update: my boss thinks I’m a stoner because I called out on 4/20

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

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

Remember the letter-writer whose boss thought he was a stoner because he called out on 4/20 (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

I want to particularly thank you, as well as commenters Dark Macademia, Bagpuss, and Megan C for your collective advice. I spoke with my boss on the afternoon of the 25th, the day your answer was posted; I’m pleased to share that the resolution was quite harmonious. I approached my boss as you suggested, in the spirit of genuine concern that my reputation might not be what I want it to be, and he was quick to assure me that he did not genuinely think I might be a drug user.

My boss explained that he had originally made the joke in a lighthearted spirit, but later realized that if I really had been partaking, he might have been blowing off a symptom of serious stress on my part. As I mentioned in a comment, he’s relatively new to the team and to management in general, and we have been under tremendous pressure over the last few months. His later conversation with me he frankly admitted to be a rather awkward attempt to both offer a listening ear if I needed to share any unusual stressors with him as well as a warning that he did not want me to jeopardize my licensure by partaking in an illegal substance. Our industry is very tightly regulated and losing one’s professional certifications will obliterate an entire career.

I also carefully checked in with one of my coworkers, and she laughed and told me openly that I was considered the last person in the office to ever do anything even slightly untoward, and that my boss’s joke was seen as nothing more than that.

So I think the moral of the story is my boss and I are two well-meaning, awkward, and very square people with a tendency to make intoxicating mountains out of food poisoning molehills :)

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara M*

    Aww, this is lovely. And you know, awkward square people can be wonderful too. I’m glad you talked about it.

  2. HR Friend*

    This update is hilarious, but sheesh, this boss needs management training!

    “My boss explained that he had originally made the joke in a lighthearted spirit, but later realized… he might have been blowing off a symptom of serious stress on my part… he admitted [it was an] attempt to both offer a listening ear… as well as a warning that he did not want me to jeopardize my licensure…”

    That’s a ton of information and scenarios to try to convey through one jokey comment. Boss needs to learn to be straightforward and use his words.

    1. ferrina*

      I think Boss is learning that! I think many new managers/bosses have had that moment- they mean to connect with their team, then realize afterwards that the comment didn’t come out as they intended. Then do you pretend it didn’t happen? Apologize? Will the person even remember the comment you made? Will you make it worse by bringing it up, or bring closure?

      Kudos to LW for being direct with the boss and solving this situation! LW sounds like they were exemplary

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I think the original comment was a joke. The “later realized” bit was about the second conversation when the boss pulled OP aside and seemed to be taking the previous joke seriously and not as a joke. So the joke wasn’t doing the heavy lifting there.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, from the original letter, this was the joke:

        And so of course when I made it to the office, [my boss’s] first question was whether I enjoyed (wink wink) my day off. It got laughs from the rest of the team, and initially I laughed too

        And this was the later, serious conversation:

        Later in the day, my boss pulled me aside to ask in an emphatic tone if I was facing any new stressors, and to reiterate that he had a great deal of trust in my professionalism and hoped I would continue upholding that trust. I was confused and asked if anything in my work had given him cause for concern, and he noted that I should have waited for the weekend if I wanted to indulge myself. He told me he wasn’t going to officially ask me anything on the record because if I actually had done that, he didn’t want to formally know about it, but he hoped I would make better choices in the future.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Reading it in light of the update, it now sounds like somebody getting completely twisted up in knots, trying to undo the previous mis-speaking and making it worse.

          Boss: *makes light-hearted joke about 4/20*
          Boss: *overthinking* Oh, gosh, what if my employee really does take drugs? What if they are under a lot of stress and are using drugs to deal with it? And I’ve just made light of that? Now, they’ll think that if they have any problems, I’ll be unsympathetic. I’d better let them know I will support them if they are undergoing any stress.
          Boss: *overthinking some more* Oh, yikes, I don’t want them to think I am asking if they were taking drugs because what if they were? If they tell me, I’ll have to enact consequences, so I’d better let them know I don’t want to formally know.

          And the whole thing gets more and more convoluted.

          I’m glad they untangled it and it turned out to be nothing more than awkwardness.

          1. OP "The Square"*

            You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. My boss and I both tend to do this, so there was quite a lot of spiralling going on over a complete non-issue. All’s well that ends well…

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    Woot for all the well-meaning yet awkward squares nonetheless managing to come together and communicate!

  4. Frost*

    “he might have been blowing off a symptom of serious stress on my part.”

