I’m making $47,000 less than my male coworker, coworker is vandalizing my car, and more

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

1. I’m making $47,000 less than my male coworker

Gathering up my courage, I recently asked a newly hired coworker what his salary was (I am female). He was willing to share, and we discovered that I make $47,000 less than he does. We have the same job title and same number of years of experience in our field, are on the same team, and he recently filled in for me while I was on vacation. We do very similar work while not exactly the same, but for different groups within our company.

Using your article as a guide, I immediately asked my boss for a meeting, laying out my concerns. They seemed to have no idea there was a disparity (our company is a group of companies that were all acquired and mushed together by private equity recently), and said they’d get back to me. A week later, I was emailed that the company is going through a re-titling and pay banding exercise (company-wide) and that if I had any more concerns to bring them to HR. I then emailed HR with more, “This is bad, Equal Pay Act” language, and was met with the same response. They said that I could get on a call with them, but that it wouldn’t change any results until the exercise was complete. I then pushed for a timeline and was told four to six weeks.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. Wait the four to six weeks and see if my company does the right thing? Consult an employment lawyer? This is so overwhelmingly awful and demoralizing to me.

Good for you for asking your coworker about salary and then taking it straight to HR when you discovered what sure sounds like an illegal pay disparity. (Reminder to readers: It’s illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work, even if there’s no sexist intention behind it. The law doesn’t care about intent, just whether you are in fact paying men and women differently.)

At this point it probably makes sense to wait the four to six weeks and see what they come back with. If they don’t increase your salary on par with your male coworker’s and propose a plan for making you whole for the period where you were paid less (you’ll almost certainly have to ask for that last part, by the way), then at that point it’s lawyer time. (Not necessarily to sue; often a lawyer can get things like this fixed just by contacting them on your behalf.) That said, you could consult a lawyer now if you want to; you might find out they feel it’s better to begin negotiating now, before your company completes its reviews.

2. My coworker is vandalizing my car

Another employee and I work for the same company but at different locations. I noticed strange things happening to my car when I go to the store. My car is getting keyed and nails are forcefully in my tires when I go in the building. When I return, I always find something wrong with my car. I decided to put cameras in my car and I caught this other employee doing more crimes to my car. Do I come forward with the footage and show it to the manager? Is this a fireable offensive for the employee that’s been doing it to my car?

Yes and yes. Fireable doesn’t mean “this person will definitely be fired,” but if the evidence is really irrefutable, they should be. Either way, it’s something your employer needs to be aware of and needs to stop.

3. Shutting down side chats on potentially sensitive topics

I work in a hybrid environment and part of my team is in another state. The out-of-state part of my team is new to the organization due to a merger. We have a Teams group set up for the whole team to communicate stuff everyone (or most of us) need to know, and it works great. Sometimes we get into side chatter, which is also kind of neat … But.

I have a visceral reaction to horror movies due to past trauma, and for a convoluted rabbit-hole reason, the topic was being discussed at length by only a few folks in this general chat. I’m an informal leader, and two of the formal leaders of my team were involved in the conversation. (Also, people in both locations).

I’d like ways of curtailing these types of conversations that doesn’t sound like I don’t want people to talk about stuff I’m not interested in so much as I want to preserve the high level of communication my team has, in part because of the existence of this channel and in part because it’s okay most of the time to have this side chatter.

To be clear, I’m not looking for language just to shut down horror movie talk, but to use more broadly when a topic is problematic. I think sometimes people with few trauma responses are clueless about how varied they can be, and as an informal leader, I sometimes get folks confiding in me about other topics.

“This would be a good topic to take to a private chat — there are people who don’t have the same level of comfort with horror/true crime podcasts/diet talk/childbirth/(insert whatever the topic is).”

If it’s a topic that a lot of people do seem interested in discussing, you could also suggest they create a separate channel for it (if that’s appropriate; it might not be).

4. My assistant stands when women come in

My exec assistant is male and a veteran. I’m female. When I walk into the office in the morning, he always stands up to greet me. He does this with all women who walk into the office. It’s unclear if he does this with the men.

We aren’t a military organization. While it is a nice courtesy, it seems weird to me — it interrupts whatever he’s working on to physically stand up and adds a level of formality to the office that isn’t otherwise there. Thoughts? Is it worth addressing it? (I should check and see if its with the men too. If it isn’t, then it is treating women differently and is an outdated norm for a business environment.)

Yes, first observe to see if he does it with men too. If he does it with everyone, let it go; as long as he’s otherwise doing good work and making people comfortable, it’s just a personal quirk and people are allowed to have personal quirks. Although if he is not making people comfortable in larger ways — like if he’s being overly stiff and formal for your office and you want your assistant to represent you differently — you could address that larger pattern.

But if he’s just doing it with women, you’re right that he shouldn’t be treating women differently at work. In that case, you could say: “I’ve noticed you stand when a woman enters the office, but not for men. Please stop standing for women since in a professional context, it’s important that we treat men and women the same.” (Or you could say, “Please stand for everyone or for no one, but not just for women — since in a professional context, it’s important that we treat men and women the same. For our culture, not standing at all would normally be the way to go.”)

5. Including a gift card with a sympathy card

The manager of my department recently had his mother die. Some of his direct reports have purchased a sympathy card, and are including with the sympathy card a $50 gift card to Olive Garden. This is customarily what the department does for employees who are leaving for another job or retiring. (Not Olive Garden necessarily, but a gift card of some sort.)

I asked them to reconsider including the gift card, since I feel it’s wildly inappropriate here, but they insist on keeping it. Is this normal and I’m just out of touch with office norms?

It seems pretty odd to me as well, but my guess is that it’s their version of the bereavement casserole — i.e, “you’re grieving and not cooking for yourself, so let us take care of dinner.” It doesn’t come across quite the same when it’s a gift card for a night out though; a restaurant delivery service would feel more in line with that intent.

{ 721 comments… read them below }

      1. Sue*

        Your Insurance company may even require a police report. This sounds like a significant amount of damage and a perpetrator with issues, let the police handle it.

        1. MassMatt*

          This coworker definitely seems to have issues. A police report will put it on record, which can both deter it from escalation and serve as evidence if it does.

          This goes WAY past “maybe my manager will do something”.

        2. Rz*

          I was coming here to say this! Tell your employer, but for sure tell the police! Imagine if they get fired and come to your home and do this! They clearly have an issue. protect yourself.

    1. Lilo*

      Yes, this person is doing at least hundreds, probably thousands of dollars in damage. That’s a felony.

    2. LinZella*

      And the OP’s car is most likely not the only one being damaged. Unless this guy has some weird personal vendetta against her.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Even if OP’s car IS the only one being damaged, having that person fired (on its own/without involving the police) seems unlikely to stop the problem and may even escalate it. Calling the police should be the *first* step, and if they’re arrested it makes an even stronger case for them to be fired.

        1. Rex Libris*

          This. Most places, committing a criminal act on work time and property would be a fairly quick and automatic firing.

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        This is what I was concerned about–is that employee a danger to the LW?

        1. Grammar Penguin*

          I think they are already at least intending harm. Keying the car damages the paint and is an expensive inconvenience, but nobody is at risk.

          Nails in the tires can cause an accident.

          (Just slashing the tires while it’s parked leaves the car undriveable until the tire is changed. Expensive PITA, but not dangerous. A tire with a nail in it will likely have a slow leak, not be noticeable before driving, and can cause a blowout once up to highway speed as temp and pressure increase.)

          1. The Rafters*

            Can absolutely be dangerous. Leaves OP stuck and vulnerable to attack by the coworker, if that’s where they are headed.

      3. TootsNYC*

        or a vendetta against the car.
        I found myself saying, “It can’t be a Tesla, because it’s got cameras already. What is it–a Prius or other hybrid? or a Mercedes/BMW/et al.?”

    3. Bilateralrope*


      Anything said to the letter writers employer should be along the lines of “{employee} was vandalizing my vehicle and I have informed the police. Don’t give them a chance to talk them out of filing the police report.

        1. pally*

          Yes! Don’t want the company deciding what to do here. They may think involving the authorities will make things more difficult. Don’t buy that argument.

      1. Grammar Penguin*

        Some companies will fire employees who call the police for anything without first reporting it to management. I worked for one (a large taxi service in a large city). Even in an emergency with the car (passenger having medical emergency, driver being robbed), we were to report it to the dispatcher and let them call 911.

        We were told if we ever called 911 ourselves, even in an emergency, we’d be fired.

        1. Everything Bagel*

          I hope letter writer would already have been informed if her company has such a policy, and I can’t think of a reason why such a policy would exist unless it’s to allow the company time to deter the employee from calling the police at all. this seems like a very personal targeted attack and I think the letter writer should notify the police no matter what her company does since continued harassment could occur even if she’s fired. But I’m no expert!

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          That’s a terrible policy. Even if OP’s company has such a policy, I still advise police first then HR. If they fire her over it, well, then its lawyer time. Because no one should be punished for trying to protect themselves by calling the police about an obvious crime.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Seconding that it’s a terrible policy, I’m agog that any company would want that liability. For medical emergencies, minutes can count.

            It reminds me of an article about Walmart’s post-closing routine, where everyone was required to cleanup and then stay until the manager arrived (to prevent theft, presumably). Anyone who left through the emergency exists was fired.

            Which led to a man who fell off a ladder and broke his leg sitting around waiting to be released.

          2. J*

            There isn’t much a lawyer would likely be able to do. People who call the police are not a protected class, nor are victims of vandalism, and at-will employment is the norm in 49 states. At best, a lawyer may be able to help win unemployment benefits if the company contests them, by arguing that calling the police doesn’t rise to the level of misconduct or insubordination.

        3. Observer*

          We were told if we ever called 911 ourselves, even in an emergency, we’d be fired.

          I think the OP would know if they have that policy. Also, sometimes that’s a reasonable risk- your employer is completely unreasonable, and is asking for trouble.

          In this case, the OP is already questioning how “seriously” this should considered and wondering if this could be considered fireable. She needs to hear how *serious* this, and encouraged to not let her HR try to talk her out of it.

          Also, can your company fire you for calling the police on your own time? If someone assaults you or tries to snatch your purse before you get to work, are forbidden from calling the police then? I doubt it.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      Yeah, this is cops time. Because this person is committing crimes, and he/she may not stop there but move on to things like monkeying with your brakes or similar. Take this seriously.

    5. Artemesia*

      This absolutely. This is not a workplace issue; this is a crime. Report to the police AND to the company and be sure you have a copy of the videos secured as the first impulse of places that hire people like this is to cover it up.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Cannot agree more that this is not a workplace issue. OP you probably think it is because it is a coworker. But this isn’t, Fergus always leaves the copier out of paper and never refills it. This is an actual crime. Treat it as such.

        Go to the police immediately. WITH copies (not the originals) of the videos.

      2. HonorBox*

        I couldn’t agree more. It is a “workplace” issue simply because it is happening to you at work and is perpetrated by a coworker. But it really isn’t a workplace issue. If this was happening at your apartment, you wouldn’t take it to the apartment manager. You’d go straight to the police. You have a mountain of evidence, which is awesome, and you should file an official report.

    6. OwnedByCats*

      Oh boy. Yeah, police report first – keying means (eventually) repainting, and nails in tires can be patched a few times but eventually you have to replace the tires. Document the exterior (before and after you enter the building, if you think you might run into “oh they would never” or “but we can’t prove they did the damage” discussions0) and tire damage, and add it to the recordings you already have, and take it to the police. Repairing and replacing will be in the thousands – tires on the less $$ end are still a couple hundred each. Give the same package to boss/HR when you tell them you’ve filed a police and insurance report.

      And be extra cautious in this location; this person knows you and your car, and is already doing damage. Escalation is a possibility.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        About 15 years ago my (USA) insurance company advised me that the police report should be made before you move the car off the site where it was damaged. So by all means contact them now with the information you do have, but the next time you notice new damage, your insurance company may appreciate it if you contact police immediately rather than waiting any amount of time.

      2. Grammar Penguin*

        Also, a tire with a nail in it can seem perfectly fine until the tire heats up at highway speeds. Then it can blow out. If it’s a front tire blowing out at highway speeds, that can be difficult to control before stopping.

        Messing with people’s tires, in a way that isn’t obvious like slashing them or letting the air out, is malicious as hell. It’s not just vandalism, it’s creating a dangerous situation for someone.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Totally — I threw a road gator at 70 mph once and it was terrifying. My uncle was in the car with me and he said later he admired how well I handled it, but that’s the kind of thing I don’t want to have to do in order to impress anyone!

          OP definitely needs to call the cops next time — having video evidence makes it easier for them.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Agreeing with police report first – reason being that your company can’t forbid you from taking it outside the org if you have already done so. (Not that your company should forbid you to go to the police, but some employers are better than others about employee safety and security. If they object, you can tell them you didn’t know who it was when you first made the complaint.)

    7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      That was the first thing that popped into my brain as well – it’s time to contact the police with the footage of the person vandalizing your car, as well as any and all bills for damage your vehicle suffered due to the vandalism.

      And I’d be doing that in addition to contacting my manager and company HR.

    8. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I’d have thought that the police were the first port of call, and perhaps tell them that you are also planning to report to HR as this is happening on your employers premises and the perpetrator is another employee. It’s possible that they may want you to delay speaking to your employer.

      When you do speak to HR, you should be giving them details of the times and dates of damages, the evidence of who t is,. and confirm that you have filed a police report – specifically ask them to ensure that any CCTV of the carpark is kept so it is a available to the police if required. And follow up any meeting with an email reiterating all of that so you have a paper trail.

    9. Meghan*

      Yes this exactly. In a professional context I would frame it to HR as “Hello, I have this problem, here is evidence, and I am also filing a police report.” That way the employer can address it from a professional standpoint immediately too if they want, but also don’t frame it like a “And I might involve police if something doesn’t change” because 1.) The police should be involved. Period. And 2.) The employer might feel like you’re trying to pressure them into a specific action. And 3.) The employer might try to pressure you not to go.

      So, to maintain an air of professional courtesy, schedule the meeting with HR/supervisors within a short window from notifying police. But don’t leave anything open to debate on the police front.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        +1! Notify the police FIRST and HR SECOND. This way, it’s clear that: (1) this is a criminal act; and (2) HR’s job is to determine if they want a person the subject of a legitimate criminal complaint to remain on the job.

        And, while you’re at it: make a list of all the other times your car was damaged, what the damage was, and what it cost to fix. The police will want to know this, too.

    10. JustMe*

      Yes, this was my first thought. I would honestly recommend thinking long and hard about whether you want to press charges–although this individual sounds vindictive, and so if you notify your company that they are vandalizing your property and they are put on notice or fired, the odds that they will retaliate are very high and you may want to seriously consider pressing charges so that law enforcement is involved for your own protection. This is so beyond the pale of what is acceptable at work (and like, in life) that I think you’d be right to notify your company, the police, your insurance company, your neighbors, your children’s school…everyone. The fact that this *keeps happening* makes me think that something is seriously up with your coworker.

        1. Dahlia*

          No, but in many cases having a victim who refuses to cooperate with the investigation means they won’t proceed.

    11. Not Mindy*

      I absolutely agree. I don’t *think* that you need to press charges in order to file a complaint, but that’s just a gut feeling. Either way, I’d want it on the record.

      Additionally, if it’s available in the area, I recommend using the non-emergency reporting process for the police. Of course, if it’s not appropriate at the moment (you see it happening as it’s happening, he found out that you know and is threatening you, he’s following you home, your car is undriveable, etc.), then absolutely use 911!

      Best of luck to you. It sounds like a scary situation.

      1. Lexie*

        It’s the prosecutor who ultimately makes the decision about charges so if you file a police report it could end up in court.

    12. Worldwalker*

      Yeah. That is not just fireable — that’s *arrestable*. And that person needs to be arrested.

      The LW didn’t give any backstory, so we don’t know what the prior interaction between them has been, but there is no interaction which makes damaging their car (and given the cost of getting it repainted, this may rise to a felony) the correct response.

    13. Essess*

      Exactly what I was coming here to say. I wouldn’t bother with the boss, this is a crime and the police should handle it. You have video evidence of your valuable property being damaged.

    14. Aggretsuko*

      Oooh, this reminds me of the time where my car was being vandalized (gas cap stolen, antenna pulled out, stuff stolen off the car) and I wondered if it was my office bully. I could never prove anything and for all I know it could have been the psychotic neighbor around the corner who didn’t like anyone parking in front of his house as well, but I certainly did wonder. I don’t know if bully could have found out my current address or not through work (I sort of think no since my current address isn’t in the system she can look at), but I do hate the few times where we have to both drive to work events and she might see what car I’m in now.

      I feel very bad for OP and hope this jackhole gets fired! But these days, who knows.

  1. Goober*

    LW #2: HR would be second stop with the video. First stop would be the local police department. What you describe is *criminal* vandalism, and should be prosecuted as such. (If there’s no previous criminal record, odds are, they’ll get probation – with a condition being restitution.)

    The company may not like it, but they’d have to be especially inept to say one word to you about it.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, that was my first thought as well. Granted, people often get warned against calling the cops in the US, especially if they’re members of a visible minority, and for a good reason. But malicious damage to a car on a company parking lot isn’t the same thing as calling the cops to intervene when there’s a disturbance in a residential street, etc.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        The fact that it’s also ongoing targeted vandalism to a single person (as far as we know) makes me worry for the LW. These sorts of things often escalate, so getting a report in now for a possible restraining order later is the way to go.

        1. Nebula*

          Yes, it’s really worrying that LW’s coworker is targeting them with this kind of malicious behaviour. At least they’re not usually working in the same place. Really hope we eventually get an update for this one saying it’s all resolved and the LW is safe, because this is a concerning situation, to say the least.

        2. Two Pop Tarts*

          Is the LW female and the vandal male?

          This is the type of thing some men do when they feel they have been jilted romantically.

          And “jilted romantically” in this case doesn’t have to mean an overt act or that they ever had a romantic relationship. It can all be in his head without her even knowing anything has happended.

          Anyone keying cars and puncturing tires isn’t all there upstairs to begin with.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            The good thing about filing a police report, if the person is bailed out after an arrest, there is usually a condition to stay away from the victim. No restraining order needed.

            Also, OP, if after you file the police report, HR does not take this seriously, use that piece of information to consider the company as a whole. I don’t know your situation but you do need to consider if you want to stay at a company that doesn’t take this seriously.

          2. Worldwalker*

            To be fair, this is also the type of thing some women do in the same circumstances, or that either one does when they feel someone has “stolen” (or attempted to do so, which can be just saying “hi” to them at a party) their lover.

            1. Bear in the Sky*

              Sure, but women almost never physically assault or kill men they perceive as having romantically jilted them. It’s very common for men to do that to women under those circumstances.

              If the car vandalizing coworker is a man who believes he’s been scorned, there’s a very real risk he’ll escalate it to assault or murder.

              1. La Triviata*

                I once saw a clip from a comedian’s show and he was talking about how men will talk about their crazy ex-girlfriend. Then he asked why you never heard women talking about their crazy ex-boyfriends and answered his own question with, “because they’re dead.” I know this may be over-dramatic for this situation, but I have heard stories – i.e., news reports – about such situations.

    2. UKDancer*

      This so much. Go to the police with the footage and report it. Then let the company know. This is a crime and they are the right people to deal with it. Also it makes me worry for you what your co-worker’s escalation might be as this doesn’t sound like a normal way for them to be behaving.

      1. JustMe*

        Yes, that’s my thought. If this was a one-time thing I’d think, “That’s immature and not okay, it should be looked into.” The fact that it’s targeted at OP and has happened numerous times is pretty scary. Like, are they also tampering with the engine, fuel line, or brakes? Are they following OP home? Are they trying to sabotage OP in other ways at work? Why are they so obsessed with being this vindictive with OP? OP should do what they can to make sure they are safe.

    3. Tribbles*

      OP should also keep the original, and give a thumb drive copy to HR. Also, give a thumb drive to the police.

      Take it to a mechanic to make sure there isn’t a slow bleed from the radiator, or, even worse, the brake lines.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Call the non-emergency line. Ask how to report this to police. Tell them you recognised the vandal as a co-worker so need to report it to your employer.

      Get their timeline. And ask if you should call them the next time you’re going to the location where the vandalism occurs, in case discovery triggers escalation.

  2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

    LW #3: Our queer space on campus has a “safe word” protocol for out-loud conversations – if anyone’s conversation in the room (that you’re not involved with) is triggering for you, you can say “rainbow rainbow” and the conversationalists should change topic or venue.

    I have literally no idea how this works in practice, as this is a student space and I am a staff member, but depending on your team culture, level of awareness of trauma triggers, level of trust for each other etc, could you have a safeword?

    Eh, I don’t know. Alison’s idea is probably better because the whole idea of a safe word maybe turns the whole thing into more of a disclosure than it needs to be – effectively you’re saying “*I* need to use the safe word because this is unsafe *for me*”, while “not everyone has the same level of comfort with this topic” is less vulnerable-making…

    1. Observer*

      I think that you are right that Alison’s wording works better. Safe words don’t really work all that well in this kind of set up.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        It also causes a type of alert fatigue. If you hit the big red button too often, people no longer regard the big red button as actually important. Either they disregard it, or they get resentful that their goodwill of allowing the convention is being abused.

        Safe word rules need to be treated as a blaring “Emergency Red Light! Slam on the breaks immediately”. That’s good, for how they’re meant to be used, but it damages the tires and breaks – you don’t want it to be your normal default. You want to start with the softer redirect of “please change lanes for a detour”.

    2. Boof*

      I think safewords can be helpful in various social and therapeutic settings, but not really most workplace settings

    3. Jane Teapot*

      I’ve been in conversations where people tried to come up with safewords and it’s always felt extremely awkward. In the typical social situation, it’s easier to say “hey, this topic’s kind of sensitive, I’m going to step out/would you be able to take that to a private channel?”

    4. ferrina*

      I’ve found this works better in moderated spaces rather than work environments. At work, there’s a higher risk of That Person who will need to push the boundaries, either because they “care about you/want to understand” or are “just teasing” or some such. The offenders could be a genuinely well-meaning person who is otherwise delightful, or could be a chronic problem.

      In a moderated space, moderators are trained how to spot this person and redirect or remove them. Moderators are clear about expectations and have group rules. Managers are very different- they just don’t have the same training and knowledge base as professional moderators. Social rules often aren’t spelled out in work environments, and there’s always a question of who will enforce to what degree. Work environments often have more nuanced power dynamics- maybe I rely on Cindy for the doohickey I need to make my widgets, and if I get Cindy in trouble she’ll delay the doohickeys for seemingly legitimate reasons. Or the question of can I call out the senior associate when I’m a lowly entry level. Or do I really want to get into an argument with the aggressive VP who won’t change their behavior anyways. And what about the junior staffer who has now told the obnoxious VP what their triggers are, and now the VP always includes a joke about that trigger in every meeting?

      So while I love this idea for some spaces, at work I tend to go more for the information diet of redirecting or moving the conversation on principle (rather than for personal reasons). I’m also proactive about calling out things that are common triggers so that no one who actually has those triggers is put on the spot to call them out.

    5. LW #3*

      I thought about something along these lines, but I often step in for my coworkers who are uncomfortable saying something themselves, so I don’t want to give anyone the impression I have a lot of trauma responses (whether or not I do). I’d also have to explain safe words to a very diverse group of people and that sounds more challenging, honestly.

      1. CM*

        You could think about establishing a norm that conversations that don’t involve everybody can be asked to move to a different channel, and then instead of a “safe word” you could eventually have shorthand like “Side channel, please!” This can be used not just for triggering topics, but also for ones that aren’t interesting or relevant for everyone.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          this makes more sense. SOME off topic chatter on the main channel is fine but if it is more off topic than work related, you need to ask it be moved to a side channel simply so people who want to fous on work can and those who want to still talk about knitting/quilting/fly fishing/what have you can still do so.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, this is a good norm to have even beyond upsetting topics. I’ve had to mute notifications in the past just to get work done while coworkers are having a lively discussion on taffy embroidery or whatever.

        3. Worldwalker*

          Or the ones that make you want to shout “Get a room!” Yeah, we know you love your boo, but love them elsewhere than in this meeting!

        4. Saddy Hour*

          Yes! My team had a channel literally called “watercooler chat” to encompass the kinds of topics folks would normally bond over in the breakroom. Helpful place to redirect topics that gain too much traction, and it can set up a healthier dynamic with hybrid/remote teams IME.

          1. La Triviata*

            I recently had to spend a fair amount of time deleting Teams chats that were coming through with people talking about cupcakes. It was just annoying because the chats kept coming up over and over and over again – for about 45 minutes. (I like cupcakes as much as the next person, but I had work I was trying to get done.)

      2. Beth*

        I just wanted to say I really feel for you, LW #3! I loathe horror and have had to shut down casual chat about it. It isn’t even because of full-on trauma, in my case.

        I have found that almost everyone is entirely happy to be alerted and will cheerfully switch topics, without my giving any detail regarding why I need the topic changed. The only exception to this was a guy who was an all-around jerkhead, and when he tried to continue, the rest of the group shut HIM down hard.

        1. Boof*

          I am a horror fan and would absolutely want to know if someone doesn’t want to hear about it if it somehow came up and would change topics/take it somewhere private! (In fact i pretty much never bring it up in a professional setting except maybe about how Halloween is my favorite holiday – but if someone else brought it up in a work chat i could see myself getting into it before realizing perhaps not the right venue- just say “not such a fan, can you take it somewhere private?” Would be fine)

    6. birch*

      That’s a really interesting idea! I agree more with your thoughts at the end and the rest here who are saying safe words can be difficult in this context. I think the big issue with safe words is exactly what you’ve outlined–it puts the burden on people to opt out after they’ve already been affected by the conversation. A more proactive approach is to teach people how to let others opt-in to sensitive conversations. I’ve also been having these conversations at work with my team because of some traumatic stuff that happened to me last year that really affected how much I was able to hear about certain topics (wish I would have thought to learn more before it happened to me, but that’s often how it goes). FWIW, I’m in a higher ed context so I do work with students. We’ve also discussed how to handle situations when someone’s personal story can be triggering to others. What we’ve come up with is basically that leaders need to be responsible for setting the community culture and communicating it to newcomers, and also for moderating the community discussions. In general that means that people should first think whether the topic they’re bringing up could be upsetting (and generally avoid topics like injury, illness, death, pregnancy and childbirth, religion, sex, etc.), and that they allow people to opt-in to conversations. And then how to deal with it when something goes wrong–apologizing, not blaming the person who was upset, etc. I actually think it’s really easy to use Alison’s approach in an online space–it can get super awkward and charged when this happens in person, but the principles are the same.

      1. LW #3*

        these are excellent thoughts, too. most side chatter lasts less than 5 minutes, so for the most part it’s not a big issue. Monday mornings are the longest when my manager asks if anyone did anything fun they want to share over the weekend. Part of what I like about this level of chatter is that we aren’t a hugely sharing bunch so one or two people might say something about going to a movie or festival, but we all seem to share something once every couple of months. this level of side chatter has really helped to connect the two locations, without creating too much that may be of less interest to the group as a whole.

      1. SAS*

        Our office has provided cash in a sympathy card on a couple of occasions, knowing that these coworkers would be hosting extended family for a cultural mourning period (to assist with shopping for meals and other extra costs).

