conference gives the exact same speaker gift every year, someone replaced my note with a ruder note, and more

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

1. Annual conference gives the exact same speaker gift every year — how do I decline?

Every year I speak at a national conference in my industry. This is one of my favorite annual speaking events because I find the audience and their questions so insightful, and I consider this opportunity critical to combatting my imposter syndrome.

This conference does not offer an honorarium to speakers but instead gives each speaker a gift bag at the end of their presentation. Every single year the bag has contained the exact same items: a water bottle and notebook each emblazoned with the conference’s logo. This is my sixth year speaking and I always give two presentations, which means that I am given two gift bags, resulting in a veritable hoard of water bottles and notebooks that I do not need and are resigned forevermore to my junk drawer.

Most charities in my area don’t accept branded items to avoid being overrun with people’s old summer camp or 5K t-shirts so I can’t donate the gifts, and I would feel insincere re-gifting them. Additionally, the layout of the venue makes it near impossible for me to “accidentally forget” the gift since event staff are always around and would notice and flag me down. I suppose I could decline the gift via email when I accept the speaking invite, but part of the run-of-show is for a participant to stand up, thank me, recap the highlights of my presentation, and offer me the gift, so there’s no way for me to tactfully decline in front of the entire audience.

While I’m happy to graciously accept the repetitive gifts because I so enjoy this speaking engagement, a peer commented that it’s rude and unprofessional for the conference organizers to order the same exact speaker gifts every single year while knowingly inviting me and several other repeat speakers year after year. My peer says that if they aren’t going to pay us an honorarium, they should at least offer a sincere gift or take the time to flip through the merch catalogue to order something different but comparable in price, like a mug or tote bag.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel like this issue is worth raising with the conference organizers, but is my peer correct? If I were to decline the gift in-person or via email, how would I do so without seeming ungrateful or rude? Additionally, I sometimes help organize similar events for my employer and wouldn’t want to make the same mistake that repeat speakers would consider rude or thoughtless. Are speaker gifts really that deep or am I totally overthinking this entire thing?

Eh, branded merchandise is so common in situations like that … although it does come across as pretty thoughtless for them to keep giving you the same thing year after year (and twice per conference, at that). It’s not a big deal, but it would be better for them to mix it up. The fact that they haven’t bothered to does make it seem like they aren’t putting any thought into speaker recognition. Again, not a huge deal, but if you were the organizer I’d recommend changing it up.

I was going to suggest you just say “oh, no thank you, I’ve already got lots of these” the next time they hand you a gift bag, but since it’s part of a public presentation, that could look ungracious. But you could email them ahead of the next conference and say, “I’ve presented so often for you that I have a ton of your branded water bottles and notebooks, so you can skip me for gifts this year” … but chances are good that someone’s going to hand you a gift bag anyway because it’s part of their not-terribly-personal process. So you could just discreetly leave it on a conference table when no one is watching (a lot of conference gift bags end up abandoned that way).

2. Someone replaced my note with a ruder note

This is a minor issue but strange, and I’m curious what you think. We’ve had issues with properly handling equipment at work, so I left a note on the shelf that read: “Please wash the brushes before you put them away– It is much harder to clean once the dirt is dried on. Thanks.”

I didnt sign the note, but several people saw me do it and I mentioned it out loud. The next day, my manager asked me if I’d left the note by the brushes. I said yes, and he said it came across kind of rude. Then I saw the note he was pointing at, which now read: “STOP putting your dirty brushes back on the shelf it is DISGUSTING for everyone else WE KNOW WHO IS DOING IT”

He did believe me when I said that wasn’t my note, but now I’m just confused. Obviously this isn’t the biggest issue in the world, but is there anything I could have done about it? Asked around to find the mysterious note-fixer? Left a third note, explaining that I am not responsible for the second note?

Nah — you cleared it up, your boss knows it isn’t yours, and it’s not your job to track down whoever wrote it. If your boss cares enough, he can try to do that, but I suspect it’s not a huge deal to him (he can just take the note down, after all).

3. Coworker is threatening to quit if she doesn’t absorb my salary

I just put in my notice (yay!). Within an hour, my coworker had already spoken to our boss and threatened to leave if she didn’t absorb my salary entirely, almost doubling her pay. An important note is that my boss specifically asked me to not transition any of my workload to her. Now, she’s asking me to be her friend and transfer my tasks to her so that her salary negotiation will be better, especially since it looks like the CEO is going to call her bluff. I’m leaving, so there’s no impact to me, but I don’t know if it’s a very friendly thing to use my resignation as a bargaining chip. Should I help her in negotiations by boosting her task list?

No! Your boss explicitly instructed you not to. It would reflect really badly on you to do it anyway after you’d clearly been told you shouldn’t.

Also, it’s not really the point, but it’s highly unlikely that your employer going to add your salary to your coworker’s. At most she might get some kind of bump, but employers don’t generally add two salaries together for one position, even if she took over all your work. So she’s being really unrealistic! In any case, though, none of this is your problem. Just tell her, “Sorry, Jane told me not to.”

4. Should I return to talk with HR after I’ve already left my job?

I made the decision to leave my company. This all started around five months ago with a situation involving sexism and scapegoating that led to me having to open an HR complaint. Since then, my situation at work has been getting steadily worse. They took away part of the responsibilities of my job — ones I really liked. I wound up in the middle of a fight over something I did which was clearly part of my job description, but which upper management decided to attack me over to the level that I couldn’t effectively do my job anymore. Most recently, I was told not to talk about something extremely relevant to my job to anyone other than my boss, even though working out details of it with other people is clearly part of my job.

That last was enough. I gave notice. I sent a mail to the HR person who ran my investigation, and he forwarded me on to the person who handles departures. She wants to speak with me. However, she’s out of town until my last day. She wonders if I’d be available to meet the week after my employment ends.

People around me are saying not to do it, that it’s risky, or that if I do, I should bring a lawyer. Should I be worried? I’m second guessing my decision to talk to her at all now.

Well, first, you absolutely don’t need to talk to her at all if you don’t want to. You don’t work there anymore, and you have no obligation to participate in exit interviews or investigations after you leave. If you prefer to wash your hands of it, you can decline.

However, it sounds like it would be worth talking to a lawyer before you decide anything. What you described sounds very much like it could be illegal retaliation (it’s illegal to retaliate against someone for making a good faith complaint of discrimination, even if the original complaint turned out to be unfounded) and a lawyer could look at all the facts in your situation and lay out your options. That might include advising you not to talk to HR at this point, or it could include talking to them with the lawyer present or guiding you from behind the scenes, or all sorts of other things. But everything you described screams that a conversation with a lawyer would be a good next step. (To be clear, the lawyer would be because your workplace did something wrong, not because you did — which I note because your question “should I be worried?” implies that the opposite. Getting a lawyer involved would mostly be because it sounds like they mishandled this, not you.)

5. My employer won’t allow married couples to take the same weekend off together

Is it illegal to not allow a married couple who work in the same place a weekend off together?

It is not illegal. That’s one reason (of many) why it can be tricky for married couples to work for the same employer, particularly if it’s a small, coverage-based team.

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, may I suggest offering all those unwanted water bottles and notebooks up on your local Buy Nothing group. I am sure lots of people would love them.

    1. fanciestcat*

      Other options might be school supply drives (which usually happen in August or September, so there might be some coming up!) or homeless shelters.

      1. allathian*

        Also this. Just because charities won’t take them to sell to third parties doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely no market for them. OP, I suggest giving the notebooks to a school, or a teacher you know who otherwise would be buying supplies out of their own salary, and the bottles to a homeless shelter, etc.

        1. GythaOgden*

          If it’s a recognisable brand, they make great gifts too. I’m in the NHS, which helps because everyone knows who we are and is generally supportive, but we had a glut of swag left over from a conference that arrived too late to be handed out. Because we’ve all been working a lot since 2020 for obvious reasons, small rewards are nice gestures (as is the bonus we’re getting this coming payday, which for me is about a regular month’s salary). But we’ve been actively trying to get rid of the mugs.

          So my dentist, my mum, my BsIL, my personal organiser as well as the lift guy, the sanitation bins/confidential waste people and we also gave them out as random ‘you are the first visitor we’ve had today thanks for keeping us awake’ door prizes when things were particularly slow, particularly on Fridays. The person who dips into our building thinking we’re a hospital and thus have a canteen and can grab a coffee get them…full of coffee :D. We need to get rid of them and everyone likes the cachet of NHS branded swag.

          And my uniform cardigans are nice as well — wool-mix, so warmer than they appear, and quite comfortable year round — so when I move out of a role which theoretically requires me to wear them (long story), I am going to ask them if I could buy them to keep. (And totally not because the guy at Burger King sees the logo and offers me a discount for being in the NHS. It’s looking like I might be able to stay with the NHS, so that would actually be legit and not a blatant scam, but it is a useful side effect of wearing clothing with a particularly well-loved logo on it. There’s something a bit ironic about a health organisation getting discounts at a burger restaurant, but then again the open secret about the health service is that it largely runs on cake, so at least we’re getting some protein in with the carbs!)

          1. Former_Employee*

            I’m in the US but by the time I finished reading your comment I wanted a reason to visit the NHS!

            It sounds as if you are a lovely group of people.

      2. Not that other person you didn't like*

        Yes, this is what I came here to say. We’re in a weird society where there’s so much unwanted stuff and so much need.

      3. OP #1 (conference speaker gifts)*

        Hi, I’m OP No. 1 and this is an incredible idea! I was just researching local organizations that support unsheltered people for a personal project and duh, this is a perfect dovetail. Thank you!

        1. wine dude*

          You might even dare to (discretely!) collect the gift bags from your peers at the conference who probably feel the same as you about the sameness every year. I’ve also spoken at many a conference and found the gift bags to be nice but meh.

      4. Beka Cooper*

        Yes, schools or summer programs came to mind for me. My husband worked tear-down for a conference a few states away, and back then I had the free time to tag along on his work trips. While he was packing up printers and copiers, I collected enough left-behind water bottles from the convention center rooms to bring back to all of the kids in the small summer program I worked at. They were great for field trips!

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      If the water bottles are sturdy a school* may be interested in them to help fill out the supplies of kids in need – or even as a gift to the teachers. My children have been required to bring water bottles as part of their supplies for the last four or five years now.

      *this is of course region and conference professional affiliation dependent.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh – I’m a notorious note taker – so the free notebooks (and I get two of them – YAY!) would be awesome to me.

    3. Pierre*

      Yeah, or give to colleagues that presumably are in the same industry? I give away my annual speaker swag everytime to my coworkers when I get back from conference, and I give away my other conference swag that way or BuyNothing. I can almost guarantee the conference coordinators do not care.

      1. Thatoneoverthere*

        Alot of people at places I have work, simply leave items like this in kitchens or other communal spaces. They usually end up taken, I love having cheap waterbottles on hand. That way if my kids leave them at a park, I am not out $20 for a nicer waterbottle.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          Yes, this is what I came to say- every office I have ever worked at has a kitchen with a table where things are left for anyone to take, and that stuff always disappears within a week.

          I’ve never heard of thrift stores rejecting branded merch, that’s weird, I’m sorry!!

          1. She of Many Hats*

            May be dependent on location, such as a town with a single major employer or has an annual big event with lots of swag so everyone has Brand X gear to get rid of and no one wants more.

        2. Reality.Bites*

          Attach a note saying “Personal property of OP. Please leave here.”

          They’ll be gone in minutes.

          1. Kit*

            An extension of the premise that the best item to be stranded on a desert isle with is a pack of cards – start playing solitaire, and within half an hour at most you’ll have someone over your shoulder saying “Put the red eight on the black nine…”

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I was going to suggest this too. Leave it at the office as a freebie — someone will probably be happy to have it.

    4. DJ Abbott*

      It may not be called Buy Nothing. I moved to a new neighborhood and there’s no Buy Nothing Group here, but there’s one that’s called something like buy, sell, free. Check your neighborhood groups and there will probably be something like that.

      1. Lyudie*

        Freecycle is another one. I made someone very happy by giving her my old lava lamp, she had had one in the 60s lol.

    5. Daisy*

      Or, you can give it away on Craigslist. There’s a “stuff for free” section. I get rid of all my old bubble wrap and moving boxes this way.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yep, you could put six year’s worth of water bottles in a box on the curb and post a “curb alert” – I find even weird things are generally gone by the end of the day, either by passer-bys or Craigslisters.

      2. Old Woman in Purple*

        Facebook Marketplace also has something similar. I recently gave away an oak dining-room table with loose joints that I didn’t have the ‘spoons’ to properly fix (not difficult, as such projects go, but fiddly). The recent college graduate with more skills than funds was thrilled to find a table for their apartment.

    6. Trotwood*

      Could you at least politely decline the second gift, so you’re not taking home 2 water bottles a year? If it’s exactly the same gift bag you could probably say “oh, I already received one after my presentation yesterday! I don’t need a second one.”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I’m so confused as to why the conference organizers think that OP would want two of these gift bags. I guess if they’re considering it in lieu of an honorarium per presentation, then that must be why, but honestly, who needs two of the same water bottles even if they only present one year?

        1. Interplanet Janet*

          I think the issue is that they’re not thinking about it. OP has never mentioned it and presumably no one’s ever connected the dots (or cared enough to do anything once they do since they figure if OP isn’t saying anything, they must not mind)

          1. MassMatt*

            They may have bought a ton of these and will keep giving them until they run out. Manufacturers of this stuff give steep volume discounts.

            My industry has a lot of conferences with this kind of swag, a lot of people go nuts for it. I can’t imagine you would have trouble giving it away, don’t worry about it being a “sincere gift” just give it away, leave it on a break room table.

        2. Paulina*

          They have a system and they’re sticking to it. And because it’s a public gifting, if they’ve thought about the double-gifting at all they may think it would look awkward and offensive to skip a talk, since some attendees may not make the connection.

          I wonder if they’d be open to a quick reuse, where they hand the bag to OP and then get it back discreetly to give to a later speaker. But if they get a lot of repeat speakers, then they’re doing this to a lot of people. They need new swag, or a swag rotation. But my guess is that they do a big swag order every so often and are using up stuff they already have, so any change would mean new expenses.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Ah yes, I thought that the gifts were handed out to all the speakers at once at the end of the conference, but now I see that they hand them out after each presentation. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

          2. Reality.Bites*

            The water bottle and notebook are of little financial value – someone at a high enough professional level to be attending and speaking at a conference is just not going to be impressed or touched or pleased by receiving ordinary things that are readily available everywhere and cost very little.

