losing the job — or worse, struggling for years and doing real harm to your reputation. Instead I’d look at it through a lens of how likely you are to excel at the work. (I also worry that if you take a job too far above your current skill set and crash and burn, it’ll take a lot of time to get back to the type of role you just started, and that would suck because the current job sounds like a good opportunity to build the skills that could prepare you for higher level roles in time.)

But talk to some of them and learn more. And if you have a mentor you trust, get their perspective too.

5. Should my time at a conference count as work days?

If I have to attend a conference, should my time at the conference be considered my days off from the company?

If your employer asked you to attend the conference, it’s unquestionably work time.

If you’re the one who asked to go and it’s related to your job, it should generally count as work time too, assuming the company is getting some kind of benefit your attendance (even if that benefit is just your professional development). If they’re paying your travel expenses, it’s a good bet that it falls in this category.

But this isn’t always black and white. Let’s say it’s a conference that your company doesn’t see a need to send you to but you decide to attend for your own professional development or networking advantages. In some cases — depending on the exact circumstances — it’s possible that your company wouldn’t consider that work time. I’d argue that in general managers should look for ways to count it as work time unless the conference is totally irrelevant to the work you do for them … or you’re attending barely-relevant conferences every month or something … but it can vary.

{ 353 comments… read them below }

  1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    #1 I think part of the problem is that your lab has some tasks that only one person knows how to do. You all depend too much on this one person. What if he quits, gets sick, or even dies? How do you deal with his holidays?

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      What really jumps out to me about #1 is this – if he is the only person running certain experiments and he is doing those while high, how on earth can you trust the results? This is the very definition of an issue with a colleague that is worth speaking up about!

      1. The OTHER other*

        AND—How is he getting to and from work? Is he driving under the influence? It sounds as though his judgment is seriously impaired.

        Someone high behind the wheel makes it doubly essential to say something. He could kill someone.

        1. Observer*

          He could kill someone even without driving. Remember, he’s working in a lab that makes fairly complex chemical solutions. Get THAT wrong, and the potential fallout is genuinely scary – definitely life threatening!

          I think it’s more useful for the OP to focus on the stuff that it’s in front of them – that they know about and is really their / the company’s responsibility.

      2. Zelda*

        “if he is the only person running certain experiments and he is doing those while high, how on earth can you trust the results?”

        100% this. Former lab tech & safety officer here, with almost all my experience in FDA-regulated environments. The mere thought of having someone in an altered state *while in the lab* is freaking me out, on about six different levels.

        Among other things, I’m having real trouble with the idea that what this person does is sooooo arcane that nobody else can possibly do it. Reliable lab results do not come from magic sauce, they come from well-documented and repeatable procedures. Does this guy not have lab notebooks? How the &%^$ would *any* of your results ever hold up if questioned, if all you could say about the solution was “I used some stuff from the flask that this guy gave me”? If it genuinely isn’t documented anywhere how it’s made, it needs to *get* documented PDQ.

        And that’s not even getting started on the safety issues… *wibble*

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah. I’ve done lab safety, and worked in FDA regulated labs as well as analytical labs for EPA tests. Everything has to have a written procedure, and that procedure has to be followed. At one lab I developed the internal procedure from the CFR description of method. I tested it, documented it, refined it, then had it reviewed by a senior chemist.

          A decent lab should have everything written down and good cross-training on all procedures. So that way you not only have the written procedure, but multiple people who know how to run the equipment associated with that procedure.

          An SPOF (single point of failure) is bad, an SPOF with substance abuse issues is worse.

        2. JustaTech*

          I’ve had coworkers who would lose focus if they needed the bathroom or were very hungry and I have asked them to leave the lab and take care of whatever was making them very slightly altered in their mental state. Mostly this was so they didn’t mess up the experiment and not over safety issues, but I’ve had coworkers who I have sent to eat something for fear they would pass out.

          That was for the most mild of altered states. Someone who’s high? They’ve shown that they will harass the other staff, and the likelihood of ruining an experiment, breaking the equipment or seriously injuring themselves or others is, as Zelda says, terrifying.
          OP, you have to report this just like you would report a leaking gas line. It’s a SAFETY issue.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        This is a scenario where “How has no one been injured or killed yet?” is not hyperbole! I wouldn’t be in the same room as this guy when he’s operating equipment.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      It’s the old “Fergus is the only person who knows how to do X. If Fergus were hit by a bus tomorrow, X would not get done…uh oh” situation. There should be no one person whose absence would cause everything to fall apart.

      Regardless of *why* this person can’t do his job, someone else needs to know how to do it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, we had a very large, expensive, complex piece of equipment only one guy knew how to use. He quit to follow a lifelong dream of being a wildlife photographer.
        So what happened when we needed to use that thing? We waited until that guy was back from his latest trip, paid his impressive consulting fees and *had him train other people* in how to use that piece of equipment. And now several people are trained in how to use it, because however much time it cost to train them up was a fraction of how much it cost to have that one guy back.
        (We’re lucky he was willing to come back and didn’t get eaten by a bear before he could make time for us.)

    3. Wants Green Things*

      Seconded. That sounds like too important a role to not have redundancy, even if that’s just Coworker A who knows how to make the solutions and Coworker C can operate the machines but neither are primarily responsible.

      Addiction is a mess of a mental illness, but he’s not only impaired on the job, he’s impaired while handling *chemicals* and *machinery.* You can’t excuse or ignore that. This has to be reported.

      1. Well...*

        Not every lab is a super dangerous place, but many are. Safety issues should definitely be considered, but just because someone works with “chemicals” doesn’t make them dangerous chemicals. Also building machines isn’t necessarily as dangerous as “operating heavy machinery.” It’s probably dangerous, but jumping to the conclusion that it definitely is feels a little off.

        Chemical engineering is generally where the scariest labs are, but I’d also be surprised if LW1 was in such a lab and didn’t clock the danger there.

        1. Ina Lummick*

          I mean I work in a food analysis lab and while some analyses have nasty solvents, even for the more benign stuff that would be a clear-cut report to the H&S & quality teams

        2. Lilo*

          I was a chemistry major and I’d really have a hard time thinking of a lab where you don’t have at least one dangerous thing. Standard cleaning solvents can be dangerous.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            My husband has a T-shirt that says: “Science! Being paid to do in a lab what would be illegal in a garage.”

          2. Lindy's Homemade*

            Water is dangerous under the right circumstances so who’s to say that LW’s coworker couldn’t like, accidentally break a pipe and flood the whole lab?

            1. Worldwalker*

              Long ago, my boss at *mumble* managed, somehow, to break the tank of a toilet. We have no idea how, nor did he — but this had ten left thumbs (he was a programmer) and this was not out of character for him. And … nobody could find the shutoff valve. It turned out to be in the basement, up among the floor joists, behind stacks of cases of soda for the vending machine. By the time we found it (pretty much everyone in that part of the building fanned out looking) there were waterfalls on the stairway and a flood in the break room. It was a mess.

              So, yeah, water is dangerous. Especially when your boss is a klutz. (and yes, when the toilet was repaired, it was equipped with a proper water shutoff valve)

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                This may be dangerous but the way you tell it is hilarious, I love it! And I’d love to hear your other stories of Ten Thumbs (because come on, there must be, someone with that much talent for messing things up!)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            This. My dad in high school at 16 accidentally made laughing gas mixing two unlabeled beakers together. Both substances were fine on their own, but dangerous when combined.

            And yes, I acknowledge that the bigger problem was that the teacher had and had in unmarked containers accessible to students the ingredients to make laughing gas.

            1. AmberFox*

              Yeahh, my dad at about the same age used a “learn chemistry at home as a kid” kit to create what he intended to be weed killer. He did create something that killed the weeds (and everything around it), but it also produced chlorine gas and they had to leave the area for like 20 minutes. (Yes, it was the 60s, but still.)

              1. ScruffyInternHerder*

                They hadn’t improved greatly by the mid 80s when I had an at home chemistry set.

                Cyanide. It included cyanide crystals. Might not have been pure, might have been a derivative, but I do remember the word “Cyanide” and Mom ripping through approximately two octaves of vocal scale with her questioning/confirming displeasure that it was actually what she feared it was. The experiment involving that had something to do with ink/invisible ink. Its been a hot moment, and I have parents with heavy duty science backgrounds. That experiment was NOT done and the bottle confiscated by my parents.

              2. JustaTech*

                I accidentally made chlorine gas in the glasswash sink once (I was impatient and didn’t let enough water run through the drain after dumping ammonia before I started dumping bleach).

                Do. Not. Recommend.

                1. DJ Abbott*

                  Oh, I remember warnings about mixing ammonia and bleach from way back. I heard about a woman who died from that while doing house work. Didn’t know the result is chlorine though!

                2. Never Boring*

                  I did something similar once trying to clean a very dirty cat litter box. With bleach. In a small studio apartment. My asthmatic self is lucky to be alive.

            2. Reluctant+Mezzo*

              My husband once got a chemistry teaching job because his predecessor made chlorine gas in the sink trap (he was also a losing football coach. I leave as an exercise to the reader which sin was worse).

          2. PostalMixup*

            Bleach plus hydrochloride acid, for one. Every lab I’ve ever worked in has had both of those. Even just being careless while pH-ing a solution (and if he’s making solutions and buffers, he’s probably using a pH meter at some point) can be dangerous, because if the 12M HCl or 10N NaOH or glacial acetic acid spills and someone comes by later and it soaks into the sleeve of their lab coat, that’s gonna hurt.
            There are other people out there who can make solutions, or be trained to. Even a service contract on machinery is probably less expensive than a chemical spill.

            1. Becky*

              Heck, I have both ammonia and bleach cleaning products in my apartment. Mix those together on accident and its toxic.

        3. Wintermute*

          I’ve been in a fair share of labs, and while yes, not every one is going to have base baths bubbling away, columns of refluxing solvents at temperature, syringes of pyrophoric organometal compounds, compounds with LD50s in the milligram range, and other obvious big red flag dangers, but none of them are “safe” to be impaired in, even a modern beyond-dumbed-down “put bubble wrap on all the things” high school lab could disfigure someone in a righteous hurry if they’re heavily impaired.

          1. Revenge of the Random Commenter*

            In Junior High science class we were making wood alcohol. My lab mate knocked the apparatus over, soaking all our books in flammable liquid and then the Bunsen burner lit the whole affair on fire.

            That was fun.

            No one was hurt, but it also put an end to experiments involving open flames for the rest of the year.

          2. Nesprin*

            I’ve worked in a lot of labs, and I’ve never been in one where being high on pain meds would be remotely safe.

            Even routine stuff like glassware breaking, or vacuum line pulling too hard, or a chemical splashing, or tripping over a power cord can be really dangerous.

            And often times, it’s not the person who caused the accident that gets hurt. OP, if I were you, I’d stop work while this person was there.

        4. Observer*

          Chemical engineering is generally where the scariest labs are, but I’d also be surprised if LW1 was in such a lab and didn’t clock the danger there.

          Considering how often people have shown hesitance to “get someone in trouble” for things that they KNOW are clear safety violations (or where the culture is to not report stuff like this), I would not be surprised at all.

          Also, you don’t have to be in a lab that actually intentionally makes dangerous chemicals. All you need is regular mixing of benign chemicals that create positive interactions that depend on the correct ingredients and amounts and mess with the ingredient list, amounts or even storage, and you have the potential for extremely high risk.

          Keep in mind that the bomb that was exploded in the WTC (1993) was made primarily from fertilizer, and was then enhanced by hydrogen. In other words some very innocuous materials that became a hugely destructive bomb.

          1. Hannah Lee*


            I work in the office at a light manufacturing company. (ie we’re not a laboratory)
            I could, if I was so inclined, take a walk through our demonstration area and cleaning supply closet and within 15 minutes create a “evacuate the building now!” situation.

            We once had a SW engineer mistake something other liquid for water and wind up dousing his eyes with liquid A to wash off the liquid B he’d accidentally splashed on his face. Liquid A and B were isopropyl alcohol and windshield washing fluid … I don’t remember which he managed to spray on himself and which he reached for to rinse it off. There was an actual emergency eye wash station 5 feet from where he was sitting, but people don’t always think clearly when their face and eyes are stinging.

            In general, you don’t want people who are intoxicated or otherwise impaired in the workplace. I don’t care where you work … someone without their wits about them can cause harm to themselves or others, and they don’t belong at in the workplace. Having OP’s workplace be a lab just doubles down on that guideline.

          2. Worldwalker*

            Anfo. Ammonium nitrate + fuel oil. It’s popular with terrorists. For example, the explosive that Timothy McVeigh used on the the Oklahoma City Federal Building was Anfo. The IRA was also fond of it.

            The explosion that leveled a rather large part of Beirut was just plain ammonium nitrate which had been left in a warehouse in the dockyards for years. West, Texas (which is not in the western part of Texas) was partly destroyed when a fertilizer business blew up; ammonium nitrate, again, touched off by a structure fire. And there is a probably apocryphal story about a village in Poland during Soviet times which got its annual allocation of fertilizer delivered in a big heap; they decided to break the crust which had developed on the surface with dynamite, resulting in the removal of the village.

            It is also used in blasting, such as in a quarry or mine — they’ll dump a sack of ammonium nitrate fertilizer down the hole after the dynamite charge is in place, to enhance the blast. (depending on conditions, they might add fuel oil as well)

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      LW 1 is jumping to having her colleague fired, but that is not necessarily the first line of defense in a situation like this. It’s very possible that the company can put the colleague on disability leave and he can go to a treatment program, or something similar.

      Informing the higher-ups isn’t about “getting him in trouble,” if that’s how LW is framing it in her head. It’s about upholding the integrity of the work you all do. He likely** needs help; letting people with authority know that can assist him in getting there. It’s then up to him whether or not he can get healthy enough to maintain an appropriately high level of work. If not, it won’t be your fault if he gets fired.

      (**likely, because I have no idea whether he actually has an addiction, or something more like a chronic issue and is dealing with a medication calibration issue, or some similar explanation.)

      Also, this is a quintessential example of understanding that at work, you generally need to be colleagues first, and being friends is really not the priority. I am friendly to my colleagues, but not such that I would jeopardize our work or my job because of our personal relationship. I certainly wouldn’t go down the drain myself trying to save someone who needs more help than I can give. While obviously you should have compassion for your colleague and do what you can for him and want him to get well, you don’t need to put your friendship first here; you need to cover your own caboose and worry about the work.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I don’t know, if he’s assaulting people (grabbing at her) then maybe firing is the right thing to do here.

        1. EPLawyer*

          YEP. Why he wasn’t fired when that happened I have no clue. No one is so indispensable that a functioning company should think assault is okay. Just because the person was impaired doesn’t make it okay. They are still responsible for their actions.

          Unfortunately, because of how HR handled something that serious, I have no hope they will take any other concerns seriously. Report it, just so when the inevitable happens and everyone else is censured for not reporting a safety risk in the lab, at least you OP won’t be. Because the inevitable is going to happen.

          1. Observer*

            YEP. Why he wasn’t fired when that happened I have no clue.

            This is a clue that the guy is not likely to be fired even with the safety issues.

            But also, if they DO fire him, it won’t be the OP – it will be this guy doing stuff that literally endangers people, as well as putting the company at risk.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            That reminds me … depending on what kind of laboratory LW works in, one impaired person can do a whole lot of damage and not just to people they work with.

