can I keep my company truck to screw over my company, fired for a Halloween costume, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Can I keep my company truck when I leave to stick it to my company?

You will probably think that I am a total jerk for contemplating doing this, but just hear me out. First off, I do appreciate being gainfully employed but I absolutely HATE the company I work for. We were purchased by a gigantic multi-billion dollar company over a year ago, and ever they have been piling more and more work on us as more divisions have been acquired. Everyone who works for our company is completely exhausted and people are quitting in droves.

I am thinking about finding another job, and when I leave I want to stick it them the best I can. What I would like to do is not turn in my company pick-up and see how much money they have to spend to get it back from me. Since the truck was issued to me, they cannot just report it stolen, can they? I am assuming that it will end up being a civil matter and they will have to take me to court in order to legally take back ownership of the truck.

It’s a bad idea.

I get that you want to stick it to them, but this will hurt you more than it hurts them. Even if they have to spend money to get the truck back, they’re a multi-billion dollar company. It’s going to be a blip on their radar, financially. For you, though, it will ruin the reference you might have otherwise gotten, and it will ruin your reputation with colleagues, who won’t risk being associated with someone who did something that shady, even after they too leave the company. Even people who agree that your company sucks will see it as bad judgment and lack of integrity on your part. You’ll squander any good will that you currently have.

And that can easily come back to bite you. Imagine that you’re interviewing for a job you really want some day in the future, and one of your current coworkers is now employed there and knows that you’re the guy who did something this sketchy and petty. It would torpedo your chances. Why do that to the future you?

Also, right now you have the moral high ground and can leave with your integrity intact. Take something that isn’t yours — when you know it’s wrong — and you lose that. Again, why would you do that to yourself?

Bad companies mess with your head. Don’t let this one mess with you any more than it already has.


2. My employee got fired for wearing a Halloween costume to work … and trick-or-treating in an important meeting

I work at a financial firm. Every employee must wear a suit. Only closed-toe dress shoes are allowed, no wild hair color, etc. Our dress code is always formal with no exceptions. On Halloween, one of my employees came to work dressed as Princess Tiana. We had a meeting scheduled with our C-suite and directors and several important clients. She showed up minutes before the meeting started and came into the room in her full costume, asking everyone to give her candy, to the disbelief of everyone who was present. She was asked to leave the meeting immediately by someone from the C-suite.

She told me afterward that she didn’t see what the problem was and wanted to bring fun to our “stuffy” office. I asked her if anyone told her it was okay for her to dress up and she said it was her idea and she didn’t talk about it with anyone here. She said she was going to come as Michonne from The Walking Dead but had decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for work. I was going to have a serious talk with her because she kept saying she didn’t do anything wrong, but she was fired later that day on the orders of our director.

I had hired her five months ago just after she had completed her studies at university. I’m sure she was still figuring out how things work in office and finance environments. The decision to fire her was out of my hands though. I have been in a supervisory role and hiring people for over a decade. There were no red flags from her at any time and this came out of left field. The director keeps asking me what she was thinking but I have no clue. If my employee had mentioned anything to me about this, I would have explained why she couldn’t do it.

The director has also ordered a reprint of our handbook and all materials to clearly state dressing up in costume for Halloween is not allowed. I don’t think this is necessary because in the 15 years I have worked here this has never happened before. The director keeps on asking me why my employee would do this and what she was thinking but I don’t have an answer for her. She said she has never been so embarrassed in her life and has been getting heat from her boss and the C-suite over it. How do I address this with the director? I had no clue of what my employee was going to do. I don’t think a reprint of all our materials is necessary. She keeps asking me what my employee was thinking but I don’t know what to tell her and she has brought it up multiple times.

This is a really weird thing to fire someone over, unless there had been other signs that she wasn’t getting your culture or professional norms, or unless she was more disruptive than I realize when she entered that meeting. To be clear, trick-or-treating in an important client meeting is truly terrible judgment … especially from someone five months into their first post-college job. And then calling your office “stuffy” when you talked to her about it later? Not good.

But the outrage over the costume itself is strange, and it sounds like your director is wildly overreacting; plenty of offices do dress up for Halloween, and your employee just misjudged that. If they don’t want Halloween costumes there, they can tell people that before Halloween. It does not require an immediate reprinting of the handbook, nor the director repeatedly questioning you about what your employee was thinking. She asked, you gave a reasonable answer, and that should be the end of it.

If it comes up again, I’d just say this: “She clearly misjudged the culture. In many offices, people do dress up for Halloween, so I’m sure that’s where she got the idea. I hadn’t seen any previous signs that she wasn’t fitting into our culture or that she wasn’t following our professional norms, but she’s also right out of school and new to the work world. Going forward, I’ll make sure my team is clear that we don’t dress up for Halloween.” That’s all you can say, really. Hopefully your director won’t spend days on this.

It would also be worth making sure that you’re clearly communicating any cultural expectations to new hires, especially more junior ones. I don’t know that it should have occurred to you that you’d need to mention costumes ahead of time, but given that someone got fired over it, that’s a clear sign that your culture is unusually uptight about some things that wouldn’t be a big deal at other places — and so you’ve got to make sure you’re being very clear with people about expectations.


3. Can I ask my husband’s boss to secretly okay vacation time for him?

I want to surprise my husband with a vacation he’s been wanting to take for a while. I’ve planned it out, and it’s totally doable, except for one thing. If I want to keep it a secret, he can’t know that he’s taking time off of work. If he’s not scheduled for work, it’ll raise a red flag for him, but I don’t want him to “call in” at the last minute for this trip. I’ve met his boss and we’ve chatted at work parties and other social events, so he knows me more than just as Fergus’ wife.

Here’s my questions: is it okay for me to contact his boss and ask for his help with this (as in, putting him on the schedule when he’ll actually be off)? Or will it look like he’s just not able to schedule his own vacations?

Resist the temptation.

It’ll put your husband’s boss in an awkward position. He won’t know whether your husband really wants to use his vacation time that way or whether he might prefer to save it for something else (or even whether this trip will mean he’ll have no vacation time left for something else he’s already planning later in the year). And it can cause work problems, since your husband won’t know that he can’t plan on that time to complete work, meet deadlines, schedule important meetings, and so forth. In practical terms: If you announce to him on Sunday that you’ve gotten him the whole next week off, what’s he going to do about the work he had planned for that week? What if there are deadlines he needed to meet, calls he needed to make, etc.? In some jobs, a boss could work behind the scenes to mitigate those things, but in others, it would be all on your husband to take care of those things. He could end up scrambling to cancel meetings, plead for deadline extensions, etc.

A lot of bosses wouldn’t want to deal with all that, and would be uncomfortable making plans for an employee’s PTO with the employee’s knowledge.

It would be better to instead ask your husband to take that week off for a surprise, without telling him what the surprise is, or find some other way to do this that doesn’t involve arranging something with his job behind his back.


When this was originally published, a commenter had this excellent suggestion: “Maybe she can ask him to take the time off for something less interesting–a trip to see her family, or a more run-of-the-mill vacation, or some other thing that he’ll be more than psyched to switch out at the last minute for Dream Trip.”

4. My boss chastised me for forwarding some of her emails

My boss is in the habit of sending emails that fall in the category of “asking me to ask someone else to do something/a question/etc.” I am perfectly fine with this as I understand my job is to carry out what she asks and I am often a liaison for her on matters at my location or with certain departments.

In the past (at other companies/jobs too) I have often forwarded requests with my summary of the request in my message. My reasoning is to leave the forwarding chain below just in case the recipient of my message wants to understand context/doesn’t get my request or my request carries more weight if the recipient can see that my superiors are asking for whatever it is.

The problem is, my current boss has chastised me for doing this, because a couple of times she has, far down in the email chain, said something she is embarrassed about or talked about someone. I hadn’t thought of this because her comments weren’t explicitly bad but just might be interpreted as a little unprofessional. I was wondering is it bad form always to keep a chain below my summary? Or is it a situation where I just need to comply with her desire to have nothing forwarded because she doesn’t do what I do, which is basically don’t email anything you don’t want a colleague seeing?

Well, at a minimum you need to comply with this because she’s your boss and she’s told you to.

But beyond that, yes, her position is reasonable. Sure, in theory you should never put anything in an email that you don’t want the world to see, but in reality many people talk more causally and candidly in emails to their team than they might to someone else, or they use shorthand that they might not use more widely (and which might sound bad without more context, etc.).

It’s considered common courtesy not to forward someone’s words along when they clearly weren’t meant for others to see. (The “don’t email anything you don’t want the world to see” means that your boss wouldn’t be absolved of responsibility if the email did make its way to someone she didn’t want to see it, but she’d still be entitled to be annoyed with you for forwarding it.)

There are times when it’s helpful to forward along the previous email chain as context for a request, but if you’re doing that, you really need to review the entire chain and just include the parts that are clearly okay to share.


{ 271 comments… read them below }

  1. BuildMeUp*

    Since the truck was issued to me, they cannot just report it stolen, can they?

    The truck is probably still legally in the business’s name, so they absolutely could report it stolen. I hope the OP didn’t go through with this idea; it doesn’t look like there was an update.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I would be really, really surprised if that truck was actually registered in the employee’s name, and the title was in the employee’s name. If the employee tried to keep it, I think they’d quickly learn the company isn’t the one that gets screwed over. I really wish there were a update on this one.

      1. Hamburgler*

        I had an employee do this very same thing with a company-issued laptop, which she variously claimed she owned, could not return due to Covid-19 (this incident took place this summer, not during 2021 or Omicron). Yes, she ruined her reputation.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      The LW posted in response to the original; it’s the last reply. He didn’t do it and it sounds like he e-mailed Alison in a moment’s anger and it wasn’t a serious plan.

