assistant became abusive when she wasn’t invited to a meeting, my coworkers don’t check on people who are out sick, and more

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

1. Our assistant turned abusive when she wasn’t invited to a meeting

I work in a small office (five owners/managers, including me, and three assistants). Three of the managers are siblings, and one assistant, Kate, is the cousin of one of the managers. For years, we have allowed all eight people to attend office meetings. Unfortunately, this has morphed into the three assistants feeling entitled to ownership-type opinions regarding investments and office policies. It is nearly impossible to make a decision with eight people. For the last year or so, one manager, Bob, has requested that the meetings be managers only. It has been significantly more efficient.

For the most recent meeting, Bob again requested managers only. Someone mentioned that Kate wanted to be included, but the message was that Bob said no. The meeting wasn’t a big deal — we basically rehashed the same tired old questions that we discuss almost every time (should we eventually sell the company or pass it off to our children, what if one person wants out but the rest don’t — same-o, same-o). I typed up the minutes outlining the various opinions expressed and summarizing the meeting. No decision were made. I sent the summary only to the managers, but Kate got ahold of a copy.

The meeting was 10 days ago. Since then, Kate has gone ballistic. Every single day, I get 2-3 emails and/or texts about how mean we are, how we make the assistants feel like outsiders, how she has valuable opinions, she deserves a seat at the table, she refuses to be part of “taxation without representation,” she will no longer invest any money with the company (for the record, she never has), I have a bad attitude, she doesn’t know how I got so nasty. Quite the river of vitriol. So far I have not replied. The reality is that it wasn’t my decision; I am just the messenger. Bob made the request. I have always solicited input from everyone, and I am a big fan in theory of a completely level playing field, rather than a rigid hierarchy. But it has been much more efficient meeting only with the managers, and some of the decisions frankly need to be manager only (like selling the company someday).

I hate to pull rank on her, but this nastiness is debilitating. Any suggestions, other than “I’m sick of your drama”? I don’t really want to dump it all on Bob because his manager-only approach has been a good one, but I also don’t want to be the punching bag for her insecurity or controlling behavior, or whatever it is.

What on earth! How was Kate’s behavior allowed to get to this point without any of the managers stepping in to shut it down? I’m guessing it’s because Kate is someone’s cousin, plus some of that aversion to hierarchy, but you can’t effectively run an office this way. The reality is, there is hierarchy — some of you own the company and have decision-making authority and some of you don’t — and as this incident with Kate shows, you’re not doing anyone any favors by hiding that fact.

Right now you’re thinking of this as a sort of interpersonal dilemma (“I’m sick of your drama”), but you need to address it as a work issue between a manager and an employee, because that’s what it is.

One of the owners needs to talk to Kate and tell her what she’s doing is unacceptable (all else being equal, it should probably you since you’re the one she’s directing her hostility toward). Explain that the owners play a different role and have different responsibilities than she does, she needs to accept that if she wants to stay on, and she cannot send vitriolic messages to anyone on staff, including you. If it continues after that, you really, really need to let her go. You can’t conduct business with this happening in the background and it’s not okay for her to abuse people … plus, think about what working around her must be like for the other assistants, who don’t have the authority to shut her down. This will be complicated by the fact that she’s someone’s cousin, but you can’t let it continue (and if you do, you’re just asking for ever more outrageous behavior from her in the future because she’ll know there are no consequences).

2. My coworkers don’t check in on people who are out sick

My coworker, Jane, and I are close and we work on a very small team of six. A month ago, Jane went on leave to have a pretty major surgery. She was supposed to be on bed rest for a couple weeks following surgery, then back online for the month following, and then back to the normal hybrid office/work from home schedule by March. Well, she had some surgery complications and she’s been on bed rest for way longer than originally expected.

I know the details because I’ve been in regular contact with her. I texted her the day after her surgery and wished her a speedy recovery and we chat pretty regularly. She mentioned to me that I’m the only one on the team who has said a word to her since her leave. She told our lead when her recovery plans changed and what was happening with that and it sounded like our lead didn’t even ask how she was holding up or if she was okay or anything. The rest of the team, this is pretty expected, but I feel like our lead should have shown some form of human empathy.

But then it also happened to me on a much smaller scale. I got Covid and was out for a week and a half recently. I wasn’t hospitalized but I was pretty miserable. One of my teammates did reach out and ask how I’m holding up, which I appreciated. Other than that, only Jane has been asking me how I’m doing. My lead has been radio silent the whole time other than telling me to come back to work when I’m ready in response to me telling her that I’d probably be out for the week. I wasn’t expecting an outpouring of empathy or anything, but even just a mid week “how are you holding up?” text would be nice. The relationship I have with my team otherwise is fine. I guess I’ve just never been on a team that couldn’t care less about the others.

Is this normal? Should I just temper my expectations and know that aside from Jane and the other coworker who reached out, the rest of my coworkers are just kinda chilly? Or is there something I can/should do about it? It feels weird to have a conversation with my lead about empathy, but it also feels weird that she in particular showed no signs of any for two people on her team, one of which had major surgery.

I think you’re reading chilliness when it’s not there!

Not contacting people who are on sick leave isn’t unusual, and it doesn’t signal that people on your team don’t care about each other. If anything, it’s more common for teams not to message people who are out sick. It’s definitely true that your team lead should have expressed some basic human concern when Jane told her about how her recovery plans needed to change. But beyond that, it’s very normal for people not to check in with coworkers when they’re on sick leave. They want to leave you alone so you can rest and not think about work.

(Also, some people would take leads/managers checking in as pressure to return more quickly, and a lot of managers have it drilled into them that they shouldn’t bother people who are out sick.)

3. The company owners tell us how much money they are making, but none of us make a living wage

I work for a small, relatively new company in a new booming industry in the state. Most people working here make $15-18/hour, with abysmal benefits. At weekly company-wide meetings, the business owners regularly talk about how they have become millionaires due to the company. At the last meeting, the owners stated that they are forecasted to make millions of dollars in revenue by the end of this year, and discussed how rich they are for the next 20 minutes. As I am sure you can imagine, this is extremely grating when no one who works for them makes a living wage!

How would you suggest we handle this? It seems that most people are annoyed, but these are the owners so most people feel their options are limited. Unfortunately, we live in the rust belt so for most people, this is the best job they can get.

That’s incredibly oblivious and obnoxious. That’s the kind of thing they should discuss privately. It’s hard to imagine what kind of reaction they think they’re going to get from their far-lower-earning staff.

The next time it happens, are any of you willing to say, “It’s great to hear the company is doing so well. Is there a plan to put some of the profits into raising staff salaries to more livable levels?”

If that feels too confrontational to do on the spot, it still might be a good time to ask for a raise separately. If they balk or cite the budget, feel free to mention the numbers they’ve been sharing with the staff.

we got quizzed on our new boss’s horses, family, and vineyard

4. Jet lag as a pre-planned sick day

I have a U.S.-based employee who has been working internationally many time zones away for a few months. In the upcoming weeks, they are traveling back on a work day (let’s say Monday) using personal leave and then asking for all of the next day (Tuesday) to be “tentative” sick leave based on jet lag. How should I handle the request to use sick time for jet lag?

Potentially unnecessary context: they are a solid performer who asked to work internationally more than the allotted month allowed due to family needs. Those needs are fulfilled, and the employee is able to return to the U.S. earlier than originally scheduled, but still beyond the typical stint of working fully remotely. They have been accepting work and meetings at all hours of the day and night (local time – though that’s just daytime in the U.S.), so it hasn’t had much impact on their day-to-day. This is a company where there is a lot of employee trust around sick days, though HR has defined it as an “illness or injury.”

Seems reasonable to me. They’re saying they won’t be in any shape to work due to exhaustion and their body readjusting; that’s close enough to sick leave for me, and as a general rule it’s good to look for ways to say yes when you can.

{ 642 comments… read them below }

  1. Rd*

    LW2, I’m with Alison on this. I’ve been home sick, with all of my department coworkers “worried” about me, blowing up my phone with texts, then freaking out when I don’t answer. I was in bed trying to sleep! Finally, they got one of them that they figured I would answer to call me. I did answer just to shut the phone up, and he said to answer the next call because it was HR (not ominous, we were all friendly with HR). HR girl was trying to call to tell me the other guy had covid and was trying to see if I had it. It’s all kind of a big joke in the office now, but it still kind of ticks me off.

    1. KateM*

      Yeah, I remember when I was sick with high temperature, with a young child at home. My MIL came in, made me lots of tea, took care of the child and left me alone. My mom came in, sat next to my bed, put her hand on my forehead and stared at me worriedly.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I wonder if LW2 is the type of person who would *like* someone sitting next to their bed checking on them when sick**. No shame if so — we all get to decide what makes us comfortable when we are sick. But if so, Alison is right and they definitely need to recognize that the way LW’s leader and colleagues are behaving is how the VAST majority of people want their leader and colleagues to behave…even on small teams when people are close.

        **if they do, it makes me question the the whole “lead not showing human empathy” thing — did the lead just not show it to the degree that two people who think you should be in frequent contact with colleagues who are out sick think was required?

        1. ferrina*

          This was my thought. I’m the kind of person who wants to be left alone on leave, but I know there are some people that like checking in/being checked in on. I think the default should be don’t check in, because 1) appearance of pressure and 2) you don’t know if they are in a state where they can/want to talk, and you don’t want to add anything unnecessary while they are dealing with health. Individual relationships may vary (for example, I’ve had a couple colleagues I text with outside of work, and they might check in on me).

          I do think that the lead had an opening to say “How are you feeling? Anything you need?” or something vague like that.

        2. On Fire*

          Right. Years ago, one of my reports got mad at me because I didn’t check on her when she was out sick. I had expressed sympathy when she called/texted (don’t remember which) and told her I hoped she felt better soon, and then I left her alone. She had a migraine; I didn’t figure she wanted to be disturbed! But she thought I was being harsh by not checking on her. I think, like that incident, this is just a difference in expectations.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I would hate for anyone to check on me while I had a migraine. If I’m off work, it’s because looking at any sort of screen causes piercing pain in my temples and nausea.

        3. All Het Up About It*

          I agree with ICNH.

          and it sounded like our lead didn’t even ask how she was holding up or if she was okay or anything.

          The OP doesn’t even KNOW if the lead wasn’t “showing human empathy.” It just SOUNDS that way. Definitely a case of different expectations. Hopefully this post will allow OP to reframe their lead’s and coworker’s actions. Or lack thereof.

    2. GythaOgden*

      Sounds like she was doing her due diligence to trace people who might have come into contact with the plague.

      I was off for two weeks recently with flu. I didn’t have to check in every day, but since illnesses like that are unpredictable and I knew I’d need a doctor’s note if I was off too long (7 working days; I was out for 9), I made sure that my office were up to date with the process of recovery (and I may have gone back too soon, although you can feel icky for a while after flu without necessarily being either contagious or comatose). The thing is, that in that situation, while it was handled badly (I was in touch with people over email and Teams, including one manager with whom I had a personal development meeting I needed to postpone, and she should have been content with email/IM) I find it relatively normal that you’d be expected to answer that kind of question (because they sound like they were actively doing what is necessary to ensure things are safe for others in the office) and that you wouldn’t just vanish for weeks without keeping in touch with your office for administrative purposes. It’s in our company handbook how we have to handle it and communicate.

      I know we get more sick leave (sadly for some people of my acquaintance not all that generously paid; I’m often at pains to stress this because people think we are more generous in Europe than we actually are — generosity comes at some cost so it balances out) but we’re also expected to keep people in the loop. I get the HR manager was a twit (certainly, she should have used email rather than repeatedly phoning; it’s great now we receptionists are issued company phones because it’s far easier to keep in touch while we’re sick) but from her perspective, she did need to know for tracking purposes.

    3. I&I*

      Plus sometimes people take sick days for mental health reasons. If they have anxiety, calls to check in can very easily be felt as ‘They think I’m malingering, I’m gonna be fired.’

    4. Kate*

      To me, this sounds a bit like a cultural miscommunication. In some cultures (much of the USA, for example), it’s considered polite to reach out and make connections – positive politeness. In other cultures (UK, Japan, for example), it’s polite to give people space and not impose – negative politeness. That’s one reason Americans can read as overbearing or aggressively friendly when traveling in areas with a culture of negative politeness. (Not explaining this terribly well, I’m afraid, but I studied anthropology at school, have lived in Japan, and am an American married to an Englishman so have spent lots of time in the UK.)

      1. Jam Today*

        I live in the USA and have never had anyone from my job call or text me when I’ve told them I’m out sick, and I hope they never do. I have never heard of anyone doing this. I would lose my mind if I had to deal with my coworkers while trying to manage a fever or a bad stomach or a blinding headache.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          Same here. Being an hourly worker, it might be seen as overtime answering a call from someone tat work. I have once overslept a bit due to new meds and had someone check up on me because I was half an hour late. But that’s a different scenario.

          1. Sopranohannah*

            Right, the only time I’ve had anyone from work communicate with me was someone who was a friend outside of work, and I had communicated with her first to tell her I was in the hospital.

        2. doreen*

          I have- but it’s never been someone who was out for a day or two with a fever/headache/upset stomach. That seems odd to me or at least it did pre-COVID. In my experience the calls have always been to someone who was out for a longer period of time – a few weeks after surgery or a heart attack. And I’ve known a few people who were upset that no one called under those circumstances so I think it’s one of the many situations where there’s no safe option – you risk getting the person upset whether you call or not

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I think the medium matters. One of my coworkers sent me get-well a card when I was out for over a month following surgery, and that seemed a nice balance of “get well soon” and “you don’t need to respond to this in real-time if you’re busy healing”.

            I think a card or email would be okay for long absences, as long as there’s no expectation of a response (or pressure to come in soon).

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              In our call center I’ve given sympathy cards when a colleague’s cat passed, get well cards when another manager broke his elbow, and when people have been out for a while it’s normal to say “welcome back, hope you’re doing better!” and such.

              But our managers are extremely cautious when telling the room at large why anyone is absent, save generalities like “health issues” in the broadest sense, because they know A) many of my coworkers are friends outside of work and already know, and B) said coworker has a right to privacy about things. The only time we know anything specific is if we have to be told so and so is isolating due to Covid and we may want to run tests at home.

        3. VeraWang*

          Seriously, you’ve never, ever heard of someone doing this?? Sure, it happening when one is only out a day or two may be odd, but a whole week or more, especially for surgery, it would be strange to me too that no one would check in.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I’m in the US and I’ve lived in different regions – I have never and would never reach out to someone on sick leave, and I have not been reached out to when out for things like surgery or major illness unless it was to find out when I’d be back (not pressure, just request for information). I’ve had coworkers who were close outside-work friends check in, but not colleagues, and I wouldn’t want to.

            1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

              I think this is the context- if you’re friendly outside of work, then you’re more likely to check in. If it’s someone who isn’t, maybe the office sends a card for a serious illness and/or longer medical leave than a cold or flu, but no one else “checks in.” I’ve only had the cellphone numbers of a few of my coworkers over the years so it would be really strange to get texts from people whom I haven’t shared my number with personally.

              1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

                Also, I’ve never had a work cellphone- maybe that is a difference, too. I use my personal cellphone for business, but it’s such a small amount and I prefer not to use it at all for anything that isn’t 2 factor ID or verification texts. Communicating work stuff on my personal phone seems like an overreach, but I do it because no one here has a work cellphone.

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  As I think about it, a work-specific phone would probably make a lot of difference–I wouldn’t think twice about getting calls or texts on a work issued phone but might find it offputting to receive the same on a personal one.

              2. ava*

                if a coworker was out for a few weeks, I’d likely send them some kind of no-pressure email or card– like “Hi Jessica, hope the surgery went well, good luck with your recovery, all going fine here”

                that way they can respond if they feel like it, but hopefully not feel like they’re being expected to interact

                and personally, i would not want to interact while on sick leave

            2. ferrina*

              My experience has been the same working in different parts of the U.S. For the most part, coworkers don’t reach out, and I prefer it this way. Only exception was when I got a fruit basket on maternity leave, and maybe a couple coworkers that I’m friends with outside of work (similar to what Resident Catholicville, U.S.A. said)

            3. Ace in the Hole*

              I’m in the US. I’ve seen this both ways when someone is out for a long time for something like surgery. It doesn’t seem weird to me for people not to reach out… but it also wouldn’t seem strange to get a brief “Hi Ace, hope your recovery is going well!” from coworkers I’m on good terms with who knew why I was out. Similarly I wouldn’t be put off by an otherwise friendly supervisor checking in once or twice with brief well-wishes.

              They key for me is whether it feels like they’re expecting a response. If the message seems like they just want to let me know they’re thinking of me, that’s fine. If it seems (due to tone, frequency, etc) like they are fishing for information or demanding my attention, I would be put off.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Yes, both of those would seem normal to me, as would a card/flowers if I was out for a while. But as you say, that’s different then expecting a response.

          2. Jojo*

            I was out for surgery about a month ago. I got one text on my work cellphone just to let me know they were thinking about me and ask if I needed anything. One coworker, who is a good friend, did call me to check on me. I didn’t even answer because I thought it might be a work question. After I got her message and realized she was just checking in, I called her back and we had a lovely chat. But, she’s old school, I would have been shocked if anyone else had called to check on me. It would have been weird.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                There’s a difference between “a coworker who is a good friend” and what we’re talking about.

          3. RussianInTexas*

            You tell me you are out sick, why on earth would I contact you? I don’t even want to know what you are out sick with unless I now need to quarantine. I told no one in my office except my two immediate coworkers when I had covid, because it didn’t prevent me from working (from home).

        4. Dust Bunny*

          Same. We don’t do this at my job unless someone either didn’t call in, or did but now they’re out for longer than expected, or maybe if they’re out for a long time. We assume they want to be left in peace to sleep/attend to sick kids/whatever.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Right. If someone asked for time away from work…I’m giving them time away from work.

          2. CrazyJob*

            Nod they can hear my well wishes at work. They’re not my friend and probably don’t care about whether I check in. When I’m sick I’m so miserable I can’t even use my computer in bed so I would worry about being rude by not answering texts

          3. Random Bystander*

            That makes complete sense to me. I don’t think I would want to work in a place where anyone would be checking in on me unless we were friends in addition to being co-workers. Some co-workers, I only tolerate when at work–get me when I’m under the weather and I might inadvertently say something that revealed how I actually feel (as in the quote “Sometimes the thoughts in my head get so bored they go out for a stroll through my mouth. This is rarely a good thing.”)

              1. Random Bystander*

                I’m not sure … I had a co-worker who, back in in-office days, had that printed up and posted on one of the walls of her cube, but it wasn’t attributed. However, memorable enough that it stuck in my head.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Goodreads shows it as YA author Scott Westerfeld. Does not cite the title…so this YA fan might go on a library binge. :)

        5. EPLawyer*

          Same. The LAST thing I need when sick is to have to deal with a lot of messages I feel obligated to return. Especially if it is my boss.

          Checking in when someone is sick is for family and friends. Coworkers, unless friends outside of work, should leave the sick person alone.

        6. I have RBF*

          Ditto. I communicate to my manager that I am going to be out, and make sure to update each day if I can. But them, or anyone on my team, calling or texting me throughout the day when I am trying to sleep and recover would be very unwelcome, to the point of some sharp work in private message when I got back to the office (eg “Hi Fergus. When I’m out sick I’m trying to sleep and recover. Texts and phone calls interfere with that, so if it happens again I will be turning my phone off. Thanks for understanding.”)

          I’m salaried support, which means I’m available by phone just about any time for emergencies. BUT! When I’m out sick I’m OUT SICK, and not available for work. I’ve seldom had an issue with that.

          When I’ve had surgery, my managers have often checked in once to see that I made it through and how my recovery schedule is going. That’s fine. They also understand if it takes a while to return their messages (because recovering, hospitals, no phones, etc.)

        7. dreamingofthebeach*

          Had one boss that when I took leave for a surgery, and 2 days later sent an email (exempt employee here), she didn’t respond to it but reached out to IT and had my email shut off until my leave was over. At time I thought that was a little extreme…however, a year later, we had a code “on way to Florida” to alert her when I got the expected call for my father dying. She blocked all communications to me, didn’t allow anyone to reach out for work stuff while I was grieving and sent beautiful tributes, tons of food, and cards to all my family without having ever talked to me. Unbelievable how that was exactly what I needed, but others saw it as insensitive. Will always respect her for her tenacity at making sure I was not disturbed in both situations

          1. Pugetkayak*

            Technically if you are collecting short term disability or are on FMLA or other types of leave, everything needs to be turned off because you should not be doing any kind of work and the company can actually get in trouble.

            1. Atalanta*

              This is the situation I’m literally in now. I just had planned, major surgery and all access has been removed. I do have some contact with coworkers but it’s all been pre-approved by me and social things like updates on a new house purchase and random kitten videos to cheer me up.

              My manager didn’t realize the legal ramifications of contact and he thought I’d want to “check up” on things. Duuude nooo…. Let me point out that not only is it illegal, I’m going to be high as a kite on pain meds so whatever answer you’re looking for from me is probably not the one you’ll get.

        8. Momma Bear*

          Same. I have never had anyone follow up except on maternity leave. I want to be left alone when sick and I think that as long as the manager knows the person is out, that’s all that needs to be communicated. If I am on a type of PTO where I can be reached, I let the key players know that but otherwise, no. I don’t expect anything from my boss other than acknowledgement that I need the time off. Also, sometimes people are just not warm and fuzzy. They are perfectly nice people, but not going to give you the moral support you might get from a friend. The coworker should look for that support elsewhere.

        9. whatchamacallit*

          Same – I live in the US and it’s been my experience that you let people recover in peace, at least in a work context, not at all that it’s expected to reach out to check in routinely.

        10. hey y'all*

          I had someone I was not particularly close to call me in the HOSPITAL. It was a very unwelcome call, he was just being a nosy heifer because no one knew why I was there. Take up a collection for a plant and card and leave the sick person alone.

          OP, your situation sounds normal to me.

      2. Ro*

        I’m a Brit who has lived in Japan. I found it easier to adjust to the Japanese culture (in my personal opinion and experience the Japanese are more reserved than the Brits but in this aspect we are more similar to each other than we are to Americans) than the Americans did. Japanese politeness is more to my taste than American politeness which I find a bit overbearing but I think being aware of different standards (I have never heard the terms negative and positive politeness though I knew the concept) means everyone can be a bit more tolerant of each other.

        I think there is a thing where people from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the UK tend to assume everyone else from those other countries thinks similarly to them. We all speak English and in many cases (before French Canadians object) the countries were “founded” (inverted commas because people were already there) by Brits or people of British descent. So there was a shared culture and due to media crossing borders more and the shared language there can be an assumption that two people from any of these countries will have similar cultural norms. A Brit in America for example may be less culturally aware and less concerned about offending anyone than if they went to Italy or China or Mexico for example. I have definitely had misunderstandings with Americans.

        I know I’m making a lot of generalizations above but I hope my point is clear.

        1. BethDH*

          I don’t know how true this is in other countries but in the US at least I’d say this kind of thing is probably more affected by size of company and industry than geography.
          And because there’s so much variation a lot of what’s “right” comes down to individual preference and some degree of what you’ve seen at past jobs.

        2. new year, new name*

          I think there’s also a difference between checking on someone who’s out sick for a few days or a week with a “it happens from time to time” kind of illness, and someone who’s recovering from something really major. I would consider it weird and disruptive if a coworker checked in when I’m out with my periodic migraine-related thing, but I thought it was super nice when my work buddies brought me some treats once when I was recovering from a life-threatening car crash (they asked first!!).

          In the latter case, I think what made it nice was: they knew me and suspected I would like it; it was during a period when I was feeling mostly ok but massively bored because I wasn’t allowed to do anything yet; and it was same-level coworkers I had a warm relationship with rather than our awkward boss. Basically, I think, it really, really depends (not just on region but much more specific circumstances) so err on the side of doing nothing unless you’re pretty sure!

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yeah, I think there’s a difference between out sick for a week and out for surgery here. Most of my colleagues checked in, some multiple times, when I had surgery and I was really touched. I wouldn’t expect somebody to check on me if I were out for a week or less though.

            I tend to message the colleagues I am close to after a week or ten days if they are still out. Generally just a “hope you’re OK” kind of thing.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Same. When I lost my husband, I got a really nice card from the building. Everyone who was anyone had signed it, including managers. When I went in to collect my good shoes for the funeral, I got the hug of a lifetime from a close friend.

              It was a moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. No joke — I’ll certainly remember the wedding day, the day he asked me out, the last afternoon we had together and the amazing turnout at his funeral. But the hug from Granny Weatherwax in accounting is also one of those moments.

              I get that emotional displays seem to be a bit awkward for a lot of people, and can be draining in circumstances where everyone delivers condolences separately. But, for me, having always been a nomad on the outer orbits of people’s lives, it actually felt like I’d finally found somewhere where I was appreciated as part of the herd.

        3. Nina*

          Am a kiwi who’s lived in both UK and US – I found them both pretty manageable as far as assumptions and expectation went, mainly because we don’t have huge domestic TV/movie/media production and import a lot from UK and US, so your cultural norms are significantly more familiar to me than mine are to you! Definitely more at home with UK norms for a lot of things.

      3. Tomato Soup*

        Noooo. This is not a thing in the US, as Alison noticed. What LW is describing is personal to them.

      4. BethDH*

        I’m in the US and I do not want my coworkers contacting me when I’m sick. My ideal is that they express pleasure to see me back, and that when I let them know I’m out, my supervisor is clear that I should take all the time I need.
        In practice at my current office the person who works most closely with the sick person is likely to stay in touch with them because that’s the most efficient way to deal with changing return date coverage, and that person usually becomes a conduit for the “we miss you” part too.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Perfect setup. It’s not chilly – you express that you’re happy to see them when they’re back! It’s just respecting someone’s time and space.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            I fit into many stereotypes of urban northeastern US, and I like to describe my style at work as warm but distant. I’m so happy to see you! But I’m not going to ask for details.

      5. Just Another Cog*

        I am not just US but “Great Lakes Region” US, and I’ve never had a job where my coworkers called to check on me, and I’ve never called to check on anyone. Other than a meal or two when I had a baby, they even left me alone for most of maternity leave. The general attitude is that it would be intrusive for someone to bring work to the sickroom.

      6. Pickles*

        Came here to say this about negative politeness. It’s trying to be considerate and give you room to recover; if you want it to be someone else’s business, you’ll initiate. It can come off as rude if you’re expecting positive politeness that’s more aggressively inquiring into you – I had to preemptively explain my thought process to a few people my when I was a manager. Your coworkers are probably trying to be polite or not nosy in some form.

      7. Natalie*

        I think you’re right, though there is probably some regional variation here.

        I’m in the southeastern part of the US, and any time I’m out sick, my coworker-friends text me, ‘feel better soon,’ type messages, and I do the same for any of the ones with whom I’m friendly.

        But I don’t know that that is typical for the US at large.

