updates: my boss is angry that I couldn’t work while I was sick with Covid, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. My boss is angry that I couldn’t work while I was sick with Covid

A week after getting covid, I went back to work in person. I also went to the doctor and they told me I was feeling terrible because I hadn’t taken any time off. They write me a note and I told work that I would be working half days for the next two weeks. My boss didn’t like that. (I considered working half days a favor to him… I could have just said I needed 2 weeks off.) He said something insulting to me about it and I snapped. We argued and he essentially told me I was disloyal and that he would never screw me over the way I had screwed him over. He told me I was replaceable and that HR didn’t need me, so I told him I quit and to consider this my two weeks notice.

He didn’t believe that I was actually quitting until I sent a formal resignation to management the next day. After that, they called me and asked if there was anything that could be done to fix the situation. I told them I wanted an apology and to review my workload. I got the apology, but nothing changed with my workload.

I decided to wait until performance reviews because I thought (incorrectly) that since they had tried to promote me two levels last year and had only been approved for one level, they would try again this year. They didn’t. So I decided it was really time to move on and started looking casually at job postings.

Out of the blue, I was contacted by a headhunter a few weeks ago and I went ahead with the interview… as of this morning, I have accepted an offer with a company that has way more potential for growth and opportunities to move around. It’s also going to dramatically cut my workload. And I got a 25% raise! The manager is already talking about making me a supervisor after a few months. I’m still having anxiety about giving my notice and leaving my current company in a bind (guilt is a hell of a drug) but I’m working on it. My planned start date at the new job is the beginning of December.

I can’t thank you and your readers enough for the validation and advice. I felt so alone at that time and it was so helpful to have people tell me I wasn’t the crazy one.

Update to the update:

I gave my two weeks’ notice. They tried to keep me and get me a raise and promotion… my boss told them I’d consider $10k less per year than my new position. I felt pressured and told them I’d consider it. They asked me to send them my offer letter to grease the wheels.. I did, and they realized they couldn’t match it. They asked if I’d consider anything less but after steeling myself over the weekend, I told them no. Surprisingly, all the managers were very gracious and they asked me to stay on a few extra days to help with the transition. Additionally, they told me to call them if I ever wanted to come back, which was a surprise.

I think my direct boss was a bit upset that I didn’t take their counter – I have had no contact with him since I declined and he had cleaned out my desk when I went to turn in my computer today. That’s disappointing, but all in all, things went way better than I anticipated. Additionally, I am being paid out for 2 weeks of unused vacation, which was a concern. I start my new job tomorrow (with an office holiday party, no less) and am looking forward to it.

I am going to work on establishing healthier boundaries at this new place. I mentioned before that I am getting a 25% raise but it is actually 30%, plus quarterly bonuses and better benefits… and a boss that believes in work life balance and in cross training employees so people can take time off when needed. Thank you again to you and my fellow readers for all of the advice and support – I don’t think I would be here right now without you!

2. My coworker reeks of weed

I wrote in asking about how to handle a cube neighbor (let’s call her Sansa) who reeked of weed when I was pregnant and had a super-nose. I got a lot of great advice from you and the commenters, but I didn’t get a chance to implement it. I mentioned this in the comments, but between when I wrote in and when my letter was published, something happened. Sansa took a very long lunch and when she came back, 1) the smell was gone, and 2) she was not her normal cheery self. I’m not sure if someone said something to her, but the weed smell was never an issue again. I also didn’t mention this in my initial letter, but the first day I was hit with the smell was 4/20, so I also wonder if she was just working through her stash from the holiday.

I did mention the smell to another (trusted) cube neighbor (Arya) to see if it traveled. Arya said she didn’t notice it while at her desk, but it was very obvious when you walked by.

Fast forward a few months. Our company was going through a pretty turbulent time and Arya and I were joking around and saying that maybe Sansa had the right idea. Our manager (who is not Sansa’s manager) overheard. I was very nervous when I realized we had been overheard — I didn’t want Sansa to get in trouble — but luckily our manager simply cracked up and said she didn’t blame her.