    Far from being incredibly weird, your boss is a very good boss! How many bosses do we hear about here who don’t even care that their reports are under pressure. The only mistake he made was trying to be so elliptical that he left orbit entirely.

    1. OP "The Square"*

      Yes, for sure! While it was very awkward, he has a lot of good will and a great desire to do what’s best for everyone on our team. With the workload surge, he’s been going to bat for us very hard to question anything that other people try to pile on our plate and to manage expectations up the chain for what our realistic output can look like. I appreciate him quite a lot overall!

    2. MigraineMonth*

      “So elliptical that he left orbit entirely” may be one of my new go-to phrases. Hints only go so far.

      1. David*

        I love it too, and even more so because the math checks out! If you start with a circle, and make it more and more elliptical (increase the eccentricity), then eventually it turns into a parabola and then a hyperbola which is exactly the shape of the path followed by an object that has left orbit. Just a bit of added value for people who are interested in such things, without taking anything away from the usefulness of the phrase for people who don’t care – those are my favorite kinds of nerdy references.

        If that was intentional, well done Frost, I tip my hat to you. :-)

        1. Frost*

          It was intentional, and it was an astronomy pun. Planets go around stars and moons go around planets in elliptical orbits. Perturbing a body out of a closed orbit (ellipse) can result in a new closed orbit, an open orbit (parabolic or hyperbolic), or in spiraling into the orbitee and crashing. Depends on the perturbation and speed of the object vs escape velocity from the thing its orbiting.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          In a thread about awkward squares, we learn about circles ellipticising by increasing eccentricity. I don’t understand a word of your explanation but I love the enthusiasm! Maybe you could produce a short animation to show a circle popping into parabola and hyperbola? because all I can imagine is fireworks!

  5. MauvaisePomme*

    Yikes, I’m glad that Boss means well, but the guy really needs to learn how to communicate. This whole situation was so bizarre and unnecessary from his end.

    “Oh, my employee made a comment that made me worry about her stress levels. Better make a weird, oblique joke that will distress her and make her anxious about her reputation and job security!”

    1. SometimesALurker*

      Agreed, but — and maybe I’m reading things too optimistically here since it was a good update — it sounds like Boss knows that, and knows that this was a case in point!

      (I would not be so optimistic about my own boss, but I’ve worked for her for too long.)

    2. justcommenting*

      Based on the original letter I think the joke came first, probably an impulsive off the cuff quip more about the date than LW, and then he tried to follow up more sincerely upon realizing that might be a real sign of deeper problems. Definitely ill-advised in the first place and the follow up could’ve handled better, but I don’t think he was being quite that obtuse.

    3. Zarniwoop*

      “guy really needs to learn how to communicate”
      Sounds to me like he’s aware of that and working on it.

    1. OP "The Square"*

      It’s still illegal federally, and we’re regulated on the federal as well as the state level.

      That being said, I did some research out of curiosity after my letter was posted, and I don’t believe that I could genuinely lose my licenses over marijuana possession — but given that the state/federal discrepancy is still in existence and no one seems to be in much of a rush to plug that legal gap, I certainly wouldn’t want to risk it anyway. My state is moving toward legalization for recreational use, but I’ll still give it a pass :)

      1. Square Squared*

        Agreed. We have an upcoming concert in my area. The running joke among ticket holders is the mandatory drug test the next work day.

        Whenever my Fed contract changes hands I know that my HR checklist will include a drug test. Not a problem. I’m boring.

  6. oh no*

    Ah, oh dear. I’ve been in both positions (awkward-but-well-meaning overstepper and bewildered receiver) and theyre both rough. Glad things worked out here. Hooray for social awkwardness!

    1. Rainy*

      As a fellow member of the “that came out SO DIFFERENTLY to how I meant it” club I’m so happy that LW and their boss got on the same page. I think the worst part of situations like this is the bit where you have to try and figure out whether you want to address it and clarify because it actually needs to be addressed or because you are dwelling on something that everyone else forgot the second it was said and you’re going to make it worse by bringing it back up.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah bringing up the boss’s cringey remark about wanting to watch me dance with the young dev with a very clear crush on me definitely made everyone watch us that much more closely.

  7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Oh you sweet summer child.
    This story is outstanding.
    I think you found your people.

      1. Bexy Bexerson*

        Dude, I really like you! You say you’re square and bland and boring, but I love the way you write and I found your original post, update, and comments really fun to read. You’re funny! And as an atheist and a cannabis user, it pleases me to see some who is religious and abstains from all drugs to be in favor of legalization.

        You’re swell. If this is what square looks like, keep it up because I’m a fan!