        1. Sydney Bristow*

          I’m in NYC and I tell my boss I’m sick, he says he hopes I feel better, and my coworker friends sometimes text me those types of messages. But those coworker friends are people I sometimes hang out with outside of work and I’d actually consider us friend friends. Occasionally someone will respond to internal my out of office message that says I’m out sick to send the same kind of messages, but that is something I wouldn’t see unless I wanted to check my work email. I prefer it this way.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Texas. We might respond, “Ugh, sorry! Feel better soon!” to the initial “I’m going to be out sick” contact, but that’s it. The only time I can remember us contacting someone who was out was when our boss was in a car accident and was out for a month–we texted once or twice to say hi and tell him something interesting that happened at work. But it wasn’t even to ask him questions about work–it was just to share a story, and it was when he was well into recovery from surgery (so he wasn’t still dealing with a lot of pain, weird meds, etc.).

      8. Lexie*

        I’m in the US and unless I am genuinely friends with a coworker I do not want them bothering me when I’m off work. If they are truly my friend I’m okay with them contacting me but won’t be upset if they don’t.

      9. Siege*

        The only time I have ever had anyone express any interest in my sick time was when I dropped dead in a meeting. Two of the staff I was very close to visited me in the hospital, but that was as much for their benefit as mine, because dying is kinda shocking.

        I would find it weird and offensive if my coworkers were trying to check in with me while I was out sick. Having a warm, connected relationship does not mean requiring me to perform socially while I am sick. And I am in the US. This is a a bizarre take.

          1. Siege*

            Nah, I just said “not today, I got s#!t to do,” and St Peter said “I see you do, you can go home now.” But in sincerity if you’re going to have a cardiac arrest, do it in a room full of hypercompetent union and political organizers. It didn’t hurt (me) at all that we had three trained CPR providers, 2 of whom have given it many times before, on staff, either. It’s 100% because of them that this comment was not ghost-written. :)

      10. Essess*

        I’m in the US and in all of my workplaces through the years it would be considered very rude to call coworkers who are out sick. Health issues are private and coworkers shouldn’t be interrupting or asking questions about it plus the person who is recovering usually doesn’t want constant interruptions while trying to sleep or recover. Anyone who is out sick that wanted coworkers to have updates would initiate the contact themselves to someone in the office to share whatever information they wanted anyone to know.

      11. Looper*

        I’m in the US and want to be left completely alone when I am home sick and would be irritated to get multiple texts from work people. I don’t see this as cultural but feel it is a personal preference.

      12. Little Beans*

        Just another American agreeing that my workplace norms are that you do not contact people who are on sick leave unless it’s an emergency. I’m a manager who fields lots of sick leave requests, and I typically reply to all of them with “feel better soon!”

      13. RussianInTexas*

        I am in the US, and I would never rich out to the coworker. Nor would coworkers rich out to me. That is too much.

      14. nom de plume*

        Kate, I agree with you and think you’ve described this really well (have lived and worked in both UK and USA).

        People are being super-literal about this comment and misreading it — Kate didn’t say that Americans would reach out and make connections while someone was sick, she pointed out it was a general cultural trend. And it’s true. In my experience at a UK workplace, if you return from sick leave, people will find it “polite” to not ask anything, including whether you feel better, lest it seem intrusive. People won’t offer coffee or lunch when you’ve just joined, either, nor try to get to know you — negative politeness that comes across as stand-offish and cold to Americans.

        So I think this is a really astute take.

      15. Roland*

        American here and none of my coworkers even have my cell number or email, ams thatnfeels really nornal to me. If they were people I wanted to upgrade from “work friends” to “actual friends”, it would be different.

      16. MM*

        This is also why other parts of the US think New Englanders and to an extent New Yorkers are unfriendly. We’re just respecting you by leaving you alone!

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Truth. It’s ironic that so many outside the Northeast then ALSO dislike my New York habit of chatting with strangers when waiting in line. (Some days it feels we live in lines…why waste a perfectly good social occasion?)

    5. The Original K.*

      I had a medical leave and did not want to hear from coworkers at all. One emailed my work email to wish me well, which I didn’t see until I was back, and that was fine. I think I checked in with my boss to let her know I was coming back as scheduled, but that was it – and that was how I wanted it.

    6. Aardvark*

      I agree. I would be extremely annoyed if someone contacted me during any time off. And my employer forbids management to contact us during non-working time, including vacation and sick time.

    7. Twix*

      I agree. It is a bit odd that LW’s team lead didn’t express some basic empathy when she was talking to an employee om extended sick leave anyway, but there’s a pretty well-established workplace norm of respecting peoples’ privacy around sick leave. It’s my understanding that at a lot of companies it’s official policy for people in supervisory positions to avoid opening the company up to liability. Reading it as being on a team that “couldn’t care less” is frankly pretty bizarre.

      On a more personal level, I have several serious chronic health issues that have required me to take extended leaves from my job. When that has happened, my manager and my project manager, whom I have very good relationships with, have reached out about once per month to ask how I’m doing. Because they are both aware of the general nature of my issues, I’ve always been able to be pretty candid about the situation and my prognosis. I would be pretty upset if any of my other coworkers I didn’t have a relationship with outside of work contacted me because it would often have put me in the position of having to either lie to them or tell them stuff that really wasn’t their business. (Like “I’m not sure if I’m coming back to work because I might be dead”.) I realize your friend’s situation and especially your situation are lower-stakes than that, but your coworkers don’t necessarily know whether that’s the case

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        And honestly…I wonder if the impression that the lead didn’t express empathy is because the lead expressed a *standard amount of empathy from a boss to a sick employee* to someone who (from appearances) WANTS more contact and to regularly be reminded they are being thought of, etc.

        A commenter up thread mentioned someone sitting by their bed while sick looking at them with concern (to the commenter’s chagrin), and if that’s what you like when sick, cool — we get to decide for ourselves what things make us comforted when we feel crappy. But expecting that from a lead isn’t appropriate.

    8. Erin*

      I have found that a lot of managers have a sort of don’t ask/don’t tell policy about sick leave. A lot of employees aren’t comfortable sharing why they need to take or extend sick leave since it is private and personal medical information. Same rules apply to managers – many managers are more comfortable just knowing that Jane will be out for 2 weeks on medical leave, end of story.

      I wouldn‘t take this behavior personally on any level since it is respecting private medical information.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        When a co-worker was out on medical leave, people kept coming to me asking why she was out9. Not my place to tell. I suggested they talk with her husband in another department.

        (No surprise, only one person did…a long-time friend who had their home phones already.)

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      I think a lot of us can find receiving “Just checking in to see how you’re holding up” burdensome when we are in fact not holding up well and the question is not from someone on our list of close people to whom it’s safe to vent. And so we don’t direct it at other people and just let them recover in peace.

      OP, how would you respond if a post-surgery coworker’s answer was “Not well! I’m in a lot of pain and struggling with the brain fog. Obviously I’m now very worried about further complications. And the out of pocket expenses are more than I expected.”

      If you’re meeting in person in the halls of work, I’m all for “How are you?” “Fine” as the US version of “I acknowledge your existence, my fellow human” to whom no one owes a literal answer. (Unless the person is close to you and really cares and will offer the level of empathy/help you need, which is very context specific.) If you know someone is lying in bed feeling crappy, I think you should think carefully before sending off a “Reassure me that you’re doing okay and everything is good” message.

      1. Live long and prosper*

        As soon as I come up with an appropriate bow/hand gesture/head movement, I will forever greet people with “I acknowledge your existence, my fellow human” said very solemnly like they would on the Vulcan homeworld.

      2. KateM*

        +1 to ‘If you know someone is lying in bed feeling crappy, I think you should think carefully before sending off a “Reassure me that you’re doing okay and everything is good” message’ – that is really well put.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          +2 to this. When I was OOO, in pain and worried about my prognosis, getting that kind of voicemail didn’t help at all. I wasn’t sure about anything except that I was in a very bad way. My coworkers meant well, and most of them left me alone.

          Unfortunately for me, some of them wanted details, and others behaved like I needed to vent with them. No to both.

          Also, some were also gossipy sorts, and I was sure they would have told everyone what (they thought) I was going through. I was already overwhelmed and didn’t need that hanging over my head, too.

    10. Merci Dee*

      My boss has been out of work since the first week of January, and she won’t be back until the end of March. Lots of people have been stopping by my desk to ask how she’s doing, but I’ve got nothing to tell them because I haven’t heard from her.

      A couple of days ago, I stopped by the store and picked up a couple of “thinking of you” cards and brought them into the office for people to sign if they wished. Both cards filled up fast, and I’m putting them in the mail today. This seemed like a better solution – lets her know we’re thinking about her, but in a way that’s more low-key than a call or text since the cards don’t require any immediate response.

      1. Ama*

        This is actually standard practice at my office when someone is on extended medical leave and I definitely prefer it — as you noted it lets the person know they are missed but doesn’t put any burden on them to respond.

    11. NotRealAnonforThis*

      Early core memory:

      Something viral took my parents down hard when I was fairly small, hard enough that my grandparents came to take care of us.

      Dad’s boss had the grand audacity to call us looking for him for a question that definitely could have waited. Being the very early 1980s, landline, no caller ID, none of that. My grandmother had no patience for his audacity and politely informed him that he was ill, he had called in, and that was simply that. My grandmother’s “polite” tone brooked absolutely no nonsense.

      Probably why when I took a day off after spending the night with a child in the ER (so hadn’t slept in about 36 hours) and my boss called multiple times after acknowledging my call out with something that could definitely wait, my response was “what part of I’m so exhausted that I’m hallucinating are you not understanding? I am not coming in and I am not working today.” and turned my ringer off.

    12. theletter*

      + 1

      in your ideal scenario, ‘a mid week “how are you holding up?” text’, from your lead, when you’d already indicated that you’d take a week to recover, could be interpreted as a request to hurry up and get back to work.

      With coworkers who are friends and peers, it’s easier to see the same situation in a more friendly and caring light. It’s easy to imaging friends wanting to drop off chicken soup and sprite. Less so with managers.

    13. AB*

      Yes, please don’t bother coworkers out sick or on leave! I was pregnant and had to be induced so I called and told my boss and let her know I’d be in the hospital and would let her know when I was home. She told my colleagues (which was fine, I told her she could).

      But then they proceeded to call and text me multiple times. And when I didn’t reply, because I was in the hospital giving birth!, they started calling the hospital. Finally one of my colleagues called her mom who knew my mother from a social group they belong to. That mom called my mom, who told her yes I had the baby and everyone was healthy. Suddenly I was getting calls and texts again and FB posts congratulating me on the birth. When I was still in the hospital, recovering, and hadn’t publicly shared the info yet.

      I was furious! Not at my mom, who didn’t think anything of sharing with a friend. But at the breach of my privacy by my coworkers. I told my coworkers I would let them know and I really felt harassed. And then to share publicly when I hadn’t even done so, was so bizarre. It was such a breach of boundaries. And they just couldn’t understand it.

      1. Alanna*

        My jaw is hanging open — this is absolutely bizarre boundary-stomping behavior.

        At least in my circle, it is very commonly accepted that new parents are going to share their baby news when they’re ready. I think there was a couple hours’ delay with my nephews, and half a day or so with my best friends’ children, and those are people we’re close enough with that they texted us when they headed to the hospital. Were there moments those days when I got nervous and thought, oh no, I hope everything is OK? Yep! Did I immediately inflict my anxiety on the people closest to the situation? Nope!

        People tell coworkers that they’re in labor because it’s business-critical — they’re not going to be in for weeks! — not because their coworkers are the first on the list to get baby news. Expecting up-to-the-minute updates is bizarre and socially tone-deaf.

        I’m actually curious if Allison thinks your manager should have said something to your coworkers. It’s a delicate situation since I’m never sure who on my team is close personal friends outside work, but I would be appalled if my colleagues acted this way because of news I’d passed along to them.

    14. Gato Blanco*

      I am also with Alison on this. I used to work in an environment where colleagues were more buddy-buddy and it was exhausting trying to keep up with people messaging me when I was out. I am happy to be friendly in-office, but I really don’t want to deal with managing acquaintances’ worries. Not to mention the managers with loose lips who tell the whole office exactly why I am out, leading to more messages. Leave me alone.

    15. tamarack etc.*

      These are all good points, and I’m with Alison as far as *policy* is concerned, or even what the desirable culture should be.

      But then these policies are filled with real people, and this particular person would welcome co-workers who are feeling friendly towards them to check in. So what should the OP do? Convey that “well, it’s a good rule to leave out-sick coworkers in peace, and I was kinda the one who overstepped – just glad that it was what you wanted” might be one thing. But then, it might be that the other co-workers are indifferent, or that they’re just polite, or busy, or a mixture. Given that the OP knows that the colleague is craving more friendly notes from work people, it would surely ok to tentatively put out feelers how one or two others feel about it, and when the return is interested and friendly, put it to them that a text or card would be welcome.

    1. lyonite*

      I’m not clear if the trip was work-related or if they were travelling internationally for their own reasons and working while they were gone. If it’s the former I’d definitely support using a sick day; for the latter my first thought was that it should be a vacation day, but I’d let it slide for a good employee.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        It was their own (family) reasons at their own request – stated just in passing in the letter, though it was explicitly there.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        It sounded to me like they were abroad for personal reasons, but had permission to work remotely, and are now returning.

        I work in a job where international travel is common, and any padding after a trip is part of the trip, rather than being claimed as sick leave. Usually it’s not a formal day off, but a realization that your first full day back after a long flight is not going to be full attendance/productivity. If I’m travelling for vacation, however, that extra time is would be considered part of my vacation, rather than a sick day.

        In this case, I agree with lyonite – it would generally be considered vacation/personal day, but letting it slide for a good employee would be quite reasonble.

        1. Well...*

          #sob I never take a day off, I usually have to show up and give a talk immediately after long flights. I also think, for me personally, it wouldn’t gain me much, since I take about a week to adjust and sleep through the night.

          There are some people in my field with joint appointments who go back and forth between two continents, and literally every time I see them they are jet lagged.

          That being said, I totally support giving someone a day off sick, especially if this isn’t normal for them. It seems like this is the kind of thing sick leave should be for honestly. I’d even give it for a day after a vacation, like if you got food poisoning or something on the last day. You can’t always predict how well you’ll adjust to the new time zone, and some people are just physically worse at that than others.

      3. Artemesia*

        A good way to make good employees think about moving on is to nickel dime them on something as trivial as this. This is presumably not a person who is abusing sick leave policy; many people are not able to function well the day after a very long or overnight flight. Giving a little grace can go a long way.

        1. NotRealAnonforThis*

          ::nodding emphatically::

          If I’m stuck traveling more than I agreed to when I hired on, and you’re going to make me take obnoxiously scheduled flights that cut into my weekends, and then you’re going to insist that if I get in at midnight (so home around 2 a.m.) on what’s technically Friday morning that I STILL need to work on Friday when the previous guy in charge was like “yeah you’ve been “on” for four days I don’t need to see you Friday, savvy?” and I’m salaried and exempt? That’s going in the “eff this place” file mentally.

        2. lilsheba*

          Yeah I don’t even understand why this is a question. Why do we have to force people to be back at work at full productivity the very next day after getting home? good lord give people time to rest. Not being productive for a day is ok, really!

          1. Uranus Wars*

            I got from the comment he wasn’t going to ask the employee to come in but should he ask him to use vacation instead.

            When I worked for that state our HR had pretty strict restrictions around vacation v. sick and what you could use for a sick day.

            I think I have told this story before here, but my boss let me use a sick day once to take a friend for surgery (not family) and she got a call from HR and I had to swap out sick for vacation retroactive. A nosy admin told on us and had it escalated.

        3. ferrina*

          Personally, I’ve always included travel recovery days as vacation time, but I also wouldn’t begrudge a good employee using sick time for this. PTO categories are also something where different people will have different needs- some people love vacations and some don’t, some people have health complications and some rarely need sick time. For a high performer, I’m happy to make sure that they’re getting what they need to keep being a high performer (and are happy at our company)

        4. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. Is the quibble the pot it comes from? I routinely buffer travel with a day of rest on either end but all our leave is one lump of PTO so we don’t designate “sick” days.

          LW’s employee is also not demanding it but giving LW a head’s up about their travel and possible inability to work effectively. I for one would appreciate that. This employee was described as a solid person who took meetings at all hours and has kept up their performance. I would try to accommodate them.

      4. woozles*

        I really don’t understand the micromanaging of sick time and trying to ensure it’s only used for actual illness. Sick days are part of your compensation package and if you need to use one you should. I have never questioned my employees reasons for taking a sick day.

        1. Jojo*

          Some places have unlimited sick days but limited vacation days- the writer didn’t specify if that’s the case here.

        2. MicroManagered*

          That’s not micromanagement. If an employer separates vacation and sick time and gives criteria for sick time usage, it places an obligation on the manager to have some level of awareness that the sick time is being used appropriately. In other words, you can’t use a week of sick time to take a pleasure cruise to Jamaica–the company set that rule and made the manager in charge of enforcing it. Everyone agrees to that when they choose to work at that employer.

          What you’re saying is like if I said “Well my employer offers time off for parental leave, so I should be allowed to use it whether I just became a parent or not. It’s part of my compensation.” That’s just not how it works unless it’s a company that doesn’t differentiate or limit categories of time off.

          1. Anonymous For Now*

            This actually sounds like a variation on parental leave. They were elsewhere due to a family situation and on tip of that they managed to do all of their work despite being in what sounds like an inconvenient time zone.

            This person might have been able to take off altogether under FMLA and then their employer would have had to scramble to arrange coverage.

            Jet lag is a real medical condition. The manager should stop splitting hairs and be grateful to have such a conscientious employee.

        3. Observer*

          I really don’t understand the micromanaging of sick time and trying to ensure it’s only used for actual illness.

          In this case it’s even odder. Why is jet lag NOT “actual illness”? How do you realistically define illness in a way that includes things like migraine or allergic reaction but excludes jet lag?

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think so. This is work. Many places have (or had in better days) a “travel day” after cross country or international flights.
      You got in before noon on Sunday, still wouldn’t see you till Tuesday.

    3. Taking the long way round*

      That’s an interesting question.
      My thought about that is… if it’s work, yes absolutely they need the day off as sick leave.
      If it’s holiday related… it’s probably their responsibility to factor time zones in when planning their holiday and make sure they’re not jet lagged (or within reasonable boundaries) by the time they need to return.

      1. ResuMAYDAY*

        It wasn’t a holiday, because they were working. Even if the employee was in their location of choice, the company still benefitted by getting work out of this person. And good work! I can’t understand why the OP hesitated even for a moment to approve this.

        1. Jenny*

          The person in question also benefitted from being allowed to work abroad. That actually can be hugely logistically difficult, at my org you can’t actually log into our VPN from abroad.

        2. MK*

          Eh, the work they got out of her is compensated by her salary. The company got zero benefit from her working in a different location, and in fact accommodated her beyond their usual policy. She was the only one who benefited from this. I don’t think it’s a big deal to allow this as a sick day for a good employee, but I certainly don’t blame the OP for being hesitant about this.

          1. WellRed*

            If the employee has the time available, why shouldn’t she allow it off? I’d hate to think our reasons for a day off need to be “good enough.” It’s one day.

            1. MK*

              The issue is that she isn’t asking for the time off, she wants to take a sick day. No one is saying the OP should demand that she show up for work.

            2. I am Emil's failing memory*

              The question isn’t whether she should get the day off, it’s whether it qualifies to be charged as sick leave or needs to be charged as vacation.

              1. anon for this*

                Honestly why does the manager care? This is something I don’t have to deal with because we have one bucket of PTO, but I did have to think about it in a former life as a professor. At some point I realized that I don’t have the energy or self-righteousness to make judgements about who “deserves” what based on my judgement of their behavior. I know that sounds super snarky, and I don’t mean it to be. My policy became “you get x days off/late assignments, here is how makeups are handled, if you have more than that you need to take an incomplete, I don’t need to know if it’s because you’re immature, can’t manage your work, are working three jobs, are taking care of kids, got cancer, are developing into an alcoholic, whatever” — it was all based on the work possible and what would be best for the student (as at some point there is simply too much work to make up without an incomplete no matter whether the reason is virtuous, tragic, or something one could be judgy about).

                So fine (to the manager), deny this person sick leave because they’re not sick, they’re just so tired they can’t concentrate or function. If they have to be in office and they crash their car on the drive, you won. If they make it to the office and just can’t accomplish anything, or worse make a number of mistakes in code or customer conversations or whatever, you won. If you want to feel like jetlag isn’t a good enough reason, go for it, but you’re not really gaining anything of use for the company. You’re not getting good work, you’re not getting employee loyalty, you’re just getting some incremental crap work at best and a power trip.

        3. Bagpuss*

          But the company didn’t ask, or require, her to travel. They were happy for her to work so she didn’t need to use as much of her PTO so that was of benefit to her.

          I think it’s appropriate to approve it but let her know tht unless the travel is for work, normally something like that should be taken into account when she is booking her time off and taken and PTO not sick leave.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “They have been accepting work and meetings at all hours of the day and night (local time – though that’s just daytime in the U.S.), so it hasn’t had much impact on their day-to-day.”

        They’ve been working the entire time *and* are already using a personal leave day to fly back. Give this person a sick day, OP.

        My home country is only 7-8 hours behind and I was out of it for a few days after we immigrated. Pretty sure we all slept through the day and were up all night on the first day! Jet lag really is no joke. Coming from vacation where I’d only been in another time zone for 1-2 weeks was easier, but this person was away for months.

    4. Bilateralrope*

      Probably. Here the reason this employee is having to switch their sleep schedule around is because of their employer. So their employer should deal with day that they will be too tired to work.

      But if it was due to vacation, then it’s up to them to plan to be ready for work on their first day back.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I don’t think that’s right – I’m not quite sure how the ‘allotted month’ plays in but employee seems to have asked to work from abroad for family reasons, and their meetings have all been with US time zone people, not local contacts.

    5. JSPA*

      I can see at least two reasons why not.

      1. jet lag isn’t just one thing. Your peak melatonin shifts differently from (say) your digestion and hunger. After a week, only part of your body is on a different schedule.

      2. Vacation is something you choose, and the intent, as with other choices, is that you plan to come back in a state that leaves you ready to work. Remote work (and family emergencies) are…not that.

      3. The employee is making an effort to get home ASAP, and has gone above and beyond to be responsive (apparently around the clock, given their local duties, as well as their work duties). When someone’s been burning the candle at both ends for your benefit, “work” is a large part of the reason that they have no reserves to draw on, to deal with (say) sleepiness while driving, or even while making work decisions.

      IMO, serious jet lag is like serious period pain, or serious digestive problems; you know if you’re subject to serious problems. Whether or not other people are equally incapacitated is irrelevant. And it’s the mark of a good, conscientious employee that they plan around predictable incapacity.

      As someone who came back to New Mexico from Asia, then nearly crashed their car due to a split-second of micro-sleeping while driving (due to veering to the wrong side of the road upon rousing) I’m strongly in favor of letting people work within their own reasonable limits. (If you can be messed up enough to crash a car, you can also be messed up enough to crash a mainframe.)

      1. Andrew*

        Very good points, close to what I came here to say. I know from experience that jet lag can hit me really hard sometimes, and I would guess that this person (traveling overseas for a family emergency) has crossed time zones often enough that they know how it hits them.

        People assume jet lag is just “being sleepy and tired from too much traveling.” But it’s actually a real condition with multiple effects. Your circadian rhythms affect most of your bodily functions, and when you’re experiencing jet lag, your body might tell you it’s time to be alert when it’s time to rest, might tell you it’s time to cool down when it’s time to warm up, might not be digesting food at a time that you’re expecting to eat. Jet lag can lead to anxiety, disorientation, and short-term memory loss.

        If you know it’s best not to work at this time, it’s better to take a sick day for it. You can think of it as a planned recovery, like if someone asked time off for a tough dental appointment.

      2. Green great dragon*

        You might be right about burning the candle both ends, but I don’t think it’s for the company’s benefit. The company wanted them working US time, it’s the employee who wanted to do it from a different time zone.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I don’t know that it’s fair to say the employee “wanted” to work outside the country. Dealing with a family situation isn’t usually a “want.” And no, that’s not the company’s problem, but if OP can extend some kindness to their employee, one human to another, I don’t see why they shouldn’t.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Good point, they probably were dealing with the family situation during the day and working at night, *and it didn’t impact their work at all, per OP.* Honestly that is a lot more than I would be capable of.

    6. Well...*

      I think it should still be an optional sick day.

      I don’t see why people who struggle to adjust to new time zones should be penalized by losing vacation days over people who physically don’t struggle as much, or be threatened with never being able to take a vacation in a different continent. Like, they are choosing to go abroad, but also, should there be some people who don’t get to choose that because of their bodies?

      I think it’s more akin to getting food poisoning after vacation. Or, to follow the analogy more closely, being lactose intolerant and eating a bunch of ice cream on vacation, then being very sick the next day.

      The point of sick leave is that our bodies are all different, and sometimes our bodies aren’t up to the task of working. To the extent that we can, we shouldn’t let that bar people from or limit people when taking vacations. Giving an extra sick day seems like a pretty reasonable concession.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It doesn’t top them taking vacations, it just means that they need to plan to account for the fact that they may need an extra day at the end to recalibrate.

        I mean, I suffer from chronic pain – I routinely add a couple of days to the end of any vacation where I will be travelling (including driving anysignificant-to0-me distance, because I know I will need time to recover after wards – same if I have plans for the weekend, I’ll book the Monday off as I know I need the rest / recovery time. it would never occur to me to expect to effectively get more time off than others because I’m unlucky in that respect.

        No one is saying that she ought to go to work when she isn’t up to it, the issue is effectively whether she should be using her own time for that recalibration or not.

        1. Boof*

          As allison said; why not just say yes if the employer offers sick days, the employee is trusted, and isn’t sure they’ll be feeling well the day after a long trip. It’d be different if it was, like, a regular thing/they were absent a lot, maybe; sounds like they’re just giving a heads up they might not be feeling great the next day and asking if it’s ok to take a sick day if so. Seems fine!

        2. Twix*

          As a fellow chronic pain sufferer I know from experience what you mean. But this isn’t a question of LW getting extra time off. It’s a question of whether they should be able to use their accrued sick time instead of accrued vacation time. My company migrated to a “single PTO pool” model a few years ago (which is a horrible system for people with a disabilities), so for me it’s a moot point, but it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ask.

          1. yala*

            I’m of this mind. It’s been decades since I flew far enough to get jet lag, but even in pre-covid days, I would inevitably have a cold after flying (which would usually be for weekend convention trips). I planned the extra day in advance, but it still kind of stung to use vacation league for being sick in bed.

        3. ecnaseener*

          Using sick time isn’t “effectively getting more time off,” it’s…using allotted sick time rather than allotted vacation time. I’d think you could use sick time for bad pain days, anticipated or not – up to you of course if you’d rather use vacation time for them.