            They may as well give a plaque or certificate of thanks. Most conferences offer better swag than this just for attending!

      2. ferrina*

        Yep, OP could probably go up to one of the conference organizers after the presentation (so a semi-private conversation) and say “here, I already have plenty of these after the last few conferences, and I don’t need this. Thanks for the thought though!”

        Then walk away. You are doing them a favor by speaking, so it’s unlikely that they’ll chase you down and force you to take it (though if they do, update us so we can watch the Water Bottle Battle)

    7. Contracts Killer*

      Our local day camp LOVES donations of water bottles because campers area always breaking or forgetting theirs.

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

      Or are there others at the conference, who didn’t, speak who may want one?

      1. KBS*

        My thoughts exactly, I’m sure in the course of mingling OP could say, “Oh, do you want my swag? I already have a ton of these at home!”

    9. Pointy Stix*

      Or even other conference attendees. Someone may want a duplicate for a family member.

    10. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Just opposite my home there’s a “donations box” where you can put anything that can still be used but that you don’t want any more. I put stuff like that in there, and it’s always gone within an hour.
      I thought when I first saw it, that it would simply attract a heap of rubbish but it works really well. So much that if I ever move, or if it disappears, I’ll put one out myself. Before it was put out there, I used to just leave stuff on top of my rubbish bins with a “please help yourself” sticky note.

      But really, it’s not at all classy to hand out such crumby gift bags, especially since the speakers are not even paid! At the conference my NGO organises, we pay the speakers and we leave gift packages in their hotel rooms (the package being what incited one very prestigious speaker to come back a second time).

    11. A Good Egg*

      Local gyms sometimes have water bottle drives, and the bottles are given to groups that need them (homeless, etc.)

    12. goddessoftransitory*

      Or to a local shelter. Plenty of unhoused people would love a new, clean water bottle.

  2. Willis*

    For OP1, why not just accept the bag during then presentation and then return it to the person that handed it to you once the session is breaking up? You can say you have several from previous years or one from your earlier presentation or whatever.

    1. takeachip*

      I was going to suggest offering it to another participant. There are usually a few people at a conference who actively collect swag and would be glad to take it off your hands.

    2. Nupalie*

      This reminds me of my parents’ anniversary card. Card, singular. Anniversaries, plural.
      Mom got annoyed that Dad just read her card to him and pitched it…so she pulled it out of the trash and gave it to him the next year. And the next. It took 4 years for him to catch on. Then the laughed about it, and Mom regifted it to him for almost 20 years before she passed away. I found it in her dresser drawer.
      I have this mental picture of the letter writer whispering “just keep it for me til next year…no one will know the difference…”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Hahaha, love that! My mom and aunt have a tradition (I don’t know when it started) wherein they give each other for their birthdays a giant envelope of all the cards they’ve given each other over the years. Since their birthdays are almost exactly 6 months apart, they pretty much have shared custody of the cards. They’re very silly.

        1. Seal*

          My mom does this with cards with pockets for cash at Christmas. The running joke in our family is to make sure to return the cards to mom so she can refill them next year.

        2. Anonymous cat*

          Do they give each other a packet of about 12 cards and pass it back and forth over the years?

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Something like that, yes. I don’t know how many cards are actually in it but it’s a couple inches thick now.

      2. Reality.Bites*

        I wish I could remember the details, which were better than the gist of the story, but the gist is two people who kept sending the same birthday card back and forth for years.

        1. Anonymous cat*

          I found out my grandmother and her best friend did this for years and thought it was really funny.

          I was a bit puzzled by this but it made them happy!

      3. Pieforbreakfast*

        In their later years my parents stopped signing cards themselves but signing a sticky note that they attached to the inside. The idea being the recipient could then use the card for another person. Which is fine with birthdays and holidays, but once dad gave mom an anniversary card using the same system. And we all questioned who she was going to re-use that for?

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yes, that’s probably the best way to handle it – or just leave it behind (removing any thank-you notes first.)

      Also – OP, please don’t be offended by getting the same gift ever year! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good that it’s always the same, but there are probably many reasons it hasn’t changed. Conferences don’t have the exact same speaker line-up every year, so they probably didn’t even think it would be an issue for you. It’s also possible that they don’t have the budget for new speaker gifts, so they have to keep getting rid of existing merch instead.

      I plan and run a 500-delegate annual conference and the run-up to the event us such an intense work period that sometimes we just can’t change things we’d really like to change, because we just don’t have time. And sometimes we might forget small details (like “this speaker doesn’t want a gift”) just because there are a million other things to remember. If the conference is planned and run well, it’s likely that the event coordinator(s) are already exhausted and working their arses off on the day of the conference after weeks of 10 or 12-hour days. So be kind, give them some grace and realise that although it’s kind of thoughtless to get the same gift every year, it’s likely a planning screw-up and not a deliberate strategy to bury you in unwanted water bottles.

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah, this is what I’d do. And if you go the “leave it on the table” route and someone chases you down with it just say kindly “oh, I don’t need it. Please feel free to give it to someone else!”

    5. Hobbling up a hill*

      That was my thought as well. Do the email thing where you nicely say ‘I have way to many of these and I don’t need another one’ and then add that while you’re happy to accept it during the presentation you will be returning it to them afterwards so they can use it for another speaker. They get to do their public presentation, you don’t look ungracious, you don’t have to keep it and they can use it for someone else.

      1. Chocoholic*

        You could even suggest they give you an empty gift bag. And I can always use a gift bag so that part would be useful to me.

    6. Cat Tree*

      Honestly, why not just accept it and then throw it away later? I’m guessing LW1 doesn’t want to be wasteful, but declining or returning the gift just means the conference organizers will throw it away anyway. It’s just a more convoluted way of tossing it. And LW1 would presumably recycle, while the conference organizers might not with their bulk leftovers.

      Maybe LW1 is hoping that it will cause them to order less in following years. But if they’re already putting this little thought into it, I don’t they’ll adjust the quantities next time.

      1. Lexie*

        If OP returns the gift to the organizers they put it back in the closet to hand out next year instead of throwing it away.

      2. Myrin*

        I wonder if the organisers would throw the stuff away – waterbottles and notebooks aren’t exactly perishalbes, so I assumed any which are left would just be reused next year (and the year after… and the year after…).

        1. Paulina*

          The organizers may already be doing this. Branded swag is significantly more economical in large lots.

        2. amoeba*

          I was wondering whether the design changed from year to year (like, “conference 2023” type print) or stayed the same. If it’s the former, I’d definitely either try to let them know looong in advance (so they need to order less in the first place) or just take it and gift it to somebody else, if possible – or, yes, throw it away. (Although I could probably use the notebooks…)
          If it’s the latter, giving them back after the presentation seems like a good solution! They can reuse next year.

    7. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, that’s how I’d do it. Let them do the “ceremony” of handing it to you at the end of the session, but then let them give it to the next speaker.

    8. Miette*

      Came here to suggest this. I help organize several conferences a year as part of my job, and most conference staff would think nothing of accepting the gift bag back once it’s all over–it’d be one extra to dole out to the next person!

      I would also suggest offering this as a bit of feedback if you are ever sent an evaluation for the event or the sessions you participate in. Word it exactly as you’ve said here–with a tone of “hey, this is low stakes but…” would get the message across without it being rude, and much of the time these evals are anonymous. We conference organizers do take this kind of thing to heart, and will make adjustments as/when we can (budget, current supply, and other factors notwithstanding).

    9. The Rules are Made Up*

      I think this is a good idea. I’d say she should probably tell the organizers of the conference first (since she’s gone several years in a row I assume she knows them enough to reach out.) So it won’t just get back to them that “OP gave her gift back.” and seem ungrateful or offend them.

      Or put the items in your office for people to take. As we’ve seen here, people LOVE free stuff no matter what branding is on it so I’m sure some coworkers would snatch it up. I worked in an office that had accumulated random branded stuff like this over a period of time, and they just put it out in the break room for people to take. I still use the laptop case I got lol.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I found a branded black leather padfolio at the flea market once too. No idea if the person who ran the booth worked there, or they found in the bin or at a garage sale. It was super cheap, in really nice shape — the matching pen even worked! — and I used it for years until it finally fell apart and was replaced by a branded one from Exjob, lol.

  3. Observer*

    #5 – Why would this be illegal? I’m not being snarky. It’s a question worth thinking about.

    It’s important to realize that even if something is genuinely a bad thing – impractical, unethical or just a burden on people, that doesn’t mean that it is illegal. It doesn’t even mean that it is *likely* to be illegal. What you would want to think of is what rule or principle protected by law do you think is being violated here. And I can’t think of any rule or principle that would apply here.

    Again, the question here is not if their refusal is a good idea, or even if it’s reasonable. Because the law doesn’t forbid employers from being stupid and unreasonable.

    1. ButtonUp*

      Marital status is a protected class in some situations (like housing in some places, not sure if it ever applies to employment). I couldn’t tell from the letter if no one is allowed to take the same weekend off, which would just be particularly inconvenient for a couple but not discrimination, or if the manager is weirdly specifically banning married couples from having time off together.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I think family status is a protected class/issue in my state. (It’s funny to me to say family status is a “protected class” because this one especially could go both ways: He has no family. We can schedule him every holiday! She raised 7 children. She’ll make a great preschool teacher!)

        1. Student*

          That’s not what it’s meant to address. It’s meant to keep men from discriminating against women based on their perceived sexual availability – only hiring single women, for example. It also helps address discrimination against women based on them having children – such as trying to not hire women who are mothers, or reducing their responsibilities involuntarily after they have children.

          It also protects men from the same, but at least in my field, generally men with a family get a career boost in terms of pay and work responsibilities, while women get penalized in their career and salary for a family – so men generally don’t need to leverage it.

          1. Snow Globe*

            Regardless of what such laws were meant to address, they are typically worded such that people can’t be treated differently based on their marital status. If two single people are allowed to take the same weekend off, but a married couple can’t, that could be a case of illegal discrimination (if such a law applies). If no two people in the department are allowed to be off on the same weekend, there is no discrimination.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              In my Dept time off goes: the first X number of people who request the day off can have it off. The last thing my manager looks at is your name……

          2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            If men “get a boost” from having kids, isn’t the flip side of that that single men are treated differently/worse? That’s still discrimination based on marital status.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Single men as compared to married men? Yeah, probably – marriage/kids makes men look more responsible and capable. Also holdover assumptions that now the man is providing for a whole family, not just himself (ignoring the fact that we are not supposed to give people salaries based on anything aside from the value their work brings to the organization/company). And yes, single/childless folks have complained in previous comment threads about how they are assumed to be more available for things (shift coverage, late nights, weekends, etc.) than married people/parents are and it is frustrating, to say the least.

              1. Michael G*

                I remember being told once (in the early 80s when we still wrote on parchment) that I was being paid less as a single man than my married colleague because I didn’t have a family to support.
                Hopefully if that still happens they don’t vocalize it.

              2. Chirpy*

                Yup, single woman here who used to work somewhere where I perpetually was assumed to be able to do every after-hours event and got left alone in the office weekly despite safety issues “because you don’t have kids”. One of those coworkers had a stay at home spouse, she didn’t need “flex time” to pick up her kid…

                1. pope suburban*

                  Same. My last job was really egregious about only offering what little flex we had to parents; I had to take on and cover so much I ended up in the hospital more than once (No other choice, either; the job didn’t pay enough for me to take time off and the boss was not reasonable when refused). It’s still tough where I am now, because parents are perceived to be more responsible and important. If you have kids, you get unlimited flex and deference. If not, you have to be present for everything and willing to do everything outside of normal work hours because hey, you can’t possibly have any non-work responsibilities! You’re just here to take to load off the grown-ups! It’s not as bad as my previous job but it’s not fun either.

            2. Ellis Bell*

              Well, it’s why the patriarchy is bad for everyone. Not only do you have to be born the right gender and the right sexuality but you better get married pretty fast and in some situations you’re not considered a “real man” until you’ve had a son. Even if all of that is exactly what a certain guy wants from life, it’s a lot different when you feel you have to do it in order to hold onto your privilege.

          3. Nina*

            I’m currently on the hiring committee at my church and whooooooo boy you would not believe how interesting it has been trying to get people to understand that ‘we cannot make “married” a required qualification for the new pastor’.

          4. Susannah*

            It goes lots of ways. I worked at a large newspaper that bragged about being “family friendly.” I can tell you from experience what that meant: single people worked nights and weekends.

      2. RLB*

        I get the vibe that the couple agreed to certain working days/hours when taking the jobs, but now want to present being married as a protected class at work.

        As far as I’m aware (obviously state specific) as having managed several couples over the years that at least where I’m at its not considered protected in that they willingly took the jobs at the same place, but now they’re trying to force the employers hand by claiming ‘discrimination’.

        1. Turingtested*

          I think it’s much more likely that a scheduler at their company has decided they can never have a weekend off together and is inappropriately flexing power than LW and spouse are playing a long con to hit the poor company with a discrimination suit.

          I’ve worked many jobs with weekend coverage required and it was not uncommon for two members of staff to have the same weekend off a few times a year.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            The only thing I can think of is that places with weekend work can sometimes be bare bones staff at the weekend. Sometimes at my old job, if somebody called in sick on a Saturday it meant that I was going to be sitting at the customer service desk for 9 hours without a break. In a case like that, I could see why they’d have a policy where two people who were scheduled for the same weekend wouldn’t both be granted time off together. From a scheduling perspective, I wouldn’t care if they had already arranged to trade days with someone else so we would still have coverage, but just a straight up time off request would be hard to manage.

            1. E. Chauvelin*

              Yeah, while there is a lot of weird stuff that goes on in this world and I know we can’t rule anything out, I have a much easier time imagining this happening in a context of “two married people work at the same place, in the same department, where there is a rule that only one person can request vacation for any given weekend shift, because of low staffing on weekends” than there literally being a rule that a married couple specifically can’t take the same weekend off, or, if they don’t work the same weekend schedule, that one of them could never use PTO to be off on the same weekend as the other one.

