managing an employee who lies, I was the only one carded at a business lunch, and more

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

1. Can I use an improvement plan for an employee who lies?

At the start of the year, I discovered that one of my direct reports had gone out of their way to disguise a behavior that has been their ongoing performance development need. Say, for example, that they needed to hold fewer accounting meetings with sales. They have been given this feedback for a couple of years running on an ongoing basis and in performance reviews. Instead, I found out that they kept holding the meetings, but marking them private so that I wouldn’t see them. The behavior itself (the meetings) isn’t the end of the world, but obviously the deception I took incredibly seriously.

Given that this came to light just after year-end bonuses had been decided, in talking it through with HR, we decided not to change their bonus for the past year, because all the meetings had been scheduled in the new year. While we also discussed a PIP, we decided to see if the behavior happened again. However, you can imagine that this has affected our (previously strong, dozen-year) working relationship, and I no longer fully trust this person.

In working on our mid-year reviews, I’ve just discovered a discrepancy. I had marked down a number of accounting reports for Q1 back in April, but now my employee is reporting a different number. I am digging into the figures to get to the bottom of this. However, if it turns out that this is a second deliberate falsification, my question is: Is it even possible to structure a PIP around trust and honesty? This person fulfils a critical function. I recognize they may move on at some point and everyone is replaceable, but this would be the single hardest person to replace in a staff of 50. But I also can’t imagine how to coach someone through a PIP to stay when the issue is lying.

You can’t create a performance improvement plan around trust and honesty. PIPs are useful for things like work quality issues, where you need to see if the person is able to raise the quality of their work or not. They’re not at all suited for issues of character and integrity.

I’d be really wary of keeping someone on your team who lied about something significant even just once. But if you do choose to give them another chance, it makes sense to have a very serious conversation about your expectations of honesty and transparency and to explicitly make that conversation the final warning. If there’s a second occurrence, it really needs to be game-over at that point. Realistically, at that point you just can’t trust them at all, and the amount of checking you would need to do to ensure their work really is what they say it is would be impossible.

Read an update to this letter

2. Awkward comments after getting carded at a business lunch

I’m a 32-year-old female attorney in big law. I’ve been practicing for six years, and am now a year or two into getting to handle things like examining witnesses in court and oral arguments. This is a bit on the early side, and sort of a big deal, but I am pretty good at my job and always get good feedback from partners and clients. However, apparently I look very young. Almost every time I go to court, I get some kind of comment (usually from security) about how I must be too young to be a lawyer. Fortunately this has not, until recently, been in front of clients.

I recently concluded a trial and went to lunch with clients and the partner. We were all in suits and everyone but me was a man and at least 45 years old. We ordered wine and I was carded. No one else was. I was a little shocked and just handed over my ID; a few of the men said something about how it was a compliment. But it isn’t: it undermines my authority. It’s already difficult enough to get speaking experience as an associate, and it really doesn’t help to have a client doubting whether I can handle the work. It’s also sexist – I note that there was a clear gender divide in reactions when I told this story to my friends and family. And I am so sick of being infantilized.

Is there a script you can suggest? To be clear, not for the waiter: he was just doing his job. But after he left, it would have been great to have some kind of witty comment that reminds everyone that I am actually an attorney, not a 20-year-old intern. I don’t know, maybe “oh yes, I graduated [Ivy League] law school when I was 14.” Or should I just put up with it? My father, who usually has good advice but is not a woman, said that the classiest thing to do would just be to smile and say thank you. But that doesn’t sit right with me.

Yeah, don’t say “thank you” — that’s playing into the idea that women should be thrilled to be told they look young, and that’s the opposite of how you feel. I like your “graduated when I was 14” remark, especially if you can deliver it with a single raised eyebrow. (For that matter, the single raised eyebrow might also work as a response on its own with no accompanying script necessary.) Everything else I can think of sounds defensive, which risks making it into a bigger deal, which makes the problem worse. Ultimately, the less time and energy you and others at the table are spending on it, the better (which points me back to the eyebrow reply, if you are lucky enough to have eyebrows you can control independently of one another).

3. If we raise problems, we’ll be assigned to solve them

I work at a place that is very solutions-focused. During non-stressful times, this can be very good as it often pushes people to be proactive and come up with creative solutions instead of assuming something isn’t their job to fix. However, at the moment, the whole department is under a great deal of stress. We’re under pressure to save money, deliver projects, and also work on replacing some legacy business-critical systems (which is a delicate and volatile process which can and does affect other departments). People are being asked to work weekends and I often see people logging in late at night, working very long hours. In short, stress is very high.

The solutions-focused culture often means that, when people raise problems or concerns with managers, they’re told “well, what do you think we should do to fix this?” We’re often told we need to come up with a solution as soon as we’ve raised a concern and sometimes, on talking about a particular issue, a person can get the total responsibility for fixing it placed on their shoulders (which is especially hard at a time when workloads are already very high). We’re constantly pushed to give open and honest feedback, but it’s starting to feel like a poisoned chalice because every time we open our mouths we’re running the risk that we’ll end up responsible for fixing the thing that is causing us stress. Is there a reasonable pushback to this “you need to fix this” assertion from management?

Yep, this is bad management. It’s great to encourage people to think about solutions when they see problems, but not every person will be well-positioned to have a solution to every problem they see — and that doesn’t make the problem less of a problem or something they shouldn’t speak up about. And it certainly doesn’t make it their responsibility to fix!

What your company is doing incentivizes people to stay quiet when they see an issue, lest it be added to their plate. That means that managers will learn about problems much less frequently than they otherwise would, and in some cases those delays will compound the damage.

Why not propose a solution to this problem — with the solution being a change in practice? You could say, “I’m concerned we’re creating a dynamic where people won’t speak up about problems if they don’t have a solution to accompany it, or if they don’t want to risk the work of fixing it getting added to their plate, especially now when people are already stretched so thin. Since it’s in our interests to be aware of problems even when people don’t have the time or expertise to fix them, I propose we move to a system where solving any given problem is assigned to the person best positioned —in both expertise and available bandwidth — to address it.”

4. Can I elaborate on an interview question after the interview?

Is it ever okay to elaborate on an interview question, after the interview? I am having a serious case of regret when I realized how poorly I answered a question that should have come easily (I skipped past some basic concepts and then rambled my way through). They’ve asked me to email my references. Do you think I could acknowledge in that email that my response was weak and give a clearer answer in writing? I think I know you are going to tell me to let it go, but it could be the difference between an offer or not, because it is a pretty core question to the job. Everything else felt like it went really well.

Yes, you can do that! Don’t make your focus the weakness of the first response, though; just say, “I realized after our meeting that a more useful answer to your question about X would have been…”

Caveat: you can only do this once. You shouldn’t send multiple re-do’s. But we all flub the occasional question and it’s fine to revisit it (briefly!) in your follow-up note.

5. A process question

Do you ever look at question-askers’ LinkedIns to help answer a question? Or is the universal answer more important than answering the query for that specific person?

For example, if someone writes to you saying, “I applied to be the CEO of Google and I’m super qualified but they turned me down,” do you ever go to their LinkedIn, see that they are fresh off an MBA with no work experience, and answer them using that information? Because you could do an answer specific to them (i.e., school experience isn’t the same as job experience, if you’re applying for stretch jobs your cover letter should address XYZ, etc.) or you could do a universal answer (i.e., here’s why a hiring manager might reject a perfectly qualified candidate).

Obviously you don’t have time to read all our resumes before you answer, but do you ever get curious (perhaps based on your perception of their delusion) and go digging?

Nope, never. It’s never occurred to me to! Partly that’s the implicit agreement with people who write in (they trust that I’m not going to go digging into their lives beyond what they choose to share), and partly that’s just the nature of advice columns: there’s always more context that could help, and which might change the advice dramatically if it were known, but the nature of the gig is to work with the info I’m given.

{ 480 comments… read them below }

  1. Researchalatorlady*

    #2: I’m not sure how I see it is sexist to be carded when you are at least 13 years younger than everyone else at the table. Servers are told they must card anyone who looks like they might be 21 or under (or the applicable drinking age in that jurisdiction); there’s no training on how to judge people’s ages. It seems reasonable to me to assume that the 45+ year old men presented as being defensibly older than 21, exceeding the age by 24 years, while the LW by 11 years may not have. Why personalize it by saying it infantilizes you, rather than recognizing it as the imperfect liability protection it is and simply say “Here you are” without comment?

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yeah…I think there’s going to be a number of comments acting like OP thinks the server is being entirely unreasonable when that’s not the point of the letter at all.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — she specifically says the server was just doing their job. The issue is that her colleagues’ comments on it drew attention to her age in a way that makes her feel awkward when she’s already working to be taken seriously in a group of older men.

        (I’m removing a slew of comments that seemed to misunderstand this point so they don’t take over the thread.)

  2. Person from the Resume*

    For LW2, I don’t think the problem is the waiter. He was just doing his job. Lots of places will say they card anyone who looks younger than 40 or 45 and you’re 32 and everyone else was older than 45 so it makes sense. He was doing his job and doesn’t even have the context that you are a practicing lawyer.

    I do understand the problem is the repetitiveness of being told you look young and that you are truly a bit young for your position both of which undermine your authority. I’d focus on the people you see regularly and who should know better. Tell those security guards at the courthouse “you say it that every time I pass security and it is getting old,” which I’m hoping shuts down their small talk about it. Dryly say “We’ll, I am a lawyer” anytime someone says you look too young to be one.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      The concern though is that this happened in front of clients. While the comments that OP also often gets from guards, etc., are frustrating, at least they’re not in front of clients, who OP understandably wants to impress. It’s not unreasonable for OP to ask about a script/way to respond in these scenarios (to the others at the meal, not the server).

      1. Coverage Associate*

        Often lawyers do enter court with clients, which makes responding to guards harder. You have to set the right tone to the guard and in front of the client. If it is the same guard time after time, I might say “Good morning to you, too, officer [name]” I have used that as a kind of “I refuse to play this game” while remaining professional.

        1. Phony Genius*

          I would definitely advise not saying anything to the guards. Around here, that could result in the “special” search. (Asking to see additional ID, a more thorough search of your bag, etc. – all just to delay you.)

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        Depending on the restaurant, I wonder if there’s any scope for the OP to approach the waiter away from the table and show her ID proactively so that the clients don’t realise.

      3. ursula*

        If you have any women clients at the table, or even senior female colleagues, this is a good opportunity to make discrete eye contact and have one of those “can you believe this shit? i know, right” silent exchanges that pass between women sometimes. Maybe a good chance to build a subtle connection with a client that your male colleagues don’t have. Otherwise, others have good suggestions about deflecting and recognizing that the “it’s a compliment” comments are more a reflection of others’ anxieties about aging than their perception of your competence. (I 100% understand why this bothers you btw.)

        1. Cj*

          why would you, or anybody else think, can you believe this s***? in my state serverss after card you if you appear to be under 40, which she is, so the waiter placed her in the correct age range. the men were all over 40, so the server placed them in the correct age range also. the server does not think they’re under 21, just under 40.

          1. Silver Robin*

            it is not about the server, LW2 was very clear about that.

            it is about the comments that come after, about LW2’s youthful appearance. One can absolutely feel “can you believe this??” about comments regarding one’s appearance

            1. nona*

              But that’s the talking point to the clients “Oh, they card anyone under 40. It’s not like they think I’m actually under 21”.

              1. Rebecca*

                I get these comments as a woman, and it’s easiest to shut them down with a bit of humor. I say something like “Oh, no. I earned “get off my lawn rights” a few years back.” It tells them it’s inappropriate in a way that you can laugh it off politely at a business lunch.

                1. The OG Sleepless*

                  I rarely get comments about looking young any more, because I’m not, but when I do, I give them one of those world-weary looks (think the old waitress in a sitcom) and say “Oh, honey.”

            2. never mind who I am*

              There’s a way to avoid making a young-looking person singled out: card EVERYBODY. A grocery store near me cards anybody buying beer or wine, no matter what. During The Pestillence I celebrated by 60th birthday by getting carded there. And trust me, I look my age.

              This might not help with the comments about her youthful appearance, which I know is the focus of OP’s fully-justified consternation, but it would put everybody in the same boat.

              1. Random Dice*

                I hand over my ID automatically when ordering or buying alcohol. I don’t made them ask me. I’m a young-looking woman, and am just over all of this scrutiny. If asked I say that I know lots of places card under 65.

            3. marvin*

              Yes, I think the letter writer is correct that a snappy response will help redirect the conversation from how she looks, which most of us don’t want to dwell on with clients. Personally I’d just say “Clean living” or something similarly brief and move the conversation along. The more time you devote to explaining or reacting to it, the more it will draw attention there.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          This might build a connection with any other women at the table, but it doesn’t solve the problem of her older, male colleagues telling her it’s a compliment to begin with, and the sexism behind that comment is the real issue here.

        3. Willow Pillow*

          Ehh, I’ve had that “you’re lucky you look so young” response from women too.

          1. College Grad*

            Not really the same thing as OP, but I understand the insult. I was working part time at a women’s clothing store (I had an office job as my “real” job). One day we presented the new season’s clothing at a women’s professional meeting. The main requirement for joining was that you must have a bachelor’s degree. Every one of my team members was approached about joining except me – the only one on my team that had a bachelor’s degree! And I probably would have considered joining had they asked me.

            I don’t think I was even the youngest in the group, but I’ve always looked younger than my age. There’s definitely a point where it’s insulting and frustrating rather than a compliment.

    2. Jackalope*

      Time is slowly taking care of my baby face, but when I was getting this all the time I would try to change the subject as quickly as possible. “You look so YOUNG!” “Yup! Get that all the time! So, about Subject Change.” It didn’t necessarily cause fewer people to mention it (continuing to age is the only thing I’ve found that works, and there’s not really anything you can do about that one way or another), but it did at least mean I got to spend less time discussing it.

      Also, if you sense that someone isn’t trying to undercut you, something like the following might work: “They’re hiring younger and younger these days!” “Crazy, isn’t it? On to Subject Change…” Basically, don’t engage more than the bare minimum.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        “They’re hiring younger and younger these days!”
        I’d find it hard not to add on that old cliché about when you feel that the police officer/doctor working with you is young, that means you’re old. Works just as well for lawyers. But perhaps not the best idea to put people down like that when they’re your clients.

        1. former professor*

          Yep. When I got married I was a professor. Apparently at my wedding, an old family friend looked at my friends and colleagues on the dance floor and said to my father “Oh, it’s nice that so many of her students came to the wedding”. My father said, “Actually, John, that’s just what tenured professors look like these days.”

          I got a lot of similar comments (asking what my major was, saying I looked so young for a professor). I tended to go go with “Thanks, glad to know my eye cream is actually worth it!” and then move on.

      2. Thistle whistle*

        I was carded until my late 30s. luckily the people I was with usually didn’t comment.

        In general when comments occurred they felt into two camps.
        -Those from people who felt they needed to make a joke to “defuse the awkwardness”
        -and those who were asses.

        If its the first then they are trying to do you a favour by saving you from explaining why you were id’d.

        If it was the second and they are pass-remarkable asses then there is literally nothing you can do to stop them.

        actually just realised there is a third category. May people in their 40s suddenly get a bit self conscious about their age and can make comments about age at lot. It’s not really about your age, it’s their uncomfortableness with their own. Suddenly they aren’t “one of the young ones” in the office, but don’t feel old enough to be one of the “grown ups”. I know this well as I’ve suddenly become one myself.

        1. DataSci*

          I think that is highly field dependent. In tech there’s basically no such thing as “one of the grown ups” – either you’re young (under 35, possibly under 30) or you’re considered obsolete. So women in tech are sensitive about references to our age for good reason.

      3. Dona Florinda*

        As a fellow 32 year-old woman with an everlasting baby face, my go-to answer (that I actually copied from another woman who I witnessed getting similar reactions because of her youg looks) is a breezy “Oh, I just look young” and move on.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          For me, I just quip, “The secret is good hair dye and clean living,” while cheers-ing my drink then taking a big sip. It does tend to move the conversation along.

      4. what the nope*

        One of the nice things about aging (after a few decades of attention-getting looks) is not getting that kind of attention anymore.

      5. Sarah M*

        I have a young looking face and still get carded sometimes at age 36. The most I ever say in front of a client is “Yes, I do have a young face for someone X years post-admission”. Gets the point across without having to also state my actual age. Can be modified to refer to number of years working in a field etc.

    3. Extra anony*

      OP2, I have been in a similar position but in an education-adjacent setting, getting a lot of “you look like you could be a student here!” I have found the best response was not trying to be witty and letting it pass quickly by. In your shoes I would just hand the waiter the card and continue the conversation. If someone really insisted on how young I looked, I would smile and say something like, “Yes, I get that sometimes even after 5 years here! So about (topic)…” Anything else comes off as defensive in my experience.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Agree 100%. Much, much better to let it pass than to call attention to the comment and amplify it.

    4. Drag0nfly*

      Alison, re: LW2 and the comments that misunderstand,

      Perhaps re-title the post to reflect the point. LW2 speaks of being *shocked* about being carded, which really does tilt to the interpretation that she objects to someone just legitimately doing their job. It’s a strong reaction for something that routinely happens to everyone under the age of 40 (the criteria for carding is if you look under 40), and I think that’s what triggered the responses.

      If the focus is supposed to be about what her colleagues say, it might be better to remove the part where she implies the server is singling her out unfairly,

      “We ordered wine and I was carded. No one else was. I was a little shocked and just handed over my ID”

      LW gets repeated comments about her age, and she thinks these comments are undermining her, and that is the actual focus. That line I quoted muddled the issue. My two cents.

      1. Researchalatorlady*

        I think LW2’s writing muddled the issue. She says “a few of the men said something about how it [getting carded] was a compliment. But it isn’t: it undermines my authority.” It wasn’t at all clear to me that she was shifting the subject of the ‘it’, as in “But it [their comments] isn’t [a compliment]; it undermines my authority.”

        It reads to me, logically, as if the [it] is still referring to being carded, as in: “a few of the men said something about how it [being carded] was a compliment. But it [being carded] isn’t: it undermines my authority.” That, and the being shocked, was the basis for my comment and perhaps others’ as well.

    5. MK*

      OP isn’t blaming the waiter, she wants to know how to address the issue of her boss and clients thinking it a compliment.

      I am frankly baffled by the “the poor server was just doing their job” comments. I assume the relevant part if the job is to card anyone who looks too young to drink. aka to exercise some judgement. I would argue that carding a woman who came in with older men, all of them wearing suits, was a sexist and inappropriate judgement call.

      1. Zzz*

        “to card anyone who looks too young to drink”

        Where I live, you should card anyone who looks to be below [drinking age +7] (though some companies do +12 or more). It’s to mitigate against young people who look older.

        I imagine that’s law or company policy in many places; it just seem common sense to have a buffer.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Some places where I live just card everyone. Way easier than making people play “guess the age.”

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, I’ve been in a couple like that. (I’m 69, so no way anyone would mistake me for being too young for alcohol). My husband thought it was ridiculous, but I didn’t care. It’s easier to make everybody show ID, and if they’re doing it to everybody, the situation the OP describes wouldn’t happen.

            1. Cmdrshrd*

              As someone that used to work retail, I tried to do this, but it then you run into the issue, of carding everyone including the 75 year old who is clearly over 21, but they forgot their ID. Now you have to admit you know they are 21 and don’t need an ID and could override it on your own, or make them wait while you call for a manager to provide the override because you “can’t.”

              It sucks for OP but if they look like they might be under 21, it is not unreasonable to only card that person and not the other people who look like they are of age.

          2. Ahnon4Thissss*

            This is what I don’t get. Anyone who orders alcohol should be carded no matter how old they look (younger AND older), imo.

          3. doreen*

            It’s mostly not just to avoid playing guess the age – no one has trouble guessing that 60 year old me or my 82 year old mother are over 21. It’s to avoid problems with the 25 year old behind us who looks 16 – and although I never thought of it before today, it also avoids the problem in the OP. No one would have made the comment about it being a compliment if everyone had been proofed.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        My old job involved working with local police and council inspectors who enforced the Challenge 25 policy in the UK (The drinking age here is 18 but businesses are supposed to challenge anyone who looks under 25). The businesses were specifically trained to ignore older-looking companions and smart clothing. Lots of older people try to buy alcohol for younger people and dressing up in order to get someone served booze is the oldest trick in the book. In fact most businesses got used to a group of older well dressed people in the company of someone young looking because that was a common way to present an undercover test.

