HR director issued an “it’s him or me” ultimatum, interviewing in the midst of dental work, and more

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

1. Our HR director issued an “it’s him or me” ultimatum

I work remote customer service for a small blue collar company and was recently also made executive assistant to the owner, Michael. We’ve known each other for years, so he has a tendency to talk to me about issues. Today he shared something that has me very concerned. The business has only been around for four years and has grown like crazy, as well as experienced its share of growing pains. A couple of years back we hired “Pam” to build an HR department from the ground up. She remains the sole HR representative. She has a lot of experience in the field and has been a life saver in many ways as we navigate the transition into a “real” company. We’re now up to 40+ employees with two not quite perfectly defined layers of management between a floor worker and the owner. Pam is apparently butting heads severely with a floor worker, “Toby.”

Toby has voiced concerns about Pam to her, as well as to Michael, and apparently also to other people on the floor, particularly new hires. He has started undermining some of her initiatives. The issue has lasted for several months, with both sides coming to Michael to complain. Today Pam gave Michael an ultimatum that it’s either her or Toby.

The problem is that Toby hasn’t done anything to warrant being let go and his complaints about Pam, according to Michael, are not groundless. Pam balances all her knowledge and experience with a difficult personality and a tendency to manipulate, take things personally, and play politics. In fact, I have seen a pattern like this before, where another employee seemed to butt heads with Pam and then was fired very unexpectedly. When Michael has tried to work with her to try and resolve Toby’s issues, she has “not budged.” So while Toby is starting to act out, it’s not without cause.

While Michael acknowledges that Pam is more in the wrong than Toby, he feels like he has no choice but to accept her ultimatum because “we can not afford to reboot HR right now.” Or at best, to go to Toby and tell him that his job is at stake if he can’t find a way to “get back on Pam’s good side” because he’d have to choose her over Toby.

As Michael was telling me about this, alarm bells were going off in my head, with all the letters you have posted about toxic workplaces with vindictive HR departments flashing through my mind. From what I know of Pam, this feels much more like a power play between her and Michael, rather than her and Toby. She is using the threat of quitting to get rid of Toby’s criticism and to get Michael to back off from trying to hold her accountable. It seems like caving would set the precedent that she can hold the company hostage. I personally think that the correct answer is for Michael to call her bluff. But I’m curious if you think maybe I’m being blinded by my own distrust of Pam? Or if you have any advice on how Michael can handle things because he’s definitely feeling like he’s stuck in a no-win situation.

You sound 100% right to me. If Michael thinks Pam is more in the wrong than Toby but fires Toby anyway, he’s creating a dynamic (and it sounds like may have already created a dynamic) where Pam isn’t accountable for anything she does, and she’ll know it. She can behave as problematically as she wants, and the consequences will only be for others, not for her. This would be unworkable in any circumstances, but it’s especially silly to allow it here just because she created all your HR at the start. That’s not an irreplaceable role — far from it! You can hire other HR people who can take over where she left off, and who presumably will be better at doing the work because they won’t come with her toxic approach.

“A difficult personality and a tendency to manipulate, take things personally, and play politics” are not things you want in an HR person, and frankly Michael should be thinking about replacing her regardless of the situation with Toby! Maybe those traits weren’t as disruptive when you were at a smaller size (although I doubt that) but if you’re growing into a bigger company, you really need someone professional and trustworthy heading your HR. Pam is not that.

Read an update to this letter

my employee gave me an “it’s her or me” ultimatum

2. My boss won’t let me borrow against my future leave anymore

I work at a place where we accrue leave each pay period. Our handbook says that we can’t borrow against our leave (take unaccrued time off) without permission from our supervisor and our senior vice president. Recently, my boss wouldn’t let me take unaccrued time after previously granting these requests. We’ve had a bit of a dispute about it, and now they are not allowing me to take any leave at all until I’ve accrued enough time to cover it.

This policy has been fairly common at most places I’ve worked, but this is the first time I’ve ever had it invoked as a way to block my time off. If I had been told “this is a busy time” or “we’re short-staffed right now,” I would have understood, but this feels completely arbitrary. What should I do? I’m seriously considering getting a new job because of this, mainly because I’m 100% certain this policy isn’t being enforced consistently in our organization.

It’s pretty common not to allow people to take unaccrued leave at all; a lot of organizations make exceptions to that only for emergencies. It sounds like your employer isn’t one of them, but it also sounds like you’ve been doing it a lot, and it’s not inherently unreasonable for your manager to want some limits on that. Generally the thinking is that they’ve hired you on the assumption that you’ll be at work a certain percentage of the time, and if you’re repeatedly taking leave before you’ve accrued it, it can mean you’re not at work as much as they had planned around. Or the issue could be the liability it creates for them; if you leave before you’ve earned that leave back, it can be a headache to get it paid back.

If you’re 100% sure that other people have been allowed to take more unaccrued leave than you have (and under similar circumstances to your own; i.e., don’t compare you wanting it for vacation with someone needing it for a medical emergency) … well, different managers may have different outlooks on this. It sounds like your boss has been willing to grant some in the past, but no longer is. You can certainly decide you don’t want the job under those conditions, but it’s a very common restriction.

3. I don’t want my high performers to face resentment over their raises

We just went through our annual compensation cycle and with the current economic climate, we gave smaller raises than typical for our company (think 3% instead of 5%). We had several employees push back, and leadership decided to make a few changes for some mission critical employees, but are declining the rest of the requests. In total, about 1% of total staff are going to see a change to the original merit increase.

As a manager communicating both the denials and approvals to my team, I’m struggling with what to say to the people who are getting what they asked for. We very clearly state in our firm’s compensation philosophy that we encourage open dialogue around compensation, and I know my team talks about their salaries together. In this specific situation, I think someone talking about how they were one of the very few to get recognized might backfire on their relationship with their team. I am confident in the choices we made and if an employee comes to me with a complaint I feel I’m able to defend why we are saying no to them, but I don’t want my high performers to get singled out by their coworkers. Is there a good way to say, you’re free to talk about this but just know that you’re in the minority and your colleagues might not be that happy for you right now?

Tread really lightly here, because it’s easy for anything you say along those lines to be interpreted as you trying to squelch discussions about wages, which can violate the National Labor Relations Act. I do think you could say something like, “We had a number of requests to increase people’s raises this year. We declined almost all of them, but we’re increasing yours because (insert specifics about their work). You’re of course always welcome to discuss wages with coworkers, but that might be helpful context to have this year.”

I’m not even sure you should say that much though; this topic tends to be so sensitive that the potential for misinterpretation is high (and it only takes one person saying “Jane implied I should keep this a secret” to cause a lot of drama, so you definitely want to know your team with this one). The big thing is to be prepared to talk with anyone who’s disappointed about why their raise ended up where it did (which it sounds like you are).

4. Job interviewing in the middle of dental work

I’m currently in the midst of some extensive dental work and my teeth are pretty messed up right now. And I just found out I’m being transitioned out of my job due to changes in the company. When I’m interviewing, should I mention my dental situation is temporary or would that be more unprofessional?

When you’re self-conscious about something like this, I’m a fan of just naming it matter-of-factly. For example: “Please excuse my teeth, I’m right in the middle of some dental work.” It’s not that you should have to explain it — you don’t — but addressing it sounds likely to make you more comfortable so you’re not worried about what they’re thinking throughout the whole interview. Plus, naming things like this often will make people want to set you at ease and can make them less inclined to be judgy about it if there was a risk of that.

5. Contacting a coworker after they left unexpectedly

Around six months ago, my company hired a new operations VP. As the only woman in my department, I was excited to get to know her and learn from her impressive background and experience. We were able to meet one-on-one a few times and I got some valuable advice from her about corporate life and career growth.

Yesterday I saw a notification on our homepage that she has “left the company to pursue other interests.” No other information was given.

After I saw that, I added her on LinkedIn and she added me back. Would it be in poor taste to ask why she left? To be completely candid, I’m concerned that the company may be failing but leadership is not being transparent about our situation. If it is appropriate to ask, what language would you recommend? If it’s not appropriate, could you explain why?

With someone you’ve only met with a few times one-on-one, you probably don’t know her well enough to ask straight-out why she left, especially in an initial message; the risk is that you’ll seem like you’re demanding information that she might not care to share. (That’s not to say you can’t ask, “What are you doing now” or related questions — just that a head-on “why did you leave?” might feel like a bit much.) But you could get in touch, tell her what you appreciated about your meetings, ask what she’s doing now, and say you’d like to stay in touch. If she’s chatty/friendly in her response, you could then mention your own concerns. For example: “Between you and me, I’m concerned about XYZ at Org. If that’s something you saw too, I’d be so grateful for your perspective, especially as someone who left recently! Let me know if I can buy you coffee sometime, or even just jump on the phone if it’s a conversation you’re open to.”

{ 286 comments… read them below }

  1. Bleah*

    For #1, maybe point Michael to this answer. If Pam gets her way, it could destroy the company. There are likely a lot of people who are watching to see how you handle this, and if Michael fires Toby expect some resignations, or a lot of people doing the just enough not to get fired while looking for a new job.

    You are also looking down at possible lawsuits. If anyone is a member of a protected class, and Pam is firing people for arbitrary reasons, someone might file a case. Pam is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and with Toby being very vocal, he could definitely cause all kinds of problems for the company. And even if nothing happens if Toby is fired, it is still a matter of time until something bad happens because of the way that Pam is acting. Who knows if Pam is covering up for other bad behavior that could also get you caught in lawsuits. She is still the only HR person, so is she ignoring complaints, or doing other things that are actually illegal?

    1. CityMouse*

      The one thing I’ll note is that, at least looking at this from a US centric view everyone can be a member of a protected class. “Protected class” usually refers to the reason, not the individual attribute. Now there are some exceptions to that (federal age discrimination law is written to protect those over 40, for instance, though some states have individual laws protecting those younger).

      Now if there’s a pattern to her actions that’s definitely an issue.

      That in no way should be meant to say Pam’s actions are okay.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Thank you for this perfect explanation. For example, gender is the protected class, not women.

        1. MassMatt*

          I’ve had SO many arguments online about this over the years. There’s a very widespread misunderstanding about what “protected class” means. Over and over people argued that it means you can’t fire “a black” (which is a cringey term for a whole host of other reasons) but you can fire “a white” with no problem. Citing actual employment laws had no effect, they were extremely invested in this view that the laws only protected minorities. Or women, to some extent.

    2. anon in affordable housing*

      Toby is probably right, but being the lone gadfly is not a safe role in your company.

      Instead, he should organize a union chapter. Then your company can tell Pam that they’re picking the side that doesn’t involve NLRB violations–firing HER and hiring a better HR person who won’t piss off the union.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I can tell I’m in the minority on this one – a floor employee “undermining the initiatives” of HR sounded really “off” to me. I don’t know whether this means like, refusing to record comp time, or just not wanting to be part of secretary’s day, or something in between – but since OP said Toby has done nothing to warrant firing I’m going to assume it’s closer to the latter.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I agree with you, but I think that’s covered in the answer, if indirectly. It’s not that Toby is right and Pam is wrong, it’s that Toby is less wrong than Pam is. Nine times out of ten that’s the case, and when addressing a situation like this everyone needs some level of correction.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          My interpretation it was that he was open about his criticism of Pam and warned new employees that she was petty/vindictive, which was seen as undermining. Though you’re right, if he’s going against reasonable practices, that’s a problem too.

    3. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Agree with this. IME with operators like Pam, the behaviour you’re aware of is only the tip of the iceberg.

      I’d be very interested to know what set Toby off against her in the first place, and whether there’s any common thread between that and the other employee who was unexpectedly fired. Is this just about power and control in general, or is there something in particular she’s bizarrely fixated on controlling?

      Hope we get an update on this one!

    4. John Smith*

      I can very much, as a Toby, relate to this (Pam being my manager, not HR). I was thrown under a bus for Pams incompetence and despite overwhelming evidence supporting me and framing Pam, senior management still went ahead with a disciplinary hearing against me (which HR stopped halfway through). Pam needs to go, otherwise you will end up repeating this cycle over and over and it’s not a pattern you want to be involved in. If Toby goes, I’d be leaving as well, lest I find myself being Pam’s next target. You might want to point out to Michael that he could one day butt heads with her – what then? You don’t fix a broken finger by cutting your toe nails, so how many toe nails will be cut before the broken finger is fixed? Michael obviously trusts you. Implore him to get rid of Pam.

      1. Artemesia*

        HR people are a dime a dozen. Pam will be easy to replace with someone who is competent. The boss needs to know that he is in the process of destroying his company for a little short term peace — and there won’t be much peace.

      2. WS*

        Yeah, I used to work at a place where the third-in-charge was a Pam. She’d take against someone and if they didn’t quit because she made their life unpleasant, she’d drag them into a cycle of PIPs with vague criteria until they got fired. Then she’d move onto the next person, always someone considerably lower in the chain that herself. Economic conditions improved and the company soon found itself with an 80% turnover in one year (I was in the second group to depart but I had a friend who stayed there longer and updated everyone.) By the time my friend had left, they were offering small retention bonuses, but very few people took them.

        1. JelloStapler*

          And I bet there were a lot of “whyever are people leaving???” shocking comments.