      1. Smithy*

        I know sometimes the internet can seem like a toxic sludge of everyone’s worst ideas and impulses, but at the best of times – it can be a way for someone to let out some of that initial anger and frustration and move on to a more measured way forward.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          We see that a lot here, and I appreciate that Alison still prints those letters and responds sympathetically. If you’re at the “burn it all down” point of rage, having someone just validate your feelings can be huge.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        That’s good to hear! I mean, we all have moods wherein we want to stick it to The Man, so it’s great that he just decided to vent a bit about The Man and didn’t actually go through with it.

        1. Willow Sunstar*

          Yeah, there are better ways, like leaving a bad Glassdoor review to warn future possbile employees.

    3. Sandgroper*

      I’d be reporting that thing stolen immediately … not pursuing it civilly.

      And then if it’s trashed or thrashed I’d be repairing it through my company’s insurance, letting my insurer pursue the ex employee.

      Not a lot more than a few phone calls for me, and a trashed reputation and criminal record and big bill for the ex employee.

      1. Heffalump*

        And then if it’s trashed or thrashed I’d be repairing it through my company’s insurance, letting my insurer pursue the ex employee.

        In the insurance industry it’s called subrogation.

        Issued to me =/= belongs to me.

      2. Lizzianna*

        Look, I don’t want to make this political, but I do think we should pause before introducing police into a situation that the civil courts could handle. There are just so many ways a traffic stop could go wrong, and pulling police into what is essentially a civil conflict that the civil courts could handle pulls them away from focusing on issues that are a real risk to public safety.

        On top of that, it’s not even the best way to get your property back. Police don’t usually go out and retrieve stolen property, especially if it’s a busy department. They’ll wait until the VIN or plate gets run and pops up as stolen. If you actually want your car back and it’s registered to your company, you’re going to get it a lot faster if you hire someone to go repossess it (obviously after talking to a lawyer who practices in your state and knows the procedural requirements), and then suing in civil court.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          The first question the insurance company will ask upon the report of the loss of a vehicle to theft will be, “What is the date and number of the police report?” A company is not going to d-ck around with repo men when someone drives off in company property. They will go through very ordinary criminal legal channels to account for the property and get reimbursed, if necessary, through insurance.

        2. Hamster Manager*

          Well, this would be grand theft auto, a class 1 felony. I agree we should always be cautious about involving police when they aren’t needed, but the company would probably need to get a police report to start pursuing someone stealing an entire car from them. It would have been a huge mistake and I’m glad the OP decided against it.

        3. RagingADHD*

          Taking things that do not belong to you is not a civil matter. It is, in fact, a crime.

          If there were a legitimate dispute over who owned the truck, or if the truck were given as security for a loan, or something like that, it would be a civil matter. That is not the case here.

          Nobody wants to be involved with the police. Refraining from committing felonies is a great way to improve your chances. Thank goodness the LW thought better of it.

        4. Asenath*

          You have to get a police report number if something like a truck is stolen, and you want to make a claim on your insurance. I doubt the police actually go out looking for the truck, although they would probably stop it if they happened to come across it while doing their other duties and impound it. I always figured the insurance companies wanted an official record of the theft to protect themselves against fraud – say, you claimed it was stolen but you actually gave it to your brother. Repossession seems more common when your unpaid creditor wants your car or your money – a civil matter – not when someone’s stolen it.

        5. curmudgeon*

          I agree that there are a vast number of issues with the police force in the US and that the judicial system is unfairly harsh toward minorities.

          However, the LW is suggesting committing grand theft auto which a major crime, full stop. So yes, if I were a business owner and my recently fired/quit employee STOLE a CAR, I would be involving the police.

        6. Twix*

          I have to disagree with you on two points.

          First, while I absolutely agree that needlessly involving the police in civil matters is a bad idea for a number of reasons, this is not in fact a civil matter. The LW was talking about committing a serious crime, and while the many issues with policing extend to interacting with criminals, I do not believe that is a level of consideration victims of serious crimes owe the perpetrators.

          Second, if you call the police to report your car stolen by an unknown party, they’ll flag the VIN and plate and wait for it to pop up. If you call the police to report your car stolen by a known party along with their name and address, that is probably not the approach they will take.

    4. Turanga Leela*

      It would really depend on the jurisdiction, most companies would handle it civilly, and many DA’s offices wouldn’t be interested in prosecuting this… but in theory, this could be criminally prosecuted as embezzlement or something similar. Definitely not worth it.

      1. New yorker*

        I do not agree. Rental car companies apparently report cars as stolen if you keep past the agreed time and people do get pulled over (and some reports were erroneous).

        1. Lilo*

          People had guns pulled on them by the police. People had professional licensing problems. It can absolutely destroy your life.

      2. GythaOgden*

        Civil judgements can hurt you as well. I don’t know the substance or details, but British CCJs (county court judgements) can come up on a lot of routine checks and torpedo things like credit.

        I get the impulse. My friend used his company’s van, that he keeps at home in order to travel independently to sites where he oversees work, to move us into a bigger house. I’m not sure how legal it was, but fast forward a few years and he’s no longer happy to do that. The nice wool-mix jumpers I have through work as uniform would be tempting to keep when I move jobs (a good job is rapidly going bad and I’m plotting my exit strategy) but, hey, there are other wool- or wool-mix jumpers out there in colours other than drab charcoal. Likewise, there are other vans out there, but you only have one reputation to uphold.

        1. Generic+Name*

          Yep. In the US a civil judgement comes up on your credit report, which can make getting a loan difficult.

      3. Lilo*

        Whether he gets arrested depends on the police and not the DA/SA/CA, etc. Except for more complex or public cases, prosecutors generally get involved after the arrest is actually made. The case can get dropped but he’d still spend a night in jail, potentially longer, have a bail hearing, and have a felony arrest record. For a felony arrest if you aren’t eligible for the public defender you definitely 100% should hire an attorney and that’s not an inexpensive endeavor. That arrest record sticks around too. You usually can’t seal things until after a period of years, depending on the type of arrest.

        Don’t think right after you get arrested or even at your bail hearing there’s a chance to just explain everything to the judge and it’s going to go away. Especially if you did actually keep property you shouldn’t have. The judge doesn’t care if your company was a jerk to you.

        Courts are often really backed up so it might take them time before they get around to your case so that charge could be outstanding for a while too.

        1. Lilo*

          Basically, I realize LW ended up not going through with it but I just have to emphasize how deeply horribly this can mess up your life.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          My morning brain initially read the last sentence of your first graf as, “You usually can’t steal things until after a period of years…” and thought, “well, indeed you’d probably be treated more harshly for stealing again so soon after the last time, but this seems like odd advice to give?” before I blinked and realized what it really said!

    5. Glomarization, Esq.*

      It’s really surprising to me that Alison’s answer focuses on references and reputation, rather than the much more concrete — and clearly foreseeable — risks of involvement in the justice system of the LW runs off with company property.

      Never mind tanking references! The LW is risking having a criminal record and having this show up in background checks. The LW could also lose losing (or find it difficult to obtain) any number of professional certifications or licenses. The only saving grace here is that since the letter’s publishing in 2014, some jurisdictions have passed “ban the box” laws where prospective employers are no longer allowed to ask on an application whether you have a criminal conviction.

      1. Lilo*

        Except the “ban the box” usually exempts jobs where there’s a need related to the job. LW has a company truck – does that mean their job involves going to people’s homes? Ban the box may not protect them.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup, agreed. If the guy has a history of running off with the company trucks and applies for a job where he’d be responsible for a van, that’s reasonable information to consider on a background check, just like you don’t want to employ a fraudster to keep your company books or a take on a poisoner as a chef.

      2. Observer*

        What @Lilo said. But also, Ban the Box doesn’t mean that they can’t do a background check. And if something like that comes up, it would be VERY bad for the person. Because in many ways this is a lot worse than many of the other things that could come up in a background check.

        This is behavior that speaks to lack of integrity – you don’t take / keep stuff that’s not yours, even if the actual owner is a jerk. It speaks to really, really bad judgement – how do they really think that this makes any sense? And they are old enough and apparently have enough work experience that “young, immature kid who has grown up since” is not so convincing.

    6. H2*

      So, this actually does sometimes happen at the company where my husband works. It’s more common when someone is fired, though. It happened with an employee that my husband managed and I’m pretty sure that… They just went and got it. Like, they contacted the employee and said, “if you don’t turn the truck, and by x date and time, we’re going to come get it, and you’re going to be on the hook for a replacement key, and whatever else.” I’m pretty sure that is part of the agreement when employees at this company get company trucks, that they are definitely registered to the company, and owned by the company, and can be picked up at any time.

      So, it ended up being a burden and considerable stress for the already overworked coworkers, and I don’t know that corporate management ever even knew. And for sure, burned the bridges to the ground.

    7. Leave+a+Message+at+the+Beep*

      When we issue company vehicles, we have a contract between the company and the individual. Not only that, we have hard wired GPS units in each vehicle and we keep the extra key for the vehicle. We’ve had to have the police involved a couple times, when ex employees have locked the vehicles in private property- like a Storage Unit or a garage- but not that frequently.

    8. Tesuji*

      It boggles my mind that someone could be (1) old enough to be issued a company truck, but (2) not understand the difference between being allowed to use something and actually owning it.

      This was clearly a “f–k around and find out” situation; I’m glad OOP wised up and didn’t.

    9. e271828*

      In a world where Hertz will report cars sittong on their lot stolen because they haven’t done the paperwork correctly, this guy is 100% cruising into a stolen-vehicle problem.

      Bro, just put water in the gas tank and turn it in, okay?

    10. Velawciraptor*

      Where I’m from, the charge would be embezzlement, because the company vehicle would, at that point, have been converted to personal use. Terrible felony of an idea that won’t give the person the satisfaction they’re looking for.

    11. Clisby*

      I could see absconding with a much-loved stapler and a ream of copy paper, but a truck? No way this can work out well for the LW.