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

          See, I wish the OP gave some more detail in the letter. Are they talking about requesting a weekend off together, where normally one or both are working, and so they would use PTO? Or are they just asking to change their schedules?

          I also would like to know if they are both doing the same job (both work in a manufacturing plant painting widgets, both are nurses at nursing home, both are call reps, etc). But if they are doing 2 different jobs, like one is in IT and the other is answering phones then I really don’t see why it should matter if they both take the day off since their respective departments will still only have 1 person off (compared to 2 if they both worked the same job).

      3. Observer*

        Good point about marital status. But also, in order for this to potentially be a legal issue the decision / rule around time off would have to be *based* on that.

        So, OP if your management is specifically not allowing married couples to have weekend off together, but allows other non-married couples, you might have a legal issue going on.

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

          Also friends or family members. So if 2 best friends worked together and they can both take the weekend off for a concert or a mother and son can take the weekend off together for a family reunion. But if 2 married people want to have the weekend off and don’t get approved that would be a problem.

          And writing this, I also wonder does this apply to other days or is it just weekends because the company is more busy on weekends.

          1. E. Chauvelin*

            Or lower staffed. At my job, full time employees in customer facing positions typically alternate every week between working Monday-Friday and working Saturday with Friday off, unless they’ve made some special voluntary arrangement to always have a different weekday off and work Friday and Saturday. So staffing levels for Friday and Saturday are at almost half of other days and it’s necessary to pay a lot closer attention to how many vacation requests there are of those days in particular. We officially have a limit as to how many people can take a day off at once from our department, managers will try to do with they can if more people need a particular day, but it’s going to be a lot harder on a Friday or Saturday.

            1. E. Chauvelin*

              Of course, trading is a thing. If every shift is covered and PTO isn’t actually going to be used, nobody’s going to care if Bob’s in on Friday and Jim’s in on Saturday instead of vice versa.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Yes, , a rule that a married couple can’t both have the same weekend off because they are a married couple would be unreasonable, a rule that there has to be minimum coverage at weekends so two managers can’t both be off (whether or not they happen to be married to each other ) would be totally reasonable.

        (We once had a similar situation where we had two sisters working for us – they both had part time hours with some overlap. I remember them being angry when they couldn’t both take the same block of I think) 2 weeks off, despite the fact that the job was one which needed coverage and it had always ben explicit that they covered each other’s absences (it didn’t need 100% coverage, but there needed to be someone in a minimum of a couple of days , so overlapping hours meaning that there were some periods every day when neither was in was fine, having an overlap of one or two days was inconvenient but manageable, but 2 weeks with no coverage at all was not, and they were well aware of that!)

      5. doreen*

        I’m not even 100% sure if it’s either of those – it could also be a situation where the employer simply isn’t ensuring that the married couple has the same weekend off when scheduling. In any event , unless the company won’t allow married couples to be off the same weekend but allows it for known unmarried couples it wouldn’t be marital status discrimination. It might be considered discrimination based on who you are married to, but that’s not illegal. anywhere as far as I know.

      6. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’m assuming they limit multiple people taking the weekend off in general and OP wants them to make an exception for married couples… but I’m only assuming that because they idea that they are actively targeting married couples for this rule would be so wildly off the wall (but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be what happening because some bosses are wildly off the wall!)

    2. Brain the Brian*

      The flipside of this is, of course, that employers can do things that are perfectly legal but still pointlessly cruel — and you and your spouse would be perfectly justified in job searching if your employer would never let you take synced time off.

      1. Observer*

        Of course. As I said, the law doesn’t outlaw being stupid or unreasonable. Nor does it outlaw many types of other nastiness.

        But that wasn’t the question the OP asked.

      2. DataSci*

        Yep. It’s definitely legal, may or may not be a jerk move depending on details, and certainly warrants one or both spouses starting a job search.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      The question especially with lack of details reads as naivety to me. It feels not fair to the LW, so they decide to google an advice columnist to find someone to ask if the not fair thing is also not legal.

      I feel like any regular AAM reader knows it is legal because we’ve all learned so much from Alison.

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

      I think the OP may have been thinking it’s discriminatory based on a person’s marital status. Like, you can’t hire or promote someone based on their marital status, so they may be thinking that a regulation like this may also be discriminatory.

      What I would look for is if there are 2 people who are dating who work together if they are allowed to take the same days off. And I wonder, if you find someone to cover your shifts does the employer still have a problem?

  4. LinZella*

    OP #1: As soon as you get home, drop off your swag at your nearest public school. Teachers and students will definitely be able to use everything.

    1. nnn*

      Is that true? I could see it with notebooks but do teachers really want water bottles with random branding?

    2. Educator*

      As a former public school administrator, please call the district to ask first! We don’t need everything at all times, some schools or programs in your district may need particular things more than others, and all public entities have donation procedures that they have to follow. And, of course, most schools have security procedures these days, so just showing up is not great.

      We actually turned down a lot of donations that created more work than benefit, and things like water bottles that had to be cleaned for allergens often fell in that category. Donations from companies with large quantities of supplies in original packaging were most helpful, so think of your local school when your office cleans out the supply room!

      1. Over It*

        This. In general, if you’re trying to make a non-monetary donation ANYWHERE, check the website first to see if what you’re planning to donate is on their list of items they accept. If there is no wishlist online, call or email to see if your donation is welcome. I used to work at a soup kitchen and we were inundated with women’s shoes size 6-8 (and often impractical things like stilettos) when 80% of our clientele were men looking for sneakers and winter boots size 10 and up. And some things we handed out but bought new instead of asked for donations—I cannot emphasize enough that no one wants your used socks. If they donate items to a charity that they don’t need, it actually creates extra work on them to sort and figure out how to rehome those items, with no benefit to the charity itself.

    3. Punk*

      I’m not sure. Teachers often throw away or try to donate things like gifted mugs at the end of every school year. People love to give things like that to teachers but it hits a point where you want to pick out your own drinkware.

      1. Lexie*

        I have a relative who used to teach and she said she donated at least 100 mugs to thrift shops over the course of her career.

        1. Punk*

          Yeah my uncle was a teacher/administrator and oh my goodness the mugs! I’m a coffee person and I’ve worked for a roaster so I occasionally get mugs mugs mugs too.

          A layer lots of people don’t always know about is that there’s one music merch company that has kind of taken over so now every band and tv/movie fandom is selling mugs on their website. Anyone who likes anything is awash in mugs.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        Water bottles can be used by kids though. Mugs are a generic (sometimes breakable) gift in which the gift giver is assuming the receiver drinks coffee/tea. Not realizing that not everyone does drink hot beverages or even if they do, already have multiple other preferred containers.

        1. Punk*

          So the LW should give one or two water bottles per year to a school that has hundreds or thousands of students? Who decides who gets it? What if water bottles aren’t allowed in the school? Administration would be asking for a headache by giving a gift to only one student and then saying they can’t carry it in school anyway.

          1. Jessica Thomas*

            My experience is that our school nurse or sometimes the staff in the office keeps things like spare tshirts, shorts, sweatpants or leggings, water bottles, etc., for kids that have had accidents or forgotten theirs. We even had one bride who kept snacks for students who forgot theirs. (Several of us parents realized this and helped keep things stocked).

          2. Daisy-dog*

            Didn’t mention it, but I also agree with Educator that the OP should call the school first and confirm that they want it. I was mostly pointing out that water bottles are different from mugs.

    4. just a random teacher*

      One of the other issues with donated supplies like this is that it’s often hard to use just one of something like a notebook or a water bottle with specific branding. If someone donates a class set of branded water bottles (for a brand where it would neither be a likely attempt to market to the students nor age-inappropriate, so neither the local bounce house nor the local strip club, but, say, a plumbing supply company would be fine in most districts because 10 year olds aren’t in charge of those kinds of purchasing decisions – even better if it’s for a defunct brand) then the teacher can get out labels and each kid gets a matching water bottle with their name on it. If I only have one or two, then they go to the kids who don’t otherwise have a water bottle, so it becomes the weird water bottle that no one wanted and that kids use because their parents didn’t buy them a [status brand] water bottle or that the forgetful kid has because they can’t remember to bring one from home. (Unless it is a [status brand] water bottle, and then quite a few of the kids will want it and it isn’t faaaaaaiiiiiiir and I have to deal which kid “deserves” the damn thing, which I prefer not to be in the middle of when possible.)

    5. Ajjjjaner*

      Absolutely do not just show up at your neighborhood school with a couple of random water bottles and notebooks unannounced.

    6. Nobby Nobbs*

      For all the reasons mentioned above, it might be better to wait until a local business or place of worship holds a school supply drive and slip them into the box. Then the school that gets them can decide if they can use an odd branded notebook and water bottle or toss them, no awkwardness necessary. Shouldn’t be long now, it’s about that time of year anyway.

      1. WellRed*

        I’m not a fan of placing the burden and expense on a school or other group. Just toss it.

        1. Countess of Shrewsbury*

          I think it’s understandable that someone would want to avoid creating more trash and to try to see if these items can be used elsewhere.

          1. WellRed*

            Sure but ask, don’t just “slip it in the box”and leave the burden of throwing it out on the school.

            1. Countess of Shrewsbury*

              I agree with that but there are several comments for “just throw it in the trash” and I think it’s good to try to avoid that being the first step. As someone whose MIL frequently buys things she doesn’t need and just brings them to my house (still can’t find the glowing sign over my front door that says ‘Goodwill’ but I’m guessing it’s there?), I definitely support the “ask before foisting your junk on someone.”

          2. Trout*

            I agree that the best route is giving the items to someone else, but if nobody wants the items, it’s the conference organizers creating trash, not the OP. I think it’s acceptable for OP to toss the items without guilt instead of trying to donate the unwanted items or cluttering their junk drawer.

        2. DisgruntledPelican*

          I used to work at a preschool and the amount of just absolute garbage that people would try to “donate” to us was unbelievable. More than once I would take a look at the bag of nonsense someone was trying to hand me and then just direct them to the dumpster.

          1. WellRed*

            I’m glad to hear this. People should know that their moldy crap (or whatever) is unacceptable.

    7. Mockingjay*

      OP1, I think you should contact the organizers to suggest an alternate gift. After 6 years as a noted speaker, you have capital to make a suggestion. I don’t know your industry, perhaps a charitable donation in lieu of swag?

      I feel your frustration; I see swag all the time in my industry and at town events, and all I can think is “what a waste of the earth’s resources.” My company rebranded last year and sent gift swag boxes to all employees with – you guessed it – a water bottle, on top of the water bottle and tumbler that I had with the old brand, and a new polo shirt to replace the old branded polo (neither of which I wear because the synthetic fabric is HOT). The only good (re: usable) things in the box were a pen – company uses excellent quality ball points, and a lanyard – my old one frayed and broke, so this was a welcome replacement.

      Long answer short: if you can think of a viable alternative for recognition/thanks, please suggest it. If not, leave the cup in the break room at work or do like most people and shove it in the back of a cupboard. Sigh.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree that they should be offering better or different gifts (honestly I’m curious if everyone who *attends* the conference also receives those items in which case it doesn’t really seem like a gift at all and presenting it on stage in that way seems odd to me) but I don’t think you can really reasonable ask for different gifts. IMO the only real the only options are to ask to be paid or consider it volunteering and it sounds like OP is already in the second camp.

        If I were OP I would probably go the route of just leaving the bag on literally any table in the conference. Someone will see it and be happy to snag the free stuff.

    8. Dog and cat fosterer*

      TLDR: Please ask charities first before donating anything other than money.

      Please don’t do this. Charities like animal rescues get so much junk and I really wish we had more people who asked ahead of time if something would be appreciated. Many donations make a big positive difference! Yet many people have too much junk in their homes that they emotionally can’t throw out, and the only way they can cope is to give it to someone else who they think will benefit from it. The worst of it is chewed and soiled by rodents, or water damaged and mouldy, and many of the clean items are also worthless and never sell at charity yard sales. In the end volunteers have to go through a lot of junk, throw out much of it, and the most frustrating of donators come to the yard sales or look at online auctions and get upset that their items aren’t there. The person who runs many of the local animal rescue fundraisers has a list of things that sell well, and those that don’t. She is very clear about what she will accept and I’m sure some people are upset that she won’t take their stuff but charities shouldn’t be expected to take on others’ emotional and physical burdens.

      There are also seasonal or other variations in what is needed. For example, typically we love towels (but not sheets or big blankets – towels are used as cat beds and are easy to wash and disinfect) yet there was so much decluttering in spring 2020 that we ended up with more than enough. We kindly refused them for years although I’m finally at a point where I might have room for more in the next year.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I was thinking of a monetary donation instead of spending what funds they have on swag.

        (Given the repetitive nature of the “gift,” I highly suspect the same as others here, that the organizers have a closet full of this stuff and are giving away until gone. But if the swag is a recurring purchase, perhaps use those funds more meaningfully. Even a gift card.)

      2. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

        I always donate my towels to the local shelters or ASPCA! They are really grateful.

    9. Wannabe Expat*

      I’m going to jump in here and say don’t drop it off at a public school – instead, call your local community college or other college and drop it off with the closest major that overlaps with your field of study or might be interested in attending the conference in the future. I teach and do other adminy work at multiple colleges, and students will use it and will gladly take free stuff. I know many-a-student that use our free printing service to print half-butted resumes and cover letters to give out at career fairs for free branded swag. They don’t want the jobs – they want the pencils and bags and notebooks and water bottles.

  5. Foagmlord*


    I can’t believe she thinks she can effectively double her salary just because someone else is leaving. It sounds like they have different jobs entirely.

    Is that a thing? Does that happen anywhere?

    I’m baffled.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I think there was a question on here years ago about somebody wanting the rest of their team to be eliminated so they could do all the work and receive the pay of several people.

      1. LimeRoos*

        There was! I can’t remember the letter name, but they streamlined a process or something, and thought it would eliminate 25 positions (all their coworkers basically), so they wanted double salary to be the only one working and updating the streamlined thing. I can’t find the link right now, but oof that was interesting.

        1. Two Pop Tarts*

          I have a relative going through this conundrum.