        4. Well...*

          I said: they shouldn’t be penalized OR stopped from taking vacation. I was anticipating the “it’s not penalizing them because they can choose not to go if they are bad with jetlag,” which is effectively saying they either lose the vacation day, or don’t go (the latter meaning they were stopped from going). It’s still an unfair choice, and I don’t see why people with chronic pain shouldn’t be able to use sick leave rather than having to dip into their vacation more than people without chronic pain.

      2. Snow Globe*

        When I travel internationally for a vacation, I always take an extra vacation day to allow for jet lag. I wouldn’t take a sick day at the end of the vacation for that (assuming sick leave and vacation are separate buckets). Sounds like this was a personal trip, although not a pleasure trip if it was due to a family emergency. I’d probably allow the sick day, since the employee has been logging in to meetings at all hours from overseas, but I would be a little hesitant to set a precedent that, of course, people can use sick days at the end of their vacation.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          It’s not just logging to to meetings, they’ve been full-on working the whole time.

        2. EPLawyer*

          It’s setting a precedent that a little grace can be extended by the company. It’s ONE DAY. They can either have it scheduled in advance, just like a doctor’s appointment or they can call in sick that day like you woke up with the flu.

          Can I say this again — its ONE DAY. Your other employees will see how you handle this. If you grant this ONE DAY of sick leave for jet lag, your other employees will see and know that they will get grace when they need it too. Don’t do it and they will judge you HARSHLY.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, I’d be glad to have the advance warning! I once had a coworker who always called in his first day back after a trip overseas (which was vacation, but a long-ish vacation), and I know his boss wished he would just schedule it that way, whatever kind of leave he was going to use.

          2. Curious*

            I agree that OP will be setting a precedent. I also agree that other employees will see how they handle this.

            For employees who are reasonable, they will see an extension of a little bit of grace.

            For other employees, who are less reasonable, they will see the precedent as “if I come back from vacation exhausted — jet lag, long drive, push my limits on the last day — I get to use sick leave.”

            So, because this IS establishing a precedent, it’s not “just one day.”

            1. Observer*

              For other employees, who are less reasonable, they will see the precedent as “if I come back from vacation exhausted — jet lag, long drive, push my limits on the last day — I get to use sick leave.”

              The problem is that managing geared to your worst performers creates a culture where you wind up wit the people who are the least like to put out for you. In fact, you are likely to drive out your best staff and the reasonably good staff will start putting in the bare minimum.

              If you treat your best performers reasonably, they will generally pay it back with continued performance and less likelihood of leaving. And if some mediocre employee DOES flounce off in a huff because you didn’t treat them like a start performer? Even in a tight labor market companies who pay well and treat their people well can hire good people.

        3. Well...*

          I guess the idea of people using sick days at the end of their vacation doesn’t bother me more than the idea of some people really being physically unable to come in after a long flight and feeling like they have to work or lose more vacation time.

          I say this as someone who regularly works the next day after 8-hour time zone shifts. I can do it, but not everyone can, so I don’t think it’s fair to penalize those who feel too sick to come in.

    7. L-squared*

      To me, if they have the time, it shouldn’t be different. I guess it depends on how much you care about taking a “sick” vs “personal” day though.

    8. Dinwar*

      Don’t call it sick leave–add a day to your vacation.

      Think of it this way: Does it make sense for the business to have someone working at greatly reduced capacity? What value are you getting, and what costs are you incurring (through quality issues, re-work, reduced capacity, perhaps even safety concerns)? At a certain point the worker costs more than they earn you. From a purely dollars-and-cents perspective it makes more sense to let them stay home. At least there they’re not actively causing problems.

      1. yala*

        “From a purely dollars-and-cents perspective it makes more sense to let them stay home.”

        To me, having a worker stay home because they are working at a reduced capacity because of health seems more like it would be a sick day than a vacation day.

        1. Dinwar*

          That’s going to be up to the individual company. Without knowing more about how they handle things, knowing the best administrative route to take is difficult. For example, the company I work for doesn’t have sick time, they just have unlimited time off. The school my wife works for has very limited sick days and personal days, so which to use becomes a more difficult equation to balance.

    9. new year, new name*

      Personally, when I’m vacation far away, I include an extra vacation day at the end (or, depending on how you think about it, fly back a day before my vacation is over).

      I do think this is different, though! I think it’s a good opportunity to show compassion and model caring/understanding employer behavior. And if the employee knows they’ll be out of commission the day they get back, honestly they’re doing you a favor by telling you in advance rather than calling in sick on the day.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        To your last point – my workplace had a sick day policy (that they have since changed) of sick days being only for unplanned illnesses. I waited to call in sick on the day of, on a day I knew I’d be out of commission (following a planned surgery), instead of telling my workplace in advance, because it wouldn’t have gotten approved as a sick day otherwise. This is all to say that I agree that the employee is doing OP a favor. They could’ve “suddenly come down with a stomach bug” on that day instead, and would that have been better for workplace planning? I don’t think so.

        1. yala*

          It’s so wild how workplaces that get Particular about what leave can be applied for when just seem to shoot themselves in the foot by almost requiring employees to submit leave last minute.

          1. doreen*

            Not always – I’ve had workplaces that were very particular about which leave can be applied to what* but which allowed sick leave to be requested in advance for medical appointments and sort of for procedures/surgery. You could absolutely notify your supervisor in advance that you would be out for surgery, but you did not have to fill out the form for advance approval as you would for an appointment

            * I do wonder what exactly happened that one of them felt the need to put in the policy that you couldn’t use sick leave to leave work a couple of hours early and pick up prescriptions. You could do it, but you had to use some other sort of leave.

        2. Office Lobster DJ*

          Having seen similar, if I were in a similar situation I might frame it as “I’ll use personal time for my travel day on Monday and I’ll try to make it in on Tuesday unless the jet lag has me feeling awful. I’ll let you know if I need to take sick time.” It’s a silly dance, but it checks the boxes of (1) sick time needing to be technically unplanned and (2) giving a tacit heads up to your boss.

          If this workplace or any the LW has experienced has rules like this, I can especially understand their hesitation. Unless it would flagrantly break any time reporting rules, I’d say LW should approve as a sick day. It sounds like this employee has been going above and beyond to make the set up work, tried to get home earlier than planned, and is going back to work almost immediately after being away for months. (Personally, even if I didn’t cross time zones, if I’d been away for months I’d need an extra day or two just for laundry, groceries, errands, etc)

    10. MicroManagered*

      I would say yes vacation is different.

      Vacation is voluntary time off that’s planned in advance, so one should also plan for a day of jetlag if their travel plans make that seem likely. I don’t think it matters whether that means the vacation time should be extended by one day or whether the travel plans should be cut short one day… but since the nature of vacation is that it’s pre-planned, this is something to consider when doing that planning.

      A jetlag day for work-related travel may not have the same flexibility. WORK decides when you need to travel, how long you need to be there, and when it’s time to come back generally, so it’s reasonable to include a sick day afterward to allow for jetlag in that case.

      I have a coworker who alwaysssssss “gets sick” on the first day she’s supposed to be back from vacation and as much as I want to mind my own business, it’s obnoxious.

        1. doreen*

          I’ve known a few of those and in my case it’s obnoxious because clearly they know they will not return on the expected date ( since it happens almost every single time) , they usually share that it’s because of something like their flight getting in at 5am , and theoretically coverage has to be arranged at the last minute (although since it happens almost every time there has been some advance planning). If you know you aren’t coming to work on Monday because your flight gets in at 5am, then just take Monday off as part of your vacation.

        2. MassMatt*

          Because others end up doing their work while they are “sick” recovering from vacation.

          Vacation time is supposed to recharge you and improve your energy at work, not debilitate you.

          1. metadata minion*

            “Vacation time is supposed to recharge you and improve your energy at work, not debilitate you.”

            That’s a really weird take. Lots of vacations are restful, but plenty aren’t! I usually do plan a day or so on the end of a long trip to rest up before I’m back at work, but that’s because I don’t want to try to work while being sore/jetlagged/etc., not because I owe my employer a perky and rested worker.

          2. Observer*

            Because others end up doing their work while they are “sick” recovering from vacation.

            And your scare quotes are also obnoxious. If someone is dizzy, nauseous, has a headache, etc. are they suddenly not sick because it was caused by their vacation?

            And if the reason they are not planning this in advance is because of stupid rules about “planning sick time” or the like, the problem is not your coworker, but your employer.

            1. MicroManagered*

              How is it a “stupid rule” to plan for jet lag in advance, but not a “stupid rule” that you need to plan the vacation itself in advance?

              If you are traveling to the other side of the world for your vacation, you have a pretty good sense that you might experience jet lag on the way back… especially if you had it on the way there! All that’s needed is to either bake 1 day into your request (travel home earlier) for potential jet lag or let your employer know, “hey I’m flying back on Sunday so I might be too jet lagged to work on Monday.”

              The commenters on this block act like an employer having ANY expectation of employees is some kind of oppression. It’s ridiculous.

              1. Observer*

                The “stupid rule” I was talking about was the rule that many companies seem to have that one cannot plan a sick day even though they know it’s going to happen. If your company does not have such a rule, the I agree that people should absolutely let the company know in advance. But then you get managers who STILL push back. (eg The letter to Allison that started this thread.)

                In the case of jet lag after a flight, yes, the person *is* sick. They are not “sick” or pretending.

        3. MicroManagered*

          Why what? Why is it obnoxious that my coworker always takes a sick day on the day she is supposed to be back from vacation?

          Because we have a job where your work has to be done by someone else if you are not here. So if she is supposed to be back on Monday and “gets sick” it means someone else, usually me, has to pick up her slack, unexpectedly, on the day she was supposed to be back.

          Of course, if it’s a one-time unexpected thing — stuff happens. With this coworker it’s such a regular occurrence that it’s predictable. Which means either SHE could plan around her own absence, or others have to plan around her–we have to assume she won’t be back when she says she will be.

    11. theletter*

      My manager usually insists that I plan on flying back a day before returning to work to manage jetlag.

      But I don’t. I just COFFEECOFFEECOFFEE.

    12. learnedthehardway*

      I would expect someone on vacation to build in whatever time they need to recover / rest up into their vacation plans. They have control over their vacation schedule and can time their flights to build in whatever rest time they need afterwards.

      However, if someone is on work travel, they are travelling according to the company’s needs and schedule, and the “out of office” component would be dictated by their flight schedule, rather than by what the person needs. Also, they’re going to be expected to be fully functional when they get back to work. Their manager should have realized they would need a day or two to rest up, if there is major jet lag involved. If the manager didn’t, the employee was smart to do so and to put in for the day as sick time. It’s sensible and reasonable.

    13. LW4 OP*

      LW#4 OP here – the discussions above so closely echo what was going on in my head! Personal travel, so you should account for the time you need to be ready to work, but the sick day was asked for conditionally (and my employee will likely log in and work some even if not during primary hours because of jet lag).

      With this employee, I like Allison’s response. I showed this to a follow manager that hasn’t read dozens of these, and they had a negative reaction to “as a general rule, say yes when you can”. However, there are plenty of posts about setting good boundaries and being clear, so that this one can tip into the “default to yes” category.

      I left another reply below.

  2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    LW1: what is the big need to protect Bob from Kate’s wrath? How is that a factor? Don’t want to “blame Bob.” You shouldn’t have to @blame Bob.” She should take the statement about the board meeting as a statement BY the board. She did not. She blames you. And you are letting her. Why? Because you really like the decision, so it is partly your “fault” or is this some weird sibling order/sibling gender thing?
    Shut her down. But let Bob fight his own battles.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My sleepy thoughts:
      She gets one this is not acceptable office behavior and needs to stop yesterday conversation. If/when it doesn’t stop all her nasty grams get out before another meeting of just ownership with the question being “is it realistic to keep an employee who thinks this is appropriate behavior” as the chief topic of conversation. I get that she’s a cousin (it reads like everyone is related to someone else here though), but it is not okay to let this go on at any company – even though it does happen.

      1. Snow Day*

        Yes, thank you. I am coming to the conclusion that the five managers need to have (another) private meeting and address the attendance issue straight on. I have tried to act like the peacekeeper, but we don’t need a peacekeeper. We need a stern police presence with clearcut rules.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          So glad you are here and reading the comments.

          “we don’t need a peacekeeper” is really important. It is not mean or rude or whatever to inform Kate that her input isn’t appropriate at certain levels. It’s rude to say it rudely, but clearly it will need to be said. Indeed, the goal is to do what’s best for the business, not to keep the peace at all costs.

          Note: this reminds me of the letter here a few months back about the group whose agrotourism business was suffering because someone thought her opinion mattered more than her colleague’s very effective business practices. Indeed, as here, the leader was trying to keep the peace and failing, when he really should have been telling the complainer to shut her yap.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              That one was an amazing letter and got really into small, friend/family owned businesses and how messy the lines can get.

          1. Snow Day*

            I will go read the agrotourism post/ thank you for that. I am coming to the very uncomfortable realization that much of our dialog at work is due to my own faults. I don’t have any children, but on some level this management stuff must be like parenting. Boundaries/ consistent rules/ shut down bad behavior. I don’t have to be her friend. I need to own the fact that I am a manager and above her on the hierarchy (as much as I hate hierarchy). This forum is so helpful for reinforcing the message that I am not crazy and I am not out of line. You are so right that it needs to be said, and it probably needs to be reinforced. I feel stronger because of this community !

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              You’re right, Snow Day, but it goes beyond you. ALL of the managers need to own their role in the hierarchy and begin managing, instead of trying to be everybody’s friend. Since you’re the one who currently knows it, you’re the one who needs to bring this fact to the attention of your co-owners, and fight for it if necessary. I’m sorry you’re stuck with it, but that’s what sometimes happens in business when you’re the first one in your company’s leadership group to learn something important.

              I have to be frank with you: the odds that you will have to fire *somebody* are pretty darn high by this point. You’ve been encouraging the assistants to act as if they were co-owners for a long time now, and chances are unfortunately high that at least one of them will not be able or willing to make the transition back to normal working hierarchy, even though you’re still hopefully going to be able to make it no stricter than actually necessary to get the job done.

              When you find somebody who refuses point blank to accept your authority or that of your co-owners, or who just can’t seem to handle it, you CAN’T let them stay. They’ll poison the well for all the others, who will rightly see it as completely unfair that they have to submit now but that one doesn’t. They’ll probably all go back to rioting for owner privileges. It won’t work.

              Please get yourself and your co-owners on board in preparation for this!! You’ll need to be. Good luck!

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Frankly at this point Kate sounds like that cousin/family member who keeps her job because the entire family/office thinks she’s unemployable otherwise. I’ve worked with people like that before and they are exhausting.

    2. LCH*

      Also it sounds like you haven’t shared her messages with ANY of the other owners. If that’s true, you should! They need to know if one of their employees has gone off the rails like this. Plus give them a heads up that you are going to implement an ultimatum about letting her go.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Goodness yes. Like Alison said, LW you are treating this as an interpersonal conflict. It is NOT. It is an employee going off the rails. You owe it to the other owners to know what is going on.

        I think you are also getting stuck on but I hate hierarchy and value everyone’s input. One there is hierarchy whether you like it or not, there are owners and not-owners. The not-owners should not be making decisions ONLY the owners can make. Two, you can value REASONABLE input. That does not mean you have to listen to everyone’s rant du jour and consider it.

        1. Snow Day*

          You are absolutely right. I do hate hierarchy, and when I am alone, then I solicit input. But the implication is always one way “I am asking you”, not “You are entitled to tell me what to do”. I am coming ot the realization that I do not “own” my manager status. Maybe that is the curse of all people-pleasers, or the curse of new managers everywhere. I try so hard to not be the fist-banging screaming manager, but I have probably conceded too much.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            This is a place where it is important to note that there is a lot of space between addressing something and fist-banging and screaming about it.

            A lot of people hate confrontation because they don’t want to fight or argue, but there is a long runway of assertiveness before that point. There are times where you need to make something clear, but you can do that without fist-banging and screaming, and doing so is an important leadership skill.

            “Kate, this is not appropriate for X and Y reason and cannot continue,” is a perfectly fine thing to say.

            1. Snow Day*

              I love that phrase ” a long runway of assertiveness before that point”. More leadership skills that I intuitively know but have not put into practice. Thank you again!

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          And there’s also something to be said for not liking hierarchy but also understanding that not everybody needs to be a part of every decision.

          1. Snow Day*

            Totally agree. The problem is making Kate realize that she doesn’t have a say in every decision. She is soooooo entitled, in her opinion. But I’m getting great ideas from y’all and I really appreciate it. Hope to be able to contribute to a good news Friday soon!

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              She doesn’t need to believe she *shouldn’t* have a say in every decision, and that may be too much to expect. But what you have to communicate to her is that, be it right or wrong, she *doesn’t* get a say in every decision at this company, and that if she’s unable to behave appropriately given that fact, she will need to find work someplace else.

      2. ferrina*

        Yes, especially at a small company. It might well be something that Bob has already anticipated, so he might have some guidance or ways to support you.

        1. Snow Day*

          Yes, thank you. I am coming to the conclusion that the five managers need to have (another) private meeting and address the attendance issue straight on. I have tried to act like the peacekeeper, but we don’t need a peacekeeper. We need a stern police presence with clearcut rules.

        2. Snow Day*

          Bob is a wimp. He has been known to “use the restroom” to avoid confrontation during a heated meeting. His typical answer is “well, I don’t know. It would be nice if we could all get along”. Really frustrating.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            It would be nice, but so would a sled being pulled by unicorns to bring us to work. Sometimes things aren’t nice!

            1. Snow Day*

              Completely agree. But there are not enough calcium supplements in the universe to get Bob to grow a spine. I’m sure that’s why I am the lightning rod for the vitriol — hard for Kate to argue with jello.

              1. Princess Sparklepony*

                I was wondering why cousin Bob wasn’t deputized to tell cousin Kate that what she is doing is unacceptable and she can look to being unemployed if she doesn’t get her act together. But it seems that Bob is another problem and can’t be tasked with telling his cousin that family relationships don’t guarantee a job.

                I, not a manager though, don’t understand why it’s you, LW, that has to lay down the law to Kate. That seems to feed into the You’re just mean to me tale that Kate is spewing. I’d have one or two of the other managers sit down with her and tell her and that if it continues there will be consequences that she will not like at all. They need to let her know that she is not a boss, she has no say in anything more than what pens are ordered from the supply company. Might be harsh but it would likely nip some of this in the bud. (Which even Barney Fife knows is a good thing…) It’s one thing to be part of a team but another to act like they lead the team when they are the sled dog closer to the sled than the front.

      3. Ama*

        Yeah — I have had to deal with this kind of out of bounds nastiness before and the absolute first thing I did was forward the email to my boss and say “I could use some help responding to this.” (In my case the nasty person was a VIP volunteer for my nonprofit so I knew we had to handle things a little more gingerly than OP needs to given Kate is an employee and is saying this to someone senior to her.)

        I firmly believe that once someone goes over the line of professionalism the person they are being unprofessional with is well within their rights to loop others in. No one should have to deal with that kind of situation alone, I know from experience that it really does a number on you. In my case, even with help from my boss and other senior leaders at our organization, the nasty person kept sending nasty responses to our much more measured “you have misunderstood the situation you’re so upset about and need to cool it” replies — I spent weeks afterwards having anxiety attacks when I’d log on to work each morning because I was so afraid there would be another email from him in my inbox.

        1. Snow Day*

          That is totally me. I literally get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see her name on an email. And then I stew about it for days. A fast reply from me could be seen as lashing out, although that is her usual approach (send a nasty email within minutes of anything management related). I like your idea of forwarding the nastiness to the other managers. I have replied to Kate that she should not be accusing me of picking on her, as it was a group decision. I told her to bring it up with the other managers. But now I think even that is too bottom-up entitlement. This needs to be “the management has decided” and “you don’t have a vote”. Very helpful comments. thank you

          1. Snow Day*

            It hasn’t! I said “sorry to be so blunt, but this is not your company and you are not entitled to attend all the meetings”. She accused me of having a bad attitude, and listed a number of (bogus) reasons why she should attend. I said that this was not just my decision, that I was “surprised” that she thinks this is all my doing. I told her that Bob requested managers only and all 5 of us agreed, and she would have to bring it up with them. Kind of a “don’t shoot the messenger” scenario.
            She went totally silent and I haven’t heard anything since (only 2 days). Stay tuned!

      4. Snow Day*

        Another really good point. Luckily (?) all of her rants have been by email so I have a paper trail. Typically anything I share with the other managers (I am the only female. 4 male managers, and all female assistants), gets shared at home with the wives (even if it is supposed to be private), which then evolves into a Drama-Fest with everyone weighing in. But nastiness is never appropriate, and maybe the vitriol will make them realize how inappropriate Kate is.

        1. Observer*

          I am the only female. 4 male managers, and all female assistants

          That explains a LOT.

          Among other things, it makes it almost certain that Kate does not see you as REAL management, like the others. You are going to need to be more assertive and firm – calmly and matter of factly! about your authority and decision making capacity.

      5. goddessoftransitory*

        Exactly! If they don’t know, they don’t know there’s a problem, let alone that Kate has apparently started bringing her own reality to work with her, like a kid with an imaginary friend.

    3. September*

      But LW admits Bob is right about this, and this is the way to get work done. Even if it was Bob’s idea, I think LW needs to admit she’s on board.

      1. Paulina*

        It sounds like everyone in the management team is on board. (Possibly even the manager/owner who is Kate’s cousin, and by process of elimination must be the other one who isn’t part of the sibling group). Whoever the idea is from, and whoever is dealing with the meeting information — it’s still a group decision.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          Given the family dynamics, I would try to yather a little more information on the “invested money” statement. While there’s probably nothing going on, I would confirm that the assistant is an assistant and not actually an owner or has been promised a partial ownership.

          1. Snow Day*

            that’s a good point. I wonder if the two sisters (Kate’s mom and the Cousin Manager’s mom) somehow promised her something that the rest of us don’t know about. Regardless, she is not an owner at the moment, so the entitlement (if promised) would have to be something that she is supposed to inherit. I hate to open up that can of worms, but it definitely could be affecting her behavior.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. A promised inheritance does not guarantee her the right to participate in business decisions now, when she has not yet inherited. Heck, it doesn’t even necessarily guarantee her the inheritance — wills can be changed! But even if she gets that in full with the death of her mother, she has no rights beyond those of a normal assistant at this time.

        2. Snow Day*

          I have repeatedly said “it was Bob’s idea and all 5 of us agreed”, but the vitriol is still only aimed at me. Time to start sharing the vitriol!

          1. Lizzo*

            Not sure if someone mentioned this elsewhere, but is it possible the vitriol is coming at you because you’re the only female manager? (Would Kate speak this disrespectfully to any of the male managers?)

            1. Snow Day*

              Probably not. She thinks we are great friends. I am the one who does all the communication (classic female job, eh?). I think she lashes out at me bc I wrote the email. Not sure she even takes the time to read the message (where I said multiple times that all the managers need to meet alone).

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      Side note: I know the saying as “same old, same old,” as in, same old questions we have rehashed many times (and as used earlier in the letter). “Same-o” is an eggcorn I’ve never seen before!

      1. Snow Day*

        Funny! I have never heard the phrase “eggcorn” before. Some eggcorn phrases seem to be standard lexicon these days: having a “convo”, getting some “inspo”, getting stopped on the street by some “rando”, etc.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          I think of those as abbreviations. Eggcorns usually are phrases that make a certain logical sense, but have deviated from the original phrase because of being misheard or misunderstood. Other examples:

          *for all intensive purposes instead of for all intents and purposes
          *taken back instead of taken aback
          *daring-do instead of derring-do
          *doggy-dog world instead of dog-eat-dog world
          *old timers’ disease instead of Alzheimers’ disease
          *take it for granite instead of take it for granted

          1. Verthandi*

            I may be an undergrad geologist but please don’t take me for granite.
            We got a new plumber. She’s great! You water meter.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            Thanks, I had never heard of the word eggcorn but know I have learned something.

            The intensive/intents and purposes one kind of makes my head hurt though. That and when people write You reap what you sew…. ARGHHHH! Because we all know that it’s You rip what you sew (sewing joke) or the correct You reap what you sow (farming joke/adage.)

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              That is Now I have learned something… argh! But now I know it… my brain was working incorrectly there.

    5. Snow Day*

      Yeah, I think you are completely right. I am by nature a people pleaser and far too accommodating. You’d think by age 60 that I would have grown a spine, but apparently I am worse than a late bloomer. First off, Bob is a total wimp and avoids confrontation like the plague. He has been known to “use the restroom” so he can hide during a heated meeting. If I mention anything about Kate (the cousin) to the other managers, I get the “but our mothers are sisters and my mom would be crushed” line. I am trying to practice “the mothers are not the company” and “Kate, you are not an owner”, and I am feeling stronger, but not fully there yet.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Share the vitriol with the rest of the management team – please. She may be their mother’s cousin – but that doesn’t give her the right to abuse you. And if Bob is going to make decisions, then he should grow enough of a spine that he can defend his decision- not duck into the bathroom and leave the only female member of the management team to take all the crap.

        And speaking of genders – I wonder if Jane is dumping on you because you are a woman and the rest of the group is male?

        1. Lizzo*

          I just posed this same question upthread. In one of my prior roles, I was on a team of 3: female director, male colleague, and me (cis female). Our volunteer president (also cis female) only ever yelled at me. She wouldn’t yell at the director (she had a title that protected her), and she wouldn’t yell at the guy, which left me to bear the brunt of all her frustrations with anything and everything. Yes, my boss was helpful navigating and had my back, but it was still super demoralizing. I was thrilled when that president’s term of service was complete.

          1. Snow Day*

            Yeah, I get it. I would be delighted if she would quit and go away.
            What I need to do is to nip it at the time of comment. “That was mean”. “That was out of line”. “Saying that is not okay”. “Do you have something against me? I’m just stating the rules”. Not saying anything just lets is snowball.

      2. Buffy Rosenberg*

        Snow Day, It’s really understandable that you might have taken a while to figure out the right ways to be assertive without banging fists etc; it sounds like you’re working in an extremely dysfunctional environment which will have coloured the way you expect fairly routine workplace interactions to go.

        I’m really sorry and I wonder if there are other external connections you can link in with (perhaps seek out a mentor who works somewhere else) who could help you navigate these dynamics in general.

    6. Distracted Librarian*

      Eh, Bob may have made the request, but it sounds like the smaller meetings work better for the entire management team. Plus, it’s not very collegial to single out one person and make him a target. I’d consult with the other owners to be sure they’re on the same page about addressing this. Assuming they are, tell her it was a decision by the owners (plural), it’s not up for debate, and she needs to knock off the uncivil behavior if she wants to keep working there.