        1. Zzz*

          Agree; it also wouldn’t be the first time that an underage employee tries to drink at a work event attended by older/senior employees in some immature and dumb attempt to present as mature and worldly.

          1. Hans Solo*

            Is it a dumb attempt though? If I’m employed at a company doing the work of colleagues and just happen to be young, I’m probably going to want to have a drink too – it’s an “adult” situation and not some kind of weird party where I’m trying to get wasted. It’s just the bizarro 21+ laws in the US and understand the restaurants need to follow the law, but drinking isn’t trying to look mature and worldly, presumably being employed in this position does that for you…It’s like at fancy dinners when I was a teenager, we always had a drink or two but I never ever drank otherwise. It was the event.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              I don’t disagree with you, but we’ve certainly seen enough letters here about coworkers getting tanked at work parties/work meals to suggest that there are some folks who consider situations like this an opportunity to drink up.

            2. doreen*

              Which part is bizzaro – that the US has a minimum drinking age ( to be served by someone other than a parent) or that it’s 21? I’m pretty sure most countries have a drinking age and for plenty of those countries, it’s somewhere between 18 and 21 (Off the top of my head, in Iceland it’s 20)

          2. alienor*

            I’m pretty sure there have been a couple of letters here about 20-year-old interns getting served at events (not that OP is an intern). Though I think it’s less trying to present as mature than that they already drink anyway, because most college students do, so it feels normal to them to have one when everyone else is.

          3. Ellis Bell*

            That’s one scenario, but they were also pretty concerned about organized crime gangs and sex ring people who often try to wine and dine young people. There’s also the garden variety stuff of relatives coming in from an event with a young adult and they think “aw one or two won’t hurt him”.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              All this to say, if the training in Ops region is similar, it will keep happening but anyone whose ever looked at all young will have experienced it.

        2. Leandra*

          OT, @Ellis Bell reminds me of the old TV show Vega$ and the episode “The Golden Gate Cop Killer.”

          Vegas PI Dan Tanna works with the San Francisco police dept to catch a killer targeting SFPD officers. One victim was Dan’s friend who came to Vegas for safety, but the killer tracked him there.

          Over dinner in a restaurant, Dan and Officer Casey are discussing their next move when they hear a very young couple at the next table being refused wine. The guy shows his Social Security card, but the server still refuses because it doesn’t prove his age.

          Mention of SSN gives Dan and Casey an idea, and they cut their dinner short to head for the police station. To the young couple’s surprised delight, on the way out Dan plunks his and Casey’s unfinished wine bottle on their table.

        1. Green Tea*

          OP was very clear she understood why she was carded and had no issue with the server doing his job. She explicitly said this in her letter.

          She wanted to know how to best handle this happening again in terms of the group she came with, who may subconsciously see her as younger or less authoritative because of it.

      3. Phony Genius*

        In the restaurant, if I was the client, I would immediately say something to the server along the lines of “if you card one of us, you card everybody,” and take out my ID. (Even though I don’t drink.) It may be the server’s job to check ID, but it’s not his job to be sexist.

        1. Observer*

          Except that in this case, the server was almost certainly not being sexist. The OP is significantly younger than the rest of the group – which probably makes her look even younger than she would appear on her own. As for “if you card me, you have to card everyone”, that’s a good way to get yourself tagged as a difficult customer.

          The issue was not the server’s behavior – which the OP was pretty clear about. The issue was with the reactions of the people around her, who don’t seem to understand that women don’t universally have a desire to look childlike above all else. Being obnoxious or petulant to the server (as your response would be) is not going to change that.

          1. Phony Genius*

            Well, I was trying to put some of the responsibility on the client, whose comment was inappropriate, too. Quite frankly, the LW shouldn’t have to shoulder this burden since it’s the behavior of many of the people around her that’s wrong.

            And, yes, if the only woman at a table is being treated a certain way, regardless of age difference, sexism plays some role. (Imagine a young male lawyer with a group of older clients. The server would likely have asked nobody for ID – restaurants near courthouses know that a lot of lawyers come in for lunch.)

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Okay, but why should the server, whose job might be at risk if s/he doesn’t card, shoulder it instead of the other lawyers and client?

            2. Ellis Bell*

              If the server had failed to ID a very young looking guy just because he was in a nice suit and was with older companions they would have been breaking the law. The law isn’t “don’t embarrass professional looking people, and only ID people who are obviously teenagers” the law is “Don’t sell to anyone who could possibly be underage and over check if you have to”.

            3. doreen*

              You don’t necessarily know that- I’ve been places where the one much younger male was proofed. He may not have been proofed had he been with a table of 25 year old but everyone other than him was at least 40 which probably made him seem younger than he actually was.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          That sounds a little over the top, to say to the server. And now you’re putting them on the spot to do something they don’t want to do, AND you’re pressing clients to get their ID out. I don’t think this would reflect well on OP.

          And what do you do if the server says No, they’re not going to ID everyone at the table?

      4. Lexie*

        OP mentions being “shocked” by the requirement for her ID. So it’s possible that the others at the table made their comments in response to her shock in a misguided attempt to make her feel better about it. Whereas if she had just handed her ID over without a reaction everyone may have just gone on about their meal without giving it a second thought.

        As for it being sexist to only card the woman in the group several others have stated that the policy is often to card people who appear to be under 40. The OP herself stated she is in her thirties while the men were all over 45, so it is perfectly reasonable that she was carded and they were not.

    6. allathian*

      I’m in Finland where the legal drinking age is 18, although some licensed venues may have a higher age of entry posted at the door to cater to an older clientele, usually 20 or 24 (in practice this only or mainly applies to men, unless it’s a special event like a senior disco where the minimum age of entry is 50 or even 55). I used to get carded regularly until my late 20s. About 20 years ago they started carding everyone in stores who was buying alcohol who looked younger than 30. I was 35 the last time I got carded in a store. I just showed them my ID and grinned.

      I’ve never really minded looking younger than I am socially. It’s sometimes been annoying to look younger than I am professionally, but now I’ve aged out of that being a problem. I’m 51 and if people think I’m 45 or younger, that’s all to my advantage in our ageist society.

      1. londonedit*

        It’s 25 here – the idea is that if you look under 25, you’ll be asked to prove that you’re over 18. Now I’m in my early 40s, I hardly ever get asked for ID, but it does happen now and then. However I cannot imagine it happening in a restaurant! Unless someone literally looked like a very young teenager, I can’t imagine a waiter asking someone sitting at a table to show ID. It just doesn’t happen here. You might get asked for ID when you’re buying a drink in a pub – or more likely, when you’re buying alcohol in a shop – but sitting at a table in a restaurant? I’ve never known that to happen.

        1. TinySoprano*

          I’ve only had it happen at a restaurant once, when I was 28. I had to run to the car to get my wallet, because I was out with my mother and she insisted she’d pay, so I hadn’t brought it with me! In the waiter’s defence, it seemed like it was his first week, and I do look young for my age. I still sometimes get carded in my mid thirties.

          For OP, it’s a hard line to tread to have a good brush-off while seeming professional. I usually say “SPF and retinol” in either a dry or breezy tone, depending on the situation. Repeat offenders who bug me might get “I can recommend you a sunscreen” with a raised eyebrow.

          (If I’m in a bad mood sometimes I’ve been known to say “bathing in the blood of the innocent helps” with a pointed look that they might be next… But I wouldn’t recommend that one to OP!)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            We think alike. My quip used to be “Lucky genetics and a good sunscreen”.

            There was one awkward time I said “the painting in my attic also helps” and the person didn’t know The Picture of Dorian Gray. I suggest avoiding the reference like I’ve done since.

            1. allathian*

              Indeed. About 20 years ago I was going to meet a friend after work. She was always
              at least a little bit late, so I went to the café where we were supposed to meet. Because I hate waiting around, I had The Picture of Dorian Gray with me to read while I waited for my friend. When the woman at the next table went to (presumably) the washroom, her companion asked me completely out of the blue something like “do you keep a painting in your attic?” and I was really confused at first because I’d barely started reading the book. It was really weird because he didn’t know my actual age. I can’t remember what I said to him, but I assume he’d read the book or at least the blurb. Thankfully my friend arrived at that moment so I had a reason to ignore him from then on.

            2. Onward and upward*

              That was my go to response for years when I was mistaken for being much younger than I was. “Good genetics” and move on.

            3. E. Chauvelin*

              “I’ve got an aging portrait in my attic” is exactly what I say when people tell me to take being carded as a compliment and I don’t feel like explaining why it doesn’t. Whether they get it or not it does an effective job of ending the train of conversation without my having to pretend that I don’t what credit for years of life/work experience.

            4. I have RBF*

              I’ve used the picture one.

              I’m over 60 and AFAB. I identified as a woman for a long time, and when I was in my teens and early 20s I actually looked older than my age. Then it reversed, and I started looking younger than my age. Even now, people think I’m maybe 40. When I was in my teens people thought my mother and I were sisters, so it runs in the family.

          2. Expiring Cat Memes*

            I used to go with a pointedly dry, mildly confused “errr, sure..?” *eyebrow/s*. The embarrassment on the server’s face when they saw my actual age was enough to shut things down right there.

            Indignation (though I completely understand it!) plays into impressions of immaturity. Doesn’t matter whether it comes across through annoyance or as a wisecrack, it’s the fact you’re focussed enough on it to bother acknowledging it meaningfully. In that way I can get the angle OP’s father is coming from to say a short thing and move on, but “thank you” is not a good response.

            1. Giant Kittie*

              Why would you put that embarrassment on the server, though? They are required to ID anyone that appears to be under a certain age, which in the US is 40.

              I’ve been carded in my 40s and even 50s because I DO look much younger than my age, as the result of genetics and having never been into tanning. I don’t see it as a big deal to be asked, though it did make me LOL the time that my husband (who is 15 years YOUNGER than I am and at the time was very much not 40) were buying beer at Costco. The cashier looked at me, looked at my husband, then turned back to me and asked for my ID.

              1. L'étrangère*

                Please don’t act like there’s any kind of legal obligation in the US to card anyone up to a certain apparent age. Or even any kind of social agreement. Any policy is entirely up to the management of that specific business, and it’s completely haphazard

          3. I just work here*

            Yep – even in my 40s, I have a baby face. My hair is going grey, though, and I’ve decided not to cover it. When people comment (often on the discrepancy), I make a flippant joke about being spooky, or maybe being a vampire. Then I change the subject.

          4. umami*

            That happened to me when I was visiting my mom, and I didn’t even have my ID with me! I laughed when the server first asked (an older woman about my mom’s age, about 70), as I was in my 40s and assumed she wasn’t serious. but she said it was policy to ask anyone who looked like they could be under 35, and once she asked she couldn’t rescind. She said she could get in trouble because even though she believed me (and my mom vouched for me!) she said it ‘could’ be a sting and she could get fired. So no drink for me that day lol. You have to respect the policy even if it seems silly.

          5. Hillary*

            This – I mostly get comments from retired gals at pilates or golf, so I shrug and say something about sunscreen. It usually segues into a conversation about how they were sun babies when they were younger. Tanning stopped being mainstream where we lived when I was in high school and folks my age can look a lot older or younger depending on if they did it.

        2. allathian*

          To clarify, at the door of a pub/bar/club type venue where they may or may not serve food. I’ve never been carded in a sit-down restaurant.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I have! At a family dinner my SO’s parents were hosting. They carded his sister and me. We were both in our 30s at the time.

            1. Pugetkayak*

              I was out with long time friends and had not brought my ID I was worried I wouldn’t be served but my friend looks me straight in the eyes and says “are you delusional?” hahahahahaha. It usually doesn’t happen at restaurants.

              1. LunaLena*

                Really? I mostly drink when I’m out having a meal with friends, so I get carded at sit-down restaurants all the time (or at least, I used to. Now that I’m over 40 it doesn’t seem to happen as often). Like when I turned 21 and I decided to treat myself to a nice fancy birthday dinner with a glass of wine, I got carded. Getting carded at restaurants is pretty much the norm to me.

            2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

              Me too. Memorably, I was carded on my 40th birthday at a nice sit-down restaurant in California.

        3. ecnaseener*

          It’s not at all unusual in the US. Whether you’re at a bar or restaurant doesn’t really make a difference, they have the same obligations.

        4. Myrin*

          Yeah, I’m not in the US either and I’ve never seen (or heard of) someone being carded in a restaurant.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Me neither, though they really should, as it’s not legal to serve in a restaurant either.

            Though the different laws probably have an effect on this, too: if one can drink wine/beer at 16, other alcohol at 18, and can drink underage with the parent’s permission, then the only time carding really comes up in a sit-down restaurant is when under 16 without parents, or under 18 without parents ordering hard alcohol. Both of those situations are fairly rare (who goes sit in a restaurant with friends to sip a glass of wine at 15? Too expensive). And I bet if a server saw a group of young teens ordering shots, he would card them. Teens usually try to get alcohol at the supermarket, a gas station, a bar or an event, and those definitely card.

            Much more common to go to sit-down restaurants without parents and want to order and be able to afford alcohol from 18-21.

          2. LJ*

            in my experience, the carding seems to happen a lot more in the US compared to other places

        5. Dust Bunny*

          My mother is 75 and could easily pass for 58; her hair is even still mostly dark. I got carded for years and years after I turned 21. I’ve been 5’7″ since I was twelve–there was this weird twenty years where I looked eighteen from sixth grade into my early 30s. I joke that no wrinkles is my consolation prize for having horrifically oily skin when I was younger, and I also have sort of round “kid” facial features. I’m in my mid-40s now so it’s not an issue any more, but I still regularly get taken for significantly younger than I am.

        6. Ridger*

          A restaurant I go to fairly often lost their liquor license for a year because they served alchohol to a minor at dinner. They card everyone now.

          1. DataSci*

            My mother-in-law was carded at a restaurant. They had just gotten their liquor license and were being extra careful. She didn’t have her ID which was very embarrassing for all concerned – she was in her 60s and looked her age, my wife clearly resembles her and showed ID, but they couldn’t serve her. I think to salvage the situation they ended up turning a blind eye when my father-in-law ordered a “second” beer well before he finished his.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        The OP didn’t ask about how to deal with this socially — her concern is the undermining comments from her older male colleagues.

    7. Bridget*

      She literally says that – “To be clear, not for the waiter: he was just doing his job.”
      But go off for a whole paragraph about a problem you made up, we love to see it

    8. JSPA*

      hmmm… there still are some waiters who think there’s a larger tip waiting, if they “flatter” an even slightly “older” woman by carding her.

      I do think I’d ask the establishment what their policy is. Some stores will post that they card anyone who looks 35 or under, for example; if that’s the restaurant policy, it’s easy and low- stakes to say “yeah, they card 35-and- under, so I suppose they’re not way off.”

      Conversely, if the manager says something about carding women “extra” to be flattering, you can let them know why that’s problematic.

      1. L'étrangère*

        Yes, if this is a restaurant where the OP might end up again in a professional capacity, I’d definitely go in some time and question the manager on their policy. Then explain coldly that you know that you look a bit younger but don’t think you could possibly be mistaken for being under 21, that you were embarrassed not only with colleagues but in front of clients, and emphasize being carded as the only woman present. All these might be enough to make it clear there’s no compliment there, and that reining in the overzealous carding might be a good idea if they wish to cater to a regular professional clientele, which is no doubt their most profitable

    9. Mynona*

      In my 30s, I responded to these types of comments by saying “I’m not as young as I look.” I was never carded in a professional capacity, like the OP, but I probably wouldn’t say anything at all in that scenario. You don’t owe your lunch partners an explanation for being carded. And it’s happened, so there is no way to erase it from people’s memories. Acting like it’s no big deal will minimize the impact.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I definitely used “I’m not as young as I look” as well, when people would say things like, “Aren’t you young to have that job” or whatever. And then I’d try to slip in my years of experience somewhere in the conversation.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        When I was thirty-ish, I was hanging out on a porch waiting for a music venue (it was not an over-21 venue so it wasn’t a given that everyone waiting was of legal US drinking age) to open. Some teenagers came by and were asking everyone, one at a time, if they’d buy them (teenagers) some beer from the shop across the street. I told them, very seriously, that I couldn’t–I wasn’t twenty-one.

        After they moved on the guy next to me gave me a look and I said, “It’s true–I haven’t been twenty-one in years.”

    10. Bosslady*

      I got comments like this while working clinically in medicine until I was about 35. I used to have funny quips in my head that I never said out loud, like when patients told me I “looked 12” (the most common comment, daily), I would think, “Well, you look 112!” Out loud, I usually just half smiled/looked quizzically, and sometimes said, “Oh, thank you, but I guess we must get your eyes checked!” and moved on quickly.
      Around age 40, I realized no one had said this in a LONG time and thought, “I guess that sorted itself out!”

      1. Barb*

        I had the same problem as a doctor when I was younger and when I look at pictures of myself at that age now I can see what they meant. The worst was when a patient’s husband kept going on and on about how I looked like their granddaughter.

        The “too young to be a doctor” comments stopped shortly after age 30, and I was amused when in my early 50’s a patient said he was so happy not to have gotten some young “26 year old” to treat him.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah OP will be on the other side of this one day, as her colleagues already are. I got ID checks up until the age of 38 and even a couple of years ago in my early forties, people expressing real surprise that I was on my second career. Not any more; it does go away very suddenly! One day you’re worried about looking too young, the next you’re hoping you don’t seem past it. Even though I don’t look all that different in the mirror to myself, I am suddenly working with people who look VERY young. I always viewed the comments about looking young as sexism, because women can often look ageless for longer, but now I’m seeing just how young looking guys in their twenties and even thirties can be.

    11. Moonhopping*

      My state you have to card under the age of 27 So say I sell to someone 25 with out carding them it risked fines and the liquor license. You can sell it to them you just have to card them first.

      I’d deflect and say something along the lines of “I’m glad to see they take the responsibility in ensuring they obide by ID laws seriously” and/or “I’d love to see more people carded, it can be so hard to tell age by looks. This really does help keep people safe and prevent underage drinking”

      1. Quill*

        Yes. This is probably the best way to deflect coworker comments without having to pull off a remark that may not land.

    12. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My solution to the carding issue was to card everyone, indiscriminately.

      I had a 93 year old woman chew my manager out over it one time, but the other few hundred people were mostly evenly split between “whatever,” “that’s smart,” and pleased to appear youthful (not just women, either).

      As a cashier, though, I wasn’t risking the tips that would bring my wage to minimum doing that.

      No one thinks twice if she’s the 3rd of 8 people in a row who order a glass of wine/beer/cocktail and they all get carded by a grey rock.

    13. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I think the matter of fact or even bored approach would come across as hostile and bitchy. (I don’t think women always have to be pleasant and likeable but it does nothing for OP.) A pithy saying is definitely the way to go.

      Also, I know the OP is going for humor with the “graduated at 14” remark but there are going to be people who believe that to be true and will feel foolish then upset when they learn that it is not; especially if it is not cleared up right away. I’d stick with something light but true.
      “Ah, the joy of being in my prime.”
      “The curse of being pretty.” **this one has problems but would probably go over well with a group of older men
      “Make-up does wonders at concealing my true age.” **even better if OP doesn’t wear makeup
      “Good genes are a wonderful thing.”

        1. L'étrangère*

          You certainly can, but not so much with colleagues and certainly not with clients

    14. Emilia Bedelia*

      LW2 – is there anyone who you work with closely who you can partner with in combatting this issue? If you try to assert how old you are it will end up looking defensive. If you have a close work colleague who you can confide in about this kind of thing, perhaps you can ask them to subtly help you shut down this kind of comment.
      For example, if someone says “Wow, you look too young to be a lawyer!” the other person can say “She’s been a lawyer for 6 years, what a strange thing to say!”.

      If you really want something witty to say if/when you get carded, I would say something like “Clearly they’re really following the rules – they can tell we’re a litigious bunch!”. But minimizing it and moving on is probably best!

      1. L'étrangère*

        “We were so lucky we scooped her up in middle school!”. I like that approach, but I’d definitely rehearse a few retorts in advance with the ally, and not leave them to think of something on their own

    15. metadata minion*

      I just always hand over my id when buying alcohol. Makes the whole process faster and less awkward. I’m not going to make the server/cashier play the “oo, which side of 35 should I guess you’re on??” game.