Also, I got to know Sansa better over the next few months and she’s super sweet. I’m looking forward to seeing her when I get back from my maternity leave. I just hope she’s switched to edibles.

3. Coworker asks me for help “confidentially”

The short version is: she was fired. You were correct that she was asking for help for things she had long ago been expected to learn how to do. It seems she had no system for keeping notes and was incapable of using the (many) resources available to her to do her job.

For me, when I got the next email with the screaming CONFIDENTIAL subject line, I let her know I wasn’t comfortable keeping these requests for help from our manager (but warmly let her know I was still happy to help when needed). She promptly stopped asking for me help after that and then was let go just a few weeks later.

The twist, I suppose, is that I don’t think the basic inability to do her job was the actual reason she was let go. I work for a state institution and it took her yelling at and harassing a customer before she was fired.

4. How can I get out of helping with an office move? (#3 at the link)

First, I need to shout out all the state and municipal government employees in the comments. You guys completely understood the situation. Yes, it is an absolutely unreasonable ask of employees and any company or federal agency would have taken over the entire move and record retention process. But, state and local government absolutely do not have those resources. We had only enough money to pay movers to physically move our stuff from the old building to the new building. I did take your advice – I went in one more time for a very full day and finished a task people had been stressing over (it was not hard). I then stopped coming in until the move-in day. We all worked that morning to arrange the space, but it was done in just a few hours and we celebrated with pizza. I got a special shout out from the coworker who was in charge of coordinating the move for all my hard work, so all the better!

To answer some commenter questions – our state’s record retention policy requires us to keep either the physical paper copy of the record or we can make a microfiche (yes, microfiche) of the record and destroy the paper. We have a great website and we keep nearly everything we publish easily accessible on the website, but that does not count for the record retention law. In the 90’s, a big push was made to microfiche a ton of documents, but my office did not keep up with the microfiching (not enough money and they have been hoping the state would change the law to allow for electronic copies to count). The office space in our old building allowed us to simply store the paper records there (we had a very large space). The move to a smaller space forced us to send many hundreds of boxes of paper documents to long term storage. We still don’t have the money to microfiche and are still hoping the law will change. I am not in charge of any part of that process, so I get to keep my opinions about the decisions to myself!

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. Nobby Nobbs*

    “he would never screw me over the way I had screwed him over” You can actually smell the lack of self-awareness in this line.

    1. Kes*

      Yeah I’d be very tempted to reply “You already have”

      So glad OP was able to stand firm and is out of there and in a much better sounding new job!

    2. Artemesia*

      I can’t understand why the OP gave this job so much loyalty but am glad she now has something better.

      1. Poppy*

        I worked for a boss like this. He told me I was stabbing him in the back when I quit after years of abuse, ridiculous hours and gaslighting (actual gaslighting that my assistant pointed out one day because I thought I was going crazy). These people chip away at your self esteem and make it seem like they’re keeping you employed as a favor. I had terrible imposter syndrome despite being confident and well loved by clients at my previous position. It really wears you down.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      Especially since it leads directly into the screwing: “He told me I was replaceable and that HR didn’t need me”

      Maybe he meant he’d only screw OP over in *different* ways.

    4. Catwhisperer*

      I mean, he’s screwing OP over way worse than they’d ever even think about screwing him over, so I guess he’s technically right?

  2. Paris Geller*

    I am going to work on establishing healthier boundaries at this new place.
    I commend this decision! I mean this kindly to LW #1-everything in your update makes it seem like you were a bit of a pushover (I don’t mean to be insulting, as I can also be a pushover, but it’s the only term for describing what I see in your update). You repeatedly let your employer move the goalpost on you without standing up for yourself, and it’s concerning –working half days when a medical professional said you needed time off, considering a counter-offer you had no interest in. . . there are several examples in your update. If you haven’t, you might also consider getting some therapy to work on setting boundaries. Congrats on the new job & doing some of that self-reflecting!