            Just in the past 10 years there was the medical compounding lab putting out contaminated product causing hundreds of people to get sick and dozens to die. In the same state, another lab had QC problems that caused thousands of criminal convictions to be tossed out because of tainted evidence.

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          Agreed, and I think that the fact that the employer’s response to (attempted?) sexual assault seems to have been pretty muted is coloring OP’s feelings here. Everybody above her seems to be taking this pretty cavalierly, and I suspect that’s making her second-guess her own instincts here.

          OP, your instincts are in good working order–they led you to back away from this guy to keep yourself safe when nobody else was stepping up to do that for you, and they are leading you to report this and find a way to keep your lab safe. You’re right, your boss is wrong, and you should speak up, document, and follow up with HR or a higher up if you’re having trouble being heard.

          1. LabTech*

            Honestly right on the money, manager didn’t really care that he tried to assault me and threatened someone I love whilst also saying some vile stuff about my body, I feel like he’s not going to care about the drugs. I did get to talk to him a bit ago and he said he doesn’t think I’m seeing this right and he can’t do anything unless he cops it. I just don’t want to be shoveling chemicals into a proverbial hole bc our main engineer is too high to do his job AGAIN.

            1. Observer*

              Your boss is completely wrong about needing him to confess to the drug use.

              Please put this in writing and make sure to let your regular HR people know, as well as whoever is in charge of HR, Safety and compliance, and your GrandBoss at the very least. And if nothing happens? Start looking for a new job.

                1. JustaTech*

                  The boss is beyond useless. When something happens not only will the chemical engineer be out but so will the boss for looking the wrong way.
                  Depending on how the LW’s lab is regulated an auditor could make the whole company’s life miserable for this.
                  If the LW’s HR, Quality or Regulatory groups have half a brain among them they’ll see the huge risk this engineer is posing to the whole company and get him out of the lab.

                2. Observer*

                  If the LW’s HR, Quality or Regulatory groups have half a brain among them they’ll see the huge risk this engineer is posing to the whole company and get him out of the lab.

                  Exactly. And if they don’t OP needs to find a new job. Easier said than done, but still easier than dealing with the fallout of an investigation of the lab.

              1. Worldwalker*

                I’m not sure if “start looking for a new job” shouldn’t be first on that list. This sounds like there is some pretty serious dysfunction going on at the top.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Ummm – Your boss is a donkey’s butt.

              Put as much of this as possible into writing and get out of that Lab as fast as possible. It sounds like between the two of them (boss and higineer ) are going to drag this place out of business if it’s left up to them.

            3. Overit*

              If you truly believe nothing will be done, look for a new job. No good will come to you or your career by continuing to work in such a dysfunctional lab.

            4. Shirley Keeldar*

              I am so very sorry, OP–you should not be having to work with someone who sexually harassed you and is now calling you “his angel” (ugh ugh ugh), not to mention that your last sentence shows just how insane this has gotten. Document that conversation with your manager somehow, go over his head, and work on GETTING OUT. All the internet sympathy to you!

            5. DJ Abbott*

              Also please keep yourself safe from this guy. Make sure other women know what he’s capable of and you all can protect each other. If necessary, Bring in your boyfriend and other friends to protect you since your boss isn’t doing anything.
              Unfortunately, sometimes authorities who don’t take assault seriously will take other things seriously, so it’s worth a try reporting it to your boss. Like others have said though, if he does nothing you need to escalate it higher.

            6. goddessoftransitory*

              The ACTUAL F???

              Your manager is a huge part of this enormous problem and it’s time to go to the higher ups before this guy assaults you again and/or gets you all injured or killed while Useless Bint stands by saying “well, he never SAID he was high…”

      2. Silly Janet*

        It’s also 100% not on the LW to try to help the guy or manage his behavior. She seems like a very compassionate person and I understand the compulsion as I was in a relationship with an alcoholic. But she really needs to tell her supervisor and/or HR and let them handle this. She should try to detach herself as much as possible.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Aside from reporting it, the other things OP can do is look at the processes in the lab to see if there are any safety or QC checks that need to be put in place for this person’s work (or what the controls are for work in the lab in general) and advocate for someone to be cross trained on that person’s responsibilities.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Yes on the cross-training. *Nobody* should ever be indispensable. Anybody can get run over by a bus on the way to work. Or just up and quit. There should be no job that only one person knows how to do, no piece of institutional knowledge that only one person has. Document, document, document.

      3. LabTech*

        You’re right and I really do need to talk to someone who can talk to him. If they can get him help, he needs it. We all need him sober and focused, and friendship is definitely not a priority here. I just really hope my manager actually listens for once.

        1. High Score!*

          Something that is tough for people to understand is that the compassionate thing is not always the kind or the right thing to do. In your case, if you are compassionate and don’t report him and he combines chemicals that kill him self or others or his results lead to the wrong conclusion that hurt a lot of people.
          BUT if you report him and he’s fired then the company is forced to hire someone else that can do the job sober. And maybe losing his job helps him see the magnitude of his addiction.
          Also if he assaulted you once, he’s likely to again. Things like that never just happen once and they are worse every time. Be compassionate to yourself too.

          1. Observer*

            Also if he assaulted you once, he’s likely to again

            Oh, he will. Maybe you, maybe someone else. And it’s likely that someone is going to get hurt eventually.

        2. Chief Bottle Washer*

          If your manager isn’t likely to listen on this, I would skip them and go straight to HR. I had a similar issue with a colleague who had some sort of either addiction or medical issue. I suspected it was alcoholism, but I really didn’t have enough information to say. What I could say was that he seemed seriously physically unwell and totally fell apart in a customer meeting. Probably was alcoholism, but could have been any number of issues, any one of which needed some medical help. HR took it seriously. It helped that I had a second colleague go in with me who could also vouch for the events.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Don’t focus on the help he needs. Focus on the SAFETY of the lab. Because you deserve to be safe too. Everyone needs to stop bending over backwards to help this guy and start thinking of everyone else who could or ALREADY HAS BEEN harmed by this guy.

          1. Observer*

            Don’t focus on the help he needs. Focus on the SAFETY of the lab.

            This. 100% Both because it’s more likely to be effective, but also because that is actually more important. You should not have to work in an unsafe environment. No one else should have to worry about what crazy thing this guy is going to do – or what thing he forgets to do because he’s impaired. And no one should have to deal with the fallout of a serious mistake.

            1. Hannah Lee*


              And if there is any outside authority who oversees laboratory safety, standards that apply to the work they do, if there is not a credible response to management, you need to seriously consider whether you should drop a dime on this lab. If the health, safety, well-being employees or anyone outside the company (neighbors, clients, or those who could be impacted by bad products, results, etc) could be negatively impacted by failure of this guy to do his job properly, there may not be a legal reporting mandate, but there is likely an ethical one.

        4. Observer*

          I just really hope my manager actually listens for once.

          Don’t frame it as a personnel issue. Frame it as a safety issue.

          Something like:

          We know that Dude can exhibit some very poor judgement. Right now he is exhibiting the same pattern of behavior, and he’s also showing some worrying cognitive issues, such as forgetting things very quickly and being unable to communicate clearly.

          Tell your boss, HR, your GrandBoss and maybe cc upper levels if you have them (eg not just a routine HR complaint or email to HR, but a CC to the person in charge of HR.)

          1. Nesprin*

            We know that Dude can exhibit some very poor judgement. Right now he is exhibiting the same pattern of behavior, and he’s also showing some worrying cognitive issues, such as forgetting things very quickly and being unable to communicate clearly. I am worried, given that he routinely handles scary chemicals X, Y and Z that his impairment will lead to an accident.

            If academic, or adjacent- worth noting after the UCLA incident that PIs can be held legally responsible for lab accidents.

        5. Esmeralda*

          You DON’T need to talk to someone who can talk to him. I mean, you can do that, but it’s not your first priority.

          Step one is to report the concerning behaviors, all of them, in a calm objective tone and in specific detail.

          By not reporting, you could be seen as covering up an obvious danger. (I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing, but it sure can look like it.) Report *right away* to your manager and to HR. I would do both in this situation since you have described the manager as conflict-averse, at least where your coworker is concerned.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            This is, frankly, sounding like the type of organization that would happily let the LW and her coworkers take the fall once the inspectors show up.

        6. Clobberin’ Time*

          Please stop hoping that your ostrich of a manager does something. It’s time to escalate your complaints to your grandmanager and HR.

      4. Wintermute*

        This is a good callout, beyond the obvious safety dangers what quality of work is going out?

        I’m reminded of the disaster in some eastern seaboard state (I cannot for the life of me remember which and sadly it’s COMMON ENOUGH that news searches turn up multiple locations) where a drug testing lab tech was literally getting high on her own supply of reference samples, and the ensuing mess lead to hundreds of convictions in doubt and multiple lawsuits, because even when she wasn’t using tap water as the comparison or other outright misconduct, she was too messed up to properly enter data or perform the tests properly.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          That would be the Massachusetts crime lab scandal, centered around the now-closed Hinton State Laboratory Institute. From the articles I could find, the first chemist to be arrested in the scandal didn’t steal and use the drugs but was guilty of “dry labbing” (visually identifying samples without actually testing them). The second chemist was charged with stealing drug samples (presumably to use them).

          The fallout is just as big and bad as you described.

          1. Doctors Whom*

            There was a documentary on these scandals on Netflix recently, called How To Fix A Drug Scandal. I think it came out in 2020; I watched it this year and it was jaw-dropping and infuriating. There were SO many people complicit in allowing the abuses to continue, and covering them up.

            1. The OTHER other*

              I saw that doc and it was exactly as infuriating and jaw-dropping as you describe.

              One lab tech was just saying whatever the police wanted, figuring if they were arrested and accused they must be guilty of SOMETHING, so whether this white powder is actually cocaine or not was irrelevant to them.

              The other was very obviously stealing and using both the test samples and chemicals used in the lab for testing in order to get high.

              The second example is a good warning for the OP–Barring intervention, addictive behaviors tend to escalate. Whatever poor judgment, bad work, etc you are seeing from this coworker is only likely to get worse.

              In both cases in the doc, many people threw up their hands and said “why didn’t anyone SAY anything?!” at the very obvious warning signs. Don’t be one of those people.

          2. Hannah Lee*

            Tens of thousands of criminal convictions were overturned as a result of that lab’s issues.

            And just 20 miles away, also in Massachusetts, another laboratory had issues with contamination in the products it produced (it was a compounding pharmaceutical lab that made steroid injections) – that caused infections in hundreds of people and ~ 100 people actually died.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Even if it’s a legitimate medication calibration problem . . . it’s still a problem. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why someone is visibly under the influence at work, they are still visibly under the influence.

        It might matter a lot in terms of how the employer addresses it, but something still needs to be done.

    5. K*

      Also, chemical engineer is not a hard-to-find type of employee. There are a lot of good people with degree/experience in chemistry, more than industry currently needs, so it will be easy to replace him. Speaking as one of those people.
      Also, this is “Wait, what?” category post. Yes, it is definitely a safety issue. And labs (both academia and industry) are usually very serious about safety. So this is really extraordinary situation.

      1. K*

        Also your organization must have an employee or a department which oversees safety norms (I’m not in US and English is not my first language so not sure what is the most correct term), so I’d go there rather than to HR. If you’re in academic research lab, or in big enough company, there should be employees health and safety department. In smaller companies there usually is an operations manager who issues standard operational protocols, manages deviation reports and deals with external regulatory agency. Speaking of which, let’s hope that information about employee doing lab work under influence of drugs does not get to regulatory agency during the next audit. In this case (depending on your country’s laws type of work your lab does) your lab will either lose its license or receive a massive fine, and not only the chemical engineer’s job will be at risk, but yours too.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, the one chemical engineer may be the only person in the lab right now who knows how to do certain things. But he is not the only chemical engineer in the world who knows how to do those things. If he is fired, the lab will hire a new chemical engineer. There may be a fallow period where the rest of the lab techs don’t have a lot to do while management hires a new engineer, but it is not a case of “keep employing this chemical engineer forever or fire him and the entire lab will fail.”

        1. Wintermute*

          That’s the beauty of chemistry, in fact, there’s definitely an art to synthesis but it’s not an esoteric one– any competent chemist should be able to follow a workup that is documented properly.

      3. Heather*

        Chemistry and chemical engineering are two different things, and the market for engineers is pretty tight. But of course that isn’t LW’s problem and doesn’t change the fact that something needs to be done about this guy.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          The company may very well do better financially firing him and having a tough time finding a replacement than they would keeping him and having a serious accident at work. If they get wind of this guy’s continued employment despite these issues, their premises liability insurers (who would generally pay out fines, settlement, lawsuits, etc) would say, “Absolutely not. You’re on your own.” Corp structures, insurance plans, etc will vary but I worked on OSHA litigation and corporations were far more deferential to their insurers than OSHA.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, for the most part no one wants to anyone fired, EVER.
      He will probably be given choices along the way. It probably will not be a here-today, gone-tomorrow scenario. If he gets fired he had some say in how that happened.

      Next. My golden rule that has served so well: Do not cover for people. Their job cannot be worth more to me than my own job. I had to deliberately keep my job as a priority in my mind until I accepted it as normal thinking.

      Running at the same time I am most willing to help people with things. I do this to counter-balance that hard line I have drawn for myself. I have had many people show me a problem or mistake and we worked it through, we cleaned it up in a proper manner. So I don’t necessarily report people who show me a problem. I might tell them they have to report it, or I’d go with them when they reported it in order to bring solutions into the story, or I could have the authority to take responsibility for clean up.

      But you can’t do any remedial stuff here. It’s beyond your job description and your paycheck. Your responsibility here is more about everyone’s safety and watching out for the interests of the company.

      In my early working years I worked with a number of people who were “in an altered state” by various methods. Because I ended up carrying the heavy end of the workload, I finally got it through my skull that there is a reason why it’s a requirement that people show up to work sober. And it’s not outrageous to expect people to be sober. What’s outrageous is that somehow I found a place in my head that said, “oh just work around this person and ignore it.”

      OP, you can honestly say that he is a danger to himself and to others around him given his altered state. Tell them that you are putting the company on notice. In serious situations like this I am fond of using the phrase, “I want to go on record as saying…”. There something about this phrasing that causes people to bolt upright in their chairs.

      Keep telling yourself, “His job cannot be worth more to me, than my own job.”

      1. Raw Flour*

        Given how common workplace sexual harassment is, I think it’s totally okay and not particularly rare that somebody wants to get somebody else fired.

        Multiple times, I have wished that someone ends up fired as a result of their sexually harassing me. I don’t consider myself a bad person for this. Yes, that person has to put food on the table and losing one’s job can be devastating. But I need to put food on the table too and I deserve to work without being sexually harassed. Ever.

        LW1 is more gracious than I am, I’m happy to hand that to them – but it’s also super, super okay to want someone fired when they’ve sexually harassed you.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, when I worked retail and heard that a coworker was harrassing an 18 year old coworker, I was glad he got fired for it. She was threatening to leave because he frightened her and another coworker convinced her to go to management instead. The guy already made me uneasy, although he didn’t do anything to me personally, but I was definitely relieved to have him off the premises. If he had kids who were dependent on his wages, then I have sympathy for them, but not enough to want to see myself and my coworkers put at risk.