    5. JSPA*

      We don’t have to go into a pile of “what if’s” to make the situation serious. Life isn’t a movie; jerks are not more likely to be criminals, and criminals are not more likely to be jerks.

      (People who are doing something criminal often are extra friendly and curry favor with everyone.)

      There are too many owners / CEO’s who (not understanding the profession at all) believe that HR people should be naturally prickly and aloof–“because hey, otherwise how can they keep their distance enough to be impartial, keep whiners from clogging up their calendar, and be OK firing people–amirite?”

      Hire for that and you easily end up with HR people whose life credo seems to be, “trust no-one, keep people on their back foot, let people know that doing your job is doing them a favor.”
      Jumping from that to discrimination, criminality, malfeasance conflates very different negative behaviors.

      The actionable part of this is that the letter writer should first make sure that the boss doesn’t have a low-level belief that all efficient HR people are kind of jerks.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I think the “actually illegal” that Bleah’s referring to is stuff that opens the company up to lawsuits, rather than individual criminal actions on Pam’s part. I agree that Pam’s no more likely to be embezzling or whatever than any other employee, but the sort bad judgement that leads to an ultimatum-over-nothing is the sort of judgement that leads to refusing service dogs because they’re too small, or firing employees because they discussed wages, or punishing parents who took more/less leave than Pam would’ve. Tyrant HR directors can create liability surprisingly quickly!

        One counterpoint, though, is that LW might want to consider whether this ultimatum really is unjustified before advising Michael. It’s easy to imagine a situation where it wouldn’t be, like if Toby’s harassing other employees and Michael’s just writing it off as “joking”. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here, but if Toby’s the actual problem, firing Pam will just make that worse. And honestly, if the truth of the conflict can’t be determined, Michael might be best served by replacing both of them; neither of them look particularly good in this situation.

    6. Nope.*

      “If anyone is a member of a protected class”

      Everyone is a member of multiple. Protected class doesn’t just refer to minority populations.

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      If any of the things Toby complained about have to do with discriminatory practices, then the retaliation itself is illegal.

    8. Momma Bear*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. If other people think Toby has legit complaints and they see Pam (the only HR person) being a bully, they may decide that it’s not worth discussing with HR and simply leave.

      Sometimes people fixate on things they can because they can’t control anything else. If Pam adjusted the things she was wrong about/was more open to feedback would Toby back off these other things?

      Also, the firing of Toby would need to be good or Toby might find a lawyer. Toby doesn’t seem to be like a person who would go down without a fight.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I agree with the first points, but not the last one. In the US, any employer can fire an employee for pretty much any reason that isn’t illegal discrimination or retaliation.

        Anyone can also sue anyone for pretty much any reason in the US, so “fear of a groundless lawsuit” cannot be the basis of decision-making.

        1. Kit*

          Fear of a groundless lawsuit probably shouldn’t be the basis of decision-making, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t – bosses are no more immune from irrational behavior than anyone else!

  2. Beezus*

    a 40 person company doesn’t need to build a HR back office team from the ground up. this sounds like very bad management.

    1. Beezus*

      I’m not sure what a floor manager is but the explicit lack of structure is bad and a good HR person should have worked to define that with you/Michael/Toby.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      100% this. There is an HR structure in place. They’d just have to hire one HR person to replace Pam.
      IMO, only one HR person is also a red flag here. In 4 years she hasn’t built out her team at all? That means to me that she doesn’t want anyone who would question her decisions on her team. Pam should be fired yesterday.

      1. Katertot*

        And furthermore- I would hope if she’d built HR from the ground up, that included building out a whole structure of policies, procedures, tech, etc- not just reliant on HER being the one-person HR department. If she really is as good as they think, the structure should remain (and team as you mentioned) and HR should keep moving without her and they should be able to find a replacement.

      2. ezmama*

        I definitely agree that Pam needs to be replaced, but having a single HR person for a company of 40 is typical. That’s about the size where moving from outsourcing HR to having a dedicated employee makes business sense.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah I’m the sole HR person for a team half this size and could definitely use some help. This feels like a way of maintaining control.

        1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

          Really? I work for a large company and we tend to have one HR person per 60+ person set of related teams. There’s some economies of scale but this is company where we have immediate reporting lines across international borders.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It depends on the structure and what you’re asking the person to do.

          2. JHunz*

            HR is like any other kind of team that has both day-to-day and immediate urgent tasks. One person can handle a large number of day-to-day tasks, but if they’re the only person available for both types you can definitely start floundering.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              And “HR” is often an umbrella for tech and operations too, intended to handle both the types of tasks you outline and be a strategic business partner. So it really depends on how it plays out at any particular business.

        1. JelloStapler*

          Not weird if she wanted to keep her kingdom running without any interference or others seeing her games.

      4. learnedthehardway*

        A 40 person company doesn’t need a team of HR people. It’s very unlikely that Pam would have gotten approval to hire additional people, and she shouldn’t need them, for this size a company.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        I don’t really think 1 HR person in a 40 person company is inherently a red flag. The 4 years isn’t really the threshold. It’s the number of employees that I’d expect to dictate the number of HR people they need, and under 50 employees total seems reasonable to only have one HR person.
        Which is all the more reason Michael’s concern about “rebuilding HR” makes absolutely no sense.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        My employer is about this many people and has one HR person, but she’s competent and fair and our employees are generally reasonable so there isn’t a lot of drama.

        1. anon in affordable housing*

          It seems like the HR people I know socially are competent, fair, non-drama people… but most of the HR people at my jobs back in the day were petty tyrants.

          I remember one place I worked, we started to notice things going missing from people’s desks. Clock radios, snacks, spare cardigans, favorite mugs–nothing super valuable, but nice to have around and annoying when it disappears. Employees suspected the new mom-n-pop cleaning contractor, but HR said that was “racial profiling” because they were Southeast Asian immigrants, and obviously it was our own staff pranking each other.

          Her solution was to tell everyone to snitch on anyone seen in the office before or after their colleagues. Well, this was a company with a lot of salaried staff who don’t just line up to clock in and out, so naturally there was always someone who was first in or last out. There was a lot of resentment about false accusations of theft just because Wakeen’s mug disappeared and Susie was the last one out the night before. The thefts continued and HR insisted it was still employees doing this to each other.

          Eventually, the police found our stuff in the bedroom of the teenage daughter of the cleaners. Her parents were bringing her to our offices because if they left her with grandma to do her homework, she’d sneak out and shoplift at the mall. It hadn’t occurred to them she didn’t just want cool teenager stuff she couldn’t afford; she had a compulsion to steal even if there was just square grownup stuff like clock radios and umbrellas around.

          Everyone was angry at HR for destroying morale by encouraging people to blame innocent coworkers, report each other based solely on being in the office too early or too late, and not even trying to rule out the new cleaning company.

      7. Momma Bear*

        There are also companies that do HR as a service for small businesses. If Pam isn’t working out, Michael can consider the pro/cons of hiring a service to handle his HR and then it would be more of a team of people vs just one Pam.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing. At most, the company needs 1 HR person, who is competent, can think both tactically and strategically, and who is building for the needs of the business. That might entail building a team in future, but this company doesn’t sound excessively high growth to need that immediately.

      The company would be FAR better off replacing Pam. She’s a serious problem, and in the worst possible role for a serious problem person to be in, as what she does will affect the entire workforce, morale, and employee satisfaction.

      Find an HR Business Partner with some experience building HR policies and programs, who has common sense, a non-problematic personality, and the company will fine. That person will be able to pick up from where Pam left off, OR – and this is likely – will be able to come in, figure out that Pam has structured a future catastrophe – and fix it.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is Michael not wanting to deal with it. It seems easier to dump Toby and not have to face the HR situation, which Michael probably feels he doesn’t understand well. But his lack of involvement in it is why he has a Pam problem in the first place.

    5. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      If Pam is as described, she probably set up convoluted systems, and avoided documenting them so the only person who knows how to operate them is herself.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    For #1 – it strikes me that the “him or me” ultimatum is actually a gift.

    You can’t have a difficult, manipulative, vindictive person as your sole HR person if you want a healthy company. However, I could see a standard PIP process going very badly when the person being PIP’d is vindictive and has access to all the departmental records, particularly if you don’t have absolutely impeccable secure backups (which new, quickly growing businesses tend not to have). And firing someone with no warning is a crappy thing to do. But she’s given you an easy out – pick him, give her decent severance in lieu of notice, and have someone lock her out of the computer systems while she’s being fired. I wouldn’t normally advocate for that sort of firing, but a vindictive employee who controls a key system is an exception.

    If your boss backs down, Pam will be in charge. Pam will know it, Michael will know it, and the rest of the employees will know it.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. She has made it easy for the boss. Him or me? I choose him and this is your last day — we will pay you for the next two weeks and your insurance to the end of next month. And get her out of there without access to the computer or the files.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Very key – make sure you revoke access to her systems before she can get to a computer after you inform her of your decision. Someone who is manipulative and vindictive might burn the whole thing to the ground — figuratively — at being let go.

      You do not want an HR person who plays politics. HR’s job is to protect the company, not their own power base. She needs to be gone ASAP.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah this is very much a “walk her out” situation. The owner should find out what’s necessary for revoking access to systems before firing her — and if he’s the only one allowed to call for that to happen, he should look into delegating that authority to OP temporarily. Once she’s told she’s fired, OP can have the access revoked while someone who can be trusted to be firm with her accompanies her back to her office and supervises her the whole time she packs personal items — she shouldn’t be left alone in her office or allowed to touch her computer.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          Yes. A small and/or young company needs to develop a firing protocol for when things go bad like this. I was a receptionist for a few years in an executive office with about 12 employees, mostly VPs and above. There were a few times where I was told to “book the meeting room, hold all calls, get in touch with IT and the locksmith, be ready to send a registered letter when legal gives it to you, and don’t say anything to anyone else” about the situation. It’s helpful to have someone who can be the administrative instrument of firings, if you will, while having no say in the process whatsoever. I think some small business CEOs think that they can’t delegate this stuff because it’s highly sensitive, but a good administrative professional can do the nitty-gritty steps without asking questions or prying into confidential matters. This company may already have a protocol designed… the trick will be finding it out without alerting Pam.

      2. Miette*

        Absolutely this! Also, because I know how it is with small companies, if she’s got access/admin rights to publicly-facing systems like corporate social media (especially LinkedIn) or the website, revoke that too.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Locking vindictive people out is important.

        One of my friends worked in a department under an erratic department head. For some reason, he started firing people. By the time the board realized what was happening and asked him what the heck was going on, he’d fired the entire department, deleted all the process documentation, and quit on the spot.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      This is probably a massive generalization, but is it not usually the case that when someone gives you an “it’s him or me” ultimatum, the correct choice is “me”?

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        And by that I mean, the correct choice of the person to get RID of is “me”. So actually the correct choice should be “him.” Just realized my pre-coffee brain was confused.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I agree this is frequently (though not universally) the case.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I’ve definitely seen that given as a rule, that if anybody presents you with an ultimatum between them and somebody else, you choose the one who isn’t making you choose.

        And in the workplace, I think it’s even easier, because Pam would be choosing to leave (and probably wouldn’t leave anyway) whereas Toby would be being fired, when the boss doesn’t apparently believe he’s done anything worthy of being fired. I am assuming this is an at-will situation, but even then, that just means it’s legal to fire somebody for most reasons, not that it’s moral or fair or a good idea.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Good point. If the boss “chooses” Toby because he refuses Pam’s ultimatum to fire Toby, then he’s essentially calling Pam on her bluff. And would Pam then choose to leave? Seems unlikely. But if boss had a spine, he could tell Pam that he accepts her resignation and if she tries to backpedal on her “threat,” well, then all AAM readers would find that wholly satisfying.

        2. bamcheeks*

          There was a very clear exception to this here on Ask A Manager though- the small business owner who didn’t really understand their own business and just wanted everyone to be friends, and who’d brought a wildly disruptive employee on board and then received an ultimatum from the only person who knew how the business worked. The correct answer in that case was actually the letter writer.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              It’s the letter linked at the bottom of 1 above “my employee game me an ‘it’s her or me’ ultimatum.” The letter was written by the owner of the small business — bamcheeks is mistaken though, in that it was the new employee (Laura) who gave the ultimatum that the OP choose between a longer tenured employee (Miranda, who knows how everything works) and Laura.

              There’s a two part update for that letter…spoiler: Miranda quits and then Laura quits because OP won’t give Laura the details around why Miranda left.

              1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                Thanks, I thought that was the letter bamcheeks was referring to but didn’t see that it had actually been linked here. And I see the confusion because in my first comment I said that the choice should be “me” but then corrected myself in that I actually meant that the choice should be “him.” (Giant eyeroll to my pre-caffeinated self for getting that wrong.) So yeah, in the situation in that other letter, where Laura was giving the ultimatum of “her or me,” the choice definitely was “her.” Too bad the LW wasn’t able to make the choice, though, because Miranda smartly quit before LW could.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        Eh, depends whether the “him or me” statement is a being used as a threat or drawing a boundary. There’s a huge difference between “I’ll quit if you don’t fire this person who is raising legitimate concerns with my work” and “I’ll quit if you don’t fire this person who has been harassing me.”