  3. Quizix*

    LW 2- as Alison said, I try not to contact staff on sick leave at all. No matter how I word it, I feel like I’m digging for self serving info.. when they will be back at work. And I definitely don’t want to seem like I’m imposing or rushing them, so I don’t contact at all. I’ll usually say something at the start alone the lines of ‘take all the time you need to recover. Just get in touch next week/next month/whenever to keep me updated when you think you will be back’. I’ll then contact them if I don’t hear from them before or at that time, but otherwise I’ll let them be. Or even ask the team if anyone else has heard how the person away is doing, for an indirect update without hassling them personally.

    1. Jenny*

      If someone I’m friendly with is out sick I’ll check in with them when they get back.

      Except people I’m friendly with outside work, I don’t have people’s personal contact info either. The manager maintains personal contact info but it’s always clear in emails that that info is reserved.for emergencies only.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’m part of the check in when you are back in as well crew. But I did once check in with a person who was out – and extending their leave. But it was nothing more than “we’ve got work covered – take the time to heal that you need” text.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Very true – when I sent that message I was filling in as team lead (as a search was ongoing for a new team lead, the prior one retired just as coworker got sick)..

      2. Cakeordeath*

        I am also part of the check in when you are back in crew. I figure if you are sick you dont need me checking in on you. You need peace and quiet to rest.

        Plus I dont want them thinking about work which I might be accidentally reminding them of. Or some people when asked how are you? always say fine and might feel weird being asked how they are. They obviously arent well but might not want to share with people.

        I prefer acknowledgement from my manager that they know and then to be left alone. And I do that for others.

        1. CreepyPaper*

          My manager checked in with me after my operation last year and unfortunately I was still tripped out on whatever medication the hospital had given me so my response to ‘how are you?’ was ‘high as balls and full of staples’ and I didn’t get another check in until the day before I was due to return to work :)

          Generally though in my company people only tend to check in on their friends, like I was messaging my ‘work bestie’ all through my recovery period because cat videos and memes got me back on my feet.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yeah, “check in on your actual friends” seems like a good rule of thumb. If you regularly talk outside of work about nonwork things, you’re their friend, and you can check in (although even then keep in mind that sick people don’t always feel like texting!) If you only ever talk in a work context, skip it.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same here – I’d probably be messaging my “work besties” if I were out sick for a long period, and I expect they’d do the same. So there would at least be someone to notify my manager if something is off (I suddenly dropped out of contact and might be unwell or worse, etc)

            But if I got a message from a manager or a coworker I’d only had professional interactions with before that point, my first thought would be that I was getting a work call/text, asking me to help with work or wanting to know when I’ll return to work.

          3. Princess Sparklepony*

            I absolutely love your reply to your manager. Accurate, concise, and truthful. As a bonus, it kept them from constantly checking in. Perfect response.

    2. Cat Tree*

      At my company we will often do one-directional communications to show care/concern for longer term absences and that works out well because the other person doesn’t have to respond. For parental leave, a gift basket to the parent is standard (paid for by the company) and a card signed by coworkers. For medical procedures we will usually send a card if the person is out for about a week or so. For unexpected illness it’s harder to arrange a card (like herding cats in our office) but for anything more than a week or so the company will usually send flowers or similar. I’ve been on the receiving end and it’s nice to check the mail on my own time and see the well-wishes without needing to respond.

      1. Sedna*

        Yeah, uni-directional stuff like this works out really well in my experience. I had a surprise hospitalization a few years ago and my coworkers sent me flowers, which was really nice. Otherwise my office sticks to the rule of giving people privacy and quiet while they recover & welcoming them back warmly when they’re ready to return.

    3. Rainbow*

      In my country, the “workplace” is not allowed to contact people on extended leave (dunno whether illegal or just standard policy). So, I would check in with a friend while they were off, if they were someone I regularly message outside work. Otherwise, I would leave it till they returned. True whether I am involved with their work projects or not.

    4. Distracted Librarian*

      Same. I also let them know before they go that I won’t contact them b/c I don’t want them to feel any work-related pressure, but if they want to reach out with an update, I’d be glad to hear from them.

      As a manager, I find it really hard not to reach out, because it seems so cold and uncaring. But I don’t want someone reading email when they’re out sick, and a text from the boss may not be perceived as a friendly check-in.

    5. A person*

      We were trained as supervisors not to contact people on sick leave (especially fmla) because as stated, some people take it as pressure.

      For me personally, I care a great deal about my reports and my colleagues, but I will only check in with colleagues I know well enough to know if I’d be bothering them or not because I assume they are resting and not necessarily wanting to read texts or answer the phone. You should read positive intent on this one. They’re trying not to bother you when you feel crappy, not that they don’t care.

    6. Nina*

      My best manager ever (seriously. The guy was amazing and absolutely deserved every promotion he got) contacted me exactly once when I called out sick, and it was because

      – I had the Plague
      – I had called in sick from vacation (to say ‘I will be away longer than I planned, also can I count today as a sick day rather than a vacation day please!’)
      – I tested positive for the Plague at an airport in Country C, while traveling from Country B where I had been, to Country A where I live, on a military aircraft (I am not military)
      – I was stuck in Country C because of civilian airport rules about Plague
      – The captain of the military aircraft was trying to convince the civilian airport that I could get back onto the military aircraft I had just got off in order to go home

      and my boss called the next day to check if I had in fact made it safely home to Country A or whether I needed him to contact his cousin at the embassy in Country C to see if anything could be done for me that could not be done for average citizens.

  4. Allison K*

    LW4, why isn’t traveling home from a company-assigned location part of work? Why should the person have to take a personal leave day to travel for business?

    1. NL*

      We don’t know if they were traveling for work or because they wanted to, sounds a little more like the latter.

    2. Ed123*

      “they are a solid performer who asked to work internationally more than the allotted month allowed due to family needs. ”

      To me this sounds like they were traveling for personal reasons but were allowed to work while away.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Yes, this is what it sounds like to me too. “We need someone to travel to [location] for work reasons from January 10 – February 10” and this worker said, “I’ll go, and because I have family in [location], can I stay until March 1?” And then they did all of the family stuff they needed to do and said, “I can return February 20 instead of March 1.” (I’m making up dates for illustration purposes only.)

          1. MK*

            I don’t think that’s what happened, “alloted month” suggests the opposite to me. As in, the company allows people to work remotely abroad for a maximum of one month, and this employee asked for more that that month,because of a family emergency.

            1. Hlao-roo*

              With a closer re-read, I think you’re right that it was all personal travel and they were allowed to work remotely while abroad.

          2. I should be working*

            I don’t think the company required them to be overseas. I worked somewhere that allowed employees to work remotely from another location for up to 1 month per year. Some colleagues would rent an AirBnb in Mexico for 4 weeks, work from there and then have weekends to explore. It sounds like this employee used that to travel to where their family was, and they got approval to stay there longer than 4 weeks.

        2. BethDH*

          I felt like this could be read two ways: 1) it’s normal for an employee to be able to work remotely for up to a month, they got more, so OP feels like they have already bent rules for this employee or 2) they were going to be traveling for work already and stayed longer for the family situation.
          To me 2) would be no question, of course they should get recovery day (I’d say that shouldn’t even count against their sick time bucket).
          1) leads into thornier questions about fairness and cross-org equity, though I think Alison’s advice has typically been that good performers and unique circumstances do get more flexibility than poor performers or situations where a role can’t absorb that flexibility.

          1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

            We have that policy, up to 1 month can be remote internationally, more needs to be unpaid leave/vacation/come back to our country/quit

    3. Darkwing Duck*

      This situation sounds a lot like a coworker of mine had. They’re Indian, and had traveled home to attend their father in law’s funeral. Other than a few days for mourning, they were on every day at US Eastern 8-5 and missed very few meetings or other expectations. They get home, and have to fly back a week later for their mother suffering some health issues, and this was almost 6 more weeks. They timed their travel, but our manager was more than gracious with a jet lag day on the end being counted against their sick time.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, the jet lag when traveling to/from India is no joke. Your body clock has to readjust by 12 hours each way! But even traveling to/from Europe to the US has a more than 6 hour adjustment, especially if you are on the West Coast. Heck, I even get jet lag traveling from California to Florida.

    4. LW4 OP*

      LW #4 OP here – many of you hit the nail on the head. We have a policy of fully remote work anywhere in the world for up to a month, but Employee needed three. They earned an exception for all three, and now they are able to come back after month two. All travel is personal, and so a personal day versus sick day was my original thought. I would have preferred they book travel on a weekend, but I assume that it was expensive and so they balanced the goal of getting back to the US with the cost they are incurring of changing their flight.

      I’m thankfully not overly worried about precedent. Knowing this employee, they will log in and check email and work somewhat on that day, and since their job has a lot of meetings, being able to reschedule beforehand means those meetings can stay on the calendar and be productive. I also don’t think coworkers are going to closely examine it, since they already know the fact there’s been warranted exceptions given to this employee.

      Allison supported my initial desire, which is to show the employee the same courtesy that they have been showing the company and be flexible to the extent I can. I do have a question out to our HR to see where they fall on jet lag = sick – but I asked it generically, so they won’t have all the nuance of the employee in question. I’ll try to respond back with their “official” answer.

  5. Amy*

    #2- I was actually told not to initiate contact with employees on a leave because it could be considered that they are working and in turn they could claim they need to be paid as they are working vs being on a leave. If an employee reached out first, then it was okay to communicate. It’s been a while since this happened, the details are a bit fuzzy. If it makes any difference, this was in California.

    1. TPS reporter*

      That’s the general company policy for me. Regardless if someone is out for several months I do usually text them once or twice just to say- I hope you and your family are well. Something like that, especially if I know they’re out for medical reasons

    2. Captain Swan*

      In some cases, it might be a function of the employee taking short term disability. I know in a previous employer, a coworker went out on maternity leave. She didn’t login at all for the 3 months she had off for leave and we didn’t contact her. A couple of coworker friends messaged her through FB because they were friends on that platform but nothing through work channels. The reason being even logging in could be construed as work and that would mess up the short term disability claim. Our maternity leave was covered under the company’s short term disability insurance policy.

    3. Dollars to Donuts*

      Same here, our HR Team just gave a training to all managers and the message was that managers shouldn’t even know the details of someone’s personal health situation, to minimize any liability. To an extreme extent — they encouraged us to interrupt employees who were voluntarily chatting about their health, to tell them that we’d rather not know the details. That’s wildly rude, and I would like to show basic human-to-human concern for an employee who wants to share basic info. But I would not proactively ask for details, and certainly not while someone is out of the office. I have never texted my employees, and I don’t want to — big fan of personal space!

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

        That seems way excessive. Like what if someone is trying to tell their boss something important? Like, I’m allergic to peanuts but Sara keeps putting peanut butter sandwhiches on my keyboard or if they are trying to ask for a little bit of leway with something but cant get accommodations yet.

        1. Buttons*

          In those situations, cutting them off WOULD be excessive! But I can see other situations where cutting them off would be appropriate. Some people, whether because of a (toxic) previous work environment or just naturally, share way more health information than they need to; I’m sure that’s what the policy is trying to get at. You CAN interrupt someone without being horribly rude, and in a way that prompts them to continue if it’s actually necessary.

  6. AnneMoliviaColemuff*

    #4 I’m not sure I’m reading this right, but if they have been working for company while overseas, why would they need to take the Monday as personal leave? That’s a normal working day, unless you have an unlimited PTO. I think it would be reasonable and fair for the company to offer the 2 days as leave without it affecting their balance.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      The way I read it, they weren’t overseas for company business, but were working remotely while overseas (for longer than the company typically allows someone to do so) as they had a family need. If the trip was for their own needs, I think both days fall under PTO, rather than one being a sick day.

      If it’s a business trip, I agree that neither day should count against them.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        sick leave is for times where you dont feel well enough to work. jet lag falls into this. they are back, could work, but potentially will feel off.

        being nitpicky with a good employee over a day of sick leave isn’t a great tactic for a manager (that they have only tentatively asked for – they plan to work if they feel ok)

        1. Decidedly Me*

          I actually agree that it would be nitpicky to force it to be PTO when they are submitting it as a sick day, but if an employee asked me from the start what to submit it under, I’d still say PTO.

          Personally, I would never think to categorize jet lag/tiredness as a sick day. When taking personal travel, I work this into my plans – choosing to extend my PTO by another day to accommodate, arriving home on a Saturday to give me Sunday still to recover, or by doing my best to time zone shift on the return and accepting that I may be tired working the next day.

          1. tamarack etc.*

            If an employee were to take a pure vacation, travel back at [last day of PTO] and then take the next day off sick b/c of jet lag, that would be raising questions.

            But here the situation is much messier. The employee was working internationally – and even without the family need they’d have been away for a month. So they need to come back from that international assignment, and they’re already travelling on PTO time (probably due to the family need dictating the arrangements). It’s basically a business trip, with accommodations for family need thrown in, so I’d treat the impairment after traveling back like traveling back from a business trip, and would not make a fuss about the sick day, because it’s reasonable.

            Also, if there’s a climate of trust about taking needed time off, that’s really something worthwhile to preserve, so don’t err on a side that could be perceived as nickle-and-diming the employee.

            1. LJ*

              It is messy, for sure. They weren’t assigned to work internationally. As a contrasting point, if someone were in a digital nomad situation and moved continents every few months, would you give them the side eye for taking a sick day for jetlag between each of those moves?

  7. Heidi*

    So, for Letter 1, there’s the 5 managers: Sibling 1, Sibling 2, and Sibling 3, the OP, and Unrelated Manager. And there are the 3 assistants: Assistant 1, Assistant 2, and Kate. Is it safe to assume that Kate is the cousin of Unrelated Manager since the OP mentioned she was the cousin of one of the managers? I figure if she’s the cousin of a Sibling, she’d be related to 3 of the managers. If so, it seems odd to me that she’s dumping all of her ire on the OP instead of her own cousin, who was also in the meetings.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Not really. Doesn’t want to cause family drama with her cousin, the other three are likely to stand together since they are siblings, therefore OP is the one to get an earful.
      Of course, it’s possible cousin is ALSO getting an earful but OP doesn’t know it.

        1. Heidi*

          Oh, interesting. I got the impression that Bob was one of the siblings (maybe because he seems to have some level of authority over the meetings which made me think he was part of the sibling bloc), and that the OP would mention it if she’s trying to shield her own brother from Kate. But if OP is a sibling, Bob could be Unrelated Manager 2.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                The trick is to row OP back across the river, that way Kate is never left alone with OP and doesn’t have more chances to be abusive to them.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      While I think it’s likely that Kate is the cousin, I would not rule out her being a non-relative who just feels really strongly about things, and has felt free to express that to all and sundry. Not everyone has a well-honed sense of self-preservation. (And of course, some of those who dare to be ridiculous discover that this puts them in a power position as everyone else in the group yields to their unreasonableness.)

    3. Siege*

      I don’t know, I take the view that it’s weird that Kate is dumping what she’s dumping on anyone at all, and it doesn’t matter who she’s related to or if she picked OP because she hates OP’s fuzzy socks. Kate is being wildly inappropriate, and I agree with Alison she’s putting her job at risk.

    4. Cynan*

      I suppose it’s possible that one of the Siblings is actually a half-sibling or step-sibling, which would mean it’s possible for Kate to be a cousin of one but not the other two, but yeah, presumably she’s the cousin of Unrelated Manager.

    5. yala*

      This is starting to feel like one of those logic puzzles where you have to work out what color house who lives in with what kind of mailbox…

      1. MassMatt*

        Oy, yes, this is giving me a headache.

        I think the problem may be that even if not all the people are related, it has the feel of a family business. And while there are businesses that a family owns, there are others where some of the family owns the business and the other family members work there.

        The managers are (I assume) owners or partners and the assistants are not. Support staff should have a say in things like how we handle deliveries, or what’s the best software for us to use, not decisions the business owners need to make such as succession planning.

        Kate has really gone off the rails (“taxation without representation”? What is she talking about?) but this just shows it’s harder to set a more restrictive boundary after first being permissive. If the meetings had been restricted to managers (and are they all even owners? Maybe five is too many?) from the get-go Kate wouldn’t have felt as though she had lost something.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          If the succession planning involves leaving the business to children of the current owners, it certainly sounds like a family business to me. Personally, I would not want to go into business with 3 siblings as someone unrelated; that seems ripe for way too much family/non-family drama.

        2. Snow Day*

          MassMatt, you nailed it. It has the feel of a family business, with all the attendant shifting alliances and whispered second-guessing of others’ intentions. And you are 100% right that we were all too permissive in the beginning. I don’t know how to rein it back in (and it’s not really just my decision), but it clearly needs to be. Maybe Kate has mental health issues that I am not aware of, but her comments/reactions are typical of every issue. I think she desperately wants to be seen as an insider and a decision maker. It feels like a caste system to keep her out, but her involvement is inappropriate.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Wait, so this wasn’t the trigger and she’s been like this all the time? Or always kind of pushy but this is what started her rampage of email spite and taxation WTFery?

            Because see: my earlier comment about how she seems like someone “the family” insists on working there because she doesn’t come across as employable in the general world.

        3. Elsajeni*

          I actually think the “family business” aspect might be a factor here — I am a little confused about who’s related to who, so maybe I have this wrong, but my impression is that Kate is the only employee who is both 1) a family member and 2) not a co-owner? If that’s the case, I wonder if her perspective would be “decisions about Our Family Business are being made in those meetings; I’m a family member; I should be a part of those decisions!” She’s still off-base — and possibly off-base enough that there’s no reasoning with her at this point — but I wonder if approaching this with that perspective in mind would help talk her down.

          1. Snow Day*

            Elsajeni– very insightful of you. I think you have explained her perspective perfectly. I had not thought of it that way (I tend to think in legal terms rather than emotional baggage and perceived inclusive/exclusiveness). I agree that she is off-base enough (another commenter suggested the phrase unhinged enough) that it is nearly impossible to reason with her when she’s in a snit. I would like someone to be able to approacher her with that perspective in mind, but I don’t know how to do it. All suggestions welcome!

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        These kinds of things remind me of the Far Side cartoon “Hell’s Library,” where all the books are “Story Problems,” “More Story Problems,” “The Big Book of Story Problems…”

  8. Certaintroublemaker*

    LW3, I don’t know that I would trust these owners with any kind of confrontation. If there is such thing as anonymous suggestion boxes, you could “suggest” that they not brag about their millions to employees not making a livable wage. Otherwise, maybe you and a few workers could tell the story to a few local or regional reporters to see whether you can get any public pressure on the owners to raise wages.

    1. Sue*

      Copy this question and Alison’s answer and put it in the suggestion box. Although I suspect anyone this clueless wouldn’t be open to ideas and thus wouldn’t actually have a suggestion box. Find another way to get this seen around the office. Maybe public shaming would shut it down.

    2. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Check your contracts before speaking to any press! It is possible you aren’t allowed to do or say things which could reflect badly on the company, and/or share certain company information externally. (And of course if they found out it was you they could very likely dismiss you anyway, regardless of your contract.)

      1. WellRed*

        They are in the US rust belt. It’s unlikely they have a contract. But yes, proceed with caution. They don’t sound like they care about employees.

      2. Jazz and Manhattans*

        No, in the US we don’t have working contracts but most all companies do have policies about speaking publicly about the company. That was my thought though on how to anonymously tell the press that this was going on.

      3. J*

        Since people are jumping in about contracts, I’ve had 4 jobs have this kind of language in our handbooks so check there.

    3. Jazz and Manhattans*

      I agree to not confront unless there were some way to safely do it anonymously. These are people who are completely clueless about working norms and more than likely will retaliate against the OP or anyone else who raises a hand. I think this is “my boss is a jerk and unlikely to change” territory.

    4. Grammar Penguin*

      The press covers news. Local business owners flaunting their wealth in front of their broke employees isn’t news.

      1. Esprit de l'escalier*

        Local newspapers (if they are fortunate enough to have one) cover all kinds of not-exactly-news as human interest stories, or they might have a columnist who writes about the travails of the less fortunate or trodden-upon in the community.

  9. First Time, Long Time*

    LW3, I am second-hand infuriated reading about the rude employers. My first job out of college was at a small, family run firm and I made what was probably considered a living wage for a single person at the time (but low enough to qualify for public assistance if I had children), and it still wasn’t much for a high cost of living region. The owners were always pulling up in new, expensive cars and buying small airplanes for themselves (years later that ended tragically for one of the owners and his family). And they were always flashing new five-figure watches from their extensive collections.

    One day I was late because my car broke down. They gave me a bit of a hard time about it and kept badgering me why I couldn’t just buy a new car. I kept saying “because I can’t afford it.” And they pressed why – I said “I don’t have student debt, I live with my parents, yet I STILL cannot afford a new car.” One of the owners said “I know the problem- you must have a crack addiction!” I rolled my eyes and said “yeah, that’s it”. A colleague overheard that and couldn’t believe how obnoxious that was. The owners were horrible people and I put in less than a year there, just to get that first job experience. I left in disgust (with another job lined up) after they played a horrible prank on another colleague that made me sick to my stomach. I could write a book about those clowns – two of the four owners were brothers. One was married to his brother’s former mistress.

    Sounds like the owners of LW3’s company are cut from the same cloth and probably don’t care how their hubris comes across to the peons. But certainly tone-deaf and not a way to earn loyalty.

    1. I&I*

      Do these people get that the reason they have so much money is that they’re refusing to pass on a fair share to their employees??

      1. redflagday701*

        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And do they realize that their employers, who are the reason why they made all this sweet sweet cash, are going to leave? They aren’t the only employer in town who can pay $15/hour.

        1. MassMatt*

          Sadly, it sounds as though the employees in the story don’t have many alternatives because it’s an area without many good jobs. If moving to a place with a better economy isn’t feasible due to costs then maybe try remote work if the occupation allows it.

          Remote work has the potential to be a real game changer if your occupation can be done remotely. You can live in a low-cost area and potentially make a high-cost area income.

      3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        There’s a deeper issue here. There’s research (which I’m too lazy to Google, but is also considered common sense) indicating that when people get power and wealth it changes their mindset. They tend to believe they have what they have because of their hard work (which belief conveniently ignores privilege) and that people who don’t have the same wealth and power are flawed (don’t work hard enough or whatever). They also tend to become inwardly focused and unaware of how most people actually live.

        Not everyone, of course, but it’s a tendency that perhaps comes out of our evolutionary heritage of the dominant member of the pack getting the lion’s share of everything.

        So these folks aren’t making a connection between their wealth and the standard of living of their employees. As demonstrated by the car incident, they have no idea what standard of living their piss poor salary provides.

        1. MassMatt*

          “It’s a banana, Michael. What could it cost? Ten dollars?”

          Arrested Development reference aside, this phenomenon happens (and is arguably even worse) in people that simply inherit or marry wealth. A former coworker of mine got his job through nepotism, his education from granddaddy’s (not even daddy’s) deep pockets, and spent all day playing Tetris and talking about how lazy people on welfare are. “Why don’t they want to work?!” I finally snapped and told him maybe because they couldn’t afford a computer to play Tetris on all day. He took the rest of the week off.

          1. cabbagepants*

            Yesss. My mom got a humanities degree in the 60s, never used it, and then married and was financially supported by my father ever since. She truly believes in her heart that poor people are poor because they don’t budget properly and are unwilling to sacrifice luxuries.

    2. Daisy*

      Ugg, what jerks.
      I’ve found that many people who have never truly struggled to meet bills (as in needed to decide to pay rent or buy groceries, instead of not affording entertainment) don’t have a good grasp how much it actually takes to live a minimal lifestyle.
      It is like those articles on how to budget – “I cancelled all these automatic payments from streaming services I don’t use and saved hundreds!” It is so offensive to assume I could afford even an extra hundred in expenses on my so-called living wage. There are absolutely no charges on my credit cards that I don’t need and recognize at a glance, just as there is no change between my car seats.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Ah, but have you considered eliminating your daily $8 Starbucks latte? So much hard-hitting journalism tells me that’s the real secret to make your money troubles go away. -_-

        1. Jackalope*

          One of my favorite memes in the last few years said, “A millennial enjoying the home they bought by cutting out avocado toast,” and it shows a 20-something young woman getting ready to crawl into a cardboard box. Very apt takedown of the “lattes and avocado toast” arguments.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I will never understand how the three-martini lunch generation came down on a $10 lunch dish as the root of all evil. To be fair they probably used to expense the three martinis, as well as the rest of those lunches.

            1. Ama*

              Because it isn’t a good faith argument — when you pick at whether other people’s expenses are “worthwhile” you’ve already proven you just want the right to be smug and judgey so you don’t have to look at the actual numbers showing that they could be eating oatmeal for every meal and still not have enough to not live paycheck to paycheck.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Or the other version, “A millennial who got creative and bought this gorgeous house/condo in a primo location” — and 10 paragraphs in the story finally reveals some tidbit that makes it clear they didn’t buy this house *because* they stopped buying coffee or whatever stupid premise. They bought it because they have zero student debt and family gave them down payment money or something similar. Which hey, if you have access to that, go for it — but can we stop cosplaying as a broke millennial who gave up avocado toast and bought a condo?

          3. ecnaseener*

            Time has a great calculator for how many avocado toasts you’d need to give up to pay for a down payment on a house in your area!

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Fortune just released an update to that. Skip Breakfast to Save Money!
          Yes, it recommended starving yourself, over advocating for living wages.

          1. PleaseNo*

            I am in the midst of this right now — I eat once a day to save $, as my expenses > income right now until my house either rents or sells. I’m always hungry.

          2. I have RBF*

            Yeah, BTDT. For a while I ate two meals a day of things like ramen or rice. Hunger is not character building, it’s just hunger.

      2. I have RBF*

        Yeah, it’s tone deaf.

        I’ve been broke – as in pennies in my bank account, having to pick whether I bought food or a transit pass to look for work, living on ramen and rice, losing weight because I literally did not have enough to eat, about to be evicted with a car that I couldn’t afford to fix, etc. Six months of that type of unemployed poverty in a high cost area has made me very determined never to end up that way again.

        There were no “lattes”, “eating out”, or even cable TV (I didn’t even own a TV!) I had no credit cards, no savings (burned through even my spare change reserves), and no spare anything. After I paid my rent and utilities (power and landline) I had less than $50 to cover transit and food, for months at a time.

        Needless to say, when I see the tone-deaf “advice” about how to “budget” as a broke person, I just laugh. Lattes, eating out, and streaming services don’t even come into the picture.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        Or those suggestions about “cooking at home” and “handmade gifts.” Not everyone has a home, a working kitchen, or equipment. Not everyone can shell out for yarn and jam jars and what have you. Plenty of people with two jobs live in long-term rental motel rooms or their cars and making people Valentine cookies is way way down on the list of priorities.

      4. Modesty Poncho*

        I keep getting radio ads for a subscription-cancelling service that says you can “save up to $700/month!” and I’m like. In what world am I paying that kind of money for stuff I don’t want? I have about $12/month in subscription costs and I decide regularly whether I want to keep it for that month or not, and I’m not even struggling.

      5. Verthandi*

        There were some very lean years in my past where I set the thermostat just high enough to ensure my pipes wouldn’t freeze. Those were the years I played the juggling bills game, pay the little ones first, then the big one a couple days later so the big bill goes through last and you get hit with one NSF instead of several. Banks run the largest payments through first.

