can I say I can’t come to the office because of my dog, our “unlimited” vacation is really just three weeks, and more

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

1. Can I say I can’t come into the office because I have to look after my dog?

I’ve been in a new job about three months now. It’s a huge improvement on where I was before (a very toxic workplace with ridiculous expectations and no work/life balance). I’m very happy here, everyone is friendly and supportive, and I’m settling in well.

We are a hybrid workplace, so we are required to be in for three days a week, which is fine with me as my husband has to go in for two days a week. He does Mondays and Fridays and I’m in Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. We have a dog who can’t really be left alone for more than four hours at a time, but that’s okay because the hybrid working situation works well for us and it means someone is always home with him.

Does it reflect badly on me if I am asked to do something on a day that I’m working from home and I refuse on the basis that a) it’s my work-from-home day, and b) I have to look after my dog? For example, I was invited to an event on a Monday with very little notice. I said I couldn’t go because my husband was in the office that day and I need to be at home with our dog.

I know I don’t always have to give an excuse, I can just say “no, sorry, I’m working from home that day” — but you know how the pressure can be. Any advice? Am I coming off lazy/reluctant?

In most offices, I’d avoid citing the dog. If there’s an expectation that you’ll sometimes need to come in on days other than your official ones, it could come off strangely (and to some people, as not a “good enough” reason, or that you’re being overly precious about the dog, or that you’re not being realistic about what dog care arrangements the job requires) … but even if there’s not that expectation, there’s still a risk that it’ll seem off. I’d just go with “I’m at home on Mondays but I could do any of the next three days” if that’s acceptable in your office. Otherwise, “I can’t do Monday, but I could do X or Y.”

Read an update to this letter

2. Our “unlimited” vacation time is really just three weeks

Over a year ago, my company switched me from being hourly with accrued vacation to salaried with an unlimited/flexible vacation policy (which all salaried employees are on). My rate of vacation accrual increased from three weeks to four weeks per year just before the change took effect, which I used as a guide for how much vacation to request. I’ve been requesting one week of vacation every quarter since then, even though I knew this was more than what most others were taking. I figured that it would be okay unless my boss started telling me that I was requesting too much, which didn’t happen until now.

When I requested to take a week of vacation this summer, which would’ve been my second week this year, my boss explained that upper management set a limit of three weeks of vacation per year. More than that requires managers to get upper management approval, which she was able to get last year (unbeknownst to me) because I had a lot of unused accrued vacation when I became salaried. So I ended up canceling my summer vacation request.

What I most dislike about this is that it’s effectively a policy of three weeks of “use it or lose it” vacation per year, but most employees are losing some vacation because they aren’t being told that three weeks is effectively the amount of vacation they’re allowed to use. I see it as somewhat analogous to employers playing “hide the ball” with salary during the interview process, hoping that a candidate will accept less money than what they’d otherwise offer. When I told my manager that I thought the company should openly communicate this semi-official three-week limit to all employees, she just said that was outside of her power. I’m also fairly powerless, and am not willing to rock the boat for the sake of other employees.

Do you think I’m right to be ticked at this? Also, what can employees do to encourage employers to be transparent about how much vacation is okay to take? I only got this information communicated directly to me because I was stretching that limit, but many of my colleagues probably take less vacation than they otherwise would because they lack this information.

More info in case it matters: I’m in America, as are most others on my team, and my manager said that a different policy applies to those in other countries. Also, I’ve been careful to schedule requests during times that would likely be less impactful on the company, which my manager noticed.

Yes, you’re right to be ticked off! They told you you’d have “unlimited” vacation when it’s really three weeks, which is less than you had before they made you salaried. If there’s an unofficial limit, they should be transparent about that so that people know what they’re working with — both in cases like yours (where you planned to take more) and in cases like your coworkers (where they’re taking less). “Unlimited” vacation time is never truly unlimited, but three weeks is particularly meager within that framework so it really doesn’t make sense to frame it as “unlimited” at all. They’re intentionally trying to sell people on something that sounds better than what they’re really offering.

In general with unlimited vacation policies, it’s smart to ask your manager, “How much time off do people normally take?” and “How much time did you yourself take last year?” That’ll often get you a sense of what the company’s norms are (since the norms and limits will exist, despite the label). In your case, that probably would have elicited the truth earlier. But your company is to blame for their intentionally obfuscated message, not you.

3. The women at my company received awards worth much less than the men

The company I work for decided last year to reward top sales performers with a nice cash bonus at the end of the year if they met certain sales goals. The bonus is tiered, with those selling the most getting a larger bonus. Additionally, we are awarded a trip and given a gift — but the gift is different for men and women. Just for an example, let’s say we sell golf clubs (which we do not). The gift is a set of golf clubs for each person who meets the goal. All the men receive the same men’s golf clubs and all of the women receive the same women’s golf clubs and the golf clubs are fairly valuable. But the golf clubs the men received are valued at 30% more than the ones the women received, despite the fact that many of the women outperformed the men.

I recognize that it is very generous of the company to give out these bonuses, which are substantial. However, any happiness I felt about my achievement is tempered by the fact that every woman received a less valuable gift. I think it would have been better to only award the cash bonuses and skip the gift if the gift was not going to be of equal value. Am I being ungrateful and oversensitive? Is there a diplomatic way to bring this to the attention of the powers that be?

You’re not being ungrateful or overly sensitive. Your company is rewarding men with something of greater value than it gives women, and they’re explicitly basing it on gender. That’s a problem, and it’s a very reasonable thing to raise.

You could say, “I appreciate the recognition, but has anyone noticed that the value of the gift given to men is significantly higher than what women received? We obviously shouldn’t be compensating women differently, so can we ensure that doesn’t happen again?”

4. Can I accept weekend vacation lodging from a contractor I manage?

I work at a small nonprofit. For two years, I have been supervising a contractor who is working 7-10 hours per week with us on a project that will be winding down in the next six months. She is fantastic and we work well together.

She lives a few hours away, in an area that is a fairly popular vacation spot. She has spontaneously offered (several times now!) for my family to stay at her home for a weekend when she and her family are on vacation.

Would it be appropriate for me to take her up on that, if we took good care of the home and left a nice gift in appreciation? Or should I steer clear? (She’s the only one working on this project, so there’s no issue of favoritism, in case that matters.)

I’d steer clear. It’s a kind offer, but the power dynamics make the risk of problems is too high. First, there’s the potential for the appearance of shadiness to anyone who hears about it — that you’re accepting a pretty significant favor/gift from someone who paycheck you control. Second, if something goes wrong during your stay, it could have repercussions for your working relationship. And things could go wrong — for example, a neighbor complaint (even if unwarranted), or you accidentally break something meaningful to her during your stay (or she happens to notice damage after your stay even though you had nothing to do with it), or a problem at the house that she thinks you didn’t deal with fast enough but feels she can’t raise because of the power dynamics, and on and on.

Even if all of that is unlikely — and much of it is! — as her manager it just doesn’t make sense to take the risk. Managing is easier if you keep clean boundaries.

5. How should I check back in with a company?

Around this time last year, I managed to score an interview with a small local company for an internship in a field just to the left of the degree I’d just graduated with. This was partially because my friend was the current intern and asked their boss if I could apply, and mostly because I managed to impress him with a stellar cover letter written in a short time — I had 24 hours to get my application in, and he was impressed at how good it was in that time crunch (I know all this because he told me during the interview — and you’ll never guess whose website helped with writing that cover letter). While I wasn’t hired, he let me know on the phone that I was in the number 2 spot for the job, and that I should feel open to checking back in at a later date to see if there were more opportunities if I was still interested.

I’m once again on the job hunt and would still love to work with that company, but I have absolutely no idea how to check in with them, what that would look like, if I’ve waited too long, or if he was just being polite (which would be weird, considering he spent most of the “you didn’t get the job” phone call talking about how much he liked me and how happy to work with me he’d be, but who knows).

He probably wasn’t just being polite … but even if he was, it would be perfectly fine to take him at his word and check in now. Email your resume with a note that says something like, “You interviewed me for an internship last summer and I really enjoyed talking with you. At the time you encouraged me to check back in the future, and I’d still very much like to work with you. I’m attaching my resume and would love to talk if you think I might be the right match for a current opening.” (If there’s a specific opening you have in mind, mention it instead of that vaguer language.)

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. academicadmin*

    OP3 – are the golf club sets (using the same example you did) from the same line and the only difference is men’s/women’s, or are the men’s from a higher/nicer line than the women’s?

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think it matters. The simple fact that it’s clearly less valuable creates a major legal problem for the company.

        1. Mztery1*

          I also think it makes a big difference if they are the same gift — i.e. golf clubs — and of the same type and style but the men’s happen to cost more than the women’s. That is very different from a gift that is a different gift for 30%

          1. Fierce Jindo*

            I disagree, because the women’s version of products is almost always crappier than the men’s. Just because the product-company markets them as “men’s” and “women’s” doesn’t mean the company has to distribute them that way. They could, for example, have people sign up for the version they prefer.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              This! I worked somewhere that gave away branded shirts as a yearly “gift.” I don’t wear that style of shirt, so I always ordered my dad’s size in a color he liked. Then he got a nice shirt to golf in.

            2. Sparkles McFadden*

              Yes…and the relative monetary value matters less if it’s *your* choice. If I can choose something that I will use, I will not care if it’s less expensive.

              I think that, in this particular case, if the female employees may opt for the men’s item as their bonus gift, it’s OK. If they’re told “No, you can only have the women’s item” it’s a problem.

              But really, just give employees cash, people! Cash is why we go to work in the first place!

          2. Emmy Noether*

            But WHY do they “happen” to cost more? Prices aren’t random things that just happen. Is it because the men’s version is actually better made, or is market-driven (men prepared to pay more), or…? Imagine employees want to resell them because they don’t need them – shouldn’t they be able to get the same amount of money?

            I private life, gifts don’t have to cost exactly the same to be equivalent (there are so many considerations that go into it). This is not a private gift, this is a bonus, thus compensation, and that bonus better be the same value for same performance across protected classes.

            1. scandi*

              For golf in particular, the difference is in the construction of the shafts. The ones labelled as men’s have a harder shaft that’s more suitable for a faster swing, and the women’s have a softer one suitable for a less forceful swing. This generally matches men/women considering the average difference in upper body strength, but there are also women who use the men’s version and men who play better with the women’s version.

              So it’s silly to both from an equality perspective and from a practical perspective to match them by gender. Some of the women would likely prefer men’s clubs, and some of the men may prefer women’s. It would have made more sense to, for example, give them a gift certificate for “a set of clubs, value up to $x” or something like that and let everyone choose. Easier to accommodate lefties that way, too.

              1. HonorBox*

                I think that makes tremendous sense. The construction, size, etc. may account for the difference in cost (or retail pricing) but if employees are given an opportunity to pick one or the other, that’s great.

              2. RVA Cat*

                This! So many factors – handedness and height come to mind. Plus they may want to gift the clubs to someone. I have zero interest in golf but my son does and would need a lefty youth set.

              3. Willow Pillow*

                It doesn’t sound like the gift is actually golf clubs…

                “Just for an example, let’s say we sell golf clubs (which we do not). The gift is a set of golf clubs for each person who meets the goal.”

                1. Lenora Rose*

                  Some of the general lines can apply to multiple possible items, though.

                  “construction of the shafts” might not apply, but adjustments based on size and strength and shape and etc, could apply to clothes, sports gear, fitness equipment, shoes…

                  In fact, in a way I’m surprised the men’s are the more expensive; there are many places where women pay a premium for an equivalent item.

                2. Willow Pillow*

                  Alison provided additional context that rules out all of that speculation – I’ve copied the comment.

                  Ask a Manager*June 20, 2023 at 1:15 am
                  The LW shared with me what the actual gift is, and the men’s gift is from a higher/nicer line than the women’s gift is (despite the fact that there’s a women’s version available at the price/quality level of the men’s version; they didn’t get them that one).

          3. amoeba*

            Eh. In my experience, woman’s versions are very rarely cheaper than the men’s version. (The other way around, however, happens all the time – “pink tax” is a thing!)

            So yeah, in general I do agree that it would make a difference (even though it would still not be great), but I think that case is really pretty unlikely.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              It depends whether you’re using “cheaper” to mean “costs less” or to mean “of poorer quality.” In my experience, the women’s version of most gendered items will cost more, but be of poorer quality. I’m currently using a messenger bag I got in the men’s section of a department store because the ones from the women’s purse section were simultaneously more expensive and less sturdy.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yep, and men’s clothes are *generally* cheaper than women’s and don’t require you to purchase 7 layers of flimsy fabric so no one can see your bra.

                And who can forget the pockets men have and we don’t? I saw a photo online of a man with his entire phone in his front trouser pocket (you could see the outline). Meanwhile I can barely get my lip balm in mine.

          4. ferrina*

            I agree- the value needs to be the same. There’s probably people at the company that don’t play golf (or whatever the equivalent is in the analogy- we all know not every gift works fro every person) and will resell the item or give it to friends etc. They need to be able to get equal compensation for the same amount of work, not different compensation by gender for equal work.

        2. Martin Blackwood*

          Eh, I think it does make *a* difference if it’s like, Ultra Pro Men’s Supreme Golf Clubs versus Women’s Pro Powerswing Golf Clubs, (they are both nice golf clubs, after all). But not a huge one, if the women’s Ultra Pro Supreme clubs are worth less because of like, demand or something.

          But also keep in mind that golf clubs are a placeholder, not the real gift, and it’s very possible the LW pulled it out of thin air without considering the different golf club product line angle. Maybe this line of thinking is relevant, maybe not.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                Thank you! It’s weird that there’s a golf club argument right at the top of the comments when OP made it clear that the gift isn’t actually golf clubs.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          I think to me it makes a difference in how I would feel about it, but not in what I would do about it. I know the golf clubs are just an example and I don’t know anything about golf but if statistically women would do better with women’s clubs for some reason then I would understand why the company did that and not be mad about it. But I would still point out the value discrepancy and suggest that people get to choose whether they receive the men’s or women’s golf clubs.

          There are probably some women who would prefer to use the men’s clubs, people may already have clubs and would want to gift them to someone else who would prefer the men’s clubs–and of course people may want to resell them and then they just want whichever is worth most but I would probably keep that last one to myself and not state it as an argument (even though it is obviously true).

          And they may even find that some of the men would prefer to receive the women’s option!

      1. Snow Globe*

        From a legal standpoint, the company may be on shaky ground with disparate values on the gifts. From a practical standpoint, if the gifts are the same line and quality, but the women’s gifts just happen to cost less (say, because they are smaller?) I’d have a hard time finding offense. There’s equal and there’s equitable, and the description here sounds equitable.

        1. Nebula*

          Or they could just give a non-gendered gift. The fact they’re giving out gendered versions of gifts is weird in the first place.

          1. T*

            Change golf club to Apple Watch. I want the smaller face because it fits my wrist better, a man wants the larger face to fit his. The smaller face costs less. Do you get what is right for the person or do you add an extra accessory to make up the difference you budgeted maybe or give them a choice?

            1. ecnaseener*

              You give them a choice. In your example, don’t assume all the women have smaller wrists than all the men. Whatever the particular product, whether it’s gendered for body-size reasons or for gendered-appearance reasons or etc., I can’t think of a case where you’d be right in assuming every woman prefers the women’s version and vice versa.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                Exactly! There’s never going to be a situation where all women are only ever going to want the women’s version of a gendered product. Some women are tall and use men’s sporting equipment/pajama pants, etc. Some women want a large watch face instead of the dainty ones designed for women. Some women prefer men’s deodorant and razors (first of all, because they cost less, and second of all because they work better for some people). The idea that one specific kind of product is always going to be preferred by 50% of humanity simply because they’re women is incredibly silly, and companies should avoid using gendered products as part of their bonus/award program.

              2. Clorinda*

                Yes, absolutely this! For example, a woman who wears a woman’s watch might actually prefer the man’s watch to give to someone else as a gift.

              3. ferrina*

                Yes! It’s pretty easy- give folks a choice from a select gift list.

                This way:
                1) you avoid any compensation issues by gender/protected class, since everyone has equal access to the same products
                2) you aren’t assuming preference/style based on gender
                3) anyone who doesn’t want/need the gift has a better chance of finding something they want/need. Following the smartwatch example, let’s say I’ve got a make and model I really like and don’t want to change, but my brother’s birthday is coming up and he’d love this as a gift. I’m still getting compensation that is valuable to me. (same is true for folks who will take the gift and go on ebay)

              4. Quill*

                Yeah, you try and fit me in a women’s size of something, you get mixed results. Because standard women’s sizing assumes short (which I am, but also long-torsoed,) slender, and small boned. I have bones like a dinosaur. If it’s something that is wearable or correlates to body size, ask for the correct size rather than assuming by gender.