        1. IDIC believer*

          In 45+ yrs working, I issued a “her or me” ultimatum once. Yes, it was a threat – I was drawing a final line in the sand. University level HR had refused to fire my employee despite me following for 6 months all the convoluted procedures required to fire an incompetent employee. So that Friday, I calmly drew my line; I notified the department chairman that only one of us would be working in the department the following Monday. I worked, she didn’t.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My personal and professional experience is that if anyone asks for an ultimatum, the person who asks is probably going to end up disappointed. No one gets 100% of what they ask for in negotiations or compromises, and you can’t allow someone to hold you hostage.

      1. anon in affordable housing*

        I didn’t ask for an ultimatum when I filed a complaint about being harassed and gaslighted by my supervisor as a volunteer for a local nonprofit. I figured I’d go back if they agreed he was inappropriate and stop giving them free labor (and stop my automatic donation payments) if they didn’t do anything.

        They said their investigation revealed he did nothing wrong and I should keep working with him. Sorry, those two statements don’t go together. I’m donating time and money and if you think that being harassed and gaslighted is part of that deal, you’re wrong. They already let his intern transfer to a different boss after there were some very awkward moments where it looked like he set her up to look foolish in front of the volunteers. There are plenty of other orgs in this town happy to get my work and money without playing weird head games.

    5. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      “You can’t have a difficult, manipulative, vindictive person as your sole HR person if you want a healthy company. ”
      Not to state the obvious, but you don’t want those attributes in any of your employees!
      And you definitely don’t want them in your HR department, regardless of how many other people are in it, since HR typically has access to a lot of private information (FMLA requests, salaries, etc.) and influence on decisions (promotions, hiring, org structure) that make vindictiveness and manipulation especially effective and damaging to your org.

    6. I have RBF*


      Whenever someone makes an ultimatum like that, they are likely to be the problem if they are a high level employee wanting a low level guy arbitrarily fired. The proper response is “It’s been nice working with you, Pam, you can pick up your final check from Accounting.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Good point, the power level of the person making the ultimatum does matter in these situations.

    7. El l*

      Agree. The time is now, and don’t let her serve out a notice.

      I think there’s two things to highlight to Michael to get him over the “bad timing” hump:
      1. “We are now at 40 people, and if not today then soon probably need ~2 admin/HR people to handle the workload. She clearly can’t operate as part of a team.”
      2. In any relationship, personal or business, an ultimatum is one-time. Forever, regardless of reason. Because like blackmail, they can always do it again, and they can even up the stakes without accountability. Say, “She’s already shown power trip tendencies, what’s to stop her from doing this again to you?”

  4. E*

    Letter one: I’d be so interested to see if Pam would actually quit or if this is just a power move.

      1. Sherm*

        Yeah, when Fergus at my workplace found out that they were going to hire Wakeen, who he knew and personally disliked (but would not even have to work with him), he said “If you hire Wakeen, then I’ll leave!” Well, they ignored Fergus and hired Wakeen anyway, and, yep, Fergus is still here.

      2. Good Enough For Government Work*

        I have done this twice, sort of, and both times I meant it.

        The first time was in my part time job during school/university. The store’s deputy manager was an unashamed middle-aged pervert who would forcibly grab and hug the teenage girls working the tills. I would swear at him, I would smack and kick him… The only thing that worked was *literally sending my father in to deal with him*. He left me alone after that, though unfortunately not the other girls. Anyway, I worked at a different location but same chain during uni, and Mike tried to get a transfer there too. I told the manager that if he agreed to hire Mike, I was gone… they didn’t have anyone else willing to work the tills on weekends, so Mike did NOT get hired.

        The second time was more of an ‘if you don’t give me a different manager I will quit’ situation, I didn’t demand she actually be fired. We’re both still working there, but – thank God – I have not had to deal with her since. Awful, awful woman.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I have been close to an ultimatum, but didn’t have to explicitly spell it out for my company to know.

          I will say I have jumped my boss to get moved out from underneath his chain of command – there was a lack of growth opportunity (natural in my position at the time) and a gap that needed filled that I recognized – and could fill if a position were created.

          While I did not come out and say “if this doesn’t get done, I’ll start looking” it must have come across because the VP I was making my case to said to me “If we don’t make this work, you’ll be leaving right?” And I did answer yes. But it wasn’t an empty threat, I was ready to start my job search if necessary.

        2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          Normal people would only give an ultimatum when they really mean it.

          It also definitely helps when the “them” choice is easy to make. “Fire them or I’ll quit” is a hard choice, because either way they are losing one employee. “If you hire them I’ll quit” is often (not always) an easier choice, since you are a known quantity and the person who is still a candidate is just one of many. “Approve my leave request for my graduation or I’ll quit” doesn’t even have a human on the other side of the ultimatum, just maybe work that needs to be done, and if you quit the work isn’t going to get done (by you) anyways).

    1. Artemesia*

      She probably won’t quit but her statement is a resignation and he can take her up on it. This is one to move fast on as she can do damage if it is allowed to continue.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Doesn’t matter, Boss can say — you are fired. She doesn’t get a chance to decide.

      1. Clisby*

        I would say fire Pam, but keep a close eye on Toby after that as well. LW says he’s done nothing to warrant getting fired, but wasn’t clear on exactly *what* he’s doing – he certainly shouldn’t be undermining HR initiatives or stirring up drama with newer hires. (Pam seems like a big enough problem that firing her might result in everything settling down – but it doesn’t actually sound to me like Toby is blameless.)

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Power move. She’s already done this once and she can pretty well bet Michael with chicken out and keep her.

    4. Beth*

      My preferred reply would be to take Pam at her word and stick with it: meet with her and express my regrets over her resignation and my best wishes for her in the future.

      And absolutely not allow her not to resign. She cooked it, she can eat it.

  5. takeachip*

    LW2, I’ve never worked anyplace where you could borrow against future leave, so I may not understand the norms around this, but it sounds like the policy is meant to be an “exception” kind of deal and you’ve been using as though it’s the “rule.” The fact that you’re considering quitting over this gives me pause because (again, without knowing the details of the situation) it makes you sound pretty entitled. I can’t help but wonder if that attitude is coming across to your boss and is contributing to the sudden limit that’s been set. Management may be viewing you as someone who is taking their flexibility too far and so they’re trying to reset expectations with you. Expecting you to wait to take time until you’ve accrued it doesn’t sound unreasonable.

    1. Searching*

      That’s interesting because where I’ve worked, we could take unaccrued leave during the year – basically we could take our full annual allotment starting in January. We had to sign an acknowledgment that if we left the company before we had earned all the leave that we had taken, the value of those unaccrued days off would be subtracted from our final paycheck.

      We also had a “use it or lose it” policy, so we weren’t able to roll anything over. To take a decent vacation earlier in the year, you almost had to take some unaccrued days — otherwise everyone would end up taking their vacation towards the end of the year.

      1. takeachip*

        Oh, I can see how the inability to roll over any accrued time would lead to people needing to borrow against future time. Perhaps OP is in the same boat and the manager is indeed being unfair.

        1. High Score!*

          That could be it OR what I suspect is that OP’s company doesn’t give enough PTO. It isn’t just OP borrowing time, it’s others as well, and that points to too few PTO days. Negotiate for more PTO in the next job. Or, if you can swing it, just start telling them when you’ll be taking PTO or unpaid leave. When my child worked restaurant going thru uni, they’d just say, I won’t be here during this time. That only works if you don’t care if they say don’t come back.

      2. EPLawyer*

        It’s one thing to take all your time in January because of whatever reason you have. If you earn it as you go, taking any decent amount of time off would preclude early year trips.

        Howeve,r it doesn’t sound ike the situation here. It sounds like LW is scattering time off throughout the year and taking what she needs when she needs it, whether its earned or not.

        Iagree with the above – sounds like the boss is resetting the expectation because LW is not using it as intended.

        1. Name goes here*

          I recently had a similar reset convo with one of my reports. They were doing a lot of last-minute switching of days at a rate about 8x everyone else and it was creating coverage problems. I was less clear than I intended when explaining some flexibility existed – I meant “if something significant comes up that means you need to switch days, I won’t be an asshole about it” and they construed it as “flexibility means there is an exception for me every time.” So LW it may be that you and your boss were misaligned on what was reasonable from her perspective and she wanted to reset expectations.

      3. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I’d also like to know the OPs roll over policy for leave. My company also severely restricts roll over and it limits holiday options for the first half of the year. My boss is very flexible about it.

      4. amoeba*

        Yeah, I really think it depends on what’s normal for the field and how the company used to handle it. I’m not in the US, but here it’s really normal to have access to your entire yearly leave from January 1st, even though it technically “accrues”. Nobody thinks of it as “borrowing”, it’s also shown in the system as available. (However, if you start later in the year, you have less available, and if you leave early, you might have to pay some back to get the balance correct.)
        Now, if my manager suddenly started to change that, I’d also think about quitting, because it would be super out of the norm here.

        So, basically, I guess it’s really hard to judge without the context.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I am in the US, and this is exactly how it works for me as well. (I’m salaried exempt.) I’ve read AAM letters about people who couldn’t request vacation until they had accrued the days (giving them a very slim window to plan, since their vacation couldn’t be approved as far in advance as they wanted!), or people who weren’t allowed to take two weeks off in the middle of June because they had 20 PTO days overall and thus they wouldn’t accrue that 10th business day until the *end* of June…but I haven’t experienced that in real life. I think it depends a lot on what industry you’re in.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            My employer’s system allows me to request PTO when it will have been accrued. E.g. if I had zero today, and accrue two weeks per year, I could request a one week vacation that will happen in six months, or a two week vacation a year out (or 1 week six months out and a second week a year out).

            I once requested vacation time ~18 months out, but the system didn’t support that, so I did it over email. I sent that request in early 2019, whoops!

          2. MigraineMonth*

            My current job is the first one where they grant the vacation at the beginning of the year and you accrue it over the course of the year. I forgot that’s how it worked and almost overspent my PTO before I got the new grant.

      5. Lexi Vipond*

        I’ve never thought about it in quite those terms, but that’s what I’ve always had – a set number of days for the year, available from the start of the leave year (which is the calendar year in our case). I think that’s fairly common in the UK.

        More or less the only time you consciously accrue leave is if you join after the start of the year, and even then someone who joins in say May is likely to be allowed to take days they haven’t technically earned yet over the summer (it’s a university, and it would be worse if they were trying to squeeze all their leave into semester 1 in the autumn).

      6. Kaiko*

        I worked at a place once where “technically” we got zero vacation in our first year, because we hadn’t accrued it yet – my boss at the time made a big deal about the fact that I took a week off for my wedding six months after I was hired, and fretted that “if I left soon,” I would have to do some complicated vacation-payback-accrual math. (spoiler: I did leave a few months later, and the company was such a mess that by then, vacation time and what was in the bank was a teeny part of the landscape for a departing employee.)

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I’m working at a place like that now; you accrue sick leave cumulatively so you get some (almost) from the start, but vacation accumulates through one fiscal year for the next one, so, for example, I had 8 days of accrued vacation this fiscal year and will have the full 15 next year no matter what happens between then and now. There is also one separate discretionary day you can take anytime and does not roll over, which is handy especially in that first year. I can see this being rough for employees who end up quitting in their first year, but for long term employees it means whenever you are taking vacation, you’ve already earned it and it’s not possible to get into the situation of using vacation you haven’t accrued.

          How fair this is for that first year is hard for me to really judge, seeing as how I was hired in the middle of Covid (and after a lot of time at home), so I was in an unusually comfortable situation for not stressing about holiday time.

          1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            I worked in an organization that had *almost* that system, except you accrued vacation days during the year and they were made available to use the January of the *following year*. So even if you started on February 1, you wouldn’t have a single day of vacation to use until the following January. It was nuts!

            1. Lenora Rose*

              As I said, it worked out during Covid; my perspective on how it would go in another time frame is therefore skewed. I suspect that it would be *possible* to borrow against future years – or take unpaid time – if something sufficiently big came up, but I can’t say for sure.

              For over 80% of the staff population, they also get roughly 8 weeks unpaid time off every year regardless (That they can and do get EI support for – and which probably tells you the field, though I’m office clerical work) regardless, which partly skews how reasonable this is as a policy; I’m in the smaller pool that don’t get that time.

        2. Medium Sized Manager*

          We allow our teams to borrow time as well, and I have this same conversation with every single employee who does. We had one person owe a full paycheck back to the company because they borrowed 3 weeks for a wedding and honeymoon when they had not accrued very much PTO, and then they left right after the vacation for a new job opportunity that they couldn’t turn down. They were shocked at having to pay it back, and I don’t think their manager prepped them very well on expectations.

          So, I will let you borrow, but I will also make sure you know the ramifications if something happens. I work for a pretty large corporation, and they will ensure they get paid regardless. I’m sure it’s annoying for the colleague, but it’s better than the alternative.

        3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          How does that even work? Some kind of annual accrual? Is the “first” year prorated, so if you get two weeks a year and start in july 2023, you “accrue” one week, and that’s all you get to use in 2024? And then you “accrue” the full two weeks and can finally take a vacation in 2025?

          1. Lenora Rose*

            That’s pretty much how it is where I work, though the fiscal year runs to the end of June, so the majority of new hires get their first access to vacation at summer after working from July – or, more often, September – until June. (Again, those who don’t get two involuntary months off right then regardless.)