    1. Ah Yes*

      100% Based on the update, it seems that the LW can easily fall back into bad people-pleasing habits and be in a similar situation later on down the line. If they can’t afford therapy, I would strongly suggest some intense self-reflection on why they feel so uncomfortable in setting a boundary and holding it (like you, no judgement here, just observation, as I can be guilty of the same thing).

    2. marvin*

      I think the letter writer will find that once they’re away from this awful company, it’s much easier to see their emotional manipulation for what it is. If you’re a conscientious people pleaser type, it’s really easy to get your sense of normalcy warped by employers that operate like this.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Exactly, that’s why I’m hoping this isn’t the final update. I want to hear how they are thriving once they get all the toxic sludge from the last place off of them.

    3. Here for the Insurance*

      Agree completely. I totally get the instinct/desire to see the best in people, but it sounds like OP continued to give these folks the benefit of the doubt long after they’d shown they didn’t deserve it. There are, unfortunately, people who will take advantage of you as much as you let them. You have to learn to stand up to that or they will work you like a dog.

    4. Zorak*

      I agree, I think sometimes it’s easy for people to think (only way I can think to phrase this) “Sure, I’m a bit of a pushover, I’m about ten feet away from a healthy amount of assertive/ boundary-having/ confident/ whatever.”

      But then it takes recounting your story to others for their reactions to make you realize that you’re actually ten miles away from healthy/normal, not ten feet.

      It’s awesome that you’re consciously planning to work on these things, I just hope you’re open to the wakeup call of how much there is ti worn on. And that’s good news! It’s awesome that these mental barriers to standing up for your and not being taken advantage of can, with work, just evaporate and leave you with a better life.

    5. DJ Abbott*

      I tend to get angry when people make unreasonable demands, and that helps me hold boundaries. OP, do you feel angry or put upon when people make unreasonable demands? If so, use that to hold your boundaries.

    6. Courageous cat*

      I agree, it concerns me that they quit and then went back on it for an apology. You want to keep the credibility and also make more of an impact when you make a move like that. These employers were some serious assholes.

  3. Watry*

    Op. 4: Paper or microfiche only?! Geez, and I thought my state was behind, at least we can have electronic copies of most stuff.

    1. Antilles*

      I assume the actual phrasing of the state law is something like “records must be maintained in physical format” – which includes both paper copies and microfiche but prevents anything purely electronic.
      So until the legislature actually makes it a priority to update the written law, the agency’s hands are tied into keeping physical records.

    2. tg33*

      You probably need someone to push for electronic records to be accepted? In the meantime, is the equipment to turn documents into microfiche even available still?

      1. Watry*

        It is, we used it about 18 months ago prior to our own all-building move(I actually work in government records.)

    3. Pants*

      Microfiche! Do they also make their copies on a mimeograph? (*giant inhale of fresh mimeograph page*) Kinda makes me wonder if they want the records on microfiche so no one can ever go back and check them.

      1. Kit*

        That smell you’re remembering is from a good ol’ ditto machine – a contemporary of the mimeo but a different technology. And it was amazing, wasn’t it?

        The most distinctive smell from a mimeograph was usually the ink, which originally contained lanolin, but moved quickly to turkey-red oil, also called sulfated castor oil; where a ditto machine’s output smelled sweet, a mimeo’s was more like unscented cosmetics.

        Now classwork with that slightly-blurred purple text is going to be dancing in my head all day! (Happily, that’s a good memory for me.)

    4. Nethwen*

      Oh, I feel you on the outdated records retention. At least in our state, electronic records are acceptable, but the law is still outdated. Rumor is, there’s been an ongoing, long conversation that goes something like:

      Records Officer: Hey, Google! A lot of state and local agencies use your products. State law requires us to do process ABC, but your product doesn’t allow that. The technology exists for process ABC. Can you help us out?

      Google: Our product accomplishes the same outcome with process XYZ. Just use that process.

      RO: State law requires process ABC.