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Even there, I’d advise choice. I wore a man’s watch for years because I didn’t want anything snug on my arm. And it would be a waste to give my husband a watch because he won’t wear them.

              1. Bronze Betty*

                Yup. I prefer many men’s watches because I like a watch with a larger face. Many women’s watches have very small faces, thus, harder to read from a quick glance. I also don’t like anything snug on my arm.

            3. Lavender*

              I don’t think anybody is suggesting that all employees should get the men’s version – you’re right that that wouldn’t be a good solution either. I could be wrong, but I interpreted Nebula’s comment to mean that the company should have offered a different gift entirely that doesn’t come in men’s and women’s versions.

              FWIW, Alison clarified below that the men’s version was from a higher-end product line, and that product line also had a women’s version – so they could have offered men’s and women’s versions at equal price points. Even in that case, I still think people should be given the choice, since some people might prefer the version that doesn’t align with their gender.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                Oof okay, I was trying to give the company the benefit of the doubt but that clarification makes it super crappy wow!

                I agree–they definitely need to be offered the equivalent line, but they should ideally have the option to choose whichever version of it they prefer regardless of gender.

            4. DataSci*

              Give them a choice, assuming they know better than you do what’s “right for the person”.

            5. Observer*

              Do you get what is right for the person or do you add an extra accessory to make up the difference you budgeted maybe or give them a choice?

              Give them a choice is the only viable option. Going by gender is the opposite of giving each person what’s right for them. Because while it’s true that statistically, women have smaller wrists than men, statistics don’t tell you anything about the specific person in front of you. And there are many factors other than wrist size that can influence which watch is better for a given person.

              Again, I get it that this is just an example. But the point stands. With very few exceptions, assigning gifts by gender is a poor idea. *Especially* with a cost difference, but even if you had the same price.

            6. FrivYeti*

              It’s funny to see this example, because I almost got in an actual *fight* at a large department store because I, a man, wanted a watch with a smaller face and the store assistant insisted that it was a woman’s watch and I shouldn’t want it. I had to actually argue her into selling it to me.

              If I was at this company, and watches were the bonus, and they automatically gave me the larger-faced watch because “I’m a man, it’s a man’s watch”, that would probably be a watch I never used. Let people make choices instead of arbitrarily dividing things by gender.

            7. Also-ADHD*

              Shouldn’t you still let people choose a version rather than assuming via gender?

          2. Irish Teacher*

            Yeah, I was thinking that unless there is a very specific reason (like they are giving an item they sell that is only available in separate versions for each gender, such as some types of sports equipment or clothing in which the women’s sizes are cheaper or something), then I’d feel gendered gifts could be problematic even if they were of the same value.

            Depending on the items, it could come across as assuming “all men like x and all women prefer y.” I would be kind of annoyed if say all women got make-up or a spa day and men got say a voucher for use of the gym or to have a meal in the same hotel as the spa, even if the cost was the same, because I don’t wear make-up and spas sound like torture to me.

            1. amoeba*

              That’s for sure – I did assume something at least similar enough to golf clubs in that it’s basically the same item, but gendered versions exist. (In which case there should still be a choice, as the watch argument above shows – it’s great that versions optimised for female bodies exist, but not everybody identifying as female wants or needs that version, and some people identifying as male might!)

            2. Chauncy Gardener*

              I just think the gendered rewards are such a fraught idea. Cash is king!! Or maybe extra vacation days or something

          3. The Person from the Resume*

            Per the letter, the company sells “golf clubs.” The cash bonus and trip is accompanied by a gift which is an item the company sells. It just so happens that the company sells a gendered gift.

        2. Lavender*

          I think the solution here is to give people a choice. If a female employee was planning to use the clubs herself, she might prefer the women’s version even if it costs less. A different employee might want to give them to a male friend or family member who plays golf, and would prefer the men’s version. (Or a male employee might want to give them to a female friend or family member.) Some women might prefer to use the men’s version for themselves, or vice versa. And, to be frank, a lot of the time these kinds of employer-sponsored gifts end up getting sold on eBay—so a lot of people would probably care about the resale value.

          Another solution might be to add something to the “women’s” version of the gift to make up for the difference in value, like a fancy carrying case or something. Even then, though, I still think people should be given the choice.

          1. Lavender*

            Oh, wait – I just saw Alison’s clarification that the women’s and men’s gifts are from different product lines, and the company had the option to offer the higher-end version for both men and women. Given that, I think the solution is to offer everyone gifts from the same product line. I still think everyone should be given the choice, because people might not want the version that aligns with their gender for the reasons listed above – but it would at least take the issue of monetary value off the table.

        3. NeedRain47*

          If it’s b/c they are smaller that’s a problem in itself. I’m a cisgender woman, but I’m 5’9″ and nothing about me is petite, and it’s not all fat either. Even my skull circumference is larger than an “average” woman. I am *frequently* handed the pink version of stuff only to find out it’s completely unusable for a person my size, and it’s one of the top ways someone can make me feel completely unseen as a human woman.

          1. Bronze Betty*

            Same here. As an example, I buy men’s gardening gloves because most of the women’s gloves I see in the store are only in small sizes and won’t fit me. (I had “big” hands even when I was younger and skinnier.)

          2. MEH Squared*

            Agreed. I am AFAB, but am built VERY sturdily. I cannot wear women’s bracelets or watches, for example, because my wrists are really thick. So are my fingers. My shoulders are super broad as well, plus I have fat in my stomach rather than hips. I cannot wear most women’s anything, come to think of it. But unisex also doesn’t fit because I have huge boobs. I still would like the choice to choose which item fits me the least worst, thank you very much.

            Also, this doesn’t seem to be a problem in the OP’s case, but there’s the question of people who fall outside of the binary genders as well (such as, again, me). How would the gifts be given to them? In general, companies should stay away from gendered figts, but if they are going to give them, then allow people to choose which they want to receive.

            (That’s before we even get to the OP’s company giving a product from the higher line to the men and a lower line to the women. Ugh.)

          3. dryakumo*

            Same here! I have long fingers and a big head, so finding hats and gloves that fit often has me buying the men’s versions. Which works, but I often wish I could find something cute that fits me. I was so happy to discover Sungrubbies last year; I can finally get cute hats that fit my huge head!

        4. me... just me*

          It appears that this is a gift that is tied to whatever product the company makes or sells, so the cost to provide to employees wouldn’t be the actual cost that the general public would pay — thus, it makes sense from a business standpoint to give out. If your company makes the golf clubs, it won’t cost the company as much to provide the gift than if they were outfitting everyone with baseball equipment (for example), which they’d have to purchase. I think providing each person with the option of choosing their gift between the two options would be the best idea, and something the OP could reasonably bring up without ruffling too many feathers.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        I would agree it’s more complicated than the price tag on the clubs and depends very much on what the product actually is. In the golf club example, all staff receive the same outcome: a set of clubs they can use. If you give all the women a set of men’s clubs, the outcomes for the employees are different as the women do not have a set they can use. I once worked in a STEM company that bought expensive smartwatches for all staff, but as they forgot that women work there so no female staff member could use the watch. So neither solution is any good. They could instead give out vouchers for company products with equal face value, or allow the employees to choose their gift from a list (so a female staff could choose the expensive clubs and gift or resell them).

          1. Observer*

            Yeah, that’s a REALLY good question.

            It sounds like this company has some pretty extensive problems if the “forgot that women work there”, which is pretty gross all on its own, but also that the women who work there “can’t” (aren’t allowed?) to use such items. I don’t think I would ever want any woman I care about to work at such a place.

          2. Cambridge Comma*

            They were huge and just fell off your wrist. In that model, you couldn’t replace the strap with a different size (even if you did want to spend your own money on that).

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I’m trying to think of why a woman couldn’t use a smart watch designed for a man. Is it just because the face was larger than the women preferred, or is there some reason I’m not thinking of right now?

          1. Lavender*

            It has to do with the size of the face. In general, women’s watches have smaller faces than men’s watches because men tend to have larger wrists. The bands on men’s watches are often longer/wider as well. (It’s worth noting, however, that many smart watch companies including Apple don’t refer to these as “men’s” and “women’s” sizes – the products are categorized based on face and band size, not gender.) That said, people of any gender can have any body type, and lots of people prefer styles/sizes that don’t align with their gender.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              As a woman who always buy’s men’s watches, I think your example as to why women “can’t” wear smartwatches is really bad.

              1. Lavender*

                I think you misread my comment. Of course women can wear smart watches. The comment I was responding to was asking why there’s a difference between men’s and women’s watches, and that’s what I was referring to: there is usually a difference in size between watches that are marketed to men and watches that are marketed to women.

                Of course that’s not an approach that works for everyone, since some women prefer the larger size and some men prefer the smaller size. Personally I think it’s better to categorize watches based on size and not on gender, because there’s so much variation in body types and in what people prefer.

                I’m not sure what part of my comment suggested that women can’t wear smartwatches?

                1. Lavender*

                  Oh, wait, I think I get what you’re saying. I didn’t see the comment Totally Minnie was replying to, and now that I’ve seen it I get how my reply could have been read that way.

                  So, to clarify: I agree that anyone of any gender can wear a smart watch, and I don’t think smart watches are better suited for men than women. I thought Totally Minnie was asking why there’s a difference between men’s and women’s watch sizes/styles, but now I see that that’s not what they were asking. Apologies!

            2. Bronze Betty*

              Just saw these comments after I commented above about my preference for larger watch faces. Yes, many people prefer styles/sizes that may not align with their gender.

            3. Totally Minnie*

              But that’s a “this gift is not to my preference” issue, rather than a “this gift is discriminatory toward 50% of the adult workforce” issue, and it’s not the same thing OP is dealing with at all.

              1. Lavender*

                Ah, I didn’t see the comment you were replying to – I thought you were asking about the difference between men’s and women’s watches in general. Maybe the watches were too big for people with smaller wrists to wear comfortably? That’s the only reason I can think of.

            4. Observer*

              In general, women’s watches have smaller faces than men’s watches because men tend to have larger wrists.

              And that means that “women can’t wear” them? Especially since not all smart watches are THAT enormous.

              1. Lavender*

                I didn’t see the comment Totally Minnie was replying to and I thought they were asking about the difference between men’s and women’s watches in general. That’s what my comment was referring to – I agree that women can wear whatever size or style they prefer. (And I think it makes more sense to categorize watches by size rather than gender.)

          2. amoeba*

            Yeah, I was surprised as well – I have a Garmin and there are no gendered versions of that, as far as I know.

            It’s also a fashion choice! I feel like the trend in the last years was really going towards larger, unisex watches (not limited to smart watches) and the “women’s version” often looks quite old fashioned to me (at least on my averagely dainty wrist).

            So yeah, for me, I would not have had any problem with receiving a “men’s” smartwatch (and would have hated getting the “women’s version”, but as we can see, it’s not the case for everybody, so once again – choice!

            1. Llama Llama Workplace Drama*

              They don’t market the Garmin watches by gender but they different sized faces. But the pink color is only available in the smaller sized face. But what if someone wants pink in the larger size?

          3. Cambridge Comma*

            It fell off the wrist. It was a long time ago and it was not from a current brand

      3. RLB*

        if the only difference is the woman vs man set then she’s being ridiculous.
        It’s a bonus not some statement on the value of mens vs women’s equipment.

        1. Properlike*

          The bonus is a form of compensation. One group is “earning” less based on their gender. Whether or not the company set out to shortchange all the women is irrelevant; even an unintentional disparity is still a disparity.

        2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          What if all the men got expensive whisky and the women got tea because men drink whiskey and women drink tea. whether it was meant it that way or not, it is a statement that women are worth less.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The LW shared with me what the actual gift is, and the men’s gift is from a higher/nicer line than the women’s gift is (despite the fact that there’s a women’s version available at the price/quality level of the men’s version; they didn’t get them that one).

      1. academicadmin*

        Thanks for the extra info – definitely makes the case more straightforward to consider. I’d be pretty livid too in her situation.

      2. GraceC*

        I think this might be worth adding to the answer or pinning as a note – there’s already more people downthread discussing the hypotheticals of whether it’s just that the women’s version is worth less because it’s the women’s version etc

        1. BethDH*

          Yes, this is really important and I wish it had been clear in the letter.
          This makes it clear that the disparity is fully in the selection by the company, rather than the company unthinkingly inheriting the gendered pricing of the larger world.

      3. Lavender*

        Oh, yikes. I would still have a problem with it even if they were from the same product line, but the fact that the company had the option to give the women the higher-end version and just opted not to? Nope, absolutely not.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I think that giving gendered gifts at all is a serious misstep (how many complaints have we seen here about all the men getting a bottle of brandy and all the women getting a bouquet of flowers?). Giving gendered gifts worth different amounts makes it so much worse.

          Deliberately giving a higher-end version of a gift to male and a lower one to female employees is absolutely discriminatory. It’s not a spontaneous “gift”, it’s part of the compensation package offered to employees. This company is squarely in lawsuit territory.

          1. Lavender*

            I think offering “men’s” and “women’s” versions of the same product is different from giving entirely different gifts to people depending on their gender. (Assuming there are actual differences that go beyond the color scheme, of course. I’d be perfectly capable of using a set of tools without pink floral-patterned handles, but a men’s suit jacket wouldn’t fit me.) That said, I have two caveats: 1) people should be able to choose which option they get, even if it doesn’t align with their gender; and 2) there shouldn’t be a significant difference in monetary value between the options. If one costs more than the other, then the employer is better off choosing a different gift entirely.

            And in this case, the employer *did* have the option to get gifts that cost the same, but I guess they chose not to – which makes this so much worse.

          2. Qwerty*

            I’m guessing it is less deliberate and more accidental – whoever chose the women’s size/style wasn’t comparing it to the men’s. Fortunately that makes it easy to fix!

            I’ve run into this a lot by being the first/only woman outside of HR in a male dominated field. Often the crappy women’s version of a gift was actually selected by our HR women because they didn’t like the men’s version, so they picked out something the group of them like (hence why I got a simple running shirt for my bonus gift when the guys got a nice golf polo, because the HR ladies hated polo shirts). Or the first time a female winner says that the gift doesn’t fit because of gender sizing, either she gets told to pick out a women’s version or an admin is assigned the task without being given the details on the men’s version for comparison.

      4. House On The Rock*

        Yes please add this information to the answer. While it shouldn’t matter, there’s so much potential for derailing about gendered products in general as well as people just not getting that golf clubs are clearly not the issue.

      5. Observer*

        and the men’s gift is from a higher/nicer line than the women’s gift is (despite the fact that there’s a women’s version available at the price/quality level of the men’s version; they didn’t get them that one).

        That takes it from “didn’t quite think it through” to “This is a definite problem.”

    3. LCH*

      i don’t think it matters either. they need to find a gift they can give to everyone regardless of gender. i mean, are the men’s clubs blue and the women’s pink? what nonsense is this?

      or some other solution like a catalog from which people chose their own gift.

      1. Cmdrshrd*

        Eh I don’t think having only two typically gendered options is a problem, if they give people a choice. Women can order “the mens gift” and men can order “the womens gift.” People might just want to use them for themselves, for a spouse, or sell them for the cash.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Choice is definitely the key here. You can offer both men’s and women’s versions of the gift, but then people get to choose what they want from that. Even if it were golf clubs, someone might want the “other gender” version for myriads of reasons. Alison’s clarification makes it clear that OP should be asking “why don’t women get a gift from Line X the way the men do?” for starters.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I think you still have to be careful to ensure that nonbinary employees have an option that includes them. There’s a significant difference between:

          –“Order whichever golf clubs work best for you” (fine);
          –“Choose between a bouquet and a bottle of whiskey” (fine); and
          –“Choose between shirts that say ‘man at work’ and shirts that say ‘woman at work’, but there is no option that works for nonbinary people.”

          1. Lavender*

            From what I understand, the difference between men’s and women’s golf clubs is the flexibility of the…handle? (I don’t know golf terminology but it’s the long skinny part of the club.) I’d say it makes sense to offer both options in this case, since I imagine different people prefer different styles. It seems silly to call them “men’s” and women’s,” though. Why not call them “rigid” and “flexible” or similar?