    12. PigeonInThePark*

      There’s a very large possibility the truck may have not been in the company’s name! Fleet management companies (FMC’s) typically have titled ownership and financial liability for these types of vehicles and then lease them back to companies to assign to their drivers.

      FMC’s are often owned by large rental car companies, dealership groups, etc., so not only would LW have his former employer coming after him he would most likely also feel the wrath of a second, much larger company coming after him for their assets.

      (Full disclosure: I work in the FMC industry and am unfortunately very familiar with this type of situation…)

  2. AcademiaNut*

    For #2, there have been a variety of letters where someone fairly new to the workforce has been fired for the kind of bad judgement that comes with inexperience. This one, the person fired for wriggling her way into an internal conference, and the person who told her friend (who happened to be a reporter) embargoed information spring to mind, but I think there have been others.

    Two things that seem to drastically increase the chances of getting fired are doubling down and refusing to apologize or admit that they’ve screwed up, and embarrassing their employer in front of external people. The first one can mean that the employee is going to be a lot of hard work to manage, which the employer can decide is not worth it, the second can involve damage control and firing the employee to show the external people that you’re taking the issue seriously.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, I’m guessing her attitude when corrected played a part. And the boss just sounds like he is very strict about professional dress. Though asking the LW what somebody else was thinking is very weird and over the top. The LW can hardly be expected to read her mind.

      1. Lilo*

        I feel like the line was exponentially crossed when she tried to trick or treat in the meeting.

        Wearing a costume to work is done at SOME offices. Demanding candy in a meeting is just unheard of.

        1. to varying degrees*

          This. I agree that with inexperience comes the assumption that one could wear a costume to work when the environment pretty clearly is not open to that type of stuff (that type of stuff can be super hard to read), but honestly does an adult now need to be told that trick or treating during a meeting is inappropriate? Especially when it’s a meeting with very high up people and clients?

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            AND it’s a meeting you weren’t even invited to attend, so just waltzing in would have already been a problem even if you weren’t in costume demanding candy from confused strangers!

        2. yala*

          I read it wrong at first and thought she was passing candy out to others, which is still weird, but not, y’know. Bonkers.

          1. RunShaker*

            I work for financial services companies for many years. They’ve all been fairly formal to formal, aka stuffy, in their own way. Most have relaxed their standards but I’ve never been able to dress up for Halloween especially after 9-11. I don’t agree with Alison on that it is an over reaction. Going into a C-suite meeting with important clients will definitely get you fired by dressing up for Halloween & asking for candy. The companies I worked for made it clear what the expectations were when meeting with C-suite & clients. I always wondered what happened to Princess & had hoped she would write in.

            When I say formal, meaning it used to be business dress only, although ties were optional unless in client meeting & my current company only started allowing jeans in 2020 for those that had to be in the office. Can’t show tattoos or have unnatural hair color & for important C-suite and/or client meetings it is still business dress. The great thing though is that panty hose isn’t required (I live in San Antonio)!

              1. LadyVet*

                I’m going to guess it has something to do with toy weapons, or wearing really heavy makeup that makes it difficult for security to confirm employees’ identity.

        3. hbc*

          Yeah, and I might even let her off the hook for the trick or treating if everyone else was dressed up, and she just didn’t know that asking for candy wasn’t a thing. But when she was the only one who showed up in costume, that was her signal that she needed to adjust her holiday expectations and actions.

          It’s like showing up at a party that you thought was going to be a rager but turns out to be a snooty cocktail party. Once you see all the suits and champagne flutes, you cancel your plans to dance on the table and keep your funnel in your purse.

        4. sundae funday*

          I get so much secondhand embarrassment in this one! I can’t imagine barging into a client meeting and trick or treating. Just thinking about it makes me want to shrivel up under my desk and hibernate for a while.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Remarkably, the boss in the suggested link below these letters:

      1. pooped in people’s lunchboxes at work
      2. fired homemade potato at coworkers
      3. and made pipe bombs at work

      and was subsequently promoted!

      So who knows. There’s a slim but definitely nonzero chance that LW’s old company would have appreciated the gumption and hired them back.

    3. MK*

      Well, I think a lot of employers understand that inexperienced employees will make these errors in judgement, but they expect them also to be willing to learn. If they push back when reprimanded, they probably will cause similar issues again.

      1. EPLawyer*

        There;s errors in judgment — wore a costume when the office dress code is formal at all times.

        Then there’s Errors in Judgment — trick or treating at a business meeting with external people. Even offices that allow costumes don’t do this. Or I am pretty sure they don’t.

        At some point, you realize someone is just not going to work out. I also doubt there were not warning signs this person was not going to adapt to the culture. Were there warnings signings it would be this bad? Probably not. But if OP looks back at the 5 months objectively, how many things as “trying to adapt to business norms after school” were really yellow flags?

        OP’s boss was stuck on the costume because that’s what they saw and it was most immediate. But the employee was fired for SPECTACULARLY poor judgment, not for merely wearing a costume.

        1. Darsynia*

          Yeah, I agree that the costume is an example of the bad judgment, not the entire reason. I mean, strictly speaking, that’s a lack of foresight in an employee, anyway! Did she really think people showed up to work/a client meeting with bags of candy to hand out? What possessed her to open the door to the meeting, see no one else was dressed up, and still trick or treat? It’s enough to wonder if she needed a job for 5 months and lost a bet so went out with a bang. Truly astonishing.

        2. Observer*

          I also doubt there were not warning signs this person was not going to adapt to the culture. Were there warnings signings it would be this bad? Probably not. But if OP looks back at the 5 months objectively, how many things as “trying to adapt to business norms after school” were really yellow flags?

          That was the thing that struck me about that letter. The OP’s boss was being a bit weird, and should probably have been more direct. But I was a bit taken aback by how little the OP seemed to be actually taking in what they were seeing and being told.

          Which leads me to wonder if they were missing other clues. I would have loved to hear back from them to find out if they ever figured out what was going on, if they were able to look back and spot clues, and if they were able to mollify their boss.

          1. mikoko*

            Yeah, it’s the lack of awareness that bothers me about this. I could totally look past the dressing up, if she’d shown up at work in costume but then realized that no one else was dressed up, and responded to that (gotten changed, toned it down, hid in her cubicle for the day looking like she wanted the ground to swallow her up, …). But to double down and trick or treat an important meeting is the exact opposite of that. At that career stage, she should be learning how to do her job by paying attention to what her colleagues are and aren’t doing, and this suggests she doesn’t have the interest / capacity to do that.

        3. BethRA*

          It also really struck me that while she didn’t know she was breaking rules around dress codes she DID know that doing something “fun” like dressing up for Halloween was out of character for that office, which she considered “stuffy.” So at some level she understood costumes would run against the grain in this office. And did it anyway.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My question is how many unseen by immediate manager issues this employee there also may have been. The manager admitted that this person was struggling when manager was there, what was she like when out unsupervised?

          It could have been that there were concerns – and then fancy costume and trick or treating in the meeting was just too much for an employee that hadn’t even been there six months was the “needs a drastic consequence lesson” death knell.

        5. sundae funday*

          Yeah… if she wanted to do a costume, at least try something subtle? Wear a suit, pin on a badge, and be Dana Scully or something. You can take the badge off if people are upset about it.

          A full Disney princess getup, though?? Why??? I’m just cringing so much. My office isn’t formal or anything…. None of us wear costumes, although I guess we could, our boss wouldn’t care. But I would be side-eyeing them if one of our new employees this year waltzed in in a full costume without asking what the norms are.

    4. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Another one that comes to mind is the employee who made a completely awful inappropriate joke about 9/11 to people that they just met. Some things you just can’t come back from.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think that this had anything to do with being new to the workforce. For one thing, the OP expanded in the comments, that this was not some youngster. For another, that was a piece of misbehavior that would have been inappropriate in ANY context – and for someone who actually was young.

      1. KatEnigma*

        That was the letter that led me to AAM.

        The LW of that one didn’t make a simple “error in judgement” though- she had made the request and been rejected a couple times before she made up the petition. The poor interns who signed her petition and got fired with her, those were simple “errors in judgement” and they probably didn’t deserve it. But firing interns is such a low stakes thing, that I can see where the intern program director thought it wasn’t worth it to keep them.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      I was thinking that if she had only showed up to work in a princess costume and not done the trick or treat part, she may have just been told to go home and change and not do it again. It’s the fact that she took the extra step and embarrassed the higher ups in front of external stakeholders that pushed her over the line.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. Particularly as she was likely to have been on probation at the same time. This would also certainly be a disciplinary offence in the UK too — if she wasn’t fired for gross misconduct, you can certainly bet that she would be on a fast track towards that. situation.

        1. Swiftie*

          Same here. Based on the descriptions of the company and industry, it could have very well been some kind of high level financial or legal company. And even if it weren’t…I mean, my tax preparer works out of her house and is a friend of a friend. But if, while we’re discussing my tax return, one of her coworkers barges into her office in a Halloween costume to trick or treat…yeah I’d be a little “Um WTF.” Especially if I was already worried about my tax return (i.e. because I was unemployed earlier in the year, hadn’t filled out my W-2 correctly, had to dip into retirement funds, etc).
          If you were meeting with your lawyer about your divorce (even if it was a fairly straightforward, not overly contentious divorce), would you want their reports interrupting the meeting to play Grown Up Cosplay???
          Sometimes, a transgression is so out there on its own that firing is the only real way to send a message that said transgression was Not Okay. And each company gets to decide where that line is.

          1. sundae funday*

            Yep I adore Halloween with every fiber of my being… but if I’m paying a professional to be professional, I would be taken aback by someone in a full-on costume. Fun Halloween earrings? Sure! But a Disney princess dress? Please no!

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          And doubled down that she did nothing wrong. If you can’t take feedback and learn, you’re not going to work out.

          1. Swiftie*

            Oh my gosh yes, that too! We all make some really bone-headed mistakes, especially early on in our careers (and sometimes later on). But how you deal with that mistake is often the make-or-break moment. And this report was like “well I choose violence this morning.”