      2. High Score!*

        Also, could you be held legally liable for knowing he’s working while under the influence and not reporting it?
        My husband works in a field where if you see something like this and fail to report it then you are legally liable. People in his profession have gotten jail time for failure to report things like working under the influence. Falsifying data was another jail-able offense.

        1. Observer*

          Also, could you be held legally liable for knowing he’s working while under the influence and not reporting it?

          OP, check that out.

          But also I am going to be very blunt. If you do not report this, and he winds up harming people because of this, you WILL be culpable. Maybe not legally, but morally. Yes, there is a limit to what you can do. But you CAN report this to the people who have some ability to take action. To report or not is a choice you make. And if you choose to NOT report, you are responsible for the results of that failure. Yes, not as much as the person himself, of course. But still.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            yeah, not reporting is turning a blind eye to all the possible negative impacts of this one employee working while in an impaired state.

            Also not that “impaired” not just “actively intoxicated”. Because someone with an active substance abuse problem is often impaired even if they are not intoxicated …. whether they are hung over, or jonesing, or anxious, distracted and/or exhausted due to whatever they did the night before when they were intoxicated.

            And depending on how long and how badly they’ve been abusing, there may be chronic cognitive impairment (memory, attention, analytical capability, judgement) that is with them 24 x 7 whether they are high or not.

      3. Observer*

        He will probably be given choices along the way. It probably will not be a here-today, gone-tomorrow scenario. If he gets fired he had some say in how that happened.

        And if it does turn out to be such a scenario, he STILL had choices. Because this is not a new issue. And if they fire him based on investigating your report it’s because he already has a history of misbehavior and this was just his last chance.

        But you can’t do any remedial stuff here. It’s beyond your job description and your paycheck.

        It;s also beyond your capacity. You CANNOT fix this or help him fix it. Even if you could be his friend, you could not fix this!

        Your responsibility here is more about everyone’s safety and watching out for the interests of the company.

        Exactly this.

    7. JSPA*

      Former lab worker here.


      1. in many labs, the danger is TO the research materials, by contamination, not from the materials to the researcher. In fact, in many labs, the most dangerous chemical is the bottle of household bleach, or the 95% ethanol. The idea that lab=hazard is outmoded and overgeneralized. Could be true here, of course, especially if they require a chemical engineer, to do the job. (And if they do require a chemical engineer to do the job safely, then no, it’s not a case of, “have someone else learn.”)

      2. some labs use an “each make their own” philosophy. It leads to more waste (of materials, time and energy, thus money) and less intrinsic reproducibility within the lab, but often, fewer recriminations and greater confidence. Some labs (who are flush) buy most reagents. Some have a dedicated person, who may make any one solution (say, in a set of 10 autoclaved bottles) once every 6 months to a year. This leads to greater consistency, and is a savings of time and materials…but every result in the lab is then at the mercy of the person making the solutions.

      That brings up the one guaranteed risk here: if this person is screwing up their life, they’re also almost certainly not to be trusted with having their solutions in everybody’s research. Nothing good will come of that; long-nurtured lines destroyed, machines damaged, retracted papers, reputations destroyed.

      The main problem probably isn’t, “nobody should be irreplacable / everyone should learn to do the tasks.”

      It’s that recipes in science cannot be secret. That if only one person has the magic touch, then there’s already something very wrong. That if the solutions are so high-tech that you need to be a chemical engineer to make them, then the boundaries for “what could go wrong” could be as risky as Alison is assuming.

      But normally, if you lose the person making solutions, you buy from an outside vendor, or you borrow reagents (or put part of the paycheck of someone who has that role in another lab, onto your grant) until you find a new person to do the job. And you pay to have someone from the manufacturer come and fix the equipment.

      1. Observer*

        . in many labs, the danger is TO the research materials, by contamination, not from the materials to the researcher. In fact, in many labs, the most dangerous chemical is the bottle of household bleach, or the 95% ethanol.

        Not to be flippant, but that’s a problem too. But also one of the reasons that those materials are so dangerous is because of how they interact with other innocuous materials.

        The idea that lab=hazard is outmoded and overgeneralized

        That’s true. But only if people are taking reasonable precautions! I’m not talking hazmat suits and the like. That’s true in almost any environment, and certainly true if that environment includes solvents and cleaners.

        Most people don’t consider kitchens and the cleaning supply closet dangerous places. But if someone is impaired enough to not be able to remember that ammonia and bleach don’t mix or to remember that they already put ammonia in that bucket of water and so dumps some bleach in there, people could die.

        Also, in a case like this the dangers are not just that he might blow something up. But as you said, results might be wrong, customers might get a different solution than they think they are getting, etc. all of which can have catastrophically bad results. (See some of the discussion of what happened when people were fudging drug test results.)

        That brings up the one guaranteed risk here: if this person is screwing up their life, they’re also almost certainly not to be trusted with having their solutions in everybody’s research. Nothing good will come of that; long-nurtured lines destroyed, machines damaged, retracted papers, reputations destroyed.

        This is 100% true. This may not be someone’s physical life on the line. But it’s still pretty catastrophic.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          If it’s for medical research and inaccurate results are published and acted upon, people could die from that.

    8. LabTech*

      It’s mind of hell when he’s out, there is one guy who can cover him on 80% of what he does but not everything. I’ve asked for cross-training a few times for myself and the other lab techs but they turn it down saying we need to focus on producing over training. I know this is a problem, my manager just always says pill popper will come back and it’ll be fine. I’m going to try and talk to my manager about this today, but I’m not hopeful. He hasn’t noticed the last several times this guy has shown up high.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Please talk to your manager and if they blow you off again, bring it up the ladder or, as others have noted, to HR and/or health and safety people within the org.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And if talking to manager doesn’t work – please go to HR and report your suspicions. It’s a safety problem at this point and as others have mentioned just one idiot in a critical spot can bring down a whole lab and leave lots of people unemployed.

        1. JSPA*

          Suggest you also say there are “other things” that you’re not yet comfortable discussing.

          That way, when you are ready to mention the tit grab and threat–which is (even in a bro-culture inflected lab) so not OK that it’s hard to explain exactly how not OK it is!–there’s been appropriate foreshadowing, and they don’t just stare and say, “if that were true, why didn’t you tell us immediately?”

    9. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

      This. Just this!
      More than once, Alison has warned about the danger of having an indispensable employee; as you noted, what if that person is hospitalized? Quits? Even goes on extended leave? Does the entire department collapse?

      Even if the invaluable employee is young and healthy, SOMEONE else should at least be training to be that person’s backup – accidents and job changes happen to young and healthy people, too! The situation that the LW here describes is untenable – and would be even if the “brilliant” employee described here WASN’T severely impaired by chemical dependency.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Exactly. Young, healthy people get offers they can’t turn down from other companies. They marry people who live in other cities (or countries!) and move there. They get into that grad school that you didn’t even know they’d applied to and quit next week to do something complicated and postdoc. And, yes, they do get run over by buses.

    10. Maddie Hatter*

      Yeah, walking to work high as a kite might make him a literal example of the AAM standby question “what if (x) got hit by a bus?”

      It’s a real possibility.

    11. goddessoftransitory*

      AMEN. If this place really has put all their eggs in this shaky of a basket they are being managed into a lawsuit or worse. I’d start job hunting right away.

      The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.

  2. EL*

    Thank you OP 5 for helping me get validation that a previous experience I had was Not Normal. Unfortunately, many years ago, I worked for a company that required me to use my vacation time to attend a conference that was directly related to the work I do and which I attended to obtain credits to maintain a certification that THEY really wanted me to have. Also, that company covered the conference fee, but not the associated travel costs. Since then, I’ve held two other positions, and I’ve usually gotten the time covered as work time, but I’ve had to cover some of the other costs for various reasons (budget cuts being the most common). I’ve decided that I’d rather have it that way if everything can’t be covered so I don’t have to budget vacation time for this.

    1. BethDH*

      Have you talked to others in your area (not boss/supervisors) about this? This seems really out of employment norms to me, and my work has always been in non-profits and/or academia of the sort where cost-cutting measures like sharing a hotel room are pretty normal.

    2. SMH*

      My grandboss once required a bunch of us to go to a “lunch and learn” when we were short-staffed. When we then tried to actually clock out to go to lunch, another (not my) supervisor said we couldn’t go. We had been to “lunch,” and they had actually manually clocked us out. I informed them that as we were hourly employees, there was no such thing as a lunch and learn. It was a catered training session we were required to attend. The supervisor tried to stop me from going to lunch, so I sent an email to HR and then left the building.

      When I came back from my real lunch break, the supervisor didn’t say anything. My supervisor let me know later that HR had sent them an email to all the staff reminding them that training time is still time worked, even if they provided food, and to please not try to break wage and hour laws.

    3. Angelinha*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t pay for anything related to conference attendance. If “everything can’t be covered,” then sorry to your boss, but you can’t go. They have to pay for travel, lodging, conference fees, etc. or they can’t have staff be there.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I was a contractor for a very large company that took contracting and co-employment seriously, and knew they wouldn’t pay for an industry event in my function. So I took 3 unpaid days off for this conference, and paid for it myself. Conference fee, travel, parking, everything, was on my dime.

      My boss asked me to share the PowerPoints and other materials from the conference and was very surprised when I declined. ‘You didn’t pay for the event or my time, and I’m not obligated to share any of it – except through my enhanced performance.’ They weren’t happy with me, but so be it.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        This is a bit different though because you were a contractor. If you’re in the US, they can’t call you a contractor and treat you like an employee. Paying for you to attend the conference would be treating you like an employee.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Yes, I know that. My point was that a lot of employers think they are entitled to receive conference materials or information simply because you are in their employment.

        2. Caroline Bowman*

          Which is fair enough, but then they have to do the other part of ”you’re a contractor, NOT an employee” and behave as though the conference was not attended at all by anyone who works for them.

          Things go in two directions and companies all over the world are often outraged at this truth. I remember having to take a couple of days unpaid leave because I hadn’t accrued enough PTO for a family wedding, which was fine by me. But then later when I did in fact have those extra days banked, manager wasn’t thrilled ”you finagled extra leave”. No Cynthia, you told me I couldn’t take it in advance and that it would be unpaid – which I understood and agreed to – so that means I continue to accrue my PTO.

          That’s one example, but there are lots. ”Being flexible” is another good one. This often means the employee must be flexible, or it used to. ”We don’t like clock watching” was something an old boss used to trot out regularly, oblivious to the fact that if any staff member, senior or junior was 1 minute late for any reason, they had to sign a late slip and give it to their supervisor. How late they worked the night before, irrelevant.

    5. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      I think if your registration and name tag list your company/affiliation, they pay. If they don’t pay, you are attending on your own behalf and the company is not on your tag.

  3. Heidi*

    Re Letter 2: In a lot of fields, it is totally understood that the more senior person has a more hands-off advisory role and the more junior people do the actual work. However, it is also expected that the mentor will help the more junior person find independent projects so that they can grow and eventually take on a more senior role themselves. I’m wondering if there are some projects that the OP can take on that the mentor doesn’t deal with at all. It might also help to seek out projects with other mentors and collaborators so that all of the OP’s work is not always associated with just the one mentor.

    1. Princess Xena*

      I think a good senior person in the scenario you’ve mentioned will still take responsibility for any risks of the project, along with taking a more advisory role, allowing for junior staff to have exposure to higher level chances without having all the problems from a project failing dropping down on them.

      I think your second point is really good too – it’s great to have good results on a team with people you work well with. It’s even better if you can produce good results on other teams as well, because then you can demonstrate that you are intrinsically skilled as well as being good in synergy with someone else.

      1. EngineeringFun*

        Im f45 in engineering, I just lead a co-op to conduct some high level research. She did ALL the data collection and analysis but under my specific direction. She did an amazing job and had some great ideas. I allowed her to present the results and take credit for her work. However I feel it is ultimately my work. After she left, I picked up the work and carried it to the next logical step…..this is a newer perspective in my “old” age!

        1. Kathy*

          I’m 44 in finance and have the same perspective. Things I used to consider as ’my work’ were now clearly my boss’ work with me filling in the details. But also a good mentor and a gracious senior employee finds ways to make the junior feel recognized for her contribution.

        2. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

          Key tenet of engineering is ‘give credit where credit is due’. Great that your co-op student got some project ownership!

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I think she should talk to him–IMO, it is part of a mentor or manager role to credit the team where due. And hepeating does not stop when you’re senior (ask me how I know!) There have been times where I’ve flat-out said, “oh, that was my idea actually,” though Alison’s ideas are more tactful.

      1. EPLawyer*

        She also needs to ask him to stop jumping in and answering questions directed at her. By doing that he is reinforcing the belief that it is his work, not hers.

  4. Alternative Person*


    I agree with Alison about at least investigating some of them. It might help you in figuring out what you need to achieve the in the long term to excel at some of these jobs you’re being sent. It’s probably also worth talking to some people at or just above your level to see what kind of timelines/qualifications you should be looking at for climbing the ladder.

    The vacuum thing is pretty annoying, so many future opportunities are tied to being able to take at least one step on the proverbial ladder, but damn if some industries don’t make it hard.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      … and the networking opportunity in itself could be worthwhile, if you get to speak to someone at the company (where the outcome could be “this role is too much of a stretch right now, but OP would be perfect for this other role we’re just detailing out” for example).

    2. JSPA*

      “Try back in two years” is a good first response; if they keep pushing, you’ve already flagged that you’re not currently interested or (by self-assessment) at that stage.

      Sadly, though, even if the LW passes on the job, it may go to someone else playing “fake it to make it,” but higher self-regard and less concern for others.

    3. LW4*

      I’ve tried investigating a few of them and it doesn’t really clear things up. The recruiters thank me for my concerns when I bring up my lack of experience and then reassure me that I’d be a good fit for the role. When I more directly reference things like the 7-10 years of experience they are looking for versus the 6 months I have, they say they are “soft requirements” or something like that. It’s at this point that I usually mark it down as a desperate recruiter rather than a great opportunity. But you’re absolutely right about the benefits of simply making connections (either with recruiters or people at the companies on question). Thanks for your response!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        You probably know this, but you can also just ignore recruiters completely! If I were you, I’d be planning to stay in the new role for a while, so wouldn’t bother responding to the recruiters.

      2. Smithy*

        It may be helpful to also frame the thinking of what the recruiter is doing vs the hiring manager. Depending on the nature of the job/field – the candidates a recruiter may be getting for any given might not be great. And even if they have 1 or 2 really good candidates, they want to go back to the hiring manager – their employer with a larger pool for them to look through.

        Case in point, one point as an Officer with a total of 5 years of experience in my field – none of them as a manager, I was recruited to interview for a VP role. While I took the interview with the hiring manager and it was politely professional, looking back on it – it makes me chuckle that I ever made it in a pile of candidates.

        Now, you do not need to go through if the job posting feels far too senior for your experience and do not blindly believe everything the recruiter is telling you. But I think that understanding the why it’s happening can make it easier. You’re probably not entirely unqualified, but you may also be there to fill out an overall pool being shared with the hiring manager.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Recruiters don’t even have to be desperate for this not to be worth your time. recruiters have an incentive to refer everyone that can find who looks even remotely close to qualified. If the job really does need someone with 7-10 years of project management experience and you only have six months, applying to the job is likely to waste your time and the hiring manager’s, but the recruiter loses spends very little time on it at all—and they may see what time they do spend as worth it in some sort of “you can’t win if you don’t play” sense. Hiring managers will select for quality; many recruiters go for volume.