            1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

              So I’m guessing it’s some sort of educational institution or something? My partner works in a public school system, so gets summers and breaks off unpaid, but outside that only gets something like 2 personal days (but plenty of sick time). It’s been too long since their first year so I don’t recall what happened back then. My partner rarely takes both their personal days, anyways.

      7. bookwyrm*

        This is exactly how my job works as well – “use it or lose it” but have to pay back any time off taken beyond what you would have actually accrued if you leave partway through the year. Not a fan of this system.

      8. SeluciaMD*

        This is what I’m struggling with too and would love Alison’s perspective on. If you get, say, 3 weeks of leave a year you accrue that at approximately 4.6 hrs of leave per pay period. So if you can’t roll-over leave – and plenty of orgs don’t allow that – no one can take a week’s vacation until April? That’s crazy.

        I think your org’s policy is a good approach. I also once – ONCE – worked for a law firm that just gave you your bank of leave right upfront at the beginning of the year (and it was just general “leave” – no distinction between sick or vacation). The only caveat was that if you left your position in the first 6 months of the year you might be required to pay back some percentage of leave taken but to the best of my knowledge they never really enforced that. You could also use overtime during a pay-period to bank some extra leave and that leave would be used first because you couldn’t roll it over. The bottom line is no one got nickled and dimed for their leave and it made for a pretty happy, stable workforce.

        I think accrued leave without some other policies that allow for leave to be taken in the first part of the year is not a great way to run an organization.

        1. Becky*

          The company I am currently at does what you describe – while technically I accrue x PTO hours per pay period, all the PTO is put into my bank at the beginning of the year. The employee handbook spells out that if you leave the company and have used more PTO than you would have accrued up to that time you may be required to pay some back.

          My company only allows 40 hours of roll over.

    2. RMNPgirl*

      My company doesn’t allow for taking unaccrued time. But we also can roll over a year’s worth of time and our time off is very generous.
      However, we’ve had situations where people needed to take time off and didn’t have enough accrued. In that case we explain that they can have the time off but it’ll be unpaid. It’s up to them to decide if they still want to take the time.

    3. LJ*

      There’s probably also a cap to how much you’re allowed to borrow. It all nets out the same in the end, but isn’t it nice when someone can take extra summer vacation and earn the time back later in the year (for example)? Especially if employees are using it to take more vacation during slow periods, it could be mutually beneficial to the company to allow for taking some unaccrued vacation. No entitlement needed.

      1. Random Bystander*

        That’s sort of the way it is where I work now. You can roll over only 40 hours from one year to the next, and you are allowed to borrow up to 40 hours. If you went negative (say a 2 week vacation from the start of February), you wouldn’t get PTO approved again until you were back in the positive (ie, you can’t keep at the -40 perpetually).

    4. JM60*

      When I became an employee at my first job in my industry, HR told me that I could go down to -40% on my vacation. However, I think they told me that because I had been working for them for ~5 months through a temp agency, and became an employee in mid December with 0 days of vacation. After then, HR clarified that it wasn’t allowed.

    5. RabbitRabbit*

      Alternately, I wonder if the shift in policy is a more recent but widespread thing than the LW knows. Maybe they’ve run into too many situations where they need to ‘chargeback’ the time off or something if the person leaves, to the point where they’re more generally banning it except for more urgent situations.

      Then again, when I started at my workplace, I was hired late in the year and ended up working days that people normally took off (and subtracted from their time off) because I had basically nothing accumulated and holidays were counted against your leave days. To keep from nearly going negative, I worked the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve Day plus day after Christmas when it was near the weekend and everyone else was taking it off too, etc.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I’ve seen this happen frequently, especially with the situation OP2 cites of this policy being applied inconsistently across the company. HR could have sent a notice reminding people that they must follow the policy.

        OP2, please think strongly if this is “the hill you want to die on.” It will not reflect well on you if you protest against what has been a policy for years. Also, don’t expect that you’ll jump to another company and this won’t be a problem. Many other companies follow this rule and don’t allow exceptions.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I don’t think finding a job that aligns with their priorities on leave is going to reflect poorly on them. Yes, it might be harder to find a company that is more flexible, but they do exist. If it’s that important to them, they absolutely should look for such a company.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        Holidays were subtracted from leave days or the days surrounding them were? Just trying to understand what you mean, because the day after Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday (and while the day before and after Christmas are in some countries, they aren’t in others, like the US).

        1. doreen*

          I think it was that Christmas and Thanksgiving were subtracted from leave days* , so they worked days that most people took off ( like the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve) so as not to go negative.

          * That happens at some employers where at least some functions operate 24/7/365 – the entire hospital can’t close on Christmas so everybody gets a certain amount of paid holiday leave and if you work in a department that does close on Christmas , you deduct a day of leave.

    6. Handsoffmypto*

      When I worked hourly and non-professional jobs, we had to accrue the time before taking it off, with some exceptions granted. However, in every professional/salaried job it is just considered a bank of days to take during the year. Some employers would have payroll systems that would show days accruing weekly, monthly, matching pay periods, whatever – but that was more a function of how those systems were vs an actual expectation.

      Also, seconding the comment about use-it-or-lose-it – if you did not accrue the last bit of your time until your December 31st paycheck, you could never take it, so you would always miss out on a day or portion thereof.

      That kind of micro-managing time off would make me want to leave ASAP. As long as you are not exceeding your total annual allotment of PTO, what does it matter to the employer? With the caveat that if the employer cannot charge you back for unearned but taken time if you leave before the end of the year, I can understand that a little more…but honestly that should be viewed more like other business expenses like conference fees, certification/organization dues, etc. although I know in real life that is not how it is handled.

      1. Smith*

        I agree; don’t know OP’s situation, but nothing kills morale faster than double standards on policies and denying people leave without a very good reason.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yep. At my job we only get 2 weeks of use it or lose it leave, so if they didn’t let us use it an advance, it would be a terrible, terrible place to work, where nobody can take meaningful leave until late Spring and then the higher-ups are squawking about coverage during the only time of the year where people actually have enough time to travel.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I am inclined to agree but I would like to know how often OP has done this to really judge. The letter makes it sound pretty frequent, which seems obviously unreasonable to me. But maybe it’s really only been a handful of times over a long tenure at the company. I don’t think it needs to be only for emergencies necessarily, but it’s definitely not something you should always expect to be able to do or plan around.

      At my company you can borrow against the future and I have done so twice–both times at my manager’s suggestion. The first was my first year at the company, because I started in June so I didn’t accrue much PTO that year. The second time was for my wedding and honeymoon.

      I am certain if I had a specific vacation plan that would leave me just a day or two short, my manager would likely approve me going over if I asked–but only because I have not gone over in years and she trusts me to manage my time reasonably.

      I will add a caveat that I haven’t needed to do it in years because I am satisfied with the amount of PTO I have. If OP’s company is very stingy with PTO then I have a lot more sympathy for them. But even if that is the case I would say the issue isn’t that their manager is being unreasonable, and is more that their benefits in general are not what they are looking for. And if that’s the case then maybe it is worth looking for a new job with better benefits if that is a priority for them.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        After looking at other comments I went and read the letter again and realized I misunderstood a big part. I interpreted it as borrowing against *next year’s* leave which is something that you can occasionally do at my company. Borrowing against leave that you will earn this year sounds more reasonable to do with more frequency to me. That’s really just about the timing of when you take your vacations, and the timing that works best for a team is unlikely to be related to the system HR uses to accrue it. IMO as long as the periods that OP is looking to take aren’t causing issues in workflow for the rest of the team that does seem like something that should be allowed more regularly.

        1. doreen*

          I think it depends on some other factors as well – the letter doesn’t actually say that the writer can’t carry over leave. I’ve never had a job that allowed me to take leave I hadn’t yet earned – but they have all let me carry leave from one year to the next. It’s kind of hard to justify borrowing leave in a non-emergency if I can carry leave over from 2022 to take a vacation in January 2023.

    8. it’s a mirage*

      I think it depends on the situation. For example, my partner has had to do this many times this fiscal year because we had a baby at the beginning of it. The parental leave policy requires the employee to exhaust all PTO and take the rest as unpaid leave. That left a significant leave deficit that they still have not caught up from a year later – because then you have to deal with doctor’s appointments (for baby and for yourself) and the never ending illness rotation that comes with starting daycare. They’ve utilized borrowing against accrued time as much as is allowed, but we’ve taken a sizeable financial hit because of needs for unpaid leave beyond that to account for things outside of their control. Any flexibility from the company is greatly appreciated. If this is just because, for example, LW prefers the beach in March rather than May, I can see this coming across more as “entitled.”

    9. Happily Retired*

      LW2/OP2, if I can ask, how deep in the hole do you usually get? 2-3 days, 5 days, 10 or more?

      The whole idea of having only a limited number of days per year is terrible, and it plays out in this sort of situation. As a (now-retired) Federal employee, I had to accrue leave, but it was at a relatively generous rate, and there was decent rollover.

    10. Lucy P*

      Current company allows people to take advance leave, but it’s generally limited to up to 4 hours per instance.

      In some rare instances (like people being out sick for an extended period of time), they are allowed to take up to 16 hours (2 days) of advance leave.

    11. So Tired*

      The only time I was able to take time off that I hadn’t accrued yet was when I was first hired. I was hired in November, and had already booked my plane tickets home for the winter holidays, and there was no way I was going to accrue enough vacation time, or work to save enough comp time which my company offers, so as I was interviewing my boss said it would be fine for this time to indicate that I would accrue the vacation/comp time after I returned. But otherwise we don’t get to use unearned time, except in the most extreme of circumstances. So to me this LW does indeed sound a bit entitled, since in my experience their company probably allows such things in only very certain circumstances, rather than whenever the employee wants.

    12. Colette*

      Yeah. I organize trips on a volunteer basis, and there are rules everyone agrees to in advance (payment deadlines, for example). I’m OK making an exception if there’s a reason – but some people assume that if they get an exception once, they can ignore all future deadlines, and that becomes a problem. I wonder if this is something similar – you can borrow leave before you earn it if there’s a good reason, but you’re supposed to generally be at a zero or positive value, and if you’re always negative, that’s a problem.

    13. kiki*

      Borrowing against future leave can be very normal depending on the company and its policies. In some situations, that’s the only way somebody could take a decent amount of time off in January/ February (if that’s when they need/want the time off).

      I know Unlimited PTO has issues as a policy, is a misnomer, and is often implemented in a way that is negative for employees, but I really like that my company has it. It means I don’t spend a lot of time calculating when in the year I’ll have enough leave to do something, I just schedule the time. I know some people really value cashing out their unused PTO, but when I had PTO, I used all of it. I just really value that time away. Not everyone is the same, but for me, it’s great.

    14. Meep*

      I could see if LW#2 had vacation time planned prior to starting the job, but yeah, I could see Boss getting annoyed if LW#2 keeps borrowing as soon as they are at 0 again. Comes off as exploitive.

    15. Momma Bear*

      LW could ask why the change of heart since it was a thing until recently. Did the manager get a new directive? Did LW do something regarding leave requests that caused a problem? If there’s been a policy change, LW should know. LW should look at the HR handbook.

      I’ve never had a job where leave without pay (or unaccrued leave) could be used unless it was an emergency. I had a coworker that abused it, though, and was frequently in the red. When I wanted to take time off for Christmas after returning from maternity leave, I got a lot of pushback from my boss. Turns out boss didn’t think I had leave in the bank and was basically treating me like my wayward coworker. Sometimes the problem is not you but that they don’t want to deal with someone else so they make a blanket statement/decision.

      That said, some companies offer unlimited leave so if LW isn’t happy with this policy then they should look for a company with an unlimited leave situation. In my experience those policies still have limits, but they’re more flexible.

    16. JelloStapler*

      We have had this issue when our fiscal rollover in higher education made it hard for people to take vacations in July and August when Sept-June was difficult due to programming and students.

      But LW seems to be constantly in PTO debt, so I am wondering if there is something bigger going on, if it is a timing of the business/busy time issue, or if they are basically trying to take more vacation than they are allowed.

  6. Grilledcheeser*

    LW#4 – I interviewed while missing a front tooth & a side tooth. I just said, at the beginning of each interview, “i recently fell & knocked a tooth out, haven’t had time to get it replaced yet. I apologize ahead of time if I lisp!” Each time, the interviewer handled it fine. Most had dental horror stories to share, one even took out her false tooth in sympathy! It was a great ice breaker, really.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      I did job interviews at two different places when I wasmissing a front tooth in the midst of dental work. Both were during the pandemic on Zoom when all they could see was my face.

      For the first one, I mentioned it at the beginning because it made me feel more comfortable. For the second interview, I forgot about it entirely. No one said a word and they ended up offering me the job which I accepted.

      My sense is that these things are a bigger deal to the person being interviewed than the hiring team. Being interviewed puts me in hot seat. In wanting to make a good impression, I pay way more attention to my appearance than I would otherwise.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, I wouldn’t care, as an interviewer.
        Of course, I’m a trailing boomer, so I came of age when braces were expensive, and dental work was pretty much impossible. I’m used to wonky teeth.

        It would actually bother me a little for someone to dwell much on it. Good manners says I’m not supposed to comment, and things like teeth are NOT something like inappropriate clothes. Having them be perfect is complicated.