        3. kiki*

          Yeah, to me, that was the bigger deal! Being in a costume didn’t help, but I think if a new employee randomly jumped into a meeting with leadership and external folks and started haranguing people for food, it would be seen as extremely weird and maybe fireable any time of the year.

        4. The Other Dawn*

          Agreed. I don’t see it as an overreaction. I also don’t think the company’s culture is “unusually uptight.”

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I suspect her attitude played a part. If she took the attitude she did to the LW that she didn’t think she did anything wrong and was just bringing some fun to their “stuffy” office, well…that probably counted against her too. It makes her seem unwilling to adapt to the culture of the office.

      2. Yoyoyo*

        The trick or treat part, apart from being a major error of judgment, blows my mind because…did she actually expect the people in the meeting to just have candy with them to give to her? Or was it more of a performance art thing? I truly don’t understand what she was going for there.

          1. RunShaker*

            Maybe the OP (manager) didn’t see much in red flags but what about her coworkers? And coworkers didn’t speak up which I can see. My position keeps me busy & if I’m seeing something that isn’t too crazy only every once in a while, I may not say anything either.

    6. Empress Matilda*

      The good news is, this is the kind of mistake that people most people make only once. She doubled down at the time, but I’m sure the same-day firing brought it home to her! I imagine she has been very careful about checking the culture of her workplaces since then.

      I’d love to hear an update from her. Perhaps she’ll show up in one of Alison’s future “tell us your most embarrassing moments at work” posts!

    7. Mewtwo*

      I think what’s bonkers about that letter is the employee tried to go “trick or treating” and ask for candy in a corporate meeting. Who TF does that?! I’ve worked in more relaxed offices that were all about “culture” and thus allowed people to dress up for Halloween and such, but this would never have been acceptable. It’s not just because it goes against work norms…trick or treating is only meant for a very specific context (neighborhoods among neighbors who participate in the tradition and are prepared to give candy), not a random place where this tradition isn’t practiced.

      I’m all for forgiving new career people, but this was just dumb.

    8. BigTenProfessor*

      I read this as being a young Black woman (based on the costume choices), and in the US, that typically means a different socioeconomic background than most people working in financial services. I’m not even going to try to unpack all that can mean, both in her behavior and the boss’s reaction to it, but it is important to understand that a “norm” to one person might not be nearly as obvious to another, based on their background.

      1. Spinner of Flax*

        That was my thought, too! And of course, we all know that there’s nary a hint of prejudice against employees who are Black, female or Black AND female, now don’t we? And of course they’re NEVER held to standards that aren’t applied to White males, right? /S!

        But I do have to wonder…were all those people at that meeting REALLY all THAT shocked or offended at her behavior? Didn’t at least one or two smile or chuckle at this unexpected break in their solemn meeting? If not, well, I’m afraid I’d have to agree with her assessment of their stuffiness!

        Of course showing up in costume and trick-or-treating at a meeting was unprofessional, and of course she should have been far more open to guidance when she was told that it was. But would every reader of this column who’s a corporate employee have gone into shock had this happened at YOUR company?

        1. JustaTech*

          Honestly, yes.
          Like, it would have been fine if weird in a regular group meeting. But a meeting of senior people you weren’t invited to? They would have asked her to leave straight away, costume or no costume.
          And with clients?
          Maybe they wouldn’t have fired her, but there would have been a *really* serious talking-to.
          Even my coworker with no filter, no respect for authority and a brain injury knew not to do things like that.

          Also, what you call a “break in their solemn meeting” they might call a “waste of precious time” or a “disruption of delicate negotiations”.
          We had a CEO get fired because (among other things) he couldn’t figure out how to adapt to our new, non-American owners’ much more formal style.

        2. Observer*

          I certainly would have! And we are nowhere near as buttoned up as the OP’s workplace.

          And just for the record the only time I know of that anyone was sent home for dress code issues, it happened to be a white woman. And, yes, we have a fair number of Black employees.

      2. redflagday701*

        Yeah, I have to wonder whether a young white woman would have gotten fired as well, or just a serious talking-to.

      3. JustaTech*

        I did wonder if the senior people were harsher on her than if, say, a white guy had done a similar thing, but honestly it’s sufficiently out of norms that I can’t be 100% sure.

  3. Brain the Brian*

    Re LW4: It’s also perfectly reasonable to delete portions of the email chain when forwarding and then include in your cover note something to the effect of “I’m forwarding along relevant portions of the discussion,” which makes the point that you haven’t included every last line in case anyone asks.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I’m not trusting enough to do that! I feel like parts of email chains I think I’ve deleted pop back up when others reply or somehow.

      Instead, I copy and paste the relevant message from boss into a new email.

    2. anne of mean gables*

      The part of me who is a nosy so-and-so (so, most of me) would prefer that people like OP4 never change their ways, because I have learned a lot of interesting info from reading full threads I am forwarded. Even if it’s just “so this is how Jan and Mike talk to each other privately – note to self that they are clearly work buds!”

      But yes, I delete everything but the relevant ask when I forward threads – that is way easier and faster than re-reading the entire thread to ensure nothing private or overly-casual is being included in the forwarded email chain.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree, I love when people overshare – and the unprofessional things people say downthread are sometimes nice little windows into how normally buttoned up professionals think. But I definitely would not encourage anyone to forward those messages just for my entertainment.

    3. I Herd the Cats*

      This. As a lifelong EA I’ve often received an email to “do X, see below” from the C-suite, and there is endless back-and-forth email discussion, including from board members. Part of my job is to read through all that and delete anything that isn’t the immediate issue if I plan to forward any of it at all. (Sometimes there were detailed legal/financial notes that contained pertinent info that would be of great use to the recipient, e.g., our corporate attorney.) Those emails might also have started on one topic and morphed into something else (the action item.) The expectation was that I wasn’t forwarding those blindly, and I had to either write my own email for the request or prune messages accordingly.

    4. Office Lobster DJ*

      Am I the only one who would prefer an all or nothing approach? Maybe it’s my office, but I can guarantee that it wouldn’t take long for someone to assume I know something that had been pruned from the chain, not thinking to check what information I actually received.

      1. Observer*

        In places where the all or nothing approach is the way to go, you do NOT forward emails that have anything that your boss (or other participants) in the chain would not want to be seen, so you just don’t forward the chain. Even if it’s “not so bad” and “just” makes your boss look a little unprofessional.

        This is ESPECIALLY true of an assistant type position – where part of you job is generally to make you boss look good. (I’m not talking about lying or pretending.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yes, it’s much safer to default to a new message and paraphrase. As you say, especially when your job is to make your boss look good.

    5. Mockingjay*

      If you use Outlook, you can set the reply preference to not include the email chain. If you use another email provider and this option isn’t available, concur with @Chilipepper Attitude’s suggestion to cut and paste pertinent info.

      Regardless of provider, keep the subject line the same, so the Recipient can sort associated emails as needed.

    6. Future silver banker*

      I usually truncate older things that are not relevant and at times even highlight the most relevant bits down below.

    7. Catalystic*

      This is a revelation to me! I regularly forward email chains around our office without any editing. I would never forward anything that wasn’t professional or that was clearly meant just-between-us/team, but this is so common in my org (which is about 500 people at this point) that I don’t think twice about it. Half of the email I get has been through sixteen other people first before landing in my inbox.

      Maybe because we’re a healthcare org and have regulatory oversight, we’re all more careful? All our trash-talk happens in Skype, nobody would ever dare in an email!

  4. RLC*

    For #4, I once forwarded a colleague’s email (with their consent) to provide technical information to another colleague. I took the liberty of editing out non-technical paragraphs which were deeply critical/judgmental/mean spirited about the second colleague. Not pertinent, and why upset someone, right? The author of the original email was LIVID as he wanted the other colleague to know how he felt about him. Sometimes you just can’t win….

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Wow, sounds like you did win there – you avoided being perceived as agreeing, as well as being mean-spirited in the method of notifying the coworker!

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Agree with Filthy Vulgar Mercenary. I would have told the colleague that if they wanted to communicate something to Other Colleague, they should tell them directly, but I get to decide what I think is professional when it comes from my account.

  5. Modesty Poncho*

    Oooh, Princess Tiana is back. I wish there was an update there but without the employee’s perspective it wouldn’t have much more to say!

    1. Heidi*

      I’d like to think that now that some time has gone by, the OP and his colleagues no longer feel that this was some sort of cataclysmic disaster. For some reason, the asking for candy seemed more awkward to me than the costume. If there’s no candy, what was everyone supposed to say?

      1. Jessica*

        For sure. I feel like it’s not wildly unusual to dress up at work for Halloween (though clearly not done everywhere!), but it’s much more unusual to bring candy to every meeting you attend in case trick-or-treaters show up. Even in offices that are all about costumes, who does that?

      2. MK*

        It rather depends what the fallout was, or was perceived to be. If they lost the clients who were in the meeting, if the OP’s boss didn’t get a promotion she was after, if the OP didn’t get a bonus that year or a less stellar review, I bet they still remember it as a disaster. Even if this Halloween farce wasn’t the only or the main cause. It’s easy for strangers on the internet to find this funny and the reaction over-the-top, but the OP’s boss was the one who had to sit through the humiliation of having a report behave in this unhinged manner and receiving a reprimand from her bosses.

        1. Ex-prof*

          On the other hand, the boss also had the option in the moment of treating the whole thing as a joke. “Not now, Tiana, can’t you see we’re in an important meeting” /shakes head as she leaves/ “That new accountant, she’s such a princess…”

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            That would still be super weird and uncomfortable for everyone, though. Scolding a grown woman like a child? So awkward. And having that level of acceptance from the boss (who is now playing into it) means the clients are sitting there wondering if this whole thing was on purpose, if they should be laughing, what the hell is going on.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              It would be playing into her Halloween costume/persona, so it would be appropriate in some offices. But in this office where Halloween was absolutely Not a Thing, I agree that it wouldn’t have worked.