      2. Lavender*

        There can be differences between “men’s” and “women’s” versions of certain products that go beyond aesthetics. To use the example of golf clubs, another commenter said that women’s clubs are more flexible than men’s. Clothing is another example: men’s shirts and women’s shirts are cut differently, and US shoe sizes are different for men and women. If the differences have to do with the way the product works for different body types, then I think it’s fine to offer both options (as long as the company is okay with people choosing the option that doesn’t align with their gender).

        That said, if the men’s and women’s versions aren’t equal in monetary value, I think the company would be better off choosing a gift that doesn’t have gendered options. And in this case, Alison clarified that there actually were men’s and women’s options at the same price point, so this whole situation could have been avoided (and it’s not a great look for the company that they chose not to do that).

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

          I can’t see the clarification. It seems like you might be the only one who can see it, somehow.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            It’s a response in the middle of the thread; to the same comment Lavender is replying to here, if I read the threads right.

            1. Lavender*

              Yes, you should be able to see it if you scroll up a little. On my screen, comments from Alison are highlighted in blue so they should be easy to spot.

          2. Lavender*

            It’s in a comment, not the post itself. You should be able to see it if you scroll up a bit from this comment, and it’s highlighted in blue.

    4. Academicadmin*

      I didn’t mean to start a thread with so much nitpicking, I just wanted to get a better idea of company intent.

      If the gift was from the same line level (which Alison clarifies it is not, ugh!), then I personally wouldn’t have ill will towards the company. People should have been given the choice of if they wanted the men’s vs women’s line and I’d advocate for that, but it just seems like a much less outrageous mistake to me and would greatly change how I would respond. There are plenty of gendered products (particularly in the sports equipment industry, but also in others) where a women’s model would be more valuable to me than a men’s version because I am an average-sized woman, regardless of what the actual selling price.

  2. Observer*

    #3 – Unequal gifts.

    If you are in the US, this could get the company into major trouble. It’s enough of a problem that men and women are getting different gifts. The MIGHT be acceptable, depending on the specifics. As in your example, if it’s essentially the same items but *legitimately* men’s and women’s versions. I say *legitimately* as opposed to a pink-washed version of the gift. The minute you get to the women’s gifts being less valuable?

    It’s not a matter of being “grateful” or not. They are part of your compensation. And even if that’s not how the company is pitching it, but rather as “appreciation”, if they even get hit by a complaint, it’s not going to look good if they somehow “appreciate” the women less than the men, as evidenced by the less valuable gift.

  3. Observer*

    #4- Vacation house offer

    Don’t do it. In a well run organization you will be totally violating conflict of interest rules. And even in a not so well run organization, depending on the local rules and your sources of funding, you could be violating some fairly stringent conflict of interest rules.

    For example, in NYC if your organization does any business with the City or any city agency, any gift worth $50 0r more is flatly forbidden. And the rule even applies to smaller gifts accumulated over the course of any 12 month period. Accepting a meal and a nice restaurant could get you into trouble. A weekend rental at a vacation spot? Even though no money changes hands and the person offering you the house doesn’t generally earn money this way, this would a MAJOR issue and could create enormous problems for the organization.

    1. Jackalope*

      I have a general question about this situation. At the end of the letter the OP said that the project this contractor is working on will be winding down in about 6 months. That of course doesn’t necessarily mean that the contractor will be leaving – she could be joining them on another contract – but if she does leave the company, would it be okay to accept her offer at some point down the road? Say, 6 months after she leaves, if they’re still in touch, for example? This isn’t a situation I’ve ever had to deal with so I’m not sure what the best choice would be here.

      1. Observer*

        It would probably be ok legally at that point. *But*. It would mean that the OP could almost certainly NOT hire that consultant again. Not as a consultant nor as an employee for a considerable amount of time after the gift.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Yikes, no, any reasonable conflict of interest policy will have a limitation time of at least a year after the termination of the relationship that requires the policy. It’s not just the literal conflict of interest but also the appearance of a conflict of interest.

          When there is a government regulation or an internal governance policy in place, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one that says you can go ahead and do something that would have engaged the regulation or policy immediately after the end of the employment or consulting engagement or whatever.

          If there’s no written regulation or policy, then, sure, let’s have a free-for-all, but there’s a reason why a year would be seen as a reasonable minimum.

          1. Observer*

            Mostly agreed. The key is that @Jackalope mentioned 6 months after the end of the relationship. *Legally* it would probably be ok, but as I said that would also mean that the person could not work for the organization for AT LEAST a year, and possibly never again.

            But, yes, in a well run organization, it would probably have to be a year (and in some cases, never.)

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Even without formal conflict of interest rules, I’d still be wary, especially if the contractor might need to use the OP as a reference at some point (or might end up working for them again), since that means there’s still a power difference. Chances are better than not that it wouldn’t cause a problem, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.

      3. Reetgood*

        Our policy of ethics (uk public sector) asks us to complete a register of interests that goes back 5 years. While a supplier might not fall into conflict of interest it could come into conflict of loyalty so it would still be a breach.

    2. Fearless freelancer*

      Conflict of interest problems were my first thought as well. It could also damage the contractor’s ability to get more work with the nonprofit (and the manager’s ability to rehire someone they liked working with) – if a gift like this is accepted, the manager would (at best) have to remove themselves from decisions about who to hire for similar projects. If you wouldn’t accept something from a salesperson at a big business, you shouldn’t accept it from a contractor.

    3. JSPA*

      indeed! It’s a big ethical no-no to receive gifts from an outside contractor you supervise.

      Even if the this isn’t the intentional set-up for calling in a later favor, it’s still going to color how you perceive them, and will make it more difficult to cut them loose if there’s some problem with their work.

    4. ferrina*

      Yep. Even if it doesn’t violate a formal ethics contract, this is where the Appearance of Impropriety implications come in. If someone who doesn’t know you well knows this, what will it look like?
      You don’t want it to look like you’re favoring this person because you once stayed at their house- that undermines your reputation, as well as the contractor’s (since some people will think they got the job based on bribery, not their quality of work).

      1. Chinookwind*

        To put it into perspective, the current Canadian PM is known to take vacations on the island of a family friend (something he used to do before he became PM – the Trudeaus are old friends of the Aga Khan) who also happens to have contracts with the Canadian government. He has been slapped on the wrist for doing this by the ethics commissioner AND the optics of this are hard to shake.

        There is no way to spin this as looking good for either party because it is impossible to prove a negative (in this case, that there isn’t a quid pro quo). Don’t take the offer (even though it is probaly done in good faith).

  4. Goldie*

    #1 I agree with Alison that people may not be understanding about the job. You might want to have a back up plan like a dog day care or dog walker because it seems like the schedule could change with short notice at some point. Do you ever have to go to a conference?
    I feel like many employers would expect some flexibility for a hybrid schedule unless they are very explicit about it.

    1. Joron Twiner*

      OP, I also recommend you check how partial in-office days are treated. I’m in a similar position and have heard that the company doesn’t really care how long you are physically in the office, just whether you come in or not. So on a day that my spouse had to go in, I went in to the office for a few hours but my dog was never alone for more than 4 hours. Maybe you could go in just for the event and look like you’re being really flexible, while also meeting your family’s needs.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, depending on the commute that could be a good option! Especially in cases like the one described, where she’s invited to a specific meeting/event on her WFH days. I mean, if it’s not important, I think just saying “oh sorry, I can’t” would be fine, anyway, but if it’s important and/or she’d like to go, I’d just come in for the event and then work the rest of the day from home!

        (Also, in our company, citing the dog as a reason would be perfectly fine, but that depends on the atmosphere/your colleagues/etc…)

        1. Cj*

          I adore dogs, in fact I have four of them, but even I don’t think I’d be terribly understanding about the situation if other employees came in on their day off and this person is using their dog as a reason not to come to a specific meeting. I understand it’s a real situation, it’s not an excuse, but if you have pets and work you have to sometimes make arrangements to help them otherwise cared for if you can’t be there.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Same, and that’s from someone who is currently juggling three emotionally-needy cats. You know all those memes about how annoyed our cats were that we were working from home and in their space all day? Yeah, those are not my cats. My cats loved that I was home all day.

            I wouldn’t bat an eye if someone played the pet card once in awhile, because sometimes that’s the only slot the vet has open, but using it as a regular reason not to come in? It’s time to make alternate pet-management plans.

          2. amoeba*

            I think it really depends on how fixed home office/in office days are in general. If it’s usually something that doesn’t change and you can rely on being home that day, I’d totally understand. If it’s more flexible on a “as schedule allows” basis, I’d also try to find a solution in case I do need to come in. Although if it comes up super short notice, I’d still understand if people have already planned their life differently for that day!

          3. Hush42*

            I think that the fact that OP was given almost no notice regarding the Monday meeting is a factor. I don’t think it’s always reasonable to say “no I can’t ever come in on a Monday because of my Dog” but it is reasonable to require advance notice so that they can make appropriate arrangements for the dog for that day.
            In my company, we only have 1 WFH day and it’s always Fridays. I wouldn’t bat an eye if I asked my team members on Thursday to come in on Friday and they said no, I have to take care of my dog. But if I gave them a weeks notice, then I would definitely question it. I think that there has only been 1 Friday in the year since we’ve been back in the office where I required them to come in, and they were given lots advance notice.

            1. Rosemary*

              Also switch out “dog” for “child” – no one would likely expect someone to be able to arrange child care last minute; same can apply to a pet (whether or not you think it is silly).

              1. Bit o' Brit*

                Right, I’ve been trying to find a dog walker for one day a week with more than a month of advance notice; everyone is full.

                And my dog is pretty chill, so worst case scenario I can leave him alone for the shortest possible workday I can get away with and accept that he may have to pee on the doormat if that’s still too long. For those with separation anxiety they could be coming home to holes ripped out of furniture or walls if it’s a large dog.

                1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  Our dog ripped a screen out of a window, jumped out of it with an almost 6′ drop (and injured herself), and walked the block looking for me when I was at a 20 minute doctor’s appointment. So, yeah. Separation anxiety is a thing. Same dog ripped a screen out when we were all in the yard too long setting up a grad party, too. We’ve since learned that we check all the windows before leaving the house–even if we are staying home.

                2. CommanderBanana*

                  My friend adopted a dog that went through the window, blinds and all, Kool-Aid man style when they tried to leave the house without him for the first time. Separation anxiety is no joke.

              2. Gyne*

                But someone would also reasonably expect the employee working from home was not providing primary childcare at the same time – there’s a small age group that is old enough to function basically independently but can’t be left alone that I can see successfully working out, but there have been many previous letters about conflicts between working from home and childcare.

              3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

                I agree, but there is the expectation that the worker would have someone else taking care of the child while they were working. Either a babysitter or nanny or daycare.

                1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  But that rarely happens in some organizations. There are MANY MANY people out there working from home with toddlers or school age kids that come home at 3 pm.

                2. Rosemary*

                  Fair point. However there still could be issues if they have an older child who occupies themselves when they get home from school. Or a change in commute that makes getting to daycare pickup difficult, or if the nanny has to leave at a certain time that can’t be accommodated if you have to commute home from the office. I think the issue is less about “dog” vs “child” and more about expectations of coming into the office on days that are not scheduled.

              4. Don't Call Me Shirley*

                Everyone would wonder why you are working without childcare, actually. Now that schools and daycares are open, having an older kid home after school or having a kid home sick is OK, but no child care at all for days a week isn’t….

                1. sundae funday*

                  I don’t understand why people say this, lol. Like, no, a dog isn’t a child… a dog’s life isn’t worth what a child’s life is worth… but dog owners have the same responsibility toward children as parents have toward dogs. If my pet is sick, I have the same responsibility to get them to the vet as a parent does their child….

                  If OP’s dog has separation anxiety to the point where it will seriously injure itself if left alone, it doesn’t matter that a child’s life is worth more than a dog’s life…. that doesn’t mean OP’s dog should just get injured because it isn’t a kid.

            2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              This is the norm I’ve stablished with my team. They know my dog has special needs, beyond what a normal dog would. She’s ripped a screen out of a window , when we were in the yard for too long, and jumped out the window to come find us. They all know I’m not dealing with a “sure I can come in with a two days notice” dog, and that I need advance notice.

              No one treats me differently because of “the dog excuse.” In fact, I’ve been promoted twice in the nearly 3 years I’ve been here, so I think my quality of work plays into things as well. If I was a crappy employee and had the dog excuse, people would be less understanding, but because I am an exemplary employee, who does do everything I can to get into the office on my off days when given enough notice, it’s not been an issue.

            3. sundae funday*

              Yeah, it’s one thing if you have ample notice. You can make arrangements. I’m lucky with my dog’s daycare that I can usually drop her off without making an appointment ahead of time (you have to make the appointments in advance), but there are some that don’t have space unless you book days early….

              Also, not all dogs can go to daycare… and not all dogs can handle a random dog walker because you have to go to work last-minute. And honestly, there are some dogs who will never be able to use a dog walker other than their owners due to anxiety or aggression.

          4. sundae funday*

            But it can be really difficult to make arrangements last-minute, like the specific case OP cited. Doggie daycares can fill up fast… in some daycares, you have to book days in advance or you don’t get a spot. Last-minute dog walkers are also hard to find. It’s hard to find someone who is willing to walk your dog without much notice….

      2. Smithy*

        I agree with this. I’m in an office that doesn’t have a set number of days you’re supposed to be in the office, but does do occasional in-person “office events” that are becoming increasing important in terms of building social capital. Face time with senior staff, being seen as available/approachable, etc. It’s not a case of needing to be there every time, but definitely some of the time.

        Having a combo of being able to attend for half days or a dog walker/doggie daycare for a day or two a month could really help out at work if that’s what you want. Having a rigid schedule that you don’t move for work is also ok, but in the US – I’d say the bigger norm is finding a work around some of the time. I don’t think you have to do that, but I would find a softer way of saying that.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Yeah, it’s not that you can’t say no, ever, in most workplaces.

          It’s that you want to
          a) choose when you say no (aka save it for when you really need it)
          b) consider your current ‘capital’ and the mood of the office, because depending on your workplace, that “no” may have some cost, even if it’s a small one
          c) word your “no” it in such a way that you don’t come off as rigid, unavailable

    2. BubbleTea*

      I have a dog with separation anxiety and he can’t be left for more than three or so hours, and doggy daycare has been my solution. I can book days depending on my calendar each week so it’s very flexible. It’s annoying that I have this extra cost, but then there are lots of costs associated with dogs so I just see it as one of those.

      1. archangelsgirl*

        I was coming on here to say the same thing – doggy daycare. Our dog goes on average once or twice a month. She has a regular booking first Monday of the month for staff meeting, and then there’s typically another day that something comes up and I take her. She loves it, gets a great run, plays with other dogs, and generally has fun. When I come home that day, I get a bit of a break too, she’s so tired I don’t have to take her to the dog park. It’s $33 (I’m in Canada) but very worth it to make sure I can fully concentrate on things that I’m asked to do, and it does benefit her, for sure.

      2. CityMouse*

        My neighbors have a dogsitting business and their rates are quite reasonable. They’re just retirees who were sad when their old dog died but didn’t want to get another dog just yet. So they petsit to do walks and play. You can find this kind of service through a lot of apps.

        The other reality is work capital. 3 months in, you’re still feeling out norms and they’re feeling out you. Skipping events early on is a huge no no. You eventually can figure out what is and isn’t important and push back, but that takes time.

        1. Trotwood*

          One of my friends had a coworker who (in the pre-pandemic days before widespread WFH) would routinely leave the office mid-day because “her dog missed her,” and it made her come across as deeply un-serious. If OP needs to run home at lunchtime to let the dog out, I think that’s pretty normal and easy to accommodate. But saying that, if their partner isn’t home, they can’t leave the dog alone for more than a couple of hours is going to seem out-of-sync with professional expectations.

          1. Shan*

            My office is hybrid, but with the expectation that you are required to come into the office if there’s a need (there’s no fixed schedule). I can name three people off the top of my head who routinely push back/flake out when they’re expected attend something because of their dogs, and it’s definitely causing them to lose capital. Fair or not, it’s likely to impact your reputation if you’re using it with any regularity, and for things other than “Pickles just had surgery yesterday and can’t be left alone.”

          2. Hannah Lee*

            Early in my career I worked with someone who frequently left work early because of her dog, often racing out because a neighbor called with a dog’s barking or dog escaped through a screen situations. It did ding her reputation at work a bit.

            I didn’t think anything of her ducking out early at the time, since it didn’t effect me and I was young and professional norms hadn’t sunk in yet. But one day she described the details. Turns out she and her BF lived in a second floor apartment in a 3 family; they put the dog out on in a small covered screen porch with a bowl of water when they left for work; the dog was a large German shepherd. They’d lived in the apartment for years, and went out a got the dog as a puppy the year before – so purposely chose to get a large high-energy level, easily bored dog while both working full time with no great place for the dog to hang out while they weren’t there. I felt SO bad for the dog especially on a hot summer day. It did effect my opinion of her, made me question her judgement.