        I’m looking for low drama, most of the time, so I’d actually wonder a little when this thing you’re not supposed to mention then became a talking point.

        (I suppose I have someone in my life who apologizes and apologizes and DWELLS ON things that never needed an apology at first. I find it insulting?)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m definitely a fan of “This nonstandard thing about my appearance that you might be wondering about, here is a one sentence explanation” as a way to set both sides more at ease.

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      LW#4 – Do not worry about this, really! You’ll find that most people are sympathetic and they will work to put you at ease. When I had adult braces (to correct some issues my parents couldn’t afford to correct when I was a kid), people were so kind about it. I predict this will be a good way to establish rapport with your interviewers and it will not stand in the way of employment offers.

    4. zuzu*

      Unfortunately, teeth and dental care are a marker of class, and depending on the job, you could be penalized even subconsciously for missing or broken teeth if you don’t speak up.

    5. Not A Girl Boss*

      I just interviewed with a broken leg and stitches in my nose (don’t text while walking down stairs, friends). I think the biggest issue with it was just the hit to my own self-confidence. But I tried to make up for it by getting a new extra polished/stylish interview outfit, and I think that helped me feel a bit better.

      In my case, I just kind of made light of the incident leading up to my situation, and it worked out to be a weirdly effective ice breaker. I know that’s probably not as applicable in your case. But I do agree with Alison that blurting it out at the beginning allowed me to relax into the rest of the interview instead of feeling paranoid they were wondering what happened to me.

  7. SB*

    Dental Work – I used to be in recruitment & we are not entitled to that information, but if it will make you more at ease to disclose your dental work at the start of the interview then go ahead.

  8. Ordinary person*

    Some companies don’t allow you to borrow future PTO because if you resign, the state laws prevent them from asking you to repay it. (I think it depends on the state.)

  9. SB*

    Am I losing my mind? Did I read something totally different for #3 than what I re-read just now. It is almost knock off time Monday afternoon here so maybe I am just tired…

  10. Turquoisecow*

    OP3, this may be beyond your ability but maybe instead of giving different raises you can give everyone the same cost of living type raise and then frame the additional money some people are getting as an explicitly merit raise? People might understand that merit means not everyone gets the same amount but some high performers get more. Although if you haven’t done performance reviews or are not basing who gets more on some obvious performance metric like number of widgets/day or amount of sales or something like that, they may still cry foul or claim favoritism.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I think the problem is not that the OP cannot justify the increases. They worry that even tho they can justify the differences, some folks might be targeted for getting the merit raise while others did not and thus damaging the workplace culture.

    2. Observer*

      instead of giving different raises you can give everyone the same cost of living type raise and then frame the additional money some people are getting as an explicitly merit raise?

      There is no way that there is any framing the OP can do that’s going to sit well with people. 3% is not a COLA. In fact in the last two years even 5% would not completely qualify. So claiming that a CUT, while inflation is still high, is a COLA is really going to hit people the wrong way.

      I get that the OP is doing the best they can with the situation they are in. But “reframing” that flies in the face of reality is going to antagonize people a lot more than just a poor increase.

      1. quiet quitter before it was cool*

        I’m glad someone said this. And with “the current economic conditions” hitting workers 100x harder than companies, a 3% raise is insulting, frankly. The company should be more worried about retention than getting blood out of a stone by cutting raises in these times.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think this truer to what they have done and I agree they should be framing it that way. They should really not be calling the 3% raises that everybody got a “merit” raise when it isn’t, but I think a lot of companies make that mistake.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I also am having a bit of trouble taking that question in good faith though, the framing of “oh people will probably be mad at you if they know we’re paying you more” really rubs me the wrong way. Rational people will be mad at *the company,* not at the high performers.

        1. doreen*

          Not all people are rational – there was a person at my husband’s job who snooped around and found out how much people were paid ( they didn’t tell her) and she constantly made snarky remarks to and about people she believed were paid too much. She probably wasn’t actually mad at them but it definitely caused friction.

          1. anon in affordable housing*

            I live in affordable housing and it is too complicated to explain why similar apartments had different rents when the building leased up, but they did. Rents are not based on square footage, so smaller apartments can cost more than larger apartments, and people get big mad at their neighbors about that even though it is an artifact of affordable housing funding.

            And people who have stayed since it leased up in 2016 have far lower rent than new tenants–the landlord doesn’t increase rent much for existing tenants but charges the full affordable maximum for new tenants, and that affordable housing rent formula has skyrocketed since about 2018. New tenants are super angry about having to pay more than long time residents, and they’re not mad at management–they’re mad at us.

            People are absolutely frothing angry at the Section 8 tenants who only have to pay 30% of their income. They should be angry at HUD for not funding enough benefits for 75% of people who qualify for Section 8 (and that 75% probably includes the angry people saying Section 8 tenants don’t deserve to live here).

  11. takeachip*

    LW3, I appreciate your concern for your high performers but be careful not to trip yourself up too much here. There’s an inherent risk in talking with salary among coworkers, and you can’t protect people from that. If these conversations are the norm in your group, it seems like they’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. I mostly agree with Alison’s suggestion but I would even leave off the last sentence (“You’re of course always welcome to discuss wages with coworkers, but that might be helpful context to have this year”). The knowledge that they were in a small minority to get a higher increase will be enough to caution those who want to be more discreet, and a subtle warning will not matter to those who want to share.

    1. JSPA*

      Came to say this. If they are high performers and intelligent human beings, being told “you are among the very few to get the extra raise” already tells them what they need to know.

      If they didn’t learn as a kid that you don’t parade your ice cream cone in front of all of the kids who didn’t get an ice cream cone…oh well.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I would inform the people getting the merit increases that they are among the VERY few getting them, and that they are getting the raise because they have made high value contributions to the company. I might not tell the person they were the only person on their team / in their department that got the raise, but I WOULD say something to the effect that only 5% or whatever % of the employees got this raise, and that the raises are specifically for extremely high performers.

      I wouldn’t say anything more – if they don’t understand that discussing this might alienate their coworkers, specifically warning them isn’t likely to make much difference, either.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say this. You can tell people the context and not mention discussing wages at all. Heck, you could say the basically the same thing to everyone if you wanted – most of the raise requests were denied. The people who got them will be able to make choices about what they want to say and the people who didn’t may not feel as though it’s quite as personal.

    4. Smithy*

      I agree with this entirely.

      The generic thought about the subtle warning is thoughtful, but I’m still left assuming that those high performers either a) already need interpersonal skills that will help them navigate this or b) perform technical skills so niche and at such a high level that despite low interpersonal skills – they’re just that invaluable. With those base assumption, someone who does still discus who did/didn’t get the raise may still be making their own calculations views of being a good mentor and colleague.

      Very often being mission critical can relate as much or more to your workstream than the quality of work you perform. Someone on a Kettle Design team who loves designing Teapots when a company’s focus moving into Coffee and Chocolate pots – might think that as long as they do super high-quality work, they can still get ahead. Hearing that raises were given to Coffee and Chocolate pot designers but no one working on Teapots may be coming from a far more genuine place of helping someone think of transitioning within the company or looking for jobs in a place that has greater value in Teapots.

      101 kinds of conversations like that can be happening that are reflective of someone being a high performer and good mentor within a workplace.

    5. I should be working*

      yes, I was going to suggest this as well. I think it’s very reasonable to say “you got this because of your performance in areas ABC, but not everyone did,” and leave it at that.

      This lets the employees who did get the raises decide if they want to share their raises with everyone else (which could lead to uncomfortable situations for the employees as well as management), but avoids the issue of being accused of discouraging employees from talking about their wages.

  12. Katie*

    If your former wanted to get in touch with you, they would have. Leave them be.

      1. Roland*

        Can’t the same be said in reverse? To the coworker, “if OP had wanted to get in touch, they would have, leave them be”. Someone needs to initiate contact for there to be contact.

    1. Despachito*

      OP5-she added her back on LinkedIn, so it means she is open to contact.

      I would not be afraid to invite her to have coffee/lunch (if she does not want to she can easily politely decline). It seems there would be many more interesting things to discuss than just the question “why”, and OP can find a way to sneak it in the conversation.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      There’s a big difference between “wanting to get in touch” and being receptive to someone else getting in touch. There’s no way of knowing how the departing employee feels about staying in contact, but there’s no reason not to try; just say you enjoyed working with her etc, and see if she’s responsive. You can tell from the details on the letter that OP is clearly not going to proceed further than that without seeing interest on the other side.

    3. JSPA*


      It’s dead normal to contact an upper level contact who has left.

      It’s actually a bit trickier for a higher level person to get in contact with a lower, rather than the other way around, unless they’re contacting to headhunt. (Ditto for a person who has left to contact a person who is still there– it can feel like they could be hunting for inside information.)

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Wholeheartedly disagree. Especially on LinkedIn. There is absolutely nothing wrong– and quite a lot right– with, “I enjoyed working with you and getting to know you. I was sorry to see that you’d left and I’d love to keep in touch.” If the VP doesn’t want to answer, she won’t, but there is nothing wrong with the gesture.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Completely agree with AvonLady. And even though she accepted the connection request, I wouldn’t get too beat up about it or take it personally if she doesn’t respond to the message. Sometimes that can just be because the person got a new job and isn’t using/checking LI as much anymore or because the person is getting flooded with messages from recruiters and others and just missed it. Or in my case where I didn’t realize there was message filtering and I saw some messages over a year after they were originally sent. Stuff happens, so be polite, use some lighthearted framing in your message like AvonLady suggested, and if she responds, great. If she doesn’t, don’t take it personally.

  13. Kwebbel*

    LW3 – My old company stopped giving cost-of-living increases, took away the company bonus scheme, and started giving even smaller merit increases than they’d done previously all within the span of 2 years. And our salaries were far below market average as well to begin with. Like at your company, many people pointed out how unsustainable this was for their finances and pushed back. And only a few of them got appropriate raises.

    From what I saw, the majority of those not receiving an appropriate raise did feel resentment – but not toward their coworkers who got better raises after pushback. They felt resentment toward their company for overworking and underpaying them. Many of them left, a few of them sued (the company is in Europe so there were some legal recourses for taking away the bonus), and a lot of them just went on autopilot and stopped doing more than the bare minimum to stay employed until something better came along.

    Your situation might end up being very different depending on the company culture, of course, but I reckon the resentment might be felt more toward middle- and upper-management than toward the people who received an extra merit increase. Again, I can’t predict how people will react, but there might be value in thinking through strong answers to questions on how the final decisions were made, and why people who gave 110% should stay at the company if their requests were denied. And think about what you can do as a manager to boost team morale if your people are really struggling to pay bills with the effects of inflation right now. At my old company, it really was the team spirit people felt that got them through the tough days when they found out they wouldn’t be getting raises for the fifth year in a row.

    1. sysadmin*

      Yes. I’ll add that I don’t believe you need to be the one to cover for your bosses. Workers are being needlessly squeezed and it will happen until there is mass pushback. Give them management’s reasoning and let them do what they need to do with that information. Ideally, they would organize.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > many people pointed out how unsustainable this was for their finances

      I’m not saying it was right of the company, but it is only a small leap from “my bills keep going up” to “the company’s salary bills would be going up” to understand why it would be unsustainable for the company as well.

      1. quiet quitter before it was cool*

        If a company can’t sustain itself and compensate its workers fairly at the same time then it deserves to fail. A 3% raise with no COL adjustment is essentially a pay cut, and the company is about to find out how costly it is to pad their profits with unpaid wages. Any sensible employee is just going to phone it in until they get their raise from a better-paying company.

      2. Kwebbel*

        That definitely wouldn’t have been a concern at my company. It was a family-run business, and the family had higher and higher profit margins during the time they made those salary adjustments. The CEO used to say “I have enough money for my family for the next 10 generations.” Yes, their profits would have been marginally lower if they paid people fair market wages, but they also would have had lower attrition and higher morale (within 3 years of the adjustments they made, the vast majority of high performers had left – many of them leaving for salaries that were 30-40% higher than what they got paid with us).

  14. Bee*

    Assuming LW1’s assessment of Pam is accurate, there’s always hidden costs to keeping people like Pam around and giving them unchecked power. She’s not just affecting the people fired, but the rest of staff who will be taking note of this. No one is so uniquely valuable that they’re worth the loss in morale with everyone else.

    Also, it’s really demoralizing to staff to have someone in HR of all places with a “difficult personality and a tendency to manipulate, take things personally, and play politics.” I’d call her bluff, personally.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah there would be hidden costs here if Pam were a line manager or a CFO or any number of things – but HR it’s pretty dangerous. Not all HR is good, and HR is ultimately there for the company, and yes everyone should know that. But there’s a difference between “my HR is not as people focused as I would like/too black and white/unapproachable” (all their own concerns) and “my HR is manipulative, gets people fired they don’t like, and has complete unchecked power”. The costs to the latter can be shattering to your business, especially if you have Tobys there who will make sure people see what’s going on. And they will notice the pattern of Tobys disappearing, if you let it happen.

  15. Falling Diphthong*

    OP3, what does “with the current economic climate” mean? Is your company struggling, so that people at the top chose to forego raises and bonuses and divided a small pool of money for merit raises at the lower levels?

    Or is it more like “Even though unemployment is low, with the recent tech layoffs we thought giving everyone merit raises that don’t even keep up with inflation was something we could get away with”?