        Now with all the mandatory autopayment of bills, lower income people lose that option. The money gets sucked out when it gets sucked out, and you pay extra to get a bill mailed to you. I’m referring to the utilities in my area, not cable access.

        Autopay is a lot like running the largest bill through first. It generates NSFs in people who struggle to make it from one paycheck to the next.

    3. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Urgg, how awful, you have my sympathies.

      This reminds me of a former boss, one of my first jobs out of university. The managing director was taking the piss out me for living in the shit bit of London and not having my flat redone or some nonsense like that.

      Do you know what London property costs? Do you know what you pay me? Do you know what time I need to be in work every day? Do you know how long and ever changing my hours are (ie I need to live within a reasonable distance)? Can you do maths?

      1. BugPasta*

        Once I had my boss pestering me about when I was going to buy a house or have kids. I said to his face “I don’t make enough money to do that” and he stopped asking.

    4. Gone Girl*

      Former Boss bought themselves a new $1million+ house during the pandemic, and the rest of us got 20% pay cuts, removal of our 401k matching, and the occasional “you should be lucky to have a job” spiel.

      1. First Time, Long Time*

        Ugh – I am second-hand infuriated for you too. 20% pay cut is pretty steep. I hope the reason that boss is former is because you left as soon as you could, along with other co-workers. There was high turnover at the tiny company I worked at since there were other options, but it was during a recession so it took a little more time to get out of there. Sounds like in the OP’s case there aren’t very many job opportunities in the region so people have to stick around and be reminded that they’re beneath the owners. I wouldn’t confront the owners, but if I had no other choice and needed to stay long-term then perhaps I would take Allison’s advice.

    5. Boof*

      Ooooooooooh! If only i could go back in time and force them to do the math. Of course, who knows, maybe they were buying everything on credit.

    6. BurnOutCandidate*

      At a place I worked, the VP called a sudden meeting on Friday morning for his two departments. We filed into the conference room, the VP came in holding a legal pad, and he proceeded to read from a script. We had had a good year, he said, business was strong, we were making money, but expenses were up so we couldn’t do raises at that time, and when the financial picture was better in about six months, raises would be revisited.

      He asked if there were any questions. There were none. Everyone filed out in a state of gloom. Except for me. I worked with some high-level sales reports, so I knew our sales, though strong, were also flat compared to the year prior. (And the following year would also be flat.) I had a hunch something like this would happen.

      A colleague in another department said to me later that day, “It sucks, but at least we know that they’ll make good in the spring.”

      I scowled, probably a little too hard, and said, “What makes you think that? They mentioned ‘spring’ to keep people from jumping ship in Q4. When spring rolls around, you’re not going to hear anything about this. There won’t even be an announcement. It’ll be forgotten.”

      She said I was being cynical.

      In January, the company that couldn’t give its employees raises because “expenses are up” bought another company. Morale around the office took a pretty big hit. Those “spring” raises were never mentioned again. And the colleague? Her Glassdoor review was pretty scathing about the pay.

    7. goddessoftransitory*

      This is the kind of rampant horseshit that is fun to watch on a streaming show but in no way suited to real life behavior!

  10. Manglement Survivor*

    LW1: Kate is not an owner of the company. Kate is not a manager. When your company holds a manager meeting, she should have zero expectation of being invited to attend. She also sounds a bit unhinged in the way she’s contacting you. It seems like you should sit down with her and explain to her why she’s not being invited to these meetings. And I tell her that her harassment is unprofessional and unacceptable, and that this is her warning that if it continues, she will be fired. Way too much BS to have to put up with her.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I would go farther than this.

      These are not manager meetings. These are ownership meetings. Partners, shareholders, board of directors, whatever your technical corporate structure would label these.

      Change the name, change the venue and/or time.

      1. Snow Day*

        I like that suggestion/ thank you. Great idea to call them owner meetings. She thinks she is an owner but — SURPRISE!!– she is not.

    2. Artemesia*

      I am not sure why the OP has not said this ‘Kate, these are owner meetings; you are not an owner of this company and have not say in owner decisions. And your complaining is disruptive. You need to give it a rest.’

      And this needs to be a topic of the next owner meeting especially if she continues; she needs to be gone.

      1. Observer*

        I am not sure why the OP has not said this ‘Kate, these are owner meetings; you are not an owner of this company and have not say in owner decisions. And your complaining is disruptive. You need to give it a rest.

        Apparently because the want to pretend that there is no hierarchy. But it doesn’t work that way.

  11. Aggretsuko*

    Kate is not an owner. Kate has NO power here, she is *just* an assistant, which means nothing, even if she’s a relative. Kate does not get to co-own the business or have a voice or a say, even if she desperately wants one, if the owners do not want to give that to her.

    (*cough*may be reasons for that, gee I can’t guess why*cough*)

    Frankly, KATE WANTS IN AS AN OWNER here, that’s pretty clear. If she wants to be a co-owner, maybe she should say so, or maybe all you related managers want to consider if you’d want to let her in on the top level or not instead of just selling to the children. (I honestly suspect not if she acts like this, though.) But if she wants to be an owner and the group of owners aren’t gonna let her, then she needs to know she’ll never get what she wants and perhaps she needs to move on.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Presumably to be an owner she needs a stake in the business herself (both monetary and in terms of risk) and unlike the three siblings, she didn’t chip in upon the company’s founding.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        If her mom or aunt is an owner maybe she’s counting on inheriting or being gifted shares?

    2. Longtime Lurker*

      Exactly – just let her know she’s invited just as soon as she “buys in” and invests a full share of the company. On her after that!

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, frankly, Kate has confused the business with a democracy.

      When I was young and inexperienced, I also was wrong about how much say I had in business decisions when I was an employee at the bottom of the hierarchy and there was an owner / defined leader at the top. I’m not sure I fully understood the level of investment (financial and otherwise) required to own a business. Not that I stampeded around trying to throw my weight about or anything, but the degree to which the buck stops with the people whose names are on the contracts, and what they had gone through to get to that point, wasn’t something I fully got in a top-down way.

      Kate, who is also lacking a similar understanding, is under the impression that everyone has a vote here, especially because it’s a small shop where we all know and like each other and several of us are even related. There even are times that everyone DOES have a vote, like when we’re deciding where to get lunch. But, hard truth, there absolutely are issues where the assistants’ opinions don’t matter and the owners’ do, and that is the definition of “not personal, just business.” It is not belittling or condescending or patronizing or patriarchal that the people who aren’t the defined leaders are not involved in certain decisions, even in a small shop where we all know and like each other and several of us are even related.

      No one wants to have to say to someone that there is a hierarchy here and you’re at the bottom of it, and especially since you have no financial stake here, that means you don’t get a vote … but that concept needs to be communicated, especially since Kate has not made that leap on her own.

    4. Snow Day*

      All three assistants whine about not being included, but only Kate is confrontational and demanding. The other two are a bit more manipulative — like listing 25 questions for why a decision is what it is. “Has anyone checked if this is covered in our insurance policy?” “I think the calculations are probably incorrect” “I don’t remember ever talking about this”. “do we need to run this past the legal department?” “Shouldn’t this be a unanimous instead of majority vote?” It never ends.
      And you pegged it: Kate clearly wants to be an owner, wants to be an insider, sees herself as already entitled to be an insider. Probably some psych issue there from past –what?– insecurities/ feeling of invisibility or inadequacy. I dont have the energy to deal with it, but i probably should.

  12. Kat*

    I do not want to be contacted by anyone from work when sick or on leave. Least of all my manager. In some cases this kind of contact can be construed as FMLA interference during extended leave. This is not chilly behavior. It’s routine. You’re projecting. And your manager should not be talking to you about others that are out, nor should you ask. Except to say their leave has been extended if it affects the department.

    1. Thistle*

      Work friend is a step up in closeness from colleague and real friend is a step up from a work friend. Its awfully easy to mix up the levels of connectedness and assume you are closer than you really are. And that drives quite a few letters on here.

      LW2, your colleagues and work friends probably feel they don’t have the requisite closeness to contact you when you are off. And that’s actually a good thing as they are respecting the boundaries of the relationship you have with them. You may have hoped for more closeness but you can’t force that on people. You may feel comfortable to be contacted but you have to recognise that that would be pushing through boundaries for other folk.

      1. J*

        I love your first paragraph. Especially as someone whose job is to literally be nice and welcoming, people definitely confuse those levels.

    2. Artemesia*

      a lot of people will take a ‘how are you doing’ email from the manager as ‘when are you going to get your butt back in the office?’

    3. oranges*

      I keep tight boundaries at work and would consider it intrusive and inappropriate for my coworkers to start nosing around while I’m sick. Don’t be texting me on my personal time to talk about my personal life. I’m not going to ask about your bodily functions, and you better not ever ask me about mine.

      My supervisor knows when I’m out, knows when I plan to be back, and we can all exchange professional pleasantries upon my return.

      1. Avocadon’t*

        That seems like a really ungenerous reading of a “hope you feel better soon!” kind of message

        1. oranges*

          It came across colder than I intended, but yeah, if I got a non-work text message from a co-worker, I’d find it odd. Maybe I’m just super private like that.

          1. Buffy Rosenberg*

            Oranges, I would imagine this refers to co workers who already get along and sometimes share messages outside of work about other things.

    4. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Kat, I’m curious how accurate “certain kinds of contact” is FMLA interference during a leave. I know work cannot contact you concerning work-related stuff, but I wonder about requiring weekly check-ins. This is now in the past, but when I had Baby #3 eight years ago, my HR required I check-in each week. My first two kids, I was working at a different company and HR there told me that I wouldn’t hear from them at all during FMLA leave unless it was an insurance question or to confirm return date. My current employer, which I’ve been with for 10 years, the HR manager at the time told me is was a requirement for using FMLA to have weekly check-ins. And if I didn’t call HR by Friday AM, they began calling me around 8am and after 3 tries, if I didn’t answer, they would call my spouse. I was livid because at the time, I had a child in 1st grade, a child in preschool, my newborn and my spouse worked nights and weekends, so I was juggling a lot while recovering from my pregnancy and giving birth. I was very annoyed with HR and this supposed FMLA requirement and I’ve always suspected the HR manager at that time made up her own set of rules because she was very controlling.

  13. John Smith*

    Re #2. In the UK (public sector) its a common requirement that employees remain in contact with their manager when off sick for any extended period. And it sucks. While it’s put over as a concern for welfare, it comes across as ‘we don’t believe you’. This is especially so when managers start quizing you on symptoms, asking if you’ve been back to health care provider, or commenting that their aunty had the same thing but was only off for 3 days. Even better is when they ask when you think you’ll be back in. Like, yeah I’ll just hold a meeting with the virus that has a hold of me and ask it when it’s going to go away. A caveat is that, at least in the public sector, we get paid when off sick so employers probably feel they own us.

    1. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Uk public sector and this is absolutely not the case. In fact it seems like your manager may be overstepping. It’s always worth checking your policies because some may be very explicit on what employers and employees are expected to do.

    2. Buffy Rosenberg*

      I worked in the NHS in the UK for about six years and while I truly had some horrifyingly poor managers, I didn’t experience this myself.

      I think some people did, though.

    3. londonedit*

      I’m private sector, but still, this hasn’t been my experience at all. Of course your employer wants to know that you’re off sick and wants to have some sort of timetable for when you might be back, but in my experience if you’re within the self-cert period then it’s just ‘I’m not feeling well; hope to be back tomorrow but I’ll let you know’ or ‘Seem to have picked up a nasty bug, I don’t think I’ll be in for the rest of the week’ or whatever. If you say you’ll let your manager know the next day and you don’t, then they’d contact you, but as long as you keep them reasonably informed then in my experience you’re left well alone.

    4. Forgot my name again*

      Also UK public sector, and I think my managers have always straddled the “showing-concern-without-sounding-pushy” pretty well. This sounds rubbish and more manager-specific than industry-specific (I hope!)

    5. Bagpuss*

      UK private sector and that’s not been my experience, either.

      Its correct that if someone is off for a long period it is appropriate to check in with them – this is something that’s recommend by ACAS and is generally seen as good practice and part of supporting employees. My experience is that it’s not normally seen as an indication of a lack of trust by the employer

      I agree that no manager should be asking you about your symptoms – in some cases of disability or long term sickness, where occupation health needs to be involved, you do get to a point where getting medical information is relevant but that isn’t a manager quizzing you, it would be HR asking for permission to contact your GP, and it should always be very clear what process is being followed and why.

    6. Green great dragon*

      I was once called during sick leave by a PA to ask if I was likely to be back the next day – without pressure either way – and she was *mortified* to be asked to do it (this was before we had SMS options). I had a major deadline coming up, so I thought it was a fair question.

      This was also UK public sector.

    7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      In France it’s against the law to contact your employee on sick leave, it’s considered harassment. I wish I knew that when I had a boss pestering me. He literally told me “look, Julie came in even though she was sick”. Yes and she passed it on to me and I’ve just passed in on to my daughter too. Thanks Julie.
      He was actually haranguing me over the phone, asking for my sick note, which I didn’t yet have because I hadn’t managed to see a doctor. My usual doctor was on holiday and it was the school holidays, in the midst of a flu epidemic. The doctor rang my doorbell just as I was listening to the boss ranting, so I said, sorry, someone at the door and hung up.
      The doctor wrote me the sick note straightaway, backdating it as promised because I needed it as from the day before. She said it might be more than the flu though, because my blood pressure was dangerously low. She asked if I was under any stress, so I mentioned the boss.
      She immediately tore up the sick note giving me five days leave, and wrote another for two whole weeks instead, saying, that’ll teach him to harass his employees.

  14. Splendid Colors*

    LW3, that must be so infuriating. It is also so typical of late-stage capitalism, the huge disparity in wages/wealth AND the flaunting of wealth in front of people they CHOOSE not to pay a living wage.

    1. Ganymede*

      Wouldn’t it be nice if they were proudly boasting about the number of people they are able to pay a living wage to… “Look at my happy staff who all live comfortably”… these people are moral voids.

    2. TPS reporter*

      It makes me sick. If OP could unionize that would be amazing. But I bet the state doesn’t have any anti union busting laws. It also sounds like the owners could just find other people easily since the jobs are lacking in the area.

  15. fgcommenter*

    LW3, I recommend some light reading into 19th-20th century labor history. You can find some effective ideas for levelling things.

    1. Samwise*

      My granddad was a labor organizer in the 1930s. They’d push over a company truck, call the press, then set the truck on fire.

      That’s when talking didn’t work.

      1. Bearly Containing Myself*

        Your comment appears immediately below the one that reads: “They’d push over a company truck, call the press, then set the truck on fire.” When I read your comment that “I spent the summer of my Covid layoff doing this…” it took me a moment to realize that you were responding to a different comment!

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha I read it the same way — How I Spent My Covid Layoff: Flipping Trucks and Lighting Them on Fire!

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            According to fox news entertainment – we all did do just that! (Never mind that they had to cut European incidents into their sizzle reel to have enough footage…)

  16. Lilas*

    OP2 unless you’re genuinely hang-out-outside-of-work level friends with your coworkers, don’t text them while they’re off sick to ask how they’re doing. You can take up a collection to send flowers or something, and if a manager Hass to check in with a sick person they should let them know that the team wishes them well. But no one (or I guess not 99% of people) wants texts from coworkers checking in when they’re not working. It’s not horrible, it’s still a nice gesture if you did it, but it’s more intrusive/burdensome than welcome in most cases. Just tell them when they come back that you were thinking of them.

    1. Norm Peterson*

      I did text a coworker who I work on a lot of projects with when she was out for the 3rd day in a row to ask if there were any time sensitive things I could work on for her. Turns out she had Covid – and she did send me a list! (Most of which I was able to get enough done on/reply to emails that her absence wasn’t going to be noticed outside our immediate team).

  17. Mikah*

    LW2: if you are friends outside of work, like grab coffee or text each other memes, fine for folks to check in on you.

    I work for a big public employer and management doesn’t tell us why people are off to protect our privacy. I have a coworker who’s been out for maybe the better part of two months and idk what’s up with her, some family and illness combo I think? My direct manager avoids any detail of why I’m asking for time off bc it’s my time to take. If I need longer time off and management has to contact me with details, they will, but extended leaves are handled by HR. And they have been for me—I was abruptly hospitalized (weird rare occasionally reoccurring blood disease) and I called my boss and said mark me out for the week, it’ll be longer but I’ll talk to HR. They called me the first business day the next week and hashed it all out while I was getting an outpatient infusion. I didn’t have to field phone calls from work while hospitalized which was great.

    I’d expect my more buddy people to maybe text me, but I don’t expect to be hearing from my boss directly. They may send a get well card during something extended. I wouldn’t take it personally at all.

    1. Thistle*

      UK private sector here and we have the same. But I think it depends on the manger or HR person, some are respective of boundaries and some aren’t. Good companies keep the contact short and brief and make it known that they aren’t pressuring you to come back.

    2. EvenCallingOnceMayBeHard*

      In the US it would be weird to have to deal with HR about this. The expectation is you make one call to your boss and they take care of anything else that’s needed until such time as you’re sufficiently up to snuff to reinitiate contact. In those cases where it’s more than out sick, will update you tomorrow/in a few days/insert other timeframe your scenario would very likely fail, especially if you lived by yourself (landline) or they only had a cellphone number. This is doubly true if the employee is unexpectedly hospitalized where making even that single call is problematic/difficult (cell phones not allowed, incoming only landline, limited availability for staff to notify people, inability to function well enough to call or to remember number to call, etc.). Last time it happened to me I was asked once who to call when transferred from the ER to inpatient and I barely registered, eventually gave them the name of my best friend, couldn’t give them her number, and they ended up trying again the next day when a nurse looked her number up. She then called my room and I had a conversation with her I don’t remember that resulted in her calling my boss to tell him I was in the hospital and would be in touch after I was released. I wasn’t directly in touch with my boss for another 11 days, at which time I was still barely functional but we took care of any formal paperwork to go on short term disability. I was still mostly non-functional for at least two more weeks (I had to live with my friend for the first 2.5 weeks – I don’t know what I’d have done without her) and I have very few, mostly vague memories of the entire first month so I may be misremembering a few details, but that’s my recollection, mostly of what I was told soon afterward.

      1. This Old House*

        I think it’s pretty standard for HR to get involved when absences get extended. At my org
        (also in the US), HR is involved whenever it’s anything other than sick or vacation time – FMLA, maternity leave, COVID leave, STD, bereavement leave, etc. I can’t imagine my actual boss knowing the first thing about where to start with FMLA or STD paperwork, for example, other than “talk to HR.” I mean, I’d touch base with my boss to let her know I’d be out if it wasn’t pre-planned, but I’d expect the bulk of the details to go through HR. (If I only had the wherewithal for one call, it should probably be to HR, but in the moment there’s a decent chance it would be to my boss and getting around to doing the HR stuff later.)

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        HR deals with extended leaves in the US, most commonly. They’re the only ones with the resources to fully advise employees on FMLA (or state equivalent), short term disability, acrrued PTO, and what combinations thereof are appropriate for their situations. In organizations without HR, management or an assigned member of senior staff may do this – but it can be complicated and they often don’t do it quite right, so if HR is an option it’s usually better.

  18. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (Kate wants to be part of meetings) I think you are tiptoeing around her a bit too much…. these are *management* meetings! It isn’t really a “managers only approach” as such — this is how those meetings ought to be structured!

    I would let the current wave of vitriol burn itself out (file the nastygrams away somewhere in a folder) and then tackle her about them later once it’s subsided. It may he that she should be fired, but I think it’s worth trying to get to what the real root is of this behaviour (“no taxation without representation” etc is a justification).

    I think it does often get muddied like this in small companies. Personal experience: my mum worked for 10 years for a company with 3 owner/managers plus her (admin) and another guy Jim (accounts). She would moan to me often that “they leave Jim and me out when they go off to these meetings” etc. I never quite managed to get through those are management, essentially board, meetings. “But there’s only 5 of us!” etc. Eventually the company got into difficulty due to the global economy and had to lay off (redundant as this is the UK) my mum and Jim purely because they couldn’t afford to keep them. She never did understand that and to the day characterises it as “they threw Jim and me under the bus to save their own jobs but we were the ones who did all the work!”…

    1. Snow Day*

      thank you for this. You are very wise. I have chosen not to reply to the most recent vitriol (other than to tell her that I am not the solo decision maker and she needs to contact all managers.
      I am working on stiffening my spine before the next (inevitable) round starts up. In the meantime (thanks to all this community), I am planning to share the vitriol with the other owners, work on my “no, you are not inner circle” messages, and try to own my own management position.
      many thanks to the whole AAM community. Very very helpful. :-)

      1. Liz Lemon*

        You’re being weirdly passive in this. It’s your job to deal with problem employees. You are not helpless. I don’t understand your approach here.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I understand it, even though I agree that it’s not useful. Snow Day has said elsewhere that their own spine, while further along than Bob’s, is still a work in progress. In addition, since Kate is also part of the family, Snow Day is likely to get a kerfuffle with some of Kate’s closer relatives and supporters within the family if they tackle Kate’s behavior unilaterally, even if technically they have the professional authority to do so.

          That doesn’t mean the passivity is *helpful*. Sure, it would be a lot better if Snow Day could just say, “Kate, that’s enough. You don’t have a role in management meetings, so there’s no reason for you to be there. Now if you can’t move past this and behave in a professional manner, you’re going to be jeopardizing your job here.” But it’s not especially surprising to me that it’s taking Snow Day a while to reach that point.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Passivity sounds like the name of the game for this entire company, frankly. The “meetings” are simply a way to pretend to deal with really important matters while kicking the can down the road and pretending that no one will ever get sick, retire, or die.

            LW, if you have any money invested in this company I strongly suggest you sell out now. You’re working with delusional people who will cost you a great deal in assets and time, right when you should be thinking about organizing your retirement.

  19. ChrisZ*

    #1: I was struck by “she has valuable opinions, she deserves a seat at the table, she refuses to be part of “taxation without representation,” she will no longer invest any money with the company”. You say she’s the cousin of one of the owners. Forgive my cynicism, but is it possible that Kate has been giving money to her cousin thinking that she (Kate) is buying shares or something? Which might explain all the stuff she’s been saying.

    1. JSPA*

      Came here to say exactly this. Has someone been feeding her a line? I’d ask her to coffee, and ask her to explain what she means by, “investing in the company,” and whether someone has suggested or implied to her that she will gain an ownership stake by working there, and how she understands the different roles in the company.

      Write THAT up, circulate it back by her, to confirm it represents her actual understanding have her sign off on it, as her understanding of the situation, and take that to the managers.

      There’s a huge problem going on, but you don’t, at this point, know if she’s the entire problem, or if she’s a particularly prominent symptom of a greater problem.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes – if she has been providing money or been told that she has a stake then that needs to be discussed with the other owners, and if not, then the conversation becomes one where you explain that being an employee doesn’t entitle you to be at that table or involved in those conversations.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      That didn’t occur to me but I did find the “taxation without representation” thing really bizarre. It sounds like she is saying she should get a say due to the money she invested, but…there is no money she invested. Your suggestion is one possible explanation and a very concerning one.

    4. CowWhisperer*

      Yeah, I’m hoping she just was venting – but I’d figure out a way to verify that there’s not something fishy going on financially.

    5. chips and scraps*

      Oof, yes, this is a good point. She obviously thinks she has a much bigger stake than LW thinks she does – has Kate made this up out of whole cloth, or does she have a legitimate reason to think this? Where’s it coming from?

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      The speculation is possible, but I took the “taxation without representation” bit and her spouting a patriotic catch phrase without its actually meaning anything to her. This is hardly an unusual phenomenon.

      1. WellRed*

        I agree. Taxation without representation doesn’t signal an investment. It’s a rant against the government and basically what started the American Revolution.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That’s how I read it at first too, but I think the possibility that it’s based on something the LW may want to get *super* clear on before engaging further.

      3. jtr*

        But she (Kate) specifically says “she will no longer invest any money with the company (for the record, she never has)”.

        I had typed up a very similar thought, but worried I was putting facts not on display into my comment. Kate thinks, somehow, that she’s investing in the company already. Maybe she’s just naïve and thinks that her working there is somehow investing, OR maybe she’s been told that’s the case by Someone to smooth over her feelings of inequality, OR maybe she’s been handing over cash to Someone and told that it’s being invested in the company.

        I agree that LW should (1) document all the communication from Kate, and wait until Kate has calmed down a bit and sit down and ask her specifically about this. (Or maybe not wait!)

        Also, the managers need to settle all of the same-o, same-o ASAP. Succession planning is vitally important in any business, and in a business that’s semi-family owned, the non-family is risking getting screwed.

      4. Observer*

        her spouting a patriotic catch phrase without its actually meaning anything to her


        Because even if she is giving someone money, this line makes no sense.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a fascinating possibility where the “taxation without representation” would make sense as a complaint.

    8. RagingADHD*

      Ooh, hadn’t thought of that. If these people started a business without agreeing up front about the most basic stipulations of a partnership agreement, it’s entirely possible that one of them is letting their mouth write checks the business has no intention of cashing.

      Or Kate could be taking an unreasonably low wage, forgoing benefits, or paying for business expenses out of her own pocket to “help the family.”

      It would still be a huge mess, but her expectations and over the top reaction would be far less irrational in a situation like that.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Ohhh I never thought of it, but a definite possibility! I mean, either Kate is being completely irrational and is making things up as she goes, or… this. All the more reason to loop the rest of the owners/managers in (I’m assuming Kate is only messaging the OP.)

    10. sb51*

      Yeah, figuring out why was my first thought. She could be trying to sneak into ownership, but she also could have been promised something or something has been mis-interpreted. With a family business like this, unfortunately family dynamics do come into play.

      If she has been (correctly or erroneously) promised a stake eventually, then it makes perfect sense that she’d want to protect her “investment”, even if she didn’t invest any actual money to get it – perhaps she took the family job over other opportunities. (I don’t want to go too speculative and write comment fanfic, but I can think of lots of family misunderstandings over money that I’ve seen over the years that could be playing out here.)

    11. ZSD*

      LW, please give us an update on this one if you find out that Kate did in fact give the cousin money she thought was going to the business!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Yes, because these would be two completely different mindsets to deal with: the former is simply unhinged, the latter would be based on information that Kate at least thinks she has that you don’t.

        This does not mean that her behavior doesn’t need to stop yesterday either way, by the bye. If I worked for or did business with this company and saw Kate rampaging around and found out she was an owner? It would not improve my opinions or confidence in the company. (Speaking of, if she has social media accounts you can check, you should.)

        1. Snow Day*

          ohmigosh, you are all so helpful and so right on target! She has had previous outbursts and comments that seem inappropriate or out of context. Here’s an example: someone was talking about moving into a different house. Kate blurted out “If I wanted to move, I’d certainly want the new house to have a built-in cocktail bar and the dining room table would have to be oriented perpendicular to the view so that all the dinner guests could see outside!!”. The room went silent and everyone just kind of looked at her. Bizarre. And apropos of NOTHING.
          My issue is that I don’t want to be the one who has to go have coffee with her alone or ask her one-on-one what her issue is. I want the managers to present a united front.