      Google: Just use our XYZ process.

      RO: State law won’t allow us.

      Google: But our process accomplishes the same goal.

      And around and around they go while dozens of state and local government employees spend hours on what could be an automated task using technology that already exists.

      Not the real scenario b/c I don’t want to get anyone in hot water, but from a non-IT perspective, the needed accommodation is something surface-level simple like if state law required electronic records to be in .jpg format and Google only allowed downloads in .png.

  4. Chairman of the Bored*

    Making a counter-offer that is *less* than the employee’s actual offer is a bold move, I’d be surprised if it works very often.

    1. Velawciraptor*

      And then being upset that the lower counter wasn’t accepted. That’s some world class audacity right there.

    2. lyngend (canada)*

      my last job was like that too. No raise, just “we’ll let you get off the phones for a month”… I didn’t back down from current job.
      Sadly current job quickly showed little red flags I missed during interviewing. And so I didn’t stop job searching, and now I’m starting a new job in January. (for another $5/hr more)

    3. Antilles*

      You’re missing that we have an absolutely amazing culture (citation needed) which makes up for the financial difference.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        An amazing culture that will never screw you over as long as *checks notes* you never take a sick day and plan all of your (short and very occasional) vacations around the company’s schedule.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      The correct response to an offer to match is “that’s not how auctions work”. If you have to go to the trouble to get an offer letter to get movement on job issues (and you even contemplate a counter) then they better *beat* that offer. Anything less means they’re playing games.

  5. Kris*

    Op 4 — Hi from another lawyer in state government who experienced an office-wide move a few years ago and can really relate to what you wrote. I hope to never have to go through another experience like that.

  6. Beth*

    LW 1: your boss is a complete tool, and you gave him way more chances and way more slack than he ever deserved. I’m really glad you’re in a better situation now!

    1. DrSalty*

      Yeah for real! They deserved to lose you the first time you quit. Glad you are on your way to better things!

  7. Quickbeam*

    #4….microfiche! I worked for a state government for years and the requirements for record storage were always 20 years behind the times. So I get it.

  8. Phillippe II*

    Local government here. We had similar retention records and a basement full of file cabinets. After a law change we discussed it with our attorneys and figured out we could get by with retaining records for the Federally mandated 5 years for our program. The shred was glorious! After one person spent 3 weeks taking records out of the hard folders, a full size commercial shredder truck rolled up and spent about 4 hours shredding box after box of records.

    Now we do a purge every January of all hard and electronic files of everything from 6 years ago.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      When I started my current job in 2008, my municipality was holding onto basically All The Paper since our home rule charter was established in 1972.

      In 2009 we had to pack up All The Paper because of a flood scare. It was done extremely half-assed and brought back into the building any old how. The powers that be ranted and raged and decided to do something. Then they decided they wanted to sort through all the jumbled up All The Paper to find out what needed to be saved and what didn’t. So we employees had to do it. It took months. The public works guys would bring in 55 barrels and drag them away when full, which took weeks.

      I have to retain my paper records for 7 years by law. There were boxes going back to 1985 when the previous holder of my job started.

      Gotta love a bureacracy. Not.

    2. Frickityfrack*

      Yessss. My old job was like that, mostly because the other person in my position had been there for decades and was *very* resistant to change. After a couple of years, I had a come to Jesus with my boss and her boss and pointed out that we were going to outgrow even our very generous storage space and there was literally no legal or practical reason to be hanging on to a lot of the files we had. They finally agreed to let me purge things over a certain age or that we had electronically. It took me about a month and a lot of huffing/glaring from my coworker, but I cleared out ~1/3-1/2 of what we had. It was amazing. Honestly, a career highlight.

    3. bamcheeks*

      This is actually one of the big advantages of GDPR— it mandates not keeping records beyond the time which was specified when you collected the data. I don’t know how this works for formal government records, since I don’t work in that area, but it’s great for your colleague Suzanne who is just inexplicably attached to those files of resumes from the recruitment they did in 2015. No, you actually NEED to destroy that stuff!