      1. amoeba*

        Might be – here in Europe it’s unfortunately very true (with the war in Ukraine and energy prices through the roof…)

    1. N.J.*

      I’m not sure about where you all are located in the U.S., but here in middle America, grocery and gas prices are still high and we have seen rate hikes in our water, electricity and gas rates, without even sufficient cost of living raises. That doesn’t suggest a good economy to me.

      1. mlem*

        The thing is, the key driver of price increases has been corporate price-gouging; companies are spraying money to all their shareholders and C-suite members while sobbing to their employees that there’s just not enough money to give raises to the actual workers.

        My company’s CEO gave herself a raise that was almost *half again my annual income* last year. (It was something like a 30% raise for herself.) Feels bad!

        1. N.J.*

          Yes, corporate greed is part of it definitely. However, just because unemployment is low, it doesn’t mean folx have jobs that pay their bills. Most of the people I know are underemployed, as nebulous as that term can be.

      2. Shiba Dad*

        The most recent US jobs report showed an unemployment rate of 3.4% (a 54 year low) and workforce participation of 25-54 year-olds at the highest it has been since 2008.

        The labor market is tight, which should result in higher wages. It seems odd that, if OP’s company is US based, raises would be smaller than in the past.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Country-wide trends don’t mean that specific regions can’t have different circumstances.

          1. N.J.*

            Yeah, that’s the thing. I live in Appalachia, I have family in Texas. Neither of the two states I’m familiar with have seen a particular rise in wages, or even raises at all. Some pockets, such as retail/fast food are raiding wages to attract workers, but that’s about it. And as tight as the labor market is supposed to be, jobs are not getting filled in my area.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          If the economy allows for massive bonuses at the top of your company and no cost of living raises at the bottom of your company, it’s not “the economy being what it is.”

          In a downturn that might mean that employees won’t feel they have other options, but I don’t think that describes this economy in the US–“we need you to sacrifice for the sake of shareholder dividends” isn’t particularly inspiring.

          But there can be local markets where the company really is pinched and trying to avoid layoffs, and employees who see that will look differently on minimal raises than those who know the CEO just bought another yacht–my question wasn’t sarcastic.

          1. kiki*

            Yeah, I work in tech and see a lot of “Oh, with the economy being what it is we need to do layoffs, cut back on wages, reduce non-essential benefits, etc.” but then you look at the company’s actual balance sheet and stuff is fine? They’re just not as wildly profitable as in 2021. Still very profitable, just slightly less so than in the past. Leadership and shareholders are still being paid handsomely, but their support staff are being asked to, “do more with less.” That comes across very poorly.

            But there are industries that are different and truly might be in a bad position that justifies making this decision to reduce increases. I just want to make sure LW understands which category they’re in as they move forward.

          2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            At my job, there is so little work that they are having us only work 4 days a week. Dunno if it’s the general economy or our clients are just taking their work someplace else, but business is definitely not booming. Just because a lot of business are doing great, doesn’t mean all of them are.

      3. JSPA*

        Yeah, in the older neighborhoods and cities, there are a lot of builds coming due for decades of deferred maintenance of utilities.

    2. Rob*

      I thought the same thing. It sounds like they tried to use that as an excuse but got push back from people who were like “and? The company had a record year in terms of profit”

      I know my company is on track for another record year in terms of profits so I’d also be upset if I was given a small raise and told “the economy”

  16. AnneSurely*

    Simple solution for the dental work interview dilemma: wear a mask, protect yourself and others, and also have the side effect of hiding your teeth!

    1. lurkyloo*

      Seconded! I was scrolling to make sure I wasn’t going to repeat :)
      OP4, if there’s one thing about the pandemic that I didn’t mind was the ability to wear a mask at will without being viewed as odd. You can simply say …well, whatever you want!
      Best of luck with the dental work AND the job hunt!

      1. AnneSurely*

        Right?! I find a lot of power in wearing a mask and not feeling the need to explain why. (Currently sick, exposed, high risk, family of someone high risk, forgot to pluck my chin hairs, cold sore, etc.) I know that masking is rare/infrequent in many places right now, but if one has the luxury of picking and choosing employers, their reaction to a masked interviewee feels like a good test.

    2. bean*

      I mean, if it’s a Zoom interview, wearing a mask in a private space with nobody around would definitely come across weirder than just briefly addressing it, IMO.

      1. AnneSurely*

        True, I was assuming in-person, but not the best solution if it’s a video interview!

      2. lurkyloo*

        True; I was assuming in person as well. However, you could wear it on a Zoom meeting and state that there’s someone in the home that you’re protecting from your cold/flu/etc?

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          So, someone should lie rather than explain “dental work”? I’d rather make the explanation and risk dealing with weird opinions. But then, I’m past that magical age of “about 45” when people’s teeth start breaking (according to the dentist I saw when it happened to me) so I’ve been there, done that.

    3. anoncat*

      Yeah, if it’s an in-person interview, just wear a mask. My partner was worried about acne then realized a mask would cover all of it and be safer, so it’s win-win. Does look strange if you’re at home though…

    4. Texan In Exile*

      I want to wear a mask in public for the rest of my life. I have always hated my teeth, which are discolored from medication I had as a child. I never want to show my teeth again.

      Also, my husband went unmasked to an event recently and caught a cold and gave it to me. I hadn’t had a cold in three years. I had forgotten how miserable they are. I liked not getting sick.

    5. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and mention that it depends on the culture where you live or interviewing. In live in an area that had a large number of people who were against masking (God protects you from Covid, masks do not!). It wasn’t unusual for me to go into a store with sign stating masks were required and I was one of the few wearing a mask, even including the workers (masks around their necks, not covering their face).

      My coworkers were divided on the masking issue. Half agreed with the policies and what masking helped do, the other half thought they were pointless but went along with it because corporate created a policy. They didn’t make a big deal about masking except when they got together with their group of non-masking believers. It wasn’t an issue in the workplace but since masking stopped being a requirement, I’ve overheard some negative opinions each time they see a person wearing a mask for whatever reason. Unfortunately, I would say some of that group would negatively judge a candidate who was wearing a mask during an interview.

      I’d personally just go by Alison’s suggestion. Short, factual statement and move on. If you do get hired, you’d eventually have to unmask anyway and if OP is still in-process with their dental work, they’d have to say something then unless they wanted to mask until the dental work is done. I’ve also done several interviews over lunch, so again, just being honest and up-front usually makes things easier.

  17. I should really pick a name*

    For #1

    I think it’s a mistake to frame it as Pam being more in the wrong than Toby.
    Treat these as separate issues.
    Is Pam doing something wrong? Address that.
    Is Toby doing something wrong? Address that.
    If Pam is dissatisfied with this, she’s welcome to leave.

    Though of course, it sounds like this is advice for Michael, not the LW.

    1. Malarkey01*

      YES this. Toby voicing concern to new hires and undermining Pam is also EXTREMELY problematic behavior from a manager/leader. It seems like the company and LW have fallen into the trap of a right person versus wrong person. Both of these people need a very serious conversation and consideration because neither is behaving in an acceptable way.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’d be curious to know a bit more about what Toby has been doing, specifically. Because I think there are versions of the behaviour that are reasonable and versions that are not. From the letter, it’s not clear which version we’re dealing with. I can imagine a scenario where Toby is a bit of a scapegoat for the problems Pam is causing because it’s “causing drama.” Like everything would be fine if Toby just stopped talking and Michael wouldn’t have to deal with the real issues with Pam.

        Is Toby “undermining” HR initiatives out of malice or is he raising legitimate concerns about major flaws in the initiatives that haven’t been addressed? Are the conversations Toby is having about Pam with other staff inappropriate or is he just warning people about how she is vindictive and manipulative and talking about issues in her approach? Because if I was a new employee, it would be very helpful to know that someone in a position of power has a history of abusing it. That way, I could consider that information when making decisions about things.

        Either way, a serious conversation with Toby is absolutely warranted. How that conversation goes will depend on an assessment of how much of his behaviour is inappropriate and how he reacts to the conversation.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Though of course, it sounds like this is advice for Michael, not the LW.”

      I am curious how much power or influence LW actually has over this situation. Not that LWs can’t ask for gut checks even if they can’t change things – I’m just thinking how frustrating it would be to see this happening and not feel like you can do anything about it.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Totally agree. The situation has been framed as Pam versus Toby. There’s no reason why the two things can’t be separated and addressed.

  18. L-squared*

    1. Part of me feels like you maybe should let them both go. Pam sounds like a problem, for sure. But also “Toby has voiced concerns about Pam to her, as well as to Michael, and apparently also to other people on the floor, particularly new hires. He has started undermining some of her initiatives”. I have no problem with speaking your concerns to someone else. But it also sounds like he is trying to turn new hires against her and purposely go against her initiatives (and nowhere does it say that those initiatives are bad). He may have valid reasons not to like her, but it sounds like he is actively working against her. So this doesn’t seem to be all on Pam.

    2. So you know this is a policy that they have kindly let you skirt for years, and now you are mad that they are enforcing it? This just seems a bit entitled to me. Its more that you have gotten away with something for a long time, but you are just looking at it as having something taken away. But really, its something you were never supposed to have.

    3. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t something you can manage. This will be an employee thing to manage, and yeah, that means that some people may misdirect their anger to her. But I wouldn’t try to get involved, especially premptively.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, I don’t love how Toby has handled this either. I think Pam is more on the wrong, but it seems like no one is coming up roses here.

      1. L-squared*

        I feel like she only comes off more in the wrong because she is in HR so there are different expectations. Because once one person is bad mouthing and underemining another person, typically I feel like most people would see them as the problem.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          She’s more in the wrong because she’s already fired a previous victim. Toby is probably speaking out because he’s afraid there’ll be a next victim, he’s probably warning the new hires that they can’t trust Pam. This could well undermine Pam. Toby might not care all that much about being fired since he’s taking the risk of speaking out.

    2. Observer*

      Part of me feels like you maybe should let them both go

      I was thinking the same thing, as well. And mostly for the same reasons. Pam is trouble, but Toby’s behavior would be a firing offense in most companies, regardless.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Mostly agreeing with you, but I would look at what Toby is actually doing – is he obstructing programs / policies that Pam is trying to implement, that would be good for the business? OR is he warning new employees that Pam can’t be trusted because she plays politics and favourites and is vindictive? Or both – both could happen, particularly if Toby is so fed up with Pam that he has lost his sense of perspective.

      Either way, Toby should be dealt with. But he’s not the one issuing an ultimatum right now. I would, however, have a serious chat with him before the next HR person is hired, though.

    4. kiki*

      For #1, I think it comes down to what Pam’s initiatives are that Toby is going up against. If Toby is starting an uprising over Pam asking folks to review out their timesheets a day earlier, that’s not a good look. If Pam has caused a major disruption to employee benefits or is unfairly penalizing folks for normal things, I think Toby would be justified. I wouldn’t want to fire an employee for sticking up for what’s fair to them and their fellow employees.

      1. L-squared*

        True. But I just have a feeling that if it is an employee benefits thing, it wouldn’t just be him pushing back on this.

      2. Malarkey01*

        The other issue is that Toby is a member of leadership. At that stage you should not be leading uprisings against other leaders unless you’re setting up a very toxic business. An exec team needs to be able to hash things out without dragging employees into things.

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    On #3, I have been in that situation and my advice is to not say anything about keeping it quiet. As you say they already talk about salaries and have been talking about this as well. It’s not going to just disappear and be forgotten about given the pushback.

    Also, in my experience it will also be you and management the team has issues with, not so much those who did get the raise, so be prepared for that (Sounds like you are).

    Bottom line – the employees will talk and find out one way or another, so whatever you do, assume this won’t be kept secret for long

  20. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

    LW1, great HR professionals ARE worth their weight in gold; unfortunately, Pam isn’t one of them. As a growing, 40-person company, this would be a great opportunity for your company to give rising star or a seasoned pro a chance to make a difference.

  21. eisa*

    LW#5 Don’t assume she left of her own accord. She might have, or she might have been laid off / fired. The official “pursue other interests” soundbite would be the same in any of those cases.

    1. TechAnon*

      Came here to say this — you can still message here but be conscious in your wording that the “other interests” language could very well have been a polite obfuscation of a firing.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I think that’s OP’s exact point though. They want to know if she was let go, and if so, whether that’s a sign of financial trouble for the company.

      I generally assume any abrupt leaving wasn’t voluntary.

      1. eisa*

        – – They want to know if she was let go

        Actually, LW writes
        “Would it be in poor taste to ask why she left ?”
        and not
        “Would it be in poor taste to ask why she and the company parted ways ?”

        since “leaving” is a voluntary action, it sounds that LW takes the company’s statement at face value.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I’ve seen people use “leave” as a plausibly-deniable euphemism, though, so that word choice doesn’t give me a conclusive sense one way or the other.

  22. metadata minion*

    #2 – This sounds like it could have been a case of the supervisor thinking “sure, we’re not in a crunch period, I’ll be nice and let them borrow against their time off bank”, thinking of it as a one-time thing. But by not saying that explicitly, it ended up coming off as “sure, this is totally a thing you can do”.