        It’s not the norm where I am but I also wouldn’t find it strange.

        1. SAS*

          ETA: I’m now remembering I gave a restaurant voucher in a sympathy card to long-distance friends of mine who experienced a stillbirth. I knew they would not want their house filled with flowers and my normal response if we lived in the same town would be to take them a meal or have them around to my place. So I’m obviously coming down clearly on one side of this lol.

          1. Julianne H*

            Taking someone who is going through a bereavement a meal is very different from giving them a gift card to go out! I’d have been hurt and appalled if anyone did that to me. It’s just so tone-deaf and seems like you haven’t actually thought about what they are dealing with at all, and just did your “default” gift to look kind without actually being kind.

            1. OG fan*

              Olive Garden can now be ordered online for pick-up – I wouldn’t think twice. In full disclosure, my family received a gift card for OG while in mourning, and it was so nice. We could even get the salads and breadsticks, and eat at home.

              1. RussianInTexas*

                Most restaurants now can be delivered or picked up at curbside.
                It’s a non-issue.
                Instead of bringing over casseroles, you just give the cash equivalent of “don’t worry about food right now”.

                1. Al*

                  I’ve given restaurant giftcards in sympathy cards. I explicitly told the recipient that it was because a casserole wouldn’t be portable (they were traveling to the funeral).

            2. learnedthehardway*

              I would make sure that the gift card was for a restaurant that did deliveries, but otherwise, I think it’s a good way to do a virtual casserole for a coworker.

              1. Alianne*

                GrubHub and UberEats cards are also good in this situation, ensuring they can order from places they like and know they can eat from. After a sudden (one week from diagnosis) death in the family, my husband and I were gifted two large GrubHub gift cards, and that was one less thing to have to worry about amidst the grief and chaos.

                1. Adrienne*

                  I second this! My father passed away a couple months ago and my department head sent me a GrubHub gift card – I couldn’t have asked for a better gift to receive, I hadn’t had time or energy to cook for myself in months and having a hot meal show up on my doorstep with no human interaction was exactly what I needed.

            3. Rayray*

              They’re being kind. Many people don’t feel up to cooking while grieving and might appreciate just being able to go out and have a meal as a family. It’s always weird when grieving a death, there is no correct or incorrect way to do so.

            4. Lexie*

              If they have to travel for the funeral they may be eating in restaurants for every meal for a few days so a restaurant gift card could end up being very useful.

            5. Susie*

              I would have assumed the gift card was to get takeout or delivery from the restaurant, not to go have a celebratory night out.

              I don’t think it’s tone-deaf at all! It lets them order something they want, when they really need it — whereas dropping off meals can be a burden.

              1. rayray*

                another thought too though, I know in times when I’ve had a family member die, there were times I was just sick of being sad. I liked even just walking around a grocery store where no one knew what I was going through and no one was going to ask me about it. It’s a moment to just breathe and try to feel normal. Maybe a dinner out could be just that for someone.

                1. Lydia*

                  This is a great point. Sometimes it’s nice to have at least one person talk to you who doesn’t know you’re in grief and will provide a neutral interaction.

            6. Dona Florinda*

              I think that’s a bit much. The gift card is not to go out and celebrate, it’s so the person who is grieving doesn’t have to worry about cooking/ grocery shopping/ etc during a difficult time.

          2. Dr.Vibrissae*

            We did something similar when a friend’s father died in another state. We sent a gift card for pizza, explaining that we were very sorry and would have brought a freezer meal had we been closer. It’s a way of sending food/care when you can’t do it physically. I don’t know that it’s common, but I would not think twice about it. Especially to someplace like olive garden that can be ordered for curbside pick-up or delivery. When our first dog died family out of town sent one of those fruit and dipped strawberry bouquets, and it was the loveliest (but then gifts of food are my preferred love language).

        2. SJO*

          I recently had 2 deaths in the family and received both cash and gift cards for restaurants. Dying is expensive and time consuming, both were very much appreciated by me and my family!

        3. Uldi*

          My neighbor did this for me and my family when my father passed away. She was very sweet about it and kindly but firmly told me to accept it and make to eat. She checked in on me for the next few weeks, too.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          When my father died my aunt sent my mom money, because so many of her friends had run into a hiccup while getting the banking resorted.

          So while I don’t think of it as a norm, I’ve seen it done and as a new tradition arrived at for practical reasons.

        5. Grammar Penguin*

          It’s the same thought behind bringing food to a grieving family suddenly inundated with guests. Nobody in the house is any shape to cook for the entire extended family (and all that food is costly) so neighbors and friends bring prepared food in large quantities. A lot of wakes (in the US, at least) look like oddly formal potluck suppers.

        6. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, my family would call/send cards/deliver meals for bereavement. In contrast, I have a friend who takes up a collection. It seemed very strange to me at first, but now it just seems like a nice “thinking of you” gesture.

      2. Violet*

        Do you mean just in a work context? Cash inside a sympathy card in general is pretty standard practice in my experience

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I’ve never, ever seen it but it makes sense to me that it would help. I mean, not to me personally as I don’t use cash ever, but just generally for most people I can see why it would help.

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

          When muy grandparents died we received checks and cash. Sometimes they would stipulate that it was to go towards flowers or for a fund at the church or legion (grandma was very active in our church and grandpa had been the president of the VFW).

          Being that less people use paper checks nowadays I can see sending cash or a some sort of gift card.

        3. Sunflower*

          There was a whole discussion about this topic a couple years ago on this site. It sounds like it’s US regional, with a lot of people (me included) finding it bizarre and never having heard of it, but another group saying they thought t was standard.

          It’s an interesting one since it has such a high potential to offend of you do the wrong thing for someone in a different region.

          1. doreen*

            Not even a different region – it could be the same region but a different culture. In my culture, I’ve never heard of collecting money for the bereaved except that close friends and family might have if the funeral and associated expenses were known to be a huge burden for the family. My coworkers ( most of whom were a different ethnicity and religious denomination than me) almost invariably took up a collection.

          2. Lydia*

            It’s not something I’m familiar with, but it makes sense to me on a practical level. Considering how little we talk about traditions around death, I don’t know if I could be mad at someone for expressing sympathy in their own traditional way.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Absolutely. Death invariably incurs expenses, often unexpected, and widows/orphans cannot think straight, it’s so much easier if you have some ready cash.
        My partner from the Middle East always does it and has always had a good reaction from the bereaved.

        1. PhyllisB*

          When my uncle died, my mother sent $100.00 to the children to have a Prayer Mass said, (they’re Catholic) or to use in whatever way is most helpful.
          When they called to thank her, they told her that a lot of people had paid for Prayer Mass, so they were going to use the funds toward food. They have a large family and had a lot of guests during this time.
          My mother was pleased they found a good use for it.

        2. I Have RBF*

          I have, on a number of occasions, fronted the money to people to cremate a family member. This is often necessary, even if the deceased has money in the bank.

          Why? Because bank accounts can’t be transferred or accessed without a death certificate, you can’t use a debit card in the deceased’s name to pay for their cremation, but you don’t get a death certificate until the cremation/interment is done! So there are up to several thousand dollars of expenses that should be paid by insurance or the person’s assets, but that money is not available until after the expenses have been paid!

          What one friend of mine who was dying did was make me their financial proxy before they died so I could get at their savings to pay for the cremation. I still had to use my credit card and then pay that credit card from their account, but it was better than using the credit card and waiting multiple months for the paperwork to settle.

      4. House On The Rock*

        When my Father in Law passed away, my spouse’s family didn’t have a formal funeral, and my department gave me and my spouse a sympathy card with the cash they would have used to send flowers or a donation. It was a little odd to me, but given the circumstances and the overall expression of sympathy, I took it as intended and was appreciative.

      5. Some Words*

        Death comes with a lot of unique expenses to the survivors. Cash to a bereaved family is a very old one tradition, just like prepared food. Grieving families also often get a lot of drop in visitors and having food on hand for them is also welcome. Who wants to grocery shop & cook for guests while grieving?

        A gift card to a specific restaurant seems a bit unusual.

        1. NeedRain47*

          I personally hate Olive Garden, but I’m pretty sure you could get it delivered via a third party service these days, which makes it seem more reasonable as a thing the recipient might use.

          1. Lydia*

            One of the things that’s nice about Meal Train is you can send a Grubhub gift card so they can order whatever they want, whenever they need, or you can have something delivered. I think it’s useful in situations where you want to offer support, but are too far away.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think if you know a person/their family really well and happen to know “specific restaurant” is a family favorite it’s perfectly fine to give a card to a specific place.

          Ironically when I was at a HS job a coworker lost their grandpa – and we banded together to get him an Olive Garden gift card because for as long as he could remember every Sunday Night he and his grandpa had gone to Olive Garden – just the two of them. The card was appreciated, chance to go and remember his grandpa when he was feeling up to it.

      6. alienor*

        When a very close family member of mine died, my then-coworkers sent cash – I don’t remember the exact amount, but it was well over $500, and was in a mix of different bills, so they’d clearly done a collection around the office. I wasn’t expecting it, but I was touched that they had thought of me. On the practical side, I had a lot of expenses just then (I remember needing to buy something to wear to the funeral was one of them) and it was really helpful to have some extra cushion.

      7. ThatGirl*

        It’s not something I see a lot, but I did see people collect cash once when a younger woman with 2 kids lost her husband suddenly – the idea being that she might need the money for unexpected expenses for her or the kids.

      8. Dasein9*

        Death is expensive. There isn’t always insurance and even when there is, it takes time to process. Having a little extra cushion can be a relief.

        1. Sara C*

          This. My husband’s uncle died (he is the closest relative and beneficiary as the uncle didn’t have kids of his own) and while insurance and probate will eventually happen, we are floating around $7K for funeral/burial expenses in the meantime. We can afford to do it but it’s definitely not cheap!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            If I recall it correctly, my dad’s cost us close to 10K and that was after he already paid for the plot. And the funeral home tried to upsell me and my mom every step of the way too. Dad left a “will” that was a one-page Word file he’d printed out and notarized, that had things in it like “and I want the cheapest coffin” and that helped us get out of a lot of pushy sales pitches. We would just show them the will and say “sorry, our hands are tied, this is what the deceased wanted”. He didn’t have life insurance, was not allowed to have assets, and died with $140 in his bank account that I was told would cost me $250 to get out of probate, but we have a bank account (in my name) earmarked for nothing but mom and dad’s funeral expenses and that was what we used. Would’ve been difficult to pull off otherwise.

          2. I Have RBF*

            I’ve done this a lot.

            Usually it’s for cremation, which can vary in price depending on where you live.

            Getting the insurance to cough up final expenses, even if that’s specifically what the insurance is for, requires a death certificate, which you don’t get until you’ve paid for the cremation or burial. So if you don’t have credit to float for this, you are stuck in a catch 22.

            1. La Triviata*

              When my uncle died, my aunt had no idea about where the money was, how much there was, what to do about funeral expenses, about taxes, anything financial (he was in his 90s and my aunt had never handled the family money). Luckily, their kids could step in and help straighten it out, but it was still a hassle for her, on top of her grief.

      9. Umiel*

        I don’t find it strange at all. When my father died a few years ago, my office took a collection and gave me an envelope of cash. I was really touched. When my mother died recently, I received a gift card as well. It’s fairly common and nothing to be concerned about.

      10. Alex*

        My former coworker used to do this too. I found it odd as well–unless it is a situation where the family also had some big bills along with a very unexpected death (like the sudden death of a child and no money for a funeral kind of thing) it doesn’t make sense, but some people do it.

      11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        OldJobs collected cash as I recall. Agree with the commenter that said that funerals are expensive and I personally would’ve appreciated material help. Yes, ideally there should be a funeral fund set aside, life insurance, inheritance etc but I imagine a lot of times that isn’t what happens.

        However I would have no use for an Olive Garden card, I don’t like Olive Garden, there are no locations near where I live, it is an oddly specific gift that might be of no use to the giftee. Can they do a more generic gift card – maybe one that still sends the “dinner on us” message, but in a less Olive-Garden way?

        1. Sara C*

          I would assume the group knows this person enjoys Olive Garden. And presumably if they all work at the same location they know there are convenient locations in the area.

        2. TeaCoziesRUs*

          If it’s like most Olive Garden gift cards I’ve seen, it’s actually for a family of chain restaurants, OG included.

          I might despise Chick-fil-A, but I would still accept that gift card graciously, as the gifter was trying to be helpful in an awful time.

          I feel sad for those who only see negativity in a sweet gesture.

      12. Ellis Bell*

        I would receive it strangely too, because it’s not a cultural practice I’m at all aware of; however it would only take some graceful wording to make the intention or meaning of the gift clear “please use this for anything you might need and know we are thinking of you” etc. If I got some context, I’d go from “huh?” and feeling like they must have mistook the occasion to “Oh, that’s nice”.

      13. THE PANCREAS*

        At my last position, we did this for my boss, the executive director, when his uncle passed and it felt very weird. I was one of two directors at my level(we’d both been at the organization less than three months), but I direct reports and she didn’t. The other director initiated it and asked all staff to contribute. She made 25% more than I did, and the others in the office made half of what she did. And of course, our boss made twice what I did. I ended up putting in money for my direct reports because I didn’t think it was fair for them.

        1. THE PANCREAS*

          To clarify, she collected cash to present to him.

          To his credit, he used it to buy US all a meal when he came back from taking care of the estate.

      14. Tomato Soup*

        It differs by area/ culture but it’s not super unusual. I remember when my grandfather died, he had already prepaid the funeral and burial. There were still a bunch of various costs beyond those that added up.

      15. Polly Gone*

        This varies among cultures, I’ve learned. When I first started working at my current workplace, I was shocked that people would collect cash from co-workers when someone had a death in the family. It is the norm for the AA people I work with, and there is no implication of the recipient being needy or destitute.

      16. SNCgirl*

        A lot of people will take food to the family so they don’t have to worry about cooking, but that can be problematic also. When my uncle died, his wife and their 4 children (middle school to college age) were given hams by 5 different people. My aunt was trying to get everyone to take some ham. “Do you want some ham with your ham? Take some ham! There’s ham!” They were so tired of it that my parents sent me over with cash so they could order pizza just so they’d have something different than all the ham they’d been having. Giving cash means the family can use it anywhere, whether it’s for food or something else.
        Something else I found interesting when my sister died, my dad’s aunt and uncle gave my parents a roll of stamps. Their son had died a few years before and someone had done it for them. It was for thank you cards that my parents would be sending out after the funeral. No one ever thinks of having stamps when there is an unexpected death in the family.

    1. A person*

      I agree. Especially for meals. A lot of stuff associated with a death in the family is actually surprisingly expensive and is definitely stressful so I’m my experience it’s not uncommon for some people to give money or food or whatever. When my mother died (like 17 years ago) there was all kinds of randomness given to our family ranging from little “inspirational” trinkets, to gift cards, to cash, to casseroles. In that moment nothing is really normal… I don’t remember thinking any of it weird or offensive or anything so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

      1. coffee*

        Yeah, “nothing is really normal” is a good way of putting it. I think a gift card is nice.

        1. Anna*

          Had a recent death in the family, can confirm that food / money for food is often one of the most useful things to give. I probably ended up spending like triple what I normally would on food over the immediate two weeks following the death or so? Partially because extended relatives and friends of the deceased are around and expect you to host, and partially because absolutely no one has energy left to cook.

          1. J*

            I think I put 600 miles on my car in the first three days, then another 1000 in the estate aftermath and I pretty much ate out for 3 weeks straight. Everyone sent food to one house that was 50 miles away from my house and the estate I managed was another 30 miles the opposite direction so Raising Cane’s and Culver’s got all my business for being at the exit ramp closest to my house. I spent more on gas in that 3 weeks than the past 3 years and so much on fast food. I would not have hated money or a gift card, I would have welcomed people acknowledging it and how desperate I was. I had the finances to handle it but sometimes just any sign that someone knows how much you’re spending to take care of people goes a long way.

          2. JenLP*

            I try to offer DoorDash and have been advocating for my work to do this as the default instead of flowers because of the exhaustion that happens. I want to offer useful things during this time, not gestures.

            If I had the funds, I’d offer enough money for a cleaning service and a note with the name of someone I’d recommend (along with an offer to call and schedule) because that’s another thing that gets missed but not thought about. But I don’t make that much money so DoorDash it is.

      2. Smithy*

        On the point of nothing is normal – I also think you find yourself out in the world where those moments can oddly be helpful. A trip to a funeral home or lawyer takes longer than expected, and you find that you need to get lunch at like 3pm.

        Then hey there, you realize you have an Olive Garden gift card – so that means one less decision you need to make and the cost of lunch is covered.

        I will also note that getting flowers for delivery (a more traditional funeral gift) can be well over $50 for a “nice” bouquet. And again, with delivery costs, the below $50 options may not feel like enough. Therefore, I get employers going away from flowers and aiming for other ways of marking the passing with more than just a card.

        1. Imtheone*

          And in some cultures, flowers are not appropriate.

          The custom was at least in part to help with having the deceased lying instate in the house.

          1. JenLP*

            And while flowers can be pretty, they are just gonna die – I’d rather be practical and offer a useful thing. Might be callous but flowers just seem like a waste of money during an expensive time (to me – other opinions will absolutely vary)

        2. J*

          And the blessed thing about Olive Garden is they have online ordering, some catering options if you’re feeding a crowd, salad and soup. Half of my family couldn’t eat at all in the aftermath of a close death and one day I showed up with soup and my MIL took the entire container to the living room, declared it hers, and ate for the first time in days. It was the first vegetables I think anyone ate because it was a comfort food. We didn’t even bother with pasta, we had like 5 lasagnas in the family fridge that we just ended up freezing because we needed breadsticks more than a meal.

      3. Verdad*

        Agreed. It is horrible and any gesture of kindness — cash, a gift card, meals (and actually I would suggest a gift card over actual food—we received a LOT at first, and it was too much, and a gift card for food would allow you to parse out the meals over time, as needed) is a kindness and greatly appreciated.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I recently had a death in the family and a friend sent me a gift card for a food delivery service. I don’t normally use them because I don’t like companies that run on gig workers and it’s expensive, but darned if it didn’t come in handy while I was a grief-stricken mess. It is definitely the 2020s version of a bereavement casserole.

      Olive Garden seems slightly less sensible but I do understand the impulse to feed people who’ve experienced a loss.

      1. Retired Accountant*

        “Understand the impulse to feed people who’ve experienced a loss”. I agree and think this sums it up.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        “Modern version of a bereavement casserole” was how I interpreted it as well. And easier because the recipient doesn’t have to store it or wash/return the dish.

        1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          Not only that, but the recipient can choose what food they’re getting, which is extra important if someone has allergies/food restrictions.

      3. Not that Girl*

        We have done this as a company, and it seems to be well received. its nice for anyone in the family to be able to use it and also use it for their tastes/possible allergies and to use it at home. A lot of grieving family members/friends don’t want to leave the house or see outside people, but do need to eat.

    3. Language Lover*

      As someone with a recent death in the family, the restaurant gift cards were appreciated the most. They don’t expire as food does. We used them when we didn’t even feel like warming something up or to treat friends and extended family who went above and beyond to help us with funeral logistics.

      Another cool thing we liked that you could suggest is a gift certificate to a grocery store. Someone gave that to us, and it came in handy to stock our house with refreshments for drop-in visitors like cans of soda or water bottles.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        That’s a really good point. When my mother died, there was so much food delivered to my dad’s home that some of it went bad before we used it all.

    4. Morning Coffee*

      Am I onlyone weirded out by the fact that they were collecting money for the boss and not a coworker? Gift card itself is a good thing.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – deaths in my mind totally change the gifts don’t flow up rule. It’s a major life event – and kindness is often in short enough supply in the working world.

        2. Dutx*

          As long as those bereavement gifts flow up, down, and sideways. If it’s only managers who get them from employees and not the other way around, then it’s the same old “let’s all donate to a skiing trip for the CEO because we’re so grateful he’s keeping us employed” yikes.

          1. Nope, Not Me*

            This. The only person who got flowers – an huge display after the family requested no flowers – after their mom passed at an old job was the boss. I got heavy pressure to donate since I was his #2 at the time and refused, citing several cases where we had merely done a card. I’m still squicked out about it.

          2. ferrina*

            Exactly this. Sympathy cards should be equally applied. It’s a problem if it only goes to the boss, but if the boss happens to be the one experiencing a loss, it’s fair that the boss gets the same treatment as everyone else.

      1. Nancy*

        Sympathy cards/gifts should flow in all directions. This simple act can mean a lot to someone who is mourning.

        And a restaurant gift card is great. Most restaurants deliver now if the recipient doesn’t want to go out, and better than making something the recipient doesn’t like or can’t eat.

    5. Desert girl*

      Almost everywhere I have worked we have gifted the person a restaurant gift card, when someone close (like a parent, in laws or close grandparent) passes away.

    6. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      Cash seems a bit odd to me, but I disagree with Alison that Olive Garden is weird because it’s a “night out” place. It’s fairly quick, fairly inexpensive food that’s predictably edible. I’m not saying it doesn’t qualify as a night out place also (especially in places with a low restaurant density), but it’s also definitely a place you can drag your grieving and exhausted family to get a decent plate of carby comfort. fifty bucks will just about cover a family of four too.

      1. Sara C*

        Totally agree. They also do very smooth curbside pickup if you want to just grab a meal and eat it at home.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, when my stepfather’s dad passed away, my parents literally ordered pans of pasta alfredo and chicken parm along with salad/breadsticks from Olive Garden to feed all the people who came in from out of town for the funeral. It was an easy way to have something everyone could eat that they could look up the ingredients for if needed.

        Though 50 bucks doesn’t cover much at Olive Garden these days (I would say it covers a couple, not a family of 4), it would cover a pan of pasta plus breadsticks.

        1. J*

          Soup, salad and breadsticks and even lemonade/tea in the catering trays saved us. I picked them up along the way and it was the pivoting where we could go from sobbing to planning the funeral together.

      3. Jennifer in FL*

        They can also do quick turn around large group orders/catering, which is perfect when you’ve got to feed a large amount of people in a short space of time. Spaghetti/Lasagna, salad, and breadsticks can go a long way and is agreeable to a lot of people.

    7. Llama Llama*

      I agree. Honestly, it’s almost a standard thing that is given if someone wants to provide ‘help’.

    8. mango chiffon*

      We’ve done this at my office before as well for family deaths or illness. Usually ends up being something like a Doordash gift card so people can pick and choose what they eat, or if a place that delivers something that the recipient likes. As far as I have seen, everyone has been appreciative of these kinds of gifts of support. I even got sent some cookies and treats myself when my grandfather died. It was nice to get that support as it was before covid vaccines were available.

    9. SpecialSpecialist*

      With so many food places doing delivery or pickup, a gift card to a restaurant is a really great thing to give when life is turned upside down by a death. The leadership team I’m on at work gave me a GrubHub gift card after my spouse died. I greatly appreciated not having to think about making or getting food. Plus, like others have said, food gift cards are always better than actual food since you don’t know how much food they already have or what their food preferences are.

    10. Anonymous 75*

      yeah I thought it was pretty common to give restaurant gift cards in a situation like this. especially form a workplace. During the immediate aftermath of a death and funeral prep, etc providing food or access to food so the hlfamilt doesn’t have to be bothered is very normal. Gift cards help eliminate the issue of getting the food to the person (and possibly all the slchirchat that might go on afterwards that the family may not want to entertain) and the issue of any food allergies, etc.

    11. Alpaca Bag*

      After my daughter died, any gift that helped feed us was welcome. The Edible Arrangement was REALLY appreciated in the first few days because eating a whole meal was just too hard, but eating some of those pieces of fruit was just right. The cut flowers that wilted and died and the plant that I couldn’t keep alive were not as helpful as the givers meant them to be.

      1. ThatGirl*

        To be fair, I don’t think flowers or a plant were meant to be helpful; they’re meant to be thoughtful. But I get that after someone dies, there are bigger things to worry about.

    12. kiki*

      Yeah! I’m little surprised other folks find it strange! Olive Garden does to-go and does a decent job of accommodating dietary restrictions. Every person is different in grief, though, so I can see how one person may not like it or find use for it. I’ve always appreciated the gesture– it’s a meal taken care of during a time a lot of people won’t feel like cooking. A restaurant gift card can also be a nice excuse to get out of the house.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Came here to say this too. Olive Garden’s to-go ordering is really easy. They bring it out to your car. You still get salad & breadsticks. And they even offer family-sized portions of many entrees.

        But also, I did go to Olive Garden with my aunts & uncles the day before my father’s funeral many moons ago.

      2. M2RB*

        I was coming to say that Olive Garden does to-go ordering in my area of the US (my spouse and I do pick-up/take-out from them regularly).

        I’m sorry for the family’s loss in this situation.

      3. doreen*

        And even the going out part isn’t strange to me – in my area, wakes are typically for 1-3 days from 2-5 pm and 7-9 pm. The close family typically goes to a restaurant for dinner in between – Olive Garden would be completely normal if there thre was one close by.

    13. ET*

      One of my team had a death earlier this year and we debated what kind of gift card to send since it’s so hard to know what to do. We decided on a collection and Venmoed the cash. I did text a heads up, so they wouldn’t think it was a mistake. They said that it was so helpful for gas and groceries.

      Cash feels “tacky” but the reality is that some form (gift card or whatever) of “here’s funds to buy what you need” is always helpful.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, deaths are expensive these days. Money for cremation or burial, money for memorial services or celebration of life (venue rental, catering), money for multiple copies of the death certificate. Even someone with very few assets but a lot of friends is expensive.

        Cash helps a lot.

    14. Sara C*

      Our department generally has a tradition of setting up meal trains for births/illness in the family/death of a close loved one, etc. Usually people will drop off a meal but if they happen to live far or not like cooking, will sometimes send a gift card. And during covid, we collected $$ and sent a collective gift card to a local place that does delivery for a couple of people. So, to me, the Olive Garden gift card wouldn’t be weird and would be really appreciated (while they don’t do delivery, they do have curbside pickup and we used it fairly frequently during covid). I would say the direct reports are probably the best judge of what would be appreciated, and in any case, probably at most the manager will be like “huh, a little odd” but I can’t imagine becoming hugely offended by a well-intentioned gesture.

    15. Maggie*

      Yeah this strikes me as totally normal. In fact I thought the $50 seemed low! But any amount is wonderful and generous. Their mom died, it’s hard to prepare meals while grieving and it’s just a kind human-to-human thing to do. It’s not like you’re pooping to buy them an iPad for their birthday or something!

    16. nahitscool*

      We send doordash cards. In a hybrid environment, or an instance where no one will be at the repast, it just makes sense. Families need to eat even when someone has died and no one wants to cook.

    17. Daisy*

      I received a gift card to a chain restaurant when my mother unexpectedly passed. It was such a relief not to have to cook that night along with being able to choose where and when to use it.
      I actually preferred it to meals delivered as there were no issues with storage/eating within a few days, etc.

    18. Military Wife*

      My husband’s grandmother just died. His office gave him a WONDERFUL card – and the lines that made my eyes tear up the most? “Don’t worry about work. We’ve got your back.” He didn’t receive any monetary gift. That isn’t the culture OR how it should work with him specifically, as he is the commander of his unit.