      1. OrigCassandra*

        The way it’s supposed to work is that there are records managers who figure out how long to keep stuff (“scheduling”), and stuff older than that either gets tossed or appraised for permanent archiving.

        A lot of places have fired their records managers. And here we are.

  9. Hlao-roo*

    OP2: I’m glad things with Sansa were a non-issue! I hope the turbulent times in the company have calmed down by the time you return from your leave.

    1. Sally*

      I wonder if Sansa reads AAM and recognized herself in the OP’s letter, and that’s why the pot smell suddenly stopped.

  10. Coffee Owlccountant*

    Blinking at the sheer audacity it takes for a company to try to counter to keep an employee for LESS than the leaving employee’s new job offer and then get super mad that the employee, who likely can do basic math, doesn’t take it.

    And that is after exploiting them for a year and then treating the LW like crap while they were sick during a global pandemic.

    Wasn’t this company one of the bracket for the Worst Boss?

    1. Sally*

      Back in the day when it was common to tell interviewers what you were making at your current job, I was asked if they needed to match what I had been making for me to accept a job offer. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I was thinking “duh, of course, and in fact more would be better!” They offered $1k more. I was getting laid off imminently, so I took it.

  11. Purple Cat*

    The boss in #1 makes me so mad. One of my direct reports is unexpectedly out with COVID and since other direct report handles completely different things, it’s on me to handle the workload. And that’s how it should be! The only thing my sick employee needs to be doing is resting up and getting better.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Right?? Grrrrrr. My boss was out with COVID a couple of weeks ago and we managed, in a department of three, to keep things going. She’s also out on much-deserved PTO this and next week and we’re also managing. And this is just a dress rehearsal for when she’ll be out much longer this spring and summer after her twins are born! I’m very excited for her and rather terrified for me, but I’m learning a lot about what I can do to cover for her and it’s great to have this time to work out what I will need to ask her about when she gets back in Jan.

    2. Never Boring*

      Amen. I had COVID last week and tried to work half a day midweek, which resulted in my being so exhausted that I slept for the rest of the day (was fast asleep 10 minutes after I finished my bowl of soup), woke up for a couple of hours, and then slept all night. COVID fatigue is all too real, and that was for someone whose only symptom was fatigue by that point (yay Paxlovid – I was testing negative within 5 days). I can’t imagine how it would have been if I’d had a less mild case and had felt sick other than just being fatigued. The naps were completely involuntary. Do you really want me doing extremely detail-oriented work while I am that exhausted?

  12. JBI*

    “They tried to keep me and get me a raise and promotion… my boss told them I’d consider $10k less per year than my new position. ”

    I would have responded “The hell I will.”

  13. Pants*

    I don’t understand the “loyalty” argument at work. It’s an exchange. Money for time/labour. Loyalty plays no part in it, except to bolster a blowhard argument with zero credibility.

    1. Francie Foxglove*

      Don: You give me ideas; I give you money.

      Peggy: You never say thank you!

      Don: That’s what the money is for!

  14. Ellis Bell*

    I hope OP1’s former employer goes down in flamey flames without OP’s efficiency and skill. It is literally the only way that they won’t exploit anybody else. Please leave a scathing Glassdoor review OP, if you can do so without identification and harming your references.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That would be great. I am hoping for an update to the update to the update in a few months when that company scorches itself out of existence.

  15. Slow Gin Lizz*

    That really IS quite a twist for #3. I wonder if she got mad at the customer because she was so incompetent and the customer was calling her on it.

    1. Lirael*

      Haha, I wondered if she’s spent the last decade trying to get sacked without being too obvious about it and shouted because it wasn’t working.

  16. Melanie Cavill*

    #1 — I’m perishing curious to know if the apology was super begrudging or perfunctory. That aside, I’m glad you got out, LW! I don’t want to say your boss was a bad person (even though the writing’s kind of on the wall…) but they definitely were not suitable for management.