  23. HonorBox*

    OP2 – There are obviously a few details that others have pointed out in comments above that might be helpful to know so we can weigh in better, but with the information you’ve presented, it simply sounds like your manager is shutting down what sounds like excessive use of unaccrued PTO on your part. Perhaps they’re just tired of you skirting the rules as much as you are. Perhaps someone above them has indicated that that manager in particular is allowing employees to skirt the rules too much. Perhaps there’s coverage issues. It sounds like you’ve had opportunity to bend rules before and now you don’t. I don’t think I’d consider walking away over that. They’re closing a loophole.

    1. umami*

      Definitely sounds like that. If PTO is designed to be accrued (which is how it works where I work), then only under unique circumstances can I allow PTO for someone who hasn’t accrued it. I always advise folks to be mindful of banking time for emergencies, rather than attempting to borrow time or using it as soon as it’s accrued. We have a very generous accrual policy that rolls over up to 400 hours, so it’s very easy to bank time for a major vacation, especially since we are closed for Spring Break and 2 weeks over winter, all paid. OP is a bit hung up on having been allowed to do something, but just because your boss ‘can’ allow it on occasion doesn’t mean they are obligated to every time it’s requested.

  24. AlsoADHD*

    LW5, maybe suggest a coffee chat. If you do an in person or video coffee (whatever makes sense for you two) you may be able to maintain the relationship and get some insight but I’d prioritize the relationship frankly, based on the description given.

  25. Myra*

    Some states don’t allow companies to require employees to pay back accrued time. (If you leave, you get to keep the money.) If your company started doing business in another state, they might change the rules for company consistency. (It can be difficult to say that people in one state get a benefit that people in another state do not get.)

  26. Pogo*

    Not being able to take unaccrued leave is awful. That means technically, you can never take your full leave because you would not have earned it before the very end of the pay period at the end of the year. Also, no one can take time off early in the year? What if you are sick early on in the year and go away for spring break? I very much have NEVER heard of this policy because it’s completely unreasonable. I would not enforce it as a manager honestly, and I would have a serious problem working at a place like this. If you leave, then you owe the company money back for the time you took, which may be rare, but it happens. I had to write my company a check for a retention bonus before I left my job a few years ago, its not a big deal.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      That’s not how it works in my experience. If you accrue time in December, you get to use it from the start of the month. The way not using time before it has accrued has always worked for me, in three states at least, has been that if the time is accrued by the time you take the vacation, you’re okay to put in a request for it. So for example, when I started my job in July, I wasn’t going to have enough leave time to take off for a December holiday vacation until December. I still was allowed to put in my request in November, before the time had officially accrued, because by the time I was going to take the vacation, I’d have earned the time. I have never heard of a scenario where you get paid the end of the month and there’s leave attached to that pay period that then immediately disappears. I agree that that wouldn’t make sense.

      Then again, I have never worked at a place that didn’t allow some sort of rollover anyway, with limits.

      1. NB*

        Yes, same. Every place I’ve worked allows rollovers up to certain points. So there’s no use it or lose it unless you leave the job, and that only applies to sick time. Annual leave is paid out when you go.

      2. Cranky scientist*

        Rollovers depend on state law. CT doesn’t require employers to allow vacation to roll over into the next year, so my employer doesn’t do that. My vacation accrual re-starts every year in January. If I couldn’t borrow forward in the year, I wouldn’t be able to take any sort of vacation in January.

    2. NB*

      That’s odd, because this is how it’s worked at all but one of the places I’ve been employed. Your first few months is tight because you earn leave each month & can’t miss many days. Most of my workplaces have been non-profits/academia/public sector though, so maybe it’s different in the corporate world.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      The solution is a policy to carry over leave into the new year. Yes, when you first start at the company you have no leave, but you earn it that first year, don’t use it all and carry over some into January so that you can take leave in January if you want.

      It does mean that that first year or two you need to ration your leave a bit so you have some to carry over into the new year for emergencies or a planned January or February vacations. But once you build up some carry over then every year you can take the full amount of leave you would have earned that year and previous years carry over is there for a cushion.

      I much prefer this policy than starting from zero leave in January. And lots of employees will have problems (literally be financially unable) to pay for advance leave when leave a company. It would be terrible to quit or be let go and owe your former employer money.

    4. Boolie*

      Yeah, if I’m reading it correctly I don’t like that policy either. Makes it impossible to take a truly immersive vacation anywhere. For example if I get 20 PTO days a year, and I wanted to take a vacation to Europe, or to visit my family out of state, I couldn’t do that if I only accrued time every month. Less than two days at a time every month isn’t feasible! Not sure what I’m missing here, but I empathize for OP.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      Where I work, our leave is accrued and you can’t take leave you haven’t earned yet, but it rolls over (up to a certain threshold), so if you don’t use everything by the end of the year, you’re not starting over from zero in January.

    6. I'm A Little Teapot*

      You are assuming that leave doesn’t carry over. I have always been able to rollover PTO, the amount has varied but I could. If your employer doesn’t allow rollovers, I’d say that’s the problem, not that you may not be allowed to borrow against future accruals.

    7. Kay*

      Policy arguments aside… To say that its not a big deal to have to pay back funds discounts the fact that for many workers – it actually would be a VERY big deal. Unless the company has a no rollover policy, it seems like removing a possibly fraught thing from an already possibly fraught situation isn’t the worst thing.

    8. Nancy*

      Every job I’ve ever had in the past 20+ years has used accrued time; it is common in non-profit/academic settings. In each case, we were allowed to rollover up to one year max each year, so if you got 20 days PTO each year, you were allowed to rollover up to 20 days into the next year and continue to accrue. We also were allowed to have negative time if we really needed to take more than we had accrued, which I once did because I had started a new job and needed two extra days than I had.

  27. Aswin Kini MK*

    As a person who has worked with many such “PAMS” I can attest to you that these people are seriously one of the most entitled and toxic folks in the organization. I had to leave my last organization precisely due to one such PAM character. While I unfortunately have no good advice for the OP, all I can say is watch out for the people who are directly and indirectly influenced by PAM, including Pam’s boss. If there is anything that I have been taught in the corporate world, that more than the troubling PAMs, the real danger lies in their spineless bosses who would turn a blind eye or even acknowledge a PAM’s behavior making life hell for all other employees.

  28. Washi*

    For the dental OP, it occurs to me that I wouldn’t really know what to say if someone said “excuse my teeth.” Probably some version of “no worries” but I might fumble a little. I think Allison’s language is good but I’d you use it, I would immediately segue into something else rather than expecting any kind of response.

  29. Observer*

    #3- Raises

    Telling your staff to not talk about their raises – even using the last sentence in Allison’s script is likely to blow back on you in a number of ways.

    The idea that you are really only worried about your staff and think that they might somehow be tone-deaf enough to not realize how people could react is totally non-credible. (I mentioned this in another comment, but it’s not showing up yet. Sometimes stuff gets stuck in moderation and who knows what will happen with it when that does happen.)

    You claim to ” encourage open dialogue around compensation” yet you are trying to instruct your staff to NOT have an open dialogue. Even if it were truly just because you are concerned about the welfare of (some) of your staff, that would still fly in the face of your official stance. Do you REALLY mean that you encourage openness, or is that something you say to look good but only want when it makes you look good? That’s the question your staff is going to be asking if (or more likely WHEN) your carefully couched directive becomes public knowledge.

    You really think that this can be kept secret? I’m assuming that you are not a public company with open records and / or these employees are in positions where you wouldn’t have to report their salaries anyway. But do you really think that no one is going to talk? This would be a big question even in a culture where pay discussions are not common. In a place like yours where you *know* that “my team talks about their salaries together“, how do you think that this is even possible? Keep in mind that even if every single one of them decides to keep their mouths shut (highly unlikely, but possible), that will tell everyone else that they got a higher raise. They don’t need to know how much.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m giving OP the benefit of the doubt that they’re asking for sensitivity or trying to prepare the staff getting a raise for potential blowback, but I agree with you that it’s just not in OP’s power to manage and they’re going to end up shooting themselves in the foot by trying. They can say “most people got x this year, you’re getting y because…” and I think that’s fine. If you’re compensating someone extra as a reward, that really only works if they know it’s extra.

      However you can’t dictate or even influence what they do with that information. Even if you have good intentions, it’s too likely to backfire.

  30. Sara without an H*

    There’s only one answer to an ultimatum: “Don’t bang the door on your way out.” (Or as I’ve put it in real life, “Well, you must do what you think best.”)

    I don’t know what the issues are between Pam and Toby, but it’s possible you need to fire both of them. And Michael really, really needs to start managing. His passivity regarding Pam does not bode well for the future of this business. That is something the LW needs to keep an eye on, for her own future career.

  31. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

    #4 It is also worth checking with your dentist about any temporary cover up options. I was offered that when I was going through some dental work that would take a long time. I didn’t feel the need, so I can’t say what the options might be or what they might cost.

  32. Tesuji*

    LW #1:

    I’m kind of stuck on the “He has started undermining some of her initiatives. […] The problem is that Toby hasn’t done anything to warrant being let go” framing, which makes me wonder how reliable a narrator the LW is.

    To me, if someone several levels above you in management has implemented “initiatives” and you are actively working to undermine those initiatives, then either (1) you better win the fight with the management above them that the initiatives were a bad idea, or (2) you have 100% done something to warrant being let go.

    Actively working to undermine management is in and of itself something that warrants letting someone go. (It doesn’t require letting someone go, but it’s a complete and legitimate reason to take that action.)

    The fact that the LW is dismissing that so easily makes me wonder whether her bias against Pam is flavoring her view of the situation.

    To me, this isn’t so much Pam making an ultimatum as Pam noting reality: If a worker is deliberately undermining a manager’s authority, then one of them needs to be fired. Depending on the situation, the boss might pick one or the other, but leaving things as-is isn’t tenable in the long term.

  33. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

    Am I the only one who thinks “Pam” should actually be named “Angela?” :P

  34. ijustworkhere*

    I don’t know how a policy of only taking accrued leave coupled with a policy of no roll over can actually work? That makes no sense to me. No one would be able to take a vacation in the first half of the year under these conditions.

      1. doreen*

        No, and I’ve never seen a system where you accrue time off by pay period/week/month with no roll over. The closest I’ve seen was a system where you were credited on Jan 1 with that year’s PTO based on how many months you had worked the year before – so that if you were hired in January , you had to work a whole year before you had any vacation time.

        1. Alas*

          Ha. My employer wipes your accrued time at the end of each year. You’re right that it’s not the only issue, & that I’m job hunting.

      2. Happy*

        You’re right.

        It seems pretty likely that OP does have a roll-over situation, given the question.

    1. Colette*

      We don’t know that that’s the situation. We also don’t know how far in advance the OP is borrowing vacation. (Did she use her 2023 vacation days in 2022 and is now working on 2024, or is she using a day in April that she doesn’t accrue until May?)

  35. Alyssa*

    To LW #4 who asked about dental work — I was in a really terrible accident a year ago that left me with multiple chipped teeth and a broken jaw, so I feel your pain and embarrassment! One thing that I found was very helpful was to give people a heads up even before I saw them in person. That way they could process their reaction and prepare themselves before we were in a room together.

    I usually just sent a quick text or email saying something along the lines of: “I just wanted to give you a heads up that I was in an accident recently that caused some damage to my teeth. I’m in the middle of dental work which should be completed soon, but I didn’t want you to be alarmed! Thanks so much for understanding.”

    Then when you’re in the room, try to let go of any embarrassment or shame you might be feeling. When you’re comfortable and at ease, people will follow your lead. You’ve got this — good luck!

  36. Parenthesis Guy*

    #1) The issue isn’t that she can hold the company hostage. The issue is that she IS holding the company hostage. If she’s a lifesaver, and you fire her without a backup plan, then you’re in trouble.

    As such, his only real option is to cave. There are things you can do to make it easier on Toby like offering a generous severance package, but if you can’t afford to lose her, you can’t afford to lose her.

    But then the next step he needs to take is having people learn more about what Pam does she can be fired in the near future. You can’t let her keep holding you hostage.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      There are very few situations where you can’t actually afford to lose a problem employee, and someone who has a tendency to manipulate, take things personally, and play politics is a problem employee.
      They just need to do the same thing they’d do if she announced she was quitting for any other reason.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        Few situations, yes. But it’s reasonable that losing your only HR employee may be one of them. It’s hard to say without knowing their responsibilities.

        In any event, I’m taking the LW at their word when they say that “While Michael acknowledges that Pam is more in the wrong than Toby, he feels like he has no choice but to accept her ultimatum because “we can not afford to reboot HR right now.”

        We can argue about whether this is accurate or not, but the fact is that this is how the OP believes Michael feels. Telling Michael that he should fire Pam anyway is likely to face pushback. Telling Michael to set the stage so that he can fire Pam in a few months would probably face less pushback.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          SO many companies of this size have zero HR. I don’t advocate for that, but it’s minimally functional and they’d be fine until they could bring someone else on board.

          No one is irreplaceable. I know some people say that as a way to threaten people’s jobs, and that’s not okay, but realistically you can’t run a business if it would fold the second someone gets fired, or quits, or gets hit by a bus.

          1. Parenthesis Guy*

            I think you can very easily run a business that would fold if a key team member left. Amazon likes to pull that trick with small companies – triple the salary of a few key team members to hire them away from a company that has something you want, copy what the small company does and oops they’re out of business.