        Trust your sense of what you’re qualified for. If a job seems like a little bit of a stretch, that might be worth checking out. But if your first response is “Why the heck are they contacting me about this job?” the answer is probably that the recruiter doesn’t actually care if you’re qualified or not.

      4. Cakeroll*

        You mentioned project management – if you’re in tech, it’s still frustratingly common for “senior, but individual-contributor” roles in project management, product management, design, and engineering to be labelled as “Director” when they don’t come with the direct-reports, budget authority, etc. responsibilities we usually think that title implies. Is it possible these positions are that – they see you as a senior-level individual-contributor, and they call that “Director, Project Management” (versus “Principal”, which is still gaining traction)?

    4. learnedthehardway*

      It’s great that the person is being contacted for roles – it definitely makes sense to have a short conversation. As long as they are up front that they don’t have the required experience, that is.

      Saying something like, “I’m flattered that you called. I see this as a future career path but want to flag that I only have 6 months of management experience” is a good way to make your interests known without wasting anyone’s time. You’ll be on the recruiter’s mind (well, in their database) for future roles that you ARE qualified for.

  5. AnonyMouse*

    As someone who hates conferences, it would be a hard no from me if it didn’t count as work time. I can’t imagine spending vacation days on a conference!

    1. Anony*

      Same! I was set to attend a conference this past June that my work asked me to go to. The flight ended up getting cancelled and I missed it, but the agenda would result in easily 15 hour days. The conference classes were from 7:30AM to 6:30PM, dinner networking was expected after and then my boss was out of town so I was expected to cover my email inbox as normal since her out of office was directed to me. I’m so thankful the flight got cancelled because I was preparing to have a conversation with them that my salary (which is negotiated lower for a reduced work week – 4 days) does not reflect working 60 hours in four days not including travel time and that either the excess hours were to be paid at my normal rate or banked as extra vacation time. It literally would have left no room to even communicate with my family or still tend to commitments in my personal life.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        Reading your comment, I’m thinking the conference organizers are clueless about how people actually learn and informally connect. I’m wondering if the conference planning team had a Must Be a Workaholic requirement. No one is benefiting from nonstop events for 11 hours, even assuming there’s a lunch break in there.

        The conferences I’ve been to that were the most useful included breaks for informal networking, or just some down time. And the dinner thing after an 11-hour day? Just no.

        1. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

          Conference organizers do know this, but we are also told not to extend meeting days because that’s a longer time away from home, more expense, more time out of the office, etc. So we have to cram everything into increasingly shorter time. Attendees need talks! Networking! Coffee!

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            And it’s always possible to select the talks or round tables you’ll attend and plan to miss out on those that don’t interest you all that much. I always skip at least one session because otherwise I’ll just zone out at some point. A quick chat with a mentor in a corner somewhere is much more profitable, and it’s the part I enjoy most too.

        2. NeedRain47*

          You don’t actually have to do that, though, whether it’s paid by your employer or not. I went to a conference in June, went to six to eight hours of sessions of my choosing each day, took lunch breaks, and didn’t do any evening schmoozing at all b/c I don’t stay up late. Personally I consider the extra work time worth it b/c my employer pays for just about all related expenses, but regardless, you can learn a lot without running yourself ragged.

        3. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Seriously. Some of the most fruitful conferences I have been in had a block of lecture / sessions from 8-11, a long lunch break with opportunities to meet with others (i.e. young professionals, meet this superstar, etc) but nothing required and no harm if you take that long lunch, then another session from 2-5. Done. Networking dinner if you want, or hopefully you’ve made a few connections you want to chat with in the lobby, but if you want to go back to your room and decompress it’s no harm, no foul. Having lots of breathing room makes for ultimately more productive conferences and more genuine connections rather than shake, take, salute. :) (Military term – when you receive a meal or award you Take the folder that has the proclamation in it, Shake the commander’s hand, and Salute to show military courtesies. In this case, I think Shake – handshake / elbow bump / greeting, Take their business card, Salute by wishing goodbye as you head to the next person.)

        4. JustaTech*

          I’ve rejected conferences my VP suggested after looking at the schedule and seeing that it went from 7:30 am (champagne breakfast to celebrate Dr Big Deal) to 10pm Cocktail hour for Young Professionals. Oh heck no.
          It’s hard enough doing a normal 8-5 (with lunch break and poster session break), happy hour and maybe dinner for 4 days. There’s no way I can be “on” and learning for 11 hours a day, several days in a row. After my last two in-person conferences I was so utterly exhausted, mentally, that I cried on the flight home from sheer tiredness.

          (That’s the advantage of the virtual conference, I’m not obligated to continue networking in order to get something to eat, nor do I have to worry about the impression I’m giving if I just lie down on the couch at the end of the day. The disadvantage, at least for me, is that the conferences tend to start at 8 am, several time zones ahead of me, so I’m trying to learn at 5am.)

        1. KRM*

          Except “conference classes” implies that these are not talks, but some kind of training, which you’d presumably have to attend all of. That’s a lot. If I were told I had to use vacation time for such a thing, I would not attend.
          IMO if you work for a decent company, the only thing you would have to use vacation time for conference wise should be if it’s not directly related to your job or career development in said job. I attend the women’s conference every year and it’s a workday for me. If I wanted to attend a conference on “Use of the Trebuchet As a Party Gag in the 1300s”, that would be vacation time, as it’s (sadly) not related to my work at all.

    2. MK*

      I would think that if the employer is asking you to go to the conference, it’s unquestionably work time. But if you are the one asking to go, that can go both ways.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        yes – I have gone to a conference for my professional org a couple of times on my own dime, but my employer let me put in paid hours for two days of the conference – we’re allowed 16 paid educational hours per year for stuff that takes place outside of our regular workdays, and I did PTO for the other days and paid for my own travel etc. (To be fair part of why I wanted to go was that they held the conference at Disneyworld those years.)

      2. KatEnigma*

        Exactly. And if the budget isn’t there, the budget isn’t there, so if you really want to go, you have to pay all or some of the costs. It’s not unusual to have to cover the costs of certifications in many fields, so even that part of it isn’t necessarily a red flag.

  6. Provolone*

    LW #3, I feel for you. I’ve been in that position before, unfortunately. What I did was practice my face in a mirror for this question. I didn’t want my facial expressions to come across as uncomfortable, sad, or traumatized. I practiced saying that I left for more growth opportunities and to expand my skillset. I hope one day that awful boss is nothing but a memory without the emotional charge. Hugs to you.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      LW 3 needs to practice a couple of sentences that are true enough, and then briskly move on to other topics. Say something about the next job, or say something semi-neutral and move on. “I left because moving to [next company] meant I could lead a team that specialized in spout design, which is what I really love doing.” Or “I learned a lot there, but felt there wasn’t as much room in their corporate structure for upward mobility as I wanted.” Then segue into the next job.

      1. birch*

        Yeah this. I also had a traumatic boss experience and it took a lot of work to prepare for talking about it in interviews in a way that didn’t make me sound like a complainer. I really recommend using keywords that are true but also ding people’s spidey senses as usually euphemisms for worse stuff. I said that the job turned out to not be what I was hired for (hired to research llama grooming, turns out there weren’t any llamas on campus and I spent a year acquiring some just to walk in one day and find them all gone and my job description changed yet again). I also said that I had some ethical concerns about the way the team was run and there had been issues with treatment of the junior staff that were not dealt with appropriately (people’s jobs were threatened, vacation time was stolen, and junior staff were either favored or told they weren’t worth their salary). I said that the management style wasn’t a great fit (my boss was a horrible micromanager and also couldn’t commit to any decision at all so was constantly trashing work and making us redo it). Or whatever seems like the best business-language for what actually happened, and then mention something positive the experience taught you (management skills, independent project work, a passion for fair and inclusive work practices, etc.) and transition to the next conversation point. If you keep getting asked for details, come up with some equally neutrally worded details to support your main idea, like probably OP didn’t get a lot of good career mentoring or guidance with that kind of boss and probably team meetings were not organized very well.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Yup, exactly. She was looking for a more collaborative culture. She wanted to be able to use my XYZ skills. She wanted more independence/opportunities for growth. Think about what was denied and say that’s what you wanted–consistency, clarity, growth.

        2. ferrina*

          I love “the management style wasn’t a great fit,” but you need to say what it was that wasn’t a great fit. The key is to be super neutral or even pleasantly accepting when you say it. “The management style wasn’t a great fit. I enjoy a mix of collaborative and independent work, and my boss wanted me to work purely independently and did not want me to interact with other departments at all.” (read: my boss isolated me).

          Neutrality/pleasant acceptance is key. It makes sense that you’re still traumatized, but unfortunately the next boss is going to wonder if that will affect how you behave in the next work environment. Practice saying your sentences over and over until it gets boring. For me, it helps to have a good cry, then re-write the story. I become the hero fighting a dragon (or re-read the Lioness Rampant series), and the story becomes how I triumphed over the Villainous Ex-Boss. I will literally have mock sword fights in my living room if I feel like it.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            Yes, I think practicing a pivot would be good, if LW can manage. “The culture was a bad fit for me, and I learned I work best in a place with X, Y, and Z.” There may even be an opening to lean into the pivot, lobbing the question back at the interviewer by adding, “Can you tell me how X works here?”

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Exactly. I was pretty traumatized after getting fired, but since I went to grad school instead of getting a new job immediately, I just didn’t answer the “why did you leave” question, but in a way that interviewers didn’t notice. If they had me walk through my resume like that, I just said, “And then I went to grad school!” and moved on from there. The first couple of times I was shocked that it worked, but it totally worked.

        The best answer to “why did you leave that job” is always “the new opportunity was too good to pass up,” anyway.

    2. Roland*

      You can mention this situation to your therapist and practice with them for how to follow Alison’s advice. You say you’re going to therapy “for this prior experience” but it’s totally valid to bring up the current day as well!

      1. coffee*

        Good point! Your therapist will have some strategies to help in these situations. Practising is also a great idea.

        I also think that, if you DO burst into tears in the interview, you will feel better if you have a plan on how to handle it ahead of time. (Since you now know it’s possible.) Your therapist may have some suggestions? You can also take some tissues with you so you’re prepared.

        As a starting point, here’s a possible approach: you can say “My boss used to throw things at me, and thinking about it just now gave me an adrenaline spike, which made me cry from the shock. Bodies can be a bit strange sometimes!” and then segue into why you left and why you want to work for the new organisation. The panel will follow your lead if you act like it’s not a big deal.

        (I’m not super in love with this script but it’s a starting point. Anyone else got any suggestions?)

        Best wishes, LW!

    3. JSPA*

      Until LW #3 can deal with the basic memories brought up by the question, in any of the many ways it can be phrased, they won’t be able to get to the point of formulating the answer.

      People have posted here with recent advances in some sort of newish therapy for PTSD. This blog isn’t the place for medical advice (therapy modalities, medication, etc) but there are plenty of blogs that are.

      Once that’s handled, then, “Too many outbursts for a place of business” is how I’d phrase it.

      (If the LW can tolerate that level of vague specificity.)

      It feels better to tell the truth (which this is) but not get into the details (which this doesn’t). People feel more honest and thus often present as more trustworthy when they’re telling the truth.

      Might someone dig for more? Sure. But anyone hearing this who feels the need to push, is putting themselves on the “list of bosses with questionable boundaries,” making this part of LW’s own screening process.

      1. Loulou*

        I don’t think OP should mention “too many outbursts for a place of business.” That runs many of the same risks Alison talked about in her answer.

        1. Loulou*

          Also…sorry but an interviewer SHOULD push if they hear something like this. How many letters have we gotten from people who had no sense of appropriate office behavior and thought asking “can you please do X” was a personal attack? an interviewer doesn’t know OP at all and has no reason to take that fairly inflammatory statement at face value. OP, I definitely don’t recommend this. ourse of action, and best of luck!

          1. JSPA*

            “Outburst” is pretty neutral, compared to “personal attack.” It’s “any sudden release of strong emotion.” Can be positive, can be negative. Doesn’t have to be directed, nor violent. Could be practical jokes, or a culture of surprise parties of congratuations.

            What it is, is loud…and sudden. That’s a reasonable thing to not want, without casting aspersions.

            If OP wants to avoid working in a place with regular sudden outbursts, even if they’re playful or happy (which with PTSD, is not unlikely)…then why not make it clear that “sudden intense noise” is a dealbreaker?

            1. marvin*

              If someone said this while I was interviewing, I would be confused about what is meant by “outbursts” and would probably ask for more detail. If you answer in such a cryptic way, it’s not unreasonable for interviewers to ask for clarity. If you want to go with something vague, better stick with boilerplate phrasing that doesn’t invite a follow up.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, no, that would be a truly terrible response. It’s so weirdly vague and not remotely in line with what anyone would expect to hear that it would invite a lot of (very reasonable) follow-up questions.

              The more traditional stock answers Alison suggested are way more likely to get people to accept your answer and move on to the next topic.

    4. Katefish*

      I had a boss like this and wanted to explain in an interview why I was leaving. I very delicately said, “I absolutely don’t mind occasional overtime…I work till work is done. But right now I’m required to work every weekend.” My new boss (who was great) immediately said, “Oh no, that sounds terrible!” and we moved on to other topics. LW, do you have a similar story that’s not “emotional” but shows the interviewer how bad your boss was in a quick way? I’d go with that. Good luck with everything!

      1. ferrina*


        The question of “Why did you leave your last job?” is so the interviewer knows if you’re going to be a good fit. One candidate I interviewed was leaving her last job because she’d had 3 bosses in 3 years- but the job I was interviewing her for currently had had 3 bosses in 2 years and currently had no boss (with no end game in sight). She would have hated it!

        Think of one thing that you would not like to repeat (being yelled at?). Then think about what you would have liked instead. Then add a some diplomatic language: “My boss had a highly disciplinarian management style and would raise his voice on a daily basis about things that were out of our control. I’m looking for an environment where my manager and I can discuss concerns and work toward solutions.”
        ^note that your “ideal environment” in this scenario is so so normal that it’s not going to knock you out of the running for the job (and if it does, that is definitely a bullet dodged).

        1. Smithy*

          I think that this is always an important balance to consider exactly what issue you’re looking to call out as being problematic. Working all weekends or til midnight every night are often very clear markers that a new employer can confirm they’re not like or are totally like.

          The three bosses in three years is one that up until recently I would consider as obviously being part of a work environment that could feel difficult. But in my current job, in less than a year and a half I had three bosses and it was fine. In my case, I started a job with my hiring manager on parental leave – so started with Boss 1 for three months. Then hiring manager/Boss 2 returned and about 9-10 months later was promoted into a more senior interim role and my former peer became my new Boss 3. Honestly, all of them were largely great – and while there was some level of transition/uncertainty – nothing wildly disruptive to my work, role or the team.

          However, I’ve also had other jobs or seen peers with jobs with lots of bosses and what I’ve found makes those situations more or less pleasant is how much chaos or role ambiguity comes with those periods of transition. In some cases evaluations or goal setting done by a previous manager aren’t allowed to be considered by the new manager, therefore perpetually stalling someone’s professional development. Or a task will be assigned to staff by one manager and then deemed too senior for staff the second manager and then changed again and called too junior for staff by a third.