          He was hired at a small, disorganized manufacturing company (making boxes). He streamlined the process in his area to the point that it now only takes 2 employees to run it rather than the previous 4. Over the next 10 years it will literally save the company over a million dollars in payroll.

          The company’s response was: Thanks.

          In this instance, some of the money the company is saving should go toward the person that created the savings, but it’s probably not going to happen.

          1. Random Dice*

            That isn’t at all how that works.

            It would be nice if it did, but it doesn’t.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I can see the logic of the thought process (even if I don’t agree) in the case where someone does genuinely absorb the entire job in addition to their own. OPs job was worth $40,000 (or whatever) to the company and the co-worker’s job is worth $45,000 – as evidenced by the amount the company is willing to pay in salary. Now if the co-worker is doing both jobs, the combined work is worth $95,000 to the company.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        $85,000 – I can’t add up before having my coffee, but hopefully the point is clear.

      2. Lisa Vanderpump*

        In a situation like that, the company ends up saving money because they only have to pay for the benefits of one employee rather than two.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Sadly, many companies are stingy, and will happily pay one salary for someone doing two jobs. Someone doing that much work deserves more!
          Though of course, no one should be expected to do two jobs.

        2. Colette*

          But they lose redundancy, which means that if the one person is gone due to vacation, illness, or a new job, they’re left with no one who knows what they’re doing.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            LOL. Companies don’t think of that. They just tell the person they can never go on vacation or quit because there is no one to do their job.

            They will also happily have you do double the work for a single salary. But co-worker is still unreasonable. You don’t get two salaries for doing one job — even a greatly expanded one. You SHOULD get a pay bump if your work load expands, but companies never do that. That’s why Alison gets so many letters from people asking about how to handle huge workloads when their managers won’t take anything off their plate due to short staffing.

            1. Random Dice*

              I love her sheer chutzpah though!

              Especially because she’s clearly not good enough at it that the manager had to explicitly forbid her to be trained! That’s a really unusual situation that hints at her being unreasonable and GUMPTION!!!!y in other ways.

      3. Also-ADHD*

        No company ever does that, but it would be cheaper frankly than that too because total compensation includes things like healthcare which they wouldn’t need to pay the existing worker. I’ve seen once a salary split between 3 people when someone left and a position was not replaced but absorbed, and it was truly a 1/3 bump for them all, but that seems really rare and a double jump seems impossible.

      4. ferrina*

        It could also be that the company was badly organized to begin with and didn’t really need two people. I’ve been on both ends of this (in the same company).

        -Person A was laid off when his role was made redundant. His role was a nebulous support role, and he didn’t do much. The things that he did do were often so minor that they didn’t factor into my workload at all. I absorbed his responsibilities, and honestly never noticed.

        -Person B was mission critical and had more skills and responsibility. The job was higher profile and higher stress. When she left, I had to absorb a lot, effectively doubling my already-full workload. It required a lot of collaboration with external stakeholders, strategic thinking (plus my existing role of executing the strategy), dealing with politics and a lot of stuff that was way outside my 45k paygrade (this role would have made $90k-115k). Honestly, they could have given me 10% of that person’s salary and I would have been thrilled.

      5. MassMatt*

        Right, we frequently see people get more and more work piled on their plates as people leave. Sometimes they wind up doing the work of two or even three people, sometimes working 60-80 hours per week with no overtime pay. When they finally burn out or quit, they are often replaced with multiple people.

        I think this coworker is nutty, and I especially dislike that she is trying to draw the LW into this conflict with the boss over her ultimatum. But it’s interesting that taking over someone’s salary is beyond the pale yet taking over their work is pretty common practice.

        1. Roland*

          Alison’s talked about this before, that people will say they’re doing the job of 2-3 as if it’s 2-3 full time jobs but it really isnt. It’s very rare for someone to truly be doing 100% of someone’s previous job. Absorbing some duties, even too many, yes, but unless I went from 40 to 80 overnight then I’m not doing the job of 2 people.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Well – she certainly has a lot of, um, self confidence.

      I’d put on continuous repeat for her the phrase, “I’ll need to run that by Manager.” Sounds like you have a good reputation, and maintaining that reputation is more valuable to you than appeasing a coworker who you may never see again after your notice period (and especially a coworker who doesn’t seem to have a firm grip on normal business practices).

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Agreed. I feel like OP can pretty easily defer all questions asked by coworker by either saying that OP needs to ask the manager about it before talking to coworker about it or by telling the coworker to talk to the manager directly. And if OP can conceivably give the excuse of “I’m so sorry, I won’t have time to go over that with you before I leave,” all’s the better.

    4. Dog and cat fosterer*

      I once automated a process that automated 5 hours of work per day. I jokingly suggested they pay me 25 extra hours per week but no luck! Either the coworker will be working 80 hours per week to do both jobs in which case she should be paid overtime, or she’ll only be able to do half of each.

      The coworker is clueless!

      1. Twix*

        Tbf, I have been in roles where I had to be there 40 hours a week but my workload only took up 20 hours a week. I hate being bored and I like money, so I would have been both willing and able to double my workload if it meant also doubling my pay. I’m wondering if that’s what’s going on here – LW’s coworker genuinely does have the bandwidth to take on LW’s responsibilities if properly compensated and thinks she can address that by just… annexing LW’s workload.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          I doubt she is so efficient that she has the room to take on more. If she is THIS clueless AND manager told OP to not give any tasks to her, I am thinking this is a subpar employee.

          1. Twix*

            There are plenty of reasons other than being efficient that someone could be underpaid and/or underutilized, and there are plenty of reasons other than being incompetent that LW’s manager may not want to assign this work to her. It’s just such a weird situation and the coworker’s actions read as so clueless that I’m wondering if there’s some office politics going on that LW is not privy to that would make the whole thing make more sense.

      2. ferrina*

        This looks great on a resume! I’ve got a similar bullet on my resume, and it always gets good attention from employers.
        You can quantify how much money you saved the company- if your hourly rate is $10 (for easy math), then you saved $250 per week or “Developed automated process that saved the company over $10,000 per year”

    5. LIZZIE*

      As am I! I know with my small department, one person left, and my immediate boss applied for, and got their job. so that left a gap between his new title, and me, which was at the bottom. I did mention to a couple of friends (not from work) it would maybe make sense, and I hoped maybe they would promote me, and do away with my “job” or job title. Which is what they did end up doing, but I certainly didn’t expect to have my lower salary added to my new higher one! While I did get a nice bump, it wasn’t huge, and nowhere near what my old salary had been!

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      I wondered whether she had been burned before because it seems so unfortunately common that people take on tasks of departing employees and then those employees never get replaced and now you’re doing two jobs for the price of one, and she was trying to get out ahead of that…

      But the fact that OP’s boss explicitly said right away not to transfer any tasks to her makes it feel like this is part of an ongoing battle she was already fighting somehow lol. I’m very curious.

      1. Ama*

        I do wonder if she’s already been trying to get a raise and was told “you would have to take on more responsibilities to get more pay” and now she’s taking the opportunity presented by OP leaving to try to force the situation.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      It’d be one thing if she were expecting to take over all the responsibilities of the now-vacated role – she’d still be wrong but at least it’d have some basis in reality, sort of. But it sounds like from the boss’s end she’s explicitly not taking over ANYTHING from OP (maybe she doesn’t know this yet? but it’d have been a good first response to the weird request). So if she’s not inheriting any of this now-vacant role, why the heck would she get any raise because of it?
      Or is there some backstory there where she asked for a raise before OP resigned, was told there’s no money in the budget, and now is assuming that money is in the budget? But the amount she’s talking about still makes no sense.
      Also why is she assuming they’re not going to rehire that role, thus using that salary money elsewhere? This person is not even close to reasonable or logical.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        On the flip side – I wonder if coworker does know she’s not picking up any of this job and is trying to pull an end run around the boss (thinking OP doesn’t know what the plan is). Thinking this way coworker can get what they want despite the boss’s idea of what is going to happen going forward.

    8. JustaTech*

      When my coworker left I used her leaving to leverage myself a promotion and a raise, but that wasn’t “I’ll be doing all of Betty’s work” it was “I am now the only person who can do this job and you were paying Betty 15% more than me for the same title/work – you need to fix that” with the unstated but completely understood “or I’ll walk and you’ll be eff’d”.

      But I never for a second thought that I should get all of Betty’s salary too!

  6. Lalaith*

    #2, leave a third note:

    STOP leaving RUDE NOTES in place of my notes. WE KNOW WHO IS DOING IT!

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      “Please wash the brushes before you put them away, especially if this note makes you feel so called out that you have to replace it. WE KNOW WHO IS DOING IT”

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      This reminded me of nothing so much as the entries on the passive aggressive notes site [more]

  7. Observer*

    #1 – Swag

    Your peer is right, but so are you. They are being kind of rude, but it’s not worth bringing up.

    For yourself, it’s not so hard to keep from making the same mistake. The key is to keep track of what you gave people, have a few different gifts, and change it up periodically. It doesn’t have to be big stuff, but small changes indicate that you are trying to think about what your speakers and presenters might find useful. There are sooooo many things that they could get (that are not clothes!) Off the top of my head, I can think of stuff in a lot of price ranges. Travel mugs, mouse pads, tote bags, umbrellas, post its (and those tend to get used up more often than notebooks so they can easily be repeats), come to mind. If you have a relationship with an office supplies vendor (or a rep at one of the larger supply places like Staples), talk to them as this is often something they can help you with.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Sure, but ordering that kind of stuff is far cheaper in bulk, it’s entirely possible that they ordered 250 each of notebooks and bottles 5 years ago and are still using up that stock, and have no capacity to order anything new or different. If they are not paying speakers it sounds as though they are on a very tight budget.
      I think the simplest way is for OP either to say head of time that they don’t want the gift bag or to just hand it back / leave it as soon as they are off stag , and explain why if asked. A breezy “Oh , I’ve been speaking here every year for x years, and the gift bag is the same every time, so I’ve got as many [name] branded bottles and notebooks as any one person needs” is fine (if she wants to soften it with an ‘I appreciate the gesture but I’ve got as many…” then she can, but it’s not rude without)

      It’s not clear to me whether OP is the only person who goes back evey year to present – if not, it might be worth mentioning it to the organisers (maybe when they contact her to book her) just to let them know that it is noticeable and they may want to consider switching things out a little if/when they can)

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        If you are ordering branded swag for conference it USUALLY has the year or number of the conference on it. Which means you can’t re-use it.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Only if the person is inexperienced. Having to deal with getting rid of dated swag once will give you motivation to just use a generic logo for the organization without a date, trust me.

    2. Julie*

      I think it is worth calling their attention to – not in a complainy ‘I’m offended’ way, but just so they’re aware that this is noticed by their repeat speakers. If they have any targets around sustainability and waste reduction this is something they could be looking at. Even if there was just some kind of clear option for return speakers to decline being presented with a bag.

      (In my mind, either the gift ordering is done by a junior person who is new each year, or they ordered a pallette of water bottles ten years ago and are still working through them.)

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, they may already be aware of hoe people feel and just not have the budget to do anything different, but it’s still worth giving that feedback.

        For anyone who isn’t aware of this – a lot of conferences run on shoestring budgets and many event vendors (especially caterers) are charging much more than they did pre-pandemic. So if I have to choose between giving my delegates tea and coffee OR having fancy individually personalised speaker gifts – sorry, but the hot beverages are going to win every time, because it has a much greater impact on the overall delegate experience. (Plus, people get exceptionally cranky if they can’t get their caffeine!)

        1. Capybarely*

          I learned from a conference organizer that the cost of those hot beverages are extraordinary, *and* that in many venues, if they don’t order them there’s effectively a penalty. Sort of like bundled phone and cable. No, the breakout session doesn’t actually need a full tea spread, but it’s in the conference package, so enjoy, and take those single serving jars of honey home with you!

          A few years back, I accidentally walked into the wrong conference’s breakfast buffet. The food was mostly the same, but I was surprised to realize that they had larger coffee cups than my conference! (No I did not purposely go back to the wrong buffet the next morning, tempting though it was!)
          Obviously their organizers had a different contract, and 4 oz more coffee per attendee was the most visible perk.

    3. giraffecat*

      As a counterargument, I know some people who look forward to getting the same items from conferences every year. It’s the same item (water bottle or bag, for example), but the logo is stamped with the city and year of that conference, so some people like to collect them as mementos. Not sure if that’s the case here, but if so, I don’t think it’s necessarily rude. It’s entirely possible that if they decided to change it up some people would be just as upset as the OP is about getting the same item. It could be a situation where you just can’t please everybody.

      1. Cherries Jubilee*

        I feel like collectible yearly mementos have to be kind of small though. Multiple water bottles take up a huge amount of space, and you only ever use one at a time, so that really does feel wasteful.

  8. HR Jedi*

    #5 – Unless the employer set up a rule that specifically targets married individuals from taking time off at the same time, I doubt there is anything illegal in their action. In fact, it would be more problematic if the employer gave preferential treatment to married couples. If you’re in an environment like a call center or manufacturing line in which only so many time off request can be granted per shift, then there’s no guarantee that you will get the same time off approvals.

    Definitely look over that article to which Allison linked her reply. It’s definitely a good idea to consider if it is good to work at the same employer as a spouse. The best example that comes to my mind, is what if the company has layoffs and/or goes out of business. That means both of your incomes are gone at the same time. While working for separate employers doesn’t guarantee this won’t occur, it still hedges against the possibility.

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

      I would add if they allow 2 people who are dating to take off the same time, or 2 family members or 2 friends, but they do not allow married people then that would be problematic.

    2. ferrina*

      Agree with all of this, but also having a policy that explicitly forbids a married couple to take time off together is cruel. It’s one thing to say “you don’t get preferential treatment”, but it’s another to say “You don’t ever get to take a vacation together, and you know how your kid was about to graduate from college and you were going to take a day to travel there? Only one of you gets to do that.” Or what happens if the kid is about to be born? Only the mother can go to prenatal appointments? How are they going to buy a house if they can’t take time off together to go to closing?

      It makes me wonder if they are trying to discourage married couples from working there.

      1. Observer*

        It makes me wonder if they are trying to discourage married couples from working there.

        Why? Unless the OP responded somewhere and I missed it, we have no indication that the company is specifically forbidding couples to take off a weekend at the same time.