          2. Lilo*

            Yeah honestly that proposed script would have come across as creepy. Especially if said by an older male exec about a younger female employee.

          3. Observer*

            Maybe – and maybe not. A lot depends on the people who are in that meeting. This is especially tricky if you’re dealing with international clients.

            And even if the boss had used humor to defuse the situation in the room, it still would be a major lapse of judgement and somewhat disruptive.

        2. Parakeet*

          Honestly, if any of these were the fallout of the Halloween farce, that seems more unhinged to me than the report’s behavior (which was silly, but my take is pretty similar to Alison’s).

      3. linger*

        Her “trick-or-treating” could have been something as simple as saying “Trick or treat?” in explanation of the costume-wearing. We don’t know that she actually expected candy to be present.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      Yup, that’s the first thing that jumped out to me too. Tiana and Michonne are Black characters. So I’m assuming the employee was too.

      1. GythaOgden*

        You’d hope so, because the alternative would be completely a sacking offence in its own right.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          It’s fine for a non-black person to dress up as Tiana, so long as they don’t colour their skin.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I am hoping that Alison included it here in her throwback post because the OP did indeed send in an update that we will be getting soon, because I also really want an update on this. But it could also be that she just included it because it’s an amazing tale of indiscretion on the part of the employee.

  6. Frally*

    How awkward was the trick or treating when no one had any candy to give her?? Of course she knew they wouldn’t have any, so what response could she have expected other than shocked silent faces?

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Maybe she was playing the long game. They’re too stuffy to have prepared for this now, but after seeing how fun! it was, next Halloween maybe someone will bring candy and give it to her when she asks again.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Maybe she didn’t know they wouldn’t have any? I wonder whether she’d interrned somewhere that they did have some form of hallowe’en ceebrations and people did bring in candy, or even if she’d been taken round a parent’s workplace at some point as a child and just made the asumption that it was thing offices did routinely

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I assume it was one of those things where someone gets so caught up in the whole ‘OMG this is going to be so fun and amazing, I’m finally going to bring some FUN to this place, I can’t wait’ that their brain sort of overrides rational thought and they don’t actually take time to consider ‘Is this the sort of office where a Halloween costume and trick-or-treating would be appreciated, and is a client meeting really the place for this’. It is a lot like the letter where the interns got so caught up in their ‘We’re going to do a petition! We’re going to stick it to the man! Down with boring corporate dress codes!’ that they didn’t stop to think about the fact that there might be actual reasons for the dress code.

        I definitely think being fired was a ridiculously harsh response, but it sounds like the directors were seriously embarrassed by their employee doing this in front of major clients, and it sounds like a very buttoned-up and corporate place, so I can sort of understand why they went ballistic. Firing, no, but I’d have expected the employee to be brought into a meeting and told in no uncertain terms that Halloween costumes are not acceptable in that office and that client visits are not the time for fun and games.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      I have to wonder if “asking everyone for candy” was meant as a joke on her part. Something like “Isn’t this costume great? Anyone have any candy for me, haha?” and not a full on trick or treating scenario.

      1. Francie Foxglove*

        Yeah, there’s a glimmer of hope that she didn’t know a client meeting was happening, like the door was still open, and when she realized her mistake she tried to cover with humor. “Uh…trick or treat? Uh…yeah…” as opposed to “Trick or treat! Gimme candy!…Jeez, you guys are so uptight!” But her reaction to being reprimanded doesn’t seem to support that.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. It *might* be possible to see it this way if it weren’t for the fact that she actually thought the whole thing through quite carefully and still didn’t see what she had done wrong.

  7. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

    Oh Tiana, no. Just no. A Rapunzel *might* have gotten away with a written warning but we Tianas have to know the rules are even tighter for us.

    1. BJP*

      Mmm hmm. The choice between dressing as Tiana and Michonne suggests that the firing was about more than a costume.

      1. Lilo*

        I mean trick or treating at a meeting? Rapunzel would get fired for that too. A Prince Eric would have also been fired (I think a male coworker would have even less gotten away with this).

      2. yala*

        Normally I’d agree, but I can’t get past asking clients to give her candy at the start of a meeting–especially while wearing a full ballgown. If the office is as “stuffy” as all that, then such a wacky display would probably have shown Rapunzel, Ariel, and Aurora the door as well.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          Having worked in that environment, I agree. One thing is you never ever embarrass the company in front of clients. I was in a mass training session for a firm once and I spilled my water. One of the big wigs running the session pulled me aside after to tell me I could NOT do that in front of a client. Sigh.
          One of the many reasons I left that world and now happily work from home.

    2. CQ*

      If you’re gonna get fired for dressing up like any Disney princess, Princess Tiana is a solid choice.

    3. Humble Schoolmarm*

      No doubt about it! Was it a mis-step from immaturity and inexperience? Sure. Do stuffy people only need a free spirit to inject whimsy into their boring lives in the movies? Absolutely. Did it deserve a dramatic and rapid firing like Fantine at the start of Les Mis? No. The director’s complete overreaction speaks volumes.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I disagree I think this situation did deserve an immediate firing, it was soo many mistakes.

        It was dressing up when the company does not do that, asking for candy/trick o treating, it was interrupting a meeting they were not invited to, one with C-suite and director level people and worst of all that it was a meeting with clients.

        I do think the director frequently asking of why did she do this is an overreaction, but getting firing immediately is not so much of an overreaction.

    4. ThisIshRightHere*

      Yepppp. I was going to say it if someone hadn’t already. Also explains all the “what was she thinking??” CYA the big boss kept doing with LW. They will need to have an answer ready that sufficiently justifies summarily firing their new diverse hire. In a way, I admire that some parents no longer feel the need to instill the “twice as good” credo in their kids. But this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when they don’t.

    5. Generic+Name*

      Frankly, unless the woman in costume was white and wearing dark makeup to mimic Tiana’s skin tone (historically known as “blackface”), I think it’s a gross overreaction to have fired the employee in question.

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      This jumped out at me as well. I wonder if it was a lack of exposure to the stuffy office culture growing up, taking media like The Office and Modern Family to heart, and the inability to read the room.

      I get that Princess Tiana though she was helping her office loosen up, but she miscalculated. These cultures LIKE being stuffy. It continues to reward the legacy network while punishing people who look, sound, or act like they have new and threatening ideas.

      1. yala*

        I mean, I think “interrupt a meeting with important clients and high-level bosses to ask for candy” is the real sticking point here, and no so much a “new and threatening idea” as it is just…disruptive, and potentially very costly for the company.

        I dislike this being framed as her being fired for wearing a costume, because I think if that’s all she’d done, she may’ve gotten by with a reprimand.

    7. Lilo*

      If I’m honest that detail almost makes me doubt the veracity of the letter. I’m mixed (I “pass” which is a whole other interesting ball of wax). What you have drilled in you that you have to be better, smarter, calmer, and more careful. I’d expect this more from someone who didn’t have that message.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I agree. The added mention of Michonne makes it clear that we’re supposed to have a very specific picture in our minds, and then to laugh at this person’s lack of manners. And it’s not being told by Tiana herself but by a third party. It’s fishy IMO.

        1. Lilo*

          Exactly. Not so subtlety making very clear we knew this woman’s race almost is asking for the reaction of the attitude of “she didn’t know professional norms because of her background” which is a stereotype people have to fight all. The. Time.

          In my experience someone who fought to get herself to that position in the first place would be the LAST person to make that error.

          1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            This is a really, really good point. It is possible that she might never have been told these things (my father would use his sunday school teacher position to advise the kids at our church of these realities, just to make sure we all knew) but it’s almost vanishingly unlikely. I did a full body cringe on reading the letter, but now I’m doubting it alongside you.

          2. Fuzzyfuzz*

            In a similar vein, I am a little confused at the OP and Alison’s opposition to re-printing the handbook and adding this rule in writing. Maybe it’s overkill, but it doesn’t seem too onerous and would help even the playing field with understanding of professional norms, if someone was struggling with that. Why not?

            1. Allonge*

              Yes, this puzzled me too!

              It may well be an action that comes from ‘demonstrating we are doing something that will prevent this happening again’ but it’s no harm, no foul if the company is willing to pay for it, and indeed may make things clearer later.

              Especially in view of Alison saying ‘the company should tell people before Halloween not to get dressed up in costume’. Well, now they are telling.

            2. Random Bystander*

              I’m with you there–I don’t see why the handbook re-print would be such an issue to object to.

              I mean, I’ve only dressed in costume in office settings when there had been *very clear* communication prior to Halloween that it was a very-much-expected thing (to the point that it would have been A Problem if I had just worn my normal attire that day).

              1. kr*

                She said it didn’t require an -immediate- reprinting of the handbook since, you know, the next Halloween is a year away.

    8. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I will say we fired someone for showing up in a pirate costume in a buttoned up office. She was white, and it was just the last in a long line of poor choices. Almost identical to this letter actually, minus the trick or treating.

      But that doesn’t mean that race wasn’t a factor in this letter.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        “ it was just the last in a long line of poor choices”

        That’s honestly what I thought happened here. OP mentioned that there had been other missteps in the previous five months, and this one was just over the top bad. Hopefully, the young employee learned – if nothing else than to pick a future firm that is less stuffy if being free spirited is that important to her.

        (Also hoping that race wasn’t a part of this.)

    9. Myrin*

      Except that in the original comment section (and here as well, just in smaller numbers), literal dozens of people with experience in the finance sector relayed that without a doubt this would’ve been a firing offence at their place of work, no questions asked. It’s of course always possible that bias played a role in basically anything but it really sounded overwhelmingly like this would be a cut and dry case in a finance environment.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Ha! And maybe halloween town LW would prefer the “stuffy” office. They can trade.