    12. Boof*

      That’s a good point – I sort of assumed Kate was making idle threats akin to when some people say “I’ll contact my lawyer!” (when the person has no lawyer and nothing illegal is going on) and “freedom of speech!” (in situations that it doesn’t apply at all like private platforms and correspondence). But perhaps it’s worth ONE conversation about what did Kate mean by that to make sure someone hasn’t been feeding Kate a line / taking Kate’s money.
      Given the totally over the top harassment of OP, it seems most likely Kate is just entirely unreasonable/entitled, but one conversation where OP checks what Kate meant by that, and then lays down the rules as appropriate (“Management meetings are much smoother with fewer people and you are not in management; it is inappropriate for you to demand to be in on our meetings and while we will talk with you and share decisions that impact you, you need to accept this is not part of your job and you need to leave it alone. Can you do that?”) etc etc

  20. Ellis Bell*

    Why would OP1 hate to “pull rank on her”? That’s what’s rank is for. Bring the thunder. Nip it in the bud. Honestly she’s being so embarrassingly unprofessional it would be a kindness to her.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, this. When (not if, hopefully) Kate ends up working at another company, this kind of behavior would never fly.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, I imagine that most organisations with more than 10 or so employees have some meetings which are managers-only. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Kate wanting to contribute ideas, but ironically the way that she’s currently acting makes it a lot less likely that anyone will want to listen to what she has to say.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I’m betting Kate works there at least partly because she can’t work anywhere else due to her temper/reputation. Family, y’know.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      When I was a supervisor, I almost never played the I’m the Boss Of You card, but there were definitely times when it was necessary and appropriate to do so, because I was, in fact, the Boss Of Them and they needed to be reined in. I feel like that’s harder for LW because this business has a lot of family connections involved, so the relationships don’t feel like standard working relationships, and that makes these conversations feel more complicated.

      1. Snow Day*

        Minnie — you got it. the family aspect complicates things, plus I should not have to play HR Director (of course we do not have an HR department). But jerking someone’s chain once in a while (when necessary) is not necessarily a bad thing.
        Dog growls every time the neighbors cut across the yard, but they keep doing it, until the one time the dog finally lunges at the neighbors. Behavior fixed!

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s a small, family business and the OP seems to have some person philosophies around a flat hierarchy – I assume those dynamics are why it’s hard. However, it still definitely needs to happen in this case.

  21. Anne Wentworth*

    LW2, please take Alison’s advice to heart, stand down, and check your assumptions. For most people, the very LAST thing we want to do while sick is perform our work persona for coworkers checking in. We just want to sleep, work through pain in private etc. And not think about work at all.

  22. HearTwoFour*

    This might be completely off-base, but I’m wondering if OP1 is a woman, and the only woman among the manager/owners. If so, that might be why Kate is selectively spewing her hate at the OP, rather than Bob or the other owners. (OP1, sorry if I’m completely wrong here, that’s just how I saw this in my mind’s eye when reading your narrative.)

    1. bamcheeks*

      Well, the first thing I wondered is how LW knows that Kate is ONLY doing this to her. It’s possible that she’s doing it to all five of them, but because of some weird feeling about “not washing dirty linen”, they’re all just — not mentioning it to the others.

      LW, I think there is probably quite a lot of dysfunction going on here in how you regard each other, how you make decisions, and how you communicate them. It’s odd to me that you and Bob are apparently equal level, but you let him decide who is in the meeting and then neither take ownership of that decision (“I’m just the messenger”) but also don’t feel like he needs to even know about the consequences. As far as I can tell, Bob isn’t your boss, so I don’t get why you feel the need to run interference here.

      What Kate is doing is absolutely unacceptable, and you have standing to tell her to stop, right now, and you should also tell the other managers what she’s doing, and what you’re going to do about it, and make sure all five of you agree that this is unacceptable and that Kate will no longer be able to work for the company if this continues or recurs.

      But to be honest, the fact that this doesn’t seem straightforward to you makes me wonder a whole lot of other things about how the company works. The combination of “I have to handle this by myself” “Kate is someone’s cousin” “we are re-hashing the same-old arguments” makes me think that this is one of those family businesses which is leaning a lot harder on the Family than the Business.

      1. chips and scraps*

        Yeah, this is my feeling about it too – this all seems awfully…murky? There seems to be a lot of stuff just going unspoken in this company. Why is Kate’s idea of her role so wildly different from what the owners want her to be doing? What are these meetings trying to achieve? Bob makes a decision about meeting attendance, meetings then happen in…secret? And when Kate finds out she harangues LW, who says nothing to anyone else about this because of reasons.

        It feels like a bunch of weird unspoken family dynamics that no one tries to change because they’re afraid of the fallout. You can work around that semi-successfully a few times a year at family gatherings, but it’s awfully dysfunctional as a way to run a business.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        I also think LW’s “just the messenger” is related to LW saying she hates to pull rank. LW wants this all to seem like it’s a flat company and decisions are coming from some mystery entity, and not the five specific people at the top of the business. LW is trying her best not to create a confrontation about the hierarchy of the company, but … this confrontation is very much about the hierarchy of the company. LW, if you are part of the leadership team, you need to own the fact that you will never be just a messenger in this business, and nor should you be. You are in charge here.

        The owners are trying to tiptoe around telling Kate that she needs to sit down and shut up because she is not part of the leadership of the company and has no power here, but the bald fact is that Kate needs to sit down and shut up because she is not part of the leadership of the company and has no power here.

        1. Snow Day*

          you got it. It is definitely dysfunctional, murky, and non-confrontational. But somebody needs to pop the pimple. The more of these comments that I read, the more I am embarrassed that the situation has been allowed to go on as long as it has. Way too much energy being put into being polite. I don’t want to fracture families, but Kate’s behavior is not exactly family-friendly and has got to stop.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            Just wondering about the put off succession plan. That’s going to be a big problem down the road.

            I can’t remember rightly but I want to say that there is a small industry of people who work with companies on hammering out succession plans. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that industry is called. But it might be time to look into hiring one since the group can’t get that together.

            And depending on the age of the team it might become more urgent every day (not that something bad can’t happen at any time.) This is people livelihoods, not a tv drama and you don’t want it to become a tv drama but in real life.

    2. Myrin*

      I assumed that OP is the one manager who is not related to anyone else there – so neither one of the siblings nor Kate’s cousin – so she’s the “outsider” in some way which makes her easier to approach.

      But I agree with bamcheeks above me that Kate isn’t even necessarily doing this only to OP. It’s possible OP has good reason to believe that’s the case but she doesn’t mention anything in that regard so I certainly think it’s worth finding out more about this.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      I think you are reading something into it that is completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how Kate is or is not related to OP, or the gender of anyone involved. Kate’s behavior is ridiculous and over the top and needs to stop regardless of all those things.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I thin HearTwoFour is saying it may explain some of the dynamics happening – and I agree, it might. I’m not sure it changes the advice though.

  23. HearTwoFour*

    LW3, it must be such a gut-punch everytime the owners open their mouths. I really hope all of you are able to band together and either get a raise, or walk out as a group. Good luck, and please keep us updated.

    1. reg*

      seconding that! my nonprofit is in the process of approving our first union contract and just the few communications i’ve had with the reps have been eye-opening, particularly regarding wages. ever since i interviewed for my position years ago, i was told they paid us as much as they possibly could and could only do even cost of living increases if our funders gave special dispensation (this last occurred prior to the pandemic). yet after we voted in the union, magically, more money suddenly appeared. they claim this was in the works already, and apparently this is true. the union rep told us they hired a recruitment firm, who told the CEO they wouldn’t be able to get anyone with the current wages.

      1. Artemesia*

        There is aways money for what they want. Women have been told for years that ‘this is the absolute most we can pay you, there isn’t any money’. and then watched Jr Cocky with no experience who is a son of the boss’s college roommate get hired at more than they are making doing the same job. Because ‘market’.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      yes! and grab everything you possibly can, they have plenty of money.
      Trickle down doesn’t work, you need Niagara falls here.

  24. chips and scraps*

    LW4 – I get why this is a bit of a grey area. If it was a vacation, I’d expect the employee to plan their activities in such a way that they’d be ready and fit to work by their first day due back. If it was a business trip, I’d expect the travel to count as work time and the employee should get some time to recover before being expected back in the office. But it’s neither – the travel was personal but work continued throughout.

    I guess I’d consider it more like planned sick leave to cover the recovery from an elective surgery, or something like that. You all know it’s going to happen, and it’s resulting from something the employee chose to do, but this is the kind of thing people SHOULD be able to do. And especially since this employee sounds like a hard worker and general good egg who is unlikely to abuse sick leave, I wouldn’t want to damage the relationship with them over something this minor.

    1. londonedit*

      I’m trying to think how it would probably be handled where I work, and I think it would be a case of saying to your manager look, I’m travelling back from X on Sunday and I’m worried I’ll be floored by jet lag on Monday – and then you’d either opt to take an extra day’s holiday to cover it, or your boss might say OK, see how you go and if you need to call in sick on Monday then that’s fine. Basically giving them a bit of a heads-up about it and either choosing to use a day’s holiday to be on the safe side, or letting them know that you might end up calling in sick (in the same way as you’d say ‘I’m having some dental surgery on Thursday afternoon; I hope I’ll be up to working on Friday but if not I might have to take a sick day’).

      1. chips and scraps*

        Yeah, this makes sense – I think that’s probably close to what the employee was trying to say with the ‘tentative’ sick leave, it’s just that their phrasing shifts the emphasis to ‘I probably won’t be in’ rather than ‘I’ll come in if I can but here’s a heads up that I might not be able to’.

  25. BasiliosZ*

    About LW#1 – they claim to be one of the owner-managers. Yet they come across as trying very hard not to get involved in handling the Kate Problem. I feel they should consider this something they need to participate more in solving: after all, they are one of the owners and most importantly one of the managers.

    I don’t think it’s helpful to think of themselves as “only the messenger”; they have as much responsibility for a collective decision. And as much power in it as well: if they want they can be the one laying down the law, professionally and politely, on Kate. It’s possible they find her difficult to handle and wish someone else would do the honours. Well, isn’t that one of their duties after all? The buck stops with them.

    If nobody wants to step forward I’d say that becomes everyone’s responsibility. How about summoning her to a meeting with all five owners, and talking to Kate using Alison’s script?

    1. Daisy*

      Yeah, it came across to me like no one wants to tell Kate she is being a problem. I could totally see Kate going to another manager and claiming she is being bullied, etc. and having Manager 2 (or 4 or 5) tell OP to just smooth it over because no one actually wants to manage.

      1. Snow Day*

        I bet you’re right. I bet she whines to the cousin about how mean I am. The cousin is wimpy, Bob is wimpy, and their default answer would be “oh, I don’t know. It would sure be nice if everyone could get along”, which is also a euphemism for “I won’t deal with this now and it will either go away or else some else will take care of it.” No one wants to tell kate that she is so out of line, such that when i say it, I become the lightning rod for her nastiness.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Has anyone ever answered Bob when he says that, “Well, yes, it would be nice, but they can’t, so what are you going to do about that?” If not, you should try it.

  26. SJ*

    #3 – I find stuff like this so infuriating. It reminds me of a company I used to work for where mid-COVID the CEO led a virtual all hands meeting. He gave a speech about the importance of us all tightening our belts and the difficulty of business at the time. He then proceeded to announce that there would unfortunately be a round of redundancies affecting 12% of the workforce.

    He announced this from the deck of his yacht.

    1. Buffy Rosenberg*

      From the deck of his YACHT!

      That is cartoon-capitalism levels of villainy. Was he cackling and tossing $1000 bills in the air as well?

      The optics are absolutely wild.

      This is why internal comms really needs to be understood as a science, and not just “people who send emails out.”

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Probably cackling as he lit and relit his cigar with $100 bills. Might as well make those greenbacks work for you!

    2. bamcheeks*

      I spent so much of my twenties studying the literature and politics of the 1920s and 30s, and I increasingly feel like my 40s and 50s are going to be the practical.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Was your boss a previous Irish politician? I’m joking but back in the early ’80s, an Irish leader went on TV announcing that people were “living beyond our means” and needed to “tighten our belts.” The guy was openly spending three times his annual salary, was in debt to the tune of a million and did own a yacht (and a private island). Your boss sounds like…he was working on similar logic.

    4. yala*

      …i feel like some people have gotten too comfortable with the certainty that they and their property are physically untouchable…

    5. J*

      My Covid layoff was announced from the hot tub on the leader’s winter vacation home. They shared they’d be laying off 10% of the workforce. Then a year later they sent press releases bragging about profits being up 10% and sent them to many of our personal emails that were still on their mailing lists. These people lack decency, empathy and humanity.

    6. Chickaletta*

      LOL. Reminds me how my executive boss earlier this month was complaining to a legislative rep at a dinner function how underfunded our business was, how hard times were, how we needed more governmental support, etc. She then asked for a ride home, and he had no choice but to drive her back to her house in his brand new Porsche. He at least had the decency to be slightly embarrassed, but he also thought it was amusing enough to share around the office and around me, who doesn’t make a living wage either and earns about 5% of what he makes. “Ha ha, boss, that’s so funny”.

      And yeah, our company IS in serious financial trouble and will merge this year to save itself, but most of the c-suite makes seven figures and own vacation homes. I’m so sick of capitalism.

  27. bamcheeks*

    LW1 is making me wonder whether anyone has compiled any Family Business Fallacies, akin to the Geek Social Fallacies. In fact, I suspect this company is suffering from both Family Business Fallacies AND Flat Hierarchy Fallacies.

    1. Snow Globe*

      Fallacy #1 – In a family business, anyone who is related to the owner(s) is on equal level with every other family member, and above any non-family member.

      1. Snow Day*

        hahaha — so many fallacies, so little time.
        yes, guilty of both Family Business Fallacies and Flat Hierarchy fallacies.

  28. nobadcats*

    I just went through this. Fell ass over teakettle down a half flight of concrete stairs, backwards (10). Two sprained shoulders, cracked ribs, broke my glasses, got a nice shiner. I’m lucky I didn’t lose a tooth or an eye. Also, my right arm looks like I was in a knife fight.

    My boss and my PM for my current project, said, “Just let us know what you need. We can manage client expectations.” after I was incommunicado for over 48 hours. Five years ago, when I was in hospital for major surgery, no one from the office contacted me. They sent flowers to my apartment after I was back home. No pressure. My boss called me ONE time and only to ensure I was on the mend in both these incidences. If it would have been more, I’d probably felt pressure to get back up and running full out. So no contact when you’re healing is a boon and a bit of comfort. “Just heal, nobadcats. Nothing is on fire and there’s nothing pressing, and if there is, we’ll deal with it. Just sleep and heal.”

  29. Buffy Rosenberg*

    LW3, does your company have a communications team, and is anyone there in charge of internal comms? Are they any good?

    I know the real issue is the actual inequality of wages, not the optics, but also, a decent company should care about the optics and the manner of communicating these things.

    Internal communications sadly isn’t always taken seriously, and sometimes it’s just people sending messages out by email. But if they are skilled communications professionals, they should recognise the risk if flagged to them in those terms.

    This creates an external reputational risk (if it was ever revealed), could impact investments, partnerships, morale, talent retention, recruitment, trust in leadership, and more.

    Not that there’s ever going to be a *great* way of communicating “we are millionaires, good luck affording somewhere to live, enjoy your boiled and beans on toast later” – but there’s certainly bad ways of doing it.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      The “We Don’t Even Have To Pretend” thing is spreading throughout businesses today, I’ve noticed. Execs openly sneer at “the poors” while burning a wage earner’s house to broil their unicorn steaks.

  30. Buffy Rosenberg*

    With OP1, I can’t help wonder what else is going on here.

    Nothing would justify Kate’s behaviour, of course, but it does seem as though she has, somehow, been given a drastically different vision of her own role than the one you have. And are you *certain* she’s never invested in the company, not even indirectly, through being someone’s cousin? I mean, I suppose you would know, but it just seems such an odd thing for her to say.

    The whole company feels quite dysfunctional. It sounds like there isn’t a clear structure, or recognised channels for communicating information, and there doesn’t seem to be clear accountability around decision making.

    I’m curious about the pulling rank line. How do people usually take responsibility for issues, make decisions and enforce them? This is just another one of those decisions.

    Also, why do you have so many meetings where you rehash the “same o, same o” arguments? That seems like such a waste of time!

    1. Lacey*

      I’ve been in a kind of similar situation and it was increasingly dysfunctional.

      When I started it was 5 people (1 owner) and we were all in every meeting.
      We all helped make every decision.

      As it grew, that was cumbersome and it was understandable that it needed to change.
      But there was no communication around that and often after a meeting people (including the owner) would solicit opinions from others who weren’t there.

      And even though the roles of people were very clear. The expectations on the kind of input they had or the amount of say they had on what we were doing was all over the place day-to-day.

      Sometimes the owner would take input on marketing decisions from the woman who answered the phone. Others he’d rebuff the marketing director’s input with, “Well when you own a company you can do it that way”

      It let to all kinds of problems and a really demoralized staff.
      The owner never understood what went wrong.

      1. Snow Day*

        Lacey — that is really helpful and really similar. No one in our company seems to respect the deadlines, or the job delineation. That’s how we got in this mess. Going forward, I am going to propose deadlines for everything. “If you haven’t weighed in by XX date, then here is what we are going to do”. Half the time, the managers don’t even acknowledge that they’ve received an email, let alone reply!

    2. Snow Day*

      Definitely a waste of time. The wimpy ones seem stuck on certain points and that’s why it keeps coming up. Like “well, I still think it would be a good idea to get some more bids for the work”. Even though we’ve already gotten several bids. There is also a lot of “my friend used this company or this supplier or this attorney” which drives me nuts. Your friend is not the expert! Once we have some objective data, it’s time to move on. But “well I mentioned the project to my friend Rotunga, and he said he could come by next week and look at the project and maybe bid on it”.

  31. Still*

    I would feel weird if anyone from work contacted me when I was off sick, unless we were friends outside if work. I’m recuperating, the last thing I want is to be contacted by people from work!

  32. Susan*

    For #1, did anyone communicate the change in policy, or did you just start not inviting Kate to meetings she had previously attended? And how exactly are these meetings going better than before if you are still rehashing the same tropics without reaching a conclusion? (And as others have noted, are you sure that there’s nothing behind the investment comment?)

    Kate’s reaction sounds over the top for workplace, but it also is not an overreaction to being cut out of a family, and that may be how the set up seems to Kate.

    1. fgcommenter*

      but it also is not an overreaction to being cut out of a family

      or to being cut out of a perk that she used to have… especially if she passed up a higher-paying, larger, more stable, etc. job because of the understanding that she would be a part of meetings and decisions.

    2. Snow Day*

      We keep records of every meeting. Each one starts with “people present are: XXX”. Then it says ‘at Bob’s request and the approval of the other managers, the meeting was limited to the five managers”. On some occasions, Kate’s cousin has said “kate wants to be involved” which is answered by “Bob wants only managers”. I suppose that means that the cousin is going to tell Kate, but maybe he didn’t do so (wimpy). Kate somehow got a copy of the minutes and that’s when the nastiness started. There is another level, which is that it should not be my solo job to deal with Kate. But the other managers are wimpy, and I want things to move along. Maybe I just need to drag my feet (as painful as that is to me) and hope that someone else will rise to the occasion. Doubt it . I like the previous comments about sharing her comments with the rest of the managers, although it feels a little bit like public shaming. It’s a work in progress, that’s for sure.

      1. Buffy Rosenberg*

        So it sounds like wasn’t formally agreed who would tell Kate or when or how? You’re just guessing that this conversation meant her cousin would tell her? (Why would her cousin be the one to tell her? Is that because of their role or because of being cousins?)

        Kate’s behaviour is unacceptable either way but it does sound like it wasn’t communicated in the best way. If Cousin said “urgg Bob says you can’t come to meetings anymore, I tried to say you should be but they won’t let you, it’s so unfair” then that’s also fuelling her righteousness.

        There needs to be collective responsibility for decisions taken, and those decisions need to include an agreed process for how you will tell the people impacted.

        With sharing her vitriol, it isn’t public shaming if you simply tell your colleagues “this is the reaction I’m getting from Kate on our decision about meeting attendance. How are we going to address it?”

        It is a work problem which needs resolving. So you have to share it with colleagues. It will probably help you to feel less like you’re shaming or switching or gossiping if you keep to the facts and the work elements of it; try to avoid language like how Kate “whines” and so on. (I get that Kate is unbelievably frustrating and unreasonable but it will just help frame this in the right way if you try to sound neutral about her as a person, just naming her behaviours and discussing how they will be resolved.)

        1. Snow Day*

          Agreed. I don’t know if the cousin communicated with Kate or not. She is not my assistant so I kind of assumed that the cousin would tell her. I should have double checked. I like your phrasing “this is the reaction I’m getting from Kate and how are we going to address it?”. Will try all your suggestions. Thank you!

  33. Empress Ki*

    LW2 : I am a very private person. Having a co-worker contacting me while on sick leave would really annoy me.
    Your co-workers may have not contacted you because they respect your privacy. I wouldn’t have contacted you either, for this same reason.
    Only exception is if you are friends outside of work.

  34. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I think you may have an issue of there being wider concerns with the culture of the firm than one person’s anger. I am NOT saying she doesn’t need to be told to quit with the inappropriate behaviour – she absolutely does – but the family members all working together, confusing hierarchy (or unclear, when family are involved it is messy), misconceptions about who has a say and frequent meetings where no decisions are made is spelling out a disorganised mess.

    So, yes, tell Kate that her attitude is unprofessional. But also take a look at what can be done to make the place more professional overall.

    1. Snow Day*

      You are absolutely correct. It IS messy with family/ non-family/ sort of family. I think we need a meeting just to outline the ground rules, and then communicate all of that to the entire organization.

  35. ijustworkhere*

    #4 if the person is traveling internationally for work, it seems to me that their travel time back to the US should be considered work time, not personal leave. And….give the person a sick day to recover…don’t be petty!

    1. ijustworkhere*

      oops my bad, just registered that they have been working internationally at their request. Sorry, it’s early…

      1. HonorBox*

        I don’t think that matters in the grand scheme of things. Maybe they asked for it, but they are working, so their travel time should still be work time.

  36. Llellayena*

    Lw1 – are you the only person Kate is writing this vitriol to? Presumably because you wrote and distributed the meeting minutes? If so, share her emails with the other managers (especially Bob) immediately with the statement that you’ll talk to her. But this is something that affects the BUSINESS not just you and is therefore something they need to know is happening. Aside from that, I agree with Alison on how to approach Kate.

    1. Daisy*

      Yes, I agree that OP should loop in the other managers ASAP and tell them she will talk to Kate.
      This whole thing reminds me of families bending over backwards to appease the one difficult person – it is so much easier to ask the folks who never cause a scene to put up with BS than deal with the fallout from the drama llama. Unfortunately, that just encourages drama llama to ramp up and continue to make demands. Nipping this in the bud is the way to go.

      1. Snow Day*

        that is exactly right. I used to work in a very large organization where they would make all sorts of rules, when the issue was just one bad apple. Time to get out the pruners!

    2. Snow Day*

      Good points. I have fantasies about maybe I should leave and then see how they deal with the issues!
      Yes, I am the only target of her wrath. I am definitely keeping all the emails. I am undecided at the moment about whether to share the current ones or whether to wait until the next time (because you know there will be one).
      I shouldn’t have to be the only one to deal with Kate. The other managers are wimpy, but we need to present a unified front.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I would recommend leaving for financial reasons. This place is going to implode down to its elemental particles sooner or later and if you are counting on investments with it, they will be gone.

        You aren’t a member of this family and don’t need their dramas affecting your fiscal life.

  37. FashionablyEvil*

    #2–the last thing I want when I am sick is co-workers contacting me. (And I like my colleagues and am generally pretty social at work.) I want to rest and recuperate! Heck, I’m on week 3 of maternity leave right now and two of my colleagues texted me a week and a half in (about something work related) and it was so stressful. I am not at work! Please don’t attempt to pull me back in.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’m so glad my boss is super strict about work/life balance and leaving folks alone when they’re on leave. Literally the only text he’s sent me was to say the DoorDash card was real. One other coworker asked for my address to send me my swag, and that’s it. Not a single peep about work (even though I know they have questions).

  38. KHB*

    Q1: Why are you holding regular “office meetings” that apparently don’t do anything in the first place? From your description of this meeting, it doesn’t sound like it was called for any reason or served any business purpose – it was just a chance for the managers to sit around contemplating their own self-important navels. And if the meeting itself served no business purpose, then excluding Kate and the other assistants served no business purpose either, other than to reinforce the hierarchy of the company.

    In other words: Kate’s behavior is out of line, but everything else about this company seems pretty dysfunctional too.

    1. Snow Day*

      Bob called the meeting. I despise meetings without an agenda, so I always ask and always share the agenda so that all participants are prepared. In this case, the meeting agenda was “what is the long term plan?”, which has been a recurrent (and indecisive) for years because (see earlier reply from me to somebody) various people keep saying “I still think it would be useful to think about XYZ” and it never ends. The conversation is “we already talked about that, and we decided to do ABC”. then “I still think we should think about XYZ”. I say “you get the data. See if anything is new before you bring it up again”. No data ensues.
      Wash/ rinse/ repeat. The more of these comments that I read, the more I think I am the one who needs to get out!

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Honestly, yes, I think you should, Snow Day. You seem to have a very different — and much saner! — approach to how business should be handled than the others. Look for a company where you can work among other people who prefer to behave like professionals, because it sounds as if you don’t have them at your current job. Not in either the managers or the assistants’ roles.

  39. Cat Quest*

    LW #3 – I completely understand where you are coming from, but I do want to ask a question because of the wording you used. You said that they were talking about millions of dollars in revenue and how rich they are. Did they actually talk about Revenue or did they talk about Profits? If they were talking about Revenue they may have been trying (and clearly doing a poor job of it) to tell you guys that sales are great and they are excited that the company is doing well in that respect/growing, but not necessarily talking about personal wealth.
    Revenue and Profits are totally different things. If they make $1,000,000 in revenue but have $950,000 in expenses their profit is only $50,000 – not much personal wealth from $50,000 split between multiple people.
    Anyway, hopefully you are still reading…. I am not trying to negate your feelings, as I completely understand how you feel and if they are making millions in profits and not re-investing it into the company and giving workers raises, it’s not ok and I totally agree with Alison’s advice. But if they keep using the word revenue, next time ask about profit. What is the company actually making after expenses? I find as someone who is now higher up in a company and dealing with financials that many accountants, business owners, etc forget that the average worker doesn’t understand Revenue vs Profits and that talking about only revenue with staff can be incredibly misleading. The company I work for right now is a perfect example, we are a start up and our revenue this year is $2.5 million. We spent $3.5 million this year to get that revenue so we actually lost a million dollars! So telling people only about revenue makes us look like we are in a much better position then we actually are.
    I hope that regardless of how the company is doing you and your coworkers will be able to advocate for yourselves and get raises because I don’t believe anyone should be paid below a living wage regardless of how the company is doing. Even if they are not making money they need to re-evaluate their expenses and find a way to pay you all properly. I do just hope that maybe the bragging was a misunderstanding because if it wasn’t it’s completely appalling behavior and your owners are shitty people.