          3. I have RBF*

            IDK, if someone said “My dog needs to be walked more frequently than every ten hours.” I’d understand that. The fact that the person tries to be a responsible pet owner is a plus in my book. If they live in an apartment the can’t just “let the dog out”. I’d advise them to go home on their lunch hour, walk the dog, then come back.

      3. ferrina*

        This could also be a situation where different pets have different needs. But it can be impossible to see the nuances from the outside, and people will make assumptions.

        Lots of dogs do well at doggy daycare. If LW hasn’t looked into this option, I strongly recommend it. It will give LW a lot more flexibility (which can be an asset at work- sometimes the projects/opportunities will go forward whether you’re there or not).

        If LW’s dog doesn’t do well at doggy daycare, that’s not something they need or want to advertise. Even if they try to explain it to coworkers, there will always be someone who says “it works for me, so if it doesn’t work for you that just means you aren’t trying hard enough”. This is true of any reasoning, but double true for pets and kids. You don’t want to open that can of worms, so it’s often just a lot better to simply say something that doesn’t invoke the pet- “Sorry, not able to make it! How about Tuesday?”

        1. sundae funday*

          This is really true. Good, trustworthy doggie daycares (so like the ones you want to go to) have strict standards. My dog had to pass a trial to get a spot at daycare. They can’t show any aggression towards other dogs or people, they can’t show any guarding behaviors, and they have to be friendly with dogs and people. A dog that dislikes other dogs and just sits in the corner all day won’t be accepted, even if it doesn’t show aggression.

          There are all kinds of reasons why a daycare or a dog walker won’t work for specific dogs. This is why it’s so important for employers to be upfront about what is expected of remote workers…. If “work from home” means “work from home except when we call a meeting and we won’t let you know very far in advance,” then that needs to be crystal clear before someone takes the job.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      I also think the first order of business should be for OP to figure out a back-up plan. You never know what could come up on those days, whether it be something mandatory or a good growth opportunity.

      If it’s turning down an occasional meeting on a Monday, I think the advice works fine. However, at a certain frequency and in an environment where other people are generally flexible, I do think there’s a point where “I’m sorry, my husband isn’t at home that day and the dog needs to be let out at lunch” is the better alternative to people speculating what the heck OP could be getting up to on Mondays/Fridays that is more important than being on-site.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Also, even outside of work situations, it’s a good idea to have a pet care backup plan anyway. And also depending on the dog, it may be good to get the dog used to going to daycare, boarding before she needs to.

        So looking for a doggie day care place and doing a couple of short visits during low stress times, so you’re not dealing with a dog stressed out in an unfamiliar situation at the same time you’re scrambling because of work obligations is a good idea. Also, it allows you to get set up as a client of the place so when you call with a last minute need, they’ll be more likely to fit you in, already have your pup’s health certifications, whatever on file.

    4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      While this is a good suggestion, it is often not that easy with a dog who has severe separation anxiety or is dog reactive–or both if you are my dog. I love her, but man is she A LOT.

      Daycare is not an option because of both the separation anxiety and her *severe* dog reactivity. We’ve made progress with being able to leave her at home for up to 5 hours, and are making slow but steady progress on the dog reactivity–but we will never be able to put her in dog daycare or have anyone watch her with other dogs around.

      What we’ve done is establish standing days at a family member’s house so I can go into the office. For anything like a conference, I get ample notice. For anything that is short notice, we board her for the day at our vet’s office (also where she goes for vacations). It’s only $20 a day and I know she will be taken care of. Finding out they offered day boarding was a LIFE SAVER.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yupp. Fortunately, my dog doesn’t have separation anxiety (emphasis on separation, we’ll not talk about his other anxieties, lol), but he’s a highly reactive dog and doesn’t know how to properly socialize with other dogs, so he could never do doggie daycare. I’m in a very lucky situation, though, where I have a very flexible hybrid schedule plus family members who are often able to help out last minute. My dog can also do 6+ hours alone if needed.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      I think it all depends on the commute. Go in for an afternoon then return home at about the 4 hour mark? Much more feasible with a half hour or less commute than with an hour long one or more.

    6. RevDrifteeGolem*

      This. But then again with my current job supporting military research I brought up “hey I’m remote because of my dog” during negotiations, and explained that my husband’s working dog had suddenly gotten medically retired to us so daycare for a trained multipurpose military dog is difficult, to put it mildly. He’s a Belgian Malinois so it’s a daily adventure entertaining this land shark.

      But I only did it this because the directors are all former military and have big soft spots for the working dogs. So they said easy enough and just justified it as me caring for a veteran, which he technically is. But I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all if I lacked any of those factors.

    7. Distracted Librarian*

      Not sure about other orgs, but our WFH policy makes clear that employees may be asked to come to campus on their WFH days. Most of us try to minimize the number of times that happens, but it’s inevitable when scheduling large, in-person meetings. It’s really frustrating when someone is rigid about not coming in on a WFH day–and as a result, some folks are agitating to force people to spend more time on campus.

      OP, I sympathize with your situation, but in most orgs, WFH is a privilege, not a right, and if you’re too rigid about it, you may find that privilege revoked. As others have suggested, please consider doggie daycare and save the refusals for rare situations when you have no other options.

    8. Alex*

      Screw it, next job i start im claiming to have kids. Parents are heavily favored at my employment.

  5. Jackie*

    LW2- I would be so pissed off in your shoes. How in the world is unlimited/flexible vacation equivalent to a measly three weeks? They outright lied to you. I think your only move is to push for this policy to be clearly stated to all employees, so no one else is blindsided like you were.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I dunno, I think three weeks is a HUGE amount of time in the US to be allotted when most places give 1 or 2 weeks a year and you have to use some of that to oh, get car maintenance and go back home to find your lost keys and crap like that. So finding out that “unlimited” really means three weeks here doesn’t shock me at all because that sounds about like what I’ve heard about other “unlimited” places.

      I note that after twenty years at my job I topped out at 3.5 weeks a year allotted, but I’m certainly not foolish enough to actually USE all 3.5 weeks either. I don’t think they’d be okay with that unless I was taking a three week trip to Europe for only one time in my life or something. (At any rate, they have to pay me for unused vacation time, so whenever they fire me, they are going to have to pay me for all that vacation, nyah.)

      1. nela*

        With respect, you may be being influenced by your personal experience but the average amount of paid vacation in the US is 11 days, not including holidays. That’s average, meaning people in more competitive fields or higher skill levels get more. The OP was already earning 4 weeks before they switched him to salary so of course 3 weeks isn’t a huge amount of time to him.

        I’ve had 4-5 weeks vacation in my last few jobs in the US, that’s the standard in my field at my experience level. Let’s not do this race to the bottom thing.

        1. FashionablyEvil*

          Okay, but that 11 days a year is going to be deeply skewed by fields that offer little to no PTO (retail, restaurants, etc.) versus those that offer a much more generous package to attract and retain employees. The amount of PTO that’s standard in a field is going to vary widely based on the type of work, competitiveness of the field, unions, etc.

          1. Sunshine Gremlin*

            We don’t really need to speculate about what’s standard to OP’s field since OP was pretty clear they had reached the point of earning 4 weeks/year while hourly. Receiving less while it’s framed as more is unfair, regardless of how you want to discuss the amount.

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          I’m in the US, & 3 weeks seems low to me. (Depending on your role.)

          I get 4 weeks, & we are strongly encouraged to use that time up.

          1. Hush42*

            Yeah, also in the US and our employees start at 4 weeks PTO (we don’t do sick time though- it’s all just time off, which I actually prefer because I legitimately did not use a single hour of sick time for being sick in the 2 years that we did have it) and we cap out at 6 weeks right now. 3 weeks feels low to me too but I guess my question is, is that 3 weeks purely vacation time and there are other forms of PTO available (i.e. sick time) or is the 3 weeks all that’s available altogether?

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Oh! That would be so much worse!

              My sick time is separate, & accrues really fast. But when I retire, it gets converted to help pay for supplemental insurance.

            2. OP2*

              Sick time is a separate bucket for us (which has a transparent limit, which I think is 10 days). To my manager’s credit, she made sure that my time off on my final vacation last year got extended a week because I happened to catch COVID at the same time as starting my vacation (for which I had to provide an email from my doctor to HR).

              We also get 12 holidays that are also separate, which makes the 3 week limit for vacation more tolerable. So it’s effectively 27 total days of paid time off for leisure if we take all 3 weeks of vacation.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          The fact that OP was accruing at a rate of 4 weeks per year and got knocked down to 3 without notice was a lousy move on the part of the employer. Say employing was earning $1000 per week, that’s essentially a $1000/year cut in pay without notice, not to mention the impact of not actually having that time off.

          The other thing that set off my spidey sense was how it was (not) communicated, in concert with the use it or lose it policy. Because if they are someplace where accrued time off/vacation hours are considered wages, employers can’t just make already accrued time go *poof* without either allowing employees to take it or paying them for unused accrued time. Depending on the timing of the changes, and the specifics of the pre and post change policies, the employer might have run afoul of wage laws.

          It sounds like the OP was made whole, because their boss advocated for them to get that fourth week the first year. But other employees may not have had that benefit and may have lost time illegally. And the fact that the company approved that exception makes me suspicious that someone at that company knew they did not have legal grounds to deny it, lest they be liable for – as an example, in Massachusetts – triple damages, court costs and attorney’s fees if the employee figured it out and called them on it.

      2. GythaOgden*

        Despite that, I’d expect unlimited to mean unlimited. If they wanted to give three weeks they should give three weeks. If they want the bonus to them of not having to pay it out, they need to accept that unlimited will possibly mean more to some people than to others.

        They can’t have it both ways.

        1. MsM*

          Yeah. “You’re still getting more than you would somewhere else” doesn’t really make up for being promised one thing that’s not as good as the thing you thought you were getting. Kinda like telling LW3 the women should be grateful they’re getting any kind of bonus.

          1. MsM*

            *for getting one thing that’s not as good. I thought that sentence was going somewhere else at first, and forgot to double back.

          2. Milfred*

            I’m sure the are people who would take a lower pay rate in exchange for unlimited vacation.

            Would they have taken the job if they knew unlimited really meant 3-weeks?

          3. Wilbur*

            I absolutely hate the relative deprivation argument. As soon as someone invokes it, the wrong answer buzzer from Jeopardy should resound throughout the office and they should acknowledge the error of their ways.

        2. A Poster Has No Name*

          Exactly this. Especially since the LW effectively took a pay cut when they lost their 4th week of vacation to this “unlimited” policy.

          My company did this to me, too. I hit my 20 years last year, which gets an extra week, and then this year they went “unlimited”. I told my boss I was planning to keep track and take (at least) all of the vacation I had earned, plus the three floating holidays we used to get, and he was cool with that. We’re not even through the first year of “unlimited”, though, so I don’t yet know if there will be pressure from upper management to put limits on the “unlimited.”

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            See, that makes sense to me. If OP hit the four-week vacation mark last year, then the company shouldn’t then walk OP’s vacation limit (officially or unofficially) back to three weeks. OP, if you want to spend the capital, it might be worth it to go back to your boss and say you’ve been thinking about it and you feel that since you have the seniority to have reached the four-week limit last year, you should be allowed to have four weeks of vacation this year (and future years) as well and it’s not fair for you to have to go back to only three weeks. If you know of others in the same boat, you could get even more attention from TPTB by teaming up to address this ridiculous policy.

            Depending on how your company reacts, you’ll know if you should start looking for a new job (one in which you negotiate for at least four weeks of vacation).

            I’m also curious how much vacation time upper management is taking…I’m guessing they are taking more than three weeks?

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Although I see below that OP said they did bring that up, so I guess my point is moot. Ugh, this sucks, OP.

        3. Cmdrshrd*

          I wonder how the company is using unlimited? Do they mean OP can take a few hours here and there, and maybe an occasional day without using PTO, but when it comes to scheduling longer vacations like one week blocks of time at once they are capped at 3 weeks.

          Also is the 3 weeks just vacation, with a separate sick bucket of 1 or 2 weeks, or is the 3 weeks a single PTO bucket for everything.

          I do think three weeks is a bit on the shorter side even if OP has a separate sick bucket. But I don’t think the policy of needing higher approval for taking over x vacation time is unreasonable. Maybe at 4/5 weeks.
          I am generally not a fan of unlimited PTO for this reason, but if someone wanted to take 3 months of PTO I think most people would agree that is a bit unreasonable. Unless it is a very seasonal industry that really does not have much/any work during certain parts of the year.

          1. OP2*

            My manager said that 3 weeks was the limit for total vacation, and that 2 weeks was ordinarily the limit for consecutive vacation. In my situation, I usually care more about the former than the latter.

            Sick time is a separate bucket for which there transparently is a limit (I think 10 days).

            On top of vacation, there’s also 12 company holidays. So if I take all 3 weeks of vacation, and it doesn’t overlap with a company holiday, that’s 27 paid days off per year for leisure.

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

          Obviously unlimited can’t really mean unlimited, or people would take 365 days a year off. Just like how American’s Express’s no credit limit didn’t literally mean you could spend as much as you wanted. What both mean is that there is a secret limit, and you don’t find out what it is until you have reached it and your request is denied.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            In a functional workplace where the “unlimited” isn’t 100% aimed at intentionally suppressing people taking PTO at all, there isn’t a “secret limit”. It’s applied as “your work is getting done and your PTO is not disruptive to the overall workflow”. So a super high performer who works really fast might take 8 weeks and no one blinks because the stuff they were hired to do gets done. And a not as great performer who takes forever to do anything might get guff for taking 4 weeks – because their stuff isn’t done.
            Most places that implement these policies do so to get it off the books and keep people guessing about how much is acceptable/let them forget to take it because they don’t see the number staring at them of how much they “have”, and it has a side effect of overall people taking less after the change. It’s fewer who implement it and have an actual smaller-and-applied-to-everyone cap in mind that they then call people out on exceeding. In other words, OP’s employer is more mustache twirling than this scenario usually results in. It’s certainly not an awesome for the employee policy (just pretending to be), but it’s also not always such a clear line of a the employer secretly expecting some super small number across the board for everyone.

            1. Emilia Bedelia*

              I agree with this. I wonder if the OP would get the same amount of pushback if they were taking a few long weekends every month, as opposed to taking 4 week long blocks of time. Taking 1-2 days is pretty unobtrusive and can easily be managed without arranging coverage. A week may require more coordination with the manager/other teammates to make sure that critical items are not held up.

              My personal opinion is that in practice, “unlimited” vacation time usually means “unlimited vacation as long as it’s less than 1-2 days in a row”. No one wants to deal with keeping track of people leaving early on a Friday or extending a long weekend by a day or whatever, so it seems easier to just say it’s “unlimited” to avoid the admin burden of keeping track of it all.

              1. Nina*

                In a previous workplace, the good manager had the policy that as long as a) you made it to all the meetings you needed to be in and b) your work got done and c) you weren’t dropping below your contracted hours per week and d) you weren’t missing for more than half a day at a time, he had better things to do than hang around approving PTO requests for two hours off.

                The good manager got promoted. The bad manager got hired. The bad manager discovered very fast that if you make one member of your team take an hour’s PTO for a doctor’s appointment that she scheduled at a time calculated to least disrupt work, the entire rest of your team will instantly become obsessive clock-watchers.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        That’s kind of irrelevant, because the LW had 4 weeks before this, so effectively they’ve had a secret salary/benefit decrease, which is never ok, no matter what anyone else has.

        Also, WOW. Could you imagine writing ” I’m certainly not foolish enough to actually CASH all my paychecks. I don’t think they’d be okay with that unless I was buying a lake house for only one time in my life or something”? Because it’s the same thing. You’re being pressured to abandon part of your rightful compensation.

        1. Some words*

          Call me foolish. I use all of my vacation time every single year (3 weeks plus a “purchased” week). So do my co-workers, including management. Totally normal and expected. I’d hate working for any company that gave employees stink eye for using the benefits they’ve earned.

          I’ve been with my employer for a very long time.

          1. Jay (no, the other one)*

            I retired with two weeks of PTO on the books because I gave a very long notice period (standard in medicine) and didn’t take PTO during that time. Other than that I used every day of vacation every year I worked. I had a boss for a while who only took one week a year (we had four weeks plus five days of educational time) and frowned on those of us who took more. I wish I’d seen that as the huge red flag it really was – he was a workaholic (extreme even by the standards of US medical practice) and very judgmental of anyone who actually held boundaries around work life.