          I think having a lot of new managers + uncertainty is more common than new managers + stability, but in calling out the multiple managers – the focus is on that and not instability. Whereas, if a candidate says they’re looking for some an employer with more professional structure because in their current employer, staffing changes have meant they’ve never had a performance evaluation in the past three years (vs 3 bosses in 3 years) – the focus is different. Some people really do want a boss as mentor, and that is fair. But it’s not necessarily the same as many bosses = always bad.

          1. ferrina*

            In my case the candidate was looking for more stability (sounds like the transitions had been on the unstable/unclear end) and wanted a mentor, and the role she was interviewing for was on the Chaos Central team and the most senior staff member had 2 years exp. It was def an Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire situation.

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, when I was leaving my last job I think I said in interviews “I’m looking for a better work-life balance. I’m happy to work late when needed, but right now I’m watching the sun rise from my office window a lot more often than I would like.” People were appropriately horrified that I was working that late at all and it wasn’t an issue.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        That sounds a lot more cut and dry though. I think often the advice to avoid badmouthing former boss/workplace is about the fact that they don’t know you well enough to take more subjective statements at face value in any kind of interpersonal issues. But “I’m working too many hours/too much overtime/looking for more work-life-balance” is an extremely common reason to leave jobs that any employer understands (and if that’s really why you’re leaving it’s useful to talk about that in interviews to make sure that you’re not just stepping into more of the same)

    5. SongbirdT*

      Along these same lines… OP, if you’re asked about the work that you did there, it might be useful to look at the work itself through as neutral lens as possible and come up with a few descriptors of what you did. Then practice saying them out loud to someone over and over and over until you’re sick of hearing them. That can take a lot of juice out of the emotional aspects so you can more readily talk about it in interviews. You can remember the script without having to recall the experience itself. You can even write a few keywords in your interview notes so you can glance down and have a prompt to go from.

      Good luck, OP, and internet stranger hugs!

    6. Seal*

      As I’m also job hunting to get away from an abusive boss and toxic workplace, I regularly practice my answers to the variations of “why are you job hunting” questions. That allows me to control the narrative and not slip up in the heat of the moment during an interview.

  7. Playing With Puppies And Kittens All Day*

    #1 – I don’t have any knowledge of what it’s like to work in a lab, but from an outsider’s perspective your coworker’s behavior seems shockingly dangerous and irresponsible. Your framing of it as a personal issue and not a serious workplace safety one (or even public safety, depending on the kind of work you do) also seems concerning.

    In additional to Alison’s advice, if might be helpful to try to speak (discretely) with peers you trust, preferably who work elsewhere, to get their read on your workplace in general and if there are other areas of major dysfunction that you’re too immersed to recognize right now.

    I hope everything goes well (and safely) for you and your coworkers.

    1. Double A*

      I don’t think the LW framed it as a personal issue; they noted their manager isn’t interested in handling *personnel* issues which frankly is almost as alarming. I imagine this is because it’s a lab and the manager is interested in the lab work part and not the people part, but that doesn’t excuse it or make it less concerning.

      1. Observer*

        hey noted their manager isn’t interested in handling *personnel* issues which frankly is almost as alarming.


  8. Tin Cormorant*

    #4 This has been happening to my husband for years, because he’s in a relatively niche field that seems to be desperate for more people in higher levels. He was an analyst five years ago and hit director last year. He wasn’t working as a director for more than a month before he started getting recruiters contacting him about VP positions. I don’t doubt some of those companies *would* hire him for that, and he’d be so stressed out that the extra money wouldn’t be worth it. Going to stay at this level for quite a while before looking for another promotion, I think.

    1. LW4*

      Thanks for sharing that. I’m also on a really niche field. I think I’m in the same boat (ie. I’d be so stressed out that the money wouldn’t be worth it). And that’s assuming I’m actually able to pull off the new job. Thanks again!

  9. Tansy*

    #5 – my job will sometimes allow people to go to conferences even if the boss thinks the conference isn’t worth the time/money, but on the basis that they don’t take it as work time, or take leave for half the time. It’s a way to discourage conferences that don’t achieve much.

      1. JustaTech*

        My VP is still salty about a coworker who went to a conference in a really nice place then came back and gave her 2 week notice (which is just terrible timing, but given how far in advance you schedule a conference and how widely hiring times can vary I don’t think she did it on purpose).

        To the point that when I went to my first conference in a nice-ish place I made a point of taking pictures of the *terrible* weather to show that no, I wasn’t having a fun and sunny time.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      LW5 did say she “had to” go to the conference, though, which suggested to me it was either required by work or needed to continue credentials.

  10. Waving not Drowning*

    OP 1 – had a similar senario except not a lab tech, except noone was aware they were addicted to painkillers. Slurring of words, aggression, overreaction to small issues (and no action on big mistakes!). On top of that, they were also diagnosed as being Type 2 diabetic, and didn’t manage it very well, which also caused slurring of words, and aggression.

    I felt absolutely awful because I was the one who discovered fraudulent activity, and reported my findings, and they ended up being fired over it. Over time, I’ve come to terms with it, but it was hard going for a while.

    At that point, I had a reasonable manager, and was able to show them the evidence and they took it from there.

    1. Lilo*

      I am close to someone who discovered scientific fraud bad enough the person in question ended up in prison (basically they lied to the government to take shortcuts). It was very very hard because they had considered this person a mentor of sorts and had worked with them on their PhD. But the kind of results they faked could have resulted in a significant number of deaths. So this person not only reported them, but did an extensive amount of work so they could track down the extent of the fraud and do safety checks on every single affected item. it was really rough.

  11. D*

    LW2: I was in a similar position in a creative/technical post production job-life, really-where my boss took the work, I did it, usually on the night shift, and he handed it back to the client. And in a business where credits count, he took them. But the clients caught on and started coming at night and cutting my boss out. The finale came with a change in union rules that meant I could quit my credit grabbing boss on Friday and come back as a freelance client of the studio. I took all the clients but one with me., and you’d recognize the clients. You know that saying that revenge is best served cold? Not at all. It’s the biggest juiciest cheeseburger in town.
    The clients will know, and may have an idea now. Ask around, slyly, like in a spy movie.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think we have any reason to say that the OP’s mentor is intentionally taking credit for their work; it mainly depends if it is happening in front of them, in which case the mentor absolutely should highlight the OP and their contribution, or not, in which case the mentor might not even realise it.

  12. Bowserkitty*

    Adding to #5, I’m sure I should check the archives but what about travel time? I’m going to a conference I’m being specifically requested to attend, but I will be doing normal work hours the three days there. The travel time is outside of the work hours because of how early we will be starting the day of the expo.

    (FWIW, I only receive comp time, not OT pay)

    1. Not A Manager*

      It’s late, and I legit misread your first sentence as “what about time travel?” I thought, huh, that’s a bold solution to the problem.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      IME, it’s treated like any travel for work, i.e. it fully counts as work time. I’m probably in a different country than you are, so systems may differ.

    3. Princess Xena*

      That is definitely work time. If the company wants you to be somewhere unusual, they should shoulder the costs.

    4. bamcheeks*

      Usually when I’ve done something like that I’ve been able to take a TOIL (time off in lieu) morning or day afterwards, officially when I was at grades where I had to track my hours and informally when I was at grades where I didn’t. Usually you need at least half a day after a trip like that to do your washing and get re-acquainted with the cat and sort out all the things you can’t do when you’re away from home!

    5. Perfectly Particular*

      I’ve never been comped for travel time, and in some roles, it was expected to schedule your flights outside of working hours (and preferably on the weekend) if possible. It was a surprise to me when I came to my current job, and the norm – if you need to go to the plant for a “week”- is to fly out Mon afternoon, and fly back Friday morning. I still feel really guilty flying on company time, especially if I’m just reading or whatever and not working on the flight.

    6. Snow Globe*

      In the US, if you are non-exempt, travel time counts but only if it is during regular working hours. If you normally start work at 8 am, and start travel at 8 am, you get paid. If you start travel the night before so you can be ready at the conference at 8 am, travel time is not required to be paid.

      1. seps*

        I think in addition to that, travel time outside of work hours *is* paid if you are working while traveling? I remember some training where they gave a scenario of a flight being from 7-9 p.m. The two non-exempt coworkers talking about work for one hour and their cats for the other hour. How much of that time should be paid? One hour. (And I remember thinking, this is a very realistic scenario)

      2. Daisy-dog*

        No, time spent traveling (in a car, on a plane, on a train, waiting for any of those) must be paid for non-exempt employees regardless of if it is not during their schedule. If they are in a hotel room or doing leisure activities (not at the airport), they don’t need to be paid.

  13. Bookwitch*

    It seems like the answer to #3 doesn’t really address the question. It sounds like they’re not just being asked why they left, but more in-depth questions about that particular job.

    Sorry you’re going through this, OP.

    1. Alice*

      I agree. Aside from controlling the emotional outburst, OP3 should be using the past role as a frame of reference for what she doesn’t want in a new job- it’s ok to talk about an abusive boss and what you learnt from that (resilience, communication style, team work etc).

      I went through a similar experience and spent a good deal of the interview process screening employers and interviewers to try to avoid that dysfunction (talk to team members, review glass door, ask potential manager/ interviewer some pointed questions about how they handle conflict or tough deadlines). I definitely don’t think OP needs to sweep the issue under the rug and not mention it at all.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the LW is being asked those questions because of her answer (they’re asking her “what made it hard,” for example, which sounds like it’s in response to something she’s saying about why she left).

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I’m not sure she is getting those questions because of her answer. I left a job like that and I got questions similar to the ones OP#3 listed. Or, it felt like every question was tied to the trauma.

        I had to rewrite all the scenarios and possible answers in a way that left out the trauma.

        Definitely have an answer about why you left that has nothing to do with old boss. But also, practice answering lots of behavioral questions (tell me about a time when …) and other questions and remove the shouting boss and trauma from the scenarios. And think of an answer to what made the workplace difficult or frustrating but remove shouting boss. I know it’s all tied together but you need to rewrite it all in your head so you can answer calmly to anything you get asked.

        For example, it was always chaos bc boss. But every workplace has moments of chaos, so what made it difficult — not that boss caused chaos but that old coworker was a yes man or other old coworker was often abrasive with clients. And think of positive things that are unrelated to the trauma. My true answer, that 3 of us bonded over our trauma response, will not serve me well! I had to reframe the positive answers so they are not tied to the trauma. So focus on that story so when you get asked questions you did not prepare for, you can answer based on the revised scenarios that remove trauma boss.

      2. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I’ve had interviews where I was asked what i found difficult in past positions. I’m wondering if that’s what was asked an it just brought up a lot of stuff for OP.

  14. Fikly*

    With regards to LW1, a clarification should be made.

    The issue is that someone is in a lab handling all sorts of things while on non-prescribed pain pills. Plenty of people take pain pills under medical guidance and are safe to work in these situations. It depends on the person, of course, but let’s not conflate people with addictions and those in pain management.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      There is a world of difference between taking a medication as prescribed – and taking a medication you have obtained possibly under less than legal methods.

      Also, OP1 mentions that coworker is taking enough of whatever it is to make him forgetful and inattentive, along with causing personality changes. It’s not okay to work around things that are potentially dangerous to self or others in a chemically altered state.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        In some sense it almost doesn’t matter (in terms of the effects) whether it is illicit drug use, legit use of prescribed medication, or effects of the condition itself (e.g. someone in another comment mentioned the disorientation, slurred speech etc that can come from a diabetic incident). Ultimately if safety (and integrity of results…) is compromised, that’s the case even if it is legit prescribed pain medication.

        Of course the approach to each of these scenarios needs to be different – but ultimately all of them couldn’t be allowed to continue.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I wouldn’t worry about legal vs illegal.

          My friend had a job where she had to report herself if she was on a narcotic. The rules were that even if the drug was prescribed, she could not work while taking that med.

          More broadly, a lot of scripts say not to operate heavy machinery. To me, a car is a heavy machine. A couple weeks ago I read an article that was talking about an high percentage of drivers should not be on the road because of their meds.

          The source of the substance is secondary to the possible harm it can cause.

        2. Observer*

          In some sense it almost doesn’t matter (in terms of the effects) whether it is illicit drug use, legit use of prescribed medication, or effects of the condition itself (e.g. someone in another comment mentioned the disorientation, slurred speech etc that can come from a diabetic incident). Ultimately if safety (and integrity of results…) is compromised, that’s the case even if it is legit prescribed pain medication.

          Exactly. Something needs to happen. This cannot continue. And the OP needs to not even touch the issue of illicit vs prescribed drugs.

      2. Fikly*

        Of course there is a world of difference. That’s my point. I made that point because in her response, AAM did not. She simply lumped both groups into one, and people in pain management have an incredibly difficult time getting their pain controlled legally because they are treated as addicts by default, and responses like the one above are a big part of why.

        So I respond back.

        1. Petty Betty*

          Even being prescribed meds doesn’t guarantee a person using them properly or having adverse reactions to them. I don’t think this rabbit hole is helpful since the way the coworker obtained the medication isn’t the issue here, but his behavior while on them. The employer isn’t going to investigate the HOW he obtained them, but the fact that he is apparently using while on the clock, and is impaired enough to be causing issues. The obtaining isn’t something the employer can do anything about (even if it were by nefarious means) unless he were stealing them from a supply cabinet on-site.

    2. Princess Xena*

      Even for prescription items, if you check the side effects, some pills will absolutely wipe out your finer judgement. I got prescribed sleeping pills for a minor medical thing back when I was a teen. I could absolutely tell the next day that something was off. Just because a medication is prescribed does not exclude it from having side effects.

      In a reasonable workplace, with a prescribed medication, you’d be able to tell your manager or coworkers “hey, I can’t do x” or “I’ll need someone to double check y”.

      And ultimately the problem in #1 is the poor behavior. OP’s coworker is crossing boundaries, forgetting information, and missing things. While in this case there may be a direct cause (OP is not certain he’s using again) the end behaviors are ones that are not acceptable in any workplace.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I don’t know, whether these are prescribed or non-prescribed isn’t something OP knows unless they’ve had a conversation with the chemical engineer about their dealer. It’s completely possible for people’s work to be impaired by entirely legal, necessary, prescribed pain pills too, especially if they’re not being well-managed by the patient and their HCPs.

      It doesn’t really matter whether the engineer’s pain pills are legitimately prescribed for pain, street, borrowed off a partner, started out as a legitimate prescription and then turned into substance misuse or what. The problem is the impairment at work and the fact they’re creating an unsafe environment, and that’s what OP has standing and a responsibility to address.

    4. Myrin*

      “The issue is that someone is in a lab handling all sorts of things while on non-prescribed pain pills.”
      Um, no, it isn’t? We – and OP – have no way of knowing whether the pills in question are prescribed or not and I really don’t see how it matters, either; the outrageous behaviour is the problem, not the way he obtained his pills. I’m really not getting your point here.

      1. Lilo*

        Yes, legitimately prescribed or not there are medications that should not mix with certain activities. My Dad’s a doctor and wasn’t cleared to return to procedures after his own surgery until after he was no longer taking large doses of medication.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I really don’t see how it matters

        I think it’s means as an “don’t stigmatise people who take pain pills for legitimate reasons, stigmatise people who have addictions” I personally think de-stigmatising both and focussing on impairment regardless of the cause is the better course of action!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. Target the behavior. What is driving the behavior is up to the person to figure out.