            But if losing that person would cause other key busy people to spend a significant of time replicating what that HR member does, then that HR member may not be irreplaceable but is hard to replace. And a CEO may be disinclined to fire that person. You want to find a way to change hard-to-replace into easy-to-replace, so that they can drop this person.

          2. I have RBF*

            One person I worked with had the startup he was working on literally fold because his co-founder died in an accident, and had all the plans and business stuff in his head. It does happen. The idea with documentation and communication is to prevent having a single point of failure (SPOF), the person whose loss will trash a business. HR should never be a SPOF.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Yes, I could have worded that better. This does happen, especially in small businesses and start ups. But as you point out, it’s just incredibly risk and if a SPOF is identified all moves should be taken to create some kind of redundancy or back up of information.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable [people].” Turns out, no-one is as irreplaceable as they like to think. I’m betting Pam isn’t, either.

  37. Lizard*

    #2 My company has a similar policy, where one can go up to 40 hours of unaccrued leave, which needs management approval. It’s meant to cover emergencies, or as a buffer for ensuring you can take that 2-week vacation, whatever. It’s meant as a once-in-a-while bit of grace. From your letter it sounds like you might be using this way too much, hence the pushback now.

  38. L. Bennett*

    In LW2 it sounds like your manager rejected your leave request and then after you disputed it, said you would no longer be able to take unaccrued leave? Did I read that right?

    Regardless of whether this is your manager’s reaction to the way you disputed the original rejection or not, I think we probably need more info. What was the conversation like when you disputed the leave? Also, does your company allow you to roll over accrued PTO hours into the new year? How often have you used unaccrued PTO hours? How many were you planning on using this time?

    My company allows PTO hours to be rolled over and for us to use some unaccrued PTO hours, but it’s still risky because if you’re in the negative in terms of PTO hours and then you leave, it’s difficult to get an employee to pay that back. Was the company recently burned like this and they’re looking to stop the gap?

    1. umami*

      I counsel all new hires on how our PTO accrual works, because I have seen too often the pitfalls in not banking time. It’s always (generally) the employees who take time as it’s accrued who end up with some type of emergency and with not enough time accrued to address it. Where I work, we cannot approve time off that isn’t already accrued (it’s all computerized, you literally cannot request time if it isn’t already showing in the system), and flex time is only for extra time worked for operational needs. In this case, the handbook states that employees can ONLY take unearned time off if approved by the supervisor AND the senior VP, which makes it clear that it should be for an exceptional reason, not as a planning tool for taking extra time off before it’s been accrued. If you accommodate this regularly for one employee, you need to be prepared to do so for every employee, and it doesn’t look good on the supervisor to keep sending these requests to the senior VP for approval.

  39. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    I always wonder about this: if you can’t use *any* unaccrued leave, then aren’t you going to end up with unusable leave you don’t accrue until the very end of the year, since it won’t “exist” until the very end and you can’t book it before that point?

    1. L. Bennett*

      A lot of companies let you roll-over hours into the new year. Some don’t, but many do.

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      My leave (fed) rolls over indefinitely until it gets so old (multiple years old) that it expires. But I can’t take leave I don’t have banked without special permission and extraordinary circumstances like illness beyond FMLA limits.

      1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

        I’ve never worked in a place that rolls over, it’s always use-or-lose; but I didn’t have the sense that the two were necessarily tied together!

        We’re able to take unaccrued, but I think culturally it would be considered a little strange to take all your time in the beginning of the year unless there were special circumstances.

    3. Hybrid Employee (Part Human, Part Wolf)*

      I think you’re able to book it before it’s accrued, for when it will have been accrued — you just can’t use it until that point.

  40. Miss Kubelik*

    OP3, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have this talk with your employees. I was on the receiving end of this in a previous job and was uncomfortable with the implication that I shouldn’t be talking to coworkers about what we make for all the reasons that forbidding it is illegal. I already knew which of my coworkers I should avoid talking about it with for personal reasons. And then it turned out my boss was lying, which is a different issue, but it would be understandable if your own employees got suspicious of your motives here even if you know you’re on the level.

  41. Workfromhome*

    #3 I think you should just be honest. we gave only 1% of people extra raises. we did it because we felt it critical to put the limited extra $we were allotted to training critical people.
    I dont think that you need be concerned that those people will be resented by other employees. I think you can be fairly sure that the resentment of the other employees will be directed towards he company for providing below inflation level raises. You may well have some leave over it but the company seems to have determined those people are not “critical” so sounds like they are willing to take that risk in return for saving $ on salaries.

    Just tell the truth and don’t try to spin it or sugar coat it. the only thing worse than being denied a raise you think is need or deserved is having someone feed you a line about why it was denied that’s complete crap and everyone knows it.

    I’ve been there. raises announced in March based on the prior year performance of the company etc. In late February a big client announces that the contract 9which runs for 2 more years wont be renewed, so in 2 years they will leave.
    announcement comes out “due to the announcement of big client leaving there will be no merit raises based on last years performance.
    like WTF. Performance Last year was stellar. Next year it might be stellar also. But becuase a client announced they are leaving in 2 years no raise for you?

    1. Rob*

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. if you are trying to use a vague term like “the economy” to justify not giving proper raises when your company is performing well than you should expect resentment, but not towards other staff but towards management.

  42. Momma Bear*

    I think it’s pretty standard to tell people they are in the minority on a raise. Our leadership has been clear about raises this year, both that merit increases are limited and that they’re trying to look out for those on the bottom of the scale, given inflation and whatnot. I think the real discussion people need to have is with their bosses to see how they improve to that point or what kinds of outstanding things did people do to get that merit increase?

    1. Workfromhome*

      In this case ” leadership decided to make a few changes for some mission critical employees.”
      so the conversation will likely be unsatisfying and kind of pointless.

      management-“well only 10 out 1000 employees got a 5% raise.
      employee -“So what can I do next year o be one of those people what did they do that was outstanding that i can do”
      Managment “well those are he only 10 people that know how our xyz system works because they have 20 years experience and a masters degree in statistics. They really did nothing outstanding its just if they leave our systems will crash and we will go out of business. But if you go get a masters and 20 years experience we’d love to have you apply for one of those positions.

      These aren’t “merit’ rises they are key employee retention tactics. If you are one of the everyday works that makes the company run no raise for you no mater how good you are because we figure we can just hire a replacement no problem.

    2. Observer*

      I think it’s pretty standard to tell people they are in the minority on a raise.

      Yes. That part is fine. What is not fine is telling people that they should not talk to other people about it, even though it’s (technically) permitted. The OP doesn’t phrase it that way, but that’s really what it sounds like.

      I think the real discussion people need to have is with their bosses to see how they improve to that point or what kinds of outstanding things did people do to get that merit increase?

      If a company doesn’t do COLA, then yes, that’s the conversation to have. But you are in a much better position to have the conversation – or decide to move on- when you know what the real pay opportunity is. And one of the pieces of information one can use to understand that is what others are actually making. Given that the OP doesn’t want to tell people who is getting higher raises, the only way for them to get that information is by talking directly to the other staff.

  43. yala*

    LW1 – if the reasoning is “we can not afford to reboot HR right now” I would counter with you can’t afford NOT to reboot HR right now, because if Pam’s using her power to make trouble now, why would it stop?

  44. umami*

    LW2 mentions being accustomed to working in environments where leave is accrued, so it doesn’t sound like she has an issue with the accrual system. Her issue is wanting to regularly use leave before it has been accrued, which has been allowable, but it sounds like more as a courtesy to the employee (and I would also think more for emergency or unplanned situations, not as a regular planning tool). It’s unfortunate to turn what has been a case by case benefit into a right; she states that employees don’t have the right to take unaccrued time off unless it’s approved, but she also expects the supervisor to always approve it for her, which definitely comes across as entitled if everyone else is being judicious in exercising this benefit. I would feel pretty poorly if I had one employee continually not save up enough time to plan their vacations, and then once I told them I couldn’t accommodate them, they felt maligned. I get that OP wants a ‘reason’, but the reason could very well be that the organization wants to ensure all departments handling this benefit equitably.

  45. Wanting to Learn*

    I have questions about #3. Was there a raise, and then a few key players were given an additional raise? Was the first raise given as a cost of living increase and the 2nd follow up raise given as merit increases? You said there was pushback and then some requests were denied-was the pushback given in the form of a request for an additional raise, or was the pushback something else, like general comments or complaints? I’m asking to learn-we had a situation here where we decided to raise our base pay (we pay hourly) to a certain amount, which meant our lowest paid staff got a significant increase in their pay, and anyone being paid above the minimum got an increase based on merit (not my idea or decision-don’t shoot the messenger!!). They solved that by asking anyone upset about their raise to fill out a form asking for an additional raise, and the form asked questions about their quality of work, and if they felt they met or exceeded expectations with their specific duties. Honestly, I think anyone that filled out that form got some sort of additional raise, which I guess was an ok way of handling that. But I ask because as I look at my career path I am trying to think of how I would handle situations where staff are not happy with their pay increase.

  46. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    PTO is a financial benefit and it may be helpful to think of it that way. Most workplaces aren’t going to be okay with giving people an advance on their paychecks except in a dire emergency. Advanced PTO is similar.

  47. LW #1*

    Hi all,

    I’m LW #1. I really appreciate all your comments. I thought you’d be interested to hear an update. In the initial conversation with Michael I did push hard for him to basically call Pam’s bluff. He didn’t want to do that in case she wasn’t bluffing. I don’t know if he did speak to her or not, but I think the next day he told me that she had come to him and apologized. Apparently she had a big session with her own life coach and they pointed out that she was basically acting like this was her company, not Michael’s (hat’s off to that life coach!). Michael acknowledged to me that he thinks I was right that the ultimatum was more of a power struggle with him than it was with Toby.

    I recommended that he meet with Pam first and ask her to help him get things sorted with Toby and prime her what that would look like (reassure him his job isn’t in jeopardy and that they want to resolve this issue in a way that works for everyone. They appreciate his feedback, but want to help him give it in appropriate and productive ways, etc) so that she can feel like she’s involved and part of the solution. Then have a sit down with all 3 where they go through the communication issues and figure out why everything broke down and clear the air.

    I honestly don’t think Pam needs to be fired. I think she just needed a firm reminder that, as her life coach said, this isn’t her company and she doesn’t get to call the shots. And the fact that she came to that conclusion on her own more or less, without Michael having to call her bluff, is a good sign.

    That said, I think this experience should probably be a good reminder to Michael to start getting more oversight on HR and making sure that it is it’s own department that can function under anyone, rather than being entirely centered on Pam.

    1. Observer*

      Thanks for the update.

      You are right – Michael needs to put himself into a place where he can call Pam’s bluff, and not have to worry too much that it’s not a bluff. Which means systematizing things, solid record keeping, etc.

  48. LifeBeforeCorona*

    The manager should know that his other staff are watching to see how this plays out. If Toby is fired then everyone else is going to feel vulnerable and some serious job searching will be happening. Michael is going to end up with his company having a toxic reputation and a high staff turnover.

  49. Hudson*

    LW 4, I know someone who did a very important oral argument after getting ALL of their teeth taken out but before getting dentures. He didn’t address it at all, no one brought it up, and he won the case. You’ve got this!

  50. Hybrid Employee (Part Human, Part Wolf)*

    LW 4, if you’re comfortable with being a little misleading, you might feel more comfortable bringing it up as “I’m in the midst of some dental work so my mouth is quite sensitive, it may affect my speech a little.” This lets you avoid implying they were going to judge the *appearance* of your teeth.

  51. Chaordic One*

    I wish I could find the past letter, but one of the most inspiring letters to ever appear on this blog was from a woman who, didn’t have any teeth. As I recall, this woman somehow found the inner strength to, not only apply for jobs, but to go on several interviews (without any teeth). She made of point of dressing professionally, having her hair clean and styled and her makeup done. And of course, she used the resume, cover letter and interviewing tips she found here. Then, in spite of her being self-conscious about her appearance, she was offered and accepted a good job. Best of all, her new job came with a dental plan and she was able to get dentures.

  52. Peter*

    Alison, would you EVER recommend firing someone if someone else says “It’s me or them?”. If so, under what circumstances? Obviously if the other person did something they deserved to be fired for even without the ultimatum, then the ultimatum doesn’t change that. But if they didn’t, is it ever wise?

  53. Same*

    Regarding LW1, I’ve fallen victim to a Pam, and it was not only devastating to me, it was also devastating for the employer: several of its critical projects collapsed without my expertise, and they were not able to replace me. The entire team of specialists ended up leaving, with Pam proven to be the one in the wrong in every case (including mine), but the managing director continues to protect her.

    You need to remove people like Pam from positions of power, influence and/or authority, and never let them back in. They can absolutely destroy a large organisation, let alone a small one.

  54. Peter*

    Did you read it? It’s a highly specific and weird scenario that doesn’t answer my question at all. (And even if it did, your tone would be odd.)

    1. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Nesting fail, but agree this is a different scenario – what do you do with a “them or me” from a good employee?

      There are a few who answered that early – they were the “them or me” person, and sometimes it worked and a bad candidate wasn’t hired, or they got moved, etc., and I’m guessing sometimes it doesn’t. But I am guessing the answer would really depend on the scenario.

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