      That being said, his aunt’s company CEO (small business) find out where the after-funeral family dinner was and basically put money on a tab for us. He’s very Southern – and Southern manners dictate funeral casseroles. :) This was his way to contribute.

      Both gestures were 100% appropriate, thoughtful, generous, and made us all feel very loved in a hard time.

  3. Jade*

    Really, how is polite guy hurting anyone by momentarily standing? Does EVERYTHING now need to be called out?

    1. Not like a regular teacher*

      If he’s treating women differently than men, that’s a problem. It sends a message that he views female coworkers as needing special treatment, and I’d be concerned about his ability to work with and communicate with women the same way he does with men. Maybe he’s otherwise great at treating women as equals and not as delicate flowers, but this behavior would have me (and many women he’s doing this too) worried that he might not be.

      As Allison said, if he’s doing it for everyone regardless of gender then it’s unnecessarily formal, but not necessarily a problem.

      1. yvve*

        What im a little confused about is why OP is thinking its a gendered thing– apparently she’s only ever seen him greet women, and never happened to be there when a man walked into the room? Its not even something traditionally associated with gender, AFAIK, so, why would you assume he’s not doing it to men?

        1. Green great dragon*

          Traditionally, by which I mean many decades (centuries?) ago, it was most definitely gendered – if a woman entered a room, gentlemen would stand up until she gave them permission to sit. I haven’t ever come across it in my lifetime but I can see why LW is concerned about it being gendered.

          1. yvve*

            i guess so! but thats so old fashioned and “stand up for superiors” is much MORE common nowadays, particularly if hes been in the military– it just seems like an odd conclusion to jump to!

            1. Baldrick*

              Agreed that military are taught to stand when a superior enters the room. It seems odd that OP doesn’t have any men to test the theory otherwise! If the new employee stands based on gender then that isn’t a military thing.

            2. doreen*

              Not just military, either – it happens in lots of government agencies, particularly those with a uniformed component. If it’s unclear whether the assistant does it with men , it’s too soon to conclude it’s about gender.

            3. AF Vet*

              This was my first thought, ESPECIALLY if he an executive assistant. If he was working with high ranking officers (particularly generals / admirals) and/ or high- ranking NCOs as an enlisted member, then this habit is probably ingrained and his radar is still on high alert for people who outrank him in one way or another. An admin troop in a front office has to be VERY aware of who is coming in and the protocol to treat them, even if it’s a mid-rank officer just swinging through to grab a cup of coffee. If he worked somewhere with multiple stars walking around… his radar is probably still on high.

              Add military to Southerner or any other culture where lady / gentleman manners were/are still taught, and it’s probably incredibly ingrained. Ask me what happened when as a young officer my Southern respect for elders overruled my rank. :D I had far too many Chiefs grumbling at me because I called them “sir” as my elders… when as enlisted they weren’t given that “privilege” (? it’s not the right word, but I can’t think of the right word right now. Fellow vets, help!!)

            4. Crooked Bird*

              I attended a conservative Bible college when I was younger, and in the cafeteria the men would stand up when a woman came to seat herself at their table. It wasn’t a requirement, just a tradition, and there was a lot of discussion around it including a convention that you only needed to do it if she had her tray with her (otherwise you’d be popping up and down all the time as people got drink refills.) Jokes about it too. In the military you salute the uniform… at Bible college you stand up for the cafeteria tray…

              Never encountered it anywhere else though.

          2. Nope, Not Me*

            Yeah, this is a thing that people in the military do when superiors enter the room. It’s drilled into them as a respect response, may be hard to overcome (especially if he’s newly out of the service, though he may chill after a while, and might depend on which branch), and probably isn’t gendered.

            I’m not convinced it’s 100% disruptive, either, even though OP says it looks that way; there are adaptive measures people develop around this sort of standing, unless he’s also snapping to attention. He’s in an exec position, so being responsive and available to assist are good qualities to have. He’s basically saying “how can I help you?” with body language. OP should just give him the norms of the office.

            I’d really love an update on this one!

            1. EngineeringFun*

              Yep. This is a sign of respect. Along with the “yes sir, yes mam” I’ve worked as a military contractor for years and raised in a military family. As a female (46) I’m on the fence about this. It’s just part of military culture. I stand to greet people when they come to my office. And shake hands…..it’s formal but it’s respect.

              1. Dek*

                Yes and no. Respect also means respecting what makes another people comfortable. Men who grab the door away from me and gently “guide” me in aren’t respecting me. I have sir/ma’am ingrained in me from growing up in the south, but when someone tells me they don’t want to be called that, I stop (it takes some conscious effort, and makes me uncomfortable, because “Yes” to me doesn’t feel like a complete sentence without an honorific after it, it just feels short).

                This may be a military thing, but outside of a military context, I think it could make people uncomfortable, even if it is just for superiors, as opposed to a gendered thing. If that’s the case, the most respectful thing to do is to stop.

                1. Jane Teapot*

                  This. If you’re imposing your chivalry on someone who doesn’t want it, it’s not for their sake at that point— it’s for yours.

                2. CM*

                  I love this comment!

                  Yes, respect people by treating them how they want to be treated, not how you think they should be treated.

                  For me, as a woman in very male-dominated spaces, I definitely notice and feel uncomfortable that I am being treated differently, even if it’s with extra politeness. It’s the same way that “where are you from” lands differently for people of color — that constant reminder that you are visibly different from the people around you, and others are noticing.

                3. Yorick*

                  Yes, in most companies you don’t defer to your superiors in the same way, and it could feel extremely weird for someone to do so.

                4. Santiago*

                  I agree with your first paragraph about respect and sir/ma’am, but not your second about standing. Cultural tolerance is a two-way street, and we need to adscribe good intentions to people we interact with. Removing any hypothetical gendered component, as Engineering already has, a newer informal greeting does not trump an older greeting by nature of being… younger and newer. The bar must be higher than discomfort, unless we want to create monochromatic cultural bubbles around ourselves.

              2. Grammar Penguin*

                But it’s not gendered. And it isn’t in the military either. You show respect (or not) depending on their rank relative to yours. Their sex is irrelevant if they have the rank.

              3. Crooked Bird*

                Yeah, I understand it as respect here too. Not respect as in “he should continue to do this because it’s good and right,” but respect as in “he intends it as respect and will therefore likely be glad to adapt the way he shows respect to whatever form lands best.”

            2. Frequent Reader*

              I stand up whenever the Big Boss enters my office. And I usually also see her to the door. I can’t sit while she stands and I cannot at all sit while she walks out the door.
              I am viscerally uncomfortable with sitting while a superior stands.

              And yes, I was raised in a military environment and we work in a military adjacent environment. But I was raised to be that way with elders too- old aunts, grandparents etc.

            3. theletter*

              I’m inclined to agree that this is probably more about being in the assistant role. Assisting can be a very reactive task, and the ability to drop everything and work with the person you are assisting should be seen as a key skill.

              I would imagine that in previous roles, he took coats, accepted items to be put away, filled water glasses and coffee cups, fetched coworkers, and many other tasks that involved moving around so that his manager could get settled into their work faster.

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            Correction: If a *lady* entered a room, gentlemen would stand up. They didn’t do this for the parlor maid.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I now cannot stop thinking about the “Psych” episode where Sean & Gus investigate a school to teach men to be gentlemen (the episode with Jean Smart). There is an entire scene involving “rising for a lady.”

              It is supposed to be based on respect from a time when women had no real political or business power but ran the social world. (Women of wealth & privilege, that is.)

          4. Tomato Soup*

            Not that long ago. I’ve seen it marketplace times in my life and I’m 40 and few up in the US. At some point, I was told it was the proper thing to do when I asked because I thought it was weird. And no, I didn’t grow up in a socially conservative family/area.

        2. Anon today*

          When I entered the workforce (in this century), I was told that it’s courtesy for a man to stand and greet whenever a woman enters the room but not necessary for women to do so. Seemed out of date then and even more so now.

          1. Littorally*

            Yeah, I was also taught this when I was being educated on Formal Gentleman Manners (socially prominent family in our Southern town) during the 90s.

            It will likely take him a while to break the habit; ime, physical habits can be really hard to retrain, especially if the person is focusing on something else when the cue occurs. But Alison is correct that this is something he should be pushed to break, at least in the work environment.

        3. christy7h*

          OP here- why I haven’t witnessed it/noticed it with a man – its a weird logistical thing with the layout of our office. He’s in a reception area right outside my office, so I don’t see how he reacts when others walk in.
          When I walk in solo – he stands.
          When I walk in with another woman – he stands.
          When I walk in with a man – he stands (but in this situation, I’m a woman, so he’d stand regardless).
          When a man walks in solo – I don’t know cause I can’t physically see him.

          And it is something associate with gender, at least in older generations and here in the South. Men stand up when a woman walks into a room, comes back to a table, etc. I’ve experienced it a lot in social settings.

          I had let it go for years, but had heard recently from a few female coworkers that they have felt uncomfortable, and got a weirdly formal vibe, when walking into our office suite. So that made me notice the standing, and wonder if it was something worth addressing vs a quirk.
          There’s a bit of a changeover, and a good time for me to have a level-setting conversation with him about a lot of things, and wasn’t sure about including this one (the boss is leaving, I’m being promoted, and hiring my own replacement. He supports both of us). So I’m viewing it with different eyes, about how I’d like our office suite to be run. I’m on the lookout to see when a man walks in.

          1. christy7h*

            OP here – Also realized i should put this in context. There’s been other stranger gendered things, which we’ve identified with him and he is quick to work on. (ex: he’s brought holiday decor items for our office suite, which is great, but he’ll make a strange self deprecating remark about how “ladies have an eye for decor” or something – and we’ve addressed that). He is incredibly polite and wants to do his job well, he’s very open to coaching.

          2. Willow Pillow*

            Are there any men you can ask to test this? Even a partner/son/friend if that’s an option?

            1. christy7h*

              there’s a ton of men in the office, i just need to be more cognizant of it when they walk in.

        4. Yorick*

          I think OP just wants to be really careful to say it’s only to women. As in, it’s been women whenever she’s noticed it. You wouldn’t really notice someone sitting when men come in, until you feel the need to collect data on it because he stands for women.

      2. It’s a military thing*

        Let me help you out. I spent over 30 years in the military and was a female officer. It is ingrained in you that you always stand when someone who outranks you enters the room, especially your boss. It has nothing to do with gender and women fought for years to be shown the same respect as our male counterparts. If for some weird reason he is only standing for women just ask him why. Do they happen to be all the people who “outrank” him, or is it some outdated perceived need for just women? If it’s the latter then yes tell him to please stop but explain why.

        1. Nope, Not Me*

          And it’s not like there are many female officers, so the majority of people he’s previously stood for were male.

          1. Girl Alex PR*

            I’m a female former naval officer and it took me years to unlearn standing every time someone I deemed as above me in managerial hierarchy walked in (and even after ten years out of service I still call people ma’am or sir if I am sure of their preferred gender). It’s exceedingly difficult to unlearn and some of these comments show me a) how little close interaction most people have with veterans (we know this- I was involved in research addressing this) and b) how our very ingrained behavior is viewed less positively than people with that experience themselves. It’s interesting but makes me a bit self conscious

            1. Michelle Smith*

              I don’t know that it’s necessarily little experience with veterans, but rather little experience with this specific workplace behavior. My father, his father, my mom’s father, my mom’s brother, my mom’s sister, and one of my cousins all served in the military – most of them for 20 years. I never saw them be stiff/formal, stand for no apparent reason when someone walked in the room, or address most people with ma’am or sir. But these are my family members. I didn’t go to work with them or see how they interacted with their bosses.

              1. doreen*

                Well you may have had a lot of experience with veterans but there is a big difference depending on age – someone who was born in 1940 probably knew many people their age who were in the military while someone born in the 60s may know few or none. In fact, everyone I know my age who was in the military was a co-worker in the Reserves or National Guard – and the reason I remember their military service was that they retained some military habits – some stood for superiors ( at an employer where that wasn’t common) , others addressed superiors with ma’am or sir and other used military abbreviations in emails (ALCON for “all concerned” or V/R for “very respectfully”)

                1. Grammar Penguin*

                  Yes, this. The military is a subculture within the larger culture and subject to the same cultural changes and resistance to change.

                  My stepfather served in the 1950s in a different Navy that my grandfather served in during the Pacific War, and that was only a decade apart. And the Navy I served in 40 years later was very different from that, and that was 25 years ago so it’s a still different Navy now. Just like the rest of the country.

                  In the 1950s, the military was dealing with a huge cultural change around race against lots of resistance. In the 1990s, as women entered combat professions, there was another huge cultural change and again lots of resistance to it. Now the military, like the culture at large, is making room for LGBT members and again there is resistance.

                  “From age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.”

            2. christy7h*

              OP here – I agree with the comment below – I have a lot of experience with the military and veterans in other contexts, but not in a work environment. I’m an ex-military spouse, attended a college with a large military presence, my uncles, grandpas, dad (reserves), and a few close friends are veterans.
              But I haven’t worked this closely with a veteran before and witnessed this specific issue. Need to make sure it isn’t gendered, but if it is related to the managerial hierarchy, then that makes sense since I am his boss.

        2. Cazaril*

          If he’s an executive assistant, he may perceive pretty much everyone as outranking him.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            Especially if he’s continuing from a similar role in the military. If his job in the military was as an assistant to a very senior officer, most of the people that walked into the room were likely also officers.

            If you’re sitting outside the general’s office, the vast majority of people who come in for meetings with the general are going to be his senior staff (colonels and majors) or their direct subordinates (probably mostly captains or senior lieutenants). Once in while you might see a very senior NCO (whom you don’t strictly speaking *have* to stand for, but no one is likely to complain), but it’s probably easier just to stand when someone walks in.

        3. I should really pick a name*

          He does this with all women who walk into the office.

          It doesn’t sound like it’s only for people who outrank him.
          I basically agree with Alison. No big deal, unless it’s only for women.

        4. coachfitz13*

          Came here to say the same thing. Unless he’s only standing for women it is very likely the military habit of standing when a superior enters.

        5. mf*

          If this is why he’s doing it, I don’t think it’s a problem, and he can keep doing it if he wants.

          However! If the vast majority of the people he’s standing for happen to be women, people are going to notice and question that. So he needs to be prepared to explain his behavior as you did here.

          1. Rowan*

            Even if he’s standing for all superiors regardless of gender, it would still be a problem. Apart from the way that women will tend to wonder whether he’s doing it for sexist reasons, putting them on edge and colouring their other interactions with him, excessive deference is itself an issue. Look at the archives of letters with excessively apologetic people, those with poor boundaries, and the guy who insisted on kneeling. Efforts to perform respect can counterproductively make people feel wildly uncomfortable, and this guy needs to be aware of that risk.

        6. Frequent Reader*

          And some of my older coworkers (male and female) address me as Ms Frequent, unprompted. In their eyes I outrank them so they address me that way as a sign of respect.

          Respect works both ways. If they feel it would be uncouth to call me by my first name, I accept that their ways of showing respect aren’t the same as my own.

      3. umami*

        I feel weird talking to someone who is standing while I’m seated, so I always stand up too. I also was in the military about a hundred years ago, so maybe I developed the habit back then. I’m also female, so it wouldn’t occur to me that it’s anything but being polite *shrug*

      4. Friendly Neighborhood Audito*

        It’s a military thing. The OP doesn’t say how long the assistant has been in the civilian world and it can take a long time for break military habits.

    2. It's complicated*

      It isn’t ‘polite’ if he is only standing for the women. It is othering, highlighting that even in a professional context he sees their gender as more important than their job role. So yes, it should stop.

      1. Nope, Not Me*

        Observation has been limited. Women only is a possibility, but not the only one. I’d watch or even set up at least three interactions with men to see what happens (three to allow for a pattern).

          1. Don'tbeadork*

            Data collection. It’s unfair to the standing man if everyone is assuming he does it only with women and judging him on that.

            It would be necessary to include men, and particularly make sure that some of those men “outranked” him to see if it’s a respect the superior thing or just confined to women.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              I’d rather that LW just…ask him rather than call men over primarily to conduct an experiment.

              1. Baldrick*

                I work in a combination of several sexist fields, and over the years I’ve learned to take the time and observe to see if someone is treating only me, only women, or everyone badly. Is it personal, sexist, or attitude?

                Many times I have thought there was a problem with sexism only to observe that the person was not very nice to all. I spend enough time fighting sexism that I don’t want to spend energy where it isn’t needed.

                It should be easy for OP to make a point of observing how the EA behaves when a man shows up. Unless there are no men?

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly. Even the “polite” things that treat women like another species are problematic because it turns women from a norm into an exception. It draws unnecessary attention, like Here Be Woman! and puts gender as the main identifier. When I’m at work, my professional role is my main identifier.

        That said, we have no idea if that’s what the guy in the letter is doing, since LW has not observed his interaction with men.

      3. Donkey Hotey*

        At the risk of Fredding, if it is other-ing for him to stand only for women, is it also other-ing to project all these assumptions of his behavior into him because he’s a veteran?

        I’m willing to wager that he stands for everyone senior to him and, since he’s the junior person on the team, he stands for everyone.

        1. Silver Robin*

          Hence all of these comments being predicated on WHETHER he stands for women or for superiors/everyone. Nobody is actually assuming that he is definitely being sexist. They are saying that it is a possibility and discussing how to handle that. Mostly because if it is about hierarchy, it is a really simple fix (“hey, no need for that here, please stay seated!” or just letting him do it and moving on)

        2. Properlike*

          This is very interesting! It seems related to a question I have about work colleagues who speak other languages than English in which hierarchy is embedded in the language. I haven’t gotten a good answer about using formal address when, for instance, one is an assistant and the other a boss in an otherwise flat organization.

          This is the fascinating part of diversity, when we can learn the perspectives of different cultures.

          1. Silver Robin*

            My father misses the intermediate “Given Name + Patronymic” level of address that Russian has. You would use it towards anyone you interact with regularly but to whom you want to show respect: teachers, bosses, in-laws, etc. English having fewer levels of formality was a significant cultural shift for him. And honestly, I kind of agree that a mid-level would be helpful. Calling the executive director by her first name feels weird because it does not at all acknowledge the very real differential in power.

            1. TeaCoziesRUs*

              I’ve taught my kids to respect elders / those ostensibly in power as Mr or Ms First name. (We have yet to meet anyone genderqueer in our daily lives, but if we did, I’d figure out a similar level of respect for that person, too.)

              I prefer kids, like my kids’ friends, call me Ms. First Name, too.

        3. Willow Pillow*

          Your second sentence reads like an assumption of his behaviour because he’s a veteran. If that’s reasonable

      4. Lexi Lynn*

        I work with a number of men who do this and when I called them on it, they said they don’t feel comfortable looking up at people so they stand. Apparently as a short women, its my duty to be the one craning my neck. I tend to have discussions with their chest because I refuse to tilt my head up so look straight ahead.

    3. LinZella*

      He’s not so much as hurting anyone, his actions are very far out of the norm for probably a huge percentage of offices/businesses.
      Compare it to if a woman were to, say, curtsy whenever someone approached her.
      Plus, as Alison said, it’s an actual problem that definitely needs an intervention if he’s only to this to women.

      1. Uldi*

        The LW mentioned that he’s a vet. This is as likely to be ingrained muscle memory from however many years they served as it is sexism. In the military, you stand when a superior officer enters the room. Depending on his MOS, he might have been around superior officers so much that he does it without thought.

        1. TeacherLady*

          Standing for superiors is straight where my mind went when reading this letter too, I wonder how these women “rank” in comparison to him in the hierarchy of the business, it does say he is letter writers’s assistant.

        2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          In my childhood it was a common rule in schools to stand up when a teacher comes to the classroom, and some teachers taught to do it for all grownups. It didn’t become automatic muscle memory for everyone for the rest of our lives, because different places and contexts have so very different rules in general.

        3. Mockingjay*

          I work as a defense contractor and my spouse is prior military. Standing and greeting is ingrained in most of the people I work with. I do it for the military or high-ranking government officials running the programs I support.

          For this industry, it’s usually protocol, not sexism, because we work in a very defined hierarchy. There are plenty of sexist issues in this industry, but (in my experience) this protocol is applied to everyone up and down the chain.

    4. Jessica*

      It’s not respectful to constantly remind me that you see me as a woman rather than a colleague.

      1. umami*

        If that is why he’s doing it, then OP should find out. But I wouldn’t think it strange if I were to walk in and the person sitting there were to stand up while greeting me. I really wish OP had looked at other reasons he could be doing this than jumping right to ‘he does it with women, so I think there’s a problem’. It’s as simple as, next time he stands when you approach, just say ‘oh, you don’t have to get up!’ and see what he says, if anything. There’s no reason to believe that anyone other than OP is jumping to a conclusion that it’s a gendered reaction.

    5. Isben Takes Tea*

      *If* he’s doing it to women only, he’s treating people differently by gender in the workplace, and that’s not okay. It’s true the OP doesn’t know for sure yet, but it makes sense to be concerned about.

      On the other hand, if the person standing up is making the people entering uncomfortable, then they’re not actually being polite.

    6. Thepuppiesareok*

      I’m taking this more as avoiding the appearance of impropriety than an issue with the behavior itself. I’d think it’s quirky to standing up when someone new comes in as long as it’s done to everyone. If it’s only women I’d wonder how else he treats them differently. Small differences can easily become large.

    7. Kella*

      It’s formalized, visible, unequal treatment based on gender (potentially). While the impact of this action on its own may not harm anyone, it opens up the company to legal liability if someone reported him for suspected gender discrimination in a different context.

      1. mf*

        This isn’t about who’s triggered by what. It’s about what is legal. And unequal treatment by gender at work is not legal. That’s a fact.

    8. A person*

      I work in a pretty male dominated field as a female. In my experience, the individuals that have “quirks” of this nature that are directed at women are typically difficult to work with if you’re a woman. I get that on the surface it looks like a polite “respect” thing, but only on very rare occasions have I actually seen that to be true. Usually it ends up being more of a “women are delicate flowers that must be treated as such and are not capable of doing ‘certain’ things in the workplace”.

      Other sort of similar behaviors are things like calling women “sweetie” or insisting on carrying things that I’m perfectly capable of carrying (and often then making comments about how women shouldn’t have these physical jobs because then men always have to carry their weight too). Things like that can seem like they’re coming from a place of respect or politeness but mostly they’re ways to diminish women (and I’ll admit, they don’t always realize they’re doing it – but being asked to adjust is not unreasonable just as it wouldn’t be unreasonable for similar missteps around race or religion or sexual orientation). We can all learn and do better.

      Side note: I absolutely let a lot of it slide so no, not everything has to be called out all the time. If we did, we’d be burnt out in about 3 months.

      1. Heidi*

        Agree to all of this. The action is labeled as a expression of politeness, but is predicated on a worldview that is fundamentally sexist. And the impact of microaggressions accumulates over time.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        It sort of implies they are seeing men and women differently, which is likely to have other implications for how they treat both genders, so I’m not at all surprised that they would be difficult to work with as a woman.

        If he is doing it to both genders, then it probably is just his attempt to be polite (although it’s still a bit weird and might make people uncomfortable, but probably reasonably harmless). If it’s just to women, then the fact that he feels he needs to be especially polite to women but not to men indicates that the first thing he notices when somebody walks in the door is a person’s gender.

      3. Nobby Nobbs*

        I’ve been thinking lately that if you see a woman working “just as hard” as the men in a manual labor job, she’s either got unusually gender-aware coworkers or she’s also carrying the invisible weight of constant low-grade fights to be allowed to carry physical weight. You learn to let a lot slide, and it sucks.

    9. Peonies*

      I’m wondering if he stands when the boss, etc come in? That would seem more in keeping with military rank structure than a gender based difference. Or maybe he is standing for everyone.

      It can be pretty hard to unlearn some of those things that the military drills (pun sort of intended) into you, so even if he needs to stop for culture reasons, as long as it isn’t gender based, I’d try to give him some time to stop the habit.

    10. Artemesia*

      It was a norm of politeness when I was growing up. Gentlemen stood for ladies. They opened doors for them and let them precede them into the room. BUT this is the workplace and norms of chivalry are about men as protector and dominator. The boss goes first, not the little lady. And habits that draw attention to women as delicate flowers or different than are not appropriate. Another norm of the good old days is paying women 47K less a year for doing the same job. It is all part of the same system; so yeah — it needs to be called out. Gently. This is not an overtly sexist or rude act — just a custom applied inappropriately and he needs a head up to cut it out.

      1. Nope, Not Me*

        If he’s doing it only for women. This has not been proven. This is a military thing and the gender observation has been skewed so far.

        1. umami*

          I really have to agree! As a woman (who also was in the military) it’s just automatic to want to stand up when someone comes by or walks into my office for a quick chat. I learned as a kid that it’s rude to stay seated when greeting someone, and it truly feels awkward to me to have someone standing over me while I’m looking up at them.

          I get that it doesn’t seem to be a common experience for those on this thread, so it’s easy to view as a gendered thing, but even OP admits they don’t actually know if he does it only for women. And being a veteran, I would almost bet money that he does it in general. I’m not really sure why it seems overly polite to physically be on the same level as the person you are speaking to.

    11. Zombeyonce*

      Everything sexist in the workplace needs to be called out, yes. That’s the only way it will ever get better.

    12. hydrangea macduff*

      Yes! Absolutely. If he’s treating colleagues differently based on their gender. It’s not polite, even if he feels it is; it’s demeaning and awkward. It says he sees people as their gender first, then their role or job.

    13. nodramalama*

      This is about work norms. There’s nothing WRONG with people insisting on being called Ms Jade either, but in most workplaces it is outside the norm of most work cultures and draws usually unwanted attention.

      and if he’s only doing it with women then that’s a problem.

    14. M. from P.*

      I have been the target of this kind of treatment from a former military guy and just as a data point, it felt awful.
      Why? It was a way to pointedly keep me at an arm’s length (in contrast to men he interacted with) and made me feel like he didn’t consider me part of the group (which was ironic bc I’d been there longer).
      Even worse, I asked him to stop and he wouldn’t – “being polite” his own preferred way was more important to him than refraining from making me uncomfortable. Begging the question what the point of politeness is in the first place if not to make everyday interactions more pleasant for everyone.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, being polite is meant to be about treating the other person with respect. If somebody asks you not to do something like that and you continue doing it (you general, obviously, not you personally), that’s being rude. Being polite isn’t about following a set of rules; it’s about making the other person feel comfortable and valued.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Absolutely, 100%!
          I had a boss who had learned old-fashioned “courtly” manners from his father. I once tried to tell him to that it made me uncomfortable and please stop, and he refused to acknowledge it. He said he couldn’t help his “ politeness”.
          He was covering something else, something ugly and scary. I couldn’t tell what it was, and I dropped it rather than get in a big fight with my boss. Over time he did dial some of it back, so maybe some of my message did get through.

    15. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Othering by gender/race/orientation/religious creed or lack thereof isn’t polite no matter how seemingly polite the “othering action” is.