          Years ago, I had some scripts mess me up. I took them as prescribed and still had problems. I told the doc and he pooh-poohed it. I got a different doc.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Right – medications hit people differently. I’ve shown up at work accidentally high because I skipped breakfast and it turned out the short-term pain meds I was on *really* needed to be taken with food or they went straight to my head. It wasn’t illegal or even intentional, but it still wasn’t appropriate to be at work like that and I had to go home.

        2. Sylvan*


          Also, there are people who are legitimately prescribed medication -and- who have problems with abuse, dependency, or addiction. Like me. Tapering off soon, thankfully.

          1. Former Federal Contractor*

            May the Force be with you! In recovery 15 years, had a serious neck injury followed by surgery, on Oxycodone for 2 months. It wasn’t easy but you have no other option.

    5. Asenath*

      It does need to be handled carefully and appropriately – but I have been on medication which I could not work while taking (although I was convinced I was fine! Even better than fine!). I followed doctor’s orders and didn’t work, but later when I told a friend who’d been helping me out that really, the doctor was over-cautious, I felt so good, I got a strange look and “Uh …no, you weren’t good or even normal. You were acting really strangely”. So the distinction isn’t necessarily between whether the drugs are being taken legally or not, but on their effect.

      I did, long ago, work with someone I was sure was impaired from time to time, whether legally or not I didn’t know. I was new on the job, there weren’t on-the-job safety issues, and I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing. Neither did anyone else, and she eventually left the job for quite normal reasons, still sometimes behaving oddly. It’s a difficult situation.

      1. Lilo*

        That reminds me of the letter from someone who took some kind of medication before an interview, thought they had nailed it, and then found out they came across as high to the interviewers. People really, really aren’t a good judge of their own impairment levels.

      2. Oryx*

        Yeah, I was prescriped tylenol with codeine after breaking a bone. I was out with friends for dinner and I felt fine. But in the middle of the conversation a friend looked at me and said, “You’re high right now, aren’t you?” From my perspective nothing was diffent but externally there were definitely clues, and that was prescribed and being taken as prescribed.

        1. Camelid Lover*

          This reminded me of an incident I’d completely forgotten. The day after I had my wisdom teeth out, I went to a luncheon in honor of one of my grandmother’s friends. Although my pain levels had not been too high in the morning before we left, I took my prescribed pain meds because I was worried the pain might increase as the day went on. Throughout the lunch my behavior was something like a good-natured toddler, I kept having to be told to stay seated and keep my shoes on! (I opted not to take any more of the medication after that first day.)

    6. JSPA*

      People with legitimate prescriptions are biologically no different than people with illegitimate sources; we are all human beings, full stop.

      People with legitimate prescriptions can be physically addicted.

      People with legitimate prescriptions can have adverse reactions.

      People with legitimate prescriptions can be unsafe in certain jobs.

      Dealing with dependency is not physically different, if you became dependent on a prescription.

      People with pain can access addictive drugs with, or without, a legal prescription. They can take those drugs in a way that would normally be doctor approved, or would never be doctor-approved. The legal ramifications are different; the biological ramifications are not.

      You may choose to inject an additional moral component here? I don’t…and I don’t get the sense that the LW does, either; only that “taking pills not prescribed when pill use has been a prior problem” is informative in the context of, “person is not in their normal rational state.”

      1. Sylvan*

        Thank you for spelling this out. Developing a dependence or addiction isn’t wildly uncommon for people prescribed some medications, like pain medications or benzodiazepines.

    7. Nea*

      Thank you! The lack of that distinction was bothering me.

      If you’re taking pain pills as prescribed, you don’t get high, you get functional.

      1. JSPA*

        That’s the goal (and the talking point) but it’s not automatically the outcome.

        When it works that way, excellent! (And, by definition, essentially undetectable.)

        However, plenty of people have severe enough pain that there’s no daylight between “adequately medicated to function in most regards” and “too medicated to function, in other regards.”

        Other people have quirky enough biochemistry (or tissue-specific sensitivities) that what would for others be completely tolerable maintenance dose, is for them, stupefying.

        Other people have minimal pain-deadening response to opiates.
        Or non-opiate-addressable pain (such as neuropathies).
        Or opioid hyperalgesia.

        They can either then give up on the opiates (layering withdrawal on top of the pain) or they can find themselves uping the dosage in hopes it will touch the pain, or legitimately believing they must have forgotten to take the dose, or else why would it hurt so badly.
        (At which point, see above.)

        Google [genetics opioid responsiveness] for more, if curious.

        Regardless, someone whose medication changes them from likeable and reliable to seriously messed up needs (at minimum!) intervention, further supervision and/or a change in dosage. Even if they and their doctors firmly believe they’re doing what they need to do, to treat their pain. And even if a lower dosage means, “there is pain.”

      2. Observer*

        If you’re taking pain pills as prescribed, you don’t get high, you get functional.

        That’s a dangerously inaccurate statement. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s not. Look at the warnings on a wide variety of medications – the ones intended for people who are taking these drugs as prescribed! Then look at the warnings about possible unintended, not common but not so rare effects.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        It’s also possible to have pain relief, and not be high, but also not be functioning well in other ways–for example, to be spacing out or have trouble concentrating.

      4. Lizzo*

        Good lord, no.

        Years ago, I took very strong prescription painkillers for two weeks so that I could make it through my day (and my night) without my injured hand throbbing vigorously.

        Turns out those same painkillers did a number on my short-term memory that lasted for months beyond the two weeks I was taking them, which most definitely did have a negative impact on my ability to do my job.

    8. I'm just here for the cats!*

      The OP is not writing because he is taking medication. Its how he behaves while on the medication. If someone was prescribed medication and it caused them to be forgetful, thoughtless, and unsafe it would still be a problem and a major safety issue.

      The OP is not complaining that he has pain meds they are complaining because the person is misusing medication. They just mentioned pain meds to clarify what is happening.

    9. Observer*

      The issue is that someone is in a lab handling all sorts of things while on non-prescribed pain pills.

      That’s not the problem. The issue is not prescription vs non-prescription. Because there are prescription medications that are ABSOLUTELY dangerous to use when doing things like driving or handling complex chemical solutions.

      The problem here is that he’s taking drugs that are affecting his behavior, judgement and cognition.

  15. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    To OP1
    – this guy is coming to work in a chemically altered state, How is he getting to work – is he driving under the influence? If so he’s a danger to every person on the road (including himself).

    – he is making chemical mixtures in a lab to run experiments, how do we know he made the correct mixtures, and what is the consequence to whoever does the actual experiment if it fails because he gave you the wrong formula?

    – he’s already been talked too by HR for inappropriate contact and threats to a coworker! He’s already on thin ice or should be because of that.

    – he gets aggressive or extremely touchy-feely when he is chemically altered, and also seems to have no short term memory at the same time

    Please report what you are seeing, he’s got an addiction – but he’s dangerous to others because of it. If he is fired because of this, maybe it will be the light bulb moment where he realizes he needs to get his act together and get (or get more) help battling this illness. But it’s not your fault even if he is fired – it is his fault for coming to work in a dangerous state that could harm a coworker. Please – everyone’s safety is more important than his job.

  16. P*

    #3 As someone who has been surprised by tears too, the best thing I have found is practising speaking with as many people as possible. For your situation, get some set answers to common interview questions and rehearse by yourself, then maybe with your therapist and ideally, if you have safe people to do so, try with others. Perhaps just tell them you want to practice interview skills (so long as you know they are good people if you do tear up).
    You have to trick your brain into being almost bored by it.

    1. Raven*

      Yep, try to write up a set of dry facts that you can just reel off. Avoid adding opinions or emotion (until you’ve gotten a better idea of what you can and can’t handle) and just stick to the simplest truth.
      (E.g. “I worked as a llama groomer, gaining skills in llama care and product selection. I left to find a more productive work environment with greater room for growth.” Or whatever makes sense).
      Also might help to focus on what excites you by the jobs your applying to in order to keep a more positive mindset in the moment.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is how I get through doctors appointments without crying, very good practice to be in for difficult conversations especially if you know you’re an angry crier or triggered by specific memories.

  17. AG*

    LW1: Maybe your coworker’s impairment causes danger in the lab, maybe not. It very likely compromises work quality, but hopefully not. None of that matters.

    This person is presenting a very different danger: He has threatened you with violence (against your boyfriend)! He has tried to grab your chest. Based on your description of how he gets very friendly with side hugs and everything, I think you have just told us that he sexually assaulted you! When he is on these pills, he is acting very friendly and affectionately physical, it sounds like he’s possibly acting towards you like he is attracted to you during those times (possibly not, the way you wrote it could be simply general friendliness).

    The bottom line is, he is volatile and potentially violent, and it sounds like his work quality is also volatile. I don’t see how you have not rung alarm bells so far. You need to read your letter as if you got it from a stranger and see how alarming this is.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I am assuming that what AG meant was that even if they were in a dangerous environment, the personal interaction stuff would be enough to cause alarm. But this is definitely a case of AND, BOTH, THE WHOLE THING being bad!

      2. The Rafters*

        A great deal of OPs post and the comments focus on the danger this guy is causing in the lab. Not much attention is being drawn to the fact that this guy sexually assaulted OP and got away with it! AG’s comment about OP reading her post as if it came from a stranger is excellent. Normally for substance abuse, I would say that HR needs to step in and make sure he goes to rehab, but the sexual assault brings it to a whole new level. OP please keep us updated. I am genuinely concerned for your personal safety.

      3. JSPA*

        It’s an, “even if not A, then still XYZ” statement.

        “A” can be super important in it’s own right, but even in the absence of “A,” the rest would be enough to be prohibitive.

        Sentences have to be read in context, and this context is clear:

        Maybe A, maybe not A; maybe B, maybe not B; but certainly XYZ, so focus on XYZ.

      4. AG*

        Yes, what bamcheeks, The Rafters, and JSPA said. I meant “it doesn’t even matter whether he is causing danger in the lab by handling equipment because the threats etc make that point moot.” Sorry about not saying it clearly. I wrote that way because it’s not certain that there is lab-related environment, but the other stuff is definitely there. I should have written “Even if there is no danger from handling chemicals and equipment, that’s beside the point” or something..

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      This situation isn’t an either/or. It’s both/and. The co-worker is creating a dangerous environment on multiple levels–through his unreliable judgment in the lab as well as for the OP personally with sexual contact and threats of violence.

      OP, another poster suggested bringing up your co-worker’s being high at work with your safety compliance team. That’s a terrific idea for the operations piece. You mentioned that HR knows that your co-worker touched you and threatened your boyfriend. Did he get any consequences at all? Please start documenting all of these incidents–date, time, what was said, what he did–for both the risks to safety in the lab and for your own personal safety. Then you take them, in writing, to HR and your safety compliance team.

      This can’t be optional when it’s about safety. Please escalate the issue to the right managers ASAP.

      1. LabTech*

        he had to do a 6 week course after the assault and I make sure to not be alone with him, I make another tech come with me if we’re working together. hes being physical with the guys but he knows to keep his hands off me now. asked my manager for a meeting when he’s free today but I don’t know if/when he will able to talk about this.

        1. londonedit*

          ‘He’s being physical with the guys but he knows to keep his hands off me now’ isn’t really an ideal outcome here! Pain medication or not, this guy should know that he absolutely cannot ‘be physical’ with anyone in a work environment.

        2. Observer*

          he had to do a 6 week course after the assault and I make sure to not be alone with him, I make another tech come with me if we’re working together.

          A six week course? And what do you think THAT is going to do, in the face of his being back on the drugs that precipitated the last assault?

          You KNOW what the answer is. You KNOW that he’s not safe. That is why you refuse to be alone with him! It’s good that YOU are (probably) safe at work, but understand that that does not mean that he won’t get at you or *your boyfriend* after work. Nor does it mean that any other woman is safe around him. Nor for that matter, any other person.

          The bottom line is that at this point, you have reason to believe that he’s back to a pattern that lead to assault in the past. That is something that is a problem on its own, aside from the operational issues. And if you won’t do it for yourself, please keep in mind that he’s a threat to anyone else in the place as well.

        3. Observer*

          asked my manager for a meeting when he’s free today but I don’t know if/when he will able to talk about this.

          Please do NOT wait on your boss to be free. Talk to HR. And put this IN WRITING. Send emails up and down the chain.

        4. Sylvan*

          I hope that meeting goes well! Whether your manager decides to take any action or not, I think you might want to go ahead and email HR. This is a big problem and they should be in the loop — they wouldn’t want to find out after the fact. Plus, they’re likely better equipped to help than your manager.

          1. Sylvan*

            I’m recommending email instead of a meeting so that you can take your time to put your thoughts in order. You’ll also have the communication in writing if you or HR need to refer to it later.

        5. Maddie Hatter*

          He “knows”, but what if he forgets? His is a situation unlikely to get better, people with untreated substance abuse issues very rarely become *less* dangerous and forgetful. What if he comes into work even more out of his mind than usual?

        6. Lizzo*

          OP: this is putting a hell of a burden on you in order for you to have a safe working environment. You have to avoid him, you have to have a chaperone in order to be in his company, etc. when HE IS THE ONE WHO BEHAVED HORRIBLY.

          I am furious at your company on your behalf.

        7. goddessoftransitory*

          Oh, you tell him to MAKE the time.

          I mean, not like that; but stress that this is very important and can’t wait. Because it can’t.

  18. Melanie Cavill*

    Re: #3 – I think questions like “why did you leave your last job” or “why are you looking to leave your current job” ought to be taken off the list of acceptable interview questions, especially in phone screeners. It’s rarely as innocuous as someone being ready for the next step; I know for a fact no hiring manager wants to hear that an old dude at my last job grabbed my butt but it’s definitely the first thing I’m thinking about when you ask why I want to leave.

    1. Luna*

      I flat-out mention that my bad hotel job I left because of bad management. I even semi-joke that they were just a tiny bit faster in letting me go instead of my resigning, since the ink on my resignation hadn’t dried yet!

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, the more I read here and the more I think of it, the more I feel the negatives of this question outweigh the benefits (though I have never been involved in hiring so perhaps it’s possible to tell more from the answer than I realise. The odds are that the person who has been let go for punching a coworker or who left because they were actually expected to do some work are going to either lie or reframe things so it sounds more reasonable – my workload was unreasonable, rather than “I wasn’t allowed to just watch youtube all day”. Yeah, there are people who are so certain of their own point of view that they WOULD say something like “my manager told me to stop watching Youtube and get to work, which was a very disrespectful way to speak to me, so of course, I had to punch him and the higher-ups were so unreasonable they fired me for it,” but those people are the minority, I think.

      And there are a lot of legitimate reasons that sound less so out of context. It’s difficult for an interview to tell if a complaint about an abusive boss or an unreasonable workload is legitimate or if the person is just the type to complain about anything.

      1. Melanie Cavill*

        That’s the thing – even legitimate anecdites of an abusive manager or unreasonable workload are Not To Be Brought Up, because common convention is that hiring managers will view any sort of negativity toward a former employer as a red flag. So where does that leave applicants in such a situation? Spin or lie. And in phone screens, which are often very spur of the moment for the applicant, spinning is incredibly difficult.