        1. Clisby*

          I wasn’t clear on that, either. If the married couple have the same job, it could easily make sense they can’t get the same weekend off. If it’s like, the bookkeeper married to the groundskeeper, it wouldn’t.

        2. ferrina*

          The OP is really vague on this. I read the question as the married couple is never being allowed to take time off together, but on re-reading I realize it could be that there’s specific instance where the married couple isn’t being allowed time off together. I think I read it as “never” because that’s the case where I would write in to Alison. It didn’t occur to me that someone would write in about a one-time denial of PTO! (unless it was extremely extenuating circumstances, like the person being told to miss her graduation)

          If it’s a case of “sometimes your PTO doesn’t overlap”, yeah, that’s part of working. The company isn’t obligated to take on additional burden with employee PTO just because they have a married couple.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            OP is extremely vague so a certain amount of speculation is required to make sense of it, but my read is that two people always taking the same weekend off caused problems with scheduling and they were told they couldn’t do it. I suspect that OP feels that “but we’re married” is a reason why the employer should be required to allow it rather than the employer specifically targeting married couples.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        The question was specifically about weekends, so a lot of your examples won’t apply.

        I’m reading this as being getting the same weekend days off specifically, not about vacation time that gets asked for and scheduled.

  9. Fran*

    LW#1 I just attended a conference where instead of speaker gifts they did a donation in each speakers name to the United Way. Still did the thank you at the end of each talk and announcing the donation.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Ooh, as conference planner, I would never do something like this without first checking that the speaker was totally okay with it – or letting the speaker choose the charity. United Way has had its issues in the past (like many other big charities), so it’s possible that people might want to avoid donating to it, or supporting it via their registration fees.

      1. Delta Delta*

        This. I would be livid if I found out someone was making a donation in my name to an organization if they didn’t ask me first.

    2. nodramalama*

      This definitely seems like something you need to check with the conference planners before announcing it. You’re just assuming they have the budget to redirect to a charity when they’ve probably already spent the allocated budget on water-bottles.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I think you’d need to be very careful with that as donating in another person’s name can be very loaded – it might be OK if the donation was to a charity which was closely aligned to the conference’s purpose but even then, I would still strongly recommend checking with the speaker in advance and giving them the opportunity to opt out of being named.

      But also, it sounds as though in OPs case the conference/event is being run on a very low budget so they may not have that option?

    4. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I once spoke at a conference where speakers had the option of receiving either a physical speaker gift (I think it was a shirt), or having a donation made in their name. I believe the donation was to a scholarship fund for students to attend the conference, or something similar. (Very closely related to the conference subject matter, at any rate.)

      That feels like a good balance between “yet more stuff” and “donation in your name” (assuming the conference has the resources to make the donation).

      1. Daisy-dog*

        I love the scholarship fund idea. Repeat speakers are indicating they do like and want to support this conference.

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

      I think it also depends on the company hosting the conference. Like if they are funded by grants or are part of the government entity they may not be able to do such a thing. For example, my state university has a conference every year. Mostly people from other state schools come but also other surrounding private universities and community colleges sometimes come as well. I know there are confrence fees but those go towards lodging and catering. paying folx to speak is grant funded. They would be able to offer a swag gift using those funds but they wouldn’t be able to use the money for a charity. They MAY be able to donate to the schools own charity (for example a scholarship fund) but not another charity like United Way. Could you imagine the outcry if public and/or student funds were used for a charity instead of going to the betterment of the university (and therefore the students).

    6. Aphrodite*

      UA deeply offends me. They have pampered their executives at the expense of donors, other lower-level employees, and the public. I loathe them more than I can say.

      While I think a donation is an idea, the speaker should be allowed to make their own choice or at least be allowed to choose from a list that has a range of interests.

      1. Fran*

        Ya, I wasn’t too impressed with who they chose but I wasn’t speaking. I had more complaints for them over the lack of vegetarian options for lunches and at least it wasn’t the Salvation Army…

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    A speaker at a conference I once attended was given a large bouquet of flowers as a thank you gift. She was due to fly out the following day, so she gave the flowers to my boss, who gave her a lift back to her hotel afterwards.

  11. gifts fulfilled their purpose the moment they've been given*

    OP #1, if you want to leave the gifts behind, you can! I would accept them on stage and then put it somewhere near the staffing area. If someone notices and reminds you that you “forgot” it, it’s totally fine to then say something like “thank you, but I actually left it there on purpose. I love speaking at this conference and return gladly every year, but that also means that my kitchen cupboards are overflowing with unused water bottles and I have more notebooks than I know what to do with. I really appreciate the gesture, but I’d rather leave them with you than have them collecting dust at home.” said warmly like of course they understand under these circumstances (as they should). It might even have the added bonus of the person realising the issue and talking to someone higher up.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      And of course it won’t go to waste, as they can just carry it forward to next year…

      1. Swag*

        If it’s an off-site conference, I can promise you it’s going in the bin.

        Because dragging conference swag back to the office is the last thing event organisers want to do.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          If the budget is so tight that they give speakers water bottles instead of an honorarium, they’ll be hauling that bag back to the office for sure, to use next year.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            No one’s going to schlep the stuff, but I wouldn’t jump to blame the budget. My organization holds a conference annually and we always give speakers a gift (though never publicly like OP describes) They get it when they check in and get their name badge. The budget for said gifts is tight-ish, and similar year-to-year (with inflation adjustments), but the gifts have literally never repeated (and they’re never water bottles). They’re also branded to the year and city, so they wouldn’t be reused. It can be done. I’ve been to many other conferences that had similar practice.
            This particular conference just seems to be bad at handling this – between the public display of the gifting and the same-same-same, it’s this conference that’s being weird.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, I mentioned this upthread, but all the advice about leaving it behind just seems like a really convoluted way of tossing it in the trash. Even the stuff from previous years is just trash in a long pause. If LW is never going to use those notebooks, what difference does it make if they throw them away now, or 20 years from now?

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      If a speaker said something like that to me, I would definitely feed it back up the chain. Better still, put it in writing after the event so whoever is planning the conference can forward it on or save it in their event debriefing notes.

      1. MsM*

        Seriously, just tell them no gift bag necessary in advance. If the request gets lost in the shuffle, no big deal, but I know my org would be thrilled not to have to worry about it when we’ve got the rest of the conference to plan.

        As for “sincere gifts,” does OP’s friend have any idea how difficult and/or expensive it is to order customized items in less-than-bulk quantities? And what poor overburdened assistant do they plan to task with figuring out what each speaker will truly appreciate, or at least doesn’t already possess in abundance?

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yeah, if it’s a speaker that the organisers know really well, they could buy a personalised gift based on their relationship. Otherwise, it would be pure guesswork. Much of the time, our staff don’t know the speakers at all and are meeting them for the first time on the day of the event – so that approach means you could accidentally buy something the speaker would find inappropriate or offensive. I’m sure nobody loves the water bottles, but it’s a lot better than (for example) buying a bottle of wine for someone when you didn’t know they had a drinking problem.

        2. Countess of Shrewsbury*

          I don’t think that the ask is that they personalize gifts to the speakers, but to consider not giving the exact same water bottle/notebook combination year after year.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Also I think it’s kind of weird to make a big deal about ceremonially presenting the speakers with these gift bags … that contain free giveaway type merch. Something about that just cracks me up.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              And to ceremonially present the same gift to a speaker who presents more than once? That just seems really weird to me, even if it were the first year the person was presenting. They don’t need another gift bag!

            2. rural academic*

              Yeah, this whole set-up is super weird to me. But then I mostly go to academic conferences, where potentially hundreds of people speak and nobody gets a gift for it.

            3. mlem*

              Yes, it’s so weird! Making such a big deal about presenting a water bottle and a notebook is certainly A Choice They’ve Made.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (HR wants a meeting after I leave) – the situation has a lot of the marks of constructive dismissal. Worth a thought on whether there is anything to be pursued there.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      I thought that wasn’t a thing in the USA (where, I learn from AAM, employment is at-will meaning you can be fired for any reason or for no reason provided it’s not to do with being in a protected class)?
      I remember a letter when the LW described “managing someone out” by basically being mean to them with the stated aim of forcing them to resign, and whilst Allison rightly told them that was an awful thing to do as a manager and a human, she never said it was illegal. (Whereas here in the U.K. it would have represented a signed confession of constructive dismissal and LW’s backside would have been answering questions at a a tribunal sharpish.)

      1. ferrina*

        If OP is being managed out because OP made a discrimination claim, it becomes retaliation for making a discrimination claim and that is illegal.

      2. doreen*

        ” Constructive dismissal” isn’t illegal in the sense that there will be any consequences to the company for the managing out itself. There may be legal consequences if it’s done for particular reasons – if it’s done in retaliation for making a complaint to the EEOC or if it’s based on a protected characteristic.

        But if a manager is being mean to someone to try to force them to resign for no reason other than a personal dislike of the employee – that’s not illegal itself, but it may make the employee eligible for unemployment (which is not normally available to those who resign) which may have the effect of raising the employer’s insurance rate.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – there are a fair number of red flags waving here. OP4 – I really think at the least a consult with an employment lawyer (even if only to help negotiate terms of how your reference checks will be handled) is a good idea.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Agreed. Many state bar associations have matching services where you can find a lawyer in your area with the specialty you need and your initial consultation is a flat rate.
        (In North Carolina, it’s a flat $50 for an initial 30 min consultation, at least it was last time I used the service.)

      2. HarperC*

        Yes, I strongly encourage doing an initial consultation with a lawyer. Asking you to come back for an exit interview may be innocuous or they are just looking for assurances that you won’t sue, but the entire manor in which you decided you needed to leave the job feels extremely retaliatory and so there really could be a case there.

    3. Sloanicota*

      I thought number 4 was the most interesting one. It sounds like OP is worried she’s in trouble, like this person is going to yell at her or bring her up on some kind of charges or something. I would assume HR is trying to judge if you’re likely to sue them. They may ask you to sign something, if you were involved in an ongoing complaint at the time you resigned. I would not sign it (that will increase their suspicion that you might sue – even if I wasn’t going to, I might like to make them sweat a bit TBH so this is only to the good). They are unlikely to offer severance even if you do sign, since you quit, but they may commit to a certain reference if you do. They may threaten a bad reference if you don’t, but don’t fall for that.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That’s similar to my thoughts; this meeting could well be another pleb in the trenches just trying to do their job. And, being one, I tend to be sympathetic to others.

        I’d probably agree to a call (or Xoom if I must, but I’m really not a video person), but I wouldn’t return to the office were there might be obstructions to just walking out of the meeting if it started to go south on me.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, talking with a lawyer certainly makes sense as a next step but I’m not sure I understand what OP’s friends think would be “risky” about taking this meeting?

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Getting OP to say things weren’t bad, or signing something to release all claims. I think friend means risky as in risking not being able to sue the company later.

          I read it like Alison, I got about halfway through the first paragraph and was all This is retaliation for making a complaint.

          Talk to a lawyer. Its worth the cost. If you decide not to sue because employment law cases can be long, drawn out and emotionally draining, you at least will be making an informed decision.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          It’s risky that they’ll offer her some pittance of a severance for signing away her rights to sue over what really looks like a hamhanded case of retaliation or that they’ll try to get her to say or sign something else that would hurt her discrimination case.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Although to be fair, I totally appreciate that OP may not want to go through with it even if she does have a decent case. It’s not an easy process and sometimes you just want to be done with a job; particularly if she’s found something else already, she may be satisfied with a nasty glass door review and being able to live her best life knowing they’re worse off without her.

        3. OP 4*

          I guess what I thought might be risky is that it might be a trap — either to get me to say something I shouldn’t, which they could use as leverage, or to try to trap me into something I would later regret.

          I had to sign a document when I joined about all of the things I wouldn’t do after leaving the company, and that agreement kicks in at 5pm tomorrow, so I don’t know if those agreements not to discuss things apply when I’m talking to someone from the company itself.

          Also, as others said, I don’t want to get pressured into signing something I don’t want to, and I’ve heard stories of people being threatened with things if they don’t sign.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Lawyer up. An initial consultation is usually not that expensive and a lawyer can really put you on a firmer basis for protecting your rights.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        If they have any brains, they’d offer her a severance –contracts require “consideration” (benefit to both parties) to be enforceable. I think LW should absolutely talk to a lawyer because it’s likely they can negotiate some money for her.

        1. Sloanicota*

          They’d offer her severance for her resigning? I thought we had a letter about that and it was agreed that wasn’t usually likely (unless you had a conversation before resigning where that was the deal to save face).

          1. fhqwhgads*

            It’d be more like they’re offering her a settlement in exchange for not being sued for retaliation.

  13. Madame Arcati*

    Re #5 genuine question – what is the risk that LW’s friends are warning of? I can see the sense of Allison’s advice to consult a lawyer in case the company are at fault in some way but it reads more that they think she needs a lawyer to protect herself, but I don’t know from what?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I think the risk is in the HR person trying to hustle OP into signing a low-ball severance package that precludes her from suing. Or into saying something that could be construed as absolving the company of any liability.

  14. Ink*

    #1 does your workplace ever have interns? Because branded swag from an organization relevant to your industry is at the very least more exciting than randomly selected branded swag. Enough so that I don’t think that concerns about regifting and sincerity outweigh the positive effects (on both morale and your junk drawer). Particularly if you can couch it in a way that feels like you’re excited for them to have a future i your industry- “I love going to [conference], but their speaker gifts are always the same! But I know you won’t have any yet, so maybe in the meantime you can take some off my hands!” It may not be significant insider knowledg, but it’s still enough to feel like you’re very actively welcoming them into the profesional fold.

    #3- that’s such a bizarre request. Did she just turn 15 and this is her first summer job? Because that’s about the age I’d consider a hard cut-off point for that kind of naivete! Definitely don’t help her in her quest, undermining your boss on your way out (and for this of all things!) is not a good look

    1. Kel*

      I agree with this! I managed to snag a branded bag from a certifying body in my field as a newbie when someone was cleaning out their office, and I thought it was so cool to have!

      By now I’ve got another one from going to a conference myself, but that took a few years. :- )

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Interns, part time employees, new hires, maintenance staff…. think of someone who might get overlooked who does a good job, and give them an unexpected goofy little thank you.