  8. Green great dragon*

    LW4 seemed rather antagonistic about a reasonable request. The options aren’t ‘LW is right and should keep forwarding things’ and ‘LW can never again forward an email’. Really, cut off anything you don’t need, and read through anything left before you send. Though for this particular boss, since LW has twice forwarded things they shouldn’t have, maybe just don’t.

  9. Luna*

    LW1 – The truck is still property of the company. If you keep it, it’ll count as theft and you’ll screw yourself over a lot more than them.

  10. I take tea*

    “Bad companies mess with your head. Don’t let this one mess with you any more than it already has.”

    This is really good advice. It’s so easy to have an aggressive reaction and get one’s satisfaction by doing something outrageous. Better not.

  11. Captain ddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (misplaced Halloween costume) – “what was she thinking?!”, “why on earth did she do this” etc seems a strange thing to keep asking OP. Presumably the director doesn’t think OP put her up to it – it must be obvious that OP doesn’t really control or ‘own’ something like this that her direct report randomly decides to do. I think it probably says a lot about the world view of that director actually.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I kind of assumed they were rhetorical questions and the director doesn’t actually expect the OP to be able to answer (beyond ‘I really don’t know…I guess she just really didn’t have a clue about corporate culture…) but it is odd that he keeps wanting to rehash it all.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Shock, disbelief. The most immediate thing that happened with this employee? Hoping there is some rational explanation so the situation can be salvaged?

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yep, see also: every conversation I’ve ever had with my mom about something she’s worried about but can’t actually resolve during our conversation. She will just keep fretting and repeatedly asking the same unanswerable questions and reiterating why she’s concerned using almost verbatim language to the previous three times she said it. It’s an anxiety thing.

      2. Observer*

        but it is odd that he keeps wanting to rehash it all.

        I think that he keeps wanting to rehash it because he wants to know if the OP has really thought it through and also how the OP intends to prevent a recurrence.

        And, honestly, the boss is not entirely wrong here. I don’t think that the OP has figured out what happened – they haven’t even assimilated what they DO know, and haven’t thought about how to prevent it happening again. And CLEARLY that’s one thing he’s worried about, since he ordered the manual etc. reprinted with an explicit prohibition on Halloween costumes.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is the weirdest part of the whole letter. The other stuff is explainable. I can see a junior employee dividing the world in “stuffy” and “not stuffy”; I also think it was too harsh she was fired – but that could have been due to her doubling down and indicating the Mission of Halloween fun wasn’t over. It’s the director’s reaction to OP which is the most inexplicable to weigh and awkward to handle. I’d be tempted to say something like “Can I ask what you are looking for in my answer to that one? I know I haven’t explained where this came from, but it’s because I truly don’t know. She never did or said anything to imply unprofessionalism beforehand, I was truly flabbergasted.”

      1. Cathy*

        I agree, I remembered reading this letter when it was first published and the repeated question “What was she thinking” to the OP jarred with me. It seemed (to me) as if, having fired the employee, the director was still so furious that they were looking around to see who else they could blame. I know that in many circumstances an employee’s manager has responsibility for their professional behaviour, but reading their minds about everything all the time is a step too far!
        Changing the employee handbook doesn’t bother me too much, although rather than mention Halloween in particular it could make clear that employees should only dress in office wear and seasonal costumes of any kind are unacceptable.
        I would love to hear an update on this one, because there was something about the director’s repeated questioning of the OP that made me uneasy.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Same. I’ve had that boss before, who keeps beating the “how did this happen? But no, how did this happen? I don’t understand, how did this happen? How did this happen?” drum before and it is exhausting when the answer is something that is not the answer that the boss wants.

          (In my case, it was “The software company has said it was due to X. Our tech people have said it is Y. As software is not the brand that the tech people want to standardize on, I’m putting more faith in X. Software company says we can mitigate by backing up twice weekly by doing A, B, and C. Yes, tech people had it set up to do that but it was set for L, M, N, O, and P. So it didn’t work.” Wash, rinse, repeat.)

          1. yala*

            For real though. Sometimes that drum starts to sound more like just out and out being called a liar. Because “How did X happen?” “Because Y and Z.” “No, that can’t be it. So how did X happen?” There’s only so many ways you can try to explain, and it just becomes a sticking point.

            1. alienor*

              I think that’s where they want to hear the person being questioned say it was their fault (even if it wasn’t) and grovel for forgiveness. I remember a letter in the past about a manager who wouldn’t accept that sometimes proofreading errors in text just happen, and it’s not because someone is a villain, it’s because humans are imperfect and no process can catch 100 percent of all errors from now until the end of time.

      2. Elspeth+McGillicuddy*

        Somebody else pointed out the first time around that the letter was written the DAY AFTER the Tiana incident. Most folks would still be going, “but why?!!” the day after and a lot of them would be saying it out loud.

        I mean, a lot of the folks in the comment section here are going, “but why?!!” which is even more useless five years later by people who’ve never met anybody involved.

        Also, I think the subtext question for that is, “I am bewildered, are you bewildered too?” It’s about establishing that you both agree that the thing really was that nuts, and that you both are on the same page about professionalism.

        Basically, the the correct answer is, “I know, right, what was she thinking?” not “Sorry, I don’t know what she was thinking?”

    3. Kevin Sours*

      I get the distinct impression that stuff is rolling downhill here. Which to be clear part of a director’s job is to be a heat shield for that sort of thing but it can be hard.

  12. Ex-prof*

    Princess Tiana is not in the same league as the intern who joked about 9/11. Although both parties drastically misread the room, Tiana was looking to introduce some unwanted levity whereas 9/11-dude was joking about people plunging to their deaths. These are not the same thing.

    1. Observer*

      I agree. I don’t blame Princess’ employer for firing her. But ultimately what she did was garden variety bad judgement. 9/11 joker is a sociopath. TOTALLY different things.

  13. D.C. Paralegal*

    “This is a really weird thing to fire someone over”

    I sort of think it would be a weirder thing not to have fired her over.

    It was just a perfect storm of bad decision making. If it had been only the C-suite folks in the meeting, maybe chalk it up to really poor judgment and explain to her why it’s not her role to loosen up the office. Or if she’d merely been seen by the clients walking around in costume, but not entered the room, brush it off by explaining to them that she’s new and again, speak to her afterwards.

    But interrupting a client meeting (one important enough to involve both directors and C-suite execs!) in costume to ask people for candy? I agree that recent grads should be cut a fair amount of slack regarding workplace norms. But after five months, I can’t believe she didn’t have a sense of how badly this would go over.

    1. Malarkey01*

      I often think there might be difference in people’s experiences with different company sizes in the comments. Where I work C-Suite means 7 figures, high profile, people that the average employee might see at a town hall but would never be in a meeting with. Having a meeting interrupted period would be a big deal, having it interrupted by someone trick or treating and with major clients?! It would be such a huge shock that if not met with an immediate apology and correction would end in a serious reprimand or firing (depending on all the other behavior since they started).

      1. Emmy Noether*

        This may be part of it. I’m in a small company, for example. The C-suite is only two levels above me. They know my name, we make smalltalk. They would probably think this was equal parts embarassing and hilarious; no-one would be fired.

        The company I was before, I pretty much only knew the C-suite from news articles. I have no idea how it would have gone over.

        1. alienor*

          Yeah, I’ve worked for both types of employer and there’s definitely a difference between the smaller company “this guy is the COO but I meet with him semi-regularly and have seen photos of his dog and kids,” and the giant company “this guy is on the cover of magazines and I will probably never speak to him in my life.”

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree, and given the other details in the letter I think that’s the culture we’re discussing.

        In a lot of places – it’s a red flag but trainable. The doubling down would be concerning. But it wouldn’t be a ‘pack up your office immediately’ thing.

        I think it happening in front of a client is also a huge part of it that people aren’t quite giving proper weight. A company this “stuffy” is definitely concerned about reputation.

        Overall I think it’s a huge mismatch of employee and employer and it’s smarter they parted ways, but the actual process of that would vary by company.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Embarrassing the C-Suite in front of clients generally does not lead to continued employment.

    2. Carp*

      Agree- I would have fired this lady. Adults do not need it explaining to them that they don’t dress up and play games in a massive managers meeting without a clear invite.

      I don’t think I could have seen a way to manage someone after this who was so so clueless and immature.

    3. mlem*

      Yeah, I don’t get the surprise here. This is a very formal office; we could be looking at BigLaw and its ilk. “You’re in very serious trouble, Mr. Weisselberg, but I assure you that we here at Stuffy, Uptight, & Restrained know how to work with the state to achieve the best possible outcome for you. You can trust us to take your concerns seriously.” And in flounces a new employee acting like she’s at a children’s party?! That’s (potentially) such a misunderstanding of where you even *are* that coaching probably seems like a lost cause even before the new employee *doubles down*.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I’ve never worked at an investment bank (thank Glod!), but I can imagine that a projection of Seriousness is even more important there.

        “We here at the investment firm of Howard, Howard, and Fine, Ltd. are serious people who can be trusted to take serious care of your money—”
        “TRICK OR TREAT!”

    4. Lilo*

      I’ve worked at a variety of places and this kind of behavior would get you fired at most of them.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      To be fair, LW said this all happened before the meeting started, so it wasn’t a case of the employee barging in mid-Powerpoint.

      1. Lilo*

        I mean when you have an external client, you’re “on” from the second they arrive in the building.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          True, but I do think interrupting an in-progress meeting (which these comments seem to imply happened) would be significantly worse than wandering in when people are sitting around, waiting to start (which is what sounds like happened).

          1. Helena R-W*

            Honestly, it wouldn’t really make any difference anywhere I’ve worked (all conservative and formal environments). Maybe coming in pre-meeting start is slightly less bad? But the level of bad is so extreme either way that it’s really not going to matter. She’s getting fired no matter what.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I think it’s less mid-powerpoint and more “make us look bad in front of a client”. If she interrupted the meeting that would be far worse, but this place seems to strongly value reputation and aesthetics.