  40. I should really pick a name*

    What does a completely level playing field vs a rigid hierarchy look like to you?
    A completely level playing field would mean that everyone in the company is an owner, and no one would have authority over anyone else which is clearly not the case.

    I’m guessing you mean that you want people to be able to bring up ideas and concerns without them being dismissed because they’re lower on the org chart. It’s possible to do this without pretending you have a flat hierarchy.
    When you have hiring/firing authority, and the ability to decide how much someone is paid, you do not have a flat organization, and pretending you do does not help the morale of the people beneath you.

    1. Snow Day*

      Good point. I’ve always rejected the phrase “people beneath me” because everyone has value and the organization looks different from the reception desk vs the board room. Requesting input feels different than being attacked for not requesting it. However, hard to request the input without knowing the manager concerns. Catch-22/

  41. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1: Beside the point, but it certainly is possible to eight people to hold a meeting and come to a decision. It’s just that is about the tipping point where you need to run the meeting more formally, with someone presiding and following rules of order. But that being said, it sounds like with just five, it is still pretty indecisive. Also beside the point, but the discussion about the future of the company makes me wonder about how it is legally set up, and if this was done with benefit of a lawyer. The questions sound like this is a ticking time bomb.

    LW2: Your coworkers sound lovely. When I am sick, I want to leave a voicemail on my boss’s phone, followed by update voicemails as needed. Then I want to be left alone in my drug and/or pathogen-induced haze.

    LW3: Your bosses are terrible, terrible people. Plan accordingly.

    LW4: I chaperone an annual overnight girl scout event held on a Saturday night. I routinely put on the calendar that I will be out on Monday. Planning a jet lag day sounds like someone who knows their own body and is acting appropriately.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Planning a jet lag day sounds like someone who knows their own body and is acting appropriately.

      Exactly! This should not be an issue.

    2. londonedit*

      Absolutely, I’ve booked a day’s holiday for the Monday after a half-marathon or a full-on weekend trip. But that’s a day’s holiday – I wouldn’t run a half-marathon on a Sunday and call in sick on Monday morning if I was still feeling tired. Or if I did end up having to do that, I’d be mortified and would make sure to book a day’s holiday in future. (Obviously if I somehow ended up being properly ill or injured, that’s different). The point is, me running a half or going on a boozy weekend or booking a flight that gets in at midnight on Sunday is my own choice, and if I want to have a day off the next day to deal with that, then I should book that out of annual leave. But maybe that’s because I work in a culture where sick days are seen a little differently from what I gather from US comments – here you don’t get an allocation of sick days to use as part of your compensation, it’s much more that sick days are there for use when you’re genuinely ill.

      1. londonedit*

        ‘Genuinely ill’ isn’t really what I mean here – I just mean that we don’t see it as ‘you get five sick days to use every year, so take one’.

  42. I should really pick a name*

    Do your co-workers send you social texts under normal circumstances? If not, there’s no reason to expect they would start texting you when you’re out sick.
    It sounds like the co-worker that you’re close to stayed in touch, and that’s great!

    The default co-worker relationship isn’t one where people are in contact outside of work. It can be nice when it happens, but it’s not something to expect. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you, it means that they regard their relationship with you as a work one, not a personal one, and they don’t want to intrude on your personal life.

    And don’t try to read anything with how Jane was treated. You weren’t involved in that interaction, so you don’t know specifically what was and wasn’t said.

  43. Mandie*

    LW4 – why is this employee using sick time for a travel day or a recovery day? I have never heard of making an employee use sick time to travel home from a work trip!? And I think the “jet lag” day could also be a “freebie” on the company, since working internationally is a really big sacrifice and this is a high performer.

    1. londonedit*

      The thing is, I don’t think it’s a work trip. The employee has been working overseas for personal/family reasons, and now they’re coming back. Presumably they’re the one who’s chosen to book their return travel for a Monday (hence using a ‘personal day’ for that) and that’s what makes it a bit sticky – you wouldn’t generally expect to use sick time for jet lag if you’re coming back from a personal holiday, for example. You’d generally be expected to factor that in when you’re booking annual leave or booking flights. That’s where this situation gets into a grey area – the employee hasn’t been on holiday, but they also haven’t been working abroad at the request of their employer.

  44. tg33*

    If what they are discussing is succession plans and whether to sell the company or not, then it’s none of her business and she needs to stay out of it.

  45. SimpleAutie*

    I find it totally bizarre that there’s a question about whether someone can take a sick day, when they know they might be sick and are giving you a heads up?

    They might be sick. Ergo, they tentatively need a sick day. Thats..That’s…the end of the discussion?

    Context: I’m in the US and am not a manager but I cannot imagine my manager, draconian as she can be, being irritated that I gave her a heads up that my pto was for a reason that might make me sick so I may or may not need that extra day but I’ll plan with my team to need it so I will have coverage for anything time sensitive

    1. BeeMused*

      I was thinking this too. Maybe the LW has never traveled and experienced jet lag? It can absolutely make you feel sick and/or too tired to perform well at your job.

  46. Onward*

    2 — I don’t contact people when they are out sick. Although I’m sure some would take it as a harmless, friendly gesture, others would go straight to HR to complain that I’m bothering them while they’re out sick.

    Managers are just that – managers. They have to judge your work product and otherwise be cordial, but they’re not your friends. They shouldn’t be your friends. I think a lot of people expect that management be almost like a benevolent parental/friend figure and that makes the line between work and personal life super blurry, leading to a lot of issues.

  47. ???*

    Isn’t $15-18 an hour considered a livable wage? Especially in the rust bowl where cost of living isn’t as high? Considering, that according to you, there are no other jobs that pay as much nearby, they could probably pay less and still have people work for them. To me it sounds like they’re being generous with those wages.

    When people invest in a company, they to have a reason to do so and they generally invest to make money. If they don’t expect to get a certain amount of money back from their business why would they even go into business?
    Without these people investing and risking probably a significant portion of their personal money you and a bunch of other people wouldn’t have jobs.
    If you’ve never done accounting work, you might be surprised to find that there might not be as much money to pay people more as you would think. Revenue isn’t the same as net profit.

    But I will agree people bragging about money is very tasteless and obnoxious. I wonder if you couldn’t leave an anonymous note, that the bragging about becoming millionaires is demoralizing everyone.

    1. mlem*

      IIRC, $15/hour was approximated as an average living wage for a single person in about 2015 or so, and I think that only worked when enough work hours at that rate were assigned. The living wage calculator at MIT says it’s currently $16.43 for *a single person living alone* in Detroit currently. (Two adults, both working, with one child would need to make $21.34/hour each, apparently. Childcare is expensive.) livingwage . mit . edu

      $16-$18 in 2023 with garbage benefits (as stated) doesn’t sound generous at all.

      (It’s also quite unlikely in this day and age that company owners/runners faced much, if any, personal risk in building the company. My heart does not bleed for those poor, brave C-suite braggarts.)

    2. Zephy*

      $15-18/hr, for a full-time job (40hrs/week, 52 weeks in a year), comes out to $31-37k annually. That’s…not a lot. It’s barely 150% of Federal poverty-level wages for a family of four. If all the employees are single and healthy, with reliable transportation and no dependents or caregiving responsibilities, and employed full-time, then sure, they’re probably doing fairly well for themselves, but I would guess that isn’t the case for many if not most of the workforce at this company.

      1. Can’t afford avocado toast*

        I make 38k in a low cost Midwest rural area and can’t see staying in my current job much longer as I can’t save money for a new car (which I need because I live in a rural area with no real public transit option). After taxes and insurance, I make $11/hour – which works out to ~$425 a week. With a masters degree. No kids, but the only daycare between here and my job would cost $300/week… I have sadly come to realize us elder millennials are doomed to be underemployed for the rest of our lives.

        1. Cruciatus*

          I am you. You are me. I have a car but it’s a 2011 that I’m hoping never dies because I can’t afford a new car. I’m sure this is possible. But yup, make $37K, in a somewhat lower cost of living area but money still gets eaten up. I have a Masters. No kids. Elder millennial. I don’t eat avocado toast. No prospects on the horizon.

      2. J*

        I worked for a nonprofit that helped people at 150% of the poverty line and below and our lowest paid workers (which still required a specialty degree) made $17.50 and qualified for our services. I don’t think people realize just how unlivable it is.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The idea that people won’t start/support businesses if a decent living wage is paid isn’t backed up by data. And ‘think of the shareholders’ is no balm to someone struggling to make ends meet.

      1. Rainy*

        Think of the shareholders. What if they can’t buy a new yacht this year? They’ll be the laughingstock of the club. Isn’t it worth eating ramen for every meal so the shareholders can buy a fifth vacation home?

    4. Chief Bottle Washer*

      That was my question. A couple million in revenue does not equal a couple million in profit. I can’t tell from the letter whether LW took statements about revenue numbers as “bragging about being rich” which would be a big misunderstanding of business accounting or whether there was something else egregious like the owners talking about blowing money on new cars and fancy vacations.

    5. Felicity Lemon*

      Yes, revenue and profits are different, but paying people a living wage should be included in the cost of doing business. Looking at it from an accounting/ P&L statement point of view, workers’ wages are included in the expenses of the business. They are in theory paid before the bottom line numbers, not out of the leftovers. So by keeping this expense very low, the owners are indeed receiving more money in their pockets — but at what cost to the workers? Good owners would try to balance their own interests with the interests of their workers.

  48. Hiring Mgr*

    #4 is a reason I like flexible or “unlimited” time off. You just let your boss know you might need to take a day and you don’t need to spend cycles or stress on things or have to worry about what bucket it’s coming out of. Just use good judgment and it works well.

  49. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    LW2: I think you’re projecting. I’ve been off on maternity leave for three months and three folks I work with (my manager, my direct report, a colleague lateral to me I’m friendly with) checked in at the very beginning (‘Can we see a photo? What name did you choose? How big was baby? How are you?’); my manager and direct report once about mid-way through (‘Please send a photo!’); and my manager once toward the end to ask if I have a return date set because she needs to sign me up for some trainings.

    Beyond that, no one reached out and I am OK with that! I know they value my work and miss me but this is my time with my baby so work can sort itself out.

  50. Lacey*

    LW1 – Please, for the other assistant’s sake, be very clear with Kate about her role.

    I’ve worked for multiple companies that had a high level of family involvement and while usually (not always) the people at the top are highly competent and professional, there are always these other relatives who are insufferable, unhelpful, and unfireable.

    The fact that she thinks she can attack you, an owner and manager (!), means she’s been making those other assistants miserable.

    1. Snow Day*

      I am quite sure that I am the hot topic at the mythical water cooler. I get the us vs them mentality, having started out in many underling roles (typist, filing, etc). With their smoldering persistent resentment, it is almost impossible to reason with them. It becomes purely emotion driving their anger, and I don’t know how to appease that.

  51. HonorBox*

    LW1 – You structure with five managers already seems like making decisions would be tough. It sucks that the assistants were included in meetings previously, but the correction that has been made by not bringing them in to all of the meetings seems to have worked. Keep that up. Maybe mention to one or more of the other managers how you’ve been getting the messages you’ve been getting (and you have the receipts to show just how awful the behavior has been) and let them know you’re going to shut this down. You are one of the managers. Jane is a subordinate. Yes, she’s a cousin of someone, but still is a subordinate. You can’t have her treating anyone like that, lest you end up back where you were or worse… you have all of the assistants treating managers that way.

    LW2 – While it is nice to check on people, there are some people who don’t want to be checked on. If you’re out sick, your time is best spent getting better. If my phone was dinging or ringing when people texted or called, I’d be pissed. And depending on the leave someone is taking following surgery, it may be illegal for the workplace to contact them. For instance, if they’re on short term disability, the payments may not be made if the company finds out that the workplace is contacting the employee. Yes, it is personal just to check on them, but a boss contacting someone may violate the rules of the policy and that could foul things up significantly for both the employee and the workplace.

    LW4 – I guess I’m not understanding the issue. You say the employee is traveling back from a work assignment on a Monday using personal leave and then taking Tuesday to recover from jet lag. Are you policing everyone’s sick leave? If they feel like they could feel better when they come in Wednesday by taking Tuesday, let them. Also, using personal leave on Monday to travel? They’re traveling for work. Why would they have to use personal leave? That seems like an obligation because of work, so it should be done on work’s time.

    1. londonedit*

      I said this further up, but this doesn’t seem to actually be work travel – i.e. they’ve been working overseas at their own personal request, so they could deal with a family matter, rather than at their employer’s request. I’m not defending the OP, but I believe their perspective on it is that the company has already allowed the employee to continue working overseas for longer than the standard one month that the company usually allows, and rather than planning their return travel to mitigate the effects of jet lag, the employee has booked travel for a Monday (for which they’re taking a day’s holiday) and is then asking about a sick day for Tuesday as well. There’s a bit of a sense of ‘we’ve given them all this time and now they’re asking for an extra day off sick’ to the tone of the letter.

      1. HonorBox*

        I can appreciate that. My read was slightly different initially, but I may have just been reading too quickly. I’d still say, though, that the employee asking to (potentially) use sick time isn’t really any different than someone who is using sick time for any other situation that isn’t an emergency situation or violent sickness. The employee in question is a good employee and does well with their work, so it is worth giving them a little leeway.

        1. londonedit*

          I definitely do agree – I can’t see why there should be a problem with the OP saying ‘Just to let you know, I’m going to try to come to work on Tuesday but I don’t know how the jet lag will affect me – if it turns out I feel terrible, I might have to call in sick’. Surely that’s better than the employee saying nothing and then on Tuesday morning going ‘Sorry, won’t be in after all, jet lagged’.

  52. JelloStapler*

    I certainly would not expect it or be upset or resentful if my coworkers left me alone during illness. I appreciate not getting I also like to leave coworkers alone if they are ill.

  53. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I’d re-word the advice to say, “tell us your plans to share the wealth with the employees” or something like that. Don’t make it a question, make it a statement forcing them to say, “we’re not going to pay you more.”

  54. RagingADHD*

    LW1, uhm…you have five people with an ownership stake in the company, and no partnership agreement or operating agreement that specifies buyout provisions, retirement provisions, etc, succession of shares, etc?

    Never mind Kate. Never mind what happens “eventually” with your kids. What happens if one of you gets hit by a bus tomorrow? Are you going to have someone’s spouse or kid (who knows nothing about the business) suddenly be an equal partner with voting shares? Are you going to wind up in court forced to liquidate your shares or sell business assets?

    Good grief. Quit spinning your wheels and get in touch with a lawyer who does business succession planning. Like, today.

    To. day.

    Your hair is on fire and you’re worried about whether the water has fluoride.

    Fire Kate. But really, she’s the least of your worries. Particularly if the other members if that family are as irrational and entitled as she is.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Oh, I think Kate is a pretty obvious symptom of a company that needs help in how they run themselves…

      1. RagingADHD*

        I mean, the scenarios that could go wrong here. What happens if one of the partners gets divorced? Is their stake in the business marital property? How much are they all going to lose in lawyer’s fees to sort that one out?

        What happens if one of them becomes disabled? Gets dementia? Just goes off the rails and starts making terrible decisions due to addiction, mental illness or midlife crisis? What happens if there’s a material adverse change in the business environment and 3 people want to push through but 2 people want out?

        Flashbacks. I’m having family-business-law flashbacks, and none of it is pretty. Starting a business with your friends or family is all warm fuzzies and flat hierarchy until one thing or one person goes pear-shaped, and then it’s a fast track to the courthouse: either litigation or bankruptcy.

    2. Observer*

      But really, she’s the least of your worries. Particularly if the other members if that family are as irrational and entitled as she is.

      No, she is a significant problem in her own right, as well as a symptom of a larger problem.

      1. RagingADHD*

        She’s not, actually, because the only thing she can do is make noise. I suppose she could slow down work and impact morale if she distracts the other admin with this nonsense. Those aren’t serious problems. They’re hindrances. And those hindrances could be solved very quickly by telling her to knock it off, or just going ahead and firing her.

        The problem is that LW and the partners have huge business risk from their lack of agreement on some fundamental elements, and that internal disorganization has apparently undermined LW’s basic management skills. Those problems aren’t Kate’s doing, and will continue to exist after she’s gone, unless proactive steps are taken to remedy them.

  55. yala*

    “she refuses to be part of ‘taxation without representation'”

    I know we say this a lot, but I was taking a sip of coffee when I read that, and now there is coffee on my glasses.

    Not a lot of things get an actual spit-take, but that is…what? I just…WHAT?

      1. Snow Day*

        We have an LLC with an operating agreement that spells out all the combinations and permutations of fall-out. It was/is still quite contentious, but at least it’s a starting place. If the operating agreement is not signed (which happened at a previous job), then the succession planning reverts to state law (now always in your favor).
        And yes — I have no idea what good she thought the phrase “taxation without representation” would serve. Still scratching my head on that one.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          Snow Day, I am now emotionally involved in your situation. I want to hear more! Keep us all updated on how things go. And get tough about the succession plan – it’s going to be a major problem when something happens. Also, could Kate have been paying into the company in some way? Maybe to her cousin? If there is nothing there, shut her down like a bad book.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          You may want to point out to Kate that, since the company is not taxing her, she need not be represented. ;)

  56. Dana Lynne*

    Re #2–I personally would not want coworkers checking on me when I was sick at home. I would find responding to them very exhausting. If I was out for major surgery, after a couple of weeks I might ask a relative to send an email to my work team giving an update, but that’s about it. Communicating with supervisors/HR whatever to rework my leave if there were complications would of course be necessary.

    But I am not super friendly with a bunch of colleagues and usually keep work and life pretty separate. I do have one or two close friends from work and they would probably check on me but for me that would be in the “friends” category and not so much in the “work” category. If people from work did not communicate with me I would not take it amiss.

    Just a data point.

  57. Delta Delta*

    #4 – Oof. I hope the OP had a chance to write the email to AAM, take a walk around the block, and then re-read what they wrote, because yes, that sick day is reasonable and not to grant it would probably burn some good will between OP and the employee. The company seems pretty flexible with sick days. OP notes their employee is a high-level performer with good work, and who worked basically around the clock while in another country dealing with a personal issue. Now the employee needs 1 day to readjust, and OP’s like, “hm, do I force them to come in anyway?” This letter is really rubbing me the wrong way, apparently.

    1. Dela*

      But the question isn’t whether to force them to come in. It’s whether they can use sick leave (as opposed to vacation time or a personal day or whatever other leave the company offers). The underlying question is whether jet lagged = sick. I don’t think it’s an inherently unreasonable question. I do think the letter writer should allow it, but I don’t think poorly of them for asking the question.

    2. BeeMused*

      I can’t imagine how exhausted this poor employee must be since the company seemed to feel no compassion for their being “many times zones away” and having personal issues that lasted beyond the one-month limit and are now nitpicking this one sick day.

  58. Tesuji*

    LW1 – It feels insane to me that an employee would feel like they could get away with behaving like this… but in fact, Kate *has* been able to get away with behaving like this, so maybe she’s not the insane one here.

    I’m wondering if the siblings inherited their ownership shares? This has the vibes that Kate thinks of this as a “family business,” where any and all family members get to have an opinion about things, regardless of what the legal technicalities are.

    (I’d also wonder about the business’ funding. If there’s some sort of a family trust involved, that would explain why she feels that family members have some sort of ‘taxation’ going on.)

    It’s also possible there’s just some messaging fails going on, like the company pushing how everyone’s one big happy team, and the employees not understanding that this is just BS.

    1. Snow Day*

      Yes, the 3 siblings inherited the company from their parents. The rest of us came along afterwards. Kate was not part of the direct inheritance. She has relentlessly transmitted her belief that she should have been.

  59. June Gardens*

    Not me checking the comments and wondering if everyone thinks the phrase is really “same-o, same-o.”

    (It’s same old, same old.)

      1. June Gardens*

        Oh, thank goodness! I didn’t want to seem mean. If anyone asked me to write out a math problem we’d all be sunk.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Well, sure. That is the origin. But the “old” often is reduced in spoken English to “ol” or “o.” Writing it that way is informal, but that seems to be the register the writer was aiming for, so good for them! This sort of thing happens all the time, sometimes becoming standard: e.g. “o’clock.”

      1. ThatGirl*

        O’clock is short for “of the clock” though, not “old”

        I have definitely seen “same ole same ole” and I can understand how someone who’s only heard the phrase would not necessarily write it correctly – same with “should’ve” translating to “should of”. I don’t know that there’s any argument for “same-o” becoming correct, though.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I was not claiming that the “o'” was a reduced form of “old,” but rather that it is an example of a reduced form that became standard. It would be absurd to complain about someone using “o’clock,” that it should be “of the clock.”

          “Same-o same-o” or similar forms has not gone nearly so far down that road as “o’clock,” but it is the principle is the same. Using it has an informal tone. It would not be appropriate in a formal context. But in a context where informal English is appropriate (such as a letter to an advice columnist), and if that is what the writer is aiming for, then this is Good Writing. Complaining that someone intentionally writing informal English, in a context where this is appropriate, is like complaining about all those people wandering on the beach not wearing coats and ties.

            1. Snow Day*

              Yes, the 3 siblings inherited the company from their parents. The rest of us came along afterwards. Kate was not part of the direct inheritance. She has relentlessly transmitted her belief that she should have been.

          1. Barbarella*

            Using it has an informal tone. It would not be appropriate in a formal context.

            “Same old, same old” wouldn’t be appropriate in a formal context, anyway.

            I’m surprised that using a slightly different phrase whose meaning was perfectly clear attracted this much attention in a comment section where everyone thinks the phrase is really “phased” (it’s fazed).

    2. TimeTravelR*

      I actually searched to see if someone said it out loud. While some may see it as rude to correct LW, I don’t. I see it as educating. I would want to know if I am saying it wrong!

      On that note, I had to tell the CEO of a company that “minutiae” is pronounced min-oo-sha and not min-yoo-tay. He was quite appreciative if a little embarrassed he had been saying it wrong all that time before!

      1. Snow Day*

        Yah, thanks for the education. I have bigger fish to fry at the moment.
        I had to tell a friend that the word “gesture” starts with a “J” sound, not a hard G.
        Another friend pronounced “Faux Pas” as “Fox Paw”.
        it’s entertaining, but nothing that will change the axis of the earth.

  60. Pugetkayak*

    LW2: I’m a manager and although I knew why one of my team was out on medical leave, I can’t share that info with anyone else or even that they ARE on medical leave. Also, I waited for her updates to me and then I would write back and see how she was doing. It’s not really appropriate to reach out when someone is out on leave from a management standpoint. If someone has been sick, I also can’t share that.
    It stinks the the lead didnt express any human concern, but otherwise, it would be really inappropriate for them to reveal any information to anyone.

  61. Phony Genius*

    If I may propose a crossover of two letters, I wonder how Kate from #1 would react if she worked for the company in #3.

    1. Union Organizer*

      Union organizers get trained on how to handle Kates! There’s usually at least one in any workplace, and they’re some of the worst types to have around when you’re trying to get a collective action going. Not as bad as someone who’ll snitch to management on purpose, but close. Kate’s type of individual outrage at management is actually worse than ignorance or apathy. It’s easier to agitate and organize an apathetic worker from scratch than it is to take a Kate mindset and redirect it into productive solidarity. Kates want to do big splashy stuff immediately, whether or not there are actually enough people on board to make it work; they hate being “held back by bureaucracy,” which is a great way to screw up your election and not actually, you know, win your union; they attack comrades who aren’t as visibly angry for “not caring enough” when someone who’s not visibly angry but brings snacks to the meeting is worth five Kates. Dealing with Kates requires a boatload of talking to them and building relationships so they come around – time the organizers could be spending with other people. If that doesn’t work, you have to sideline them from the campaign, which (rightly) makes them feel even more unheard and angry, and they can cause real problems. tl;dr DO unionize LW3’s workplace, DO NOT wish Kate on them!

      1. Snow Day*

        hahaha — and then there is no follow through. Kate says we MUST do this or that. We tell her to research it. She gets started and then announces something like “This is taking up way too much of my time” and drops it. Or blasts a company decision and then says “I don’t have time to deal with any of this”. So annoying. I don’t wish Kate on anyone!

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Then why should you have Kate wished on you? Sounds like it’s long past time to fire Kate, and not just for this incident!

  62. Not Mindy*

    LW2 – I have gone from a team that was very friendly to a team at a new company that is barely cordial. My mom was recently in a car accident. I messaged my boss to ask him to cover a meeting since I was going to miss a meeting because I had to go to the hospital. He told me that he had a conflict and….that was it. Since then he hasn’t asked me once how she is.
    I much preferred the way my old team worked. I don’t want to be best friends with my teammates but I’d want them to at least check in if I was out for surgery, or out sick for more than 3 days. Or, ya know, if my mom was in a bad enough accident that she ended up in the hospital.

  63. Parenthesis Guy*

    LW #3: The owners are doing you a favor. They’re telling you frankly that you’re making barely enough to live while they’re becoming millionaires. This means you need to change the paradigm (since things are working great for them, but terrible for you).

    Is it possible for you to create a new company to compete with them? In theory, if you’re the one that’s doing the primary work function, then maybe you can create something new and become the millionaire yourself. If not, can you position yourself to create a new company. Like, if they’re master electricians and you’re a journeyman or something, then maybe you can’t do it now, but could in five years.

    If you’re not doing the primary work function, i.e they’re doctors and you’re support staff, can you find a way to have you train you? If not, at least you know they have profits to pay you more if they’re willing to do so. That means you need to find a way to make a case to earn more, or that it’s time to leave.

  64. Not your typical admin*

    Southern US here. I would find it weird if coworkers called to check on me. Ones that I’m actually friends with might, but it wouldn’t be expected. When someone is in the hospital, the company will typically send flowers.

  65. Cyndi*

    LW2 is making me…what’s the word for “nostalgic” but with negative connotations? When I had Covid my supervisor texted me every few days with constantly changing information about how long I could stay out and how much of that time I would be paid for. First it was “take as long as you need, I’ll run your paid hours into the negative”–I had about three days’ worth banked at the time. Then it was “whoops, turns out the system won’t let me do that, and also can you come back after three days off because two of your teammates have PTO booked that day?” and then “if you test positive again, take another week,” unpaid of course, and then “actually you should come back 10 days after your first positive test no matter what.” I’m sure the expressions of concern she sprinkled in there were genuine, but I would have preferred radio silence by a mile. (And I was finally pressured to come back to work a couple days before I tested negative, which I’m very much not proud of, but we have a points-based attendance system and I could easily have lost my job if HR decided to start dinging me for unexcused absences.)