  17. New Mom*

    OP #3

    I remember when you wrote in. I also worked with a Jane a few years ago but my Jane was really a sweet, kind woman who was just deeply in over her head. I had taken advice from AAM and met with her privately to go over action steps we could take help get her work done. She worked in our Accounting Department and her work supported with the main function of my job, so if she couldn’t get her work done, I couldn’t complete my own priorities and I had to deal with the firing squad when things were delayed. In our meeting I suggested that we go together, as a united front, to speak with her boss about her workload and… she started crying and begged me not to say anything. I was so caught off guard that I froze. I tried a couple of other options, because the missed deadlines had become a really big problem, but she just wept and repeatedly begged me not to say anything.
    She ended up being let go within the year, but I remember just not knowing what to do in the moment, when it was someone I really liked on a personal level, but they were causing issues in our shared work priorities.

  18. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW1 “Guilt is a hell of a drug” Going to write that on my mirror before I go into to resign my job.
    I’m very happy that you landed so well.

  19. CheeryO*

    Good for you, #4. I had my own state government office move this year, and I was in charge of the move for my division. The group’s efforts were half-assed at best, but it was an impossible task after decades of not keeping up with records retention.

    I ended up putting weeks of my own time into culling and boxing files and equipment. My literal blood, sweat, and tears were rewarded with a demotion, essentially, when we got new management a couple months later, so I’m more than a bit salty about it!

    1. Fed on vacation*

      I’m sooo sorry. Dealing with records others should have kept up with long ago is such thankless work, literally in your case. I’d be salty, too!

  20. PackersRUs*

    I’ve been through dozens of office moves (some big, some small) and I’ve never seen a company hire packers, just movers for the actual move. Employees have always been expected to do all of the packing. In some cases the office stuff (as opposed to each employee’s stuff) was primarily admin/hr/facilities staff and in others everyone was expected to pitch in. In general, the smaller the company or group the more likely everyone was asked to pitch in.

    My current company is giving up its office space in April and everyone is expected to pitch in (I have a medical exemption) but our HR/finance person is doing more than everyone else.

  21. DJ*

    COVID LW so glad you got a new job with far better pay and working conditions. Best of luck with all of that.
    I would have voted your boss the worst for 2022 but unfortunately just can’t compete against twitter!! Yours was my 2nd choice!

  22. GelieFish*

    For everyone freaking out about microfiche, the idea is that you don’t need special technology to view. Technically a flashlight or magnifying glass would work. We have files on CDs and realized all or replacement computers didn’t have cd player. Electronic backup only works if it is on multiple servers.

    1. Left Turn at Albuquerque*

      I don’t know if there’s more than one state that has the paper or microfiche requirement, but it’s the case where I live and worked as a municipal clerk for many years, and it’s just as you said – more to the point, we’re told records must be in “eye-readable” format so that anyone who requests to inspect records can do so without needing special equipment.

      Don’t get me started on the retention schedules in place, either. For example, certain personnel records have to be kept for *70 years* after that particular employee has separated from the agency. Ay, yi, yi.

  23. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: I know you think you’ve finished updating, but I hope you haven’t. I want to hear from you again in 6 months – 1 year when the stress starts dissipating and you realize that your impulse to feel guilt upon leaving your toxic af workplace is in fact a product of that workplace’s toxicity. I want to share in that joy.

  24. Fed on vacation*

    Ahahaha. LW 4 – it is so not the case that any federal agency would hire out the move. Day-of transport to new building? Yes. Packing everything in the office or disposing of things not to be moved? Nope, that’s every individual and department’s job. Not just packing old files, but determining what retention schedule they fall under (destroy after 3 years, keep forever, etc), creating box lists, and requesting to ship them to federal archives? Definitely everyone’s job, whether you’re a lawyer, or HR, or a construction project manager. We couldn’t possibly afford actual archivists for that. But hey, at least no microfiche!

    Solidarity from the land of government office moves. They’re a bear.

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