      “I’ve been looking for an excuse to tell you how much it helps having someone do what you do so I brought this home from the conference for you.”

  15. Filicophyta*

    I was seconded to a job and happened to be there at their annual event when departing employees got a branded gift. All levels of employees got the same, it was very pointless and cheap and not at all worth the effort people put in to the job.
    At the after-meeting (that is, at the pub) long-time employees said they gave the same gift every year. Apparently, they had a closet full of them, and were going to give the same thing until they were used up, which probably wouldn’t be in the lifetime of anyone there.

  16. nodramalama*

    LW1 can you bring the gifts into work when you return from the conference? At my work people loved branded free stuff. I have two branded keep cups and a water bottle

    1. Anonymous cat*

      Seconding this one! My workplace has a side table where people put random stuff for anyone to take. Branded merch, extra office supplies, food, vendor samples, etc.

      You might also specifically tell the maintenance staff if it’s okay for them to take stuff too so no one worries about being accused of theft.

    2. MicroManagered*

      Came here to suggest this.

      Back when we worked from the office, my grandboss would just put the swag from conferences “out by the copier” — which was our designated area for free stuff, snacks, etc. I have a whole set of reusable grocery bags and an umbrella from the unwanted swag pile!

  17. whyblue*

    OP1 – is there any catering staff at this event? I worked at a conference center as a student and since the tips were pretty abysmal, there were squirmishes over any merchandise items we could get our hands on.

  18. Chrisssss*

    OP#1 – same gifts at a conference

    Depending on where you live, you can also put all the bottles and notebooks outside of your house in a box, with a note saying “to give away (unused)”, and let people grab them if they want to.

  19. Still*

    OP1 – I want to second, third and fourth the chorus of “accept the bag graciously in front of people and then leave it backstage”!

    All the suggestions of what to do with the merge are kindly meant but honestly there’s no reason you should take on the work of trying to ethically dispose of something you didn’t want in the first place. The world has enough water bottles and notebooks.

    And clearly the venue will have to qualms about re-using the goodie bag next year. It’s not very thoughtful of them but it’s not worth making a fuss over – which still doesn’t mean you need to take it home with you.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I agree. There are lots of ideas about how to pass on the merch but the simplest option is not to take it home in the first place. The org can recycle it plus if it’s left they may gt the message that it is not appreciated / valued

  20. Straight Laced Sue*

    Nefarious Conference Bag Avoidance Plan:

    1. Bring 2 notebooks and 2 water bottles you already own from another year, hidden in your own bag

    2. At the end of the conference, go to the restroom and leave your two new conference bags there by mistake (in the cubicle if necessary)

    3. Also in the restroom, take out your old, hidden notebooks and water bottles and place them conspicuously about your person, so that people can see you ‘have them’ when you’re leaving.

    1. Straight Laced Sue*

      4. Bonus: Persuade your fellow speakers to do this too, so that there’s a deluge of abandoned gift bags in the restrooms, every year, until someone gets the message.

      1. Random Dice*

        Ha ha I’m imagining an anime river of swag just washing away the bewildered conference organizers.

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      This made me chuckle. It’s like Captain Awkward’s “return awkward to sender” but with swag!

      1. Captain Tabby Grumpypants*

        Reminds me of the dog daycare owner who got mad that the (really cheap) water bottles she gave us as work anniversary gifts were rarely used by anybody, because they were environmentally friendly. Yes, and if a dog grabbed one and ran off with it, it was basically traded because they could chew right through them, unlike the metal ones we preferred to use in the playroom because they COULDN’T.

        But yeah, we got so many useless ‘gifts’ we couldn’t use and were like, “Dude, just give us MONEY.”

  21. bamcheeks*

    I’m probably an outlier in how much I hate branded swag, but LW, you should feel no guilt about holding it for a minute and a half when it’s presented it to you and then handing it back, leaving it on a conference table somewhere, asking if anyone on your table wants it for their kids/school/social mission, or any of these things.

    Does it help to remember that all this stuff comes out of their marketing budget? They buy it because it’s good for them to have this stuff out in the world with their logo on it. You can think of that two ways: one, they’re not getting value for money for it if you just take it home and put it in a drawer, or two, you are declining to be their marketing person.

    For the company, this giftbag is a comparatively insignificant bit of social lubricant– it gives the person thanking you after your talk something to do with their hands and the appearance of a quid pro quo. But it isn’t the “real” transaction– you’re kind of thinking of it as either, “well, if this is all I get for doing a talk, they should make the effort to give me something I actually want”, or “I suppose I can’t turn down this gift without looking rude.” You seem quite clear that the actual transaction of the conference is “I find the audience and their questions so insightful, and I consider this opportunity critical to combatting my imposter syndrome”– that’s what you’re getting out of it, and you can spend way less energy on declining or managing a silly cotton bag with a bunch of branded junk inside it!

    1. Susan Calvin*

      That last bit is such a good framing! Feeling like you have to hold on to this stuff seems like a weird second cousin to the sunk cost fallacy, so focusing on where the real value is and taking The Stuff out of the equation is the way to go here.

    2. Petty_Boop*

      ….and you diagnosed “imposter syndrome” …. from what evidence? I think YOU are spending a lot of energy on psychoanalyzing what for the LW is a simple, “I don’t want to seem rude, but I already have a bunch of these things.” In no way did she imply she thought “they should make the effort to give [her] something [she] actually wants”. She just didn’t want to put the presenter of the bag on the spot by saying, “Oh no thanks, I have so many” and wondered if emailing ahead of time MIGHT be a good idea. But, wow talk about overthinking it and assigning meaningless value to something!

      1. Mirve*

        The imposter statement was a direct quote from the original letter.
        bamcheeks is pointing out that the “payment” the OP receives is not the speaker gift but the other things they mentioned.

      2. rural academic*

        From the evidence that the LW mentioned imposter syndrome in the first paragraph.

  22. Also a conference speaker*

    LW1 you’re lucky you’re getting anything! But I get how that’s annoying. I hope the conference is covering room/board/travel for this conference too.

    If you’re speaking there every year it sounds like you’re potentially well-known in the industry? I’d start pushing for an honorarium if you have that sort of pull. Don’t be rude about it but I’d have a convo with the organizers if you know them. I did this at my own company that hosts a conference and now we’re in our second year of paying. Usually conferences just need to rely on more sponsors to pay. You could start to rally other speakers about it, too.

    I’m of the opinion of speakers shouldn’t speak and give away their knowledge in that capacity for free (and yes I do a lot of free stuff. I rarely speak for free anymore.)

      1. Also a conference speaker*

        Sorry, I wasn’t being serious with that first line. I’ve spoken at many conferences and I’ve gotten swag only once. The other times my registration was covered. Most also cover flight/board but not all.

    1. umami*

      This is a conference, and OP mentioned speaking twice, so it sounds like they are doing a breakout session. For an annual conference, there are probably dozens (if not more) speakers doing sessions, and a swag bag is going to be a pretty typical gift. An honorarium or customized gift is going to be for your main/keynote speakers. I wouldn’t assume this person is terribly well-known or has any type of pull if they are just doing breakout sessions, other than ‘OP always says yes to speaking on this topic, let’s check the box’. Which is fine! But it would seem weird to have a different gift expectation just because you go every year and speak. Easy enough to leave it behind.

      1. Silver Robin*

        What you described is indeed typical, but there is coherence to pushing for anyone who speaks at a conference to be paid for sharing their knowledge and facilitating a session. And I would even argue that “person who reliably does xyz for us” does have some standing to push for a change in payment structure (perhaps doing it just for themselves would create tricky precedents, but to push for *everyone* to be paid could work).

    2. Ginger Cat Lady*

      If it is a for-profit conference, I agree. If it is put on by a non-profit or professional group, not so much. I’ve volunteered on the board of an all volunteer state-level professional organization, and we did conferences to bring members opportunities for continuing education locally. It was a good year if we broke even. We did pay expenses for out of state presenters, but we couldn’t afford to pay all the speakers. We just gave them free registration. It worked, and bringing continuing ed opportunities to our small state was half our mission.
      In my field, there are companies that all they do is put on massive conferences for profit. And expect speakers to come and present *for free* and that really, really bugs me.

    3. kristinyc*

      I’ve spoken at a ton of conferences too. In my industry (marketing/techy), paying speakers is just starting to become a thing. Most of them cover conference registration (and have for years), but they’re just starting to also include travel/hotel, and even paying an honorarium. Is it expensive for them? Yep. But it’s expensive to put on events. But it also opens up your event to a much more diverse range of speakers and ideas, which will make your event better. A lot of peoples’ companies can’t or won’t pay for them to attend conferences, but if it’s fully covered because you’re speaking? Sure. I did a ton of conference speaking when I worked at a nonprofit because it was the only way I could ever attend them. I’m a co-founder of an org dedicated to getting women in our field on stage, and through my work with that org, I’ve learned there are tons of barriers keeping women speakers off stage, and a lot of those barriers are financial. Covering conference expenses/paying speakers lifts those barriers.

      As a speaker, I know I’ve put a lot more effort/thought into my presentations when I know I’m being compensated for it. (Not that I’d ever go on stage and half ass it, but I do take it more seriously when I know someone has spent a lot of money for me to be there).

  23. Harper the Other One*

    #3 – this coworker is really off the rails, and I think you have to be prepared that even if you say “Jane told me not to” you’re going to get harassed to do it anyway. Make sure you’re prepared to stick to your guns! You will do your own reputation and the company you’re leaving no favours if you cave in. You should also be prepared to get Jane to intervene if your coworker is so persistent about it that it’s interfering with your actual transition plan.

  24. mreasy*

    My former employer was changing our branding, and had a ton of leftover items with our old brand. I was able to give notebooks, lip balm, sunscreen, folders, and tote bags by the hundred to our local mutual aid organization. It might be easy to share these resources if you have one.

    1. Clisby*

      Lots of people might like tote bags to be reusable grocery bags. One summer my son worked an office job in a local college department – he was helping his boss clean out an reorganize a storage area and they came across a stack of really sturdy totes that were branded with the name of some now-defunct program at the school. She said, “Take all you want!” So now I have a stack of 8 reusable grocery bags in the trunk of my car.

  25. A Pinch of Salt*

    one year my mom snicked as we opened Christmas gifts. She had collected swag from various blood bank conferences and wrapped it up as stocking staffers as a joke. she thought it was SO FUNNY.

    I still have my Rhogam koala and bean bag blood drop though…

    1. Queer Earthling*

      My parents would go to so many industry shows (my dad had a small IT business) that we basically never had to buy pens. I was a baby writer and was always very, very happy with the number of random pens and pads of paper we had around the house.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I’m still burning through pharma promo pens my mom brought home from 20 years ago…

  26. Anon in Canada*

    #5 is probably intended to discourage couples from working together at the company without bearing the brunt of imposing a complete ban and firing people. Having couples on staff (especially on a small staff) causes all sorts of problems, and even worse potential problems if the couple breaks up; but I can see many bosses feeling bad about firing people over violating a blanket “no dating” policy. This policy will nudge people to leave voluntarily without the boss having to feel bad about firing someone.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      Huh? This is a married couple who can’t take the same time off. Where on earth did you get that they’re trying to nudge people to leave over a “No Dating” unwritten rule?

      1. The Shenanigans*

        Because the problem is that there are couples working together, and it doesn’t matter if they are married or not. Discouraging couples -married, dating, whatever – from taking vacation together is a good way to encourage half of a couple to go work somewhere else. That cuts down on the drama considerably without managers having to feel bad about outright firing someone from breaking a no fraternization policy. Those are unrealistic anyway. Making the logistics difficult for couples could be a lot more effective.

        1. Petty_Boop*

          Or, and far more likely, it’s a measure in place to make sure they are adequately staffed. We don’t know if they’re being denied BECAUSE they’re married or because they don’t let multiple people take the same time off.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            LW’s question doesn’t seem ambiguous at all to me. Unless LW horribly “misspoke”, that workplace has an explicit policy of not allowing couples where both partners work there from taking time off at the same time. It’s an odd policy, but as I said in my other comments, it can be a substitute to a no fraternization policy in order to avoid being required to fire people, or because a no fraternization policy is illegal in that jurisdiction.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Weekends! The question was just about getting the same weekend days off. It said nothing about vacation time.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I have actually worked with more couples successfully than unsuccessfully. The unsuccessful experiences are more memorable though. Some of the couples that I’ve worked with stay at that company for a very long time because together they have 2 good experiences with the company! That doesn’t mean they should be given preferential treatment (and obviously plenty of other employees are loyal too), but I think if there is a way to get coverage for a weekend for both of them to be off, that’d be nice.

      I’m assuming other factors may be at play since the OP was vague. The manager is power-tripping, the time-off request was after the schedules had been written or conflicted with other time-off requests that were submitted first, poor performance, excessive absences, etc.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        Of course some couples work together long-term without causing problems and without breaking up – but problems (and break-ups) are common, and rarely predictable. This makes it so many employers (especially small, low turnover organizations) would rather not deal with this possibility at all.

        One way of doing that is a no fraternization policy. But many managers would feel bad about firing people simply for being in a relationship with a coworker when the relationship hasn’t caused problems yet. Hence the policy in LW5’s workplace: making life really hard for couples who both work there (by making it so don’t have time off together) will inevitably nudge one half of the couple to job hunt and leave, hopefully before the relationship has caused problems at work. No bad conscience for the boss in this scenario.

        Or this could be a country or jurisdiction (e.g. California) where blanket no fraternization policies are illegal.

        LW’s post makes it quite clear this is a policy and not just a one-off issue.

  27. I should really pick a name*


    I think it’s worth asking yourself why you’d even consider saying yes to this request.

    The fact that your boss explicitly said not to should have been the end of it.
    Even if they hadn’t, this is such a strange move on your coworker’s part that I think being associated with it wouldn’t be good for your reputation.

  28. I should really pick a name*

    For #5

    I’m not clear what the situation is.
    1. The employer does not allow two people to take vacation at the same time, and in this case, the two people happen to be married.