  3. BattleCat*

    LW2 I know exactly where you’re coming from – I’m a professional woman in my 30’s who apparently looks young, and it really grinds my gears when people say stuff along the lines of “You look too young to be an [X]!” They think they’re flattering me, but what they’re saying in essence is “You don’t look like a professional to me” which is not exactly complimentary! I’ve never been able to think of a pithy-yet-pointed response, but I like yours about graduating at 14. Definitely don’t try to correct people on your age; explaining how old you are ironically tends to make you seem younger

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      If you want to return the snark, how about “well you know what they say about when police officers and lawyers look too young…” and if necessary spell out “that means it’s you that’s old”.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      “explaining how old you are ironically tends to make you seem younger”
      Yes I remember overhearing a young neighbour talking to her older boyfriend “Rolando, I’m 22” and my immediate reaction was “yes, precisely, you’re very young” (without any clue as to what triggered her remark).

    3. MK*

      As a woman who had this issue well into my thirties, I can’t say I understand this. When someone said I looked too young to be a lawyer, and later to work for the judiciary, it never occurred to me to think they were judging my professional appearance, since it was in fact objectively true that I looked younger. Also, I don’t see why neutrally telling someone “actually, I am 32” makes you seem younger!

      1. Myrin*

        “Also, I don’t see why neutrally telling someone “actually, I am 32” makes you seem younger!”
        Yeah, I don’t understand that sentiment and have never before heard anyone claim something like that. I mean, I suppose you could say it in a way that makes you seem immature but that’s the case for a lot of things.

        Coincidentally, I’m also 32 and people regularly think I’m 16/17 (which is weird both because I don’t think I actually look particularly young – although there must be something to it with the amount of times it happens! – and because that only started happening in my mid-20s; up until 26 or so, people always guessed my age more or less correctly).
        I just tell them I’m 32 and they’re without fail very embarrassed about it; some do indeed try to pass it off as a compliment – which is visibly done to hide their embarrassment – but I usually just say very drily that it’s not a compliment to be mistaken for a teenager (wording of course altered to fit the respective situation).

        I don’t think anyone has ever found me seeming younger just because I told them my actual age!

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I think it’s because a lot of people, especially those who think “it’s a compliment” assume everybody over a certain age – 18?, 20?, 25? – wants to look younger and only teens and maybe college students want to appear older.

          I guess the way it’s said makes a difference too.

          1. Myrin*

            I’m almost certain that’s the motivation but really, who above the age of 11 or so wants to look like a teenager?

            1. Marz*

              Lol, yes, I sometimes use, “Yeah, I get that a lot and I actually think it’s just the adult acne.” It works in a wry, it’s funny ’cause it’s true way, and it kind of says “I don’t think that’s a compliment” out loud.

              But it might be hard to pull off/not help that much if you’re sensitive about that!

            2. Random Dice*

              It’s about the Male Gaze, and the inherent sexism of assuming that what men want is the only important thing.

              Men want to have sex with young women.Therefore women must want to look young.

              Even if women actually care about careers and respect and earning potential, and not the boners of random men.

              But it’s not about what women want, is it?

        2. Totally Minnie*

          I’m also perpetually baby-faced, and I have a theory about this.

          For TV and movies, they regularly cast people in their 20s as teenagers, and people have seen this so often that their mental image of a 17 year old is actually someone who is 25. So if you look about 5 years older than the actress in that teen movie, people look at you and think you’re around 22, when you’re actually 30.

          People have always told me I’d be grateful for it when I got older, but I’m 40 and I’m not grateful for it. It’s just annoying. I imagine it feels similar to someone who is very tall, and everyone they meet has to make a joke or ask a question like “did you know you’re very tall?” Yes, the tall person knows they’re tall. Yes, I know I look younger than I am. Can we talk about something else now?

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

            You know I think you are right. People don’t know what a 15 year old is supposed to look like because of movies and TV.

            As a fellow babyfaces person, and someone with a high pitched voice, I have always gotten the “you’ll be grateful for it when you’re older” comments too. And they are so annoying. I will never forget the time I went to sign some paperwork for a family member (who I am their legal guardian of). She had surgery and needed to be in the nursing home for a bit to recover. I was 32 and the nurse asked if I was 14!!!! I was mortified and a tad angry. Here I am signing legal paperwork, that you gave me and witnessed, and you think I’m 14??? And you’re a nurse!

            1. Ella Kate (UK)*

              My favourite (not) healthcare related baby face comment was when a specialist joked to my husband “I see you snagged a younger one to help you out” after I introduced myself as his wife and carer.

              He did not appreciate my dry retort of “actually I’m six months older than him”.

              Thankfully his supervising consultant promptly tossed him out of the room.

            2. doreen*

              I mean , I guess some people don’t know what 15 looks like because of TV and movies – but I don’t think it’s that many. I think ( at least for women) the issue is that plenty of under 21s look like over 21s. I have recently scanning old photos and realized that the only way I can tell the difference between photos of me at 15-16 and photos of me between 20-24 is based on things that have nothing to do with how I look because I looked essentially the same for those ten years. For example, in one photo, I know I am between 14 and 16 because my high school boyfriend took the photo and in another I know I am 24 because it was taken at an event that happened when I was 24. If my mother had taken the first one and if the second had been at a BBQ instead of a one-time event, I wouldn’t have a clue how old I was in either one of them

          2. Industry Behemoth*

            I think there was a time when slightly older actors were often cast as teenagers, because real teens didn’t also have the acting ability to perform well on screen. That’s changed a lot in the last few decades, with students now performing at a level beyond their years.

            For context, 40 years ago another high school in my hometown did Grease for their senior class play. A classmate said our school couldn’t have done a musical, because we didn’t have enough people who could sing.

            1. Quill*

              For TV, I think the more pertinent question is the kind of hours teens are allowed to work onscreen. They hire 20-somethings to be stars of the teen drama so they can crank it out faster and have them work more hours.

          3. Industry Behemoth*

            Or a teenage role may call for a legal adult, for practical reasons.

            Sydney Sweeney was 20 when she played 15-year-old Eden Spencer Blaine on The Handmaid’s Tale. Eden was Nick Blaine’s child bride, and one scene showed them consummating their marriage.

            Nick had been forced to marry Eden, and certainly didn’t want to sleep with who he considered an underage girl. But Eden was totally indoctrinated by Gilead, and would have reported him for not performing his marital duty.

      2. BattleCat*

        I think what bothers me is that, even though it’s objectively true I look younger, there’s no need to actually comment on that out loud, to my face, and connect it with my professional standing. I mean even if you had the thought, you wouldn’t tell an older person ‘gee you seem old to be still doing this, shouldn’t you have retired by now?’. As for correcting one’s age, I always have the feeling it makes me sound like a kid or a teenager overly focused on how mature they are (not) e.g. “I’m 11 and a half actually!”. But maybe that’s just me!

    4. Despachito*

      It is perhaps overthinking it a bit and reflecting your own insecurities in it.

      How do you know that they in fact say “you do not look like a professional to me”? Unless there is something else in their behavior that sounds condescending (and it can very well be), I’d mentally stick with “they are trying to compliment me but I do not actually see it as a compliment”.

      I thinkg a dry answer not drawing too much attention to it (like “yup, I get this all the time”/mm-hm, now about the Jones case” would be the best way to go).

      1. ferrina*

        I have this issue too, and it’s real. Because people assume I’m 8-12 years younger than I actually am, they assume I don’t have the experience that I do. My boss is actually younger than me, but she looks older and people assume she has experience that she does not. Meanwhile, I have the experience and people assume I don’t have the experience unless I trod out my credentials. If I mention too many credentials, they assume I’m exaggerating because I look too young to have that long list of experience (nope, if anything I’m underselling it). Sometimes it’s just easier to have my boss make a statement because it will be more believable coming from her (when really I’m the SME and she’s only parroting something I’ve said).

        So yeah, it does impact me professionally.

    5. SnappinTerrapin*

      Decades ago, a friend and I ran into this problem when we were in our 30s. We showed law enforcement ID with supervisory/management rank, as well as proof of age.

      Nowadays, I tell servers I understand the pressure they are under, but that the ABC Board knows that it is legal for them to serve patrons whose grandchildren are old enough to buy, and that they can use a little more discretion in requesting ID.

      Maybe that makes me a jerk, but I don’t want the drink that desperately.

      1. Pierrot*

        When I was a server, it was my restaurant’s policy to ID every adult who ordered a drink. The owner might have been overly cautious, but the licensing board does send people “undercover” to make sure you’re complying with the rules. Also, it’s to avoid serving someone who doesn’t have ID on them in the first place. It was definitely awkward to ask a full table of middle aged adults for their IDs, but I also didn’t want to lose my job.

        1. LW2*

          I wish the server had done this — it would have eliminated all the awkwardness because I wouldn’t have been singled out. And apparently the men would all have been flattered.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            If you go to that restaurant regularly with clients/other lawyers, you might want to discreetly mention this idea to their management. And tip extra if you see them do it.

            1. BadCultureFit*

              As a former server, we would have laughed and laughed in the back of the house at a customer asking us to ensure we card everyone in their party every time they enter. It’s incredibly unreasonable.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I endorse this plan. It worked well for me when I tried it.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          I was just involved with a charity event where my organization bought beer wholesale and sold it for profit and the license we applied for demanded we card EVERYBODY, no exceptions. The 65+ crowd that we id’ed were mostly flattered and delighted, but there were a contingent who had not brought id who were mad they wouldn’t be served because they “might be underaged.”

      2. CowWhisperer*

        As someone who has worked customer service, that does make you a jerk.

        Your exceptionally minor inconvenience isn’t worth me losing a job over or getting a conviction that would prevent me from working in the field I was going to school in.

        You want to decide who to card – get a job selling alcohol. Otherwise, hand your ID over and keep your self-absorbed reflections to yourself.

        1. redflagday701*

          Yup, it’s crappy to put a server in that position when they’re just doing the job as they’ve been told to do it. Nobody waiting tables or tending bar is excited to card anyone who looks like they’re most certainly 21, nor did they make the rules about doing so. It’s not up to a customer — even one who works in law enforcement — to decide whether somebody else’s employee “can use a little more discretion.”

      3. The OG Sleepless*

        “They can use a little more discretion in requesting ID.” No, often they can’t. When I buy wine at the store, I’ve learned that at certain stores, the cashiers have been told to card everybody, end of. It’s not unheard of for sheriff’s deputies to go around doing “stings” to see who will sell them alcohol without ID. I’m in my mid 50s and the cashiers in question are usually my kids’ age. They can tell I’m old enough to be their mom, but it doesn’t matter. Their manager told them to do it. If the cashier is older they often feel a little more comfortable applying some personal judgement to the situation, but that’s their decision.

        1. StephChi*

          There’s a bar/restaurant near me that cards everyone who comes in, regardless of how old they appear to be. No ID, no entry, even if you’ve got gray hair and wrinkles. It relieves the staff from having to make judgments about people’s ages.

          As someone who has also been in the LW’s position in the past (and I’m short, which made things worse), I really empathized with her situation. I used to say, “I get that a lot” then just moved on to whatever I was talking about.

          What does still happen, though, and this really annoys me, is that I get some men calling me “young lady” even though I’m in my 50s. Yes, I look younger than my age, but I’m obviously not a young lady. I just coldly say that I’m not as young as I appear.

      4. LilPinkSock*

        No, your servers often can’t “use a little more discretion”, because it may cost them their job. Take the problem up with the manager, don’t give the server a hard time for enforcing a policy they didn’t set and may not even agree with.

      5. Observer*

        Nowadays, I tell servers I understand the pressure they are under, but that the ABC Board knows that it is legal for them to serve patrons whose grandchildren are old enough to buy, and that they can use a little more discretion in requesting ID.

        Can they? As you can see, servers often actually CANNOT “use their discretion”. Giving them grief about just doing their jobs is absolutely a jerk behavior. The fact that you don’t want the drink that much doesn’t change that.

        Don’t give people a hard time for doing their jobs. If it inconveniences you, talk to management. And NOT in the moment, where it’s holding people up!

      6. Ruudy*

        You’re right that I CAN risk a criminal prosecution and conviction in order to spare you a minor inconvenience, but I won’t.

    6. TinySoprano*

      It’s frustrating when Alexander the Great had conquered almost all of Asia Minor by his death at 33, but if you’re a woman of the same age you’re clearly to young to handle professional responsibilities.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Oh absolutely! Then there’s the really gross misogyny that implies young women used the Horizontal Old Boy Network because some men can’t conceive of us *earning* them.

      2. Boof*

        Can vote, get married or be sent to war but can’t buy a drink! (To be fair i know that’s at least a little about trying to discourage public health problems like soaking still developing brains in addictive chemicals / limit access of many new drivers to impairing substances but it doesn’t fully pass the smell test to me)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Can vote, get married or be sent to war but can’t buy a drink!

          My favorite retort was always “so I’m old enough to make it, but not to taste it?” but that’s the hobby my father shared with me speaking.

          IMWE, makers are less likely to abuse what they put weeks of work into.

      3. Zzz*

        To quote Tom Lehrer: “It’s a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for to years.”

    7. Constance Lloyd*

      I am also 32 and often mistaken as much younger. My go to response has become, “Yes, I’m told it will really pay off when I’m in my 80s,” before breezily moving on. Though I once had a man who performed quite poorly in his audit bitterly remark, “I’ve been doing this since you were in diapers!” It was deeply satisfying to simply deadpan, “I’m 6 years younger than you. I certainly hope not,” in response.

      1. StephChi*

        ‘Though I once had a man who performed quite poorly in his audit bitterly remark, “I’ve been doing this since you were in diapers!” It was deeply satisfying to simply deadpan, “I’m 6 years younger than you. I certainly hope not,” in response.’

        Brilliant! You’re my hero!

      2. Rose*

        Wtf?! So he was at the most 38?! Assuming you need a bachelors to do that work, you would need to have a 20 year age gap minimum for this comment to make sense. So he was assuming you were currently 18?

        What kind of condescending nonsense is this?

        1. Constance Lloyd*

          He was the office manager of a small facility in the middle of nowhere and I assume not terribly accustomed to oversight and correction. I have no idea if he expected me to take his comment literally, but the rest of our interactions definitely showed him to be a bit prone to exaggeration and not especially skilled with math. I think he just got defensive and wanted to throw his weight around!

      3. ferrina*

        lol! Nice response. Yep, definitely met That Guy- as soon as he felt old enough to have gravitas, he wanted everyone else to know that he had gravitas (well, actually crippling insecurity masked by false bravado and denial, but close enough)

    8. I edit everything*

      I love the bit in “Phineas and Ferb” when some authority or other says to them, “Aren’t you a bit young to be [doing something technical or ‘adult’]?” Their answer is always “Yes, yes we.”

    9. Frieda*

      I once got carded at 37 without my wallet handy, with co-workers who were in their 50s and a student in his 20s. The server was hardly mollified by my colleagues’ testimony on my behalf.

      But when people suggest that you’re too young to be doing your job (or the similar fake compliment, “When I was young, XX profession didn’t look like that!”) IME the best response is a fixed stare for a few seconds and then proceeding as though they haven’t spoken. If you have to be polite, maybe include “Ah” and a little shift in posture as you return to the point at hand, to acknowledge that the person has spoken but indicate it’s as relevant as spontaneous comment about the weather or the big game (ie, not relevant.) For the fake compliment above, I tend(ed) to deadpan, “This is what we look like now.”

    10. Lunch Ghost*

      “Well, good thing I’m not as young as I look, then.” I feel like that lightly (if you use a light tone of voice) points out why the compliment isn’t actually a compliment.

      I’ve been trying to think of something that would do the same in the LW’s situation, and all I’ve come up with is the “explain the joke to me” tactic: “How’s it a compliment? If I was younger I wouldn’t be where I am in my career.”

      1. ferrina*

        My cousin was recently told by a younger colleague “Well, you’re in your 20s, you know what it’s like.”
        She replied, “Yes, I have 15 years of experience being in my 20s.”
        (she’s actually 35)

        Another favorite is being told “Wait until you’re in your 30s…”
        “Well, I’m over halfway through. When does the fun start?”

    11. Data/Lore*

      If it’s with someone that I know will respond well, I say “I blame my mother ;)” because she and my maternal grandmother both also looked younger than they were until around 50 or so.

      I also include things like “I’ve been with X company for this many years”, “I was in college during X time period or event”, in either an introduction or conversation; the sort of thing that creates landmarks for age. I haven’t had an issue in my current field with age perceptions, but in my previous jobs it has been an occasional issue because they were more customer facing, and people have a tendency to judge by appearance first.

    12. learnedthehardway*

      I would say something to the effect that I’m looking forward it to it working for me when I’m in my 70s and job hunting/doing business development.

      ie. subtly point out that age discrimination happens at both ends of the workers’ life.

      Guaranteed there will be a moment of realization from older people that it’s not fun to be twitted about your age, no matter what age you are. Of course, law firm partners might not have quite the same response, as business development is less affected (and in some times positively affected) by a perception of deep experience.

    13. RNL*

      Being a young-looking female lawyer can be a an advantage. In front of clients I have said things like “I enjoy when opposing counsel or a witness underestimates me and then I wipe the floor with them- the look of shock on their faces is delicious” or told stories about when opposing counsel has tried to intimidate me and I have judo-tricked them into oblivion.

      In LW2’s position I would definitely laugh about it, and use it as an opportunity to charmingly put the focus back on my professional formidableness. “Yes, courthouse security is always mentioning how I look too young to be a lawyer, but my win record would suggest otherwise.”

  4. Coverage Associate*

    I was in the same position as LW2 for a long time, though I never felt as disadvantaged by it. It can be helpful to have people underestimate your experience.

    At about LW2’s stage, I could start responding, “I have actually been a lawyer for x years” or “I have been doing this for several years now.” For people in the legal profession, it often has the added context that they probably got more experience at your stage, because paths to partnership etc. generally have gotten longer. So once you tell them your years of experience, they might overestimate your practical experience.

    I have never put the time and money into the appearance fixes that can help (yes, it sucks that that’s true, but we can’t control judges or jurors), but corporette was a great blog with advice on such topics.

    OK, maybe I took some of the appearance advice by accident. A woman TV reporter once told me that thinner people look younger, and, having gone from a barely average BMI on the low end to barely average on the high end, I think she was right. (Yes, I know BMI has its problems, but to paint a picture, so to speak.)

    1. allathian*

      Depends on the type of thinness. I’ve been slightly overweight to obese all my adult life, but I have a baby face and no wrinkles yet, and I’m 51. My sister’s been thin to slim all her life, but she loved sunbathing in her 20s, and she also smoked for the 10 years that she lived with her ex. She’s 2 years younger but looks older, at least on photos. She’s had wrinkles since her mid-30s. I have some slight mobility issues due to my excess weight, so face to face I no doubt appear older.

      1. TinySoprano*

        I think you’re onto something with the skin thing.

        I’m the petite, underweight version of “looks too young” and my bff is the fat version of “looks too young.” People assume I’m young because I’m small, and people assume my bff is young because fat is nature’s facial filler. But we’ve both used SPF religiously from a young age, so I think that’s done it more than anything else.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, I think that’s probably it. People often say I look younger than my actual age (though rarely young enough to actually get asked for ID these days) and I think it’s because I have sun-sensitive skin and have always had to use a high SPF and stay out of the sun as much as I can. I also drink a lot of water and do a fair amount of exercise, and of course some of it is just genetic – my mum is mid-70s but most people would assume she’s about 10 years younger. I think especially when you get to your 40s/50s people are expecting a certain level of skin ageing, and if you don’t have that then they assume you’re much younger.

        2. Quill*

          I was a chubby teen, and people overestimated my age from like 15 to 24 because of it. Still chubby, but now people perpetually think I’m younger. According to society I’ll be in my early 20’s until I have grey hair.

    2. theletter*

      Smoking can play a big role too. I think that’s the reason why most people in their 40’s and 50’s don’t look anything like the forty-year-olds from fifty years ago.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I think people generally are displaying visible signs of aging much slower. Smoking is a huge factor in that, but also sunscreen usage, better nutrition, etc. A lot of 40 year olds today really don’t look older than when they were 30.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I’ve noticed how much younger-looking people in their 30’s and on up (and even in their 20’s in some cases) in old photographs and newsreels. A lot of it is down to what you said (smoking, nutrition especially childhood nutrition, sunscreen) – and I think there is the factor that people tend to dress younger, even in business formal. “Professional” outfits are much less drab and boxy. Also, women don’t wear those stiffly permed bobs and other shorter hairstyles that come across as matronly, and men don’t do Brylcreem and comb-overs, either. Hair in general is softer and looser, which is a more youthful look.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            For any Doctor Who fans: William Hartnell and Peter Capaldi were the same age when they were cast in the title role. Wild, huh?