          2. Milfred*

            This is one of the reasons companies are going to unlimited vacation.

            When you have a set number of days (especially when it’s “use it or lose it”) people make sure they use ALL of their vacation days.

            When the days are unlimited, people are more lax about their vacation days. The result: employees (as a group) tend to use fewer days each year.

            Companies are going to unlimited vacation because they are nice. It actually saves them money.

            1. Sparkles McFadden*

              Yes, this exactly. People who work at a place with “unlimited” vacation days take far less time off than people with a set number of vacation days.

              By the end of my career, I was entitled to six weeks of vacation, and my bosses never wanted me to take any time at all, saying “We’re too busy right now” or “Can you take only two days off instead of a full week?” The only reason they OKd the time was because I’d lose the vacation time if I didn’t use it. With “unlimited” vacation time, they probably wouldn’t have OKd anything.

            2. MassMatt*

              I think you mean they are NOT going to unlimited vacation because they are nice.

              I would be extremely leery of any company offering unlimited vacation time. Really it generally seems to mean “we have no official vacation policy but don’t want to come out and say so, so we pretend it’s unlimited yet dock you for taking any”.

            3. I Need Coffee*

              It’s also a financial decision. With unlimited PTO, you dont’accrue time off so there is no liability for it on the books and nothing to pay out upon termination, which is required by law in certain states.

              1. ferrina*

                This is why my company switched to unlimited PTO- it was tying up funds they wanted to reinvest. We haven’t seen much of a change in PTO habits

              2. Wilbur*

                It’s amazing how accountants can find a way to screw everything up. It reminds me of how we had equipment, people, and space sit unused because we’d have to pay “yellow” (internal) dollars to use it, which came out of the same pool as actual money. Nothing like having access to a wealth of resources and not being able to use it.

          3. Queen Ruby*

            Same here. I have 4 weeks vacay, and I tend to take it later in the year so I have time in case a last minute thing pops up. My boss told me last week I need to start taking my time because I have like 2.5 weeks left- here, it’s absolutely discouraged to leave any PTO on the table!

        2. Frost*

          “effectively they’ve had a secret salary/benefit decrease”

          Why does everybody believe this? Vacation time is just *one part* of the total compensation package. The letter doesn’t give us any details on the rest of her compensation.

          1. Nina*

            The problem is the ‘secret’ part of ‘secret salary/benefit decrease’. Sure, overall their compensation may have gone up, but that’s a fat lot of good if you can’t take a day off when you need to, because you’ve run up against the ‘secret’ leave barrier, which is a week less leave than you had reason to expect.

      4. Grith*

        You have 3.5 weeks of holiday and you wouldn’t dare use it? Or are you saying that you wouldn’t book it all in one chunk?

        The latter is a perfectly reasonable stance (everywhere I’ve ever worked has required multiple-Director-level approval for >2 week holidays), but choosing not to use it bit-by-bit throughout the year is accepting exactly the kind of social pressure to not take your benefits that Alison is pushing back against. Just without the “unlimited” headline.

        1. umami*

          That is a good question. OP was requesting all of her vacation time in weeklong increments. I wonder if what was meant by ‘no specific limits’ is that you can take as much time as you need, but not necessarily on a regular, one week a quarter basis, like the OP was doing. Perhaps if she was taking two days here and there, and then a couple of weeklong or longer vacations, that would be viewed differently? It’s definitely something I would ask about, since even she suspected that doing a week every quarter was pushing the limits optically.

          1. OP2*

            Unless I misunderstood my manager (which I’m pretty sure I didn’t), the 3 week limit wasn’t specifically because I was requesting in 1 week increments. It sounded like it was a total limit of vacation regardless of increments.

            My reason for taking short, quarterly vacation was primarily to limit my losses if my time at the company came to an end. For instance, if I stop working for the company in May, but hadn’t taken any vacation yet, then I effectively lost 1.5 weeks of vacation that I would’ve accrued under the other policy. But if I instead took quarterly, 1-week vacations, that loss would be limited to 0.5 weeks of vacation.

            She also said there was a limit of taking 2 weeks off consecutively.

            1. umami*

              What a strange system! It seems like it would be much better to have someone use their vacation time the way you are doing, rather than over-monitoring you for … no real reason?

      5. BubbleTea*

        Part of the problem is that it’s not been allotted, though. If the company was upfront about it, that would be different.

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’m in the US. I’ve accrued 4+ weeks vacation time and flat out told my new manager I do not want to be moved back to salary.

        He suggested it, and I waved Alison’s “IRS designation” red flag. I also said I do not trust corporate to keep staffing/deliverables in balance, and that vacation accrual is the primary reason I’d stayed with the company so long.

        He backed off.

      7. Ellis Bell*

        Wow, cultures are different. I am really bemused by the idea there are companies who expect you to pretend that you don’t want all of your time off (this is to look dedicated, I assume?!) I find that pretty wild. I have only ever worked in companies where you would get pressured to book something off if you’re nearing the end of the calendar year and haven’t used it yet. They still assume you will take it with short notice – not go without it completely!

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yeah, we get ENDLESS reminders in the managers’ meetings for the last three months of the leave year about making sure all our team have taken all their leave and reminders that they can’t carry over more than three days. And about making sure everyone books it in with enough time that we can ensure coverage and we don’t eg. lose 80% of the team for the last month. Huge thing.

          (Also, to universities everywhere: do not have your leave year end on 31st March or everyone will need to take annual leave in Jan-March when it’s still term-time! if your leave year ends in September everyone can use up their final days in August and we’re all happy!)

          1. Ama*

            When I last worked at a university our leave year not only ended August 31, but on Memorial Day they would advance everyone all the leave they would accrue through the whole summer to try to encourage people to stagger their vacations. (It didn’t work, half the university still ended up taking most of August off, but I often took mine earlier so I appreciated it.)

      8. Milfred*

        The company can’t have its cake and eat it too.

        It uses the “unlimited vacation” to attract employees. It gives them a competitive edge.

        But then they are limiting vacation to 3 weeks. Which is shorter than what their senior people were getting in the past and a bait-and-switch for new employees.

        If you took a job based on it being fully remote only to find out their definition of fully remote was in the office 3 days a week, would you feel duped?

        1. I have RBF*

          If you took a job based on it being fully remote only to find out their definition of fully remote was in the office 3 days a week, would you feel duped?

          Yep. There are companies that are doing this to people right now – saying that “remote” is now actually “hybrid”. The only reason they aren’t having more turnover than they do is because the job market in some fields is soft right now.

          If I took and stayed in a job to where my accrual was up to 4 weeks, then they dropped me into a false “unlimited” that was really only 3 weeks, I’d be looking for a job with a more honest company. Because that’s actually a reduction in earned benefits.

      9. Nope*

        *20 years ago* I had 4 weeks of paid vacation, with a max rollover of one of those weeks. It’s hardly novel.

        I’d want to know how “unlimited” vacation cost me a full week of my earned benefit, & why they call it “unlimited” when it reduces that benefit.

      10. The Person from the Resume*

        Aggretsuko, I think it’s foolish that you don’t take all the leave you earn.

        I take 4+ weeks off a year. Not in 4, 1 week chunks, but between partial days and a day here and there I take at least 4 weeks off. It’s not a harship.

      11. LilPinkSock*

        I had a manager once with that mentality. “The employee handbook says you’re allotted 10 PTO days, but you’re foolish if you ever think I’ll allow you to use all of it.” Nah. Give me my compensation, which includes a paid break from that kind of attitude.

        1. MassMatt*

          Really this is akin to saying “your job description says you earn $60,000 per year, but you’re foolish if you ever think I’ll pay you all of it”.

        2. RussianInTexas*

          My current vacation is 10 days, 4 sick days, and we have only 5 paid holidays.
          I take every single day. Every single one. Including sick days. They are my compensation.

      12. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

        All three professional level jobs that I have worked, 2-3 weeks was starting vacation for probationary employees who were there for 2 or fewer years, and then 3-4 weeks was standard for up to around the 10-15 year mark, and then 4 or 5 years after that.

      13. RussianInTexas*

        My current company is pretty stingy on vacations, but at my previous one I was up to 25 days (max at 27) non-roll over, and there was absolutely no repercussions for taking all of them. In fact in the middle of the year the management was tasked with making sure employees were not falling behind. The only special dispensation was needed if you wanted to take more than two weeks in a row.
        My partner works for a large company, and he has 27 days plus 2 personal. He takes every single day every single year with zero repercussions.

      14. ferrina*

        3 weeks is low for unlimited PTO, especially if the PTO includes sick time and vacation (the 2 weeks of vacation often does not include sick time. there can also be other categories of PTO- my industry usually offers comp time). 3 weeks is 15 days per year. I’ve been with a couple companies that did unlimited PTO, and you had to hit 5 weeks before they blinked.

        Unlimited PTO is also never paid out- so that 3.5 weeks that you’ll get paid out when you leave, Aggretsuko? I will not get any vacation pay from my unlimited PTO. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it.

        Unlimited PTO also doesn’t guarantee work coverage. The companies that I’ve worked at that offer unlimited PTO still require that you do all your work. It’s just up to me/my manager/team to rebalance the work to make way for PTO. If you can get your work done and still get all your work done? Yep, have fun. I know someone took 5 weeks off in the first half go 2023, and they have still generated double the revenue of anyone on their team. They are single-handedly meeting the team’s revenue goals while making the same salary as any of their coworkers- the company would have to be incredibly short-sighted to begrudge them their PTO. On the other hand, if you are taking lots of PTO and not getting your work done, that’s an easy way to lose a job at an unlimited PTO company. I’ve supervised people that tried to do that, and they didn’t last long at the company. It’s about performance and productivity, not being in your seat for X hours (note that these are all non-coverage roles. Roles that have coverage requirements would presumably look very different)

      15. Justme, The OG*

        Even at my lowest at my current employer I got 3 weeks. This especially sucks for people like the OP whose vacation allotment was downgraded.

      16. Autumnheart*

        3 weeks is not a “huge” amount of time by any metric. My employer’s vacation policy is measured in hours, and you start with 120 hours for 0-5 years of service (3 weeks), go up to 150 at 5-10 years, then 185 at 10-15 years, and 225 for 15+ years. That’s 5 1/2 weeks. You can also purchase an additional week via payroll deductions.

      17. Lenora Rose*

        I do think the noted fact that they had 4 weeks’ accrual before being switched to exempt is a major factor here. Because this means they were effectively lied to that their vacation time was going DOWN with their promotion, which almost never happens on paper even when it happens in practice.

      18. Nina*

        The difference is that when OP was paid hourly and accruing three weeks’ vacation a year, they could choose to take three weeks, or take two weeks and cash out one, or take one week and cash out two (because the vacation is part of their compensation), and they definitely have to be paid for any unused vacation when they leave. You can’t cash out ‘unlimited’ vacation in any jurisdiction I’ve heard of, so you either take it, up to whatever the actual limit is, or you lose out.

        Also, OP went from ‘paid hourly, just been bumped up to four weeks’ vacation a year’ to ‘salaried (=not paid for overtime), effectively three weeks’ vacation a year’. I’d be pissed too!

        I was once told I was shifting from hourly to salary, backdated a month, and ‘oh but it’s totally a payrise!’ and I told them the hell it is, I’ve worked 16 hours a day all this month for your project and I was counting on actually getting that money. They tried to spin it as ‘but if you’re salaried you can advance in the company and if you’re hourly you can’t’. Laid me off six months later. Dicks. No, shifting to salaried is not usually a good thing for the worker.

        1. Frost*

          “take two weeks and cash out one, or take one week and cash out two (because the vacation is part of their compensation)”

          That’s not a good assumption. If your employer operates that way, you should know that they are a corner case. Most places only cash out PTO when someone leaves the company, not mid-year just bc the employee wants a week’s pay. Places that do cash out PTO for current employees, it’s most commonly after they hit some accrual cap, and it’s not always at 100% of their labor rate.

          1. Nina*

            (I’m not in the US, should have clarified – being allowed to cash out two weeks in a year where I am would be odd, being allowed to cash out one week a year is required by law.)

    2. Just me*

      I agree that the company is doing a despicable thing, but when you’re an employee pushing for a change, being alone in that effort makes you vulnerable.

      If you unionize, you’ll get to speak much more freely without fear. My workplace unionized a few years ago, and truly it changed our lives.

      If you don’t want to unionize (understandable; it’s a big endeavor), I’d recommend quietly spreading the word about the company’s cap on time off and then, if you want, banding together with as many colleagues as possible to push for change. It’s easy for an employer to punish a single troublemaker. There’s more power and safety in numbers.

    3. OP2*

      I actually wasn’t that blindsided by them limiting my vacation usage to 3 weeks, but I was a bit surprised that there was a specific limit set “behind the scenes” by upper management. I had been working for this company for a while as an hourly employee, so I had an idea of how much vacation the salaried employees took. I knew it was quite limited, and knew that 1 week of vacation every quarter would be stretching that limit a little. But I was thinking that it would be slightly stretching a soft limit, not some secretive, specified hard limit.

      I’ve never liked vacation policies with no guaranteed vacation time. I explicitly asked if it was possible for me to stay on the accrued vacation policy when they made me salaried, but didn’t push back after they told me “no” because I was receiving a substantial raise at that time.

      1. Jinni*

        Would you feel comfortable asking to be ‘grandfathered’ in? A friend did this when her media company went from hourly to salaried. The employees lost so much (overtime), and she lobbied for herself to get more vacation (or what she had before), especially in lieu of the salary being more hours and lower compensation than working overtime.

      2. umami*

        That’s often the difference between going from hourly to salary. And I am guessing you took over supervisory duties? That always makes it harder to schedule vacations, because if your staff have unlimited vacation time, then the supervisor has to plan for coverage or otherwise ensure work is getting done. I’m glad that your boss advocated for that first ‘extra’ week of vacation, but she should have been upfront about that when it happened.

        1. OP2*

          I didn’t take over any supervisory duties.

          Being salaried is the norm for ground-level employees in my line of work (tech).

      3. ThisGhostFled*

        As Allison wrote in the previous article she linked to, it is often a “trick” where they wipe off all the liability of accrued vacation days off their books. Previously, your accrued vacation days were a benefit they would likely have needed to pay you for when you left. Now, with unlimited, they no longer have to as you’re not accruing anything. So it may have sounded like something good, but was 100% for the company’s benefit, especially if they’re secretly limiting the unlimited days.

        I sometimes wonder with things like this, if some HR consultant got a fat bonus for it, where your quality of life is greatly affected.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        I’m not. The point to unlimited vacation isn’t to give employees anything. The point is to keep vacation from accruing so they don’t have it as a liability on their books or pay it out when people leave.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      I agree. I’d be pedantic about saying the company lied. 3 weeks vacation is not unlimited and the policy is clearly 3 weeks only. In the LW’s shoes, I’d also be extra upset because she just reached 4 weeks vacation a year under the old system and the change now limits her 3 weeks without justification.

      That said, the only thing I’d do differently (if the LW is really taking a week off at a time, 4 times a year) is that I take a good bit of partial, half days for (non-medical) appointments and single days here and there. I plan 2 to 2.5 weeks of true, long vacation and the rest of my PTO (not medical) as shorter times off. I do not have unlimited vacation, but I do get basically 4 weeks a year and that’s how I do it.

      If the LW was taking 4 vacation weeks, plus other time off here and there I do see where she’s really taking even more than 4 week. But still it doesn’t matter because she’s supposed to get unlimited vacation, not 3 weeks or even 4 weeks now. She was lied to by the company.

    5. Don't kneel in front of me*

      “Unlimited PTO” is a scam. It’s just a way for employers to avoid paying out unused PTO at year’s end or when employees leave.

      Think about it: the PTO balance is always zero on paper. They still obviously pressure you to not take off time beyond X days, but there’s still plenty of people that don’t even use all that. The people that would accrue those days no longer get paid out at year’s end.

  6. MassMatt*

    #1 Your company has taken this announcement and strategy right out of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother has announced the chocolate ration has been increased from 300 to 200 grams!

    You had you vacation time cut from four weeks to three. Yes, you should be very mad about this! The “unlimited” nonsense is the cherry on top.

    Everyone I know who has worked at a place with “unlimited” vacation actually took very little vacation. Those that took vacation time were looked at as not serious about their jobs, and in most of them the culture was to brag about how little time off you took and how long it’s been since your last vacation.