      But I agree – do a bit of watching and see if he stands for everyone, or even just people who outrank him on the Org Chart. I currently work with lots of veterans, and one of them stands up every time somebody who outranks him enters the room regardless of their gender.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yes they dress it up as “chivalry” and “gallantry”, but it’s still othering. And a lot of women don’t even see it as bad even. I was talking to the pretty pregnant young blonde wife of my nephew and she maintained that she had never experienced sexism. I looked at her and thought about how her husband, my nephew, talks to her in a paternalistic way “I don’t think you ought to go out at night alone” and lets her clean out the room they’ve been staying in like she’s his servant, and told her that as soon as she’s given birth, she’ll be whacked over the head with it.

        1. umami*

          Would it be ‘othering’ for a woman to do the same thing? There seems to be a lot of focused criticism on this veteran because he is a man, but if a woman veteran does it, would it somehow be automatically viewed as gendered and othering? I’m really curious, because from the comments, it seems that people have forgotten that women can be veterans, too.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            If they only do it to men, yes it would be.

            COULD be a military thing. COULD be sexism. That’s why the OP needs to explore this a little further and make it clear that the guy doesn’t need to stand for her regardless of the reason he is doing it.

            1. umami*

              I was talking about it ‘automatically’ being assumed it is gendered. OP doesn’t even know if it is, but if her assistant were female, would she be making the same automatic assumption, was my question.

              1. AMH*

                Ah I see, that is a different question and I misunderstood. Apologies. That’s hard to say — maybe OP would think it odd and possibly sexist if her female vet exec assistant stood up only for men (or only for woman). I understand your point that she might not! That said, given the context and history of deeply rooted sexism pretty much everywhere, I don’t think it’s outrageous that she thought it was a possibility in this case. I’d also point out she is saying it’s a possibility, not a fact, that this is sexist. If she were to both assume it was and act on that assumption without thoroughly considering it and clarifying, that would be outrageous.

                1. umami*

                  Yes, it’s definitely a possibility that it is! With the context she provided, and viewing it through my own lens as a veteran, to me it is just as or even more likely that it is not, so it’s unfortunate that so many are saying his behavior is ‘definitely’ gendered or othering.

              2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                It’s really unfair to the LW to say she’s assuming it’s gendered, because she’s not. She’s considering that it might be gendered. So, she’s not “automatically” assuming it’s gendered. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if a man’s behavior is gendered when that behavior is often gendered, while not considering it as quickly for a woman when the behavior is not gendered the same way for women.

                1. umami*

                  I think it’s a bit unfair is to ask the question reflexively when she actually could have just … observed the behavior toward men first, or simply told the assistant not to bother standing. A good majority of the comments here are automatically saying it ‘is’ gendered and she needs to stop it, but I don’t think that is the most helpful advice when it isn’t even certain that it is.

          2. Silver Robin*

            if it were a woman, people would be more likely to remember that it might be a veteran thing because there is no other common source of such training. Men, however, may very well have gotten trained to do this outside of the military and/or have reasons (ingrained perceptions about men and women) that might lead them to apply something that was originally about hierarchy to matters of “chivalry”. Women are just so very unlikely to do that because even if they have the same views on women and men, they are not going to stand for women, since they are the ones who should be stood for, if that makes sense?

            Comments are certainly focused on the worse version, though my perception is that it is all caveated by “if he only does it to women”. The OP is more focused on the “he does it to everyone” version, and Alison’s advice to figure out if it is specific or general is good.

            1. Frequent Reader*

              I am a woman and was taught to stand up when my elders entered the room. Not my parents but if my grandparents or visiting aunts came, we were to stand and greet them.

              1. Silver Robin*

                Fascinating! I suppose that then requires considering age differences as well. That is a thing I have seen outside the US but not something I have noticed or really heard of here, so I figured it was uncommon.

                I do not think it changes my response much though: standing for elders is ungendered. Women have no reason to only stand for one gender or the other, so if the genders were reversed here, the quality of “veteran” would be more present than the concern over sexism.

          3. DK Perler*

            I would say no, not really? At least not as much. It’s sort of like how if I told a random man on the street that he’d be better looking if he smiled, I wouldn’t be trying to enforce deeply-entrenched gender expectations, I would just be a weirdo. It’s all about the context.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Yeah, a woman only standing for men would just be…odd? There is not historical context for it being a power play. I would honestly be more likely to assume that it is a form of protest (see? It is weird that I stand for men, so it is just as weird when men stand for women!). Or that there was some fairly unique background that ingrained such a response.

    16. UKDancer*

      It’s really awkward and othering to treat women differently from men. I used to have to work with a supplier in a European country who would shake hands with my male staff and kiss my hand. I hated it because it drove home the fact that I am female and different. I work in a male dominated sector so I try not to remind people that I’m not as it leads to better working relationship. This constantly irked me but it was difficult to challenge.

      1. Lorna*

        Yes! This sort of behaviour – usually from smarmy, older Sales guys – gives me the ick on so many levels.

        During a work stint in Germany in the late 90s I encountered this so many times, I had to call it out by asking if knighthood and damsels in distress were still a thing in Munich. I received form handshakes going forward and noone ever called me Fräulein (little lady) again.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          My daughter owns a shirt that says the following:

          I’m not a Damsel in danger from a Dragon (front)
          I AM the Dragon and I will EAT YOU ALIVE (back)

          Its fitting for her personality.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        uuurgh, hand kisses are SO inappropriate in a work context. I had a visceral reaction just reading that. Not only are they gendered, but they harken back directly to a time and attitude when women* were treated like holy idiots or precious decorative objects – to be venerated and pampered, but never to decide for themselves or actually do anything. It’s slimy, and smarmy, and infuriating.

        *high status women, that is. Never applied to working class women.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          It’s also just…gross to me. I don’t want a stranger’s lips on my skin like that. I would feel violated.

      3. Liz W.*

        Almost constant handwashing aside, this makes me glad my hands are often covered in chicken or duck poop.

    17. münchner kindl*

      He isn’t being polite, though. He’s forcing his behaviour on others, like OP, without noticing or caring that it makes OP uncomfortable.

      And most people would feel uncomfortable if a colleague always interrupts their work to stand up just because they enter the room.

      Especially because it’s not military where people have to stand for superior officers so they don’t get into trouble, but a normal work place.

      1. Frequent Reader*

        Him standing up is not doing anything TO or AT her. People not behaving exactly as you wish they would does not make their behavior impolite. Politeness has standards and they aren’t all based on “what the observer personally enjoys”.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’m not sure it’s true that politeness isn’t all based on whatever someone personally enjoys. The point of politeness/etiquette is to help ensure that people are comfortable. There’s a ‘rule’ that guests don’t start eating until their hostess is seated at the table. My partner *hates* that rule; she’s usually finishing a bit of washing up or throwing the dessert in the oven when dinner is served. She wants people to start eating while it’s hot! If someone stood on that rule for the sake of etiquette, she’d be annoyed.

    18. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      He’s likely standing because she’s the boss. You know. a higher rank. I’d leave the guy alone. It’s a show of respect.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Maybe! But if it’s making OP or others uncomfortable, she can still tell him it’s not in line with how their office operates and to stop. If he’s truly being respectful due to her rank, then he’ll respect a direct order :)

      2. bamcheeks*

        But doesn’t it bother if you if it *feels* disrespectful to the person you are intending to show respect to?

        I never understand that impulse, because it means you’re actually not showing respect to the individual, you’re requiring that they *recognise* your symbol/show of respect. It’s about asserting your system of respecting hierarchy at the expense of the person you are claiming to show respect to.

        1. UKDancer*

          This so much. I’m sure the chap I used to deal with in the US who called me “Ma’am” felt he was showing respect. It felt really awkward and was also incongruous with the way he actually behaved. I wanted him to call me by my first name (which is normal for the UK and my industry for individuals on an equal footing). I don’t think ignoring my requests was respectful because it was putting his preference over mine every time.

          1. bamcheeks*

            The tell is always what people do with that information. If it’s genuine respect, they go, “Oh right, sorry, no problem. It’s kind of engrained, so I’m sorry in advance if it might take a while to break the habit but I will be trying!” That’s genuine respect. If they get angry about it, you know they’re more invested in their show of respect than actual respect.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Doesn’t he deserve to know how easily it could be mistaken for chivalry and standing for ladies? If that’s not the message he wants to give intentionally, it probably isn’t one he wants to give unintentionally either.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This isn’t about being offended. (“You guys keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

        It’s about seeing and treating women differently. As was pointed out, if he does this for everyone, it’s not a problem. Odd, but not a problem. If he only does it for a subset of people, it’s a problem.

        1. Grey*

          Sure, but in this case, we’re getting offended because someone is treating a woman better than a man. “He’s showing me too much respect” seems an odd thing to complain about.

          1. Allonge*

            Well, if that does not make sense to you, maybe consider it this way: very often the ‘more respect’ comes with ‘less actual human rights’, ‘lower salary’ and an attitude of ‘who cares what you think [is respectful]’. People see an alarming pattern and react to that.

          2. AMH*

            It doesn’t feel respectful to be othered — for it to be made clear that someone is looking at you as a woman first and a colleague second. It sounds likely in this case that he would stand for everyone, based on comments from others with military knowledge here, but if it was just women it would not be MORE respectful.

          3. Susan Calvin*

            That’s because “equality except for when inequality is in my favor” is rank hypocrisy which, uh, a lot of modern feminists try to avoid?

            1. Zombeyonce*

              Speaking as a modern feminist, I have no interest in being treated this way because it’s not actually a benefit or respectful if he only stands for women, it’s simply showing that he considers them women before coworkers first and that’s incredibly othering. This kind of inequality is actually in men’s favor, not women’s; it shows that he sees them as equal rather than someone that needs extra “politeness” (that isn’t actually polite at all).

          4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            (1) Still not about being offended. (2) His intentions in doing it don’t determine whether it’s “better” treatment. If it’s singling out women as needing something more than men need, then it’s discriminatory against women and should be stopped. If it’s truly “respect,” then he’s disrespecting men by not doing it for them, and that is gender discrimination and should be stopped.

          5. Disgruntled Pelican*

            I don’t want to be fussed over, fawned over, put on a pedestal, or otherwise made to feel delicate, emotional, or in need of protection/deference. I want to be treated with the same level of respect and professionalism as any of my colleagues, regardless of genitals or gender. Chivalry is othering, archaic, and sexist.

            (Note: I understand that in this specific situation, it is more likely to be a rank thing vs. a gender thing, but I wanted to address this comment.)

          6. blue rose*

            So he’s treating the men worse than the women, because they’re men? Treating people differently based on a protected class?

            1. Zombeyonce*

              If he’s only standing for women, then no, he’s treating the men better because he’s not othering them based on a protected class.

              1. blue rose*

                I was responding to someone alleging that the employee was treating the women better than the men. I used rhetorical questions to show how the supposed better treatment women were getting is still discriminatory and legally troublesome.

          7. Emmy Noether*

            Best way I can explain it is that being treated like a precious, fragile, decorative object isn’t actually being treated better. It’s the logic of “why are you complaining about your gilded cage? It’s gold!”.

            Also, as a woman in a male-dominated field, I’m very wary of anything explicitly pointing to me being different because of my gender. There’s always a cost to the “better” treatment.

          8. metadata minion*

            I’m not entirely sure why I should consider it respectful for someone to stand when I enter a room. I mean, I understand that this is a thing, but to me it’s a very old-fashioned thing outside of specific contexts like the military. And if we’re talking about me specifically, it’s yet another papercut of people assuming that I’m a woman, and in my experience people who do this sort of old-fashioned courtesy get *really pissy* when I point out that I’m not. (Or are completely cool with it and start calling me “son” like I’m a boy in the 1950s. There is no middle ground.)

          9. Irish Teacher*

            It’s not treating her better if it’s not something she wants. Treating your boss as a woman first rather than as your boss first is not “showing her too much respect.”

            Now, in this case, it may be that he is standing for her because she is his boss, which would still be a bit embarrassing to deal with and I’m not sure I’d feel respected if somebody did that for me (I taught in some schools where students stood when the teacher entered and while I didn’t feel I could tell them not to as it would get confusing if they had different instructions for different classes, I found it very awkward and disliked it; it would be weirder and more awkward from another adult).

            One shows respect by adhering to another’s wishes, not by following the set of rules you learnt as a child and insisting they are respectful even if they make the other person feel disrespected.

            Now, it doesn’t sound like anybody told this guy they didn’t like it, so if he does it to everybody or to all those above him in the hierarchy, I’d consider it a harmless quirk, not inherently respectful or disrespectful. If he only does it to women, I would consider it a red flag that he may see people as their gender first, rather than their role which often overlaps with disrespecting women. And if he does it after somebody asks him not to (deliberately; if he just forgets, that’s not a big deal), I’d consider it quite disrespectful.

          10. DisgruntledPelican*

            Othering women, reacting to them as women and not people, is not treating them better than men.

      2. SarahKay*

        Oh, don’t worry, I’m not offended by everything. Just by sexism – including archaic sexism.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Quit oversimplifying everything by labeling it as being offended. Nothing about “While it is a nice courtesy, it seems weird to me” suggests “offense.”

      4. Dona Florinda*

        You do realize that the fragile sex thing has been used for centuries to justify keeping women under control, right?

        Men have been it as a cover for ‘women are so delicate they shouldn’t work, vote or have any autonomy of their own’ for ages. Sure the coworker in question could be doing it out of habit, not sexism, but let’s not pretend that there’s no connection between ‘chilvary’ and misoginy.

    19. Also-ADHD*

      I mean I think Alison pointed out he’s not if he does it for men too? Unless it’s such a bad culture fit overall he’s making the organization uncomfortable and hurting OP’s reputation in other ways, as she mentioned at the end, but if it’s just a quirk that he stands for everyone, she says maybe let it go.

      If he’s treating women visibly differently, he’s almost certainly making folks uncomfortable though. That’s how he’s hurting them. It could reinforce old gender stereotypes that make women feel othered and like second class citizens and promote toxic masculinity.

    20. Falling Diphthong*

      You don’t have to “call it out.” (Which I think is a turn of phrase almost never associated with people reflecting on your excellent point and changing their behavior in recognition of your rightness.) You can just point out “Hey, you’re doing X and X is not the right move in this situation.” Just like you would if they consistently put the wrong cover sheet on the TPS reports for Kansas.

    21. Erin*

      The retired vet stands as a sign of respect, and out of habit from his years of service, and it must be immediately corrected. The interns are too enthusiastic about the work they’re handed, and they must be corrected.

      I’ll take a respectful co-worker who stands when I enter, and an intern who is pumped for even mundane tasks any day. How sad that all personal and human nuance must be labeled as bad, and immediately changed.

      1. Boof*

        it’s pretty clearly advice around a question “this feel weird/off to me, is it a thing and if so how do i address it” not “this normal thing is bad and needs to immediately change”
        Hyperbole doesn’t help with the nuances of human interaction

      2. Not like a regular teacher*

        In both cases (assuming the vet is not only standing for women), it’s not so much “bad” as “not in sync with this workplace’s culture.” If I was doing something that I thought was nice but which actually made my coworkers think I was weird and annoying, I’d want to know.

      3. Allonge*

        Cultures differ. Code switching is important to learn! Pointing out that he is doing stuff that is out of the norm where he is is meant to make life easier for everyone in the long term. And both here and for the intern, the OPs are asking if it should be done and the answer is a maybe not, only if X, Y, Z. I don’t see what’s so dramatic about that.

    22. Someone Else's Boss*

      Yes. If women are being treated differently than men, even if that difference is perceived as positive by some people, it needs to be called out. Standing when women enter a room is only a few steps removed from protecting them from sensitive information. The next thing you know, women aren’t invited into meetings or considered capable of leadership roles. I’m not being hyperbolic, that is how this works. It’s entirely necessary to call it out.

      1. Grey*

        Standing when women enter a room is only a few steps removed from protecting them from sensitive information.


        Sometimes standing is just being polite, with no hidden meaning or agenda.

        Like for example, if I’m entering a door with a group of people, I wait for the women to enter first. I don’t do that with the men. I’m just being polite. It’s how I was raised. I’m not on any path to start treating women as inferiors.

        1. Allonge*

          But you treat them as different and we are not meant to.

          How we all were raised is not relevant – norms around this have changed and we need to be polite in the new normal, not 10-20-30-40 years ago.

          1. Grey*

            But men and women are different. Equal, but still different.

            If offering my seat to the pregnant woman on the bus makes me an asshole in this “new normal”, I’ll just have to live with it.

            1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

              But surely that is because she is pregnant, yes? Not simply because she is a woman? Because in that case it’s consideration for needs that a non-pregnant person wouldn’t have, thus how those people are different. What difference between a man and a woman means that a woman might need to walk through the door first?

              1. Zombeyonce*

                Exactly! Is Grey also offering their seat to disabled people or the elderly, or just women that fall into those categories? That makes it very clear if it’s behavior that’s polite or a mix of polite and sexist.

                Maybe men would also enjoy going through the door first, too.

            2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              Offer seats to people who look like they need it–not just pregnant people, but, for example, people using canes, or people who are walking very slowly and need a seat near the door.

              That’s something that everyone should do, if they can, and sometimes that will be a woman offering her seat to a man. Broken ankles know no gender, and neither do age or arthritis.

              Interestingly, I noticed ten or fifteen years ago that the days when I was most likely to be offered a seat on the train were the days when I was most grateful to have one–apparently it showed when I’d had a hard day. I accepted on those days, which has nothing to do with gender.

        2. Nobby Nobbs*

          Do you also stand there like a balky horse if she reaches the door first and tries to hold it for you? Because some guys also think that’s polite and it royally sucks.

        3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Give the truly gender-neutral explanation of why it’s polite to let women enter first but not do the same for men. “It’s how I was raised” is not an explanation. (I was raised that women should do all the housework.) If it’s only polite for one gender and not the other, then there must be a difference between the genders that make it so, what is that difference?

          1. DK Perler*

            While they’re at it, I’d also (genuinely) appreciate an explanation for what makes standing polite. I don’t understand what function it serves other than the obvious performative one.

            1. metadata minion*

              Same here! If I’m an extremely important person and I’m arriving so that the meeting can get started, everyone standing kind of makes sense as a visual marker that Now We Have Arrived, but otherwise I just walked into the conference room minding my own business and now you’ve made it weird.

            2. Allonge*

              That I can attempt – for me it’s a very obvious signal that I noticed you, and am focusing my attention on you and not whatever I was doing before – I am prioritising you. Obviously it’s not the only or even the best way to demonstrate this, but an easy and noticable one.

              But a lot of it, as all politeness, is just tradition with no strict logic behind. Very often along the line of thinking of comfortable = informal = impolite.

              1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

                But isn’t that inherently othering? I’m prioritizing you over others because you are a woman? It would be similar if you always let men go first because you were prioritizing them, it’s just a strange way to be polite I suppose.

                1. Allonge*

                  Please read the question I was responding to – this is a gender neutral question and explanation.

                  If only done for women, yes, it’s bad.

                2. Curiouser and Curiouser*

                  @Allonge – You’re right, I missed the nesting you were responding too, I get it! Sorry about that.

        4. SarahKay*

          I’m glad you think it’s polite but I (and a number of other people on this comment section) think that you’re also being sexist, and in a workplace we’d like you to stop.
          Frankly I’d like you to stop altogether; sexism is sexism is sexism whether in work or not, but I won’t presume to speak for others outside of work.

        5. Curiouser and Curiouser*

          We have men at our office that do this, and every time it makes my skin crawl. It’s a reminder that they don’t see me the same as other coworkers, and that my being a woman is on their mind as much as I worry it is. I give them the gracious nod because that’s how *I* was raised, and that makes me feel even ickier. Is it that hard to just let whoever is at the front of the group go first?

          1. There You Are*

            The elevator. I effing hate it when the men in my office part themselves like Moses parting the river for me to walk in front of them to enter the elevator.

            I have honestly had to do this:

            Them: [scurry to the left and right; make grand sweeping gesture with arm to indicate I should go first, even though there’s 6-8 of us and I arrived in the elevator lobby last]

            Me: [light laugh] “No, no, the rule is ‘Whoever is standing closest to the door enters first.”

            Them: “That’s not how my momma raised me. A gentlemen allows a woman to enter first.”

            Me: [takes one step forward and stops] “Shoot! I just realized I forgot something in my car. Y’all go on ahead.”

            Then I walk around the corner out of sight until the elevator doors close.

            PSA FOR MEN: Please stop doing this to your coworkers!!! Please stop making our gender the most important thing about us. You know what was important about me at the elevator? I was last in line. That’s it. Not my gender, not my sexual attractiveness to you (or lack thereof). Just the actual fact that I, your coworker, am last in line. Period.

            1. Allonge*

              Oh, yes. Also the same thing exiting the elevator. It’s not actually better for me if you let me out first if you are standing closer to the door!

        6. Engineer*

          The moment you insist on imposing your “politeness” onto others, especially women, when they don’t want it, it stops being about politeness and starts being about your ego. And the fact that you admit to singling out women for a different behavior means it *is* sexist.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Politeness exists to make people comfortable, so as soon as your “politeness” makes people feel awkward or othered, that behavior ceases to be polite.

        7. bamcheeks*

          So, if you know that the women around you *don’t* regard that as polite, then what you’re actually saying is, “I don’t care whether you find this polite and respectful or not, my upbringing and the symbols of politeness my parents valued are more important to me than how you feel about it. You as an individual don’t matter; what matters is the performance of respect and hierarchy that I have internalised.” Do you get why many of us consider that to be deeply DISrespectful?

        8. Irish Teacher*

          If it’s just being polite, why don’t you do it for the men? There is no reason to be less polite to them than to the women. If something is polite for women, it’s polite for men.

        9. There You Are*


          @Grey – When your boss takes you to lunch, do you open her car door before she gets behind the wheel? Do you pull her chair out for her and then order for her at the restaurant? Does your brain explode when she pays?

    23. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I think it would behoove us all to get more comfortable with the idea that what seems natural and fine to us can be discomforting or even harmful to others, and no one needs to take it personally if we need to explain or modify our behavior in shared spaces to adapt to the needs of the other people sharing the space. That’s just a natural part of living, working, and playing in diverse spaces.

      It doesn’t have to be a callout and it seems like this LW is trying pretty hard to not do any calling out.

      1. mf*

        I would like to give you a standing ovation for this comment! Explaining or modifying our behavior to adapt to the needs of others is what we do when we are a part of a community. It’s not a punishment or a callout–it’s learning how to be a better partner, partner, sibling, friend, colleague, neighbor, citizen, etc.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        I agree fully… but we wouldn’t heave nearly as many posts here if people were better communicators!

    24. Lucy P*

      Thank you. We (society) seems to make issues out of everything right now.

      The guy was taught to be a polite person, not a stalker or serial killer.

      1. Grammar Penguin*

        Politeness is about making other people comfortable. Period.

        If you know what you’re doing is making other people uncomfortable, you stop doing it.

        If you insist on imposing a standard of etiquette that is outside the norm and you know makes others uncomfortable, that’s rudeness. Period.

        And whoever taught him this, it wasn’t the military. In the military, one stands (or not) according an officer’s rank. Not sex. You’ll never see a male officer stand up for a female corporal, nor should you. And you won’t see the female corporal stand for the male officer unless he’s her commanding officer (like the base or squadron commander or ship captain).

        Courtesies in the military are based on rank, nothing else. Full stop. Not sex, not race, not religion, not class. You get the privileges and courtesies due to the rank you’ve earned.

        Any use of non-military standards of courtesy in a military context is unprofessional and contrary to regulations.

        Which isn’t to say this kind of behavior doesn’t occur sometimes there. But I guarantee he didn’t LEARN it there. Rather, he held onto this behavior DESPITE his military service. There’s no way he stood up for every woman in uniform he ever met.

        1. Lucy P*

          In this particular case OP hasn’t addressed the issue, so the guy doesn’t know he’s making anyone uncomfortable.

          I got into a 15-second standoff with an older gentleman earlier this week. I wanted to let him walk out the door first because he was easily 30 years older than me. He wanted to let me go first because I’m a woman. We were both being courteous to each other. In the end I deferred to his wish and walked out. No harm was done. Neither of us got mad.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          “Politeness is about making other people comfortable. Period.”

          ^^ Really good point.

          1. Can't think of a name*

            Politeness is extremely culturally dependent for context. What is polite in one culture/situation can be offensive in another. Take slurping soup for example.

        3. DisgruntledPelican*

          Also, even if it was a thing in the military, he’s not in a military setting anymore. Behaviors have to change to fit the environment your in.

    25. NaoNao*

      A man clinging to outdated traditions about treating women differently, even if it’s helpful or respectful to women is called “benign sexism”. It’s kind of like “women and children first on lifeboats” or holding the door or taking off caps/hat when you walk by women, saying “beauty before age” when ushering a woman into an elevator before you, etc. These actions enforce a larger and more complex social order in which women are fragile, delicate, and need protection—not just from the immediate danger, but from the world. Including things like voting, business, war, and jobs. Because their main job is in the household, being beacons of light and “civilization”, having and raising children, and supporting men in their dangerous endeavors.

      That’s why “everything” needs to be “called out” now.

      1. Bess*

        Well, the “women and children first on lifeboats” is important and came out of necessity: in emergencies, men would race in front of women and children and essentially get out first and women and children would die as a result. So this was a campaign to combat that.

        Agree with everything else you said, but this one is important and not a result of misguided chivalry.

    26. Grammar Penguin*

      Does everything that communicates patriarchal standards that are insulting to women and result in illegal disparate treatment that can harm the company need to be called out? Yes, it does. If you want it to stop.

      You don’t have a problem with it, so you don’t care if it stops or not. Other people do have a problem with it and do want it to stop. Why do you have a problem with that?

      It is not polite. It’s self-aggrandizement, designed to put the women around him in their place.

    27. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If he stands up for everyone, no. If he’s sending the message that some of the employees at the company are to be treated differently than others because of what gender they present as, yes. Because IME gender-specific treatment never ends at standing up and holding doors. If I am a different, weaker species in a coworker’s mind, sooner or later he’ll show it in other ways too.

    28. Modesty Poncho*

      Honestly, even if there turns out to be no gender issue, emphasizing the hierarchy would make me uncomfortable! Please omg do not treat me like I’m better than you, just sit down. It can still be out of sync and uncomfortable as a holdover from a military culture in a civilian one.

    29. I should be working*

      The great thing about Alison’s response is that it accounts for multiple likely situations given the information she got from the letter.
      -If he does this for everyone and people are generally OK with it, don’t address it.
      -If he does this for everyone but it does make some people uncomfortable, mention that he is unintentionally making some people feel uncomfortable but is still great, could he try greeting people without getting up.
      -If he does this for women but not men, he needs to change his behaviour so he is treating everyone the same.

  4. Sales Geek*

    Time for short answers:
    #1 – Call a lawyer and have the lawyer contact HR. Your management has kicked this can down the road
    #2 – Call the police. Give them your evidence and contact info for management for contacts.
    #3 – “Can we move on; I want us to focus on the task at hand (or words to that effect).
    #4 – “No, please remain seated. It’s not like I’m a general (or Admiral) but I appreciate the thought.” I’m on the fence whether this should be a public or private response. I’m sure the commentariat will help out here.
    #5 – That’s just weird. But respond with kindness. Some people (I’m one of them) are just awful with this kind of situation. We never know what to say or do; saying nothing seems cold and saying/doing something always gets into a circle of self doubt.

    1. STAT!*

      Regarding #5: I believe The IT Crowd advice is to say sorry for your loss and move on. As in “Sorry for your loss. Now move on”.