      2. Melanie Cavill*

        That’s the thing, though – even a legitimate reason such as an abusive manager or an unreasonable workload will often not be brought up. I, at least, have had it drilled into me that a hiring manager hears any negativity directed toward my previous employer as a red flag. So where does that leave an applicant? Spin or lie. I don’t love lying. And spinning can be difficult, especially in a phone screen (as those are typically sprung on the candidate with no prior warning).

      3. Emmy Noether*

        A reasonable person would never say they were fired because they punched a coworker, but then again, a reasonable person wouldn’t have punched the coworker in the first place…

      4. Joielle*

        A friend recently recounted a time when he was interviewing someone for a warehouse job and one of the questions was “On a scale of 1 to 10, how reliable would you say you are?” And the candidate said “To be completely honest, a 1. I’ll probably be late most of the time and sometimes I won’t show up at all.”

        He, uh, did not get the job.

        1. Luna*

          I have to say, I like the honesty! Much better to know what you’re getting instead of someone lying and then you have this bad employee on your hand.

      5. Observer*

        going to either lie or reframe things so it sounds more reasonable – my workload was unreasonable, rather than “I wasn’t allowed to just watch youtube all day”.

        You would be surprised. But also, even the “spin” can be very revealing. Of course, it’s generally a bad idea to make your decision on just one question, unless they do say something outrageous.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I can’t work out WHY anyone would ask this, short of “because it’s one of those questions you ask and I have never really thought about it.” If you want to know whether someone was fired, there are much better ways to find out– you’re wasting a whole interview question to find the
      very small number of people who a) were fired and b) haven’t rehearsed a “better” answer for an interview. If you want to know why they applied to this job and what attracts them to your organisation, that’s a much better question and you should ask that!

      1. Tau*

        I think there’s some use cases involving identifying mismatched expectations on what the job entails – ex, someone says they left their last job because they want to focus more on Y and move away from X, and the job they’re interviewing for is actually 90% X but that wasn’t clear from the posting.

        But really, it should be possible to figure that sort of thing out through other questions that have less splash damage.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I think a much better question to ask is “what made you apply to this position?”, which is in the same vein (why do you want to change?), but starts with a positive spin and one can better check if the expectations for the job are aligned.

      3. KRM*

        In research you mostly get “why are you looking to move on”, and it lends itself to being able to say “advancement wasn’t what I was looking for because it’s a startup and doesn’t move fast for advancement” or “I want to go from a big pharma to a smaller biotech because I admire how fast they can move” or “I want to get back into X area of research because I really missed it”, etc. etc., and not have to say “my boss was a micromanaging A-hole who asked why I wanted to be promoted and then told me to write a list of my accomplishments to ‘try’ to justify it”

      4. Wintermute*

        there are questions, especially when you’re dealing with folks who are less polished and lower-end roles, where you might get an honest answer that lets you dodge a huge, gigantic disaster, and that justifies the question handily.

        It’s not common but certainly not rare for someone to reveal they have problems with authority, or don’t understand hierarchy or even that they got in a physical altercation they felt was perfectly justified.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think you have to weigh that against the risk that you’re potentially asking people who are less polished and have less power to disclose “they racially discriminated against me” “they sexually harassed me” “I couldn’t turn up for a shift one time because my child needed emergency medical care”. The small benefits that you’re describing wouldn’t justify that risk, to me.

          1. Wintermute*

            I don’t quite understand what you mean, if a place would hold being harassed, discriminated against, or having a medical or family emergency against you, then the question is doing a great job of reverse screening out places that they wouldn’t want to work (and would possibly have the same issues) at anyway.

            1. bamcheeks*

              You said you were talking about about people in lower-end roles. They are the people least likely to be in a position where they can screen out employers who would hold those things against them.

              But also, it doesn’t even have to get to the level where people are actively discriminating. The question that started this discussion was about someone starting to cry in an interview because it was traumatic to discuss. Simply by asking, you’re going to be putting some people in a very stressful position where they have to figure out whether to lie or spin, or be honest and risk breaking down or being discriminated against or being dismissed for being too emotional or too touchy or too much drama. Even if you’re a great employer who would think none of those things, people you’re interviewing don’t know that. So you’ve just put them in a really stressful and difficult situation for a very, very small benefit that you MIGHT screen out some poor applicants who haven’t the wit to lie.

          2. Observer*

            “I couldn’t turn up for a shift one time because my child needed emergency medical care”.

            And a lot of people would have sympathy for that answer. Yes, they would ask if the applicant has decent coverage for the normal stuff, but that would not necessarily knock someone out of the running.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Right, but you don’t know that if you’re asked it in an interview, and most people are working on the assumption that you shouldn’t talk about your children or other caring responsibilities in an interview or badmouth your current/former employer. If you’re an interviewer who asks that question, you’ve just put a ton of stress on a potentially good interviewer for very little good reason.

      5. Observer*

        ” If you want to know whether someone was fired, there are much better ways to find out

        That’s true, but I can’t imagine that that’s the reason for that question. You’d be surprised at what comes up when the question gets asked.

        Answers I’ve heard:

        Junior employee quite because they were not given the days off they wanted, since someone more senior had already gotten those days. Described with much indignation, and making it pretty clear that this was not an ongoing pattern of being denied vacation.

        Coverage based position complaining that prior employer is “too picky” about coming in on time. In some positions, I would have sympathy for the applicant, and it wouldn’t make a difference. But in some positions, it really matters.

    4. Adrian*

      Agree with Melanie, especially if you were was recruited for the position vs. applying directly for it.

      FWIW, a friend said that companies ask this question because they want to be sure if you leave them someday, that you won’t badmouth them in an interview.

    5. marvin*

      I think it’s reasonable to ask about the current job because it gets at the applicant’s expectations a bit. If they’re looking for a different area of specialization or for a more collaborative environment or what have you, it’s good to know that to see if the new job will be a good fit.

      For past jobs, I don’t know that there is much benefit to asking in most cases, so it’s probably not worth putting candidates through the wringer of having to figure out a bland way of saying their boss was a nightmare.

  19. Luna*

    Counter the guy’s offer immediately. He grabs your chest, you physically retaliate.
    And ignoring that, no matter how brilliant he may be, he is a liability to the entire company. Not just in terms of interpersonal relationships, as he’s already demonstrated, he cannot do his job without issues (not remembering what he was informed of recently) and do you *really* want someone mentally high working on delicate machines that could cause huge issues?
    Get him out. End of story.

    1. LolaBugg*

      Yeah I’m having a hard time mustering any sympathy for the antagonist in letter 1. I never would have gotten past him attempting to grope me. This is the type of person who might need his job and hit rock bottom in order to realize he has a problem.

    2. Aneurin*

      I wouldn’t recommend physically retaliating, there’s too much of a risk that the LW would end up being seen as the ‘problem employee’ (especially since it sounds like the manager is pretty checked out). Agreed that the employee is a liability to the company and shouldn’t be working in his role, though!

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I’m not sure why physical retaliation would be the plan (our body’s own systems tend to overwrite any plan with fight, flight or freeze in the moment anyway), because the sexual violence, and the ongoing causes behind it can be tackled by management and HR without any need to put OP in danger.

  20. Raven*

    OP#1: You need to report it now. You never enter any sort of hazardous environment (lab, building site etc.) while impaired whether through alcohol, drugs or anything else. It’s a danger to everyone on-site and a danger to anyone depending on the work being done.
    He’s also already harmed you once and shown himself to be unable to control himself. You do not want to be constantly on edge, watching everything you say or do around him if you can’t predict how he’ll be or react to unusual situations.

    Some people have raised it, but if he’s servicing equipment while impaired, you cannot trust that the equipment is working to the standard you require. You also can’t trust that he’ll raise any issues he may come across (as you say he’s a bit fuzzy on communicating in general) or that you will be informed when he does something that impacts your work.

    Now is not the time to be nice. He may think he has a good reason or not realise (possible with some sorts of medication) but you need to raise it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’d second guess any results that came out under this guy’s watch. The company could have years of work that they just have to toss.

      1. Raven*

        Yep, and depending on the industry they may not be able to either repeat the work either or can’t without evidence that he was impaired when servicing the equipment at the time the data was generated.
        If this is environmental monitoring for example, that data would still have to be reported and probably already has been.

      2. Observer*

        I’d second guess any results that came out under this guy’s watch. The company could have years of work that they just have to toss.


        OP, none of this is stuff you don’t know. Please act on it.

    2. HolyGranoly*

      Exactly. I’m a chemist and I also review other chemists’ work. I’ve seen plenty of sober people make screwy mistakes in the lab that affected the outcome of a test. I don’t want to think about the chaos that someone blitzed on pain meds could cause.

      OP, you can’t have this guy prepping solutions, and you CANNOT have him doing mechanical work on analytical equipment. It’s too risky on so many levels.

  21. Madame X*

    I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience with your previous job. It sounds like it was really difficult working for someone who was abusive in what was a very toxic environment. I got the sense that perhaps you want some validation that what you went to was actually awful, Which is completely understandable. However, an interview is the last place you will get that type of confirmation. In fact I could backfire on you because it could make people see you as an unreliable narrator.

    Since you know that it is likely that your interviewer will ask you about your last job and why you left, practice answering the question. Provide an answer that’s true enough and then segue onto the skills and goals that you hope to develop in the new job you are currently seeking out.

  22. Lady_Lessa*

    I can appreciate where the LW1 is coming from, because I am in a SBD situation. I’m a lab chemist and we have some instruments that are dangerous because they are designed to break things. Due to circumstances, ie not being trained on them and now the potential trainers are unavailable, I don’t know how to use them. (think a model T driver in a Tesla). And there is a LOT of tribal knowledge that wasn’t written down.

    I hope/plan that when we get another chemist to have the vendor come in, upgrade the program and train 4 of us on how to use them. I’m glad that our production manager is willing to be #4.

    I hope that LW1 is working on developing a similar plan.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Instron is the brand, they measure various kinds of strengths, like tensile, compression, 3 point bending.

        I consider them dangerous because they can break themselves (had a co-worker many jobs ago break a load cell) and catch the unwary user as well.

  23. Lab Boss*

    OP2: if he’s truly invested in seeing you grow and develop, your mentor should be receptive if you ask him to help highlight your contributions. If he asks you what kind of thing you have in mind, here’s the habits I’ve gotten into to keep people from giving me all the credit for my team’s work:

    First, I always try to bring them into project meetings. then when I’m asked a question I can redirect to the technician (“Brian, you were the primary operator for that test, can you explain that result?”) Second, I’ve built the active habit of any time I get credited for an accomplishment I try to highlight at least one other person’s contribution (“Jill noticed that weird result that court have been a problem down the road!”) And finally, I will redirect emails to them to answer so people get used to hearing from them as independent experts instead of just me.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Yes! There are many things that the mentor can do to promote the LW as the expert. Fixing the cutting in when someone asks a question would be a great start—he may not (frustratingly) even be aware of it.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Yes, I missed that detail when I read the question but that’s important too. I don’t know OP’s field but at least in mine there’s often one specific right answer to questions, and it can be tough to let a younger person struggle through giving an overly complex/not totally right answer when you could just give the right one. I’ve definitely caught myself cutting in like OP describes, and have to work not to (because even experienced mentors still can get excited about their expertise and want to give right answers!)

    2. FalsePositive*

      Yes! I think it is a learned skill for many of us. I am conscious to name drop my fellow coworkers when I’m giving status and they helped me with something (not every tiny thing, but “After Fergus sent me a link to that great document that I couldn’t find, I resolved the thing I’ve been stuck on since Monday.”

  24. DJ Abbott*

    #1 I second Allisons points about safety. You all need to be protected not just from accidents, but also from his inappropriately aggressive and physical behavior. Unless he’s getting help, both these issues are going to get worse.
    Also it’s a big failure of management that only one person knows how to do essential things. They need to start cross-training yesterday! And in a lab, where failures can have consequences beyond paperwork? I would never do business with a company so badly managed. I’m on the verge of telling you to get a better job.

    1. Observer*

      Cross training gets brought up a lot, but it’s not always so simple. Sometimes to the point of effectively being impossible.

      Having said that, it still doesn’t matter – the company HAS to have some plan for this guy being out. And now may be the time to activate it.

    2. BokBooks*

      Yes I feel for LabTech OP – this is ultimately a management problem on almost all levels. I would imagine that if we dug deeper we would see other massive dysfunctions in this lab. LabTech OP – I hope you take the commentariat’s advice and run this up the flagpole to HR.

  25. kk*

    For LW #1 – Hi, Lab Head here. Report your coworker, friend. I know it’s going to be hard and awkward (believe me, I’ve been there…) but you and I both know this isn’t safe for him or anyone.

    Frame it to yourself (or HR) in one of two ways:
    1. It’s a safety issue, just like coming into lab alone in the middle of the night overtired is a safety issue. You don’t need drugs to make bad lab decisions.
    2. It’s a decency issue – your friend may or may not need help and can’t get it himself at the moment.

  26. triplehiccup*

    1 – Definitely report it, and ask them to leave you out of it when they confront him. He’s been violent with you before you (which should’ve cost him his job already imo) and the company mist protect you from that happening again. One way is for them to “randomly” stop by and see for themselves that he is impaired. Or maybe there is security video? Either way, make clear that you are concerned about retaliation and that your name should not cross anyone’s lips as they’re dealing with him.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. OP, you reported a problem and the problem continues. Who knows how many others he has tried to grab. HR needs to know that the underlying here has not changed.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      And absolutely put it in writing that you’re concerned about retaliation so they can’t say they didn’t know! And keep copies at home and work. Printouts, at least at home.

  27. cabbagepants*

    I experienced #2. My mentor himself was part of the problem — seemed to genuinely fail to distinguish being a figurehead on a particular project, vs actually making concrete contributions — but I will highlight the advice that would work regardless of your mentor’s attitude.
    1) Cut the cord between you! Don’t be a pair at every meeting but instead present your work without him present unless he has a non-mentorship reason to be present. If you are presenting a slide that only you contributed to, then only put your own name on it. Said “I did this” instead of “we did this” if it’s true.
    2) If you have a question for him, discuss it in a 1:1, not in front of the whole team. Treat him as one of a group of senior people from whom you draw knowledge, rather than your personal backup.
    3) Lean into doing your own projects without him on them. This will challenge you to grow into your own abilities and establish a reputation of your own.
    4) As Alison said, address it in the moment, and ask for his help doing this as well. Make sure to be on the same page as he is on how much he is really contributing vs how much you are. Sadly, this kind of relationship can turn very nasty when Old Mentor stops getting credit for your entire output. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times that people continue to feel ownership over your output months or years after they’ve stopped providing significant contribution.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, at this point OP should ‘consciously uncouple’ from her mentor in a few public projects. Even if that means picking a different partner if your work can’t be done completely alone – people will note who is successful with different partners and get a better sense of your value. If your mentor is truly trying to help you, you should be able to say this to them explicitly and they should be supportive.

  28. ABCYaBye*

    OP1: Report, report, report. This is an unsafe situation. I completely understand the worry that you coworker will be fired, but you have a duty to say something if you see activity that compromises the safety and integrity of your workplace. You need to protect yourself, you other coworkers and the work you do. They’re putting you all in harm’s way. If something happens and you’ve said nothing, you’re likely to feel worse than you will if you say something and they face the consequences they deserve.