            I do think improved dental care, between the actual dentistry, fluoridated water, and orthodontia, also plays a role in our modern “fountain of youth.” Maybe vaccination too?

          2. Kelly L.*

            Hairdos are a big, big part of it. And those hairdos weren’t considered “old” when they were trendy! But what happens is that people get in a rut, and keep doing the same hairstyle for decades. The round helmet bob of the sixties was youthful and daring when teenage girls did it in the sixties. And then many of these women kept doing it, and now they’re in their seventies, so we think that’s “70-year-old hair.”

            In a few decades, we might be going “Man, people just do not realize how much that high Ariana Grande ponytail ages them!”

            1. Quill*

              I feel like, looking at historical portraiture, the more constructed and obviously artificial a hair fashion is, the more people (Currently) think it looks old. See the powdered wigs of circa the 1770’s, and contrast it to the portraiture of the 18teens, where people had much more “natural” looking hair.

    3. Hans Solo*

      Not when you are older though. Thinner women as they age can look older due to less fat plumping up of skin. Of course, that’s a HUGE generalization, but I hate when “being thin” seems to be the answer to everything wonderful beauty-wise when realistically it isn’t.

      1. Kelly L.*


        I lost some weight a few years back (have gained back some of it) and looked older, because it turns out the fat was filling in the lines around my eyes.

  5. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    OP#2, I am also 32 years old and frequently get carded when I buy lottery tickets. People frequently tell me that it’s a compliment. I’m also male.

    My response? I shrug and say, “It happens. Moving on…” For me, it’s all about controlling the narrative. If I don’t make a big deal out of it, I’ve found that others don’t as well. I also don’t say thank you for the reasons provided. Oh, and the few times someone’s been, “offended on [my] behalf”? I remind them that the server is doing there job, that it’s no big deal, and again just move on.

    1. Cj*

      a lot of people tell you to and it’s not even that, because in all the states I’m aware of you need to be carded if you look like you’re 40 or 45 or younger, not if they think you’re younger than 21. so why would be a compliment at 32 that they think you’re younger than 40, because you are?

    2. Fierce Jindo*

      You’re missing the context of why this raises gender-specific fears of not being taken seriously by a client.

      1. Rose*

        There’s no reason to assume that he’s missing the context. Sure the issue is compounded for women because it’s harder for us to be taken seriously in the first place, and because people have a weird obsession with our looks, but being taken less seriously because you look young is not gender specific, and this is good advice, regardless of gender. Just because someone doesn’t specifically called out every social issue at played doesn’t mean that they missing context.

      2. Plebeian Aristocracy*

        People have taken me less seriously because I look young. It has affected my job prospects, work relations, and personal relations. I’ve just found that acting as if it doesn’t matter tends to smooth things over better than calling it out with humor.

    3. Beth*

      I still get carded from time to time. I’m 63. My response for the last few decades has been to whoop with laughter and say “Seriously?”

  6. Santiago*

    #5, I think a part of the art-form is that the advice column is written as much for us as for whoever writes in. As such, it is a benefit that we all assume the same starting context (the letter).

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s why reruns work–this is a problem someone might encounter at work, and whether it happened yesterday or three years ago usually doesn’t matter.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Now I’m thinking of advice columnist in contrast with a private detective. One is for the masses, the other is for the individual.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m still astonished that, more than once, the suggestion that a letter was fake has led an outraged commenter to demand that the columnist research all letters before printing them.

        “Did Arya really say that? In those exact words? And did Sansa really look like she was trying to not roll her eyes in response? Confirm first!!!”

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      I know, right? What an interesting thought. Alison was nice enough not to say this, but I’m sure it would be an incredible time suck, too, even for the fastest writer on the planet.

      1. marvin*

        It seems like it would also be harder to maintain confidentiality if the columnist is importing a bunch of extra context into the letter.

  7. Goldie*

    I look a lot younger than I am. Now at 50 it’s not that big of a deal but it came up in my 20’s and 30’s. I was also in leadership positions at that time and worked with a lot of men(I’m a woman). I feel like the best approach is just to be graceful.
    While it feels infantilizing at a younger age, everyone had been younger at some point. They know you are competent and talented. They probably admire your achievements for your age. Assume the best, laugh it off, crack a joke-even “that’s embarrassing” and move on.
    We are all impacted at least a bit by other people’s perceptions. But your work will speak louder. Along with your emotional intelligence.
    Before you know it, you will be that older professional at the table not getting carded. I had to where pantyhose to those dinners!

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      A million years ago when I was 26/7 I was working for another woman who was a year or two younger than me. We had to travel for a job and went out for dinner. I got carded and she didn’t and she made my life HELL for the rest of the trip. It was so awkward.
      Just for a different take on the topic…

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think that it really is a different take. Because what you are describing is someone who is just problematic. I mean even if guys were flirting with you while ignoring her, that would be a ridiculous reaction on her part. So, I wouldn’t take her behavior as a marker of anything within striking distance of reason.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I haven’t had that “you look so young” comment lately, but when I did, I treated it like a compliment and move on. I thought that seeming annoyed about it might make me look less mature. Not making a big deal about it, seemed the easiest way.

  8. TJ Morrison*

    It is possible learn to raise your eyebrows independently! And to wink each eye independently too! When I was younger I spent a bunch of time with my hands on my face trying to feel the movements or hold one side in place until i was able to finally get it.

    I think winking is easier to get the feel for. Just close you eyes, put a hand or finger gently on one eye, open your eyes (only one will open) then carefully remove your hand. You should have one eye open and one closed now. After that it is as bunch of practice to get from there to winking, but it proves to yourself it is possible.

    1. coffee*

      I can only raise my left eyebrow independently, but really you only need one eyebrow for the expression, so there’s a 50% saving in effort right there. :)

    2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Agreed…my partner and I had a big debate around this a few months ago, but I do think most people can learn to control these muscles with practice.

      I also learned by playing around as a kid – I can even wiggle my ears, thanks to Louis Sachar and the Wayside Stories series, though that one took longer to figure out than my eyebrows.

      (do I still, in my late 30s, catch myself sometimes practicing the facial expressions described in books as I go? yes yes I do)

      1. Beany*

        I also am an eyebrow-raiser and ear-wiggler, courtesy of much unconscious practice during my formative years. But I could never figure out how people do that ear-splitting whistling-with-two-fingers thing.

        1. Silver Robin*

          that can also be learned! I am trying to right now and while it the sound is not clean (lots of wasted air) there is a high pitched whistle happening! honestly the wikiHow and a couple other internet guides teach the basics just fine

      2. Admin Lackey*

        Same here! I saw a character in a picture book raise one eyebrow when I was like 4 or 5 and sat there and practiced until I could do the same

      3. yala*

        The ear wiggling I learned subconsciously once I got glasses–it was the easiest way to adjust them when my hands were busy.

        The eyebrow took practice, because I wanted to be able to do the Spock eyebrow.

    3. Your Computer Guy*

      I did the same thing! I could already raise one eyebrow to start, and I remember training myself to do the same with the other one. Now it’s mostly a trick that entertains my children.

      1. allathian*

        So did Leonard Nimoy. He perfected the raised eyebrow thing.

        My dad can wiggle his ears, but I’ve never managed that. I can make a tube out of my tongue, though, and not everyone can, apparently it’s genetic.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I can do that one, & it is genetic. (I think ear-wiggling might be, too – left over from when we had ears that moved before we became primates.)

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            All those subtle things that cats can do with their ears? We use those same muscles for subtle things we can do with our faces.

      2. Mobius 1*

        Might be a hot take, but I’d actually put James Doohan ahead of DeForest Kelley on this one.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I liked this example from Alison because usually the natural talents (which you can develop with practice) are things like being good at reading people, or setting them at ease. But independent control of your eyebrows counts too!

      I looked in the mirror and determined that my single raised brow (the right) looks more annoyed than bemused/quizzical, with the latter being the goal. There’s probably some fascinating work on the genes that determine which eyebrow muscles you can activate.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yep, when I was younger I did that with each eyebrow, and wiggling each ear separately, too, just because I figured it was a matter of your brain knowing how to send the signal to a particular muscle.

    6. Mobius 1*

      Agreed on possibility. When I was in middle school and first got obsessed with Star Trek, I discovered I could raise my right eyebrow while lowering my left. Then (and this is a bit embarrassing) during a depressive episode in freshman year of college, while in self imposed exile, I randomly taught myself to raise just my left eyebrow, without having to lower my right. So I have now not only the ability to choose between sides, but also specific flavors of puzzlement; left side conveys more of a conventional “Hmmm…” while right side says more “Are you kidding me?!?”

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

      My best friend growing up hated that I could raise one eyebrow. She would try so hard to do it! But then she could wiggle her ears and I can’t.

  9. takeachip*

    LW2, I frequently used to be mistaken for an intern, student, etc. when I was in fact a working professional. I’m still told how I look young and how I therefore couldn’t possibly have the level of experience I claim. It is annoying! I have a couple of ideas for how to handle this based on the situation.

    In a situation like the dinner, you obviously have to consider; what you think of as a witty quip might or might not go over well. “Fake ID works every time!” or “someday they’ll realize I’m three 10 year olds in a trench coat” could get a laugh or a side eye. Another option would be to say, “Now that that’s settled . .. ” and then turn the conversation to something that affirms your status and expertise. For me, it would be talking about the wine list because I have some expertise in that. Or it could be something about the case or another related topic. It doesn’t necessarily matter what topic you switch to, because by briefly acknowledging what just happened and then changing the subject to one you have command of, you take charge of the situation, which in itself is empowering and affirming and will send the message you’re trying to convey. The reason I suggest a brief acknowledgment of what has happened is to show explicitly that you’re not thrown by it, that it doesn’t say anything about you, and that you’re deliberately pivoting away from it. That is more powerful than pretending it didn’t happen and changing the subject–but of course that’s an option too depending on the nuances of the group dynamic.

    In a simpler situation like with the security guards (where I’m not overly concerned about the relationships or power dynamics) , my go-to response is to just state my age and/or years of experience in a very matter of fact way: “I’m 48” or “I’ve been doing this work since 1996.” I just leave it there or repeat it if they continue with the “but you look so young!” stuff.

    1. MK*

      I was trying to think why, though I also got these comments well into my thirties, I was never bothered by them; reading your comment made me realize that I never got the “couldn’t possibly have the level of experience I claim” part. Are people seriously calling you a liar? Every time I told people my age or years of experience I response to “you are so young!” comments, they instantly readjusted their view and we moved on in a matter of seconds. What is wrong with people?

      1. bamcheeks*

        I get it too, but I also did a PhD and lived abroad in my twenties, and I didn’t start my professional career until I was 30. So weirdly, “has about fifteen years of experience” is exactly right, but I’m 45, not 35, and I have a secret pre-career and adult memories of things like the 1997 election and 9/11 that nobody expects.

      2. wordswords*

        In my teens and early 20s, people generally guessed my age correctly, or at least if they didn’t it wasn’t in any way that was apparent to me. As I got older, the fact that my face looks relatively young (I guess? I don’t see it, but clearly many others do) started tipping the balance, so that in my late 30s I was still being read as mid-20s or so. I didn’t take it as a compliment, particularly, but I wasn’t bothered.

        Then I went to grad school in a professional program, with a lot of younger people in the program (though also a number of older people). And suddenly it did actually matter to me that I was being read as 10 years younger than I was! Not when my fellow students read me that way (though it led to some funny moments like “we can get a discount on this show, because we’re all under 30, right?”) but when the professors and networking contacts did. Because it meant they were assuming I didn’t have the 15-odd years of experience in the working world that I had, and that did in fact matter for the opportunities I was offered and the skills I was assumed to have.

        I’d like to say that I came up with a smooth way of handling it, but the best I found was to drop slightly awkward mentions of my age/experience/years in my previous career into conversation whenever I could. It always felt a bit forced to me, and I would wonder if I actually needed to. But those mentions invariably got surprise, and a discussion of how the person had thought for sure I was 28 or so (“yeah, I get that a lot! but no, yeah, I’m very much not”) and then suddenly the tone of the advice and opportunities I was getting would shift subtly. I don’t mean that I was being dismissed before, but people were targeting “went to undergrad, worked for a couple of years, went to grad school” rather than “went to undergrad, worked for 15+ years, went to grad school for a career change,” and that made a significant difference. It really opened my eyes to the potential professional difficulties of what I had previously thought was a neutral issue.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          I have done the *awkwardest* of mentions sometimes. The very first time I met with a literary agent trying to get published I was 27 or so (and wearing an outfit that I thought looked very put-together but that in retrospect was *not*) and I could see instantly that he thought he was talking to a teenager. As we chatted I mentioned some experience from college and then said “that was 6 years ago” apropos of… absolutely nothing… and watched his eyes get big with surprise.

          Nowadays I work with a lot of interns, training and leading, so my main issue is avoiding the dynamic where they think we’re all the same age (or at least don’t realize I have 20 years on them)–but it’s so much easier with younger people. We foster an easy-going atmosphere (as long as the work gets done!), so a bantering conversation at some point each year about how I bet you can’t guess my age fits in fine.

    2. Despachito*

      Any witty quip will draw attention to something OP would rather not.

      I agree with Plebeian Aristocracy that people follow you in a sort and if you do not make it a big issue, they won’t either. I do not think even a brief acknowledgement is needed, and if you do it matter-of-factly and change the subject that will convey your message powerfully enough.

      1. biobotb*

        My experience is that people absolutely *will* make a big deal out of it, whether you want them to or not.

        1. L'étrangère*

          Absolutely. Especially older male people who feel a bit insecure about the fact that you seem to be doing well earlier than they did

    3. TinySoprano*

      Nothing reinforces you’re an adult like pronouncing the scariest looking name on the wine list correctly, IME.

    4. Ari*

      Yeah, I recently started a new job and someone innocently asked me if it was my first job out of college. I just turned 39!

  10. Artemesia*

    Elaborating on an answer after the interview. We phone screened and every once in awhile someone would totally blow the question. We were asking thing that should have been heavily in their areas of expertise e.g. if we were hiring someone to teach organizational theory, we might ask ‘what are a couple of the main thinkers in this field whom you would want to include in your class.’ I actually got a guy who looked good on paper who said something like ‘I didn’t think we were going to be quizzed in the interview.’ My view was that if you are applying for this role, it should be easy to come up with something like this and talk about how you would approach the job. There is no coming back from that as it shows a real lack of competence for the job.

    If instead, the answer was not as tight as you would like, perhaps a quick netting it out in the follow up would work — but you have to have been plausibly on point in the interview to make this work.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      yes to plausibly on point.

      I messed up an answer to a fairly complex question. well, some of my C and D and E answers (assume learned at 200 level college courses and graduate school) were mostly on point. F and G answers were clearly floundering and made up because I didn’t have the on-the-job in-depth experience.

      I thought about emailing back the interviewer “in addition, A and B answers!” when A and B would have been learned in fairly basic high school subject matter courses.

      that just made me laugh, to be honest. I did get another crack at a different job at the company and it worked out well

      good luck, LW. it’ll all work out

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I want to add a caveat to this that even competent people can occasionally completely blank on a question they can usually answer easily out of nervousness. I wouldn’t hold that against them. You can usually tell by the panicked blank look in their eyes though, and the fact that they get back on track when put more at ease.

    3. My own boss*

      Oh wow, those are the kind of questions I can completely bomb in an interview because my head is in a completely different place. I’ve blanked on concepts I use every day just because of interview stress, including one time that someone asked me about a concept I train people on and my brain went, “that concept, never heard of it.”

  11. Little Sushi Roll*

    OP 1, I think it would be worth trying to figure out the ‘why’ behind your employee’s continued meeting scheduling. Absolutely call them out on it – “you have been told not to, and you have continued to – and been deceptive in how you’ve gone about it” – but see if you can figure out what is driving that behaviour, because it’s probably not solely affecting this one set of meetings. It could be a control issue, inflexibility/resistence to change, to boost their own feelings of worth/value in their work, as their main method of what defines ‘good communication’, or they’re all going offsite to get beers, charge back for their meals, and calling it a meeting.
    I had a manager in the past who a number of us caught out lying – it built serious distrust within our team, as no one would believe her, or escalate issues to her for solving. It was incredibly painful and frustrating. We had to find workarounds, and it created more work for us. Everyone above her thought her role was the most necessary/specialised, and she was “the only one who could do it!” – and whilst she was great at parts of it – it was such a relief when we got a new manager who had excellent integrity and follow through, and learnt every part of the role.

  12. HA2*

    LW1 – interestingly, the very issue they wrote in about highlights the problem with trying to keep on a dishonest employee. When there was a discrepancy between some numbers, LW’s thought wasn’t “Someone made a mistake”, it’s “Was that person lying to me again?”

    And it only gets worse – if LW catches the person in a second lie, then soon everything the employee says becomes doubtable.

    1. Sheila*

      100%. I can see trying to work through it with someone newer to the working world who may still be figuring out how to react to performance expectations, but LW mentions a 12 year working relationship with them, so they should be long past that phase.

      I had to part ways with an employee a few years back due to a similar issue. I assigned her a new task that she was resistant to. She felt like it should be someone else’s job, and wanted me to restructure the team so she didn’t have to do it, and I wasn’t able or willing to do that. She started procrastinating it and got extremely behind. I started managing her more closely on it, and rather than keep up with the task, she tried to hide the work so I didn’t realize she was falling behind, and lied to me about it. It was a minor administrative task, to this day I don’t understand her resistance to it. She had to go, there were other performance issues in play as well, and I was already spending too much time focusing on her work…double checking things because I couldn’t trust her would have made it impossible.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yeah, it’s like that letter a while back from a person whose new HR/finance person had damaged a company vehicle and then lied about it. Unfortunately, you just can’t come back from some lies. Even if the negative consequences of the lie weren’t that bad or there was some underlying psychological reason for the lie, once the trust is gone, it’s gone for good.

      1. Frost*

        Ha! We got an update on that letter today. It’s an interesting compare and contrast situation, for sure. If OP doesn’t decide to fire their employee, I’d love to know how it all works out.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yep. And if this employee were to leave tomorrow, how many little discrepancies would OP1 find? How can you trust an employee with a critical function when you can’t actually trust them?

      It might be a good idea to do a quiet audit of this employee’s work, especially if they have access to money.

      1. Artemesia*

        We have had a couple letters here like that, where the problem employee finally leaves after years and then the disastrous fails to record information, file correctly, complete urgent legal tasks etc comes to light.

    4. I have RBF*

      Yeah, I don’t think that employee will be there for long.

      Lying, in a job that deals with accounting? That’s a seriously career limiting move. Those type of jobs are high trust, and regulated, FFS. Even if the first discovered lie was not about accounting or money, it still taints their reputation.

      Once trust is lost, no PIP will restore it. PIPs need to be positive, measurable, actions – “don’t lie” is not measurable.

  13. Coverage Associate*

    Another response when you’re surprised to be carded: “It’s been a long time since I have been carded.” “I haven’t been confused with an intern in years” or something similar might work too.

    “It’s been a long time since that [being confused with Justice O’Connor]” is a RBG quote, so I like to use variations. (O’Connor had been off the bench for years when that happened.)

    1. amoeba*

      Didn’t know about the RBG quote, but yeah, “haha, wow, it’s been a few years since that happened!” was my first thought as well. (Although I imagine it would be harder to pull off if it’s not actually true…)

    2. londonedit*

      I’m at the stage now where if I do get asked for ID, what usually happens is that the cashier looks at my driving licence, is momentarily confused because they see that my birth year starts 198, and then goes ‘OH! Oh that’s fine, I’m sorry…’ and hands my licence back to me. Which basically means they’re saying ‘Whoa, I wasn’t expecting you to be THAT old!’ My usual response is along similar lines to yours – something like ‘Yep, I think I’m *just about* over 18!’ or ‘Yep, it’s been a while since anyone thought I looked under 25!’ or whatever.

      1. Rara Avis*

        I regularly get carded at the grocery store (I think it’s teenage checkers who lack the confidence to guess age) and I respond cheerfully, while handing over my ID, “I’m a whole lot closer to 50 than 21!” I’m grey at the temples but I guess it isn’t obvious yet.

      2. JustaTech*

        I was out to happy hour with a group of coworkers when one of the women in our group was denied a drink. “What?” goes the table – we all knew she was well over 21, even if she did dress somewhat trendy. The waitress was insistent that our coworker was only 20. Eventually a manager came over, looked at the ID and said to the waitress, “what year does that say?” “1992!” “No, it says 1982, look again.” “Oh.”
        The table laughed off the error and didn’t mention it again, but I felt bad for my coworker having her age be a topic of discussion.
        (This wouldn’t be a problem now because anyone who’s birth year starts with a 1 is legal to drink in the US.)