    No thanks! A policy that spells out PTO accrual and how it grows over time is many times better.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      It’s worse in places like California where accrued vacation is considered earned wages.

  7. Mack*

    Op1 – how bad’s the commute? If your dog can be alone four hours, could you work half the day at the office and the other half at home? I’ve actually done that myself, I drove home over the lunch break and scarfed leftovers quickly to stay within my lunch hour.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Seconding this as an option. My commute is about 20 minutes, and several times I’ve come in just for the spontaneous/urgent meeting or baby shower or all staff meeting, etc. We have quite a few people who have set up their schedule in a way to do half days in-office instead of full days because of the need to go home and let pets out.

  8. Rich*

    OP2, By reducing you three weeks (effective) from four, you’ve had a decrease in compensation. That’s a really concrete point to address with your boss beyond just “we have a new policy that I disagree with” (regardless of the rightness of your disagreement). PTO is compensation, and reduction in compensation is a powerful argument toward at least getting your available PTO restored.

    You’re unlikely to make a wholesale change, as the financial benefits to employers are too large. But you may be able to get them to set things right for you.

    1. OP2*

      You’re completely right that vacation is compensation, and that portion of my compensation was decreased! One thing I didn’t mention in the letter is that I actually did explicitly ask them if I could somehow remain on the previous vacation policy (accrued vacation). I didn’t push back after they told me no because they were substantially increasing my pay (~45% IIRC) at that time.

      1. Lalchi*

        I actually also am wondering if this is even legal. Companies choose “unlimited” vacation policies to get out of paying out accrued vacation when an employee leaves. Putting a limit on it violates that principle, and if they haven’t been paying people out for unused time, they likely are violating wage and hour laws.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          PTO isn’t regulated at the federal level and only a few states cover it. So in most states it’s legal.

      2. A Poster Has No Name*

        While we’re talking about sketchy company actions–did they change your duties at all when they moved you to salaried? My company did that a number of years back–took a bunch of hourly employees, gave them a pay bump and moved them from hourly to salaried and said overtime was now expected. Since their duties didn’t change and were still in the ‘non-exempt’ category they got busted for it a couple years later and had to move everyone back to hourly (at the same rate they were paid after the salaried pay bump) and pay out any overtime people had put in during the time they were salaried.

        I’m not saying you should push back or anything, but if your duties didn’t change and they now expect overtime, keep your eyes open and keep track of that overtime, especially if you’re not the only one.

        1. OP2*

          My duties generally remained the same, except I’d occasionally take on harder tasks than before. I’m sure that my position was eligible for being exempt before (I work in tech).

      3. Mechanical Theft Robot*

        I can’t make the maths work (brain isn’t functioning today) but if they gave you a 45% pay rise at the same time as increasing your total work in the year from 48 weeks to 49 weeks, that will mean you didn’t really get a 45% pay increase.

        I would be mad too :(

        1. Hlao-roo*

          It’s roughly a 42% raise in hourly equivalent rate (assuming 40 hours per week, not taking other benefits into account). Here’s the math:

          Before case:

          48 weeks worked per year * 40 hrs/wk = 1920 hours of working time per year

          $100,000/year * 1 yr/1920 hrs = $52.10/hr

          After case:

          49 weeks worked per year * 40 hrs/wk = 1960 hours of working time per year

          $100,000 * 1.45 = $145,000 new salary with raise

          $145,000/yr * 1 yr/1960 hrs = $73.98/hr

          $73.98/$52.10 = 1.42, or 42% hourly raise taking the extra 40 hours of work into account.

          Note: $100,000 starting salary was used for illustration purposes. I don’t know how much OP’s actual salary is.

      4. Frost*

        You’re not wrong on the details, but compensation is a total package. Your compensation package vastly increased. If you decide that you want to change jobs and go to a company where you get your current salary AND 4 weeks vacation per year, that’s a legit calculus and a legit decision. You don’t have to stay where you are just bc you got promoted.

        Is your sick time the same way?

  9. Enough*

    #3 confused me (and this is an example of the problem in attempting to keep anonymous). As with above comments without knowing if it’s just the value of identical but gendered items or different quality of level of identical items it’s hard to determine if there is a problem or not.
    However I noticed that Allison and the LW have glossed over/ignored the part about getting a bonus (assuming cash) and a trip based upon the individual’s goals that do appear to be awarded without regard to gender. So the company does not appear to be deliberating treating genders differently. So I ask the following.
    If a company was giving everyone branded jackets and the women’s jackets cost more than the men should the men be compensated? Or if larger sizes cost more should small people be compensated?

    1. coffee*

      For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Alison has clarified that the women are receiving “golf clubs” of a lower range when a higher range of golf clubs is available, and that would be equal to the clubs the men are given.

      And I also bring that up because these kinds of discussions so often move into these kinds of thought experiments where it’s like “but what if it WASN’T sexism, how would you feel about it then” and it is so, so frustrating when sexism is a real, ongoing problem that gets swept under the rug.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Personally, when I’m thinking about stuff, I think it can be valuable to nail down what I think the general principle is first and then move on to consider the effect of gender or whatever else is in question. But of course YMMV.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Wouldn’t the general principle be “compensate everyone the same for the same performance”?

        2. Allonge*

          OK, but I imagine if the ‘effect of gender’ takes you to illegality, that would stop things, no matter what the general principle is, right?

          In this case, OP’s company makes “golf clubs”. Employees could be invited to select a set of clubs for X value maximum and then everyone would get what they actually want and what suits them. Boom, no gender issues and a bit more administration (but it feels like company can handle this).

        3. Irish Teacher*

          I think the general principal is that the compensation should be the same for everybody. Even if it wasn’t gendered and they just gave say…an expensive wine to everybody they knew who drank wine and a significantly cheaper alternative to those who did not, even if those who were getting the cheaper alternative had higher sales figures, it would still be problematic. Especially as it sounds like the gifts are high value and could be sold for the monetary value. If we were talking t-shirts where the men’s version was $15 and the women’s was $10. But if we are talking something more like some members get a week in an expensive hotel and others get something 30% cheaper, then I would see that as problematic even if it was just “I know you don’t like to travel.”

          The gendered thing could also be problematic even apart from the value. If, for example, men are getting a week at a sports resort and women a week at a spa hotel, then I think there is a general principal of “don’t make assumptions about what people will like based on stereotypes.” It sounds more like this is a case where the item comes in gendered versions, but I think effect on gender could be part of the principle.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          I think one’s feelings about this are heavily influenced by whether they are the “whatever else” that winds up getting paid less because LOGIC which is definitely not an -ism, it just coincidentally always works out to look like an -ism.

        5. Jackalope*

          The general principle here would be “do not compensate men and women differently for the same work performance”, or more broadly speaking, “do not compensate different members of EEO-protected classes differently for the same work performance”. If the employers are giving a bonus of higher value to all of the men because they are men, and a lower value bonus to all of the women because they are women, that is a sexist bonus structure even if the person who came up with it wasn’t cackling away in a tower of misogyny deliberately wanting to screw the women over. It doesn’t have to have specific intent to have disparate impact.

      2. Jackalope*

        This is why disparate impact is a thing. It doesn’t matter if the employer INTENDED to discriminate by gender. According to EEO law, it matters if they DID. Specifically giving a bonus that has a higher value if you’re a man and lower if you’re a woman is one of the types of decisions that is still considered discrimination even if the employer wasn’t doing it on purpose.

    2. Properlike*

      This is quite a nitpicky hypothetical you’ve introduced, along with the assumption that the females here left out the details that make this not so bad. It’s just stuff!

      But it is expensive stuff, with a 30% differential. So, yes, the company IS treating men and women differently, in a not-insignificant sum. And that shouldn’t happen in either direction.

      I’ll also point out that the attitude of “whataboutism” in this scenario has the same connotation as someone complaining there’s no white history month. Men’s workplace compensation is still higher than women’s across the board. “Stop complaining and be grateful,” is part of the reason.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Exactly. This is basically like giving men a $1000 bonus and giving women a $700 bonus. Not okay.

      2. Lavender*

        And if a male employee wanted a women’s jacket because he planned to sell it or give it to his wife (or even wear it himself), I think that would also be fine. Or he might decide that having a jacket that fits him well is more important than maximizing the monetary value. Every employee should have the *option* of receiving the higher-value gift, even if they ultimately go with the lower-value option.

    3. GythaOgden*

      I think OP has clarified with Alison that the items were different and the women’s were of lower value. It’s not necessarily the objective issue here (price difference between the women’s gifts and the men’s and that the women’s gifts were cheaper than the men’s gifts) but how it appears subjectively to indirectly discriminate against women (that the price difference meant the women’s gifts were not as valuable as the men’s gifts). Disparate impact in men’s favour is still a problem.

    4. Lavender*

      I don’t think it really matters whether the company was acting deliberately or not—the fact is, they were compensating their employees differently based on gender. It’s possible that they simply didn’t notice that the men’s version of the gift was more valuable than the women’s version, but if that’s the case, someone should have caught it. It’s the company’s responsibility to ensure that they’re giving equal compensation for equal work, and their employees aren’t obligated to give them the benefit of the doubt when they fail to do that.

      In any case, Alison has clarified that the men’s version was from a higher-end product line that also offered a women’s version of equal value, so I’m having a hard time believing that no one noticed the disparity.

    5. ccsquared*

      Sales incentives like this are not typically jackets or a gift basket, more like items that would be a real treat if you spent your own money. (If you’d do that at all – the year I got one, the gift certificate was for more that I ever spent on anything in one place aside from a car). Also, in the U.S., they are treated as taxable income, as they are performance incentives tied to hitting sales targets, not like thank you gifts that might be given to all employees at year end.

    6. Observer*

      As with above comments without knowing if it’s just the value of identical but gendered items or different quality of level of identical items it’s hard to determine if there is a problem or not.

      Not true. Certainly from a legal point of view, if women are getting something that is of less value than the men, that is a problem. This is an explicitly gendered difference, that is absolutely not based in performance or any related metrics. The fact that there is also a cash bonus does not change that fact. The net result is still that women are getting a package that is worth less than men based solely on their gender.

      This would be a problem *even if* the product were coming from the same line. It’s still less valuable and it’s not tied to performance. Given the clarification that the women’s gift is coming from a different, lower priced, line it’s simply inexcusable. It’s essentially like say, for instance, the we’re going to give men 15 days PTO while women only get 12. Sure, the salaries are the same, but this is a consequential difference and there is no business reason for it.

  10. OP2*

    After writing in, I checked our latest employee handbook on the vacation policy (which predates me becoming salaried by a couple years). It doesn’t use the word “unlimited”, but calls it a “flexible” vacation policy with “no specific limits” (even though there is a specified limit behind the scenes – at least in my department – which hasn’t been announced to ground-level employees).

    I always knew that “unlimited” vacation policies are never really unlimited. After all, if you really have unlimited vacation, you could take 365 days of vacation a year. But I always thought that there would be a soft limit decided by your manager depending on how it impacts the company, not a specific hard limit that the company is being secretive about.

    I personally never liked “unlimited”/flexible vacation policies, which is why I explicitly asked if I could somehow remain on the policy for hourly workers (accrued vacation) when they promoted me. I just put up with the change because I received a substantial raise.

    1. Tea Wrangler*

      I would go back and specifically say that as you had four weeks of vacation time before the change, you assumed it would be at least that once there were no specific limits and that you have effectively lost $X in compensation. Maybe you’ll continue to get four weeks off, maybe they’ll up your wages to compensate – you never know but you should definitely make the point because they probably haven’t thought about it in those terms.

      I would be very annoyed by this!

      1. OP2*

        I mentioned the 4 weeks/year I would’ve been getting to my manager when she met with me and told me that there was a 3 week limit.

        I suspect part of the reason why my raise was so substantial (~45% IIRC) when they made me salaried was because they knew I wouldn’t like the change in vacation policy.

        1. Jinni*

          I suggested something similar to Tea Wrangler above, but see your latest. All I can say is ugh.

        2. Phony Genius*

          For clarity, would this be classified as a promotion, or just a raise within the same title?

          1. OP2*

            They called it a promotion, changed my title from “X Engineer” to “Senior X Engineer”, and since expected me to occasionally take on harder tasks a little more often than before. I’m still doing mostly the same work as before (except for occasionally taking on some harder tasks than before), and am still on the same position on the org chart.

      2. Frost*

        “you have effectively lost $X in compensation”

        No, they didn’t. They got a huge raise.

        Frankly, going from hourly to salaried frequently involves some opportunity cost. What I usually see is that formerly-hourly people are no longer eligible for overtime. Each person has to decide on their own whether, say, losing a week of vacation is worth the extra money or whether cutting back to 40 hours a week is worth losing overtime premium. What I see about this that is wrong is that OP didn’t have complete information to make an informed decision.

    2. Zzz*

      I wonder – do random days off also count towards the 3 week limit, or only full weeks?

    3. Minerva*

      This sounds like one of those “unlimited” policies that is meant for the benefit of the employer rather than the employee.

      I haven’t seen it mentioned (though perhaps it has upstream and I missed it) accrued vacation is on the “Liabilities” of a company’s balance sheet because they can be required by law in some places to pay those out to you if you leave the job. “Unlimited” vacation skirts this by basically not “owing” you anything while sounding great as an employee benefit on paper.

      I’m sorry those lousy policy has basically taken away your vacation time. I would be pissed too. They at least need to allow you to take the same amount you had pre-unlimited policy.

        1. OP2*

          Just imagine such an “unlimited” policy when it comes to pay: Every paycheck you get paid as much as you want!. You just request a specific dollar amount for your next paycheck, and you’ll get paid that if your manager approves the request. Nobody would like this arrangement as an employee, because you’re essentially negotiating your compensation while on the job, when you have much less negotiating leverage (compared to negotiating before accepting the job).

          That’s essentially what “unlimited”/flexible vacation policies are. You’re constantly negotiating that benefit on the job rather than having any guarantee for that portion of your compensation package.

    4. umami*

      Ah, that’s interesting. No specific limits vs. unlimited does make a difference. It sounds like you can take whatever vacation your boss approves, and in general they don’t ‘approve’ more than 3 weeks for salaried employees. But it sounds like you kinda suspected that would be the case? You said ‘I figured that it would be okay unless my boss started telling me that I was requesting too much, which didn’t happen until now.’ So, it happened, and now you know that it’s going to take an extra step to get that extra week approved. I’m not sure exactly what the complaint is? It seems they were pretty clear on the fact that your switch to salary was not going to come with the four weeks you had previously been accruing, unless I misread what you wrote.

      1. OP2*

        I was guestimating on my own what the soft limit would be, which I assumed was based on my individual manager’s discretion based on what makes sense for the individual circumstances. My primary complaint (beyond generally not liking vacation policies with 0 guaranteed/accrued vacation), is them (or at least upper management) playing “hide the ball” regarding the specified limit of 3 weeks. I found out about that limit because I was requesting more than it, and my manager told me of that limit, but it’s not something they openly announce. Plenty of employees are taking less than 3 weeks of vacation, and presumably some of them would take more if they heard about this 3 week limit.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      It’s especially shitty of them because having unlimited/”no cap” vacation policies allows them to not keep the vacation liability on the books – but then they’re also expecting the definition of “reasonable” to be lower than their previous accrual-based caps – so they’re cutting your pay AND no longer need to keep the liability on the books. Feels very double-dippy.

    6. Call me St. Vincent*

      I’m sorry your company is being so shady! I would also check the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour definitions for exempt and non-exempt to ensure that you have been correctly categorized. I know you’ve talked about salaried v. hourly, but I’m wondering how you are being classified and if it’s correct. Always good to take a look to make sure you aren’t getting stiffed on overtime and other benefits of being nonexempt!

      1. OP2*

        I’m sure I’m correctly categorized as being eligible for being exempt. Without giving away too much information, I work in tech, and it’s normal for people in my position (or positions similar to it) to be salaried and exempt.

        1. Rach*

          I’m also in tech (engineer), salaried and exempt. We have “unlimited” time off but it actually states in our handbook that the “goal” time off is 3 weeks but is up to your managers discretion. Luckily my current manager is great but one’s PTO shouldn’t be dependent on one’s manager, it’s ridiculous.