  29. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    #1: You are getting literally zero people fired by reporting their dangerous behavior. They are getting themselves fired by behaving dangerously.

    Also, I guarantee you that he is not the only person in the world who can do his job. And even it turned out that if he is, he had to learn it at some point! Which means someone else will, too.

    All the points commenters have raised about him endangering people both in and out of the workplace are very important. Listen to them and report him! And if nothing changes? It’s time to be looking for a new job elsewhere, if your employer won’t do something about a guy who’s high at work in a sensitive job, has poor judgment, and sexually assaults people (whether high or not, it’s an indication of what really lurks inside him–I know tons of users and drinkers who’ve never non-consensually groped someone in their entire life while tripping).

    One more bit: “if not for the the thing,” you’d be friends. Which means…you’re not friends, sad to say. :/ But even if you were? It’d still be wrong to protect a friend who’s behaving dangerously from the consequences of their own actions.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think this is an important thing that we miss in different ways on a lot of posts. You’re not tattling, you’re not getting people in trouble, you’re certainly not getting people fired. A workplace has different standards for safety and frankly even comfort than a casual setting does. Even if the interpersonal issues were the only thing making you uncomfortable here – those are real and not something you have to put up with at work. If someone is creating an unsafe environment that’s on them.

      1. Wintermute*

        Absolutely, one of the best things I learned here at AAM is to mentally reframe myself away from the schoolyard concept of “tattling”. “tattling” or “snitching” really is an immature way to frame it.

        Either something is your business or it is not, if it is not then yes, reporting it makes you a jerk and a busybody. If it is your business then reporting it is simply allowing the natural causality to happen without you standing in the way. Unless the situation is exceptional and you’re campaigning to try to make a bigger deal of something or you are exaggerating or distorting the truth you do not “get people” fired, they get themselves fired by their actions

    2. Petty Betty*


      LW is reporting workplace safety issues. If the person causing those issues is removed from the job, that’s on him, not her. He’s the one causing the issues.
      But coming from what I know, most likely he will be offered rehab (and proof of completion) in order to save his job. Unless he’s already had this offer previously (which, that may be, considering he’s seemingly been “on the wagon” prior to this letter). Unless the company has a Zero Tolerance policy (some places do).

    3. londonedit*

      Yep. Reporting dangerous behaviour, harassment, refusal to follow rules or policies, or any other incident that goes against decent workplace conduct is not ‘getting someone fired’, it’s reporting their behaviour to the relevant people so it can be properly dealt with.

  30. Jam Today*

    #3 — can you just bluntly state “my manager was verbally and sometimes physically abusive” and leave it at that? I left a job after being harassed by my manager, and after a couple of interviews where I tapdanced around it and it was obvious that I was being cagey, I tried just being honest and it worked. Granted, I had about five years distance between that event and when I decided to try my little experiment so the emotions weren’t as fresh, so ymmv.

  31. Sylvan*

    OP1: I know you feel for your coworker, but it’s time to talk to HR about this.

    Your coworker has already groped you and made a threat. It’s time to do something. Plus, protecting your coworker from the consequences of his actions, like an uncomfortable conversation with HR or maybe being fired, doesn’t help him. It allows him to tell himself that using pills isn’t having negative effects. Staying quiet about his medication abuse doesn’t benefit you, your coworkers, or him.

  32. seps*

    Ugh, LW #2, are you me from 10 years ago? I didn’t think it was intentional on my boss’ part. At the time, I was satisfied with my his response, which was always, “Oh, haha, I actually work for seps, she does all the hard work!” As my career grew and folks worked with me more and realized that it was, in fact, my work, and gave the credit to me themselves, he started taking the credit intentionally. When the pandemic hit, and he wasn’t even serving in an advisory capacity anymore (he had just built a new house and their wireless wasn’t hooked up. He’s a professor that wasn’t teaching a class at the time so there wasn’t much oversight), and I’d had enough and applied for a new job.

    This is probably just a rant and not helpful at all, sorry.

  33. kiki*

    LW 1: I know LW is worried about getting her coworker fired if she reports him to her boss, but firing isn’t your boss’s only option. Especially since your coworker is so valuable, there’s a higher possibility your boss can connect him with resources and help.

  34. Octopus*

    Why is no one making the point that LW1 wouldn’t get any fired? Coworker is making choices that are getting him fired. And yes, that choice may be not getting help for substance abuse and underlying issues, but if he loses his job, it’s on him. Not on LW1. Nor on anyone else.

  35. kiki*

    LW4: If these are LinkedIn messages from recruiter, I just want to say that recruiters reach out to a lot of people and not everyone is really qualified or a good fit. If the roles seem interesting to LW they should definitely look into it further, but they should also realize there’s a high probability they won’t end up with the role.

    I also want to express caution about working for a company that says they wants somebody with 7-10 years of experience for a role but then ends choosing somebody with 6 months of experience. It may be an industry-wide problem where there’s just a dearth of talent at that level, like LW has said. But when I’ve seen peers take “super-promotions” like this before, it has always ended badly. Often the company is wildly dysfunctional and has unreasonable expectations. And even if the company turns out to be decent, it’s just really hard for somebody with 6 months of management experience to do director-level work. A lot of being in higher leadership comes down to experience and no amount of extra hours or tutorials can really be a substitute.

  36. kilo*

    Re: #4. This is in no way a comment on the letter writer – it sounds like you’re good at what you do, and have a workplace that recognizes that. Unless you are motivated to leave (poor pay, long commute, the entire office is painted fuchsia, etc), I’d stay put. I’ve always wondered how Alison would advise the 24 year old guy that was an intern on the Trump campaign, and then got promoted 6 times until he was a deputy chief of staff. At that point the media got wind of it, and he was promptly fired. Should he list that experience on his resume, or not given that he was clearly out of his depth? I always felt bad for him, as he had no other professional experience and was likely just incredibly naive, and has paid for that in a very public way.

  37. Petty Betty*

    LW1: I’m someone who is under a pain management contract. I take opioids daily. What you are describing is unsafe and a *huge* issue.
    Please write this all out. All of your observances, how you know of his previous addiction issues (did he personally disclose, did you witness, etc) and how he behaved previously while under the influence and how it impacted both you and the workplace in general (at this point, reference your previous HR interaction/report, and any other issues the company/department has had with him when he was under the influence). Acknowledge that there was a period of calm but that the behavior has picked back up and you are seeing X, Y and Z behaviors again and it is impacting the department in A and B ways and you are feeling anxious of a repeat of M, N and O issues/behaviors. Don’t outright accuse him of being under the influence of anything unless you see him taking anything while at work or just before coming to work. Let the managers come to that conclusion on their own. Your only concern are his actions/behaviors that have previously caused issue(s).

  38. calvin blick*

    #4 – your average LinkedIn recruiter knows NOTHING about the jobs they are recruiting for aside from the job title. That sounds harsh (and obviously there are exceptions), but it not really an exaggeration. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had recruiters reach out about jobs that I was not remotely qualified for, or extremely overqualified. Obviously jobs do get filled this way so if you keep engaging with these recruiters you might end up finding a better job (it happened to me!), but overall these are people straight out of college getting paid 100% commission desperately trying to strike up conversations with people on LinkedIn.

    Another thing to know about these recruiters is that they will promise to send your resume to the hiring manager, but you will almost never hear back. They ghost like 95% of the time.

    A recruiter did help me get my new job so obviously they aren’t all bad, but I would not get too excited about any jobs they send you.

  39. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Op3: My two cents to the reply on this one: Why are we as a society still determined to protect bad bosses and toxic work environments by sweeping them under the rug, not addressing the situations head on, and pretending they didn’t exist when it comes to job interviews. We should be doing the opposite: we should be shedding bright lights on these toxic bullying bosses for the abusive cockroaches that they are. We should be able to say in a job interview that we were abused and traumatized and are doing the best we can to move past that situation. We should be shouting from the rooftops when trying to find a new job that we deserve someplace where we will be psychologically and physically safe. Why should we as the bullied traumatized parties be the ones who have to pretend it didn’t happen? Only by speaking truth to horrible boss behavior and calling them out for it, and making future bosses understand how it affected us and how we won’t stand for it anymore, will there ever be any chance of making a dent in the huge pool of bad bosses out there. And maybe some of that can start to happen in job interviews.

    1. Colette*

      It’s not about protecting the bad bosses and toxic work environments, it’s that your interviewer can’t judge whether the problem was you or the boss/environment. Some people say their boss is picking on them when it turns out they worked a solid 2-hour day and called out twice a week to go surfing, or claim it’s a toxic environment because they didn’t want to work for a woman. There’s no way for the interviewer to judge what actually happened.

      1. a different sara*

        Exactly – when you’ve just met someone, you don’t know yet if you can take them at their word. Just about everyone who has been working for a while can think of a terrible coworker who blamed everyone else for their incompetence. So it could be that the boss was terrible, but it could be that the person being interviewed is, or it could be that the story is way more complicated that either of those options.

        At any rate, the interviewer isn’t in a position to figure out what is really going on, and the interview isn’t the place for that anyway.

    2. Courtney*

      But interviews aren’t really the place to work through someone’s trauma. They’re to assess if the person is a good fit for the job and if the company is a good fit for them.

      They could ask about work environments but if I was interviewing and had someone tell me about any past trauma I’d feel very uncomfortable. That’s for their friends, family, or therapist — not someone interviewing them.

  40. El l*

    OP5: Yeah, I’ve known plenty of senior people whose job is essentially to go to conferences. They’re not taking PTO for that.

    About the only time you shouldn’t get to count it as work time is:
    (a) It truly has nothing to do with your work. Examples I’ve seen include it’s for your side hustle, or it’s a parent/teacher organization when you don’t work in teaching
    (b) You don’t want your employer to know you’re at the conference. I once did it this way because I had a job interview at a conference. Rare situation.

    In pretty much any other situation, you can count it. And if management asked (or even encouraged) you to be there, they have no reason to deny you.

    1. Jay*

      #5 There are some other tricky situations. Many companies put a time and financial limit on professional development. I’m our field, there is no end to highly relevant conferences. And many of the local, ones (for us) are free. So it’s a matter of prioritizing against work time. There are times someone REALLY wants to attend and it’s not approved, so the only option is to take personal time if it’s that important to you individually.

      But that approach can backfire so watch out for the politics. One colleague was not approved for a 4 day conference out of town. She decided to take vacation time and pay her own way. It was well intentioned. But she didn’t understand our organization was RATIONING the number of slots as we had a regulatory role. Too many compliance staff present upset the client dynamics. The higher ups didn’t know she was coming. It was very awkward, and considered inappropriate.

  41. Parenthesis Dude*

    LW4 – I see a few people have mentioned that Linkedin Recruiters don’t always do the best job understanding what’s necessary. They want to get resumes in front of hiring managers to show them that they’re trying to help.

    If you really don’t want to make a switch, then just say that. But otherwise, it may be worthwhile to talk to some hiring managers to see what they have to say. If nothing else, it’ll give you an idea of what they want you to focus on.

  42. merida*

    OP #3 – some vague-but-likely-true suggestions that I’ve used before (but of course only use when true for you)

    “I felt it was time for me to move on and I am ready for something new, like [aspect of the prospective job that you are interested in/want to be challenged by].”
    “I am ready for the next step in my career. This role would allow me to use my experience in X or help me branch out more into X, something I have always wanted to focus more on.”
    “My current job has changed since I was hired, has become more focused on X than Y, and I’m interested in this role because it does focus on Y.”
    “There isn’t room for advancement or professional development at my current job, and this role would help me develop my skills in X.”
    “I want to become an expert at X, and I felt I’d learned all I can in that area from my years at Current Company. I hope to increase my skills in a new role.”

    The short and sweet answer should still definitely be true for you, but the idea is that you need to summarize *one* brief reason (and not an overtly negative reason like “my boss sucks”) why you want to leave your job, rather than give a comprehensive monologue of every hellish moment at your current job.

    It’s another way that interviewing feels oddly like dating… no matter how bad your ex was, going into a first date and giving them a persuasive speech on why your ex was a psychopath isn’t recommended as it will likely leave your date feeling uncomfortable!

  43. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    OP#3 – work trauma is trauma so I would suggest getting some therapy there, but in the mean time practice practice practice. Plan out the answers to various forms of the questions so that you don’t have to THINK about that place and that boss while in the interview. Practice them enough that you can on the fly tailor the answer so you don’t sound too mechanical. If you have a friend or two that you trust have them ask you variations of the questions so you can practice them in front of a person.

    Practice enough that when questions on your former job come up, the boring repetitive practice sessions are what first pop into your head, not the trauma flashbacks

  44. El l*

    A manager has two rock-bottom obligations to staff – pay them properly on-time and provide a basic level of safety for all concerned. Your colleague’s behavior threatens everyone’s safety, and if your management will do nothing about it, I would escalate this as far as it can go and even be willing to quit if necessary.

    Because his behavior would’ve been a safety problem period when he threatened you and tried to grope you. But it’s doubled because you work in a lab. What happens when he’s high and messes up a machine, or forgets important info he’s told, or doesn’t pass along important info? Depending on what you work on, this could be catastrophic.

    What happens with the guy is honestly not your problem. You can have sympathy for the guy, but this is fundamental and unacceptable.

  45. Courtney*

    OP 1 I hope this doesn’t come across as rude but… why don’t you want someone who is high at work, rude to you, and has assaulted you not to get fired??? Asides from all the advice to talk to your boss about this, I suggest you maybe ask yourself why that’s the case and why you don’t think your safety is more important than this guys job.

  46. CleverUsernameGoesHere*


    Others elsewhere in the comments have suggested that you start raising the issues in writing through email.

    When (not if) you do so, on all emails I encourage you to BCC a personal email address of yours, as a hedge in case they try firing you or otherwise punishing you. CYA. Always CYA.

    1. Observer*

      Good point. These are not people who I would trust to have my back, or even to be honest about the situation.

  47. c buggy*

    LW #2: When you talk to your mentor, definitely also name the pattern of him interjecting to answer questions and ask him not to do that. There’s a good chance that he either thinks he’s being helpful or just doesn’t realize he’s doing it. And you can frame it that way when you talk to him – e.g., “I appreciate you trying to help, but actually I’d appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate my expertise to others by fielding those kinds of questions myself – that would be even more helpful to me.”

    A good mentor should not only not interject to answer questions for you; they should go a step further and redirect questions posed to them about your work that you should be able to answer, e.g., “LW’s the expert on that/handled that piece, so I’ll let her answer that.”

  48. Terranovan*

    LW #1 – Speaking from a position of some hypocrisy as a devout Catholic, I hope I’m not being too antagonistic to say that at least some of the Catholic pedophilia scandal might have been because of people who were afraid to speak up for exactly the same reason you are. This tech is a serious PR, HR, legal and liability issue waiting to happen.

  49. OP 3*

    OP 3 here. Thank you all for the feedback and support! The original question was “what was the worst thing about job X (which was on my resume)?”. I think I agree with Allison and the many commenters who said that I should have just said something else, and not have brought up the boss at all. I think I’ll practice how to talk about this job (and perhaps make some changes to my resume to support my new talk track). I need to find a way to do the above without seeming like I’m stonewalling or being disingenuous.

    As a mini-update, I did not get the job (but I am ok with that – I am employed and my current job is good, but was exploring this opportunity specifically since it fell into my lap and seemed interesting).

Comments are closed.