    3. Cj*

      the thing is, it probably hasn’t been a long time since she’s in carded, because because at least in my state, and my others have mentioned the same thing here, it was supposed to be because if you look like you’re under 40. which they are. the server didn’t think they were not 21, they thought they looked under 40. there’s nothing insulting or unusual about it, and it’s not a compliment because they did put you in the correct age range.

      1. wordswords*

        Yeah, but it can still be a useful framing to signal to the colleagues, “hey, it’s been quite a while since I turned 21.” I wouldn’t say it to the server, who as you say (and as OP says!) is just doing their job and quite likely following policy about carding anyone under 40 or whatever, but I might say something like “Wow, it’s been a while since that happened!” to my colleagues afterward — even if I’d been carded just the other day and was using a flexible definition of ‘a while’.

  14. Drag0nfly*

    LW2, you probably should go with bean-dipping, which is what the mistress of calls changing the subject. I’ve always looked younger than my actual age, and it’s never been a hindrance for me. “I drink lots of water and moisturize,” I say, as if they were asking for advice.

    But think about this, if you look younger than your age everyone you’re dealing with has factored that in, because they have eyes and can see how young you look. If they were skeptical they either passed you by or just waited to see how you handle yourself. A colleague who was retirement age showed me a picture of her new specialist doctor and she joked about whether he was out of his diapers yet. But he earned her trust and she didn’t care about his age.

    Some industries are into “wunderkinds,” but even if Big Law isn’t one of those, when you speak and sound knowledgeable people are not going to be hung up on your youth. I would bet you don’t use the Valley Girl / Surfer Boy speech patterns “Duuude! Like, you know!” or dress like a teenager. Professional dress, manners, and competence make it difficult for anyone to undermine you on the basis of age. If a coworker tries it, they’ll be the ones looking bad because your own behavior undermines *their* attempt to kick you down.

    1. Your Computer Guy*

      This is making me realize that I’ve recently turned the corner on being told that I look young, but my go-to response was usually something like “moisturizing every morning really pays off” or something about the importance of sunblock.

      When my daughter was first placed with us, my boss commented that I didn’t look as tired as someone with an infant should. I said my usual moisturizer line and he actually asked me what brand I used and wanted the link so he could order some!

    2. radiant*

      A colleague guessed my age as ten years younger than I am (I’m late 30s, they guessed late 20s). Because I get on very well with them, when they asked “what my secret was”, I just replied “a stressful job, insomnia, and cigarettes”. (Don’t worry, I have since quit smoking, but it was the truth at the time!)

    3. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      Ooh, I like “I drink lots of water and I moisturize”. I came down to the comments to say that, as someone who occasionally takes things very literally and has also known a few genuine wunderkinds, I would steer away from the “I graduated Harvard Law at 13” in case your audience doesn’t realize you’re joking and it becomes a whole Thing.

  15. Turanga Leela*

    OP2: I’m also a young-looking woman lawyer (although I’m starting to age out of this problem). What has worked for me is to own it. When people comment on how young I seem, I’ve learned to say, “Yep, I get that a lot. It seems to make opposing counsel underestimate me.”

    Other lawyers seem to respect that I’m using my youthful appearance for tactical advantage. And it has the benefit of being true, so I don’t feel weird about saying it. The key is to sound matter-of-fact, not defensive (or, god forbid, flirtatious).

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      “Yep, I get that a lot. It seems to make opposing counsel underestimate me.”
      Absolutely perfect! And I hope you exploit that to the full!

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree that I don’t think making a joke or quip about your age is the way to go. I think this is actually very good a matter of fact statement acknowledgement of what happened but also making it clear that it’s not true.

    3. tangerineRose*

      “Yep, I get that a lot. It seems to make opposing counsel underestimate me.” Awesome!

  16. Drag0nfly*

    LW1, I strongly agree that character issues are not subject to PIPs. Your employee’s parents, their clergy, and their teachers presumably already took a crack at teaching ethics and morals and clearly it didn’t take. At this point, the best teacher is the experience of being introduced to the consequences of their actions.

    Fire them.

    This is one of those don’t be cruel to the kind, and kind to the cruel situations, because your *other* employees probably see the liar’s dishonesty. It’s not as if you’re the only person the employee lies to. Don’t encourage the rest to think this kind of behavior is tolerated. And what if the other employees were roped into other lies, and were stressed out by it, and concerned about you seemingly turning a blind eye?

    1. CityMouse*

      100% agree. Putting someone who lies on a PIP is just going to result in them trying to hide their lies better.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I was thinking I’m not sure how one would evaluate a PIP for lying because how could you tell if they were lying less or just getting better at it or lying to cover their lies?

    2. GiGi*

      THANK YOU! Using a PIP as a one-size-fits-all solution to conduct and performance problems drives me nuts. PIPs are for performance improvement. It’s in the name. What the OP has is a conduct problem. The only solution to that is counseling, with an outline of immediate consequences (your lack of trust) and future consequences should the behavior continue (suspension, firing, whatever). Why do people think PIPs are the only tools they have?

      1. I have RBF*

        It’s not just conduct, it’s ethics. There’s some stuff you can “white lie” about – “Oh, that oufit looks great”, or “That new painting in your office is impressive.” But anything that you are actually accountable for, like performance goals or resolving a PIP, is a “better to admit your screwup that to lie or hide it.”

        In my field, it’s a giving that everyone screws things up occasionally, and in a way that impacts production. It’s not a career limiting move to screw up, as long as a) you own it/admit it, and b) do your best to fix it. But if I were to bring down production then lie about it? I would bounce three times as I was thrown out of the door. I don’t even deal with cash, but services costing thousands of dollars an hour.

        You can fudge small stuff, like rounding on timecards that goes both ways, but you can’t blatantly misstate what you’ve done or not done. Hiding meetings, that you were specifically instructed on a PIP not to hold, is a blatant and actionable lie.

        If it were me, I’d say she failed the previous PIP by lying about the meetings. YMMV

  17. BubbleTea*

    I’m interested to know WHY the employee in #1 keeps having these meetings. Perhaps I’ve not really understood what accounting meetings are, but my first thought was that they don’t feel able to do their job without the extra support of those meetings, which could be why they’re hiding the meetings. To be clear, the dishonesty is not okay, but sometimes it’s useful to find out why someone feels the need to be dishonest.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I did feel like there’s a difference between “Sales is always a laugh and I like hanging out there” and “I can’t do my job without those meetings, my manager doesn’t understand that”. Hopefully you’ve done all your due dilligence here and the employee’s reason for carrying on #behaviour is clear and Not Good Enough, though!

      1. tangerineRose*

        I was wondering about that, too. In that case, I’d have advised the employee to go back to the manager and explain why a meeting is needed and ask for an exception for this time.

        If the manager says no, then the next thing I’d suggest is to ask for the manager’s advice on how to do whatever it is without the meeting (unless it’s obvious, such as use e-mail instead, etc.)

    2. Shiata*

      It’s possible they don’t feel like they can do their job without the meetings but that doesn’t mean they’re right. I’ve known people who really liked meetings when emails or messages would have worked just as well. Or they were holding a meeting to go through a report the other party had written instead of just reading the report. If someone is making people from other departments sit through unnecessary meetings and wasting their time, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. And if they’re financial or compliance related, the sales department might not be empowered to say no.

      Even if they genuinely need the meetings, they should have gone back to their manager to say “I need this information for my job, but you’ve said I can’t meet with sales. How should I proceed?”

    3. londonedit*

      I think the ‘meetings’ are a placeholder, and not the actual thing the employee’s doing – the OP says ‘say, for example, that they need to have fewer accounting meetings with sales’. So it’s probably not helpful to get too far into the idea that it’s a meeting that’s the issue. The actual issue could be anything, really – the point is that the employee has been told to stop doing it, and not only have they not stopped doing it, but they’ve deliberately hidden the fact that they’re still doing it from the OP. It sounds like it’s less about the actual behaviour and more about the fact that they’ve lied and obfuscated.

      I agree, though, that if they haven’t already then the OP needs to dig further into the reasoning behind this. It’s definitely not the sort of thing you can use a PIP for, but the OP absolutely needs to have a serious discussion with the employee, and as part of that ask them why they’re continuing to do this thing and why they’re hiding the fact that they are doing it. If there’s some sort of reasonable explanation, whether that’s ‘I don’t have the confidence to do this on my own’ or ‘I don’t want to admit that I keep getting this task wrong and I need help every time I have to do it’, then I think the OP should look at whether the employee needs more training or support. If it’s just ‘I want to keep doing this because it makes my life easier and I don’t want to listen to you telling me I can’t do it’ then the OP needs to tell the employee that unless they stop, they’re going to end up getting fired because the OP won’t put up with being lied to.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        They seem to be meetings of some kind, as OP says they are marked as private on the calendar.

    4. Grits McGee*

      This feels like it might be getting into the same territory as the golf clubs question yesterday. The “accounting meetings” are an anonymized placeholder; is it really helpful to speculate on this particular part of the letter?

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

        In the end it’s probably not going to be helpful to speculateunless OP (or Alison) comes and clarifies. But “hold fewer meetings” is such odd feedback that we can’t help but wonder. What actual work problems are these excess meetings causing? What kind of manager is OP that they are (micro?)managing the meeter’s meetings? How does OP respond to pushback against their dictates?

        1. halp please*

          Yeah, I don’t want to fanfic the placeholder directive too much – but haven’t some companies actually adopted dramatically fewer meetings as an intentional shift in working practices?

        2. tangerineRose*

          Your comment just reminded me of a former co-worker who is a nice guy, but can be kind of a pain at meetings. He tends to take the meeting off track and is likely to ask a big, open-ended question right when we’re ready to end the meeting. Not quite the same thing as having too many meetings though.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I didn’t understand the example in this letter, either, or if maybe what the employee was doing was actually necessary for some reason.

    6. Adultier Adult*

      I thought the same thing! Hiding MORE work is very different than hiding laziness

    7. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I’m trying to take letter at face value, but my gut reaction is to ask WHY because I had a similar situation with a new to the company manager.

      I was cross-functional to support two products. New Manager only supported one of those. They began to actively prevent and/or sabotage my efforts to support the other product, because of course it wasn’t THEIR product and they didn’t care, but my kpi’s were around supporting both. So, sometimes I just did it anyway, though I never hid it on my calendar. Managers can be bad and dead wrong too, you know, and there are two sides to a story.

    8. KathyW*

      I assume this is an anonymized criticism so it probably isn’t really less meetings, but I did have a former coworker who did something similar(ish). He was very bad at doing any actual work but he was wildly personable face to face. He could turn a problem resolution that should have taken 5 minutes on the phone or email into a 2 hour meeting where he didn’t actually fix any anything but somehow the customer walked away happy. It was like a bizarre super power. Due to this he leaned really hard into scheduling meetings for everything.

    9. Arthenonyma*

      It’s obviously a placeholder, but I would assume that the implied problem is that they’re wasting their own and others’ time with whatever it is they’re doing. Like they’re arranging meetings three days a week for three hours each to go through a report line by line instead of putting it in an email. Or insisting that if they don’t have a full meeting with the whole team every day then nothing will get done right.

      1. Delilah*

        Hi all – OP1 here. You all are correct. The behaviour in question is not additional meetings, but I have reason to believe my direct report reads the site, so I’m reluctant to provide the actual action. It’s something we’ve discussed in several performance reviews, it’s a value important to our company, and they know they are not supposed to be doing it, and yet they went ahead and did it anyway and hid it from me. Again the “it” isn’t a huge problem on its own – it’s why we’ve kept them around, despite having the same feedback for several years. But the lying about doing it was new this year.
        I know that doesn’t really clarify anything, but that’s the situation.

        1. Delilah*

          Oh – and as for why they are doing the thing. I hesitate to speculate, because I try to focus on the business impact and not the why, but my best guess would be that doing the thing makes this person feel important and useful and that they are bad at setting boundaries. But again – at the end of the day, I don’t really care why they are doing the thing. I’ve told them not to do it (and why) and they’ve continued and disguised their actions.

          1. nerdy glasses*

            That’s a tricky situation. I would still advise asking them directly as to why they continue to do the thing you’ve told them not to do, because there might be more to it than you realise. Speaking from experience.

  18. Sheila*

    OP3 – being assigned to fix problems you raise. My workplace handles this with a “cleanup list”. Every functional area and project has a cleanup list. The list consists of open problems in that area. They’re usually kept in an Excel or PowerPoint document, and they consist of: problem description, solution, owner, ETA, and status. The owner is OFTEN not the person who raised the issue OR necessarily the leader for that functional area/project manager….it’s the person best suited to fix the problem.

    Some rules we play by: if you’re assigning someone a task on your cleanup list, they can dispute that they’re the correct owner. Cleanup item owners set the ETA – others can/will push if it seems like the ETA is really far out for no reason. And it’s a faux pas to share a cleanup list publicly with owners assigned that you haven’t discussed with them…sometimes it happens, but if you’re wrong about the owner or solution, it can be a real mess.

    1. just another queer reader*

      I really like this!

      I was going to come to say that it sounds like OP3’s team needs a project hopper system.

      Could be an excel spreadsheet or a SharePoint database or something even more fancy, but it’ll allow people to log problems without being on the hook to immediately fix them themselves.

  19. Your Computer Guy*

    For LW3, I feel your pain. I work somewhere similar, and it’s incredibly frustrating. If I’m bringing up an issue, it’s because I don’t know how or don’t have the means to solve it! If I had the solution I would have just fixed it. I’m looking at other jobs currently and it’s definitely a cultural thing I’m trying to suss out at other places.

    1. ONFM*

      I think it follows along with the “toxic positivity”-style management that I’ve seen from my own organization. I currently work for a person who adamantly refuses to discuss anything negative and insists we just need to get our “good news” out more than complaints, regardless of legitimacy. It’s exhausting, and Allison is right – people learn not to bring issues forward, and everyone suffers.

    2. Millie's Mom*

      I’ve never quite understood the mentality of – “if you have a problem, you also better have the solution”. The thing is, if I have a solution/idea, I don’t come at it as a problem – I bring it to the appropriate person as “hey, I think this would make things easier/better, can we can try it?” But if something’s an actual problem I can’t solve, that’s when I go to someone to say “hey, I can’t figure this out and it’s a problem, can you help?”

      I just feel like most people are that way, finding solutions themselves if they can, only bringing things up as “problems” if they can’t figure it out on their own, so I really don’t care for the sort of management described by the LW.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree with all of these comments and would like to add my question: can you, OP, when asked what your solution is to the problem you bring up, simply say, “I really don’t know, I don’t have enough information about X and Y to solve it”? Or would you be thought of as not a team player or something like that?

    3. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I try and fix what I can but most problems I don’t have the authority to fix. I’ve found that the people who have the authority to actually fix the biggest problems are too busy with their own thing and the problem doesn’t affect them directly so the problem never gets fixed!

    4. Dell*

      I always have at least one idea for a solution, if not more, but I still have issues because management is usually the only person who has the authority to implement them. I can’t just change the SOP without some kind of greenlight, or start dictating work to other teams or teammates. And then when the problem isn’t fixed they act like that’s my fault. It’s baffling!

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      It feels like the pendulum-swing of the issue where some employees don’t even try to answer their own questions, and treat everyone around them as their Google/documentation.

  20. Glazed Donut*

    Oh dear now I am afraid I am leading a culture like the one with OP3! If someone raises a concern or an issue to me, I’ll usually ask what they think may fix it / how we can be more efficient / if changing X will have an impact. I try to brainstorm with them since they’re on the front lines experiencing this issue. I do not, however, expect them to fix it all on their own, especially if it is time consuming.

    1. Roland*

      Doesn’t sound like the same to me. “What do you think might fix this”, assuming you accept “idk” or “Alex should do X”, is very different from “how will YOU specifically fix this”.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yes–and some of this depends on the nature of the problem. We had an ongoing issue with another department not giving us core info for our role AND not reviewing what we sent them for approval. I reported this as a problem repeatedly, and manager said “I really need you to bring me solutions.”

        I am afraid my jaw may have dropped a bit. We’d been crystal clear that we needed HER to talk with THEIR manager and get them to start giving us information they controlled.

        There’s a point where management must get involved and setting interdepartmental dependencies is definitely on management.

        1. I have RBF*

          I reported this as a problem repeatedly, and manager said “I really need you to bring me solutions.”

          “The solution to this problem is that you, my manager, talk with their manager and get them to start giving us information they control. It is not something I can solve myself. That is why I’m raising it with you, the person who can solve it.”

          Seriously, I hate managers who pass the buck to people who can’t solve the actual problem.

      2. Allonge*

        I agree, this is not the same thing – as long as Glazed Donut is accepting ‘I have no idea’ for an answer, and does not automatically assign the fixing to the person who raised the issue, this can be quite a constructive culture.

        It’s also worth differentiating between issues only a manager can / should fix and the ones where the person on the ground most likely has the best idea anyway, even if it’s just ‘can’t we sit down with X to discuss what keeps going wrong here?’

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

        Yes especially if you realize that the person raising the issue may not know what to do or if they have a lot of stuff to do.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, putting the whole problem on their plate is the main issue.

      But this may be one of those things where different people will bring different assumptions – if you accept an “idk what the solution is I just wanted to flag it” answer without seeming disappointed, then you *should* be fine. But some of your reports still might assume that’s not an acceptable answer and avoid ever bringing you those problems. (Which is of course not to say you should stop asking for ideas, because plenty of people probably appreciate that practice! Can’t please everyone.)

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      In addition to accepting “someone other than me should fix it” or “I don’t know” as answers, it really matters whether people already feel stressed and overloaded. Something that lands fine when everyone has some extra space stops working when they’re pulling tons of mandatory overtime already.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      I once had a boss that said “don’t bring me a problem without a solution” which was frustrating because new to a professional job sometimes I just had a problem and no idea how to fix it. Luckily he wasn’t as hard-assed about then assigning the fix to me.

    5. Lacey*

      This is a bit different than what the OP is saying.

      For example: At my job we have a problem where one department is lazy about giving correct/complete information to other departments. My department has raised this with our boss.

      If he just asked us what we thought needed to happen we would say, “The other department needs to be told it is part of their job to give us the correct & complete info when they submit their project and not after. We need to be free to send projects back if they do not have this.”

      And if he implemented that – great

      But what happens to us and, I assume to the OP, is that we are made responsible for fixing it. We have to figure out what we can change about our work and our department that will fix them.

      Or another scenario would be from a previous job where I noted that most of my coworkers seemed to be unaware of federal regulations we had to adhere to. Suddenly I was in charge of finding or building a curriculum to teach them the federal regulations!
      I wasn’t in any type of management position, but because I wanted to follow the law, this was now my problem instead of the the problem of like… the problem of the owners who would be sued if we didn’t follow the law.

    6. WellRed*

      It’s not the same thing but I don’t think it would hurt for you to consider how often you do this or whether it’s genuinely useful. If our website function is terrible, I… can’t offer solutions. It’s not my job. I don’t need to be dragged through the Aristotle school of management.

    7. Candle in Winter*

      INVITING the person who brings up a concern to brainstorm with you about possible solutions is NOT the same as turning around what they say and adding it to their already-full workload! The first shows that you respect and value that person’s ideas and are seriously considering them – and who DOESN’T want that in their workplace? The second (either deliberately or inadvertently) punishes anyone who dares voice a concern by dumping yet MORE work on an already overworked employee; if there’s a better way to incentivize people to shut up about even the most serious problems that they discover, I don’t know what it is!

      I doubt that this company really WANTS an employee who finds out about something that could derail the next project or even bring down the entire company (yes, there have indeed been huge corporations wiped out by the malfeasance of a very few key employees) to keep quiet about it for fear of being told to go solve it. But that’s exactly what they’re asking for by their inane policy.

    8. Antilles*

      Your last two sentence is the key difference.

      Asking them for their opinion makes perfect sense. They brought you the problem and are seeing the impact directly, so they’re usually starting with a better handle on the situation than you. You’re gathering information and planning with the front lines to make sure the suggestion is workable.

      OP3’s company is saying “you found the problem, now go fix it, that’s that” which isn’t reasonable. Not only is it awful when the person doesn’t have the time, I’ll bet there’s a lot of scenarios where the employee doesn’t even have the time/skills/power to even solve the problem.

    9. Random Dice*

      Not at all the same.