    2. ecnaseener*

      For #3, it doesn’t sound like LW wants to discourage all non-work chatter or that there’s necessarily a work task at hand! They’re fine with chitchat, they just asked for a script to handle sensitive topics.

      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        Yes, #3 might seem like an unfair penalizing to that particular employee that brings it up if all other non-work chatter is permitted.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      For #3, that sounds like the LW is opposed to all off-topic chat, which is both incorrect–OP finds it valuable in most instances–and not the thing to say in the off-topic-chat thread.

      For #4, corrections should be offered in private.

    4. Abogado Avocado*

      Lots of common sense here! And as to #1, yes, consult a lawyer NOW. Because I’m going to tell you what’s NOT going to happen: they’re not going to reduce this guy’s salary by $47K. Rather, in doing the salary study, they’re going to look at job descriptions and functions. If there is any difference whatsoever in what he does versus what you do, they’re going to inflate that difference and use it to justify his larger salary. So, it’s important to involve a good employment lawyer now.

      And if you don’t have the money to retain a lawyer (a lot of people don’t), call your local chapter of the ACLU and ask them to refer you to their national org for help with pay equity. They have a pay equity division and I predict they’ll be salivating with your case. If you can’t stand the ACLU (I admire them, but there are lots of folks who don’t), call your local bar association’s help line and ask them if there are nonprofits in your state who help with pay equity. There usually are and, again, the facts of your situation are so appalling that I predict they’d be happy to help.

      Remember, also, that you’re not just entitled to a $47K raise, but one retroactive to the period that this guy was hired. That’s the point where they valued your job at that higher rate. Now, make them pay it! (And let the rest of us know what happens. I wish you all the best on your quest.)

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Yes. They are not going to raise OPs salary by 47K either. Which WOW that is so fricking obvious. They were counting on no one asking about salaries.

        But consult a lawyer now. its worth the consultation fee if there is one. Because for something this blatant, the company is already trying to hide it by claiming to do an exercise across the whole company.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          It is so obvious I actually assume that the combining of companies into one entity is the source of the problem– and that they are not trying to “hide” anything with the exercise.

          It’s likely if they hired a handful of new people LW1 isn’t the only person to notice that
          their salary doesn’t match market rate/title, so they are looking at massive salary gaps for probably multiple roles and they need to figure out what to do about it in a way that doesn’t turn into a bigger problem.

  5. RedinSC*

    Ooopph, LW1, I totally know what you’re feeling. I worked at a university and learned that I was paid $50K less than one of my colleagues. In fact, I learned that every woman (even those with more experience) were paid minimally $35K less than this guy.

    I don’t know, but if they don’t make things right, this could be something to take to the EEOC as well? This is so egregious. I’m sorry.

    I ultimately left rather than make the complaint and lawsuit, but I thought about it.

      1. RedinSC*

        I live and work in a small town. Suing the biggest employer in the area isn’t going to win me any friends. I thought about it, but opted to just move on.

  6. Blue Barramundi*

    OP2, repeated damage to your car is extreme behaviour from a colleague. Your letter reads as though the damage includes flat tyres – this affects your mobility and is very serious.

    Please consider putting together a safety plan (for you) and getting the police involved if you feel comfortable to do so.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Interesting to me, OP avoided all pronouns. In high school I saw enough petty vandalism by girls that I wouldn’t assume it’s a guy. It’s creepy & criminal either way.

    1. Kella*

      Agreed with safety plan. Especially after you report him, I’d consider having someone escort you to your car after work if your shift ends after dark or if the parking lot is at all secluded. Someone who repeatedly destroys your property has a form of entitlement that’s deeply dangerous.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      Agreed to the safety plan. This is something our Security manager would enact immediately, to the point of specifically pulling footage from our own security cameras, having the victim park inside a protected area, and having security escort them to their car. Stuff like that – even once – would trigger a non-insignificant internal investigation between Security & HR.

  7. FG*

    #5 – restaurant gift cards are absolutely thoughtful & acceptable to send with a sympathy card. It ID the equivalent of taking food to someone who has experienced a loss. Not weird at all. It’s not like Olive Garden is a fancy date night restaurants. Also, chains like that often offer “family meals” you can order g pick up.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. But I find it interesting that in this instance nobody’s yet pulled the “gifting up” card, but maybe bereavement is an exception to the idea that gifts in corporate environments should only flow downward or between peers but never up?

        1. metadata minion*

          I would tend to agree that this is an exception to the gifts-flow-down rule, provided that managers get roughly the same type of condolence gesture that people lower on the org chart do.

        2. Sara C*

          I definitely think this is an exception to gifting up. A death in your family is equally devestating regardless of your job title. And this is $50 spread across multiple people — it’s not like asking lesser-paid workers to contributed hundreds of dollars. The amount seems more in the “kind gesture” range to me.

      2. Myrin*

        I was wondering if OP might not be from the US – like me, but we don’t even have the concept of a “sympathy casserole” here, so a restaurant gift card would actually be a step up from that, although I think you’d have to include an actual explanation like “I was thinking you’d have an easier time not needing to cook” – but I believe Olive Garden is an American chain so I don’t know how likely you’d be to encounter them somewhere else.

        1. Dutx*

          Being a foreigner on this site is fun.

          We didn’t get any food when our grandparents died, from anyone, so it doesn’t seem normal here. Some of my parents’ colleagues did come to shake our hands though (separate from the funeral service, there’s a time to shake hands with the family and it’s normal for acquiantances of said family to attend – not sure if that’s an international custom) which isn’t unusual here, but some people in other countries would likely think weird.

          Same as inviting your boss to your wedding (common enough), boss doing a home visit during maternity leave (the norm) and boss regularly visiting employees on extended sick leave. (wouldn’t surprise me if the Wvp (law about sick leave and reintegration) actually required that, lol. Though it’s also common enough to for the employee to request a neutral location for that like a restaurant, esp with stress related mental illness.)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            That sounds a bit like the removal, in Ireland. The night before the funeral, there is a removal and lots of people come, neighbours, friends, workmates of anybody in the close family, politicians (the last annoys me a little; we’d a politician turn up to my dad’s and introduce himself as “first name-surname, TD,” a TD is a member of our parliament, it’s basically like the Irish for MP, and I read somewhere that certain politicians in Kerry bring their own pens in usual colours to sign the book so their signatures stand out and everybody notices they were there). There is a book which everybody signs. I think at my dad’s, there was about 150 signatures.

            Nobody brought food but I wouldn’t think a gift card particularly odd, even though I’ve never heard of it being done. I’d think it a nice gesture.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              It sounds like “visitation” here in the States (midwest, at least). There is indeed a book to sign.

              I don’t believe I’ve seen food brought to visitation for the family, but its NOT at all unusual for people to bring meals, or gift cards ILO of meals, or GrubHub or UberEats to families in “crisis” here (someone is severely ill, someone has passed, basically anything that gives you pause and makes you think “cooking may be overwhelming for them right now, I can help”). Sometimes its organized (we organized 6 months worth of meals for a newly widowed Mom in our group because life in general was going to be a lot, with the unexpected loss of her husband) and sometimes it isn’t (when my child was ill and in the hospital for an extended period of time, many friends sent GrubHub gift cards and it was immensely helpful given our child’s treatment needs even upon release!).

            2. Dutx*

              Here it’s generally one-two days before the funeral, the day of the funeral immediately before the ceremony, or the day of adjacent. I haven’t heard of “MP’s” turning up. Though I don’t think that makes much sense with our electoral system either. (No voting districts/first past the post etc. for national elections. In theory people can get elected by people voting on them specifically, in practice people get elected by getting a high position on the party list and then have that party collectively get enough votes. So there’s not really public personal campaigning.) Municipal politicians might attend if the deceased was a member of their party.

              I suppose for high-profile deaths it might be different.

              Often a guestbook, yes.

              We call it “condoleren” (lit: “expressing condolences”) or “condoleance”. You say “gecondoleerd” (literally just the past participle of condoleren). Unless you’re a little kid, then you’ll most likely say “gefeliciteerd” (“congratulations”, or literally, past participle of te feliciteren/to congratulate) by accident. :-) There’s usually at least one at every condoleance.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Home visit during maternity leave? Let’s not make that a thing.
            I’d have cried for days. My child was colicky, the house was a wreck, and *I* was a wreck.

            I was uncomfortable having my SISTER over–and she’d told me to plan on taking a nap and a shower while she took care of diapers and dishes.

            1. Dutx*

              It *is* a thing here – it’s the norm in any company or gov agency I’ve heard of – and most people would feel pretty slighted if the manager didn’t offer, because it’s such a deviation of said norm that it’s likely to be a deliberate snub.

              But you don’t have to import our customs. :-) I’m sure your culture has some I’d rather not import either.

        2. bamcheeks*

          When we were kids and obsessed with watching Neighbours, my mum always found it hilarious that they were always bringing each other casseroles. Someone died? Casserole. Someone jilted at the altar? Casserole. Someone ram-raided the coffee shop? Casserole. Casserole, casserole, casserole.

          Plus, there’s a linguistic difference between what a casserole is in US (and presumably Australian?) English and UK English. We don’t really use “casserole” as a generic term: you might have a specific dish which you refer to as a casserole, but, like, a Lancashire hotpot is a Lancashire hotpot, an Irish stew is an Irish stew, a shepherd’s pie is a shepherd’s pie, a pasta bake is a pasta bake: we don’t have a generic term like Auflauf or “casserole” which covers “lots of things mixed together cooked in the oven”.

          1. Peanut Hamper*

            Oh, the casserole and pie thing is definitely a thing here in the midwest US.

            Good things, such as a new house or a new baby: pie.

            Bad things, such as death in the family, or family member in the hospital: casserole.

            As Bill Bryson said, there are people in the midwest who move every six months just to get the pies.

            1. bamcheeks*

              When I dated a Midwesterner, we worked out that to her stuff mixed together and eaten hot = casserole, stuff mixed together and eaten cold = salad. This is completely different to how I use either of those words!

              1. Rebecca*

                That’s an excellent way to define those terms in the Midwest! My transplant friends are horrified by cookie salad/jello salad/snicker salad

          2. doreen*

            I was in an online conversation where people in the UK were basically saying that a “casserole” was essentially the same thing as a “stew” but cooked in the oven rather than on the stovetop ( I think that’s what “hob” means , anyway).

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. Casserole is a stew of meat and vegetables. So if I make casserole it involves braising steak, pancetta, pearl onions, chestnut mushroom and carrot cooked long and slow in a roasting tin with garlic, red wine, bouquet garni and stock. It’s cooked in the oven rather than on the hob (hob is what the US calls a stovetop). You can also do lamb casserole I think but I don’t because I don’t like it but the recipe is broadly similar.

              That’s the only dish I’d call a casserole. Anything else has a different name.

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                To me (US, mostly culturally Southern with Midwest flair), you’ve described an excellent pot roast. :)

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Olive Garden is a chain of casual sit-down restaurants. Nice enough for a night out, but inexpensive enough they (at least here) don’t take reservations.

          A friend once called them “not so fast!” food.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            And they do takeaway, so someone could order quite a bit of food for pickup with the gift card and the family would have food for a day or two.

        4. Totally Minnie*

          When my dad passed, our social circle basically filled up our freezer with meals that are easy to reheat. We had soups, lasagnas, and other assorted casseroles. Where I am, if it’s a savory dish of mixed ingredients baked in a 9×13 inch pan, it’s a casserole. And we had enough of them to last us several weeks.

          I would think of a restaurant gift card as being a version of that. Especially to a place like Olive Garden where they have family-style meals on their menu and easy pick-up/take-out options.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            Yeah, Olive Garden actually seems like a natural choice to me, but then I have such a strong association between baked ziti and funerals that I can’t eat ziti in other contexts. Baked ziti in church basements for… whatever you call that meal after the funeral?

            That and the smell of lilies. Ugh.

            1. NPVP*

              My family and I see cold cut and cheese trays that way (grew up Mennonite Brethren and we often ate Faspa on Sundays together which often consisted of Zwieback with butter and jelly or cold cuts and cheese) along with what most call Party Potatoes, we call Funeral Potatoes. We’ve been blessed and haven’t had a funeral in years, but occasionally at Christmas someone will slip up and call the cheesy potatoes Funeral Potatoes.

              Any fresh flower and the combo above throws me back in time a lot.

      3. thatoneoverthere*

        I don’t find it weird at all tbh. Almost everywhere I have worked, has gifted someone a gift card after someone close to them has passed. It doesn’t matter if that person was a manager or regular worker.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        I think we’ve stumbled into a cultural subgroup thing where it’s routine in some groups and unusual in others. (I encountered it for the first time when my dad died, and it was explicitly a new practical thing arrived at by that relative based on observation.)

      5. pally*

        I’d not heard of such a thing as the meal gift card given at time of loss.
        But now that I have, I think it’s genius!
        Folks are kind to bring food; however, there’s the hassle of what to do with it all after the refrigerator and freezer are stocked. Yeah, toss what might spoil before being consumed (I cringe at this). But that meal gift card won’t ‘spoil’.

        1. PhyllisB*

          Yep. In the South, folks bring meals galore, and it’s a nice thing, but then all the leftovers…I have gotten to where I bring things like paper plates, paper towels, throwaway silverware, and maybe some bottles of water. Or if I know they drink coffee or soft drinks, I will provide that. (I’ve even brought a box of throwaway garbage bags.) I always get effusive thanks for this. Even folks who normally don’t do disposables appreciate them in a time like this.
          In New Jersey, the family I referenced in my earlier comments, they told us the family provides all the food/beverages for a wake.

      6. Sunflower*

        It’s weird because if someone is bereaved, they likely won’t be up to going out to a restaurant. A DoorDash gift card would make more sense.

        1. Chirpy*

          I went to one funeral where we went to the fanciest restaurant in the city afterwards. It was very cathartic, actually.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            It’s quite the norm in Ireland to go for a meal after a funeral. Heck, googling shows some hotels here that actually advertise about it: https://www.westcountyhotel.ie/funeral-gatherings.html It’s not unusual for a family member to invite people to join them for a meal, at the end of the service.

            But I know other countries have rather different traditions, attitudes and rituals about death.

            1. Chirpy*

              I mean, where I live, the tradition is the church puts together a dinner/potluck after a funeral service, but in this case the family wanted to keep it small. And the deceased had always taken people out to eat, so it seemed fitting.

        2. constant_craving*

          But the restaurant in question does delivery and take-out, including in family style portions. No reason the gift card has to be used for going out.

    1. Punk*

      Olive Garden does carry-out and you can place orders on their website. It’s not all that different from ordering on the Panera app. Maybe this coworker just actually likes Olive Garden.

      1. Never Ending Pasta Bowl*

        Yep, this. I know Olive Garden can be an easy punch line of sorts, but ordering To Go on their website is super easy and the portions are huge. Can easily feed either a lot of people or be several meals for a few people. I’m well aware that there’s better Italian food out there, but for convenience, I’d be thrilled with an Olive Garden gift card.

    2. laura may*

      agreed. I prefer to give restaurant gift cards (or even generic Visa/MasterCard ones) instead of actual food because then the recipient can use it when it’s convenient for them if their fridge is already crammed full, they can pick what they want instead of being surprised by my choices, and they don’t have to worry about the state of my kitchen. not sure what’s so odd about this.

    3. There You Are*

      When my brother died, my department gave me a gift card to DoorDash because they knew I wasn’t in any shape to drive to restaurants.

      I think that’s what is weird about the Olive Garden gift certificate. To use it, the bereaved has to leave the house, which can be a really hard thing to do when you’re grieving.

    4. georunner*

      As someone who has dealt with loss in the family, food was the last thing on our minds. Any and all food or food equivalent was extremely helpful and appreciated, especially for the first couple weeks. We got lots of gift cards and it was nice to just not have to think about the food or the money during that time as we had lots of family in and out of the house eating with us. Also had a friend lose her husband recently and she made a “help list”, and listed her favorite places to eat for gift cards.

  8. Accountress*

    Re #5: When I lost my second parent in 8 months, sometimes I had no drive to make food for myself. A restaurant gift card, whether to dine in or get to-go, would have been a very thoughtful gesture. (My work sent Omaha Steak boxes each time, with sides and everything. Those were good for when I did have the drive to do something beyond existing.)

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Oh, that sounds so difficult, I’m sorry. When my dad died, his car mechanic (go figure) ordered us a ton of food from a local restaurant and I wonder how we would have managed to eat otherwise. Grief is exhausting.

      1. Accountress*

        It totally sucked. I’m so glad that you had someone who was looking out for you like that!

        The bonds between dads and their mechanics cannot be taken lightly- my dad was so fond of our mechanic, I was named after his wife! Mom obviously agreed to it, but they’d been at a stalemate for girl names for months, so when he brought it up at t-minus 5 days (ended up being t-minus 19 days, I was 2 weeks late) she was happy for both a new option and a pretty option.

    2. Former Red and Khaki*

      Yeah, my first thought too was that it was appropriate and thoughtful. When my boyfriend’s brother died, his dad’s pastor gave us two big lasagnas and sides from a local Italian restaurant, and a neighbor gave us a cooler full of soups and stews and bread. It really got us through those first couple weeks.

  9. Ally*

    Many years ago my mother died suddenly in a car crash. We got a lot of food at the time, which we could not eat fast enough and which became annoying to deal with the dishes and leftovers and trash. We also got gift cards to restaurants like Olive Garden.

    10 years later I can’t remember the food people brought us, but I do remember the first night we went out after she died. We felt we should after getting the gift card. it was the first time we had laughed in 2 weeks because my father tipped over a basket of breadsticks and tried to catch them with his hands, resulting in two fists full of smashed breadsticks.

    Since then, I’ve always been so happy for that kindness. It wasn’t the only restaurant gift card we got. We even got a gift card for a movie theater. It was nice, to have this excuse to get out of the house, put on real clothes, do my hair. Sometimes, when you’re grieving, it is just nice to have a nice night out.

    1. New Senior Mgr*

      I’m so sorry about your mother, Ally.

      I received gift cards following my husband’s death. I was touched and very grateful.

    2. AnonAcademicLibrarian*

      Yes, this. Your story is lovely and exactly how I felt when after a loss a friend dragged me out with a movie gift certificate. I needed it so much. The excuse to get out. The chance to think about anything other than the logistics and grief. It might seem odd, but sometimes a night out while grieving is exactly what you need.

  10. Extra anony*

    Could they switch to a Visa giftcard? I think a giftcard is fine but agree that Olive Garden makes no sense; Door Dash would though, and a Visa giftcard is basically like cash.

    1. Kelly*

      Visa gift cards can be really aggravating to use. You need to know the exact balance, they charge fees after a period of time and some places won’t let you split payments.

      1. WellRed*

        This. But I’d still be appreciative of it and and Olive Garden card (even though OG near me has a $100 minimum for delivery so not helpful for that.) I lived on the cheese and crackers and homemade chili a few thoughtful friends brought.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        Yeah, Visa gift cards are hard to use – especially because I do most of my purchasing online. We finally accumulated 5 – all had been partially used, so I decided to use them to make a bigger purchase at Walmart. It took about half an hour to get all 5 to work.

        1. Sara C*

          I always immediately convert Visa gift cards into Amazon gift cards because at least I know I’ll use those and don’t have to worry about keeping track of the balance.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            Didn’t know that was an option! I’ll have to look into that for the cards that I have now.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Visa and Mastercard GCs are very annoying to use unless you use the full value to purchase another gift card (fees, difficult to use a small balance because of how it’s required to be rung in). A specific GC (or one of those that’s good at a family of restaurants) is nice because you can choose to get takeaway, or the family can go have a meal out when they’re ready for it.

    3. Louisa*

      why does Olive Garden make no sense? it’s a restaurant that takes online orders for pickup if you don’t want to dine in.

      1. Picket*

        I’m really interested in why some people think an Olive Garden gift card is weird or nonsensical, especially the ones who are then recommending a food delivery card instead. I feel like I must be missing something. Is it the restaurant itself, or the concept of a restaurant gift card, or…?

        1. Sara C*

          I think some people are snobby about Olive Garden. :-D Personally I love Olive Garden and I think it’s a great choice for this situation – and I would give the benefit of the doubt to the colleagues that they either know the manager enjoys Olive Garden, know there’s a convenient location, or have some other reason to select it.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I don’t have a strong feeling about Olive Garden, specifically, but I can understand the sentiment of giving the recipient more of a choice of where they want to eat rather than a specific restaurant. I live with a particular eater, so it’s helpful for us to able to choose a restaurant that we know can accommodate their preferences.

      2. Maggie*

        Also they’ve presumably met and interacted with this guy. Make he just LIKES Olive Garden! Or they remembered him saying his kids like eating there, or he always eats pasta or something.

    4. Nonanaon*

      Olive Garden is a widely-established chain restaurant that does dine in, take out, and delivery. Is it the world’s greatest restaurant? No. But, there’s something on the menu appropriate to most dietary restrictions (albeit I’m not 100% about how Halal/Kosher they are) Unless the recipient was allergic to garlic or whatever (again, less than 100% certain about some religious restrictions), it makes a lot of sense.

      Also because Olive Garden is so corporate you’re sometimes able to get a “joint” giftcard where it can be used at anything that belongs to the same parent company (so you get $50 for Olive Garden OR Red Lobster for example)

        1. merula*

          Those trying to follow kashrut or Islamic law but still willing to eat at secular restaurants should be able to find something among the vegan options. (And I’d wager OG is more kosher than halal, given the frequency of cooking wine and wine vinegar in Italian recipes.)

  11. nodramalama*

    LW2 what on earth! That’s not just a fireable offence, it’s a crime. Take it to HR now!

    1. HonorBox*

      AFTER taking it to the police. HR should be notified, but may also try to find a way to make this less serious. It may also escalate the problem if HR pulls the vandal in and tells them to stop. This is criminal behavior and should be treated as such.

      1. Alisaurus*

        Exactly. It seems the offending coworker doesn’t know they’ve been identified as the vandal yet. HR telling them to stop means they will realize.

        I suggest LW2 treat this like they would if they identified any other random person repeatedly targeting them. Contact the police, and then loop in HR just because it is a coworker.

  12. Waving not Drowning*

    re: OP5 – a workmate gave me a restaurant voucher when my much loved FIL passed away recently. We used it to go out as a family after the funeral service, it was very much appreciated, we didn’t want to go home immediately after the funeral, so it was lovely to sit as a family and reminisce and relax. Another friend sent us a meal delivery voucher, which was welcome on the day of his passing, so we didn’t have to fuss over cooking. I did have a quiet word with our waitress, when she saw our large group arriving she asked if we were celebrating, and I had to discretely say we’d come from a funeral.

    It is, however, a know your audience type of thing, and know the venue type of thing. Not in the US so I don’t know about Olive Garden. The place my workmate chose was a small family run restaurant that suited our picky eaters, and it was perfect for us.

  13. Observer*

    #4 – Assistant standing up.

    If he does it for everyone, then don’t say anything. If all of the women happen to out rank him, then don’t say anything either.

    If he does it only to women, and those women are at his level or lower, then you probably should say something. But use the second script, where you suggest everyone, no one, or people with greater seniority or rank.

    1. Texas Teacher*

      I did wonder if it was a rank thing vs a gender thing. But the LW is in a perfect position to give helpful feedback; he is her assistant after all.

    2. londonedit*

      I don’t think there would be anything wrong in any case with the OP saying something like ‘I know it’s coming from a place of respect [because it most likely is, even if it’s slightly misguided sexist ideas of respect], but there’s really no need to stand up whenever I [or Jane and I, or a woman, or someone, depending on what the OP’s observed] comes into the room. We’re not military and it can make people feel a bit uncomfortable outside of military circles’.

      1. UKDancer*

        I agree. I don’t think there’s a problem with telling people when something bothers you as long as you do so politely. “Could you not stand up when Jane or I come into the room? It makes me feel really uncomfortable and on edge and interrupts the work flow. I’d prefer it if you just carried on with the work you’re doing.” People don’t know instinctively what you want if you don’t tell them.

      2. Grammar Penguin*

        Not just “no need”, though. It’s offensive behavior and it needs to stop.

        And please, for the love of Dog, drop this sentence: “We’re not military and it can make people feel a bit uncomfortable outside of military circles.”

        This has nothing to do with his military service. This is something he picked up somewhere else. Standing up for women when they enter the room would be absolutely weird and contrary to both military culture and regulations.

        Military courtesies are based entirely on rank and time in service. Not race, not class, not sex.

        You stand, actually come to attention, when your commanding officer (or someone of equal or higher rank) enters the room and you call others to attention. The CO, not by rule but by custom, immediately tells everyone to be at ease. It would be a violation to do this for anyone else. And it doesn’t matter what sex your CO is.

        I *really* want someone to ask him if he insisted on doing this while serving. If so, ask him how his court martial went.

        My guess is that he might have behaved this way in some contexts (when he could get away with it) and it might even have been tolerated by his command, especially if he served a couple of decades ago, as I did. But even in the Navy 25 years ago, this would have been weird and he’d have been called out. And punished if he persisted, at least aboard my ship.

        1. Grammar Penguin*

          I find this kind of casual sexism, no matter how respectfully intended, to be offensive and I’m a man in my 50s.

          As a veteran, I’m actually a bit more offended that he (or OP) is attributing this behavior to his military service.

          This is contrary to how the US military operates, at least as of the 1990s. Dog knows every conservative culture warrior today is complaining about the “wokeness” of the Pentagon, for crying out loud.

          (Lots and lots of problems persist, mostly sexual harassment and assault, and a general culture of toxic masculinity is still tolerated and sometimes encouraged. But this kind of “courtesy” as a matter of course? I’ve never seen nor heard of such.)

    3. bamcheeks*

      Out of interest, why do you recommend not saying anything if he does it for everyone, even if it’s out of step with the broader company culture? Why isn’t that useful feedback for LW’s assistant?

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Because it’s a personal quirk then rather than apparent benevolent sexism (not a term I created and not actually “benevolent”).

      2. umami*

        I’m wondering why it seems so out of place to just stand up when greeting someone? I mean that sincerely. It feels really weird and a little uncomfortable to me to have someone standing and talking to me (even if a simple greeting) while I’m sitting down. I’m not sure why me standing up would make someone feel uncomfortable, or why their comfort trumps my comfort? I’m really not sure what I’m missing here (minus it being a gendered thing, because that would definitely need to be addressed).

        1. metadata minion*

          If I’m meeting someone for the first time and we’re doing a more formal introduction, I’d stand, but if it’s more “oh, hi Bob, how’s it going?”, that feels totally normal to me. I think it’s mostly because I assume in that situation I’m saying hi to Bob as he’s in the process of sitting down.

          1. tg33*

            That assumes you are meeting the person. From the OP I got the impression he is standing everytime the OP comes into the room, whether she is meeting him or not.

        2. bamcheeks*

          I think for the same reason it’s done in the military: it’s a formal sign of deference to hierarchy, and most civilian offices just aren’t that formal or hierarchical. Standing up because you’re having a conversations or being introduced to someone and it’s more comfortable to be at the same level: pretty normal in formal and informal settings. Standing up specifically as a nod to a hierarchal relationship: not normal in most civilian contexts.