    2. The employer explicitly does not allow two married people to take vacation at the same time.

    The second sounds like it could be some form of discrimination based on marital status (I don’t know if that’s protected or not)

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think it’s the first one. I presume it is coverage based (or some other situation where only X number of people can be off at the same time) and they are asking “is it legal to have a rule whose effect is that it stops me from having family time with my spouse”.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Thanks for that explanation. I was honestly quite confused as to how this actually works. Sounds like at least one of the spouses needs to get a job somewhere else.

      2. Clisby*

        That seems the most likely to me. Or to put it another way, the employer is not giving preferential treatment to married couples.

        1. Petty_Boop*

          EXACTLY. The people saying, “oh they’re effectively trying to make one of them quit so they can enforce an unspoken rule about dating co-workers” are IMHO just so far reaching when it’s really just “we only allow 1 person at a time to be off in order to be adequately staffed; the fact that you’re married doesn’t change that.”

    2. kiki*

      Yeah, I feel like the situation is more likely the first. But the second seems like there could be more of a concern about legality (not that it actually is illegal, just that I would understand why someone might think it *could be* more than I’d understand the question with the first).

      1. Clisby*

        It’s not a protected class related to employment (at least on the federal level) but might be in some states. In my state, the only place where marital status is protected is in housing.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      Some of these letters come from people who are angry about a specific recent instance. My guess is that the inciting request came in after another employee (or employees) had requested time-off, so they were 1 away from the maximum and they couldn’t approve 2 more requests.

  29. WellRed*

    OP 1 they aren’t ordering the same gift every year, they have a million of these things in the closet and are trying to get rid of them ; ) I find the whole presentation kind of awkward and weird. We send Amazon gift cards to speakers after the event. Feel free to leave the gift behind.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Someone ordered 200 cases (of 20 items) instead of 200 items in the first year of the conference…

      1. Antilles*

        Alternatively, it could be a required minimum order size or efficiency-of-scale thing, where if you’re planning on having the conference for years, you just order a huge amount all at once to save money overall and avoid having to think about it in future years.
        Especially since I’d guess the majority of people only present at the conference like once or twice and therefore never even realize that it’s the same speaker gift every year since 2015.

      1. Roland*

        I do not use Amazon for ethical reasons but it wouldn’t be a big deal to me. Last time I got an Amazon gift card as a thank you I simply got something off of a local nonprofit’s wishlist to be sent to them.

      2. WellRed*

        I don’t care for Amazon myself but it was probably easier than trying to figure out something that would work for two dozen people across the country.

  30. Lusara*

    OP1, accept the balance then throw it out when you get back to the hotel. People are way over thinking this.

    1. Countess of Shrewsbury*

      I’d just leave it at the conference and they’ll probably just reuse it next year. Less likely to create extra waste.

    2. This_is_Todays_Name*

      Throw it out, rather than give it away? That seems like such a waste. There are plenty of attendees at the conference, I’d bet who’d be happy to get a little swag that the speaker does not want.

      1. Rachel*

        Sometimes the mental energy involved in finding somebody who wants the thing isn’t worth it.

        1. This_is_Todays_Name*

          It takes mental energy to say “Hey would anyone like this? I have duplicates”? I could see maybe leaving it on a table if it’s just too too much to say words, but still throwing away something that SOMEONE likely would appreciate is wasteful.

          1. Dahlia*

            Yes? Talking to people, especially multiple people because it’s unlikely you’ll find someone on the first try, does in fact take mental energy?

    3. Anonymous cat*

      Or possibly offer it to the hotel workers or leave in the room for them?

      I’ve received small gifts that I couldn’t manage to pack so I went to the housekeeper handling my floor and asked ** if she wouldn’t be offended**, would she like this item? Brand new and nothing wrong, I just can’t fit it in luggage.
      Usually they’re happy to take a small treat and understand packing issues.

      (And I treat this is separate thing from tipping. Tipping is helping some make enough money to live. Random swag is them taking it off my hands. )

  31. Rachel*

    I’m going to say something controversial.

    It’s okay to throw away the water bottle and notebook. In the past few years I’ve simplified and streamlined my life with regards to clutter. One thing that was holding me back was always finding a use for everything or else I couldn’t justify throwing it away.

    In this situation “the perfect is the enemy of the good” really applies.

    If you have a backup of anything and that stuff is causing you annoyance or anxiety, it is actually okay to just throw it away. There are other ways to offset contribution to landfills. Your annual water bottle is not going to make an appreciable difference.

    I admire people who would seek out a teacher in need or a Buy Nothing group. But if you are a person (like me) who knows they won’t actually do this extra step for a notebook and water bottle, and these items clutter your mind and space, throw them away.

    Place the water bottle and the notebook in a garbage can in your hotel lobby before you even go back to your room. I promise it’s okay.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      That seems like the last resort to me. FIRST step is to ASK if any of the attendees who presumably aren’t getting the same swag would like it. Very likely someone would love a memento, especially if it’s possibly useful, which both items are. I hate the useless magnets, stress balls, and stickers and cheap pens that I so often get at conferences.

      1. Rachel*

        I think people have a knee jerk reaction to throwing things away as being wasteful.

        But this is how I look at it: I am making mental space. If I am holding something I don’t want, the fastest solution is to throw it away. In the course of my normal, every day life, this isn’t how I handle things I don’t want.

        When I am a speaker at a conference and other stuff is going on, yeah, I’m tossing it and not feeling bad for even a second. Sometimes solving a problem the easiest way is worth it.

    2. Seconded*

      Or just leave it out at the hotel. Possible the cleaning crew would want it or they’ll just sweep it into the trash for you.

  32. Delta Delta*

    #1 – When I was in college I had a campus job that involved coordinating speakers from time to time, and our organization’s gift for speaking was a coffee mug with our program’s logo. One professor spoke, and I went to give him the mug and he said, very breezily, something like, “I’ve done this so many times I’ve got a whole bunch of mugs. I appreciate the thought but go ahead and keep that one.” I thanked him for his time and returned the mug to the storage area later. He was up front and gracious, and nobody’s feelings were hurt. Seems like OP could do the same thing.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      It looks like the bag is given in a public thing, like, on stage with the handshake. Difficult to decline in the moment there. But yes, finding a way to hand it back afterward is best.

  33. Thursday*

    LW#1 – why not just hand the bag to a random person in the audience? Most people love freebies (if they don’t already have dozens of the same item, obviously).

  34. Suz*

    OP1 reminded me of the worst speaker gift I ever received. The conference was during cold/flu season. Our gift bags contained a travel sized package of kleenex, a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer and 3 cough drops.

    1. Breaking Dishes*

      Oh my, they couldn’t even spring for a small bag of cough drops. Thankfully it wasn’t a box of 3 COVID tests.

      1. DataSci*

        Now that they aren’t free anymore, giving COVID tests to conference attendees – who have just traveled and are mingling with lots of other people who have – would be a great idea! Conferences are often super spreader events.

    2. Meghan*

      I work in the sales department of a hotel and earlier this year a client made a big deal about ensuring that her group of 20 people got these gift bags she had sent. Not an unusual thing and I love seeing what different groups put inside their gift bags for guests. There was a Covid test and (1) fun-size candy bar in the bag. I think a few bags even had a mini-size candy bar. It was bizarre.

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP3: Ahh gumption, it’s amusing to look at from afar but infuriating to deal with up close.

    If she honestly believes she’s entitled to 2 peoples salary then the world is going to eat her alive. She’ll either learn to live with disappointment or she’ll end up with a CV full of jobs she left for this inane reason. Let her make her own mistakes.

    OP4: Don’t go without speaking to a lawyer first. I cannot empathise this enough. I was pretty much forced out of a job and when they asked for a ‘friendly meeting to go over how we’d deal with references in future’ I went. What a total sh*tshow it turned out to be. I haven’t seen that much bum covering BS in years.

  36. just another queer reader*

    OP1, my best “branded water bottle” solution is to cover up the logo with a fun vinyl sticker of my choice.

    (this assumes that the water bottle is nice to start out with)

    (also, regifting is possible! my relative still happily uses the fancy water bottle my work gave me.)

    1. Liisa*

      as much as i love a good sticker, there’s still an upper limit to how many water bottles one person (or even household) needs!

      OP1 – what others have said: don’t feel bad about giving the swag bag to other conference attendees or whatever else you feel like doing with it. any halfway reasonable conference organizer understands how much swag people end up with and, especially if you’re a familiar face to them, are not going to be hurt at all by you not keeping it.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, it frustrates me enormously seeing stuff like water bottles and resusable coffee cups and cotton bags– all things that are supposed to be replacing single-use items– get turned into over-produced cheap shit that’s given away free! I mean, sure, a water bottle that gets used 20 times is still replacing 20 disposable bottles but at the point where they’re just turning into junk and problems to get rid of, they’ve literally become the problem they were supposed to solve.

    2. Delta Delta*

      This! I have a couple Yeti tumblers I got as swag, but didn’t necessarily want to advertise how I got them. Now one is wearing a sticker from my favorite band and the other has a sticker of my favorite brand of horse feed.

  37. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I went to a conference where all attendees were given a beautiful backpack and other goodies. It was awesome, but difficult to take home in my already packed suitcase and computer bag.

    It’s sad because I’m sure that somewhere a teacher or students could really use this branded gear if your local charity won’t take it.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Yep! Why conference people don’t think of that is beyond me. I’ve left so many nice books, backpacks, computer bags, etc. behind because I don’t have room. I’ve always hoped housekeeping collected it and donated the items. I usually left it on the hotel bed with a note saying, “Please take, left behind on purpose”.

  38. BellyButton*

    If the conference doesn’t have a “freebie-grab” start one! A lot of people do not want the free stuff and a lot of people can’t fit the extra stuff into their luggage. Make a little sign that reads “Free” and within minutes not only will it be gone, people will start to add to it.

    1. Verthandi*

      Most conferences I’ve been to have freebie tables. I’ve dropped off swag from other places many times.

  39. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    #3: Not only is the coworker deluded about how salaries work, but also about how tasks are distributed. The person leaving does not get to decide what happens with their tasks. That’s an easy answer to give. “Talk to boss about any reassignments.”

  40. Snooks*

    Organizations that work with the homeless would be happy to get the water bottles and notebooks. The same with new wearable swag. Toiletries and the like are welcomed as long as they have intact safety seals.

    1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

      This!!! I would put a water bottle in a tote along with some toiletries and maybe protein bars and the like and just hand them out directly. But I know where I could do that safely. The orgs in my area are always looking for backpacks, totes, etc.

  41. ijustworkhere*

    LW #2 Your letter says that several people knew you posted the note. Given that, it sounds to me like somebody was trying to make a point with you. They either thought you were overstepping your role by posting the note in the first place or they were trying to make you look bad to your colleagues. That’s why I would be inclined to handle it a bit differently.
    I would explain to the boss why I posted the note in the first place (how when people don’t clean up properly it affects other people). I would ask the boss to put up a politely worded, laminated, professional looking note–signed by the boss reminding folks of proper cleaning protocol.

    If the boss is unwilling to do this, then I don’t believe it’s your place to do it. Sad but true. I understand your concern, but sometimes no good deed goes unpunished.

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

      Or they think the OP is being too weak to get the point across and thought a more aggressive note was more appropriate.

    2. Victoria Everglot*

      I was going to suggest that the boss be the one to write the note and make it look official, too. A random employee’s post-it is easy to roll your eyes at, an official sign clearly stating the expectation that you clean up after yourself is much harder to ignore without consequence.

  42. Immortal for a limited time*

    #1 reminds me of my university’s alumni association. For several years, they offered the same gifts based on the amount of your donation. One year I donated X amount at the highest reward tier and received a fleece blanket with my university logo on it. Cool! The next year, they offered the exact same rewards at the same three donation tiers, but I already had a blanket. At the time, there didn’t seem to be a way to request no gift. So guess what I did? I gave half the amount to receive a different gift.

    1. Artemesia*

      That’s how I acquired 8 stemless wine glasses, 2 at a time. They are great because you can put stemless wine glasses in the dishwasher.

    2. Silver Robin*

      Ha, they turned donations into purchases! Lovely example of unforeseen consequences to shifting incentive structures.

  43. This_is_Todays_Name*

    For the conference swag, since it sounds like these are speaker gifts and the attendees are NOT given them, offer the gift bag(s) to an attendee! Pick one out who asked a particularly insightful or thoughtful question and say, “That was a great question! Hey, I have so many of these I’d love for you to have one,” or whatever feels natural. Maybe even bring some of your excess ones with you and just… give them away. You could wait until the last day and just hand them to people as they’re walking away even and say “thanks for coming to my presentation/panel/whatever.” But I bet you’ll find people who are happy to have a little swag bag!

    1. Or your typical admin*

      This!!!! My kids love all the swag from condensed – and stuff like water bottles never makes it to the next year.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        Thank you! Apparently the idea of TALKING to people to ask was just “TOO MUCH MENTAL ENERGY” for some people, and that baffles me. They’d rather throw it away then just actually say “would you like this?” *Shrug* I think they’ve forgotten that the LW is an experienced PUBLIC SPEAKER so I think she can work up the “mental energy” and confidence to ask if someone would like it!

    2. Ranon*

      This was my thought. Heck, attendees would probably love the swag from past years even- some people just love collecting.

  44. Anonymousse*

    Give away the swag in your local “Buy nothing” group or make a post on a similar local neighbor hood page.

  45. lost academic*

    I worked for a firm that only allowed a total of 12 weeks of FMLA to be taken between a couple. Given the rampant nepotism in that company it was particularly galling.

      1. One HR Opinion*

        This is actually the law for certain circumstances.

        For birth or bonding with newborn; adoption or foster care placement; and care of a parent, the couple is limited to 12 weeks. Where this really stinks is in the case of parents. If employee A takes 10 weeks to care for their parent, employee A’s spouse only has 2 weeks available if their parent needs care.

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

          Yea that really does suck and makes no sense, especially if one parent was the one to give birth. It’s so problematic to me because this really is 2 separate situations.

          Parent A gave birth. They have had a medical situation that they need to recover from
          Parent B is taking care of parent A and also has the new baby.
          So therefore they should BOTH have 12 weeks.

          1. doreen*

            I don’t disagree but I do want to point out that if parent A takes eight ( or ten or twelve weeks for their own medical condition , then those weeks don’t count as bonding. So if parent A takes 8 weeks for their medical condition and four weeks for bonding , parent B still has eight weeks of bonding leave to take.