      What you’re doing is exploring the dynamics of it.

      What they’re talking about is that thing where if someone sits back and criticizes a task you’re going, you enthusiastically thank them for taking it on. It’s a punishment.

  21. SnappinTerrapin*

    LW2: My situation is different from your and I recognize the contextual difference, so I don’t know if my comment is helpful, so please forgive me.

    I know servers are under pressure from the regulatory authorities, but sometimes they fail to exercise sound judgment about the contextual.

    I have told a few servers that they would be welcome to card my grandchildren if I send one to buy my alcohol or tobacco, but that they can either process the sale or forfeit it, but I won’t show my drivers license to make the purchase.

    The world can use a little common sense, while still respecting the laws against allowing minors access to controlled products.

    1. Esmae*

      They’re probably carding everybody precisely to avoid the situation LW2 was in, where only one person looked young enough to need to be carded and then felt awkward about it. Servers can’t win with carding.

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      If one of your grandchildren were doing this job and their boss had said “card everybody,” would you want grumpy older customers giving them a hard time about doing as they were told? Think about the cumulative effects of having *every* older customer be a jerk to them day in and day out. Come on, just be kind. Show them your ID and be nice about it. Life is too short to do otherwise.

    3. Broadway Duchess*

      TBH, I don’t think this is a reasonable approach. It may feel good to say, but in reality, the cashier is not the one who makes the regulation and you’re making that person’s job more difficult because you want to make a point. It’s just so unnecessary, especially because you need the cashier’s help to get the thing you want.

  22. Earlk*

    For LW3 it could be helpful to sound like you’re proposing a solution while actually highlighting who needs to come up with the solution, for example “I identified x which could benefit from improvement using y & z skills, who would best fit the brief to look in to it?” It’s not passing the buck it’s identifying the correct needs.

    1. MsM*

      That works as an immediate solution to not having to try and figure out whatever complaint’s just been brought up, but I think it does warrant raising and addressing as a systemic problem.

  23. nodandsmile*

    LW2 – I too intensely dislike being “complimented” about not looking my age. My response to “you don’t look (age)” is usually “what does (age) look like”?
    It’s such a backhanded compliment almost all of the time.

    1. Opal*

      My usual response to, “You don’t look X years old” is…..

      “Yes, I do. This is what X looks like.”

      Not appropriate in all situations. But, works much of the time.

  24. LolaBugg*

    When people are surprised by my age, for instance, when it comes up that I’ve been doing my job for X years but I don’t look old enough to be doing it X years, I usually respond something like, “I’m older than I look” without mentioning a number. It acknowledges that my appearance and age don’t match without getting into specifics.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      That eeminded me of something from childhood that could work. Mom’s response in an opposite situation was simply “Appearances can be deceiving.”

      (I was a late baby, and people were often rather rude about it.)

    2. just another queer reader*

      I once worked with a consultant who said “I know I have great skin, but I’ve been in this business for a long time.”

    3. cleo*

      I’ll also say, “oh yeah, I’m older than I look” and leave it at that. Or I’ll quip that looking younger than my age is my best party trick.

    4. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I get mistaken for being 10+ years younger than I am all the time. I usually say, “Yeah, I get that a lot. I’m a fair bit older than I look” and then move on.

  25. Harper the Other One*

    LW2: until my husband’s hair starting thinning, he looked much younger than his age. He’s a minister and when arriving as a guest preacher at new churches sometimes got mistaken for someone’s grandson there to help move tables. He faced some of the same struggles about being taken seriously, so as funny as it always was, I do appreciate that it can have some real effects on your work!

    For him, the key to getting over being embarrassed or frustrated was remembering that his performance would speak for itself. Most of the time, a shrug and saying something like “it’s the disadvantage of having a young-looking face” was enough. When he got hassled by hospital security going to visit a sick parishioner, he’d go with a flatter tone: “I am on hospital’s official clergy visitation list” (with the addition of “Patient X has requested my presence; please look me up now so I can get to providing them with the support they need” if someone was being really officious.)

    It might help, too, to remember that at this meal the case was concluded: the clients already know you’re a high achiever!

    1. Subtle Sexuality*

      I kept thinking about my husband’s experience with this, too! He’s also a clergyperson and for years and years he’d get comments about how young he looks. He was at one large church for almost 15 years and a few years in (when he was in his early 30s) someone commented to him that they thought he was an acolyte (aka a high schooler) when he started doing the Eucharistic prayer behind the altar. It has been an issue with people assuming he’s less mature/experienced/good at his job because he appeared so young. It’s better now that he’s approaching his mid-forties, but he’s also had to cut out some of his learned behavior, like calling people ma’am or sir, because that just emphasized how young he looked. When people made comments about it he usually would just laugh or say something along the lines of “not the first time I’ve heard that” and that would settle it. And obviously performance goes a long way in disproving the idea that someone who is or looks young is less competent.

  26. Jessica*

    LW2, it occurred to me that you could duck the situation by simply not drinking. But then everyone would probably think you were pregnant, so you can’t win.

  27. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–have you asked the employee about this discrepancy? I have reread the letter twice and I don’t see anything about the manager having asked the employee about what’s going on, why it’s happening, or why it matters? It seems odd to not have started there.

    1. MsM*

      I assume that at this point, they don’t trust whatever answer they’re going to get from the employee and want independent confirmation first. Which suggests to me that even if the investigation does clear the employee, it’s going to be hard if not impossible to fix the damage already done to the relationship.

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        But they never asked about any of it. They’re just drawing conclusions on top of conclusions without any information from the employee.

        1. MsM*

          The numbers are the numbers. If OP figures out it was their own mistake, then no harm done and they don’t need to bring the employee into it at all. But I understand why they’d rather try and rule that out first themselves than start with the word of someone who’s been keeping things from them, let alone give that person a chance to try and cover their tracks if this is more than just an oversight.

        2. Allonge*

          OP did not say here whether they asked about it or not, as it’s not the main part of the actual question about the lie and a PIP for that. I agree OP should have asked but we don’t know if they did or not.

    2. HonorBox*

      I was wondering the same. Even though those private meetings occurred previously, it would be worth bringing up in a quarterly check-in, or even just a one-off meeting.

      “Hey I know we talked about these meetings previously and not having them so much, but I understand it was continuing. Is there a reason for that? Because if there’s something about the process or system, I need to know about that.”

      Maybe there’s a thought that another untruth will follow, but maybe not. Assuming positive intent, or at least neutral intent, might be a way to uncover something that you need to know. And why not have a similar meeting with accounting? If those meetings are actually necessary, how would you know unless you ask.

      1. MsM*

        I’m really not sure why OP needs to assume positive intent at this point. They’ve been bringing this up as an issue for two years. I find it hard to believe they haven’t talked to the other stakeholders and gotten their feedback on whether the meetings are truly necessary, or at least whether they want to be having this many of them. This is past the point of gentle inquiry into why this is still happening and into “I understand that you may not agree with my decision, but that doesn’t mean you get to just ignore it” territory.

  28. Kathleen*

    I understand the OP isn’t upset with the waiter and that commenter are saying she is upset at the comments, but OP also said she was shocked she was the only one carded. Most waiters must card anyone who looks under 30. Most people over 45 do not fit that bill, but she does. I’d personally not say anything to the comments, but if she does she could say the waiter is just doing his job.

    1. Junebug*

      She didn’t say she was shocked to be the only one carded. She said she was shocked at being carded. That’s a different thing.

      The actual issue is the comments about her young appearance, which just happened to be triggered by the carding on this occasion. How to handle the COMMENTS is what she is asking about. It’s not actually about the carding at all. The carding is just contextual information, but everyone seems to have latched on to that one detail instead of the ACTUAL QUESTION.

      1. Kathleen*

        We ordered wine and I was carded. No one else was. I was a little shocked and just handed over my ID;

        I’m not reading it the way you describe.

  29. DJ Abbott*

    #2, something even more ridiculous might be even better. I once had a manager who joked she had been left on the doorstep of the office as a baby. :D
    Or something like “ I went to law school instead of grade school”. Have fun with it, make people laugh. :)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I really like that first response, which suggests an entire Netflix series similar to Wednesday about the adventures of Attorney Matilda, raised at Dewey Cheatham and Howe after she was left by the bagels as an infant.

      1. MsM*

        I’m not sure if we’re specifically talking about giving Roald Dahl’s Matilda a new backstory or just a namesake, but either way, I’m here for it.

  30. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I would not do a raised-eyebrow thing or try to put on some other act around clients or colleagues. I think doing so draws more attention to what happened than I’d want, and also it’s something that might come across well in a movie, but it’s not something that’s always going to fly, seem professional at all, or even be understood in real life.

    I would say something banal and factual, like “Well, that was surprising,” and then continue whatever conversation that was already ongoing. While I’ve never had the exact situation that the LW has had, I was regularly carded until I was nearly 30. The best thing to do in a professional context is to let it pass by as quickly and unnoticed as possible.

    1. HR Friend*

      Yeah, hard agree. It sounds like a couple clients/colleagues made vague compliments that don’t necessitate a response. Any attempt at a splashy or witty reply is going to just prolong the conversation and draw more attention. I (sorta..) understand why it’s annoying to LW, but I agree a bland acknowledgement is the way to go. “Yeah, it happens!” or even just a shrug…. and continue the conversation.

  31. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    LW1, as a manager I would have been hard pressed to want to continue employing a person who deliberately falsified information to disguise an issue they had already been counseled on. I simply wouldn’t be able to trust them. And never lose sight of the fact that no one IS irreplaceable and the damage this employee can do to the organization and morale of the team (please don’t think others haven’t noticed the lack of integrity of this employee) is more important than the inconvenience of replacing them.

  32. Aren't you a bit young to ...*

    I dont think its so much about being seen as younger. OP2 is being seen as female and younger in an environment where she is surrounded by older men, and where it sounded like it is an ongoing challenge for her to be taken seriously and given opportunities. I still get mistaken for 10 years younget than I am, but at 40+ its less of an issue than it was when I was in my 20s (brown skinned F) and training / managing white males in their 40s.

    I’d lean towards a deadpan “Well, that was awkward – I’m surprised he didn’t card you guys as well”… and move on. If it is a compliment for you as a professional lawyer, it would have been a compliment for them too…. right ???

    For other environments, I tend towards an “appearances can be deceiving” followed by a cheeeful and warn greeting as counterbalance ? or a simple, “actually, I’m not…” (to statements like you look to young to do/be/ have xxx)

    In the long run, do you have a supportive older white male colleague who you can prep with certain lines redirecting attention to your professional competence and AWAY from age ? not “OP is our most promising young xyz” but straight “OP is amazing at ABCD” ?

    The struggle is real. Good luck !

  33. Alex*

    #2: I’m 35 and have been consistently gauged at mid-20’s for years. My go-to responses are: “Thanks, I’m a vampire” and laughing it off, or acting smug and saying “still got it!” and laughing. I’ve definitely felt undermined by my own looks and gender a lot. I hope it stops!

  34. Boss Scaggs*

    For #2 I would just move on and not say anything. Any kind of witty quip or comeback is only going to draw more attention to it or make you sound defensive. They already know you’re a competent lawyer.

  35. Alice*

    I don’t get what “accounting meetings” stands for, but I agree with Bubbletea – if the single hardest person to replace, who does good work, is still doing this at the risk of her job, shouldn’t OP be curious about why? I mean, the employee is handling it badly – if she thinks these meetings are important, she needs to explain that and find a solution the boss will endorse – and it may be that the relationship never recovers from the lying – but I think it’s important to understand why this is apparently so important to her.

    1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      Interesting comment. I personally think the motivation to lie is irrelevant. It’s the lack of integrity that matters here. Anyone can justify dishonesty, but integrity dictates that you don’t misbehave regardless of how justifiable you think it is.

      1. OrdinaryJoe*

        re: “I personally think the motivation to lie is irrelevant” … I disagree and as an employer, it would matter to me, too. I’m not sure what the real lie is but it may very well be the employee feels like they are in a catch-22 situation. They are being told not to do X (hold accounting meetings) but also do Y, which they feel they have to hold accounting meetings to accomplish. They may feel they’ve tried to explain the situation and getting no where so they’ve come up with an imperfect solution.

        I feel like a lot of us get into these situations at work with bosses or clients who don’t listen or understand and we just try to muddle through. “No, I’m not looking for a new job/need a mental health day/going to a gaming tournament you don’t think is a valid reason to use vacation time, it’s a dentist appointment!”

        1. Queen Ruby*

          This is exactly what I was thinking, too. Like “I need these meetings to get part of my job done, but for years I’ve been told I can’t have the meetings”. So then there are 2 options – lie about having the meetings and get your job done, or don’t get your job done. Either will have crappy consequences, so why not fall on the side of getting the job done?
          I’m curious as to why this has been an ongoing issue without anyone coming up with a reasonable solution, though.

        2. Littorally*

          Agreed. It doesn’t make the decision to lie somehow morally okay, but it may be a red flag as to some deeper dysfunction that the OP needs to address. This is an “and” consideration, not an “or” consideration — the lying still needs to be handled fully seriously, because a professional with that much experience should be very well aware that falsification and insubordination are not acceptable remedies, and being caught in a catch-22 doesn’t mean they get out of jail free. But most people have some kind of a reason for their behavior.

          Like, thinking about the Wells Fargo scandal (because that’s my industry and something my industry is still grappling with) — fraudulently opened accounts are a big deal and the people doing that need to be handled commensurate to the seriousness of the fraud. But if the unrealistic sales goals that drove their behavior don’t get addressed, the actual problem isn’t fixed. You just swap out the employees for other ones who will be subjected to the same pressures, and you’re likely to end up in a revolving door situation of misbehavior.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      The challenge is, can you believe their explanation? They might just say what they think the LW wants to hear.
      This is why lying would be a dealbreaker for me.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I guess I don’t see why you’re treating asking the employee why she lied and firing her as mutually exclusive? Yes, it’s worth finding out if something’s rotten in your systems or culture. No, getting to the bottom of it won’t mean you can trust that employee to be honest in the future.

      1. Alice*

        Exactly. I mean, is it likely that an apparently talented employee just decided to tank her job and her recommendation from the boss she’s worked with for 12 years for no reason at all?
        OP will be better able to hire and manage the liar’s replacement if OP takes the time to find out why the incumbent thought that lying was the best/only path.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Ok, so it sounds like we’re in agreement that “why she lied” is a separate question from “whether to fire her or put her on a PIP” …and the second question is the one they’re asking for help on.

          So people assumed you were saying the first question is relevant somehow to the second, rather than that you were derailing to speculate on the first question (which we have very little information on, because there was no need for LW to give us the full details).

        2. MsM*

          A talented employee who’s decided to gamble that the hassle of having to replace them will outweigh the offense, or who simply refuses to believe that this is a big enough deal that they need to take “you need to find some other way to do this” seriously despite it coming up in every performance review? I could see that happening, especially when there apparently haven’t been any consequences for the fact it keeps coming up in performance reviews until now, or if OP hasn’t been clear that this has badly damaged their trust.

    4. MsM*

      Except that this employee being too good at their job to replace is contingent on being confident they’re actually doing their job and not, say, fudging numbers. Which OP unfortunately can’t be, given that they’re also having private meetings about numbers stuff behind OP’s back.

      Besides, this has been apparently been a problem for years at this point. I assume OP has given both the employee and sales ample opportunity in those repeated conversations on the subject to explain their side. (Or sides; just because the employee thinks the meetings are necessary doesn’t mean sales agrees, and OP also needs to take that into account.) If the employee’s failed to make the case at this point, it’s on them to accept the verdict as final, not on OP to try and make their obstinacy on the issue make sense.

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        I read it rather differently—this is a critical employee with 12 years’ tenure. The OP has not described what the actual issue is nor have they described what actions they took to address it. And they don’t seem to have taken ANY action to address their suspicions directly with the employee. So yeah, maybe the whole thing is irreparable. But the OP seems weirdly incurious.

        1. MsM*

          The OP is trying to condense the situation to a few digestible paragraphs for the sake of the blog format. I don’t think they owe us a detailed account of every discussion they’ve had on the meetings issue over the course of those multiple performance reviews, or on what’s still an open investigation into a financial discrepancy.

  36. Kkhsd615*

    OP2, it may not work in this exact situation, but I get “you look too young to be a ———-!” frequently at work and I usually reply with “I’m a lot older than I look.”

  37. ticktick*

    LW#2, my go-to response was always “Yeah, I won the genetic lottery there – in my family, we look young until we suddenly collapse in a mass of wrinkles.”

  38. *kalypso*

    Please don’t go with the ‘I graduated at X’ route. Coworkers may know you’re sarcastic but clients may not get the cues and think you’re being literal, and that can turn into hassles, or further draw your reputation into issue – people do actually get in to tertiary education and graduate earlier than the typically expected timeline.

    The best thing is to just do your job, do it well, and redirect back to the thing you’re there for/you have in common. This works for other appearance/age/qualification based judgments also.

  39. Bluebird*

    #2 if it makes you feel any better, when I was 26 I was working as a youth group volunteer coordinator and walked into a room to talk to one of my teachers, and was mistaken by an 8th grader as a new student for the class. So that was awkward.

    1. LW2*

      Yikes. I vaguely know the feeling — one time a court security officer asked if I was at court for a school trip. But being mistaken by someone of the age group at issue is another level!

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Court security once asked me the same thing! It wasn’t my usual courthouse, and all I could think to say was, “Nope. Lawyer.” Did the suit not tip them off?

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I was invited to join a local church’s high school youth group at 34. (To be fair I was wearing baggy jeans, a sloppily-oversized Mickey Mouse hoodie and a baseball cap, but.)

    3. bamcheeks*

      I used to have a very young looking music teacher in school and she used to wave her coffee mug to get into places that students weren’t allowed. Students didn’t carry ceramic mugs!

      1. Adultier Adult*

        My first seven years as a teacher, I frequently got yelled at for being in the faculty section of the cafeteria. I turn 40 this week- no longer happening. LOL

    4. Reed Weird*

      I accidentally did this to someone once at a bar. I thought she was upper twenties, maybe five years older than me, and she was really cute so I danced with her, bought her a drink, and otherwise flirted for a while before we went outside to talk without screaming over music. That’s when she finally mentioned being 35 and over 10 years older than me! She mostly felt terrible because she’d assumed I was at least 30, and she wouldn’t have let me buy her a drink if she knew I was that much younger XD

      1. I have RBF*

        LOL. After you hit 40, a ten year age difference is immaterial. My spouse is ten years older than I am. As long as both people are over 18 there’s not a worry about underage grooming or whatever. I’ve actually known some May-December relationships that have 30 years or more gap! They are going fine.

    5. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I was buying a new laptop the summer after I graduated law school, and the Best Buy employee thought I was going to be an incoming freshman in college.

    6. Avery*

      This certainly makes me feel better for having similar conversations happen when in college! (I had to observe a middle school class for a day as part of an education course, and I got asked repeatedly whether I was a new student. Again, college.)

      1. Moonstone*

        The same thing happened to me. I was shadowing at my old high school in a ninth grade class when I was 22. Several students approached me throughout the day asking if I was a new student.

  40. Kotow*

    #2: Completely agree. This isn’t the best script, but depending on the audience my go-to response is something along the lines of “you just told me I look like a teenager, that’s not a compliment.” That usually changes the subject pretty quickly. Or, I’d just decline the alcohol and the server immediately decided I was “old enough” because he/she (usually a she) was forfeiting a tip on an extra $16. For whatever it’s worth, this stopped for me around the time I was 34–I’m not sure if it’s because I genuinely started looking the correct age, or because this was during Covid and staff had much bigger fish to fry. I also found that you can totally do facial exercises to force wrinkles and creases earlier, which helps, pulling my hair back is a no-go, as is smiling too much because it reads as “bubbly” which equals “teenager” (RBF is what you have to do to win this game). Now I rarely get ID’d.

    And yes, there is a gendered aspect to this because it’s usually the women getting ID’d instead of the men. I’ve even seen women who are pushing **50** getting asked for IDs and of course it doesn’t help that they often take it as a compliment. I still say that being mistaken for 30 (a real adult) when you’re 50 is different from being mistaken for 16/18 (a teenager) when you’re 32.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, your last sentence is what grinds my gears about this and several of the people who mistook me – a 32-year-old – for a teenager then went the “you’re going to be so happy about this [i. e. your young looks] once you’re 50!!” route and while I can appreciate the sentiment in the same way you laid out here I also really don’t care at all about looking old so no, I don’t think I’m going to be particularly happy about this at 50. (I’m probably not going to be UNhappy about it, either, but seriously, I don’t care.)