          3. Malarkey01*

            For me this is another mismatch in expectations. If people are in the room, the meeting has “started”. Whether they’re grabbing coffee, chatting, etc if it’s a major client meeting you are already networking and managing the client. Having anyone wander in, unless it’s someone setting up the tech or refilling the coffee urn is huge.

            Just for scope, people have to clean off their desks if they are on the PATH from the lobby to main conference area for big meetings.

            1. curmudgeon*

              +1 to your last point. When we have visiting big whigs, an email telling everyone to clean up their areas / look presentable (we aren’t customer facing so our usual attire is pretty casual) goes out. Will anyone other than the C-Suite talk or even see the big whigs? Highly unlikely but the point still stands.

          4. Allonge*

            If it’s an internals-only meeting, maybe (if only based on impact – it would still be a serious judgment issue).

            But with clients there? No way.

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I agree, I think this definitely warrants a firing, especially after she doubled-down and called the office “stuffy.” There are certain firms and fields where stuffy is not an office atmosphere so much as it is a necessary part of doing business. If she were a hospital employee and she tried trick-or-treating in the OR right before they were going to start a surgery, would she be correct in saying the surgeons were so serious and they needed to lighten up? No, no she would not.

      (And I’m not even taking into account here that ORs need to be sterile so this would be even more egregious, I’m just talking about the human aspect of it.)

    7. turquoisecow*

      I have to imagine there were some other issues with the employee beforehand. She was new, maybe she wasn’t up to speed yet and they were looking at many more months of training her, and the idea of doing that PLUS now wondering if she knew basic office norms. Maybe she’d shown other signs of not taking direction well or pushing back on reasonable expectations.

      I could see that all turning into “you know what, let’s cut our losses and get someone else in this role.”

  14. Falling+Diphthong*

    OP3 (try to get your partner’s boss to grant them secret vacation time)

    There seem to be two types of people–one set who is absolutely convinced that 95% of something being fun is that the thing has to be a surprise, and another set who want to know in advance if we need to bring different shoes. (See past letters on the importance of the team building exercise being a complete surprise to workers.)

    Trying to get in the middle of your romantic partner and their boss to better set up their work for your wishes is an instinct you need to immediately throttle.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I know someone who did worse – not only did he ask the boss to grant secret vacation, he more or less deviated his girlfriend’s business trip to turn it into a marriage proposal (all with secret approval of boss).

      I’m in the surprises-are-overrated category: I would have said no to the proposal on principle due to the massive overstep. That couple both seemed to think it was romantic, so … at least he knew his audience?

    2. Sara without an H*

      There seem to be two types of people–one set who is absolutely convinced that 95% of something being fun is that the thing has to be a surprise, and another set who want to know in advance if we need to bring different shoes.

      This. Absolutely, this. Any surprise announcement more disruptive than “Cookies in the break room!” is going to land badly with at least a portion of the intended audience. As you say, it’s an instinct that needs to be suppressed. Hard.

    3. Web Crawler*

      This doesn’t apply to the question here (where obviously spouses know each other well), but on the coworker front, it’s worth mentioning that the “no surprises” type of person is also more likely to be disabled.

      Because there’s a lot of ways you can prepare for situations, but you have to know what’s gonna happen. For example, deciding how much food to bring, which mobility device to use, whether you need to rearrange your schedule for more rest afterwards, or researching the location beforehand to reduce anxiety.

    4. Anne Wentworth*

      “There seem to be two types of people–one set who is absolutely convinced that 95% of something being fun is that the thing has to be a surprise, and another set who want to know in advance if we need to bring different shoes.”

      Nailed it.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yes. Anticipation is greater than surprise. An English teacher taught us this in class, and for decades I’ve recognized it in every creepy movie scene where the audience KNOWS the bad guy is right around the corner.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yes to this!
        My mother in law? Loves surprise visits (by us, or more specifically, by my husband). (Who loves surprise house guests?)
        My mother? She wouldn’t shut the door on you, but she would *not* be happy at all, and would let you know.
        One of those trips where you don’t tell one person where you’re going until you get to the airport (you’ve just given hints about the climate so they can pack)? I know one aunt who loves it, but oh the look on my mom’s face when I described the idea! No no no, never going to happen.
        (I’m somewhere in between; I would prefer to plan, but for small activities I’m OK with being surprised.)

    5. anonymous for this one*

      I did this for my partner, around the same time as when the letter was written. I had emailed with his boss and confirmed a few days off, and then on my partner’s birthday, gave him a card explaining what we were doing. He had ~4 working days before we left, so he had time to hand off what needed handing off, and then got to go on a dream trip that he didn’t have to plan at all. His org is chill, his boss is chill, and it definitely all worked out fine for him, so it’s definitely a YMMV situation.

      PS. relatedly if you’re ever close to a total solar eclipse, GO SEE IT!

    6. Kate*

      Yes to all that!

      The other part of the surprise (that Allison mentions) that would be incredibly stressful to many people, is a sudden “week off” means that they are unprofessionally jetting off without prepping for coverage or handling of projects while they’re gone, AND they’re going to return to work having to pick up the pieces of that.

      At the very least, it would be really hard to relax and enjoy a trip knowing that nothing was being handled the way I would have designated in my absence, and that I was coming back to a clean up situation.

      100% agree that if you’re dead set on a surprise trip you ask them if they’re open to taking a week off and you’ll either pack for them, or give them a list of things they should bring (climate, etc.), and that you’ll surprise them on destination day.

  15. Minerva*

    LW 3 is interesting to me because my husband has experienced this from the “boss” side and gleefully gave hid admin assistance a surprise week off so her husband could whisk her away to Paris. To note this was a more unusual situation as my husband and her husband were friendly outside of work and since they all work in higher ed vacation time is unusually generous.

    But yeah, unless you have a really strong insight into your (general you since this letter is several years old) partner’s workplace it is hard to judge if it will be appropriate or if your partner will appreciate it. The suggestion to ask partner to low key take time off for something less exciting is good.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      That’s what I did when I took my husband to NOLA for a weekend around his birthday – made up a story about some sort of family gathering for Easter that was important to attend and asked him to take off the Thursday and Friday. Then when he told me I was going the wrong way when we turned south (toward the airport) instead of north (toward my parents’) on the highway, I told him to look under his seat, where he found a gift of a new man bag that happened to be stuffed with printed out tickets, brochures, reservations, etc. He was very pleased to not be going to a family gathering. (So was I. :P )

  16. applesauce*

    #2. You actually do have an answer for her, even if it’s a bad one. You could tell her that the employee basically did it as a protest; that probably won’t make the boss regret firing her. It would though clear up her apparent impression that you didn’t take the case seriously and address it with the employee. Just because the reason was a bad one doesn’t mean you don’t have one and that you should share it.

    1. Observer*

      Yes. And when you tell the boss this point out that you realized that, at minimum, she was going to need more coaching and you had actually intended to have a VERY SERIOUS conversation that same day.

  17. Abigail*

    LW1 has a vision of sticking it to the company that acquired them that is not based in reality.

    In reality, the law firms that handle a merger will have a procedure for this type of thing and will carry it out without any difficulty.

    I think it’s true that LW shouldn’t do it because it could come back and bite him, yes. But also it’s not going to give the psychological satisfaction of “sticking it to the man!” It is not going to be this Robin Hood thing, at all. At all!

  18. Environmental Compliance*

    #3 –

    I do wonder if Spouse that’s requesting knows that it won’t cause any work headaches as well. I cannot do a surprise week off – I have work scheduled. Sometimes it is a regulatory task and it’s not that I can push it off another week. If I knew the week was coming up, of course, it’d be fine – I can plan ahead – but a surprise week would cause more stress than the vacation would take away. And my boss doesn’t necessarily keep track of all those tasks, so Boss would absolutely just approve it and happily send me off!

    All that to say – no, that’s an overstep in a couple different ways. Ask Spouse to schedule a week off for some more boring vacay and then surprise them with where you’re actually going.

    (And as an aside, those of y’all that like surprises – please make sure your spousal person also likes surprises.)

    #2 – there *has* to be some other backstory missing, or the level of outrage does not make any sense. I wish we could get an update on this one.

    1. Beth*

      The character of Princess Tiana is black, as is Michonne. I wish I could believe that this didn’t factor into the overreaction of the bosses in Very Conservative Company #2, but I have no such illusions.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        That is a big part of my concern for that letter tbh. Was she *really*, truly, that disruptive? Were there other issues? Was it that high up of a meeting that they could have (and almost did) lose clients? Or… was it relevant to race? Would a different employee been able to have done something similar and gotten away with it?

        1. Observer*

          Was it that high up of a meeting that they could have (and almost did) lose clients?

          The OP is clear – C Suite with Client C suite.

          You don’t get higher than that.

            1. yala*

              The impact of having a grown person come into a room of high-level clients in a full ball-gown and ask them for candy seems like it could only be Very Bad. It’s disrupting, even if she did it before the meeting, because it’s such a bizarre thing that it throws everyone off. It makes the company itself look less-than-impressive in front of client.

        2. tessa*

          To your last question, it’s not impossible, but I doubt it’s likely. Her actions were so out of line I don’t blame the company for cutting her loose; so out of line, in fact, that it’s highly unlikely that the impulses for letting her go were racist.

      2. Uptight Activist*

        I mean, it’s possible, sure, but it’s not necessary. Her actions were egregious enough that many conservative offices would have fired her on the spot, including mine. My boss would have had a heart attack if one of our employees behaved as she did, and I would have fired anyone who acted in such an immature, disruptive and unprofessional manner. It’s simply not acceptable in our environment, and would have been utterly horrifying to us all. Yes, we are “stuffy”, conservative and formal. No, it isn’t an environment that suits everyone. But we are upfront and clear about our expectations when hiring, and we expect our employees to make the right choices. Tiana would not have been welcome here. Not because of her skin color, but becuase of her behavior and actions, which are choices she made.