  11. Kella*

    OP #2: Wait, if you were accruing 4 weeks of vacation a year in your previous position, that means they downgraded you from 4 weeks to 3 weeks per year, which is a decrease in compensation. I’m guessing what they mean by “unlimited” is you don’t have to wait for the vacation hours to accrue and you could theoretically take it all at the beginning of the year. But that’s really not what “unlimited” means. They are being deliberately misleading.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I think LW has really good reason to be mad for their own situation where they were previously able to take 4 weeks and now seemingly can only take 3. I think it might be worth having their manager pursue the special permission to take more than 3 weeks, since the new policy means a reduction in benefits for LW and they aren’t seeing any additional pay to make up for the reduction in paid time off.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      They’ve fought her on this, because at the same time of the change in vacation practice, she got a large pay raise–they argue that her overall compensation increased, so there is no problem.

  12. Megan*

    1 – I have a team mate who is exactly like this. Apparently their dog can’t be left home alone either so my team mate and their partner split times like the OP. My question is… how on earth would this have worked pre COVID when most places never did WFH? (my workplace never did!!). What do you do if you want to go to a concert or show and dinner? Or a full day activity out? What would you do if your boss told you you had to come back in the office permanently? I know it pisses my boss off when my teammate says they can’t come in or whatever due to the dog so I agree with Alison’s advice to stop saying that and at least leave it to mystery as to why you can’t make it, but ultimately, surely if your workplace said it was mandatory for you to come in on a traditional WFH day, you’d have to do it right? Or find a good doggy daycare?

    1. Ray Gillette*

      It probably wouldn’t have, but a lot of people got dogs during the pandemic. So now they have to figure out how to navigate the stuff you’re describing.

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Please reflect on your use of “apparently”–believe people when they tell you things unless, of course, this person has lied to you in the past. What is the incentive to them in making up a dog with special needs, especially if your boss is getting mad about it?

      Speaking for myself, concerts, vacations, shows, dinners, full day activity out, etc. require advance planning. Just like they would if you had young children who weren’t going. We often jokingly say we live with a psychopathic toddler. We’ve found people to help pet-sitting, including using the daytime boarding option at the place we board her for vacations, etc. But honestly, we go out less than we did before, and we specifically shop at places that are dog friendly.

      RFE pre-COVID, many dogs were adopted during the pandemic which is why there is a spike in separation anxiety in pets now that people are put doing things again. And if a boss told me I had to go back permanently, I’d find a new job.

      1. Kitties*

        Seriously? I don’t at all read Megan’s use of “apparently” as an indication that she doesn’t believe her coworker. This seems incredibly nit-picky.

        1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Language matters as well as tone. That word paired with phrases like “how on earth” and “surely…you’d have to do it” paired with the list of rapid-fire, incredulous questions and multiple punctuation marks all over the post conveys exactly that– disbelief.

          1. Kitties*

            Respectfully, based on your other comments in this thread, I think this is just a hypersensitive topic for you and you’re reacting strongly to some pretty innocuous wording as a result.

            1. Joron Twiner*

              Jack is not off base here. Megan does not seem to believe her coworker or think their reasons for not coming in are justified.

            2. sundae funday*

              I disagree… Megan’s comment is condescending and implies that the LW is using the dog as an excuse.

            3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              Overly sensitive or trying to engage in a discussion and educate people about a topic they don’t understand? Because prior to rescuing the dog we have now, I too, would have thought people were “apparently” making things like this up to stay at home.

      2. sundae funday*

        Exactly, that comment is so condescending. If there’s an activity I want to do–or a work obligation that I need to go to that will have me gone from the house longer–then I make arrangements for my dogs, or I don’t go. It’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make because my dogs matter a lot more than going to events at the last minute.

        The letter clearly states that the LW didn’t have advance warning. It’s not easy to make last-minute arrangements for dogs, especially dogs with special needs (which the LW’s dog seems to have if it can’t be left alone for more than 4 hours).

        The weird implication that the LW must go to all day events and dinners and is just using the dog as an excuse not to come to work is unnecessary.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      I had two dogs, and my senior dog passed away early this year. My younger dog, who has always been anxious, really struggled after she lost her buddy and became clingier and more anxious. It’s not like I can just replace her buddy with another dog. I fortunately have a roommate who is WFH 100% of the time right now, but if that changes, we’d have to make other arrangements.

      My dog also can’t go to doggy daycare, she is very tiny and does not like other dogs (my other dog and one of neighborhood dog were the only exceptions). Her ideal environment would be a retirement home where she can sit on laps 24/7.

      There’s a difference between a change in WFH schedules or a mandatory event that you have advance notice about and getting a request to come in on a WFH day with no notice. The LW wrote in for advice about a very specific scenario, and in general, whataboutism in advice columns isn’t super helpful.

    4. Observer*

      What do you do if you want to go to a concert or show and dinner? Or a full day activity out?

      I imagine that for people with dogs like that, it limits the things they can do. Not so dissimilar from having young children at home.

      I’m not a pet person by any means. But these kinds of questions just don’t make any sense. The assumption that “if they can do this thing (eg go off on a full day activity) they can manage this other thing (eg come in to the office on their WFH day)” is based on a fundamentally false premise. And that is that the person actually CAN to the first thing (eg go on full day activities.) And that’s more often than not, not the case.

    5. cabbagepants*

      Some people just have really different boundaries for what constitutes reasonable pet care obligations. I wouldn’t be able to stand such a lifestyle but unless it’s impacting my own work, I don’t think twice about it.

    6. I’m a dog person*

      Myself and my spouse have been splitting dog duty since we adopted him in 2017. And we both don’t go out of town at the same time so he has someone at home. We also don’t both go somewhere all day. Our dog is a special case (neglected the first four years of his life) with special needs. That’s the consideration we knew we’d have to make to make the remainder of his years so much better than his start in life.

      While a dog and a person are not the same thing, many people show up for others in difficult circumstances. One of my siblings needed extra care for some medical issues and it wasn’t something a daycare or regular sitter or nanny could provide. My parents could not both be away at the same time or all day because he needed special care. People make sacrifices all the time to care for others who need extra support or help.

      For my dog, well, best case scenario I’ll have 6-8 years with him. My spouse and I can make that sacrifice of not going to a retreat, or a weekend getaway, or a big vacation, or an all day obligation without making sure one of us can take care of the dog. But I don’t think everyone feels the same kind of connection or responsibility for the life of an animal. He’s a sentient living being with no control of his circumstances….I believe in honoring my commitment.

    7. Joron Twiner*

      “What do you do if you want to go to a concert or show and dinner? Or a full day activity out?”
      …you don’t. Or you plan in advance to have someone come watch the dog.
      Most responsible pet owners, especially owners of pets with delicate health needs, commit to not being out of the house for more than a couple hours. They just don’t do it unless they can find backup care.

    8. MillennialHR*

      I have two Covid adopted dogs and I also work in office 3-4 days a week and my husband works for himself outside of our home all day. I have to agree – even just last week I was asked the day before if I could come in the next day for the whole day. It doesn’t require advanced notice because it’s work – and you may be expected to unexpectedly come into the office! My dogs are pretty good, but if they weren’t, I’d have to find a pet sitter or ask family/friends to stop in and let them out. It’s just something you deal with while not being able to be at home (and a dog with that serious issue of separation anxiety may benefit from professional training). My dogs are a reason I will use when I can’t stay late at work, but that helps me maintain a better work/life balance!

      I am also obsessed with my dogs and my husband and I bought a camper just so we could always take them on vacation with us, so I’m not someone who likes to leave them alone, but it’s the reality of the situation that work pays for me to have them.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Our separation anxiety rescue has had professional training, once a week for almost 6 months. That’s how we got her up spending to 4-5 hours alone–with a 15-minute routine beforehand, extra meds, and other very specific accommodations.

        She will always be this way, even with regular meds and all the love we can give. Assuming that people who have dogs like this aren’t taking care of them as they need to and engaging professionals isn’t helpful because it’s not true. :)

  13. CityMouse*

    For LW1 it’s extremely normal to sometimes have to go in during Work at Home days for special meetings and events. I work from home but if we have a hearing or client meeting, I absolutely have to go in. You’re a new employee and turning down special events and saying you have to stay home with your dog is going to reflect badly on you. Dogsitters exist.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how our hybrid work policy is constructed as well – it explicitly says in the manual that if there is a business need to be in, you will come in. Most of these needs are client-driven or something where the schedule is dictated by an outside body that does not negotiate days/times or a quarterly department meeting that is announced well in advance, not Bob deciding that he really wants to have an in-person avocado-smashing session on a random Wednesday.

      It is explicitly stated in policy training and that “it’s my remote day” is not a reason to turn down a supervisor or client request to be in the office. Management is flexible with people on moving remote days and working with their schedules, but, where I work, it would not be a great look to tell someone you can’t come in because it’s your remote day and you can’t leave your dog at home and to have zero flexibility in your schedule. OP may be better off, if it’s someone they can negotiate with, to say that X day/time would work better for them, but they’re also new and need to get a lay of the land and see what’s acceptable and not.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      We have a hybrid schedule as well, but for certain types of meetings, you are expected to come in. If people with small kids can figure this out, folks with dogs can figure this out. I’m not unsympathetic to the issue, but this seems to me very similar to the expectation that you have childcare during the workday. I agree that I would have serious concerns about a new employee who turned down meetings for this reason, because at my work place, hybrid work is a perk and we expect flexibility. However, OP knows their workplace and they should tailor their behavior to whatever other folks are doing.

    3. Distracted Librarian*

      Yep. And this kind of inflexibility is a good way to get WFH privileges revoked–for yourself and maybe for the whole workplace if enough people start doing it. IMHO navigating WFH requires mutual respect–the employer tries to give advance notice of onsite meetings and accommodate people’s schedules as much as possible, and employees accept that sometimes they have to come in on a WFH day.

  14. bamcheeks*

    I cannot imagine any product where it would be appropriate to get people different gifts based on gender for a *work bonus*. What a truly terrible idea.

    1. Jay (no, the other one)*

      Also a terrible idea: giving your entirely female staff a gift that is mostly appealing to men. My last doctor’s day gift (chosen by my truly clueless and sexist boss) was a wooden box with an engraved personalized glass top and twelve equal compartments. I had no idea what it was until he asked me how I liked the watch storage box.

      He had three reports. We were all women. We all wore smart watches and none of us collected others. The compartments were too deep and too small to be useful for jewelry and the fittings were not removable. I tossed the thing in the trash.

      1. amoeba*

        Honestly, that sounds like something that wouldn’t be appealing to almost anybody in my generation (that I know)!

      2. umami*

        LOL that is something my spouse would love because he’s weird and collects watches, but I can’t think of a single other person it would suit!

        1. UKDancer*

          We inherited one when we were cleaning out my grandfather’s house and it took ages to work out what it was. None of us had many watches (I have 2) or wanted it so it went on e-bay. I was surprised how much we got for it.

          But as you say it’s very niche.

      3. Observer*

        Also a terrible idea: giving your entirely female staff a gift that is mostly appealing to men.

        True. It’s a good idea to not get gendered gifts at work.

        My last doctor’s day gift (chosen by my truly clueless and sexist boss) was a wooden box with an engraved personalized glass top and twelve equal compartments.

        I believe that this guy is sexist, but is this a symptom of that or of just overall cluelessness and narcissism (used in the colloquial not diagnostic sense!)? Because I don’t know any men who have watch collections either. I don’t think that this is “mens” present as much as a “rich with a very specific set of niche hobbies” present. Which is wise to avoid at work.

      4. elle *sparkle emoji**

        I don’t know any men of any age who would be terribly interested in this gift either. I’m sure they must exist but watch collecting seems like a niche and expensive hobby. Sounds like this boss picked a gift he wanted rather than considering any of the recipients.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      It is a/the product that the company sells. That is why it is part of the bonus. And it is gendered.

      The problem as clarified in comments is that the men get the top of line men’s item and the women get the middle of the line women’s item. It is a deliberate choice to reduce the value of the woman’s bonus gift.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      Only thing I can think of would be tailored suits, or other clothing. Someone else made the point above that some sporting equipment is designed differently, not just for size but for other physiological differences. But yeah, for the most part, it’s a terrible idea.

      And on top of that, the company chose the top line for the men’s prizes and a mid-range line for the women’s. THAT’S where they ganged totally a-gley.

  15. Teapot Wrangler*

    OP1 – I’d probably phrase it as

    I generally work from home on Mondays. I can come in but would need a bit of notice.

    I think that’s pretty normal. Also, make it super clear where you are so people can tell from your diary e.g. use Outlook’s Working From Elsewhere shading, mark days as In Office or Working From home

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      +100 for this response. It’s what I use, although my team knows it is due to my dog, others don’t need to.

    2. DataSci*

      Yeah, this is the phrasing I use about needing to pick my kid up from school – usually I need to leave at 4:30, but I can usually stay later with a few days’ notice. I just can’t support a 5 pm meeting that gets dropped on my calendar that day!

    3. sundae funday*

      Exactly. Be as flexible as you can… I would recommend the LW start looking into other options for the dog now… but it’s difficult to make last-minute arrangements for even the easiest dogs, and it sounds like LW’s has special needs that will make it even more difficult.

  16. Boolie*

    #5 “in a field just to the left of the degree I’d just graduated with”

    Just curious – does “to the left” have a particular meaning in this scenario? Or does it just mean “in a field close to my degree”?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think it just means “in a field close to my degree” (but I’m not the OP, so could be wrong here).

    2. Anemones*

      Generally, this implies “a field close to what I got my degree in, but one that is unrelated/a stretch/different in some key way that makes this less of a natural fit”

  17. Media Monkey*

    i’m in the uk and there are definitely companies that have “unlimited” holiday here. however i was just talking to someone the other day who worked in a place that trialed this. basically it meant that all the junior staff took the policy at face value and took days off whenever they felt like it, some taking their normal 5 weeks plus an extra day at least every week. the effect being that none of their managers could take their usual basic amount of holidays as they were always having to cover! so they are back to normal holidays

    1. bamcheeks*

      basically it meant that all the junior staff took the policy at face value and took days off whenever they felt like it

      love this for them, great work Gen Z!

      1. House On The Rock*

        Right? One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a Gen-Xer managing people ranging in age from mid 20s to late 60s is that using younger staff to model norms almost never backfires!

      2. Media Monkey*

        i mean they weren’t wrong but it certainly meant that the flexibility was removed. worth bearing in mind that they are in the uk and so have a good number of holidays which would not have been criticised (probably 28-30 days). plus they could have had an extra 10 probably without issues. but if you go for taking 60-70 days of holiday it will disappear.

        1. bamcheeks*

          But as many people are saying, “unlimited” leave is rarely introduced as a worker-friendly initiative: it’s usually to prevent the organisation having to pay out unused leave and to put pressure on people to use *less* than they are legally entitled to. The junior staff didn’t fall for it, and presumably now have actual annual leave balances that they are entitled to take each year, which they’ll also accrue if they take maternity or shared parental leave and get paid when they resign. Good for them!

          1. Media Monkey*

            I’m not sure that’s the case in the UK that it wouldn’t be paid out. there’s a minimum legal amount of holiday companies are required to provide (20 days?) and so i suspect anything less than that taken would need to be paid out. not a lawyer or HR person so i could well be wrong!

            1. Lead Balloon*

              I think most companies will make you take unused leave pro rata before you leave (particularly as our notice periods are generally 4 weeks or more) but if that’s not possible you would get paid for it. (ACAS website is quite clear on that).

              If you used more leave than you would have accrued up to the point that you leave then I think it would be deducted from your final pay but it might depend on your contract.

    2. umami*

      That sounds like a logistical nightmare! It seems there should be a distinct difference between ‘unlimited vacation’ and basically taking off whenever you feel like! We got lots of time off and also accrue leave, but it’s still taken with a supervisor’s approval (and by ‘approval’ I generally mean with advance notice so that coverage can be considered, not to say yes or no).

  18. Peanut Hamper*

    You know what makes a good genderless gift? Cash.

    Just give cash. That’s why I come to work everyday anyway. If you give me enough cash, I can buy my own damn golf clubs.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Right? It’s such an unforced error. Giving gifts in lieu of cash really says, “pleasing this supplier / contractor / mate of the CEO is more important to us than pleasing our employees”.

      1. Some words*

        It’s also a very effective way to let the female employees they’re not as valuable as their male counterparts. Not exactly a subtle message.

        And maybe this is why they don’t simply give cash. The sexism would be too obvious.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        In this case, they give cash as well, so in general, I think giving a gift of the product *they make* is fine and pretty normal — as long as they fix the gender imbalance issue!

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, if it’s a generally appealing product, I’d love receiving that (especially on top of a cash bonus)!

  19. Zzz*

    #3’s situation is just confusing in general, even without the value difference. I honestly can’t think of any object that’s so specialized/fitted a separate men’s and woman’s version is required, yet is so generic/one-size-fits-all that it makes sense for the company to dictate which one you get. The difference within a sex/gender being greater than the differences between sexes/genders, and all that.