        3. christy7h*

          OP here –
          So I’ve recently gotten some feedback from a few female coworkers about a weirdly formal vibe in our office suite. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it, and this is part of it, and wanted to get some feedback. To get to my office or the boss’s office you go through the exec admin’s reception area.
          None of the other exec admins do this, but also they are all women and none are veterans. So this isn’t the office norm, but if he’s doing it for everyone or for superiors, then it can be fine. Trying to figure out how to make our area less formal.
          We’re going through a changeover (boss is retiring, I’m being promoted and hiring my own replacement, exec admin/standing man supports both positions), so I’m having a level-setting conversation with him anyway. He does a number of things to support the boss that I won’t need, or some new things I’d like. So it’s a good time to have a conversation anyway.

          1. umami*

            In this context, it seems pretty fair and straightforward to say you prefer he not stand, if people are reading that as too formal for the setting (and you agree!). Congratulations on the promotion!

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I think expressly bringing up that you’re trying to change the vibe of your area to less formal is a good way to bring this up. If you frame it as part of the overall changes, then it’s less a case of whether or not what he’s been doing up until now is “wrong” and instead about the norms and vibe you want for the space you’re now managing. It also gives him context for the reason you’re asking for the change and gives him information that will let him make good guesses about other changes to make.

      1. Bess*

        Well, it’s a problem if it’s out of sync with the current office’s culture and if it’s making other people uncomfortable.

    4. AnonAcademicLibrarian*

      Yeah, I wonder if this is a “rank” thing. I supervised a few young folks right out of the military and my boss (the director) was so confused when they would leap to their feet every time she came into the room. I had a little chat with them about it and they both eventually unlearned that and standing at attention. Lovely people, they just had never worked in a civilian job before and had no idea the protocols.

  14. Megan*

    #1- I really like how Alison specifically said ask about backpay. I always wondered that too, there have been letters on AAM about women successfully getting payrises to be on par with male colleagues, but I am always left wondering about all the lost wages. It’s great they’re correcting it from today onwards, but the months or years in your role, what about those wages? Does anyone have a success story about getting a huge backpay payout?

    1. Kella*

      Me too. I genuinely think there should be regulations around where horror movies can be advertised because I am so dang tired of having jump scares and gross imagery suddenly forced on me while I’m scrolling facebook or watching a youtube video. I hate it so much.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It’s on TVs now too! I have a “smart” TV and it puts the advertisements on right on the home screen. I spent weeks fiddling with settings and being upset because I couldn’t figure out how to get a specific horrifying image off my home page in the recently watched bar (I had not watched it, obviously, and I still don’t know how it ended up there as I don’t share passwords and live alone). In my Googling, I saw a lot of parents complaining about the problem with no solutions being offered. Apparently, these disturbing images were coming up for them too and scaring their children. So frustrating. I don’t think censorship is the answer of course, but why can’t these companies just let us choose what kinds of advertisements we absolutely do NOT want to be shown? We’d stay on their apps/devices longer and be happier and be more likely to be shown relevant ads – how is that not a win/win?

        1. Alisaurus*

          Ugh yes. I can’t understand why we can’t choose ad categories or opt-out of certain ones.

        2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I agree with this a lot– mostly because the way ads for adults exist now is an ad is either fine for everyone or fine for no one. So you end up with some ridiculous people wanting to ban ads just because they personally don’t care for them…but they have been given no other way to stop seeing them! I wonder how much drama on this issue could be solved if people could just say “horses are terrifying, show me no ads with a horse in it” or whatever.

      2. Watry*

        Do you remember the youtube ad that pretended to lower your phone volume, so you’d try to turn it back up and the jump scare would be super-loud? And then when youtube got enough complaints and said it wasn’t okay, they put up another ad with a scary (but static) image and the phrase ‘too scary for youtube’. I still think it was intentional and I’m still angry about it.

        I’m a hermit for most of October who only internets with adblock on.

    2. Myrin*

      Heck, even the pure mention of some well-known horror movies can ruin my time. I’ve often wondered why that is – I’ve never actually watched a horror movie and I’m not particularly squeamish or easily grossed out in general but there’s just something about (gory – I don’t have that problem with psychological horror) horror movies as A Thing that will not leave me alone for hours on end.

    3. metadata minion*

      Me too! I’ve had nightmares from horror movie previews. Somehow they’re actually even worse than the same sort of content in a horror-y episode of a sci-fi show; I think because I was preparing to let my eyes glaze over while the tv tries to sell me laundry detergent and suddenly instead MONSTER TIME.

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      I was the same way when I was a teenager. Even walking past the horror movies in Blockbuster and seeing the covers wigged me out. (Yeah, I’m dating myself here.)

      I do better with it now, but I still don’t watch horror movies as a general rule, unless they’re 1) more like scary sci-fi, e.g. the Alien franchise, or 2) directed by Guillermo del Toro or Jordan Peele.

    5. Alisaurus*

      So glad I’m not alone! I get nightmares and super freaked out by any sorts of promos/clips/etc of horror movies – and even the covers for some can be a little too much, which isn’t helpful when it’s just up as a “promo post” or advertised on my Roku home screen.

      It’s why I can’t stand Halloween as a holiday, because it doesn’t just stay in the “general jack-o-lantern pumpkins and Casper cartoons” realm. My previous neighbors would put the scariest posters in their front windows, and I would have nightmares for weeks after October ended.

      1. But what to call me?*

        Yeah, for some of us it just hijacks the part of our brain that screams “THERE IS DANGER HERE”, for whatever reason, and it really sucks when any attempt to avoid having that danger button pushed randomly out of nowhere gets treated like being a fragile whining flower who’s too irrational to understand that it’s not real.

        It’s not that I can’t handle the 10 second clip you carefully orchestrated to give me the deep sense of something coming to get me. It’s that my brain will hold on to that feeling and kindly replay it at full volume late at night when my defenses are down. I despise that feeling, so I *rationally* choose to avoid things that set it off. But the people who think it’s fun think *everyone* should think it’s fun, at least everyone cool enough to count, so there’s no reason at all to give people a choice of whether they encounter that kind of thing.

        1. But what to call me?*

          To clarify, I don’t mean that everyone who enjoys horror is like that. There’s just a particular subset (especially, but not exclusively, the ones trying to make money on it) who act like anyone who wants to avoid it just needs to toughen up.

  15. Joron Twiner*

    #3 Whenever a couple of people are discussing an off-topic work at length in an all-team chat, it’s perfectly OK to ask them to take it to a private chat.

    Even if they’re discussing knitting and you don’t work on knitting, after like 20 messages or so everyone will get tired of being pinged, especially if it’s 2 people in the weeds about throwing vs. picking. It doesn’t have to be a sensitive topic, this kind of thing happens all the time on company chat channels and it’s perfectly normal to do this kind of moderation.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Agreed. A “general” chat is just that–general.

      If you can name the topic, it’s no longer “general”.

      I mean, I love all things horror, but yeah, I would realize pretty quickly that this convo needs to be taken somewhere else.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. Being constantly pinged about something non-work related would drive me up a wall. I have enough issues with concentration, and don’t need people discussing their hobbies / interests external to work to be constantly interrupting my day.

    3. Just a Minion*

      I came to say this. Once the topic doesn’t involve the majority of the participants, its time to move it to a separate chat. Regardless of topic. A general statement in regular team meeting could help. Something like ‘be conscientious of the disruption to others’

    4. I Have RBF*

      One professional networking Slack that I’m on asks people to thread sub-topics so that it doesn’t clutter up the main channel, and definitely asks that all sensitive or controversial stuff be threaded. It’s been several years since I worked with Teams, so I don’t know if it has threading that takes stuff out of the main channel.

  16. Alternative to Gift Cards*

    LW5: Another option is to make a donation in that same amount to a charity that your coworker supports, in his mother’s honor. This is a common practice in the Jewish faith, and regardless of your religious tradition, it’s a nice way to honor the deceased and recognize the loss. We got a bunch of these when my mother died, and I appreciated that good was being done in the world in her name.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think this is trickier in a work context as :
      – You may not know which charities he supports
      – You probably won’t know whether his mother shared the same views
      – It may be hard to agree on a charity, especially if those the boss supports are different from those employees are comfortable with.

      I agree that it’s very common following a death – where I am, it’s very usual for funeral notices to say something like ‘family flowers only / no flowers, by request, donations if desired to xxxx charity’

      1. MsM*

        I feel like it’s not that big a deal for the person’s supervisor or HR to just ask if there’s a preferred charity and pass the info along as a totally optional thing people can do on an individual basis, but maybe that’s just a quirk of working in nonprofits and enough people’s instincts jumping to wanting to make an “in memory” donation anyway that there will be questions about it.

        1. Allonge*

          That’s strange because to me the issue with this (if it has to be asked which charity) is that at this point the workplace (or anyone, really) should avoid putting additional tasks on the bereaved family. Unless you know there is an easy answer, figuring it out may not be a welcome task on top of all the things that need to be done.

          But as you say, this is totally cultural, too – I agree it’s a nice alternative and common in many circles. On the other hand – out of the hundreds of people I know I have this information about one person, and I am convinced that it’s just not really there for dozens, including a lot of my own family.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. Many obituaries or write-ups from the funeral home will specify organizations the deceased person supported or benefited from.

      When my mother died last year, I was blown away that one of my clients looked up the obituary from the funeral home, and made a donation to the hospice where she was cared for in her final days. It was such a kind thing for them to do, when they really didn’t need to make any gesture at all.

      1. Jamjari*

        Just what I was going to say – when my mother passed earlier this year, we have “donations can be made to X or Y” – though a gift card for dinner would also have been appreciated. I know we didn’t feel like cooking, though we also had a lot of food donated.

    3. doreen*

      My aunt died last year , and there was no wake to send flowers to – I would have had to send any flowers directly to one of my cousins and I had no idea which one . So instead I had memorial trees planted . I can’t see anyone objecting to that (and if anyone does, I’m sure I’ll find out now:) .

  17. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (pay disparity) – the timing of you raising it and the wider pay review seems linked in such a way that I think they must have investigated it, realised there are disparities like this all over the place and that it needs addressing holistically rather than case by case. I wonder which figure is closer to “market rate”, yours or his?

    Given that they’ve announced this I agree with the answer that the only way forward is to wait foe the outcome of the review. Anything else will be shut down swiftly in any case and gives the appearance that you don’t trust the company and “the process”. Of course if nothing comes out of it or the outcome is unsuitable that’s the time to take it further.

    I think it is unlikely that you’d get back pay though, other than perhaps backdated to the time you made the inquiry relative to the actual outcome of the process. Their argument will likely be “we weren’t aware of it, so we couldn’t have taken action at the time” which can be bs but sounds like it could actually be true here if the ‘company’ is actually a bunch of disparate subsidiaries. Do ask though just in case!

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      (I mentioned the “market rate” aspect, because if the coworker is the anomaly, another way of resolving that will be to reduce his salary (by agreement) or just let him go and hire someone cheaper!)

    2. Language Lover*

      I think it is unlikely that you’d get back pay though, other than perhaps backdated to the time you made the inquiry relative to the actual outcome of the process. Their argument will likely be “we weren’t aware of it, so we couldn’t have taken action at the time”

      As Alison points out in her response, it doesn’t matter if there’s an intent to pay men and women differently, it matters that they do. So “we didn’t know” when they’re the only people who had access from Day 1 to both salaries and didn’t think to compare what they already paid people in a similar position when they made their offer to the new employee doesn’t get them off the hook.

      It’s why I think I’d be in contact with a lawyer even before this process is finalized. It’d give me the sense that I was actively doing something instead of just waiting for the company to “make it right.” That’s a lot of money and the fact that they’ve been willing to pay that amount might mean the lw could have been making a lot more for all the time she’s worked there. That’s not an insignificant amount.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > That’s a lot of money and the fact that they’ve been willing to pay that amount might mean the lw could have been making a lot more for all the time she’s worked there.

        But by that logic (assuming the actual gender part has only happened recently when the male colleague was hired) – this also supports the argument that in any case where someone is paid below market rate and then gets a bump, they should get back pay for the entire time they were ‘underpaid’. Does that typically happen?

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I think the difference is that underpaying someone, absent other factors, is not actually illegal.

          If a workplace had been paying under minimum wage, for example, I’d also expect back pay to make the employee whole for the illegal treatment he suffered.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          Paying someone under market rate is unwise (because they are more likely to jump ship) but not actually illegal. It’s illegal to pay men and women differently for doing a different job. The LW should absolutely get back pay in this instance. Also it’s BS if a company claims they were ‘unaware’ of gender pay disparity. They should be checking every 6 months to a year to make sure everyone is paid fairly (and benchmarking to market rate every year at least). It’s legit to argue that Man X makes $5K more than Woman Y because he speaks fluent German and it makes it easy to deal with their 2 German clients. It’s not legit to pay a man $47K more than a woman, full stop.
          Having said that, I think LW should refrain from making any overt moves until the company is at the end of their 4-6 week review period. She should keep on them after that. Maybe even talk to a lawyer first to be ready to deal with whatever happens (and go after back pay). But it’s possible that the company has realized that someone has really screwed up in the compensation department and they have to figure out how to rectify that before announcing anything to the employees.

        3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I think the disconnect is the amount of time the suggested backpay would cover. It’s not “all of the time that OP was employed”, but all the time that new coworker and OP were paid differently. That may be ‘only’ a few months, but that can translate to a few hundred (or even thousand) dollars, given the delays during the salary band exercise.

      2. Curious*

        A good reason to consult a lawyer is so they can advise you about what backpay is available if you sue. I *think* that under the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, there is a 2year statute of limitations, but you should definitely consult with a lawyer expert in Equal Pay Act litigation.

    3. Littorally*

      Agreed. Especially given how the LW described the business as being a mishmash of different acquired companies, my bet is that they are actually doing the right thing and looking at this as a symptom of a widespread problem that requires investigation and analysis, rather than a one-off situation where they can adjust the LW’s pay and only the LW’s pay and the problem is gone (at least until another woman raises it).

      Fully investigating how you’ve got massive pay-band discrepancies and figuring out how to level-set them (in a way that won’t make the higher paid individuals all quit en masse) has got to be a fairly significant project. While it sucks that the LW has to wait — and makes the question of back pay all the more urgent — this is an area where taking the time to do it right rather than slapping a patch on the problem and calling it good is gonna be much better in the long run for the company as a whole.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yeah, in this case I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until after the analysis is done. This is a situation where there actually is a really obvious reason to need to look at everyone’s salaries. I’ve seen other times where pay questions are raised and somehow, conveniently, the administration is right about to go into a period of analyzing compensation across the board and so can’t talk about your problems right now.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I’d agree, especially since I get the impression that the merger/acquisition was pretty recent. Trying to get the administrative backbones of 2 different companies (let alone more!) is a challenging process to get right at the best of times, and I’d guess that what’s gone on here is that OP got hired at company A’s salary and pay bands and the new hire has been brought on at company B’s salary and pay bands. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that this turns out for the best.

        1. Littorally*

          Right, yeah. If we didn’t have that context, I’d lean more toward wariness of the wait as a single company ought to have some concept of what its own pay structure looks like. However, with the M&A having just happened, it makes total sense that the right hand doesn’t know what the left is paying, since those hands until recently belonged to different people.

          (Granted, one would hope that in a well handled merger, normalizing pay bands across the resulting company would have been part of the merger process, but that horse has long since left the stable.)

          1. Warrior Princess Xena*

            As someone with some tangential experience to mergers & consulting on mergers, getting everything synced up for even a tiny company can be a massive pain all around, and it can take a long time for the new parent company to straighten out all the problems that are going on in the new acquisition. I’d still agree with Allison’s advice – this is not legal, and OP should definitely request backpay for the process. But it doesn’t yet smack of malice or an unreasonable timetable, especially if they’re overhauling the entire new company’s pay bands, title structure (because you have to go through the process of making sure what A calls a Llama technician and B calls a llama technician is the same), payroll systems, and if they have any sense making sure that they have equity processes in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again because 47k is not a subtle difference.

            I’d really want to know how recent the merger was!

    4. Lauren19*

      Maybe I’m too cynical but I found the pay review to be very convenient. If the company comes back by putting OP and the male colleague in different job codes based on the “not exactly the same” work, they can then assign differeny pay bands, and avoid any salary adjustment. Not to say that will happen, but it could.

      OP – can you press to see how much transparecny they’re willing to offer on the process? What JDs are they submitting to the review? Have you reviewed them? Are they the same for everyone with your title? Given the recent consolidation of companies, is this review happening across other departments? I think you do have to wait, but I also think you can press on understanding the process of the review.

      Good luck, and good for you for pressing on this!

      1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

        Yup when LW1 said “the company is going through a re-titling and pay banding exercise,” my immediate thought was that LW1 is about to get a demotion in title (or her colleague will get an empty promotion) while their duties remain the same, thus justifying the $47k.
        LW will end up being “Llama Grooming Associate” and colleague will be “Llama Grooming Technician,” just watch.

      2. Littorally*

        I don’t think you’re too cynical, and in a different circumstance I’d agree with you, but given the situation the LW described (recent merger of multiple companies), it’s not at all unlikely that their overall pay structure is a hot mess currently and needs structural overhaul, not just a patch fix.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          This. I think people are used to companies acting in bad faith that they aren’t really thinking through the whole situation. It is totally normal for salaries for the same role to be wildly different across different companies, so when you merge companies together, you are going to have problems. It would not shock me at all if in the new merged entity one or more managers are making significantly less than their subordinates. But trying to fix each situation ad hoc will result in even less consistency with salaries and titles. You kind of have to throw out the old system and say “Ok, in the ideal world, how is this structured, what are the titles, what are the responsibilities of each role and what is the market rate of that role” and then see where that leaves you with the personnel you have and their current titles and pay.

      3. Inigo Montoya*

        Maybe I’m cynical, but this was my thought too. Document all exchanges with your manager an HR on the topic (including write ups of verbal conversations, date, time, etc) and hold on to them pending the review results. It could be that they raise your pay to match your co-worker, or they could “band” you differently to try to justify the pay disparity, or a combination. If it is either of the latter 2, you should definitely consult a lawyer. You should probably consult one now just in case, but I would avoid anything more until the result of the company’s banding. They might do the right thing, but $47k is a very large raise to give and if there are others in a similar situation, the company will be under budget pressure to limit raises.

  18. The Night-Mare Life in Death*

    LW4, when you check if he does it to men too, can you also check if he does it solely to people in higher positions? Because if it is it may just be muscle memory making him stand up for his “superior officer” (you’re not in the army, but you kind of hold that rank in the company structure)

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        Not true. My former male boss stood when ANYONE entered his office; male or female and he was never in the military. I think he felt it rude to be seated when someone walked in and it did feel more…respectful or welcoming that he stood to welcome people in.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Is he a time traveler from the 1890s? Because this is a super dated practice, as well as being a still-current military thing.

      2. Baldrick*

        I see this often in some fields. My bank person, the lawyer for selling my home, when I worked at a design company… the folks who have ‘clients’ in an office all tend to stand up to shake hands and say hello.

        Maybe culturally you never encounter someone standing up, but it does happen elsewhere. Saying “this isn’t a thing in civilian life at any level” is a big stretch!

        1. tg33*

          Hm. I think what I’m thinking of is an office where everyone is getting on with their work, it would be very weird to stand up and greet everyone as they come in and out of the office! In a situation where you are greeting clients it makes sense.

          1. Littorally*

            Yeah, in a large open office scenario it isn’t going to happen — the tradition of standing up when someone (female, client, etc) enters is more about when they are approaching you or the group you’re in.

        2. tg33*

          I guess I’m taking my cue from the OP saying it feels weird, so I assume that no-one else is doing it.

  19. The Night-Mare Life in Death*

    LW2…police report, then HR. I’m not clear on what coworkers motives here are but then there’s a paper trail, which I’m sure your insurance company is going to want to see.

    And seriously, what on earth is up with your coworker???

    1. UKDancer*

      I was wondering what was up with the co-worker, that’s a really worrying thing to do and the OP gives no indication of motive or what the relationship with this co-worker is like generally . So I do wonder why co-worker has decided to commit criminal offences.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, this is the worst letter to have an OP who is succinct and to-the-point.
        (I’m jesting, of course – I’m way too curious and always want to know everything about stories like this, but obviously this isn’t a “story” for OP but her actual life and it’s great she’s managed to sound relatively calm about the whole thing. But man would I like to know everything that’s going on there.)

  20. Punk*

    LW1: This doesn’t change Alison’s advice, but since this coworker is new, see if you can do a little digging and find out if he’ll eventually be taking on different duties once he’s trained up. I’ve seen this kind of thing pop up before in my field (accounting) where the higher-paid person doing the same work had the same experience but was also a CPA, so they fulfilled a compliance purpose just by being present and performed certain small quarterly tasks that weren’t part of the daily work flow and therefore weren’t visible to coworkers. Companies do this all the time by making the roles just different enough to make it hard to argue the point. Tldr you deserve equal pay but you don’t want to get shut down with a “gotcha,” and your coworker might still be new enough that you haven’t seen the intended full scope of his role.

    1. M2*

      I think it’s great what LW1 is doing but I would wait at least the 4 weeks. I know it’s frustrating but I’m guessing they are trying to get answers especially since the company was bought and reorganized.

      I had someone on my team (A)ask a newer person on the team (B) their salary. A came to me upset that B made $25k more than them. This was INCORRECT! I know all salaries on my team and told them that no B did not make that salary. I was not at liberty to disclose other peoples salaries and was allowed by HR to tell A that they actually made a (little) more (they had been with my team longer so seniority and pay bumps). A didn’t believe me and went to the head HR made a stink and then you guessed it called a lawyer!

      I had to call B in with HR and B at first said they didn’t say that # then told us they inflated their salary (but still said they did not say $25k more) to sound better so they could get more when they leave for a new job.

      These were both mid- level people mind you. It ended up getting sorted (and A had to pay for a lawyer who got them nothing).
      I look at both of those employees and their judgment differently now with how they both handled it. A also basically went around talking to people about it after being told and shown by me and HR that the salary information was false. So yeah, that wasn’t great either. HR dealt with it on their side too.

      I’m happy for people to share salary (our company has bands with scales so it’s within that band and steps within the band and it’s not a secret or that much different maybe 20-40k different within the scale but sometimes say an assistant and coordinator will be in same scale but coordinator will get more if they have more work to do. Same with assistant and associate director occasionally).

      I’m not saying coworker is lying but I think waiting to see what HR says is important without rushing in. Was he merged from a different company who paid more for that role? Did they screw up? Do they need to redo their HR salary scales? Is the $47k number incorrect? Is it all true and they screwed up or is your coworker getting paid too much money?

      1. pally*

        Yeah- I often wonder about the veracity of folks when revealing salary. Speaking just for myself, I sure don’t want to reveal that I make less money than someone else. Fudging seems to be a good way to spare my feelings.

        There was a guy I knew in high school who claimed he was 6 feet tall. Yet we were at same eye level (I’m 5′ 2″ tall). Told him so, too. Nevertheless, he always insisted he was 6 feet tall.

      2. JustaTech*

        The one time I’ve asked coworkers one of them said “let me check” and pulled up her paystub so I knew she wasn’t inflating her number.
        It came up when my immediate peer was leaving and told me hew new salary and what % increase it was (so I did some quick math and said “they’re paying you what here?”). She was getting paid way, way more than me for the same duties, title and terminal degree. The difference was that she had been a temp for a while, so had a higher salary to make up for no benefits (insurance, 401K, etc). So it wasn’t a gendered thing, but it was yet another instance of them paying me as little as they could get away with. (I got a raise, but not to that level.)

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I think if that were the case OP would have known it. They do pretty much the same work and seem to have the same experience. Now OP might not know the guy’s qualifications but if there were specific qualifications that justify higher salaries in her field, OP probably knows them.

      I think is a case of, well he negotiated better. Which is icky on its own.

    3. Eastern Shore*

      This brought me back to my first real job, 3 years in, when they hired a man in the same role, with 0 experience, and not only paid him a lot more but gave him a prized downtown indoor parking spot. He was eventually fired because he just wasn’t good at the job (but was a very nice person). It took me years, maturity, and confidence to look back and see all the awful sexism in that office, the management-condoned sexual harassment, the inappropriateness, all in the name of being in a “cool” industry. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself it was wrong and be the support no woman in that office had.

      This happens a lot. No commenter here should cast doubt on the intentions or reasons. It’s wrong and it hurts people, careers, and mental well-being.

  21. Chirpy*

    #2 – Police report!!! then HR. You do not want this guy escalating his attacks on you. It’s already criminal vandalism.

    And if management/ HR brushes this off, take it higher. I once had a coworker who got creepier and more dangerous (not specifically to me, to everyone) until our bad manager finally had to deal with the guy’s death threats and fired him; he came back and vandalized the building. It all could have been avoided. That guy now has a restraining order against him to stay away from the company (and bad manager got fired shortly after).

  22. *kalypso*

    When my mum died my dad came to stay with me for a month and he was perfectly happy to eat at home, but was so concerned about putting me out that I could only get away with making peanut butter sandwiches and rice bowls. If I wanted him to have a proper meal, taking him out was the only way to get him to feel like he was allowed to eat it, and meant he could have things my mum never made for him to get him to keep eating. Family friend died and his carer was so busy she never had time to cook for herself but eating out with friends was ‘a thing to do’ so she had meals out a lot.

    I wouldn’t blink at a voucher for a sit down restaurant in a sympathy card, especially if the person had done the legwork and at least tried to find a place I would like. I don’t like the corollary of ‘you’re grieving so you can’t eat out’, since that’s not really how grieving works. If it’s something they want to do and have any inkling at all it may be welcome (so perhaps not a Korean BBQ all you can eat experience for a vegan, or a Wagyu tasting menu for a Hindu) and there hasn’t been any explicit ‘in lieu of flowers/gifts please donate to this meaningful charity’ where an explicit ‘please give money and cognitive load of dealing with money to this specific other person/company’ has been signalled, then I think it’s a lovely thing to do.

  23. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    #3, can you create a channel for them, titled something mildly funny like “The Haunted Chat” and add them to it, send a message like, “I’ve summoned all the ghosties to this tower of terror for their spooky topics and now poof I’m gone” and leave?

    1. Ferret*

      I don’t know if I’m just being a horrible grump but I would find that sort of message pretty childish and cringeworthy. A lot of horror has absolutely nothing to do with hauntings or “spooky” stuff, eg Get Out, A Quiet Place

      1. SAS*

        Yeah, it’s an off-topic channel but still a work chat. Just create the group and direct everyone; Hi, I’ve created a channel for ongoing horror film chats to be moved out of our main chat. Enjoy.

      2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        I don’t think you’re being a grump. I don’t get why wording it like that would be better. I’d feel slightly patronised, I know it wouldn’t be the intention but it feels weirdly indirect, as if the person saying it thinks this is a whole situation which has to be “handled”. There’s an infantilising tone to it.

        You can just say “this feels like a topic for a private” chat.

    2. Heather*

      There’s no need to do all this like you’re a kindergarten teacher redirecting the naughty children with an alternate activity. LW can just say “hey do you guys mind taking the horror movie talk to a separate channel”.

  24. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    OP#2, this is a police matter, and you need to get them involved. Is there any reason that the coworker is exhibiting such unhinged behavior?