    2. chocolate lover*

      Re #2 – I’ve worked in a finance firm that served EXTREMELY high net worth clients. I have no doubt the reaction would have been exactly the same as in this letter.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I’m envisioning a company so straight-laced that Casual Friday means a colorful tie, and where nobody gets in trouble for it, but if a woman isn’t wearing hose with a skirt it’s noticed. The kind of place where no transaction doesn’t end in -illion. This is not the kind of place where a halloween costume and trick or treating works out.

        I wonder if Employee had worn something evocative of Halloween, like an orange scarf or a spider pin, what that would have done. I wonder if this company is so conservative that even that wouldn’t have flown (but likely wouldn’t have been a fireable offense, I don’t think).

        1. yala*

          Honestly, I think there’s at least a chance employee would’ve only gotten a reprimand if she’d been dressed up, but just at her desk, instead of acting childish in front of clients before a meeting.

    3. londonedit*

      On number 3 – yep, I totally agree with you. It’s no problem for me to take a week off here and there throughout the year – but I have to plan it all in advance! I’m the only person who knows when my books need to go to press, what stage they’re at, what I’m expecting to happen with them. If I want to take a week off, I need to plan everything so that X book is off my desk being indexed, proof corrections on Y are done early and sent to Production so they can be worked on while I’m away, and Z author knows they can have an extension until the 15th because I won’t be back at my desk until then. I can’t just drop everything and disappear – maybe for a day or two, but it would still probably mean a headache for me when I got back, and I’d be worrying about that rather than enjoying my surprise break.

    4. Fuzzyfuzz*

      I once worked in a very ‘conservative’ (not politically, but temperamentally) environment where people were still talking about the time a junior level employee wore a pink headband to a special event/cocktail party…years later…literally. People can get stuck on fussy things, and the Halloween costume is way more inappropriate than that.

      1. Fuzzyfuzz*

        (not that the pink headband was at all inappropriate! ack—poor wording. The people in the office tsk-tsking her monumentally sucked.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep I’ve worked in that environment too. I’ve been on the receiving end, actually. My sparkly (nude colored, but sparkly) eyeshadow once made great waves.

          I certainly don’t want to discount anyone who feels this was a race issue, it probably played a part in some way, but some environments are truly this stuck up regardless of who is breaking the mold.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Absolutely – I think there’s just some background missing to be able to lean one way or the other if that makes sense.

            1. Observer*

              But we do have some context. It’s a financial services firm and the dress code is ultra-conservative (lower case c). Like every employee must wear a suit, only closed toe shows allowed, no exceptions allowed level of conservative.

              So, yes it does sound that “stuck up”.

          2. tessa*

            “I certainly don’t want to discount anyone who feels this was a race issue, it probably played a part in some way…”


            How do you figure?

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Unconscious bias. It’s impossible to remove the impact of race/gender/ability/presentation from interactions and outcomes, especially when people in power are making decisions on how to exercise their power.

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      The other thing I would point out is, what if one of Spouse’s coworkers wanted time off at the same time? In some jobs that might not be an issue, but in some it could be. If Spouse isn’t aware of it and it’s not on a shared calendar, it looks to Coworker like it’s up for grabs, and then it can cause a work headache from the coverage point of view.

      I had one coworker whose mother in law liked to surprise the whole family with cruises – she’d book it first without saying anything, then turn up saying “Surprise! I’ve booked us all on a cruise! We’re going from X until Y!” The first time it happened while I worked with her, my coworker had booked a week off and mother in law landed this on her the weekend before, luckily it was before and not after because if she’d taken her original week, she wouldn’t have had enough leave left for the cruise. The second time it coincided with something I’d booked long since and ex-boss Umbridge went on so much about the short staffing I felt like I had to give up the one day that I could.

  19. JelloStapler*

    How old is LW1- 13? That has got to be the stupidest idea I have ever heard to “stick it to them”. Just move on dude- this will certainly now allow you to put that experience behind you.

    1. Meep*

      I am surprised Alison didn’t mention he would have to pay for legal fees once he lost, tbh. But then again, I am guessing a 13 yo wouldn’t understand that.

  20. Elliot*

    Letter Writer 1 reminds me of (much less extreme!) situations where people at my company have purposely quit with no notice (like, they planned for weeks to quit and leave immediately as opposed to just getting fed up and walking out.)
    They really felt they were sticking it to the man – instead, they made other underpaid, overworked, stressed out coworkers’ lives hell for a few weeks as we scrambled to do their work. “The man” never knew their name nor that they left the company.
    It serves as a reminder that when you try to screw people over to make a point at work, it almost never actually hurts the people you’re mad at.

    1. Mitford*

      So true.

      I ended up initiating legal action against an employer that laid me off. I ended up getting lost wages from the time of my layoff to the start of my new job (about 3.5 months), but I took enormous satisfaction in my attorney’s estimate that my former employer probably spent $200,000 defending a case they were sure to lose in court. Sometimes the best way to stick it to an employer is to sic the long arm of the law on ’em.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, I had a coworker when I worked retail who had a row with big boss and quit on the spot. Yeah, big boss was being a jerk, but…big boss didn’t even work in our store; he was responsible for the entire county. It was our own manager and deputy manager, who big boss was even more of a nuisance to since they were usually the ones who had to deal with him and the rest of us who had to cover the shifts who were inconvenienced. And I always wondered how the guy’s wife responded when he got home and told her he’d quit his job. They had two or three small children and his hours were worked around their schedule – he worked 7am to midday to be there to collect them from school or preschool.

      Not quite the same as it was in an argument, but…yeah, it’s not “the man” or the company you usually hurt with these gestures. It’s usually those who are getting as much hassle from the awful boss or company as you are.

  21. Sabrina*

    If anyone wants to stick it to their office when they leave I’d recommend getting a much better job, then going to events your old office friends invite you too and loudly telling everyone how much better the new place is and what they are hiring for. I think my dysfunctional office lost 40% of it’s staff over 2 years because one guy moved on and kept showing up to happy hours telling people how much more his new job was paying. It was mostly employees who’d been there over 10 years that left too, it was kind of amazing how fast that place emptied out.

    1. Future silver banker*

      I am taking my time in planning my next move, but I vowed it would be jaw-dropping good. I have been daydreaming of my triumphant return to alumni happy hour.
      I will not even tell them how great the new job is, they will see it.

  22. Future silver banker*

    For the halloween costume incident: yes the attitude to feedback about her lack of judgment is key, however the firing might have to do with the timing. In my company (strategy consulting), we normally had a 6 months probation period. During that period it was mutually understood that the contract could be stopped by either party without justification and too much paperwork. This meant that new joiners who made mistakes were terminated because it is a lighter process and they can’t be bothered to risk finding out whether that would occur past the probation period when it is more complicated to manage someone out.

  23. I Fought the Law*

    Yep. This is exactly what I think. I do think it was a pretty bad case of poor judgment, but had a white man done it, I SERIOUSLY doubt there would have been such severe consequences, and it might even have simply been laughed off.

    As someone else mentioned, unless this was a white woman in blackface, the firing, etc. was a complete overreaction.

    1. Helena R-W*

      Do you work in a conservative, formal environment? Because I do, and this is not something we would ever “laugh off”, no matter who did it. Anyone pulling a stunt like this is getting fired, because this is off-the-charts inappropriate, unprofessional and embarrassing for the C-suite.

      I literally gasped out loud the first time I read this letter, because imagining it happening where I work had me cringing in my seat and suffering the WORST second-hand embarrassment possible. I could see the faces of my colleagues and how horrified they would be, and I could picture the reaction of my boss. It would have been the most uncomfortable, awkward and unpleasant thing to ever have happened! Sounds like a joke, right? I’m not kidding. This place is uptight, we like it this way, and this woman would have been fired in a heartbeat. As would anyone foolish enough to act this way!

    2. Meep*

      Oh definitely. If a white man did it would’ve looked funny and good-natured. I think “black woman” in a legal setting was already met with contempt considering her natural hair alone is often viewed as “unprofessional” by these types of stiffs.

  24. Dragon*

    OP4: I got annoyed with a junior manager who forwarded my email answering a client’s billing question, to the client.

    I know the manager just wanted to get the question off his plate. And there was nothing bad or unprofessional said in the email chain. It was that the billing dept and I communicated more informally between ourselves, than we would have in something we knew the client would see.

    I’ve always been super-careful with emails, after an early experience when I was unintentionally copied on a forwarded message. The sender was sounding off to someone else on a message I’d originally sent him, and missed removing me from the sound-off.

  25. Veryanon*

    Keeping the truck: I work in HR and I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior that employees can engage in, but I’m still occasionally surprised. Why would you think you could keep a vehicle that wasn’t legally yours? The company would be well within its rights to report it stolen and then you’ll be facing criminal charges. I really hope that LW didn’t actually keep the truck.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      They didn’t, and in the comments said they were just worked up. But I agree. I also work in HR and people just do or say wild things when they’re worked up.

  26. RagingADHD*

    If Tiana had come to work in costume and stayed at her desk, or trick-or-treated only within her coworker’s cubicles, she would probably have received a talking-to and still have a job.

    By the same token, if she had come to work in a perfectly dress-code-compliant suit, interrupted an important C-suite meeting, and demanded that clients give her candy (or anything else), she was likely to get fired on the spot.

    The costume wasn’t the main impetus for firing her. It was her behavior.

  27. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

    Re LW#2. No matter how uptight I was as a CEO, I hope that I wouldn’t consider wearing a costume a fireable offense — at least the first time (looked at from Uptight CEO POV).

    However, even ordinary me could see bursting into an important client meeting and trick or treating as a potential firing offense.

  28. LilPinkSock*

    I am thoroughly entertained by the advice given to LW #1. Yeah, sure, you’d probably get a lousy reference and a bad reputation…but also some jail time! I’m glad this person cooled down and decided to not steal a truck.

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