      1. feel like a manikin*

        I’m a cis-white male [FWIW] with a “slow aging face” and I was carded into my late 30s [where the drinking age is 18]. Yup, there is no unhappy or happy about this as one ages. The people who comment on other people’s looks are simply weird and rude. It’s never a “compliment”. I’m in my early 60s and still get called “cute”, get accused of dying my hair, and get told I’m “so lucky” to look so young or “good” for my age, etc., etc., etc. The only reasonable response is silence. If I’m feeling snippy I’ll reply with a “that’s a weird thing to say” or similar.

    2. umami*

      I do wonder if women aren’t so much taking it as a compliment but are just playing the game. I’ve seen some women pretend it’s a compliment as a deflection to avoid that awkwardness and then expressed their annoyance once the server is gone. I can’t say they are wrong for trying to keep the interaction pleasant when someone is just doing their job.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        This! I’ve spent years trying to smooth over awkwardness for service workers. For a long time, my stock response to carding was a breezy, “I choose to be flattered.”

        Then one day, the waiter flatly replied, “Don’t be. I have to ask everybody.”

        Never again.

    3. amoeba*

      While I understand the general problem of assuming looking younger = good, being carded does not imply that you look like a teenager! The policy usually has a huge buffer to take care of people looking older – it can be “anybody who looks younger than 25” or even 30.

      (In the UK, I’ve even seen signs with “If you’re lucky enough to look under 25, you will be asked to prove you’re over 18 when buying alcohol”. Now we can certainly discuss the wording, but I’d still be much happier being taken for 24 than for 17!)

    4. Cj*

      after seeing these type of comments, I’m curious where the letter writer lives. in my state, you’re supposed to be card if you look like you’re under 40, so being carded doesn’t mean they think you look like a teenager, it means you look like you’re under 40. which letter writer is and the men with her weren’t. is it not the same in other states?

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yes, it’s different. I’m in my early 30s and look younger, and I’m often not carded.

      2. LW2*

        This happened in California (which is not where I live). But I don’t think anyone interpreted it as the waiter conveying that I looked younger than 40; if that were the case, there wouldn’t have been any of the ‘what a compliment’-esque comments.

  41. Bottle of Wine, Fruit of the Vine*

    Tennessee now requires “everyone” be carded. 70- something with gray hair and a cane? “sorry sir, I don’t want to lose my job”. It was a little irritating at first, but why not? It takes the responsibility off the server to be able to divine ages. And it stops “all” the protests, except when one of us oldsters forgets to bring ID. Shrug emoji.

  42. Tasha*

    #3 reminds me of Ross Perot: “When I was at EDS, the one who saw a snake, killed it!” Dana Carvey did a great skit on Saturday Night Live in the 90s of this.

  43. TotesMaGoats*

    OP #1-If you end up with two documented instances of lying, this person needs to be fire. To be honest, I’d probably have fired them after the first instance. Secret meetings when you’ve been explicitly told not to meet with a group of people as much is insubordination in a major way.

    OP#2-I wouldn’t use 14, I’d pick an age that’s ridiculously low so. Like 5. Something completely improbably. I also skew very young even though I’m now 40. I tend to say that I started working in higher ed when I was 8, which is technically true. I did help my mom double check IPEDs reports at that age.

  44. NYWeasel*

    LW3: I think there might be a way to frame your issues better to get what you need. Let’s say the llama grooming team is running behind schedule and it’s affecting the nail clipping your team does. If you say to your boss “The llama grooming team is late” or “the hair dryer keeps cutting out in the middle of appointments” you already know you’ll get the “so what are you going to do about it?” question back.

    Instead of just flagging the issue, try outlining a need to your boss. “We identified that there are no obvious technical reasons why the llama grooming team is running late. Would you be able to check in with Jane to see if she’s aware that they are running so far behind, and if they can focus on getting back on schedule?” Likewise, if you aren’t the right person to assess the hair dryer problems, then try to ask Sansa directly to weigh in. Or if that’s politically an issue, again, ask your boss to facilitate the assignment with Sansa’s boss.

    If you’re already doing all of this and your boss still pushes it on you, then it sounds like you’re in a truly dysfunctional environment and you aren’t going to make any significant improvements without massive change.

  45. pinyata*

    Re: #4, I usually expand on an answer in my thank-you notes after interviews anyway, because almost inevitably I think of something I would have wanted to add, and it gives me something to say besides “Thank you, I’m still interested.” I think it’s totally fine to give more detail on a question whether you felt you flubbed it or not!

  46. kina lillet*

    LW2: Paradoxically it comes off as way younger and less authoritative to be visibly bothered about being carded. I wouldn’t try to be snappy about it; all you need to say if you get a look or a comment is, “yeah, I still get carded sometimes.” Or if you get gently teased about being young just shrug.

    It’s probably a bit of a cultural difference since I’ve lived in college towns for a long time, but it’s really not a big deal to be carded. Genuinely, I think it’s bizarre that so many commenters place so much meaning on it. Getting defensive or snippy about it at all, is going to look way way worse than just moving on.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think you missed the part where LW says “the waiter was just doing his job” and instead was asking how to react to the fact that “a few of the men said something about how it was a compliment. But it isn’t: it undermines my authority. It’s already difficult enough to get speaking experience as an associate, and it really doesn’t help to have a client doubting whether I can handle the work. It’s also sexist – I note that there was a clear gender divide in reactions when I told this story to my friends and family. And I am so sick of being infantilized.”

      This isn’t at all about being carded; it’s about how the LW’s colleagues responded–in a sexist and ageist way–and how to deal with that.

      1. kina lillet*

        Yes, that’s what my comment is about too, thankfully we’re on the same page. Obviously you’re welcome to disagree, but re-pasting a section of the letter like this is a pretty irritating way to go about it.

        1. Littorally*

          Is it, though? Your comment seems focused on the getting carded part, not about the heading off jokes about the LW’s age part.

          1. Frost*

            “all you need to say if you get a look or a comment is”

            Emphasis mine. kina lillet is offering advice on how to respond to looks or comments.

      2. Usagi*

        The colleague who made a comment about it being a compliment seems like he was just trying to diffuse OP’s obvious embarrassment at being carded. Unless they kept razzing her all evening about it, the “ehh, it’s a compliment!” comment is a very standard response.

  47. CommanderBanana*

    “The solutions-focused culture often means that, when people raise problems or concerns with managers, they’re told “well, what do you think we should do to fix this?”

    Ah, yes. The CEO of my last org loved to spout leaderbabble and one of his favorite phrases was “don’t come to him with problems, come to him with solutions.”

    Very interesting perspective, since one of us was getting paid 800K/year to be the CEO, and it wasn’t me.

    1. pinyata*

      Exactly why I hate this phrase. It just ends up sounding like the person who has way more power than I do, the person who can actually make things happen, the person who makes WAY more money than I do, considers my problem a burden or a whining complaint. Take my knowledge of my work into account and ask for feedback or brainstorm together when creating or implementing solutions, absolutely. Make me do your work for you, no.

      1. Junior Dev*

        You hit the nail on the head with the “whining” bit—these norms can arise when management sees raising issues as “complaints” or”bad attitude” rather than crucial information for the business. If they really are getting excessive complaints, there are better ways to filter for things that actually matter.

      2. I have RBF*

        I had to bring up problems like burnout and work/life balance to management at one place. Like “over my boss’s head” management.

        I knew that they wouldn’t stand for just a litany of complaints. So my solution was:
        A) Identify the problem (what),
        B) Identify the cause(s) of the problem (why),
        C) Propose solutions or changes by management to mitigate the problem, even if I could not be the one to implement the changes (how).

        If I didn’t bring proposed solutions, I knew they wouldn’t listen to me, they would just see it as an IC complaining.

        It didn’t fully work because the problems were systemic and cultural to the company, but the upper manager was actually impressed that I’d brought solution ideas rather than just problems.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah I feel like that’s something CEOs hear in a workshop and think “yes, I want to have workers who have SOLUTIONS and are EMPOWERED!”. And then they come back to work thinking they’re doing everyone a favor by implementing this mindset. Meanwhile people ARE making solutions behind the scenes, but then feel unheard when they have a real problem that needs input from above and are told “come to me with a solution!!”. Uhh, the solution is that you do your job and address this problem.

    3. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      My sister, a nurse, worked closely with the president of the hospital. Whenever he tried laying some responsibility on her, she smiled and breezily said “that’s why they pay you the big bucks!” He made over 10x what she earned and she did not play.

  48. Queen Ruby*

    I’ve always looked younger than I am. I’m almost 44 now, and people still guess my age to be early-mid 30s. When I was 28, I started a new job, and was the youngest of all others in the same position (though not by a lot, 5 years or so). During my first week, 3 people commented to my boss about how young they thought I was, including the highest-up VP. My boss told me about the comments, and I had many sarcastic possible responses. He loved all of them – we shared a very sarcastic sense of humor. Among the comments – “Would you like to see my resume? No really, would you?” and “What do you want me to do? Spend more time sunbathing in baby oil?”
    I did actually make those comments to a few people. What can I say, I had huge balls at the time lol. I think my young, cute appearance helped me get away with it.

  49. HonorBox*

    LW2 – I absolutely feel for you. The age thing sucks. I heard repeatedly from one or two people when I was promoted to a management role how young I was. I couldn’t tell if it was a lighthearted thing or a dig at my relative inexperience (though I would bet dollars to donuts it is the latter). I think the best thing to do is let it sit, look at the person directly and let them feel awkward. Or simply state that you’re there to do your job as a lawyer.

    Given how crappy it made me feel, I’ve tried really hard as I’ve progressed in my career not to speak about someone’s age. It would be a kindness to everyone to not bring up ages, age gaps, when you graduated from high school, what you remember from the year they were born, etc.

  50. JustMe*

    LW 3 – Terrible management strategy. At OldJob, the CEO used to say, “Don’t come to me with a problem unless you also have a proposed solution.” Um, no. I don’t always have the knowledge to make decisions surrounding big problems–sometimes, it needs to be the person who can look at the org chart AND the budget AND the strategic plan AND who knows whether or not Fergus is getting that promotion next year. Those are things the CEO needs to do. Also, in my particular line of work, we were dealing with compliance. Sometimes I would see things and go, “Oh my god this could have serious repercussions if it’s not brought to management, but I have no idea what to do about it.” It created an awful catch-22.

    I think employers do this when the company is dysfunctional and they’re tired of employees coming to them with concerns (which they view as complaining)–they’re trying to put it back on the employee to think about whether this ACTUALLY has to be a complaint and trying to get them to see that something may not be ideal but it’s the best of the options available. They’re not getting that as leaders, they need to field those concerns and manage them as, you know, managers. Sometimes that means listening to your employees and dropping everything in an emergency. Sometimes it means saying, “I hear you, and we should look at that eventually, but right now we aren’t in a place to prioritize that” or “That’s an interesting problem. Long term, maybe we can brainstorm ways to fix this. In the short term, let’s do xyz.”

  51. I should really pick a name*


    I think checking other sources for info about the LW would put Alison at risk of including info that they don’t want shared.

    It’s not so much universal vs specific as it is protecting privacy. Alison only shares what the LW chose to share in the letter.

  52. Jess*

    The employee is the best one they have OUT OF 50, and yet feels they need to cover up their methods and processes for the results they get? Yeah, the LW may be the problem…why not try asking WHY they go about their methods they way they do and replicate the results?

    This feels like an unnecessarily authoritarian type of management over an employee getting excellent results by taking matters into their own hands. I’m not defending the deception, I’m questioning the rationale behind it in the absence of regulatory infraction. It sounds like a my way or highway manager who was not capable of the level of performance the employee exhibits and so “manages” out of an inability to “lead”. Just my .02 from the trenches.

    1. Kara*

      The employee is the best one out of 50 -according to the metrics some of which the employee has been caught falsifying-. Quite frankly, I would be looking around to see how long this has been going on, because this sounds like the kind of scenario where after the employee leaves down the road it turns out that they’d been embezzling/falsifying/cheating all along.

      LW, is there any way to audit their previous work? I suspect you may have a bigger problem on your hands than you realize.

    2. MsM*

      OP didn’t say the “best,” OP said the most difficult to replace because they fill a “critical function.” But if that function relies on being able to trust the numbers in their reports are accurate, or not burning the entire department’s goodwill with other managers by scheduling a bunch of meetings that could be emails, OP can’t necessarily afford to keep them on even if the search for their replacement is going to take a while.

  53. Manchmal*

    OP#2: I wonder if a few of those men you were with also found it awkward that you were carded and said something about it being a compliment to diffuse the situation or otherwise put a light spin on it. If those guys are your clients and colleagues, and they had just seen you work during the trial, I don’t think any of them had any misunderstanding about your being too young, not a lawyer, or otherwise less-than. I’m not sure anyone is deserving of a snarky comment or quip in that moment. I think the best way to handle it is with poise and nonchalance, or humor if you think that would play better with that audience. I think it would be kind of hilarious to say something like, “What he (the waiter) doesn’t know is that I’m actually an 834-year-old vampire!” I do like the idea that Alison suggested in that vein, of “Yep, I graduated Harvard Law at 14!” But you have to do it with a sense of humor rather than a chip on your shoulder (although I certainly understand why this would grate!!). You have every right to be annoyed by constantly being told you look really young, but in that situation, you have nothing to gain by showing that irritation, and everything to gain by being really self-possessed and blasé about it.

    I personally do put a little bit of fault on the waiter, because they are singling you out and they can plainly see the demographic composition of your table. Would it have been so difficult for them to card one other person? I bet it would have felt really different if they had.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I don’t put any blame on the server. Either by law or by restaurant policy, they have to card people who look like they could be below a certain age. Maybe it’s 35, maybe it’s 40, heck–maybe it’s 30 and OP looks like she could be 29. But that’s their job.

      They’re not thinking about the demographics of the table, or how it might make OP look to coworkers or clients. They have a lot of other things to think about.

  54. Kara*

    LW, as someone routinely identified as a decade younger than i am, have you considered short circuiting the whole thing by just pulling your ID out of your wallet when you order? For me at least it turns it from an age judgement to just something you do and completely removes the server pointing out that you look younger than everyone else. “I’d like a margarita on the rocks please”, *hands over ID that’s kept in the front/top pocket of your wallet for easy access* *server glances at ID, then hands it back and moves on to the next person*

    The idea is to keep it brief and casual; something unremarkable. If someone does comment (rare in my experience), it’s easy to say something breezy such as ‘You never know what a place’s carding policies are, now how about that subject change?’

    1. Littorally*


      Good tactic. Smooth, simple, and if you time it right, you can be talking or keeping the conversation on a pre-existing topic as you do it so that anyone who wants to comment on your age would have to change the subject to do so.

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

      This is perfect. Especially if she can be the first to order, then she can sort of set the precedence. And sometimes places will card if you are under 40 or something, so she knows that she is of the age that she may have to be carded.
      Also, if there is any comment she can say, “well many restaurants have policies that they have to card if the person looks under 40. It’s just good business practice to provide my ID right away.” or even “maybe they didnt used to but more establishments card you if you are under 40. It’s just normal.”
      And honestly, can we all just have our IDs ready if we’re going to be ordering alcohol? Let’s make it normal so that those who are younger know what to expect when they get to be drinking age, and to make it less awkward for those who are in their mid to late 20s but might be in a professional role.

  55. Observer*

    #2 – Being carder and comments

    Being carded doesn’t impugn your authority. A strong reaction would. I think that some of suggestions you’ve gotten for dealing with the guards are pretty good as they should tamp things down without sounding “too emotional” or petulant, etc.

    As for the comments from the others, I agree that if you’re like most people and can’t manage a single raised eyebrow, a humorous comment would make sense. Like the quip “Yeah, I’m a prgidy who graduated at 14” or “Well, it’s better than looking like a cat”. You’re not looking for a brilliant or very clever comeback here. More like “Oh, haha this might have been funny once upon a time, but at this point, can we just move on” without sounding grumpy.

  56. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – the example you gave was a hypothetical, but I felt that since it is representative of the kind of lying your employee is doing, that perhaps you need to look at WHY the person is lying.

    Basically – is she falsifying her efforts OR does she have a business reason for doing what she is doing? Does she need more information or training? Is there a process issue that she can’t resolve, but she has to get work done, and so she’s hiding the steps she’s taking to do it because she knows you don’t approve?

    Perhaps I’m extrapolating too much from your example, but it struck me as the kind of thing where there might be a problem the employee can’t resolve, so they are doing a workaround, and not telling you.

    eg. from personal experience. I was NOT allowed to start projects at a company I worked for, unless certain sign-offs were already obtained from finance. Finance would not sign off on the project starting until the client had signed the contract. However, without starting the project preparations beforehand, the company could not land the project with the client. It was a total catch-22 situation. Officially, I was not doing the work I was definitely doing. My manager didn’t want to know and didn’t approve, but without that pre-work, my client group in the company would have been up a creek.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      My mind went to this is well. WHY is the employee having meetings with X-Team?
      Are they cross-functional and are supposed to be working with X-Team to produce work? Do they need vital information from X-Team to do their job and this is best done via a meeting?

      I’m trying to take this letter at face value, but I admit I also have reservations. Mainly because I was in a similar situation because I had responsibility for two products (Say Oa and Ob) and my manager was only in charge of Ob. My new-to-company manager got angry whenever I would do work for the Oa product I had been supporting for 4 years, and began to actively sabotage my efforts to do any work for Oa, or even talk or participate in Oa activities because she wanted everything to be about her Ob product. Understandable, but it was a horrible situation for the company to put me in as my KPIs were for supporting BOTH products, not just hers.

  57. Hiring Mgr*

    I think for #2 whatever you should say you should say to your colleagues later on – if your concern is that this is happening in front of clients, coming up with a pointed response might make them think you’re overly sensitive, taking a joke too seriously, etc.

  58. PunkArseCataloguer*

    In the interview for the position I have now, I realized afterward that I left out a rather large part of my experience when answering a question, so when I emailed my thank you, I did a “By the way, in the moment, I left out…” and also included a link to what I was talking about; it was a very specialized library collection I had catalogued, and the interview was for a cataloguing position, so forgetting it was not great! After I had been hired and started, my boss told me that she and her supervisor really appreciated my follow-up about the question, and getting to _see_ my work was a huge plus! For once, my forgetful brain was useful!

  59. I should be working*

    For LW3, I agree with bringing the pattern up as a problem that needs to be solved collaboratively.

    I have found that in a lot of cases suggesting a solution to a problem isn’t necessarily hard but implementing it is. Many people can look at an annoying part of their job and say “if I/We/They did it this way, my job would be easier”.
    However making change successfully isn’t something I as an individual contributor with no influence over what anyone else does butyself can do without the time to do it, or the backing and active ongoing support of management. Also something that could make my job easier could make someone else’s job harder. as an IC, I don’t have the wider context that managers have to know about this. Without management’s backing, perspective, and commitment, these “solutions” will almost be guaranteed to fail.

  60. 2 Cents*

    OP #2 My friend is in Big Law and looks younger than her age. Her tactic, so far, is to look “expensive” (tailored suits, expensive shoes, name bag and briefcase, extremely polished appearance) because she keeps being mistaken for the court reporter, not the opposing counsel.

    I’m thinking the Christine Baranski eyebrow with a look/smirk would’ve been appropriate (after the server left). I’m sorry — I know it’s so hard to establish yourself as an attorney in that crowd when the odds are already stacked against you.

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

      I don’t think that the issue is that the waiter carded the OP. She says that they were doing their job. I don’t think she would have been embarrassed just by that. It seems more that the others made comments about her being carded.

      Honstly, if she could get away with it, I would have her say something like, “well I guess I’m still at the age to get carded.” referring to the fact that many places card if you are under 40, and also subtly digging at that her coworkers are older

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Yep. My work drag includes having my hair Done, wearing serious gold jewelry and scarves that anyone who recognizes a certain very expensive French designer will clock.

      Out of work drag I probably look 10 years younger, since it’s usually a band T-shirt covered in dog hair.

  61. Jiminy cricket*

    For #2: “Well, clearly the waiter didn’t see me in court today.” (After he leaves, of course.)