    1. Petty_Boop*

      Yeah there seems to be a LOT left out of that matter. “Should I tell my boss?” is not the right response. “I called the police as soon as I saw the camera evidence” IS the right response to what she identified. But, yeah WHY would this dude DO this? Like, does he think she took his job? His parking space? She turned him down for a date? So many questions.

      1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

        Agreed. I’m guessing there was an adverse job action, or some type of romantic entanglement, or possibly rebuffing a romantic overture. For whatever reason, definitely need to involve law enforcement.

  25. Panda*

    For #5, one of the best things my mom’s cousins did for us when Nana died was give my mom a gift card to Olive Garden. They told her that when things settle down, take the whole (immediate) family out to dinner and talk about all the good times we had with her. That was much better than flowers or meals near the time of death. I now do that for all my friends who have a loved one die and they all appreciate it.

    1. Gray Lady*

      This. The family might not feel like a “night out” during the weeks immediately after the loss, but the time generally comes when people want to resume those sorts of normal things, and taking that step is part of the process, too. If the time around the loss has cost them a lot in food and other numerous small expenses, having a gift card for that later night out could be really helpful because they won’t feel like, “Gosh, dealing with Grandma’s death really hit the budget, we’d love a night out but we’ll skip it for awhile” if they have the gift card.

    2. christy7h*

      oh this is a lovely idea of how to frame it. We did something similar when a grandparent died, and it was lovely.

  26. Introvert Teacher*

    People seem to be jumping to wild conclusions about military dude’s behavior here and I don’t get it. I agree with the idea that he might be standing for those who “outrank” him from what he’s been taught during his service. He may believe it is a sign of respect, and that may have been true in his previous work culture in the military. Perhaps he is only standing for women, true — I have no clue if that’s a military culture thing. More information is needed about his overall treatment of people of every gender in the workplace before we jump to “calling out” his “paternalistic” and “sexist” behavior.
    If it turns out this is more of a “showing respect for rank” behavior, well, now he works in an office and what may have been interpreted as respect in a different context has no frame of reference. Maybe the manager could cut him a little slack here — he’s trying to be professional, but it doesn’t fit the norms of the office. He just needs some coaching. What if the manager treated this as an office culture conversation? Easy to do — “Hey EA, we don’t really stand to greet others in the office. I’d feel more comfortable, and it’s plenty polite, for you to remain seated and simply verbally greet others. That way your workflow isn’t interrupted.” OP is his boss and she can just be direct with him — hopefully given his background he’ll follow orders from then on out.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I’ve done a search for “paternalistic” and “sexist” and literally nobody has “jumped” to calling this guy paternalistic or sexist: they have just said that if he is only doing this to women, then it may be an indication of paternalistic or sexist attitudes to women, or talked about people they have known in real life who did stuff like this and were an indication of paternalism or sexism. LW mentioned the fact that he’s a veteran because she recognises that it might be just something he learned in the military and has transferred to civilian life without realising that the connotations might be different.

      There is always this attitude that is someone mentions the word “sexism” people lose their ability to read critically and jump straight to OMG THIS GUY IS SO SEXIST DESTROY HIIIIM. If you read more carefully, you’ll see that’s not remotely what’s going on.

      What IS sexist is the idea that women can’t push back on this behaviour if it makes them uncomfortable. If you’re saying that this guy’s female boss has to suck up her discomfort with him because saying, “hey, I’d prefer you don’t do that” would cause her male assistant discomfort– yes, that is literally sexist! And it’s also pretty damn patronising and paternalistic to the assistant, because it’s assuming that he can’t handle straight-forward feedback that civilian life is different to military life, which, like, I’m pretty sure he will not be surprised by.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I mean regardless of whether it was sexist or not, if the OP doesn’t like it then I think it’s ok to ask the member of staff not to do it. It’s really patronising to assume that the staff member can’t adapt to the fact that in civilian life standing up when someone enters the room is not the norm most places and can make colleagues uncomfortable. Explain you’d rather they didn’t do it and I’d hope most people probably would at least try not to do it.

  27. Richard Hershberger*

    LW2: This is, as many have pointed out, a criminal matter. So far as I can tell, no one has pointed out that it is also a civil matter. If the LW has insurance that is paying for the repairs, this would mostly be the insurance company’s decision whether or not to pursue. But even then there might be damages and lost wages while getting the car repaired.

  28. DrSalty*

    You can use a gift card to order take out. I suspect this is what your coworkers are thinking ala casserole.

    1. Martin*

      When my unexpectedly father died my department sent me cash and gift cards so I wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with mundane issues like meals while grieving and making funeral arrangements and helping out-of-town relatives. I certainly did not expect it and was so grateful.

      My manager even came to the service though he worked out of an office 4 hours away.

      I participated in future sad occasions for other employees I was a way to repay their kindness and help them in a time of need.

      1. ECHM*

        I wish I had thought of that when my father died. My wonderful colleagues took up a cash collection and my mom made me donate it to one of the charities in the obituary.

  29. legal rugby*

    LW #4 – I’m a woman, a veteran, and I work for DOD now. This is not a normal military thing. In the military, you would stand for an officer. There is nothing that specifies that it be done for women. There may be another aspect to their identities that is driving that – southerner, misunderstood chivalric enthusiast, or something similar, but please dont hesitate to address this with them. I would be annoyed as hell if one of my soldiers did this, and I would talk to them about how they were potentially affecting the women that they do this with.

    1. Melissa*

      But we don’t know if he only does it with women! Step one is to find a male (get one off the street, since apparently there are no men in this office), send him in, and see what happens.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        I agree. My boss used to stand for anyone who came into his office, reach out and shake their hand and then gesture to sit down, etc… Man or woman–it didn’t matter. If you came into his office, he stood. I think he was probably raised/taught that it’s impolite to remain seated when someone enters. But, actually, if I’m being honest, it FELT very welcoming and like “I’m happy you’re here, let’s talk.” So, if this guy is doing this for everyone, I’d let him continue. It’s such a little thing to be upset or weirded out by IMHO.

        1. umami*

          This is exactly what I do. I’ve had a direct report and my boss come into my office this morning, and that’s what I did with both of them.

  30. Snooks*

    #2 Photograph all present damage so there is a “baseline” for future damage, then go to the police. Follow police advice, but be very careful. If/When the vandal realizes that there is a camera, they may escalate and change what they do, Be careful at home as well.

  31. Melissa*

    Are you being drastically underpaid, or is he drastically overpaid? Because if it’s the former, you may just want to look for a new job!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I don’t really think this is a matter of somebody else being overpaid. There is a gender-based wage disparity, which is illegal.

      Moving jobs just to get away from illegal behavior on the part of your company is just a ridiculous expectation.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      OP doesn’t indicate they are unhappy with their job so leaving doesnt really make sense here.

      Theres a difference between being under/over paid and being underpaid in relation to a man doing the same exact work. One is a you change jobs to get a better salary. The other is a the employer legally must make it right.

      This is the latter. So changing jobs to get a higher salary isnt a releveant “fix” to OP’s problem.

    3. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Until the salary/title review is done, this would be a poor decision. It is possible LW1’s company (the one that was acquired in the merger) WAS underpaying her significantly and the newly formed company will just raise her salary. If it is a large company, it is reasonable that new guy was hired as a Llama Manager and the salary range is “100K – 200k” and they gave him 150K, while LW1 is making 100K. Unless whoever approved the new hire’s salary had LW1’s work history in front of them to realize that LW1’s responsibilities and experience were at the identical level, they would never have realized the problem– she’s at the bottom of the band and she should be in the middle.

  32. 15 Pieces of Flair*

    TL/DR: Some employers will force you to file a formal complaint or take legal action to get paid fairly. The impacted individual could be uncomfortable taking these steps due to concerns about covert retaliation, damage to the organization’s reputation (particularly in politics or non-profits), etc.

    At a previous employer (tech startup) I learned that E, a female implementation manager, was making only 70k. I immediately knew her salary was absurdly low because I had been given the salary range for the IM position when I was interviewing the prior year. E had started as a contractor, was converted to fulltime in a lower ranking role, and then received only a standard percentage raise when she was promoted.

    She was being underpaid period, but the fact that she was underpaid relative to similarly qualified men in similar roles was the actionable part. She wasn’t comfortable approaching any of our male colleagues, so I approached D, a recently hired male implementation manager in the same major metro, and learned he was making 113k. I shared this info with E with his permission.

    E took this issue, minus the specific comparative salary from D, to her management chain. Her manager and grandboss were supportive but only managed to get a 20k raise approved by executives. At that point I encouraged E to file a formal compliant as she had evidence of gender based pay discrimination thanks to D.

    Unfortunately, the company was a boys club run by a “loyalty” obsessed narcissist. E was, probably rightfully, concerned that if she flagged the disparity with hard numbers she would be marked as a troublemaker. E never did achieve pay equity there and has since moved on to a higher paying job at different company, as have D and I.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I can’t work out whether the E-D-I in the last sentence is deliberate or not, but I like it.

  33. Up and Away*

    #5 – I worked at a company where they used to take up cash donations for the bereaved, which I also thought was a little odd, but they insisted on it as well.

  34. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m not sure why OP in #5 considers the gift card to be inappropriate, but to me it just sounds like another version of bringing food over, organizing a sign up sheet, etc. that people do when someone’s suffered a loss.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      And you don’t have to eat at the restaurant – Olive Garden definitely does take-out and most restaurants do as well. But also sometimes people need an escape from their grief and so going out to eat might fit that bill.

      So if OP’s thinking it’s weird for the why are we gifting a meal out to grieving people it’s really not.

    2. NeedRain47*

      I think b/c it’s a specific restaurant? I hope someone knows the bereaved person actually likes Olive Garden.

    3. pally*

      And the gift card can be stored and used when convenient. It won’t spoil.
      There’s a limit to how much food one can consume when folks bring dishes over during a time of loss. Once the refrigerator and freezer are full, then what?

      1. Alisaurus*

        Agreed. We were literally giving food away to the neighbors when my grandpa passed because we had no more space to store the perishables.

        1. pally*

          See, that’s a burden I absolutely do not want to place on folks already dealing with loss. But I do want to be supportive in their time of need.

    4. New Senior Mgr*


      What are we becoming in society when this is considered inappropriate?

      I’m sorry, it’s been that kind of morning already. More coffee. Live and let live.

      1. Potato Potato*

        I think we’re being confronted by the reality that we all come from slightly different backgrounds. Not a general decline of society thing, just people with different norms around death/the workplace/gifts.

        1. Sara C*

          Of course it’s fine to have different norms and expectations. But I feel like the response to that is to be open to people doing things a bit differently than you expect, not to call what is certainly a well-intentioned and kind gesture “wildly inappropriate” as the LW did here.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is where I am. I think the constant criticism of people trying to do something thoughtful and then constantly being told their doing it all wrong or inappropriate is also not helpful. Is it perfect? No, very few things will be because humans come from different places and don’t mindread. Is it saying to your coworker we are so sorry for your loss and would like to help feed you in your time of grief? Yes. I would hate to get to a point where people don’t acknowledge grief and loss for fear of being though of as “wildly inappropriate” for sending a simple gift card.

            And, having had to find room for a dozen casserole dishes while planning a funeral, I think a restaurant gift card, even if Olive Garden is not my personal favorite, sounds like a perfectly fine and kind gesture.

          2. umami*

            Agreed! I feel the same way about the poor guy standing up when someone approaches him, it can definitely seem weird to some (and does to his boss), and rightfully others have pointed out that if it’s specific to women it is problematic, but neither of these situations seem so odd as to register as bad or inappropriate. More of a hmm, YMMV.

  35. raven_smiles*

    LW5 – a gift card to Olive Garden (or anywhere that serves food) will be really appreciated. Having casseroles and food at the house for the immediate week after someone dies is good, but the gift card is a way to help for the long-term grieving process. Olive Garden has a pick-up option, so it’s not like there’s a requirement to go in for a sit-down meal. I’d add a blurb in the card that says something to the effect of, “We got you this gift card so you don’t have to cook one night.” The intent is there, they’ll appreciate it, even if they don’t end up using it they’ll appreciate it.

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

      I like the idea of a restaurant card but I think they should make sure it is a place they can eat/ enjoy.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        When my best friend’s husband died, I hopped on a train immediately and stayed with her for a while. Some of his family came over and brought fast food from a popular fried chicken chain. I hate chicken (both the taste and the ethics of factory farming), but I ate the chicken that day so that (1) I wouldn’t starve and (2) I wouldn’t inconvenience the family or cause offense by borrowing a car to go get different food just for me.

        Okay, maybe this person doesn’t love Olive Garden? They still might eat the food out of necessity. They still might have family or friends who come over to visit and support the bereaved and those people need to eat. I think if they *already know* this person loves the Boston Market in town, that a gift card to there would be preferable. If they don’t, I don’t think they need to do any handwringing over making absolutely sure it’s a place the person enjoys. It is not a worthless gesture even if they don’t personally love the restaurant.

  36. Lynn*

    Regarding letter number 4

    Do not stand up when anyone approaches

    Stay seated in your chair

    That solves the problem

    1. Ferret*

      I am confused about this response – you realise that LW4 isn’t the one standing up and is asking how to approach this with someone she manages right?

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

      As Alison says, if he does it for everyone this may just be a quirk and people are allowed to have quirks. It’s not a problem unless its gender based.

    3. Anonymoose*

      Well, if the stander was the one writing in, your response, *might* have been relevant and provide a solution, but since he didn’t….

  37. Michelle Smith*

    While I agree with Alison completely on the response to LW1, I also think LW1 should consider whether the newly merged companies have completed all of the reorganization and layoffs. Be on the lookout for any whiff of retaliation for raising this issue. Make sure you document every single conversation about this pay disparity. Download or print any emails and make sure the only copy is not on the company’s servers or equipment. If you talk to someone over the phone or in person, make a record of that conversation by writing down what you took away from it and emailing them to confirm (or at least keeping a running journal of contemporaneous notes). CYA now so that if they do double down, you make your lawyer’s case much easier to make.

  38. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Jumping off the page like Rudolph’s red nose is the fact the coworker is making **$47,000** more than OP. This isn’t a few dollars here and there because he’s got a little more experience or a bump because he’s got different licensure, this is an entire starting salary for a preschool teacher’s difference. That is a LOT OF MONEY. I agree OP ought to consult with an attorney about this while concurrently waiting to see what HR/the company does. Unless there’s more to the story, that’s a huge disparity and needs addressing. Because yikes.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had the same reaction. They’re not off by >$10K, that’s a *huge* chunk of change – more than US median income!

      I am very rarely a call-a-lawyer type, but I would consult with an employment lawyer ASAP. That disparity is very, very off, and I’d have hard time staying employed at a place that was not solving this immediately. I would be very interested in whether this is a gendered pay disparity issue as well – is he making more than just the women or more than ALL of the existing comparables?

    2. Alisaurus*

      I feel like it makes sense that it occurred if they were each in different companies when the merger happened. But not that it would KEEP HAPPENING the minute anyone raised the issue to the people in charge.

      Also, how many other people in the company are in similar positions and just don’t know it?

      1. blu*

        I would guess that’s exactly why they are doing a multi-week review. When OP raised it, they likely uncovered other disparities. It sounds like they are addressing it immediately and holistically, and that can take a little time to get your arms around. A month doesn’t seem like an unfair amount of time for them to sort through what’s happening here. It could be gender driven or it could be that the companies historically paid differently, or one company didn’t historically have actual bands, or one company gave managers full discretion in selecting pay. They won’t know until they have the chance to do a full review. A rush to change this one OP’s pay might actually be worse for the OP so it’s worth seeing how this plays out.

        1. Alisaurus*

          That’s where I think I was going earlier and got distracted. Oops. lol But yes, this exactly.

  39. Keymaster of Gozer*

    4: Years ago I had a member of staff who insisted on calling me ‘Mrs (my last name)’ as it was a sign of respect to him. Didn’t call any of the men ‘Mr so and so’ and women at the same level as him didn’t get this reaction either.

    All it took was a quiet word from me to stop it. I pointed out that his behaviour was significantly abnormal for the office workplace and he should instead take cues from others here as to how to interact.

    He stopped doing it pretty fast! I’m glad because our exec of department was also a woman and if he’d addressed her in such a manner the detonation would have been pretty damaging to the load bearing walls of the building. Phew!

  40. Cait*

    When my husband died, I received gift cards for food from everyone – distant friends and family, work colleagues (mine and his), even my insurance agent. Some were generic like grubhub or uber eats, others were for specific restaurants. It was honestly the thing that helped me the most in those first few months. There were a lot of days that I couldn’t even be bothered to turn on the oven and heat up a frozen casserole, but ordering delivery was always doable.

  41. And while we’re at it…*

    #5 – some folks have severe food allergies (raises hand), and a gift card to a restaurant can make it easier to find something for them to eat vs getting a homemade casserole.

    Also, i am cautious about eating food from folks I dont know super well due to potential cleanliness/hygiene issues. Having food prepared in a commercial kitchen makes me feel more secure.

    1. Panicked*

      There have been plenty of megathreads on this site showing *exactly* why I don’t eat food that people prepare at home (unless I know them and have seen them cook before). People are GROSS. I would much rather have a gift card or pre-packaged meal over a homemade meal any day.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        The two times I have gotten food poisoning have been from restaurants. Nobody has ever gotten sick from my cooking, even though I have a cat who goes on the counters. (No, I do not prepare food directly on the counters – I use a clean cutting board. If you know how to keep cats off the counters, let me know.)

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Also, my brother worked at Long John Silver’s when we were in high school. You don’t even want to know.

  42. Cruciatus*

    Regarding the gift card….my supervisor’s mom just died and people were collecting money to buy one of those trees or flowers you see on the funeral websites under someone’s obituary. I’m not sure what happened but it ended up becoming a gift card for our local flower/landscaping shop (because she has a nice garden and enjoys that sort of thing). In the end it was a good gift idea because she was able to buy pots to put clippings of plants she got from her mom’s house.

    So while an Olive Garden gift card is a little odd, maybe he loves it there and thinks it’s comfort food? Maybe his mom did? It could be considered a little thoughtless but I don’t think it’s so odd it should be denied. Honestly, when my mom died I got nothing but a card! While nice, if I had known Olive Garden was considered and dropped as an idea I’d be like, always err on the side of Olive Garden!

  43. Petty_Boop*

    So, the salary question is interesting to me. What if, as in my case, each person negotiates their salary coming in, it isn’t “assigned” by the company. Can the company still be in trouble of “Joe” negotiated a higher salary than “Mary” did? My first “big” corporate job, I didn’t want to price myself out of the role, so I said, “I’d like $XK” and they said, “Great. Done.” Later I found out that not only were other people (at the time all men) were making about 20% more than I was, people who were working FOR ME were making more than I was. But, my thought at the time was, “they negotiated their worth better than I did.” When I left that company I asked for a LOT more and I got it. But, can a company be held responsible for paying a woman less than her male colleagues if she set the salary herself?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I would like to think so. They know what the salaries are, they know where the wage disparities lie, so it really is on them.

      Women (and minorities) traditionally don’t negotiate as well as white men. It’s a proven fact. If a company sees a woman negotiating ridiculously low, they should address that during the negotiations.

      1. ferrina*

        Women (and minorities) traditionally don’t negotiate as well as white men.

        This is a learned trait. Women who negotiate are more likely to be labelled as abrasive, aggressive, demanding or “shrill”. The same behavior from men is more likely to be labeled assertive, go-getter, or “knowing their worth”.

        I’m a naturally direct woman. I love to be able to say what I want directly. I learned quickly that when I did that at work, I would get the run-around or people would label me demanding. When I added in some emotional management- some compliments, positioning my ask as a favor, etc.- the thing I wanted was more likely to get done. Meanwhile, my male colleagues could ask directly and get a straight answer. I’m incredibly effective at emotional management, but it’s really nice to have the option not to do the stupid Dance of Praise just to get a basic task done. (see also: my ideas get shot down in a meeting then a male colleague says literally the same thing 10 minutes later and is praised as a genius)

        So it’s not that women aren’t’ as good at it. It’s that the hurdles are higher, and if we ask for less then we’re more likely to get it.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ Thank you. It’s not that white men have some sort of inherent brilliance at negotiation that women and minorities are born without!

        2. Peanut Hamper*

          Thank you for the clarification. What I meant was both that women and minorities either don’t know that they can negotiate, or that they get negative feedback for attempting to negotiate. (Believe me, as a minority, I have seen a lot of what you are describing here.)

      2. Sara*

        There have also been studies showing that when women do negotiate, it’s not received as well as it is for men.

    2. pally*

      Yes the company CAN be held responsible for disparate pay in spite of candidate negotiation.

      When you were hired, irrespective of your having negotiated a salary figure, the company must pay you what your counter parts are paid. They should have presented you with the higher salary figure even though the figure you negotiated was lower.

      If higher paid counterparts are hired after you are, the company should adjust upwards your salary to be comparable.

      (this is assuming all other factors are equal: experience, education, job duties, workload, etc)

    3. I should really pick a name*

      That still falls under this part of Alison’s answer

      It’s illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work, even if there’s no sexist intention behind it

      Regardless of negotiating, it’s the company that actually decides what they pay someone.

    4. Alex*

      Yes. It is the company’s responsibility to make sure that they are paying equitably. They SHOULD have said to you, oh, the salary for this is XK +20, congrats, you get more than you asked for. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t negotiate–in fact, that’s the whole point. How could you possibly know what your male colleagues were making? You couldn’t, but they could, and they should have done the right thing and paid you properly.

    5. ferrina*

      Yes, if women are making less money for the same role. It is the responsibility of the company to ensure that there is no gendered discrepancy between pay, regardless of what the root cause is.

      In your example, the root cause is societal. Women are often treated differently than men for the same behaviors, including when it comes to negotiating. I worked at one place that hired two engineers at the same time- one was a white man and one a woman of color. Similar experience levels, exact same role. The company extended an offer, and both candidates counter-offered. When the man counter-offered, the CEO was delighted. He said, “Here is a man that knows his worth and won’t take anything less! Give him what he’s asking!” When the woman counter-offered, the CEO was furious. He said, “This uppity women is so arrogant! Why would we pay her more? We already gave her a generous offer, and she’s trying to take advantage of us! Retract her offer!”
      (note: the hiring manager refused to withdraw the offer and essentially demanded equal treatment from the CEO, lest the hiring manager go the candidate and offer to find her an employment attorney, so the CEO begrudgingly met both candidates counter-offers)

      I’ve had a company offer more than I asked, because that was what their salary band was for the role and they didn’t want me to later discover that I was making less than my colleagues for the same work. For them, it was all about ensuring that their staff could trust that they would be treated fairly.

      1. Satan’s Panties*

        Of course. The man showed gumption. I bet he placed his hands flat on the CEO’s desk and looked him square in the eye when he made his counteroffer. Like a man. /heavy sarcasm

    6. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Not a lawyer, but from various statements above, I’m not sure a company would be able to use this as an out.

    7. Anne Shirley*

      Yes. A male letter writer asked Alison this very question, but I am having difficulty finding it. I believe it was this year. If not, last year for sure.

    8. Bug*

      I”d say yes. I lowballed myself in the role I’m in now, and my offer was $10K more than I had asked for. So it can and does happen.

    9. Bess*

      Yes, because the incoming employee doesn’t set the salary range, the company does. The company is the only entity in the position to ensure they are paying their employees fairly for their work, because they set and see all the salaries. Incoming employees don’t typically have that information.

      Underpaying someone who doesn’t know any better isn’t really in the company’s best interest–the company will pay later in morale, retention, etc.

    10. Irish Teacher*

      I think this is a problematic thing about people negotiating their own salaries because the reality is that some groups are more likely to know their own worth (eg, people with parents in a similar profession to them are more likely to know the usual pay for that job than somebody going into a very different profession to that of those they grew up around), some groups are more likely to have been socialised to be confident in negotiating (middle-class white males, in particular are more likely to have been taught to “speak up” and “be confident” whereas other groups are more likely to be taught to be deferential and polite and humble) and some groups are more like to be harmed by asking negotiating more aggressively (a man who negotiates a higher wage might be seen as confident and assertive whereas a women negotiating the same amount might be seen as “too pushy” and “a bit arrogant”).

      So I think this is one of the cases where it might be reasonable to say “intent doesn’t matter,” to reference a discussion from another post. They have set up the negotiations in a way which benefits certain groups above others, even if they are not intending to pay them more.

    11. Boof*

      Yep, as others have said, having salary based mostly on individual negotiations is usually where a huge amount of bias gets introduced

  44. Unfettered scientist*

    Very disappointed in Alison’s response to the horror movie question! The advice should be move it to a random channel or make sure it’s a thread so people don’t get notifications but it’s not an inappropriate topic on the face of it. This is something lw has a problem with but not something that should generally get shut down. Lw has a hangup and shouldn’t impose it on anyone else. This reasoning opens up the ability to shut down all sorts of normal topics because they might make someone uncomfortable, like talking about kids or food. And at some point it’s on the reader of the threat and they need to either avert their gaze, mute the channel for a bit, or do some exposure therapy

    1. I Have RBF*

      I am in lots of chat groups where a prolonged discussion on any topic, but especially controversial or triggery subjects, should be taken to a thread, not constantly crowding the main channel. One example is posting an article link, then having discussions in a thread off of it.

      That is just a simple courtesy to not clutter up a general channel with niche topics.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        If you read my comment, my advice is the same as what you’re suggesting. I just don’t think horror movies are a special or sensitive topic that needs to be “shut down” Treat it as any other off topic conversation that’s clogging up a main communication line.

        1. But what to call me?*

          Depending on how it’s being discussed, it may very well be a sensitive topic, especially in a work context where it’s harder for people to opt out. It’s a genre that is meant to include some disturbing elements, because that’s part of how horror works, so yes, if you want to talk about those disturbing elements, you should be mindful of whether your coworkers want to hear them. That’s different than clogging up the group thread with a discussion that many people will find boring, and it’s also different than discussing an everyday topic in a way that is normally considered safe for work but that happens to be triggering for someone in a way that no one else knows about.

          It’s not a moral failing to get carried away and forget that not everyone draws the SFW/NSFW line in the same place, but there’s a reason that line exists and it’s usually around the kind of topics that should be opt-in instead of opt-out. Moving the conversation to a separate thread is a perfectly reasonable solution, but given the kind of details that can end up being discussed during a lot of enthusiastic horror film conversations, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that it might have strayed into ‘need to shut this down’ territory. And people should not have to either avoid the regular office group chat until enough time has passed that the conversation has hopefully moved on or get *exposure therapy* to avoid that at work, anymore than they should for, say, an endless stream of diet talk (as opposed to less loaded food discussions) or an accounting of their coworkers’ sex lives.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t understand how what you’re suggesting is significantly different from what she suggested.

  45. NYer who moved to FL*

    LW1, I think 4-6 weeks is warp speed for a study of pay issues. That to me says good faith effort.

    Huge problems with acquisitions. My part of the company has more demanding clients, and hires people who can handle it. So for example, I do partnership tax for NY hedge funds, person A does partnership tax for small local partnerships. Very similar but different skills/clients.

    Not easy to resolve.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      In some social groups it would be weird to give money or gift cards for a death. Like handing cash to someone who stops to help you change a tire–it’s inserting money where it usually isn’t and makes it more transactional.

      In other social groups it’s normal to do, and one of the benefits of asking here is that you learn that this thing you thought was a universal rule is just within some subgroups, and other subgroups consider the opposite to be proper.