            1. doreen*

              And I think the same goes in reverse- if Parent B takes 8 weeks for bonding they could also take 4 weeks for caring for a spouse. It’s going to be more of an issue when neither parent has a medical condition. ( adoption or foster care)

      2. Clisby*

        It’s legal if they’re specifically talking about taking FMLA for birth of a child/bonding with new baby. That 12 weeks is a total for a married couple working for the same employer. If one is taking FMLA birth/bonding and the other is taking it for, say, intermittent medical treatments, they each get 12 weeks.

      3. WellRed*

        It’s legal but insane and I honestly don’t get it. If I’m single I qualify for 12 weeks but if married, we gotta split it? Wtf? (I’m single and child free btw).

    1. lost academic*

      Bingo – it was specifically with respect to babies. Yes, it was legal. But as Augustus Root said: “The law lets you do it, but don’t … it’s a rotten thing to do.”

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

    #1 You say that it would be hard to “forget” the bag because event staff are always around. Could you find one of those staffers and discreetly hand the bag back to them?
    A thought on the water bottles. Do you get packages delivered? I’d suggest leaving the reusable water bottle and an unopened plastic water bottle for your mail person or package delivery person. Especially if you are in a place where it’s really hot right now, they might like a bottle of water and they can pour the water from the plastic bottle into the reusable one to stay cooler.

    #5: it’s odd but not illegal. I’m wondering do you both work in the same department/ do the same job? I can see that being a problem, especially if you are in a coverage-based job and are short-staffed. For example, I can see this happening in a care facility, where you both are nursing staff. Or in a small retail company, where there’s not a lot of other workers.
    However, if you are in 2 different jobs, just for the same company, Like you are a nurse and your partner is a cook, that would seem oddly controlling. What if one of you finds another person to cover their shift? Does your boss still say no?

  47. BellyButton*

    I travel pretty often for work, I collect the hotel size toiletries and any freebies I get. I make little necessity bags; water bottles, shampoo, soap, tea bags, tshirts, blankets, whatever. I will offer them to people I see panhandling at intersections or take them to shelter. When I worked in an office we had an admin who collected all these things from the people who traveled all the time and would donate it to one particular domestic violence shelter.

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

      That’s a great idea! The OP could do something similar with the water bottles. Hand out a reusable water bottle and a plastic unopened bottle that they can pour the water into.

  48. EthelSamantha*

    LW1, please, PLEASE let the conference organizers know that they’ve been giving the same gift for years and it’s getting old. I work in corporate events and if I thought for a second this was about one of my events I’d be so sad to know a speaker felt this way. There might not be anything that can be done (yes it is possible there is a closet full of these as people suggested), but they would want to know.

    And I very much second everyone who has said to take the gift on stage and then kindly return it to a staff person off stage with a smile and “I have so many of these at home. Please give this to someone else.”

    Also, while I think it’s more than right for all speakers to be paid, it varies widely by industry. In some industries, the speaker is paid and expenses are covered, sometimes expenses and registration are covered, sometimes nothing at all. But I loved the point someone made about how LW was clearly being paid in experience and connection.

  49. Zarniwoop*

    The risk in meeting HR is not that something bad will happen to you, but that you’ll blow a chance to sue their pants off.

  50. DeeDee*

    I worked for a conference that was part of a festival, and my boss was adamant that no one wanted tote bags, they would just end up in the trash. So we ended up getting paper bags screen printed to hand out the conference materials…and everyone was upset that they didn’t get a tote bag. Regular festival attendees *did* get tote bags, and people who came to our sub-conference as well had paid more and were in a higher tier of attendance, but didn’t get the tote bags, just our paper bags.

  51. AcadLibrarian*

    #1 – after conferences, we just dump extra swag in the breakroom with a “free stuff” sign.

    1. LJ*

      OP, do this. In fact, if the previous years’ bottles and notebooks are still new, bring those in too – it’s easier than actively trying to find a neighborhood group to donate to, and also potentially less patronizing feeling to the receiver (imagine someone thinking “I’m barely making ends meet because of those techies driving up the cost of living” and getting unwanted swag from a tech conference…)

  52. The Elephant (No One is Talking About)*

    I am sure you are an interesting and informative speak , but I couldn’t help notice a theme here; same speaker gifst each year for… the same speakers!

  53. honeysuckleTX*

    I am a conference planner and trying to come up with speaker gifts is so hard. I work for a quasi-government agency and the budget is super limited. All but a few of my speakers volunteer their time so I try my best to show them my appreciation. Some of the speakers have been speaking for years, sometimes at more than one conference per year. I try to mix it up but there are really only so many items under $25 I can think of. I give the gifts when they check in, and sometimes they will kindly turn it down or just leave it behind (and I never know if it’s intentional).

    1. NeedRain47*

      can you just ask them if they would like whatever the gift is instead of default handing it to them?
      Personally I’d rather have nothing, than have something I don’t want *and* have to spend time figuring out how to get rid of…. it’s pretty much the opposite of doing something nice for someone. (tho I will always take free notebooks, myself!)

  54. Potatoes gonna potate*

    #3 is fascinating.

    I can kind of see that if you’re having to work extra or new tasks because someone is leaving, using that as a bargaining chip for a salary increase.. but not in the way the coworker in #3 is asking. Double salary is not reasonable….

    This reminds me of a job several years ago; a lot of people quit in a very short amount of time right at the start of tax season (that job had high turnover) and the remaining team had to work extra hard. A few of us felt that we should have been given higher increases/bonuses for having so much extra work dumped on us. Of course the company felt differently…..

  55. Captain Vegetable ( Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    LW 1, if you can pull it off, yell something like “Thank you, Cleveland!” and throw the gift bag into the audience like a rock star.

  56. Observer*

    #3 – Coworker wants to double her pay.

    Some of what I’s about to say is an overlap of what others have said, but I’m trying to be coherent.

    Until you leave, you need to follow your boss’ instructions, so that alone is a good reason to not do what she wants. Also, if word gets out that you transferred your tasks to her, in direct opposition to your boss’ explicit instructions, that could have a real negative effect on your reputation. So there actually *is* a potential impact to you.

    I don’t think you should be framing this as her behavior being “unfriendly”. That not really relevant. What is relevant is that she apparently has very bad judgement, fails to understand the way most workplaces work, and can be rather manipulative. Like, asking you to “be her friend” and give her work tasks? That’s not how any of this stuff works.

    Which is to say, I would stay away from her. You’re leaving this job. Leave her firmly behind as well.

  57. TootsNYC*

    for the gift bags, just do what wedding guests do with unwanted wedding favors: Leave them behind somewhere.

    If they present it, you can accept, and then later just “forget” the gift bag as you leave the area, and the person cleaning up afterward and find it and put it back into rotation.

  58. Meep*

    #1 – Do you not have an office you can go into? I know people who love using notebooks as a form of taking notes and people who cannot attend conferences will always take a branded water bottle to feel included.

  59. Safely Retired*

    I’m pretty sure that gift bag is the exact same thing given to all the paid attendees. In my experience they give them out with the badges. My suggestion is simply not to take it when they try to hand it to you. Or put it down in front of them and walk off without it.

  60. AG*

    LW3 (Coworker wants to be two people with two salaries):
    You are being distracted by the current question of how to handle this request that you are asking about. We don’t have the full picture, but I can tell your coworker is a piece of work in general. I’m saying this because what she is asking is so off the rails, and it sounds like she has an unrealistic expectation about if and how they will get what they want.
    I bet you have other stories about her. You will just make yourself look out of touch if you get involved.
    You are right it is not a friendly thing. This person is not being your friend right now, even if you are friends in general.

  61. Csethiro Ceredin*

    I had #2 happen to me, in a less extreme form! People complained a lot about people accidentally taking others’ printing when collecting their own and so I put a sign up saying something like “When taking your printing, please check for anything that’s not yours”.

    Within the hour my notice had been replaced by one in HUGE BOLDED FONT with a frankly deranged number of exclamation marks and shouty block capitals.

    It was annoying enough without the added discomfort of people thinking it was me. But I agree, OP, you’re fine! Though it’s very irritating.

  62. A Genuine Scientician*

    For #3, the remaining coworker is being ridiculous — it could only really work long term in rare situations, like “We both work 10 hours / week doing these tasks; I could do them all for 20 hours / week and the corresponding pay”

    Over the past year, for several months, I did increase my salary by ~75% by absorbing someone else’s job in addition to mine. It was a deliberately time-limited thing — this was done instead of trying to hire someone for maternity coverage — but I absolutely ran myself ragged during it, and there was no way that would be sustainable over the longer period. I also recognize I was doing all the immediate stuff in the role (handle tasks A-G, train people on H and I, produce K-M, etc), but not doing some of the longer-term strategic stuff (design a new version of C and D, evaluate N as an alternative to M, etc), which just didn’t happen. So even though I could look at it as having done two jobs, it was really more 1.5-1.75, with the remaining part simply not done.

    In general, it’s exceptionally difficult to actually do a good job at all the tasks of two roles simultaneously. Even in cases where a team of 3 turns into a single person, there is likely some combination of some stuff not being done, some stuff being done to much lower standards, or possibly some of those roles not having had enough work to need a full time person.

  63. Dork-e-ness*

    We get lots of pens, pads and small IT related things at conferences so we bring it back and offer it up to anyone in our group that didn’t get to attend conferences. And then if stuff is left over, we once did a Christmas gift box for the IT reps we work with in other departments to let them pick stuff out. By the end of the meeting, the box was empty and everyone was happy with their new loot.

  64. elle kaye*

    But if you keep putting the gift bag on the table every year, do you get the same gift bag every other year? #Thoughts.

    But in all seriousness, I echo the comments that school supply drives and art/scrap recycle shops are more likely to take these types of items.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Hah! It gets shoved in a closet with a sticky note with OP’s name on it, to be hauled out next year.

  65. DollarStoreParty*

    I often leave branded gifts like that in my hotel room – I may be wrong but in my head I think there’s a housekeeper’s kid at home who will be excited to get that stuff. I also pass it along to my sister, a teacher, who uses them for rewards in her low income school.

    1. Esprit de l'escalier*

      Are hotel housekeepers allowed to take anything from the room? I thought their employers forbid this, even if the hotel guest left a “take this!” note, to prevent theft.

  66. Rebelx*

    #4, whether or not you ultimately decide to talk to a lawyer as Alison suggests, before you leave, it seems like it would be a good idea to make sure you have any documentation you might need regarding the retaliation (relevant emails forwarded to your personal account or printed out and taken home, any meeting notes you might have, etc.)

  67. TX_trucker*

    On #1, I’m in a very similar situation. I always graciously accept the gift. Then I turn to the audience, and say I don’t have space in my luggage. I ask a trivia question (usually about my presentation) and then give my swag to an audience member who answers the question correctly.

  68. Science teacher*

    Hey OP1- I am a teacher and would absolutely love notebooks and water bottles for my students. I would suggest asking a school if they need extra supplies and make a quick drop off at the main office. Or post to your neighborhood group and would love to donate to a local teacher in your neighborhood. Heck, I am in need of basically any and all supplies, I even take used pens from people in my neighborhood group lol

  69. ELK*

    For LW1: If you work at a place where there are also employees who never get to go to conferences or do anything but earn their wages, you might consider taking some of those water bottles & notebooks to your office, and hand them over to someone who can be trusted to distribute them to the folks who are lower on the ladder. Speaking as someone who gradually transitioned from admin assistant to conferences coordinator, I can attest that there are undoubtedly people in your office (if you have one) who would be happy to have some branded swag.

  70. Dawn*

    LW1: Can you just ask them ahead of time to please present you with an empty bag, as you now have enough water bottles to prevent a major flooding disaster?

    If accepting the gift bag on-stage is part and parcel of not appearing ungrateful, they could at least leave out the repetitive gift, and/or put a hotel paper cup in if it needs to look like it contains something.

  71. OP 4*

    Thanks everyone for the advice. I called a lawyer today and have a meeting set up for Tuesday. I told the HR person I could meet later in the week, but may cancel if the lawyer tells me to. I probably won’t update any more.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Not a lawyer, but keeping your mouth shut at least until you get advice on what you should or should not be saying is the path of wisdom.

  72. ResuMAYDAY*

    I speak at a lot of conferences and have for the past 15 years. When I’m given a token speaker gift that I don’t want to take back home, I gift it to someone else at the conference (an attendee, not a speaker). Often, people will hang out after my presentation to ask advice for their personal situation (job-search/career related). When someone asks a really good or unexpected question – something that makes me stop a moment to think, I’ll thank them and give them one of the gifts. It’s always appreciated, because they are not the usual swag that attendees get. I’ve had people follow up with me days after the event to send a special note of thanks, and have had a few people come up at annual conferences to thank me again for something I gave them a few years ago. It’s a small gesture but creates great connections. Plus, it’s kind of a side thing, so I don’t look ungrateful in front of the facilitator.

  73. ObjectivePerspective*

    OP #1 this is bad form and you should not feel at all bad for declining the gift. Even if they give it to you in a public setting after you speak, as soon as the audience disperses you should hand the bag back and say “Thank you.” The same gift is exceptionally lazy and unprofessional. I can say that as someone who has organized events for donors, speakers, sponsors, industry leaders, etc. I would be shocked if they ordered a new batch of these gifts every year, I would hypothesize that years ago someone found what they thought was “a great deal” on branded bottles and notebooks and thought they would last as speaker gifts for years without the forethought that they recycle speakers year after year. This may seem like a small hill to die on but it is insulting that their “appreciation gifts” are so thoughtless and generic. I wouldn’t even feel bad asking when you hand it back “You couldn’t possibly think I have room for any more of these in my home!” Put the onus on them, they should be embarrassed, it is embarrassing. After two years of the same gift, if I was asked to speak again I would make a joke about my speaking being conditional on *not* getting another one of those bottles or notebooks.

  74. Too Much Stuff*

    OP #1: I like to play a fun game in the summer called reverse yard sale. Instead of buying other people’s stuff at a yard sale, I sneak something I don’t want onto a yard sale table so the people having the yard sale get to sell it and keep the extra money. Maybe you could try that with some of your guest speaker swag.

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