    1. Ally McBeal*

      INDEED. If for nothing else but the research that desperately needs done. It’s recreationally legal in my state and I partake occasionally, but it concerns me that the U.S. has blocked research efforts to the point that we don’t have recent, comprehensive data about health risks. Like, what’s my risk for emphysema at the rate I consume, particularly as compared to cigarettes? Is vaping more or less hazardous than flower, and in what ways?

      1. metadata minion*

        Agree! It’s legal in my state, but one reason I’ve never tried it is I have a boatload of health problems and am on kind of a lot of medication. I know that in general, THC is extremely safe so long as you don’t take massive amounts or something, but I have no idea whether it might be riskier for me and neither does my doctor because there’s no research on it.

  8. Jamboree*

    I love this update. As a youth I never ever used, mostly bc I was a goody goody but I always claimed it was so I could tell future my kids honestly no. Imagine my surprise when the time came that my teens asked and then didn’t even believe me! I eventually became a fan at 60+ when I used it for pain management, and now I just use it for fun. When you’re ready for the dark side, OP, the dark side will welcome you warmly.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Awkward people are the best. I hope this becomes a funny story you tell in the future OP, because it gave me a chuckle.

  10. Keyes*

    Am I the only one who finds it bizarrely puritanical to be so concerned about your boss having a harmless misconception regarding your personal life?

    1. Frost*

      Eh, people spiral over different stuff. I’m sure you have had a strong reaction to something that another person would blow off.

    2. Not weird*

      I mean, the OP has said in comments, where they live, it’s still federally illegal so it’s not completely harmless (like what if cops get called on them?). Also, I’m a weed friendly state but I’ve had jobs that require drug tests and you’ll fail the test if you’ve smoked weed recently.

      1. Jules*

        Just FYI that it’s federally illegal in your state too. The DOJ is currently uninterested in prosecuting cases, but it absolutely could legally start doing so in any state in the US at any time.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      It can be inconvenient if people think things about you that aren’t true even if they are harmless. Especially if people aren’t inclined to believe you when you try to correct it. And given the context of this particular job it wasn’t an entirely harmless misconception.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      Honestly, I’d be worried in the LW’s circumstances too, not so much that “oh, what if my boss thinks I’ve smoked cannabis?” but “why is my boss assuming I lied when I said I was sick? Do they distrust me for some reason? Have I taken more sick leave than is allowed by some unspoken policy that I am supposed to know? Have I somehow given my boss the impression that I am very stressed? Does this mean they won’t trust me say with promotions, if they think my current job is too stressful for me?”

      If the boss had assumed that the LW lied about being sick in order to smoke cannabis, it would be such a bizarre leap of logic, given the circumstances, that it would make sense to wonder if there was something else behind it, like the boss thinking the LW’s work had slipped or the boss trying to discourage the LW from taking sick leave by asking as many questions as possible about it or the boss just being a really suspicious person who is going to doubt anything the LW says.

      Yeah, given the result, there was nothing to worry about, but I can imagine many concerning explanations for the boss’s behaviour, so I wouldn’t assume the LW was just worried about the boss having a misconception about their personal life. If I were the LW, I’d be more concerned about the boss not taking my word for it about a sick day.

    5. Expelliarmus*

      It sounds like if OP had actually been doing drugs, he could have lost his licensure if it came to light, so it’s pretty justified that OP was worried that there was a mistaken impression about his lifestyle.

    6. Ginger Cat Lady*

      I live and work in Utah and this seemed 100% believable based on what I’ve seen here.
      It absolutely *is* bizarre, but also not unrealistic.

    7. Elsajeni*

      If it had just been the original joke, maybe, but did you read the bit about the second conversation where the boss, like, raised concerns about the OP’s stress level and made some kind of weird comments about professionalism and said (? implied? it’s not in quotes in the original letter, but it is presented as something the boss actually said) “he hoped I would make better choices in the future”? That seems like it takes the situation from a harmless misconception to something that is seriously affecting the boss’s opinion of you; I’d want to clear it up, too.

  11. The Shenanigans*

    I admit I chuckled at your characterization of yourself and your boss there. For what it’s worth, you both also sound like lovely, conscientious people to work with. Your office is very lucky. :)

  12. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I absolutely love awkward misunderstandings that are resolved with the realization that both parties are equally awkward. This was delightful!

  13. Lizy*

    Late to the party (pun intended) but I am laughing my head off… I’m glad y’all got it sorted and it was simply a matter of awkwardness, and thanks for the laugh(s) :)

Comments are closed.