  62. Littorally*

    1. The liar
    Alison is right. There’s no real way to PIP this, because you can’t accept someone reducing their lies from 60% to 20% falsehoods. The lying needs to stop, immediately, and your employee needs to demonstrate that they have the capability to actually follow instructions and not just pretend to follow instructions while in fact going behind your back and falsifying information to keep doing stuff they have been explicitly told not to do. This is more than just common garden-variety lying about doing their job — which is already very bad! This is specifically falsifying information to cover up insubordination, so you’ve got a double whammy of problems from this guy. That’s… well, I think there’s no real way you’re ever going to be able to trust them again, and the best thing for all involved is for your employee to start over somewhere else.

    2. The carding
    I’ve gotten this a bunch too, LW — it’s slightly different in my case since I’m a guy, but I’m a trans guy, which means that over the phone I’ve only very recently grown mostly out of my husky teenager voice and also look very young in person. And it definitely does hit against perceived authority! I have to pull up and have serious conversations with management about regulatory requirements, and do that all while my voice cracks like I’m in high school. Along with the general perception that trans people are all Gen Z children, this can be really undermining for me.

    The best thing I can suggest is to cultivate a bearing that works against your perceived youthfulness, because this can cut down on the comments before they happen. This might mean leaning toward a stern expression and tone of voice; don’t smile unless you really mean to, and develop a slightly icy resting demeanor. If you like fantasy books, think about the Aes Sedai in the Wheel of Time — they don’t really age, but their gaze and manner conveys that they’re much older than they look and are to be taken very seriously. I’ve also spent a lot of time practicing my delivery both in speech therapy and on my own time, using recordings of my voice to find the balance between the sort of casualness that comes from confidence and enough formality to demonstrate that I both mean business and know my business extremely well.

    In the moment, owning your appearance and brushing it aside can be powerful. Getting defensive and outright pushing back is counterproductive because it’s unnecessary friction with people you don’t want friction with (clients, partners), and Alison is right that rolling over and thanking someone is no good either (it conveys that the jokes are welcome and appreciated). Instead, saying something like “Well, appearances are deceiving” has the benefit of being socially smooth, ie not contradicting anyone or trying to start a fight, while also conveying that you don’t really agree with their assessment of your age.

  63. DivergentStitches*

    I noticed that LW#1 doesn’t mention whether she’s spoken to the lying employee at all about the lying yet. Is it possible the employee feels they need to have those meetings but feel management isn’t listening? The LW says she’s discussed this with HR but not the employee. I’d really suggest having a meeting with the employee to talk it through and at that point the LW having questions about the employee’s trustworthiness can be brought up if needed. The employee needs to know that the manager is feeling this way.

    1. MsM*

      I don’t know why people keep saying OP hasn’t addressed the problem with the employee when OP says there have been multiple performance reviews where the meetings have come up as a problem. Maybe OP’s been too soft in that feedback up to this point, or hasn’t made it clear there will be serious consequences if it continues, but the employee knows OP doesn’t want them doing it. Hence the entire problem with keeping it off public calendars so OP wouldn’t find out.

  64. Jiminy cricket*

    I am really feeling the weight of some of the gendered language being directed at LW#2: Don’t look snippy, emotional, petulant, or sensitive. Don’t look like you can’t take a joke. Be gracious. Laugh it off.

    Is it generally good advice? Sure. But women have been twisting ourselves to meet these standards so as not to offend people all our lives. It gets so tiring.

    1. Observer*

      Sure it’s tiring. But it’s even more tiring to keep getting under-estimated because you’re a woman. So, most of the advice here is intended to be pragmatic harm reduction.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Whoa. This is very speculative and unfair to the OP. Commenting rules are we take OP’s word.

      The sales team attending doesn’t mean its useful for the sales team. People go to meetings that aren’t useful for them all the time. Biggest reasons being they are useful to the person hosting the meeting or they don’t feel that they can say no.

      Lying is a huge deal. It doesn’t matter if the manager is wrong about the meetings – there’s professional ways to advocate for what you think is necessary. And ultimately if the boss says no, even if they’re wrong, then its a no.

      As far as not knowing if the employees work is correct – that has nothing to do with whether the managers accounting skills are good. It takes time to investigate these things and frankly you should want a manager who, at the sign of a significant error, who carefully and fairly audits the work.

  65. Forrest Rhodes*

    #2 In a business setting, I guess it wouldn’t be appropriate to respond to comments about how young you look by saying, “Yes, but you should see this painting I have in my attic … “

    1. Littorally*

      Honestly, the right attitude could probably pull it off! Nothing inappropriate about literary references, after all…. even if it’s Wilde.

  66. Fluffy Fish*

    OP1 – If you really want to try to address the lying before letting this person go, I suggest you approach it by naming the issue and asking why.

    “Employee I told you to stop doing x. You have not only continued to do x, you have been intentionally deceptive by doing y. Why did you do that? Lying is serious and cannot happen. If it happens again it will lead to your immediate dismissal. Do you understand?”

    But personally I wouldn’t care why. It’s a direct refusal to follow explicit instructions.

    1. My Brain is Exploding*

      #2 My work background is health care. For years I often got, “You look too young to be a doctor,” from patients. I just blandly said something like, “I’m older than I look” and carried on with taking their patient history.

  67. Frost*


    Did you talk to the employee about the ongoing meetings and the fact that they are marked private? I think you need to have that conversation before jumping to a PIP (and yes, this is something PIPable). Explicitly say, and use your own words, “I told you that you needed to have fewer meetings. It’s come to my attention that you are having the same number of meetings and marking them private. If there is a particular outcome of these meetings that you need, we can talk about how to get that. I want to be clear, though, that I am serious about holding fewer meetings. Going against my instructions here is impacting your performance review* and could lead to a PIP if I don’t see you doing things differently.”

    About a PIP, and about the *:
    Have you been factoring this into their review and his bonus? It’s been going on for two years. If the only outcome is that you keep talking about it, what is their motivation to stop?

    PIPs are for any performance issue. That can be work quality or that can be soft skills, or that can be honesty and transparency. They are a little harder to write when they are about soft skills and values, as they need to be something you can monitor and measure. Think about what you would need to see from them to rebuild your trust in them, then translate that into behaviors you can observe.

    The number of meetings is something trackable. What would you need to feel confident that you know about all the meetings? For example, would having their calendar completely viewable by you so you can monitor who they meet with be something you would want to do? What about being an info-only invitee for all meetings? You would have to think about how to handle any personal meetings that they don’t want to disclose the nature of or any sensitive meetings–for example, maybe they want to meet with HR on their own and want to be able to do so without you monitoring them. Or maybe you just review their calendar each week during the PIP progress meetings and talk about each item on the calendar.

    You can put some monitoring measure in place for the other discrepancy as well–what about reviewing their work on some regular schedule, but I propose doing it during the PIP meetings so you can contain the amount of monitoring you are signing up for. Of course, this is assuming that seeing no further discrepancies arise is what it will take to rebuild your trust, and only you can decide that.

    This feels a little grade school-ish, but maybe they can create a written weekly memo on their progress and (this is the grade school-ish part) include why they think giving you these updates will help rebuild the trust they broke. On that note, however, including them in creating the PIP, and working with them to write up the justification and the goals, can really be an instrument to drive home the impact of what they did and make them a collaborator of their success.

    Finally, if you decide to do a PIP, do it in good faith. Do not manage them out. Just manage them. Whether they are in or out depends on their own decisions.

    1. Observer*

      (and yes, this is something PIPable).

      How exactly can you PIP this? The insubordination MAY be solvable, but lying? No. And if it turns out that this new issue is also deliberate, there’s just no coming back.

      Here is the thing. Say the the OP does what you suggest. Maybe the employee stops having those meetings. But how will the OP know? The employee hid them once. What makes you think that they just won’t do a better job at hiding their tracks going forward.

      Same question for all of the other measures you mention. And to even come close to having any possibility of being measurable, it would require an enormous amount of work. Because basically, you would need the employee to give you a detailed list of everything they have done that’s relevant, and the OP then needs to take the time to independently verify that! And that assumes that they CAN verify all of this without doing harm. Same for making sure that the work that gets handed in is accurate.

      This is not what PIP’s are for.

        1. Observer*

          And I addressed them.

          The bottom line, these suggestions take an enormous amount of work and cross checking. And even then, the OP would have no way to know whether the employee is just being better at hiding stuff. That’s untenable.

  68. Usagi*

    OP3 this system is idiotic. It sounds like something someone read in a book (the kind featured on If Books Could Kill!)

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      The system LW3 refers to is real. There are platforms where I can’t articulate an issue because I’ll be assigned its resolution (and the irony being if I could fix it, it would be fixed already).

  69. Michelle Smith*

    LW4: I would also suggest that because they are asking for your references, you may be moving forward in the process and perhaps did not flub the answer as much as you think.

  70. Rebecca*

    OP#2 – I’ve experienced this, and I’d suggest making a business lunch appropriate joke. It lets them know you don’t like it, without being too literal. I say something like:

    I earned “get off my lawn rights” a few years back, and I enjoy them. Or:

    I happen to be old enough that I had trouble opening a pdf once.

    Or whatever lighthearted, jokey thing you can say. It gets the point across without calling then out directly and it isn’t aggressive.

  71. Julie*

    To the young-looking lawyer who was carded — an easy way to avoid this situation in the future is to order bottled water.

  72. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#2, I’m a cishet man so take my perspective as you will. My wife is a young-looking trial attorney, though. We’ve had this conversation enough times that I know how she’d respond:

    The fact that you’re at the table says a whole hell of a lot more about your perceived competency than how old a waiter thinks you are. Everyone that matters judges you based on your performance in court. If they underestimate you, that gives you an edge over them. That’s her attitude at least. She did definitely feel a bit deflated in the moment when that kind of shit happened, though.

    1. LW2*

      Thank you, that was heartening :) (Specifically, “The fact that you’re at the table says a whole hell of a lot more . . .”)

  73. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    No real advice for #3, just a flashback to my former company where our team pushed through a process improvement project that resulted in 50% fewer defects and the response was “why didn’t you do it right the first time”.

    Come to think of it that might have been the day I updated my resume.

  74. Anony776*

    #2 Awkward comments after getting carded at a business lunch

    That is not as bad as going out to lunch with your boss and being handed a kids menu!!! I am asian female in my mid 30s and 5ft petite. I agree that you address it in one sentence and quicky change the subject so it is not being dwelled upon.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      You just reminded me of a funny story from my work. I preface by saying this was just a funny scenario and not intended to take anything away from OP’s very really concerns about being perceived as young especially as a woman.

      Years ago I was on a ride along with a fire and rescue employee. I was mid 30’s at the time but I’m petite and often mistaken for younger – especially when wearing street clothes. We went to a scene and a reporter showed up asking questions, very nice person, just making small chat.

      She asked if I was his daughter. He’s maybe 5-6 years older than me. I about died laughing. He was less amused.

      1. Anony776*

        haha, sometimes the best way is to laugh it off and move on quickly. I would have been deep down embarrassed.

  75. The OG Sleepless*

    I’ve commented a couple of times above about the rules for carding people and so forth, but my serious answer to the LW’s question is that I would have matter-of-factly shown my ID and given a small smile, the kind you might give when you see someone making a minor faux pas you’ve decided to overlook, and graciously moved on with the conversation. Don’t look ruffled or offended. The men at the table who made comments get the same small smile.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean they had, I’m just describing the facial expression and not doing a very good job. I mean more just looking patiently gracious without making a big deal.

        1. Giant Kittie*

          Why should she give the server a “patiently gracious” look when again, they are doing their job and following the LAW?

          I’ve been carded in my 40s and 50s and I don’t treat it like a big deal at all, because I *do* look younger than my actual age and I certainly don’t want anyone getting in trouble for not carding the person who looks under 40.

  76. Heather*

    Does anyone feel like LW1 didn’t explain enough? Why are the meetings a performance issue? While keeping things secret IS a problem, why does the employee feel the meetings are needed? Is it possible there is a miscommunication in how information is transferred? Is there an issue with feedback generally from department to department? If the employee is truly critical to the company, is it possible that the employee is seeing something missing that management/LW is avoiding handling?

    1. fhqwhgads*

      If this employee has been told to stop doing this for YEARS, and the letter says he has, none of that matters. The point is the employer (sounds like not just OP specifically but the company) has been telling him not to do The Thing. He kept doing The Thing. This year, instead of stopping doing The Thing, he starting Hiding Doing The Thing. The problem at hand is Doing The Thing While Intentionally Trying to Give the Impression of Not Doing The Thing. So the problem is no longer Doing the Thing, although yes they’ve been saying Stop Doing The Thing for years. The problem is now Instead of Stopping Kept Doing The Thing While Trying To Make It Look Like Stopped.

  77. dorian gray*

    fellow young-looking female attorney here. the short version of my advice is: learn how to use it to your advantage. if people assume you are new and inexperienced, they will underestimate you at every turn…. until you open your mouth and show them otherwise.

    also: i get that servers are just doing their jobs, but i’m 37, get aggressively carded (roughly 50-60% of the time i order an alcoholic beverage, restaurant or bar – doesn’t matter) and am honestly tired of the implication that i look like a literal child. it isn’t even just alcohol – i got asked where my mother was when i tried to take a sample at costco when i was 26. pretty sure i was in my 30s the last time i was carded for an R rated movie. when i was out to dinner with my husband and father recently, the server looked at me and asked if i wanted a lemonade. my dad just about DIED laughing when she carded me and i think she felt really awkward.

    depending on the company i’m in, i’ll make jokes about how much i’m saving by not needing Botox, make a joke about having a portrait in my attic that is aging very rapidly (which i actually do! a friend had one custom made for me as a joke), or tell one of my go-to anecdotes about a time i was aggressively carded. i have several, my favorite being the time when a walgreens clerk thought my husband was attempting to buy beer for someone underaged and carded us both. i think i was 32 when that happened.

    that being said – just get used to it and let your body language convey that this is just a Thing That Happens To You. my favorite retort to people saying that it is a good thing to look young is something along the lines of “yeah, tell that to my knees/joints/back/etc.”

  78. NetNrrd*

    Regarding getting carded, I’ve had good luck with something along the lines of “trolling for tips?” or “heck of a way to try and up the tip…”

  79. Root beer float*

    #2: I’m a young looking female doctor and I get this all the time. You don’t have to thank them like it’s a compliment when you don’t feel that way, but I will say that any kind of stern or annoyed response only serves to make you look really insecure about your age (which to be fair it sounds like you are a bit insecure about it!). Best thing is to make a breezy joke and move on. My go to response is “I guess my eye cream is working!”

  80. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m male, 56, and still get carded when buying beer. Ms. Big Law needs to get over herself.

    1. GlitterIsEverything*

      No, she doesn’t. The attitude women get when they appear young is a real issue professionally, and can completely undermine their authority.

      I work in medicine. The difference in how patients, especially older ones, treat young-appearing women physicians vs. older-appearing women vs young-appearing men vs older-appearing men is significant. I’ve been in the room with all of those categories, with a wide variety of patients.

      Young male physicians are called Doogie Howser, but are respected – usually with the idea that they’re some kind of genius.

      Older male physicians are highly respected, usually called “sir,” and respected for their experience. (Lots of patients, when given the choice, will choose the doctor who has been practicing longer and tell you it’s because of their experience.)

      Young women aren’t trusted, are questioned heavily about their medical opinions, and many older patients – especially men – will try to call them by their first name.

      Older women are trusted more than younger women, but they’re still questioned about their medical opinions more than men are. Rarely will patients try to call them by their first name, but it still happens from time to time.

  81. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    LW2: I feel your pain. I am a very young-looking attorney. Even judges I appear before for the first time have mistaken me for the client. When corrected, I so often heard, “Take it as a compliment,” or “You’ll appreciate this when you’re older.” Eventually, when correcting others or showing my ID, I started saying, “We don’t age in my family.” My tone is very – “I have heard this all before” with no smile or looking at something somewhere else way more interesting. Sometimes people chuckle or comment about my family’s luck, but then everyone quickly gets back on topic.

  82. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1: The employee deliberately disobeyed and deceived her boss about these extra meetings.

    Since HR are working with the OP, it doesn’t seem this policy of stopping the meetings is a personal quirk, but rather an official company decision.
    This requirement to stop has been explained to the employee for 2 years, including at performance reviews.

    It’s fine for an employee to express disagreement with a policy, but if they are overruled – repeatedly on this matter – they need to accept this, not wilfully ignore & lie.
    The deceit is the real problem.
    It’s not relevant whether the report or the company is correct about this business decision. As Alison said, it’s about “character and integrity”

    How can the OP trust any of the past, current or future work from this person? She would have to micromanage on steroids, invest a big chunk of her time – and even then could miss the next coverup.

    Now there is also the discrepancy in Q1 figures and since the OP can no longer trust her report, she doesn’t know if this is because of falsifying numbers or if there is an innocuous explanation.
    This is how dishonesty and coverups kill the trust essential for someone to be an employee worth keeping.

  83. ThisSoundsFamiliar*

    Letter 2: two insights for you to think on. No. 1, did anyone really question your ability to do the work? This was a celebration lunch, so it doesn’t sound like it. Maybe the clients were a bit uncomfortable by the carding and were trying to make light in the best way they could. No. 2, you are very quick to say all the people at the table were 45+. Do you know this for sure? Are you making snap judgments about age? You may know the answer, this is only a thought. My point is, like it or not, these interactions happen everyday.

    I am a female who works in a heavily male dominated field. My bosses are 60+ (yes, I know this for sure). Being in my 40s, the frequent joke is that “I’m the kid.” I don’t take offense and certainly don’t think they take me less seriously because of my age. Neither do our clients.

  84. Miss Kubelik*

    LW#4, I once successfully addressed a question I completely bombed in a phone screen in a follow-up email and then had another two really good interviews with that company, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to try.

  85. Mothman*

    Woman who looked the same from 13 to 33 here. 33 was a rough year and some fine lines popped ip. People thought I was a middle schooler until then. I’m about to hit 40 and finally look 30. Yes, it’s a bit annoying.

    But it only undermines you if you let it. Hand over the ID like it’s no big deal, make any polite chitchat with the waiter if you need to, and go back to the conversation you were previously having once the interaction is over.

    My husband has the same problem and the same reactions from people as you describe. It’s one of the few things that’s not especially gendered. Other people don’t know what to do in the situation, so they default to jokes if we babyfaces act uncomfortable. They follow our lead.

  86. It's Me*

    LW2: If you lack eyebrow dexterity, a derisive snort may also underscore your point eloquently.

  87. Dawn*

    LW#2: I realize this might be a tough ask for a lawyer, but you’d be amazed at how much mileage you can get sometimes out of pointedly saying nothing at all.

  88. GlitterIsEverything*

    LW #2, one of the passing comments about a professor whose dad made a comment about “that’s just what tenured professors look like these days” made me think. Do you have enough standing with your partners that you could have a discussion with them, asking them to help in these kinds of situations?

    Had your partner responded to the lunch comments with “oh, that’s what 6-year lawyers look like these days” or something similar, it might have more stopping power than for you to say something about graduating at 14. Many sexist ageist behaviors are more likely to stop if they’re called out by the group who behaves in that way than if they’re called out by the group on the receiving end.

  89. PinkiePieWorksHard*

    LW#2, my go-to response for years has been “The painting of me in the attic has been looking quite old and frankly terrible for some time. Shocking, really.”

    Because what you’re really wanting at that time is to appear wordly and arch; there’s nothing more so than a reference to Oscar Wilde.

    I still get carded at the age of 48. At this point it’s been going on for so long and is so ludicrous it’s my own private amusement.

  90. Bess*

    Wow, everyone trying to nitpick LW2 and commiserating comments–if you look younger than your other colleagues and they notice and comment on it, it is undermining. I’ve listened to people pull up professional photos of colleagues they didn’t know and guess their age and how seriously they therefore had to take them.

    Age is very generally associated with professional experience, and people make all kinds of snap judgments when meeting a colleague based on their presenting age. I’ve absolutely been treated as younger than I am at work and have been taken less seriously due to looking, say, 5-10 years younger, because people presume I am coming in with limited experience.

    It’s particularly a sexist thing with women, because we associate youth in women (grossly) with sexual appeal. Being told as a professional woman that you look like “you could be a student” is so inappropriate in so many ways, but one is because we’ve also associated conventional (therefore young) female beauty with vapidity and sexual availability. You’re also literally being told that you look like you have less experience.

    And “it’s a compliment” is undermining in its own way, but I don’t think I have to explain that.

  91. MAB*

    maybe this is a lawyer thing, but people who find opportunities to brag about their “ivy league educations” always seem extremely gauche and crass to me. i would just assume the authority you deserve based on your job performance, how you treat colleagues and clients, etc. rather than making some obnoxious comment.

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