      1. Allonge*

        Even more: in some (other) groups, cash or even a gift card is a tacky gift in any circumstance. Makes no sense at all, when you think about it, but still.

      2. LilPinkSock*

        Ah, interesting. And here I thought coming together to help look after a colleague would be a kindness. Yes, I have certainly learned quite a few things about people after years of reading this comment section.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Some people would argue that by forcing money on the person who stopped to change their tire, they are helping to look after them. And yet it is rude, because it tries to wipe out the kindness and generosity by turning it into a higher ranking person hiring a lower ranking person.

          I am thinking of a specific NPR story, where I didn’t sympathize with the narrator one bit. He eventually slipped a $20 to one of the kids, who came back to give him a tamale. And after the family left, he discovered they had slipped the $20 into the tamale wrapper.

        2. K-Sara-Sarah*

          Today I’ve learned that when my manager lost her husband very suddenly and we organized restaurant gift cards for her so she didn’t have to think about food, we were actually being incredibly rude and tacky. Who knew.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I’m not LW 5, but my guesses are:

      (1) In LW 5’s company culture, restaurant gift cards are generally given to people who are retiring or resigning, as a “we enjoyed having you as a colleague, good luck in the next chapter of your life” gesture. If that association is strongly engrained in LW 5, then giving a restaurant gift card feels like saying “we enjoyed having you as a colleague, good luck!” to someone who had a death in the family–wildly inappropriate. (Obviously, giving a gift card is not the same as literally saying those words and, as many people elsewhere in the comments have pointed out, a restaurant gift card can be appreciated by grieving people. Some people will have stronger associations between gifts/actions and implied messages than others.)

      (2) Employees giving money (or gift cards) to their boss breaks the “gifts should flow down” rule. Personally, I think a death in the family is an OK time to break that rule (provided that lower-level employees have deaths in their families similarly acknowledged) but if LW 5 feels very strongly about gifts only flowing down at work, than I can understand employees giving to their boss feels inappropriate.

  46. Joie De Vivre*

    I’m the front desk person where I work. I stand when most people come in. I have progressive lens bifocals and a hearing problem. For me it is easier to communicate when I’m standing.

  47. Natasha Hollenzoller*

    LW 2’s experience is pretty horrifying to me. I mean, it would be bad if something happened at work and then a coworker keyed your car. Still something to deal with and need to protect yourself but the fact that this happens EVERY DAY? There aren’t details in the letter that this person has even had interaction with the LW and it’s really wild.
    Honestly, I expected a stronger response to this letter, like you need to do something about this right away! This seriously sounds very unhinged to me.

  48. Natasha Hollenzoller*

    People sent me doordash gift cards when I had a death in the family. It was better than homemade food because we got what we needed and could use it over a long period of time.

  49. umami*

    I would simply recommend to OP whose assistant stands when she comes by to just say ‘oh, don’t get up!’ and see how he reacts. There are a lot of wild assumptions being made as to his motivation, which I can say as a veteran are more in line with him showing respect in general than in treating women differently. I also stand up when someone comes by and greets me, and not once has anyone commented on that. As a woman who has worked primarily in male dominated fields (the Marine Corps being one of them, ha), I can respect how we don’t want to be treated differently in the workplace, but I don’t really believe that is what is happening here.

    1. tg33*

      To be fair, I think everyone is going “if this is the reason then…” It seems a strange thing to do, but depending on where s/he is working or what the role is it may make sense. However, the OP has said it feels weird.

  50. HumptyDumpty*

    LW 1:Ggood for you for standing up for yourself!!
    We women are the most undervalued and underappreciated 50% on this planet. It’s 2023, where do employers still come off finding this nomal and appropriate??!! B come International Women’s Day they’re all suddenly full of appreciation with posts on Linkedin because that doesn’t cost anything.
    I hope you hire a lawyer and make them pay you equally to your make colleague.

    1. Deejay*

      And even on International Women’s Day, you get people asking when International Men’s Day is.

      The comedian Joe Lycett always marks IWD by posting on social media “It’s November 19th. You’re welcome”.

      Another possible answer is “Every day for thousands of years, hence why we need IWD just for starters”.

  51. AreYouBeingServed?*


    ““This would be a good topic to take to a private chat — there are people who don’t have the same level of comfort with horror/true crime podcasts/diet talk/childbirth/(insert whatever the topic is).””

    is very likely going to seem chiding, dismissive and inappropriate in a highly collegial environment, especially about something as generally innocuous and common as horror movies (which I also understand that the OP wasn’t specifically looking to resolve). This is ESPECIALLY so if your supervisors are present (as the OP stated) and participating in the discussion. I certainly understand the OPs reaction, but saying this is very likely to land badly, unless the topic is clearly inappropriate.

    If they topic is indeed something widely accepted as anodyne (like horror movies), depending on the circumstances, I could see myself telling the complaining person (especially if they were non-leadership and leadership was present) that they can then feel free not to participate, and continue the discussion.

    While I certainly understand sensitivity to a subject (and especially things like PTSD), I have also seen things like a Christian fundamentalist receptionist I used to work with who tried to shut down discussions of things related to Halloween because she believed it to be against her religion. That was our response when she tried to shut down people having normal discussions about what they were going to wear, decorations…..that she was perfectly free to not participate in any discussions she felt uncomfortable with, but we certainly were not going to become the Halloween police.

    Allison’s language is about as good as you could have to try this, but I think it’s also important to understand that if this was done to try to shut down normal “water cooler talk” about something like movies? It would not land well, and would likely not endear the speaker to his/her coworkers.

    1. Alisaurus*

      I think the difference is it’s not in-person conversations. When it’s “water cooler talk,” the expectation is someone who doesn’t want to participate can physically leave. (Although we have also seen letters here about people who can’t just get up and leave a conversation they’re uncomfortable with.) This is a Teams chat where it’s reasonable to ask people to take the conversation to a private channel.

      1. Littorally*

        Yup. Plus, in a chat, text/words stick around, it isn’t like something that is said verbally and if you weren’t there in that moment then the words are gone forever. Pulling up a chat to check something or ask a question and seeing a whole convo about, I don’t know, some dude in a horror movie getting dismembered — I would also find it kind of offputting.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I don’t think I would put horror into the category of innocuous or anodyne. People have strong visceral responses to horror that may or may not have anything to do with religion, trauma, or PTSD. For me, personally, Halloween can also veer into horror rather quickly and while Halloween itself is anodyne, the gothic/horror aspect is one I have no desire to immerse myself in or hear about, especially at work.

      I have no religious reasons, and no trauma triggers around these topics. The topics do inject themselves into my dreams and waking thoughts in uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing ways that are bad enough at home, and even less desirable when I am working.

      1. metadata minion*

        I agree. Nobody should worry about just mentioning going to a horror movie, but many, many people dislike horror movies because they’re intended to scare and shock. It’s not unusual to find that enjoyable, but it’s also not unusual to avoid them because they scare or disgust you in a not-fun way.

      2. Jackalope*

        And the fix is super easy! Start a separate horror-only chat for those who are interested, so everyone else can keep working on TPS reports or whatever.

      3. But what to call me?*

        Yes, and a lot of horror is *designed* to produce that strong visceral response. That’s part of what some people enjoy about it, but some people don’t, and they should be able to avoid it if they want to. Keeping conversations about it that go beyond very surface-level mentioning of the movie confined to groups of people who you know enjoy it is a reasonable level of consideration to have for your coworkers.

        (exceptions include workplaces like that one letter writer who worked at a halloween shop or something like that – sometimes the topic is just an inherent part of the workplace)

    3. I Have RBF*

      It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to ask that Halloween, horror, religion, movie spoilers, stuff about kids, or politics get taken to a separate channel or at least threaded. Any topic that takes over a channel tends to squeeze out other discussions, so the detailed back and forth should be threaded or taken to a separate channel.

  52. HonorBox*

    LW2 – As others have said, this is most certainly a matter for the police. You’ll likely need a report from them for your insurance company. They may choose to take this up on their own as well, since the vandal is costing them money too. You should bring the police report and a copy of the footage to HR when you report it to them, too. They’ll probably ask why you didn’t report it to them sooner, but you can tell them you needed to go through the process of getting your car fixed first because nails in your tires can be both dangerous and make it impossible for you to get to and from work. You’re bringing it to them because it is a coworker who is doing it. What they do will say a lot about the kind of company you work for, and you certainly don’t want to be talked out of making the report you need to make in order to be made whole and safe.

  53. Seriously*

    LW5 – this is completely normal, and has been in every work setting I’ve ever been in. Gift cards for food or services needed after a funeral is extremely common. I don’t understand your issue with it.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      I was thinking the bereaved might be able to pick up some takeout, a little pasta as comfort food.

    2. Rayray*

      I’m not understanding the issue with it either. It’s a very kind gesture. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows it’s a difficult thing to go through and those few days after and around the funeral are weird. You may not have the time or energy to cook. You may just want a reason to get out of the house. Whether they want to get take out or go sit down, people still need to eat while grieving and it’s nice that they have a gift card to pay for it.

  54. Amanha*

    One question I’ve always had regarding #1 is how to tell whether the differences in background/experience make up for a difference in pay.

    I’m a woman, and at the last job I had I spoke with my colleague who was hired on the same day that I was for the same exact role and found out that he was making $20k more than I was. We both made under $100k annually, so this was a big difference. I brought this to my manager along with other evidence that I was being paid below the market rate, and secured a $10k raise a few months later. (I didn’t get back pay, but also didn’t know this was an option and now I’ve been working at a different company for 1.5 years.) I wasn’t super thrilled because it still wasn’t up to what my male colleague made for the same job, but he had a PhD and I only had a bachelor’s and I thought “maybe that’s worth $10k to our company.”

    In my current company, there are a couple of colleagues in my same role that I’d be curious to have this conversation with as well, but they come from very different backgrounds from mine. They have more technical experience in a role where that can be helpful (but not necessary). Anyone have a suggestion for how to measure differences in background and experience against a pay gap?

    1. umami*

      I noticed that of two of my directors, one was being paid more than the other, and I assumed their credentials would be weighed differently (one, the woman, had a higher degree and also had worked with us much longer). So I asked HR to look into it to make sure her salary was correct,because even though they have very different roles, they are at the same level. It turned out the other director had more experience directly relevant to his job, and that resulted in his compensation being higher. I say this to say, it’s not always obvious how compensation is being determined, but definitely ask the questions! I had really hoped it would result in a bump for my other director, but at least I learned that they had calculated the salaries correctly.

      1. Silver Robin*


        Definitely just ask; the company should be able to explain how they come up with the numbers. The PhD might be the reason, it would not surprise me. Something that is helpful but not necessary can also boost pay because it does improve performance even if it is not required to do the job. Regardless, they (HR, most likely) should be able to point to specifics that result in a different pay.

        1. Amanha*

          “…the company should be able to explain how they come up with the numbers.” This is definitely what I hope from any company! I’m working on not feeling pushy when I ask for more information about pay. Something that gets more comfortable with practice, I imagine :)

    2. pally*

      This is a good question!

      Small company. I am one of three managers. The other two managers are male. I make 67% of what the two male managers earn (up from 55% two years ago!). I know this because someone left a list of all employees and salaries on the copy machine one day. The two men earn the exact same salary (to the penny).

      We’re all at the same level in the company but run different departments. One supervises 3 people. The other has an advanced degree and manages one person. I used to supervise someone; now I do my job along with that job. I also earned a half dozen professional certifications that pertain to my job and the job of one other manager. We’ve all worked at this company the same amount of time.

      Not sure how one might show parity in this case. Sure, I’ve checked websites for salary; I’m at the low end everywhere I look. But then so are the two other managers.

      1. Boof*

        Honestly if your titles and duties are similar it’s worth asking and maybe even raising a ruckus if you don’t get a good answer. If your duties are really different and your titles are the same not sure what’s up with that but still worth asking why male colleagues of the same title are paid significantly more than you

    3. Parenthesis Guy*

      Paying someone extra because they have a PhD is common because it’s an objective difference. The problem is of course, that someone having a PhD in many cases says very little about their competence. I’ve worked with plenty of people with PhDs that were largely useless. But it would make sense that they gave someone else an extra $10k due to this. It all depends on whether they do this for every PhD.

  55. Breaking Dishes*

    Re: #5 Olive Garden Gift Card
    My husband died within the past year. I would have welcomed such a gift card. Yes, I’m grieving, but I find personally that going out to eat alone is an opportunity to have a nice meal while being around people. I’d approve of such a gift,

    1. Cubicle Warrior*

      #5 Olive Garden Gift Gard
      My sister died last October. One of my bosses sent me a bereavement card and an Amazon gift card, which I thought was odd. When I messaged him to thank him he said he hoped I would use the amazon card take some time for myself and buy some movies/shows and get away from everything for awhile. It was a very nice gesture.

    2. rayray*

      this was my exact thought. Many people might appreciate getting away from the house and getting away from being asked how they’re holding up. It may be nice to go have a meal out and have conversations with severs or whoever else that are about anything but what you’re dealing with in your personal life. I think too of people who have been giving care or their loved one had a prolonged death, it’s a chance to just breathe while others serve you dinner.

  56. My Brain is Exploding*

    #4, is there any chance your assistant considers himself lower-ranking than the women he stands up for?

  57. Not Mindy*

    LW3 – another possibility is that if these chats seem to start with a particular person, and you feel comfortable with that person, then you can speak to them directly. Just a “please be aware that not everyone is going to be comfortable with all topics.” You can even have someone else deliver that message for you anonymously (though that can come with its own potential problems).

    I used to work in a no holds barred office. Any type of talk or jokes was just accepted. I had a coworker (Spike) who repeatedly made ‘jokes’ about violence against women. Others didn’t make those types of jokes, but they would laugh and wouldn’t even blink.
    After a few months of this (I was young at the time and didn’t want to rock the boat), I finally went to Spike one on one and told him that I was offended by the jokes and would appreciate it if he stopped. He looked horrified that he had offended me! I don’t think that it had even crossed his mind that was possible.
    Spike apologized, and actually thanked me for not going to Giles (not that he would have done anything – he was back in England).
    A while later Spike started telling a similar joke, and almost immediately looked at me with huge eyes. He said something along the lines of “and the vampire got his soul back, the apocalypse was averted, and they all lived happily ever after.” He came to me later and apologized. I took his apology at face value and told him no big deal, slipups happen.
    Though it never should have happened in the first place, the whole experience went about as well as it could possibly go.

  58. Cora*

    I have seen people say some version of the response to #3 both in person and on Slack and its always been taken well. Work isn’t a free-for-all, its fine to say some topics aren’t appropriate in a group setting.

  59. Alan*

    For #2, I would be very tempted to play dumb and simply share the video: “Beware everyone, someone is out in the parking lot keying cars. Here’s my video.”

  60. Anecdata*

    For #1, I would be very interested in an update or stories from anyone who’s successfully negotiated “backpay” / getting time you were underpaid made up for! I would love to be able to do that; but it’s hard to imagine asking for
    (also, go OP 1 for raising the discrepancy!)

  61. City Girl*

    #4 – I agree but how are we dealing with different formalities of genders in other scenarios? For example, I (female) work in a high rise in the city, and the men always stop to make sure I get in and out of the elevator first, and less noticeable, but they often open doors too.

    1. rayray*

      Yeah, men often hold doors open and such, it’s kindness. I certainly wouldn’t go to anyone’s manager foaming at the mouth because a door was held open for me but not a man.

    2. Two Dog Night*

      OMG the elevator thing drives me nuts. Elevators are made for LIFO–last in, first out. So annoying when five men are trying to arrange themselves so I can get out from the back.

      Men: Really, you don’t have to do these things. If you’re in the front of the elevator, step out to make it easier for everyone else. Hold the door for whoever is behind you, regardless of gender. If a woman holds a door for you, say thank you and walk through it. Don’t rush to beat a woman to a door just so you can open it for her. Treat women like people, not like delicate flowers.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      When I worked in offices, I held doors for everyone, held elevators for everyone, regardless of gender, and they did the same for me.

      Except for one guy who one day held a door, but also positioned himself in such a way that it was not possible to walk through the door without making body contact with him. I thought about it for a second and said “Nah, you go first”. In retrospect, I should’ve “gone to a manager foaming at the mouth”, because he got worse as time progressed. With everyone.

      I don’t know how people even do it in this day and age, when everyone presents and dresses any way they want and a coworker’s gender isn’t always apparent. How does one decide to hold a door for Chris, but not for Alex? just hold it for both, geez.

  62. Bond, Municipal Bond*

    OP#4: I’m not certain what country you’re in, but if you are in the U.S., I would ask why you believe your employees’ past military service has anything to do with his behavior. I am a retired military officer of nearly 30 years, and I spent a third of my career in the enlisted ranks as well. As such I can share with absolute certainty that antiquated acts of gender-based “chivalry” are not only not taught or practiced in the U.S. Armed Forces, but rather are strongly discouraged if not outright prohibited by most unit policies. There is a general requirement to rise to one’s feet when an individual of superior rank enters the room or area in which you are sitting (similar to a judge entering a courtroom), and it is possible that your employee is conflating this practice with outdated, gender-based, social obligations but, even amongst veterans, that’s highly irregular behavior.

  63. Roz*

    There are so many comments that I can’t tell if this has been said, but re LW#4 – I think this is actually more related to the fact that he is a veteran than that the LW is a woman. As a veteran, I can tell you that depending on how serious and part of the military ethos this person’s identity is, he may have it so ingrained that you show respect to authority by standing when they enter a room or space that you occupy. When in uniform, you must stand or come to attention, call out “room” or “area” and make a big show of acknowledging that a superior or dignitary has entered your space. Total control of your body movements is a huge part of military life/drill – they are a form of communication. Now, for this man, maybe it has extended to all women for some reason, but I think that fact that you are his boss is a big factor here.

    Help him learn your office norms by being direct about what is and is not expected, and really I don’t think you need to point out gender here. Just be clear that to show respect, he can straighten up in his chair or look at the person with a friendly demeanour but not stand or make other obvious movements. I certainly love direction, even now that I’m out of uniform. It makes sure there are no missteps, so he may appreciate it.

    Good luck!

    1. Snell*

      It has been said many times in these comments, and the general consensus is “can’t be determined from the limited info in the letter, find out more from the employee himself; if it is behavior specific to women only, he needs to cut it out; if not, probably let it go (unless it makes LW uncomfortable to be subjected to this behavior herself, in which case, say so to him)”

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I don’t know why I read this: “Total control of your body movements is a huge part of military life/drill – they are a form of communication” and immediately thought “acknowledging your coworkers through DANCE!”

  64. Las Vegas*

    #4 Iiiiiiiii dunno about this. From an HR perspective, we should respect people’s culture and sincerely held beliefs even if they’re not the same as our own. We should also not create problems where there aren’t any. The man should be told that he doesn’t NEED to stand up for anyone, and then it can be left up to him. Standing up for women is an ingrained habit and common with older men. 40+ is a protected category, and although this wouldn’t rise to a legal thing, I just personally wouldn’t die on this hill and risk alienating a good employee. I regularly have to coach older employees on cultural norms they find challenging, so I would do the same for them here – coach the younger employees that he may stand up, it’s okay, it’s his choice.

      1. Las Vegas*

        They need to learn to work with people different from themselves, and like I said, I would have no issue counseling them that some people grew up in different cultures and have different practices. Teaching an older employee to use them/they pronouns for a nonbinary colleague IS a hill to die on, even though it will challenge his cultural beliefs and norms. Teaching an older employee not to stand up for women is NOT a hill to die on.

        1. Jackalope*

          And why is it always women who have to learn how to swallow their discomfort so that the men around them can keep acting the way they were raised, or the way they consider to be polite, or whatever? Does he not also need to learn how to work with people who are different than him? Is gender not a protected class?

          I don’t think in this particular situation that it will be an ongoing issue; the OP said that this employee is open to this sort of feedback, so it will probably be a matter of her telling him to stop, him having an adjustment period, and then stopping, end of story. But it doesn’t matter if it’s a cultural difference, he doesn’t get to have a different policy in this area for women and men. See some of the previous discussions about people with religious rules saying they can’t shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, or be alone with them in a room, or whatever. Legally they can act the same way with everyone – never shake hands with anyone, never have one-on-ones with anyone- but they can’t choose to shake hands with one gender and not the other(s).

          1. Sweet corn season*

            There are two people involved who are both trying to be polite. The assistant who is standing when someone enters a room and the executive who doesn’t want him to stand when people (or at least she) enter(s) the room and wants to know how to address this respectfully. This is not the same thing as a person being rude to another person and trying to defend their rudeness through culture or religion.

            I am a woman in education. As such, I am known by my students with a title and my last name. (i.e. “Dr. Smith”). I have told students that have graduated they can call me by my first name (i.e. “Jane”) if they see me around. Some are uncomfortable with the informality and continue calling me “Dr. Smith.” They aren’t being rude. They aren’t trying to be patronizing or sexist or anything…they feel more comfortable being formal. If it really bothered me, I’d talk to them about changing it. But, is it really a big deal to me that the respectful formal name is what they prefer? Nope. And I can see their perspective.

            This letter seems more about how to respectfully talk to someone about formality in order to make changes. (Also I’m not even 40 yet and I’m very use to men who stand for women who enter a room…it would have never occurred to me some people find this uncomfortable).

            1. umami*

              Same, heh. I prefer people use my first name (I don’t teach, so not students), but most people default to Dr. Umami because it’s ingrained to use the honorific. It’s not really something to be bothered by, to me. Correcting someone who is being more polite seems excessive, I would save it for people being too informal or actually doing something wrong, not for wanting to be courteous.

    1. rayray*

      This is incredibly reasonable, I am surprised that someone standing would cause such distress for people. He probably is just trying to be respectful or make a good impression as he was taught to do.

      1. umami*

        I tend to agree, because I don’t see how something that’s generally polite is being deemed as ‘making others uncomfortable.’ It might seem odd, but uncomfortable? Where is the harm? There also are so many ways to address it without making it A Thing if OP wants him to stop that are also respectful of his comfort.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Who are these “older men”? I’m over 60, and my peers have never done this. It was already old-fashioned when I was a teenager.

  65. RagingADHD*

    Olive Garden cards are good at multiple restaurants with the same parent company (which is a lot), and they also work for takeout.

    It’s completely normal and very common to give meal cards in a bereavement, because not everyone cooks and not everyone wants a bunch of coworkers showing up at their house when they’re grieving.

    I think the staff are more clued in here than they are getting credit for.

  66. Samesies*

    Re Letter 1: Several years ago, I had a pay discussion with a male colleague who had been hired for a more junior position in our department and had less experience and education than me. I learned that his salary was EXACTLY the same as mine. All these years later, I wonder if I should have done something. Instead, I waited until my next performance review and negotiated a significant promotion (the first time in my career).

    1. Las Vegas*

      Alison encourages people to go nuclear with this stuff, but how you handled it is the most effective way to handle it in practice. I work for a small company and we have pay ranges for roles, but we also hire the person who is the best fit, and typically pay what they are asking for. I know my boss would take it very poorly if someone came to her and said “Someone else is making the same as me, so you should raise my pay,” especially if their pay is based on what THEY asked for. However, she would and does take it well if someone came to her and said “I would like to discuss a pay increase. I have benefited the company in X, Y and Z ways and would like to make $X.” I don’t like the idea that you shouldn’t even TRY to ask for a raise on your own merits before immediately bringing other people’s salary into the conversation and threatening legal action.

      1. Boof*

        Respectfully disagree a bit: comparing your work and pay to others in similar positions absolutely makes sense as part of the discussion; otherwise disparities never get fixed. Your boss can have whatever opinions they want but those aren’t reasonable. But yes a part of negotiating is also stressing your own merits too. And companies will rarely back pay salary so if there is serious inequity the “nuclear option “ is probably your best bet rather than waiting around for a company to possibly deign to fix it when they feel like it. I mean have the convo first to make sure their isn’t a big mistake but 40K difference for the same work is serious stuff; don’t shy from legal help!!

  67. GingerJ1*

    #1–call your state labor department! They may take care of it without your needing a lawyer. Sure, wait the 4-6 weeks, but if it’s not fixed well, you may be able to let the state handle it.

  68. Purple Jello*

    LW1 – The letter doesn’t say, but where are the two different companies that merged located? If his location is in a higher cost of living area, that might account for some of the disparity. Also his company may have just paid better in general.

    However, once the HR salary review has been completed, I would expect LW1’s salary to be increased to her colleague’s salary all things equal, and a parity back payment to the time of the merger/acquisition.

  69. Aglaia761*

    OP 1: I believe you have 180 days from the time of the discovery to file a federal Equal Pay Act complaint. State law also applies and different states have different statues of limitations:

    Whether you go to a lawyer or not, you should still file the complaint as it triggers a review of everyone’s pay.

  70. jwal*

    LW3-just add a nice note – “please enjoy a meal while you take this time for yourself and your family” or something similar that indicates this is indeed like the casserole :)

  71. Delphine*

    #3: Have an off-topic chat area that people can opt out of or mute if they so choose. Then when the work chat goes off-topic you can ask people to move things over to the other chat.

  72. Jo-El*

    I am curious where in the country LW#4 lives and where they are from. I am 48 and raised in The South and was taught to stand up when a woman comes in the door, say “yes/no ma’am”, hold/open doors, and to not curse in front of women. Not to be condescending but to be respectful.

    1. SB*

      Why is it respectful to stand up when a woman enters the room but not when a man enters the room though?

      1. Jo-El*

        Because women are (i guess now it’d be WERE?) special and to be treated with every ounce of respect. THe same reason men don’t tip/remove their caps to men, or hold car doors, or anything else along those lines.

  73. SB*

    LW2 – I would go to the police directly on this one. If you want to involve your employer go for it, but if you want the damage paid for, go to the police, make a report & then use the report to claim on your insurance.

  74. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP4 – I wouldn’t worry about it, or at most ASK him about it, rather than making assumptions about his intentions and telling him to stop. Have a little curiosity and tell him you’ve noticed he stands when women enter the room (if you’re ABSOLUTELY sure this is the pattern) and what is behind it. Be curious, not censurious. If he says it’s a habit or his training, you can tell him it’s ok if he doesn’t do it in the office, that no one expects it of him. To preemptively assume he does it because he thinks women need special treatment and to tell him to stop seems a little reactive. Have a conversation about it. Don’t assume what you are projecting onto this behaviur is correct. Maybe he uses someone coming into the office as a reminder to stand up and stretch a little instead of sitting a day. Be curious and ask.

  75. CSRoadWarrior*

    #2 – Whatever the reason is, it is NOT okay. Make your employer aware of this, and also get the police involved. I don’t even know what is up with your coworker but it has to stop. On top of that, I can’t imagine the costly repairs you had to pay for in order to fix those damages. It would certainly bleed me dry.

  76. Former Military*

    For LW #4, military customs and courtesies dictate that you stand whenever someone of higher rank than you enters the room, regardless of gender. It can be a tough habit to break! So it makes sense that as your assistant, he would default to this as a sign of respect. After a while it feels very disrespectful to stay seated when your boss enters the room.

    I’d be very surprised if he only does this for the women, unless all the women hold higher roles than him and all the men are assistants too (if so, love this for your company!).

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