    If anyone does have an idea of such an object, please let me know.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      In a thread above, commenter scandi explained the difference between men’s and women’s golf clubs (men’s clubs have a stiffer shaft for a more powerful swing, women’s shafts are more flexible for a less powerful swing). Other commenters have mentioned that smartwatches tend to have men’s and women’s categories (men’s watches have a bigger face, women’s watches have a smaller face). Of course (as others have already discussed), the best approach is to say “here are the products, choose which one you want” so people who prefer a smaller/bigger watch can choose the one they like best, people who want a more/less flexible golf club can choose the one they like best, etc.

      The various ways I have seen companies handle clothing illustrates how this is mostly down to planning. I have seen:

      (1) Everyone gets “unisex” (men’s) clothes. People can choose their size, but the cut is a bad fit for some proportion of women.

      (2) All men get men’s clothes; all women get women’s clothes. People can choose their size. Better than (1), but there are some women who would prefer men’s and possibly some men who prefer women’s.

      (3) Everyone can choose their size and cut/style. This way, the maximum amount of people will get clothes that fit them.

      1. I have RBF*

        Regarding item 2: If a place tries to pawn women’s clothes off on me, I get nothing, because they seldom make women’s clothing in my size. (I wear a men’s 2xl to 3xl, and women’s often only go up to a women’s xl, which is equivalent to a men’s medium.)

        That’s why I prefer item 3.

    2. Parcae*

      My guess? Fancy watches. They’re typically sold in men’s and women’s versions, yet the individual watch is sized to its wearer, making it possible to give the same model to everyone. Moreover, watches are a traditional sort of gift, making it less surprising that no one thought to make the gift the watch of your choice up to $X, although to be clear I definitely think they should do it that way.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I mean, if you want your staff to wear your watches, by all means offer them free or discounted. But there’s simply no way I would consider this a “gift” or a part of my bonus, even if I got to choose which model I got.

        1. JustaTech*

          I mean, there are watches, and then there are *watches* – the kind that cost more than many cars. And watches do tend to be very gendered, both in face size but also in face style (don’t get me started, there’s a PhD dissertation in the difference between men’s and women’s watches).

          Other things it could be besides golf clubs and watches – other high-end sporting equipment, high-end bags, perfume/cologne. It is weird that there exist these things that are gendered yet generic.

  20. Delta Delta*

    #3 – Not for nothing but I’d do 30% less work since the company seems to think that’s appropriate compensation.

    1. Frost*

      Your math is off. You would have to calculate the difference in compensation based on their total package: cash bonus, trip, salary, 401k match, insurance premiums, and gift. Then do that much less work. At that point, you might not reach the tier where you get a gift anyway.

  21. pally*

    For #1: Just a thought:

    I used the phrase “loved one” when I had a dog with medical needs that meant I couldn’t travel or be away from him for greater than 12 hours (“I have a loved one at home who needs regular medical care. So I can’t be away for greater than 12 hours at a stretch.”).

    No one ever asked me to elaborate as to the identity of the “loved one” (mother? child? spouse?). And no one ever offered up suggestions on finding substitutes (“can’t you get your spouse to cover?”).

    I used this in job interviews as well. No questions either. Course, I didn’t get the job that required travel either.

    1. JustaTech*

      I have a friend who was so private and quiet at one job that his coworkers didn’t actually know his wife’s name, so when he needed to take his cat to the vet he would say “I have to take [Common woman’s name] to the doctor” and people thought he was talking about his wife!
      (His wife thought this was hilarious.)

  22. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My husband is looking at a job with increased travel, and one of his questions is how they handle “I can’t travel thus-and-such week because of home obligations.” 4 times out of 5, his “home obligations” is going to be “my wife is already committed to travel that week and someone has to stay home with the dogs,” but he’s not going to be that specific.

  23. A Pinch of Salt*

    my previous employer told us Salary-Exempt employees had unlimited sick time. but then started docking our raise after a secret number of days.

    I found out later that number was 6. SIX sick days/year, but they sure didn’t keep track of the extra hours we all put in, or offer any sort of flexibility for them.

    ugh…can’t they just tell me what the rules are and leave me alone?

  24. Glomarization, Esq.*

    LW#4: Looks like an opportunity for your organization to adopt policies around conflicts of interest and gift acceptances. These are bog-standard governance policies that every non-profit should have. Other policies include documents on on whistleblower protection, document retention and destruction, volunteer code of conduct, and s-xual h-r-ssment.

    Even a small nonprofit should have these policies in place. If the org doesn’t have its own lawyer, or if a lawyer on the board of directors doesn’t want to draw them up pro bono, then you should know that it’s not super expensive to hire a lawyer to prepare them for you.

    Source: this is a significant part of my own practice

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking about this.

      Your organization needs conflict of interest policies this minute. And also some training. The fact that you think that the only issue at play is favoritism between staff / workers says that you have some pretty significant gaps in your knowledge set. I’d be willing to be that you are not the only one in the organization with these gaps.

  25. Milfred*

    It’s well known that when companies offer “unlimited” vacation that employees tend to take less vacation days than if they had a set amount of days.

    On the other hand, about 10 years ago my mother became ill. Over a 3 month period I took 6 weeks of vacation. The company never said a word, because: unlimited vacation.

    1. KatEnigma*

      6 weeks *is* the unofficial number at my husband’s workplace for “unlimited vacation” – and 6 weeks plus 1 day just triggers a conversation with your manager “My mother is ill” would be all the explanation needed.

  26. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    For LW1, is it worth getting a bit more clarity on the home working policy?

    Would it be appropriate in your context to say something to your manager like “I really appreciate that we get to work from home here. Sometimes I’m asked to attend an in person event or meeting when I’m working from home. Can I ask if the general expectation is that while we get to work from home, we are expected to prioritise the in person requests if they come up? Or does home working mean regardless of what crops up – within reason!”

    I could imagine clarifying that with my manager but maybe it could come off badly in some contexts. Also, there’s a danger the manager says “prioritise the in person events/meetings/etc” and then you’ll have to do that!

    In most contexts, I’d have thought that even when home working (maybe even especially when home working!) you’d be expected to prioritise a work issue/request over a personal commitment like pet care, child care, etc, apart from in exceptional circumstances. But not always!

  27. HonorBox*

    OP1 – In many cases, there might be an expectation that “working from home three days” means a slightly flexible schedule rather than having a set three days that you always work from home. I think a lot depends on the company’s culture. At my workplace, we all work one day per week at home, but there is an expectation that if someone NEEDS us in the office or at a meeting elsewhere, we’ll adjust and be there for the customer. But I just had a meeting request for my work from home day from a coworker who didn’t think about that first. When I approached her about the NEED to meet that day or in-person she pivoted quickly and we’re going to chat one of the days we’re both in-office.

    I think inquiring about prioritizing is worthwhile. I think I would also steer clear from the dog question, simply because there are alternatives that are (likely) available. A lot of places might be understanding, but it could appear that you’re personal commitments may weigh more heavily on your decision than work would like.

    1. umami*

      It sounds like OP has selected her 3 days based on her husband’s 2 days of being Monday and Friday. If they could swap days, that would be a great solution, but it doesn’t sound like that’s possible. I would suggest going to the event she was invited to, which is not likely to take more than 4 hours, and keeping the WFH days the same. It sounds like a great networking opportunity for someone fairly new to the organization.

  28. Hush42*

    I think this depends entirely on the way the PTO is set up. Up until this year we had a use it or lose it policy, but all of your time off was “earned” on Jan 1 each year and nothing was paid out when you left. As of this year, they switched to having only 40 hours on Jan 1 and the rest of your PTO accrue over the year so that they could start paying it out when people left. However, this means that if people want to take a vacation in January or February they might not have enough time accrued. To compensate for that they started allowing a roll over of up to 60 hours. This way, if someone wants to plan a 2 week vacation in the winter time (we live in the north east US so it gets dark, cold, and dreary here Jan through March) they can.

  29. Alex*

    So let’s break this down. OP had three weeks of vacation on the books. Upgraded to four weeks vacation on the books. Switched to “unlimited vacation” aka, NO vacation that the business has to keep on the books.

    So the business wanted to reduce their financial liability of vacation time on the books, and decided to go with unlimited vacation. Except also keeping their prior way of only being inconvenienced by someone actually being on vacation for three weeks. Talk about having cake and eating it too.

    If I were OP I would shout it from the rooftops so everyone knows what they are trying to pull. But I’m a troublemaker like that.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Switched to “unlimited vacation” aka, NO vacation

      I’ve found that characterizing “unlimited PTO” as “no PTO” is a bridge-burning move. YMMV.

      I’m a troublemaker, too.

      1. Alex*

        Ah, I simply meant that they don’t have to keep vacation as a financial liability in their accounting.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          That’s how I see and evaluate it, though; if I’m guaranteed zero or more PTO hours/days, then zero is what I’ll likely get.

          1. I have RBF*

            Generally yes.

            My current company has unlimited PTO. My manager tries to model a healthy work/life balance, and readily approves vacation if it doesn’t cause coverage issues. I have one other person on my team that does my kind of work. We coordinate our time off with each other. That said, I target three full weeks, plus the odd day here and there. That seem to be the norm.

            If they were stingy about it, with an unspoken limit of three weeks, I will find out, and be very grumpy.

      2. OP2*

        In my message asking if I could remain on the accrued vacation policy, I actually included scare quotes around “unlimited”, and contrasted it with plans that offered vacation time that was “guaranteed”. That was as far as I wanted to push it at the time.

  30. New Senior Mgr*

    OP1: although it’s unfair, in many places, if you’re senior leadership, explaining the need to care for your dog would be acceptable. Even drawing a few ooohs and aaaahs. Otherwise, I wouldn’t take the risk of possibly being seen as precious and not available to work while you’re supposed to be home working.

  31. Lynn*

    Regarding letter number 3

    I would rather receive a bonus check instead of a gift.

    That way I can choose how I want to spend the money.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Right but they’re already getting a bonus based on the sales themselves. The gift is on top of that. I’m not disagreeing that cash is better, but given that a bonus-based-on-sales is already present and independent of gender, it’s probably not a helpful thing to bring up when pointing out the disparity on the gift end of things.

  32. JustMe*

    LW 1 – I would honestly say that this depends on the office culture. In general I’d say Alison’s advice is correct, but I’ve seen a lot of workplaces be willing to accommodate this. My husband’s old job (tech start up, western US) would not have blinked at that kind of request. At my last job (admin at a school) I mentioned to my boss that I was worried about what would happen to my puppy when we came back to in-person work full time, and she gave me the option to bring my dog to work. I ended up not taking her up on it because I found a fantastic dog walking/doggy daycare service in my neighborhood, so that’s what I use on the days when I have to leave the dog home alone for more than a few hours.

    Takeaway: if it’s a relaxed office culture, they may be willing to accommodate you. If not, dog walking services/daycare are good options.

  33. KatEnigma*

    OP1: Citing a dog is going to look bad almost everywhere, but citing anything other than an emergency as a refusal to attend an occasional weekday work event “because it’s not my in office day” is going to look just as bad. Find a dog walker or doggy day care that you can use for those one-off instances. My dogs love going to day care!

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      It’s important to acknowledge that not all dogs can go to daycare or a group pet sitter because they have dog reactivity and/or separation anxiety. Doesn’t matter how much training they get, some dogs just can’t be around other dogs. It also makes dog owners who have dogs like this feel like $hit when people tell us this.

      My dog has tried daycare, which I knew was a long shot hail mary but the behaviorist SWORE she’d only had one dog ever that wasn’t able to manage to be there and she could “work miracles” with dogs. I was called to come back and get her before I made it home (15-minute drive).

  34. KatEnigma*

    3 weeks is too low. 3 weeks is the amount of vacation that my husband refuses to consider accepting a job for, as a senior level engineer.

    His company’s unofficial policy is 6 weeks. At more than 6 weeks, your manager comes to have a talk with you. He was told this in a casual conversation by someone in the C suite.

    But then there was this “push” in his division to try to get a program launched, and they put a moratorium on any PTO unless you got special permission from your manager. That was indefinite “until launch”, and they finally stopped after 4 1/2 months when it still hadn’t launched! I wondered loudly at having “unlimited” vacation that no one could take for over a quarter!

  35. OP #4*

    Thank you for answering my question! I did ultimately decide that it was too dicey and turned down the offer (with gratitude).

    Our organization doesn’t have any government contracts, but yes, my instinct was that this was something I should avoid for ethical reasons, if not legal ones. One reason I wrote in was that I ran it by my boss in a “so I really shouldn’t do this, right?” way, and she said I should feel free to take the contractor up on the offer. I still felt uncomfortable about it and wanted an outside take. I’m glad to have my instincts confirmed.

    1. No conflicts here*

      Hi OP #4
      I agree with you!
      There is a potential conflict of interest (or even the appearance of a conflict of interest). Other contractors might use it to object to a decision not to use their services.

      However, it’s great that you have such a positive relationship with the contractor. You must be good to work for!

      1. OP #4*

        That is very kind of you to say!! I hope so. I’ve been lucky in that while I haven’t supervised many people, the ones I have have been excellent at their jobs and lovely to work with. Makes up for the nonprofit salary. ;)

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      You and your boss would likely benefit from having an actual roadmap in place when these kinds of issues come up. I really do urge you to get a comprehensive set of governance policies in place that I mentioned, above.

      In addition, you may encounter grantors that ask whether you have adopted these policies. (Some people refer to them as Sarbanes-Oxley — that term refers to governance of for-profit businesses, not non-profits, but the term carries over because it’s a convenient shorthand.) If you can tick the ticky-box indicating that yes, indeed, you do have these policies in place, it might open more and larger funding doors for you.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not all that common to be asked about Sarb-Ox (as it’s often abbreviated) in the non-profit world. But it’s extremely common, almost universal among organizations that have a formal application / approval process, to ask about conflict of interest policies. In fact, it’s not all that uncommon for applications to ask for a copy of your policy, to ask questions about the specifics of your policy and / or to ask about staff training.

        So yes, if you want to grow, this is a very important piece of your strategy.

    3. Observer*

      Your instinct is VERY sound. Your boss’ on the other hand? Not so sound.

      If you have the standing, please use this as a springboard to advocate getting a conflict of interest policy in place, *with the assistance of a lawyer.*

        1. Observer*

          Are you at all involved in development and / or funder / government relations? That might be your hook. “Funders and government agencies really want to see these policies. We should work with a lawyer to develop policies that will make them happy.”

  36. MikeM_inMD*

    Re: #2
    My company is switching to “unlimited” time off as of July 1 and eliminating PTO and floating holidays. Many of the local worker-bees are viewing it as a potential pay cut, because it fuzzes up the comparisons to other companies with regard to the total compensation package. And, yeah, on top of other changes in the 3+ years since we were acquired, I’m starting to look elsewhere.

  37. Jack McCullough*

    Re : LW2–fake unlimited vacation time.

    Take a close look at the Department of Labor regulations. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the employer improperly converted you to an exempt position.

  38. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    LW #1– We use family members to dog sit when I go into the office because, while my partner has the option for WFH, due to the nature of his job he really needs to be in-office. A few weeks ago, I asked half-jokingly asked if my vet offered daytime boarding–and they do! It’s been a godsend. It’s cheap, $25 a day, and I know she’s taken care of.

  39. My dog rocks*

    #1. I have a senior dog who we took in a few years ago whose early life was spent in a kennel outdoors, with no socialization. He has aggression issues with other dogs and is very frightened of other people. But we took on the responsibility to care for him. There are exactly four people he trusts and likes and no one else and we also have a four hour (occasionally can push it to five) limit alone.

    My work is planned and jobs I take are done only under the understanding of my responsibilities to my dog. Do you know what I say to people who have last minute requests that would cause a problem for his care? That I have a family member I look after and I can’t find a caregiver to help with such short notice. I don’t mention it’s my dog. Because honestly-it could be helping out a sister in law, or an elderly parent, or whomever. And it’s okay to not be able to make last minute schedule changes-unless that’s already an agreement of your workplace.

  40. Liz*

    Keep in mind “unlimited vacation” is not about giving employees “unlimited vacation”. It’s about the employer not accruing liability to employees for unused vacation.

    When you accrue vacation, just as you see the days on your dashboard, your employer’s P/L and balance sheet show “unpaid vacation liability”. That liability makes them look less profitable, which affects the stock price and ultimately upper management’s ROI based compensation.

    All of which is a long way of saying, it’s a scam pulled against employees. Act accordingly.

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