    1. whatchamacallit*

      I’m so sorry this happened to you. Your work is so irresponsible. I don’t hold it against anyone trying their best with COVID who is basically forced to return by their employer. Incredibly short-sighted on their part.

  66. Former Usher*

    LW3: This reminds me of the time at a former job when our director kicked off our department meeting telling us about his wonderful vacation at his out-of-state second home. This was the same day I found out my salary was being cut 30% and another person in our group was laid off. I was not in the mood to share in the director’s post-vacation joy.

  67. AnonRN*

    My manager tried to check in with an employee who was out on lengthy parental leave. Just a friendly “how’s it going? Do you know when you’ll be returning yet?” (Our work is coverage-based, so this is a directly work-related question, but I do believe her intent was simply wishing him well and checking on his status.) The employee felt harassed and like she was badgering him and took it up with HR, so now she doesn’t risk contacting any employee who is out. It can definitely be fraught territory either way!

    1. Doughnut Pie*

      I read a similar comment on a different post where someone said their boss asked them when they might come back and they said they felt pressured into coming back too early and suffered ill health and ended up having to complain to HR. The commenter said that the boss in question didn’t know they weren’t supposed to ask that, and I think the commenter made it seem as though of course everyone knows you’re not supposed to ask that…but honestly I had no idea myself. Things definitely can be fraught out there.

  68. YM*

    #2 For the love. If I’m out sick, recovering from surgery or just dealing with a head cold, the last place I want to hear from is work. I like my colleagues but if I’m sick and expected to make a recovery soon I want to be left alone by everyone other than the people in my house. It’s also worth mentioning that in a lot of offices, regular contact from work when you’re out sick can be received as a “hurry the hell up and get back here” message, whether that is the intent or not.

  69. L*

    #2 I would much prefer my manager and coworkers didn’t contact me if I was out sick. I don’t really have or want personal relationships with coworkers outside work, and texting me when I’m on leave is a little annoying, even if it is kind hearted. I want to rest, plus I just don’t want to set the expectation that I have to tell people what is going on with my health or a sick day or vacation time or anything. I want the norm to be “I am going to be taking x day off” or “I’m out sick” without needing to give all kinds of explanation and without questions. So my personal preference would be to not have anyone contact me. I know people have different preferences but wanted to share that your boss might just assume you don’t want to be contacted.

  70. KOALA*

    Re LW4, to me it just reads as a courtesy that he is giving his boss a heads up he may be out an extra day. Which would allow them to have any necessary plans in place for his absence. He could have just waited to see how he felt that day and called out sick day of with no warning or explanation. Other than asking for a doctors note they couldn’t ask why he was out sick and I don’t believe they would be able to require he take a vacation day when calling out sick since it doesn’t sound like it is a combined PTO bucket.

  71. miss_chevious*

    LW2, as a manager of people, beyond an initial “hope you feel better!” on the first day of illness or recovery, I do not contact members of my team who are out sick. They are out, and they deserve the time to rest, relax, recover, take care of what they need to take care of without hearing from me.

    From my perspective, my staff and I are not friends. They work for me. I certainly care about them as human beings, but we don’t have social, non-work relationships so the way I show my support is through encouraging them to take time off when they are sick and leaving them alone. Their actual friends and family should be the ones checking on them

  72. Jukebox Hero*

    LW #1: I’m curious what (if anything) was said to the support staff when the meetings became owner-only? Kate’s reaction is totally unacceptable, absolutely. But I can seeing some of her off base, bad behavior as a reaction to the feeling like something’s been taken away (ability to contribute during meetings) without knowing why. Sometimes just telling people why things are happening can go a long way on their journey to accepting it; no one likes not knowing why.

    I’d take this as an opportunity to talk about why the support staff are no longer attending the meetings, if that hasn’t already be done. And have the conversation with Kate that Allison recommends.

  73. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    “I am a big fan in theory of a completely level playing field, rather than a rigid hierarchy.”

    LW1, this is the issue. Folk, there’s no such thing as a lack of hierarchy. As long as one person has the authority to hire, fire and supervise another, you have, by definition, a hierarchy.

    People mistake a perfectly functional concept such as hierarchy as mistreatment of employees or in some way demeaning to them. This is simply not the case. While a wise manager will seek out input from people about issues that affect them AT THEIR LEVEL, there are many other issues that they cannot or should not be involved in. Your example about company ownership being a perfect case in point.

    This should be shut down immediately, along with a heartfelt apology to Kate for not previously making clear her role in the organization, presumably because you as managers didn’t understand it yourselves.

    1. KatEnigma*

      People seem to think that a hierarchy is commentary/judgement on someone being a better person than anyone else. Which is crazy, because you find “bad people” at every level of the workforce.

      Companies that try to maintain a flat hierarchy almost always have major systemic problems because of it.

      1. 1LFTW*

        Companies that try to maintain a flat hierarchy almost always have major systemic problems because of it.

        Gods, yes. It’s basically code for “I prefer not to acknowledge the real power dynamics around here. There’s a classic essay that came out of the 70’s feminist movements called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” that describes the phenomenon in detail. I think it should be required reading for any human who associates with groups of other humans.

  74. RussianInTexas*

    LW#2 – if I have a coworker out sick, and I am not a particular friend with that coworker (which I am usually not), it will not occur to me to check on them. Why would I? I know they are out sick, that’s all I need to know.

  75. Cmac*

    LW5, was working internationally a required part of her job, or a perk she was taking advantage of? If the employee was traveling back on a workday, as her manager, I wouldn’t have made her take personal leave for that day either. I’d have considered it a normal paid workday since she’s returning from long-term work travel (but I might have that context wrong.) And it’s reasonable that she should be able to use a sick day — or even just a comp day that doesn’t eat into her personal time or vacation — to recover from jet lag. I’ve been in the situation of having to be back to work at 8:30 a.m. the morning after getting home from an international work trip, and I was non-functionally exhausted. It made me resentful, and obviously I was 0% productive.

  76. Student*

    #4: Some people fly and travel very well. Others do not! When I was younger, it barely phased me. In my late 30s with a couple medical conditions, I now find that some longer trips leave me completely useless for a good 12 or 24 hours after the flight.

    Depending on the change in time zone and the person traveling, jet lag effects can be much worse than a standard cold or flu. The direction you’re traveling can make a difference, as well as how long you’re in the travel location and how many hours you worked while on travel.

    Instead of thinking of it as “jet lag,” think of it as a day where your employee did not get any sleep at all for reasons outside their control. Do you want an employee to come to work after having no sleep? For international flights, that can literally be what happens – you miss a full day of sleep, or you get low-quality naps on the flight.

    You may also get motion sickness, depending on how prone you are to that and how much turbulence there is.

  77. Chase*

    LW4 – Employers use ‘sick leave’ over ‘pto/vacation’ because sick leave is often a use-it-or-lose-it benefit where pto/vacation usually has to get paid out to the employee. As such, I’m an advocate that employees should use their sick leave if they’ve got it and that sick leave should be for not only physical health (of which jet lag qualifies to me) but also mental health and preventative care (doctor’s appts). It sounds to me like the issue here is that it’s pre-planned sick leave and also that it’s tied to the employee’s personal day, but what the employee is doing the day before should be irrelevant.

  78. Silk Road Dog*

    In the last 20-30 years I’ve never once had a coworker or manager check on me while sick, even when out for months with a double hernia. My last company didn’t even care enough to ask why I was struggling so hard and under so much stress. Didn’t care.

  79. Porchgal*

    LW 2: we had a relatively new employee (only with us a couple of months) who was 70 and lived alone. He got sick with the flu, and was out for 2 weeks. A manager spoke with him during the first week and told him to be sure to hydrate and take care of himself, then the manager left for an international trip. As the second week went on with no word from him, his closest colleague became concerned but didn’t think it was her place to call and check on him. He also belonged to a volunteer committee in his local government, where he had served for many years. When he missed a regular meeting without notifying anyone, his friends became concerned and went with the police for a wellness check. They found him completely incapacitated, and he died a few hours later in the hospital.

    SOMEONE should check in occasionally on co-workers.

    1. Onward*

      I’m sorry to hear about your coworker, but what you describe is a really extreme situation. Also, usually when someone doesn’t come back to work when they say they will, someone (HR usually) will call to check on them.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m very sorry that happened. And usually, if someone doesn’t show up where they’re supposed to be, someone will call to check in. That’s different than what we’re talking about, which is communication during scheduled leave.

      However, as tragic as your story is, it’s also the worst case scenario and very rarely what we’re discussing. And if you know someone is elderly and lives alone, maybe your social code has you checking on them anyway. But for the average worker, in the average situation, it’s not the responsibility of your job or your coworkers to check in. If that means someone broke into my house and I’m bleeding on the floor – hopefully someone else finds me. But no one I work with should harbor any guilt or personal responsibility if they didn’t and something bad happened. It’s not in the bounds of that relationship.

    3. Anne Wentworth*

      Nope. That is the job of his friends and family, not his coworkers.

      If you have a coworker who doesn’t have that friends & family support system, go ahead and offer to be that safety net for them if they want. But talk to your coworker about it before there’s an emergency. Don’t badger coworkers when they’re home sick; the situation described here is an outlier, an anomaly.

  80. Tai*

    When I was out on leave there was one coworker who contacted me. I felt it was inappropriate and was actually really annoyed. I was trying to recover from Covid! This person meant well, but we’re not friends, we’re just coworkers. And I was trying to sleep!

  81. Rach411*

    LW2: As a admin manager – I try my hardest to not text people well wishes when they are out sick. I feel like that kind of text is more prodding than helpful. Usually when it comes from me, it feels like “when are you going to get back in?”. I will only send them well wishes if they tell me that they’re going to miss work due to illness. I manage a youth afterschool program – so I get those texts ALOT!! lol

    The ONLY time I did that is when my colleague (we’re pretty close in terms of work and friendly-ness/peer level) had to have major surgery over the holidays. I texted her to see how she was doing but I knew that she was going to be busy recovering, so I limited my contact and let her text me when she was ready and able.

  82. I should really pick a name*

    While acknowledging that the commenters on this site skew toward hermits, I’m curious how common it is for people to text their coworkers for non-work reasons (and I’m referring to people who are just coworkers, not coworkers AND friends).

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I do not text coworkers for non-work reasons at all. I am not a hermit or a super-introvert either, but I have nothing to talk to my coworkers outside of work stuff. I don’t mean the small social chit-chat in the office, that happens.
      I also don’t have phone numbers of most of my coworkers. I can’t even tell marital status or kids for most. I am friends-ish with the couple I work together the most, and I do talk to them outside of work. But that’s it.

    2. Onward*

      Where are you getting that people on this site are hermits? Just because people aren’t friends with coworkers or want them texting them while they’re in a hospital bed does not mean they don’t have friends and stay cloistered in their houses all day.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I get that impression from years of reading the comments. And I said skew toward hermits, not that all of them are.
        I count myself among the hermits.

  83. Laufey*

    Also, OP#1, this is mildly off topic, but since it’s directly in my field of work, I’m going to chime in on this:

    “should we eventually sell the company or pass it off to our children, what if one person wants out but the rest don’t”

    I highly encourage the owners of this company to look into a buy-sell agreement. I’ve work in business valuation for 10+ years and I can’t count how many family arguments we have encountered because the family got into a row about buyouts and didn’t have plans in place… and how many of those family rows turned into very, very expensive litigation. The time to install buy-sell agreements in when people *aren’t* arguing and *before* the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” is presented to you. It sounds like you’re just a manager, not an owner, but it might be something to suggest to ownership group at the next meeting.

    1. Snow Day*

      Really good idea. It is supposedly covered in the operating agreement. The family owners have equal shares, which can be sold/ transferred/ inherited. Options are gift the shares, sell the shares for an pre-approved price, or get a formal appraisal. Then 50% discount for lack of marketability (to discourage selling) (and what outsider would want to buy a portion of a family company?) . Thanks for the suggestion — I’ll pass it on.

  84. She of Many Hats*

    LW 3 – If you’re up to it you can advocate for raises in the meeting….”Wow, it sounds like, as owners, you are finally ready to invest in the company’s long-term success and profitability by investing in your employees’ pay to improve retention and attract quality new ones. That is so cool!” It’s the ‘of course, you want to do this since it will actually make you more money for longer’ logic.

  85. Curious*

    I think that you are conflating working overseas (that is, a temporary duty station, interacting with people or places in the overseas location as part of the job) with telecommuting from an overseas location (which is what this sounds like).

    Also, I see some folks saying that OP should let this go as a sick day because this is a strong performer. I sympathize. But, what happens when Marv Marginal then says he should be able to do this when coming back from his vacation — or his many cross-country ski weekends?

    1. Observer*

      Jet lag is jet lag, no matter what the reason. How do you distinguish jet lag from a migraine? Or nausea and dizziness?

      If Marv marginal starts taking lots of time, to the point that he’s taking more time than he has allotted, then you deal with that directly. You talk to you Marv and discuss what your expectations around performance are. You don’t penalize a strong performer because you want to be able to push back on a poor performer. Otherwise, you encourage your good performers to leave or become poor performers.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Then if Marv gets sick, he has to deal with the fact that he doesn’t have any sick days left. I don’t see a real problem. (I should point out that I think the employee’s request to use a sick day in the letter is reasonable whether the employee is a high performer or not).

  86. Galaxiid*

    One time at an old job I was sick on a Friday (not even out completely, just not well enough to come in for an in-person team lunch), and both my manager and my grandboss texted me to check in. When I returned the following Monday, my manager made such a big deal about how considerate I’d been for not coming in on Friday and spreading whatever I had, while trying to fish for details about what I had. It felt so nosy and intrusive. I didn’t tell her anything, but I had been remote because of menstrual cramps, and also I just didn’t feel like going to the office for the lunch (I was mainly remote)!

    My manager was very kind but her nosiness and fawning behavior were honestly part of the reason why I left the job. Grandboss acted similarly and our team was small, so it was kind of our team’s culture as a whole. Maybe someone like LW2 would be okay in that environment, but it was not a good fit for me.

  87. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    I would be hella creeped out if anyone from my job called me while I was out sick unless I did not return during the expected timeline or something. Immediately no.

  88. PleaseNo*

    LW2, I get it. When I was out for 7 weeks for a planned surgery, I had friends drop by, but not a whisper from my work. I was hurt that they didn’t even send a card, which would have been basic human thoughtfulness (to me). I realized that that was who I am working with though. You have realized it too. Now that you know, you can decide what to do with the information — stay and accept, look for another job.
    All the best!

  89. Observer*

    #$- Jet lag as sick day

    What exactly is your question?

    Your employee knows that they are probably going to be physically unfit to work that day. What is that if NOT a sick day? What do you define as “illness” that would exclude jet lag but not a migraine? Or do you expect people to not use sick time for a migraine?

    Are you concerned that she’s planning a sick day because sick time must be only an emergency? Consider that being able to know in advance is an advantage to you.

    All of the extra context makes me even more confused about why you even have a question. This is a good employee in a company that you describe as being respectful of employees who take sick time. Why would you want to change that culture?

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      I did notice that LW mentioned HR defining it as “illness or injury”. This may be the hitch.

      And, bringing the resolutely Pollyanna approach here, I also noticed that LW didn’t say they weren’t giving them the day, they just asked how to handle it. (I assume the alternative is some other kind of PTO, or quite possibly they’ve already approved this one but want an answer for next time).

      So, choosing to read the question as “is jet lag an illness or injury?”: yes.

      Post-vaccination ick is a reasonable analogy, I think, or post-surgical recovery on the weekend: it’s predictable, you can to some extent pick when to have it, it’s caused by you taking voluntary action, but also that action is objectively reasonable and you are, in fact, subjectively ill and miserable even though it’s not a medical issue that needs fixing.

  90. 1-800-BrownCow*

    LW2, definitely seen a lot of comments from those saying they don’t want to be contacted by work, which I also agree with. But also for me as a manager, I surely don’t want to interfere with someone not feeling well and maybe sleeping or resting as I’ve received constant texts from my HR “checking up on me” and nothing worse than being in deep sleep and having my phone keep vibrating due to HR asking me questions (yes, I know I can move my phone or get no notifications, but when I’m super sick and half-awake, I don’t always think logically). I was close with my team before I became their manager, so texting outside of work was fairly normal for the group of us at one point. However, as there manager, if they text me because they’re out sick or for a family emergency, I reply with “Thank you for letting me know. I hope {appropriate sentiment, ie ‘you feel better’, ‘things go okay’}. And you’re welcome to reach back out, if needed.” And that’s it. If I don’t hear anything for a week, I don’t bother following up unless they contact me again.

  91. Observer*

    #1 – Office drama

    OP, “ I am a big fan in theory of a completely level playing field, rather than a rigid hierarchy. This alone is one of the major issues with your set up.

    Once you get past a few people, this “theory” is not only unrealistic, as you are discovering, it is unfair and not really responsible. Right now, you ABSOLUTELY need to “pull rank.” Not in a mean or overbearing way, but clearly, calmly, and definitively. Besides the fact that you shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of garbage, you are probably losing a lot of work. And she is DEFINITELY making life uncomfortable for the other assistants. Which means that your trying to “not have hierarchy” is allowing you do walk away from a problem while forcing people with less power to be stuck in it.

    Kate does not get to spew vitriol. If she does there will be consequences, up to and including termination (although you need to get the other partners on board.) I would let the others know what is going on and how you plan to handle it. And assuming that you are not Kate’s cousin, make sure that any emails about this are cc’d to the rest of management so she doesn’t think she can go around you.

    Also, think about this. You talk about flat systems, yet Bob gets to make a decision about who attends meetings. That means that either there is actually a hierarchy even among the owners / managers OR you actually agree with it. Either way, you are (not) managing based on a pair of mutually exclusive assumptions.

    Step up to the plate and deal with the situation.

    1. Snow Day*

      Really good points. thank you. I am a victim of my own attempt to accommodate and please everyone. Which is impossible.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Yes it is. So now that you’re getting the idea, what are you planning to do differently? I’m really curious about how you tackle this mess — please keep us informed! (And good luck!)

  92. Marna Nightingale*

    Re LW2:

    I am a big fan in cases of serious illness or injury of The Semi-Official Delegation. Pick one or a few people, have them reach out via a method that won’t wake their co-worker out of the first sound sleep they’ve had in days, and drop by with or dispatch a suitable gift basket.

    That way the sick or hurt person is checked on and knows they’re cared about, everyone knows the person has been checked on, and their phone doesn’t blow up with 17 individual check-ins while they’re trying to rest, or, possibly worse, stoned off their gourds on pain meds and likely to respond inappropriately.

    But failing that, just know that most of your co-workers were thinking kind thoughts about you, one of which was that they hoped you were getting lots of rest.

  93. Kesnit*


    I completely understand feeling hurt if your co-workers seem to be ignoring illness within the team. But things are not always as they appear…

    In the early 00’s, I was in the Navy stationed on a ship. Due to a logistics issue, I had turned my Division over to my replacement, but had not been transferred off the ship. I’d been having problems with my eyes, but didn’t think it was a big deal so never told anyone about it. Finally, one Wednesday afternoon, I decided to go to the eye doctor to get it checked out.

    By Wednesday evening, I was in the ICU at the Naval hospital being prepared for brain surgery. (Turns out I had a benign tumor inside my skull…) Since I hadn’t thought it was a big deal, I hadn’t told anyone I was going to the doctor. I had surgery Friday and went back to the ICU. At no time did anyone from my ship (even our Chaplain) check on me. Yeah, that hurt.

    Saturday morning when I didn’t show up for watch, the Command Duty Officer (who was the same rank as me) just thought I had overslept or forgot and called me to leave a message at my apartment. When I hadn’t arrived by lunch, he started thinking there was something wrong and – following procedure – “called all the local hospitals and jails.”* That’s when they found me – still in ICU.

    By Sunday evening, the Captain, the XO, and the Chaplain had all appeared in my hospital room, apologetic that they had not known I was in the hospital. (I had begged the hospital staff to call my ship when I was first admitted and was told they had. Obviously not…)

    * My mother always thought that was funny. Hospitals AND jails…

  94. Avril Ludgateaux*

    #4 meanwhile my office officially has an explicit policy that you can’t attach sick time to vacation or holiday leave. Because people never get sick on vacation or over a holiday. The only reason I survived an epic case of traveler’s diarrhea from Mexico without getting written up for using sick days attached to a vacation was because I was WFH. Not a fun time!

    Good on OP4 for being a mad decent employer and acknowledging jet lag as an “illness” of sorts!

    1. A person*

      What a weird policy… I guess we just have PTO that’s used for everything, but man I would’ve been screwed when I got the flu towards the end of a 14 day cruise (with flights and such I took almost 3 weeks of PTO) because I had to take an additional 4 days when I got back because I was running a high fever still. It was miserable! But we have good and fairly flexible PTO policies so no one batted an eye (plus one of my colleagues is also a close friend and picked my miserable ass up from the airport… so she got to share what a mess I was with my work place).

  95. Alan*

    #2 – My practice is that when you are on your time, you are on your time, regardless of whether it is vacation or sick time. It isn’t at all an aspect of not caring. Quite the aspect, it’s caring enough to leave you alone so you can recover without interruptions from people at work.

    I had a former coworker who was like #2, craving sympathy and attention when she was out with anything. However, she’d regularly call in and update the co-worker she was closest to, and that person would tell us. After she was back, she told me that she thought it was hurtful that I (her boss) never called. I replied with something very close to, “There was no need to. You talked to V almost every day and she updated us; I already knew how you were doing.”

  96. Coco*

    LW 2: I understand where you are coming from. I would personally love a quick text of “just wanted to check in and hope you are doing well.” But I recognize other people might consider that to be an intrusion. The question you need to ask yourself: is this part of a overall larger and recognizable pattern of chilliness? Or is everyone generally friendly towards one another? How did everyone act upon your return? Did you get greeted with “Welcome back. So glad you’re feeling better!” or did everyone just ignore you?

  97. whatchamacallit*

    LW #2 I also generally do not message people when they are out, besides maybe an occasional “how are you feeling?” It has nothing to do with not caring, but rather a) not wanting to feel like I’m prying or pressuring someone to share health information and b) I don’t want anyone I work with who is out sick to see they have a message from someone at work and feel anxious that there is something urgent to reply to when it’s just some well-wishes. Me and most people I know are a “tell me when you feel well enough to come back and we’ll let you rest” when it comes to work colleagues.

  98. RB*

    #3 Not that it matters but my mind went immediately to the cannabis industry (new booming industry for their state). If so, there should soon be lots more competition as new stores open and the LW would have more choices for where to work, without leaving the industry.

  99. TotesMaGoats*

    #4-I’m flying from Bangkok to Baltimore. Leave there on a Friday night, arrive home Saturday afternoon. I’ve already taken off on Monday to regroup (and hit the spa after a whole day on a plane).

  100. NellyB*

    My PhD supervisor once phoned me up while I was off sick with pneumonia to berate me for not calling in to tell him (I was too sick to). He didn’t even ask how I was and I just laid there with the phone on the pillow by my ear and let him get on with it. Fortunately, I was also too sick to care

    I’m all for allowing the day after a long journey as a sick day. It’s fairly common nowadays to put aside some extra “sick” days for people to use whenever and at no notice because they just need a duvet day (sometimes labelled “mental health days”), why not count it as one of those?

    1. MicroManagered*

      Did you tell him you would be out sick in SOME way? email? text?

      If not, you were indeed being pretty inconsiderate. You have to notify your job if you are not coming in to work or you get fired from most jobs. Very few situations create an incapacity that excuses that… even if you ARE temporarily incapacitated (you were so sick you slept through the alarm, etc.) you can give that notification as soon as you are able to.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, but it’s pretty clear that they had not reached that point – notice that they just put the phone down and let the guy rant.

        1. MicroManagered*

          That’s what I was trying to get at. One is rarely SO sick that they can’t give any notice at all. Even when hospitalized there is generally another human that knows what’s going on, who could contact your work to let them know. If one is aware-enough to pick up the phone and decide to set it down and ignore the call, you could’ve called off from work. Academia is a weird world where people get away with things they wouldn’t in a private company, especially students, and it doesn’t do them any favors.

  101. Danish*

    I expect a maximum of “oh no feel better!” via inter office chat if I have made a public comment about being out. Someone pinging me privately even within the work chat to say they hoped I felt okay would feel… weird, unless I had been scheduled to do something with them specifically that day (and I deeply resent every time I’ve had to give my cell # to coworkers so I definitely wouldn’t want to be texted lol.)

  102. PlanBetter*

    For LW4’s employee—I disagree with many of the commenters. The employee chose to work internationally and planning a flight home on Monday was their choice. If I’m traveling internationally I will either fly back so that I arrive with a weekend day or two to recover or take vacation days as a recovery.

  103. ProcessMeister*

    I’m with Alison regarding LW2. I’d also add that it may help LW to understand that work colleagues and friends are two different sets of people. Of course, it can be okay for a colleague to become a friend (or vice versa) but only if everyone’s eyes are wide open to the potential consequences.

  104. Incorrigible Snark*

    To LW3, feel free to arrive late to the next meeting with the following apology:
    “I’m sorry I’m late. It was my turn to use the car (my partner and I can only afford the one) but it broke down again on the way to taking my sick child to hospital and I didn’t have the money to get the car towed or repaired. I had to walk for 30 minutes (optional “uphill and in the snow” reference) to get to the nearest bus stop, all while carrying my child who cannot walk and for whom we cannot afford a wheelchair. I was able to get my child to hospital but it was thanks to my elderly mother selling her false teeth to a stranger that I was able to raise enough funds to afford the bus fare here to work. By the way, I can’t afford to get home tonight. Is it okay if I sleep in the office?”

  105. Geek girl*

    Regarding #3…I worked for a large west coast city for 40 years. During the downturn, the City put its civilian employees on unpaid furlough days, which for me was a pay cut of about $10k for the year. I overheard some of my sworn colleagues grousing about how few promotions to Sgt. were on the latest list. Mind you, there was no civilian hiring AT ALL for almost 7 years, so an entire generation of civilian analysts never got hired. I merged into their conversation, and very quietly pointed out that it was poor form to grouse about promotions when the civilians all around them were taking pay cuts to keep things afloat. There was silence, and I never heard another word about it.

  106. Danielle*

    Aside from the sick day issue, I’m confused as to why the person flying back on a Monday needs to take personal leave to do it. If it’s a work day, and the travel is for work, isn’t that… work?

  107. Larz*

    When I had to take a sick day (as an EFL teacher, overseas), the head teacher CAME TO MY APARTMENT and to this day, I can’t decide whether it was to see if I needed anything (I did; rest, which I didn’t get) or to see if I was “really” sick. If it was her idea, I’d guess the former—she was very kind!—but if the supervisor sent her, well, I don’t know!

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