my employee disappeared with our data and won’t answer any messages

A reader writes:

My team employs several part-time remote employees who conduct field research and submit data summaries back to us so that we can report out to our clients. Recently one of them has fallen out of communication before finishing his work — he completed the required field visits but has not turned in the required data. He is now over a month past due and in the last couple weeks has stopped responding to us via any communication method. We are running out of time and if he does not get us the data, we will have to redo the work on an extremely tight timeline. This will look bad to our clients, who will know something went very wrong and who will consider having to redo the visits a burden.

We have tried every type of outreach I can think of, offered additional assistance and empathy, and said that if he can just hand over the raw data we’d be happy to pay him for the time he took to conduct the visits and finish up the rest of the work for him. We’re getting no response back to any of this and don’t know if he’s just avoiding us or having some kind of crisis. Would it be crossing a line to reach out to other members of the field team who he may have a relationship with? Do we have any recourse here, or do we just have to eat the lost time and money and redo the work?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker pounds on the door while I’m in the bathroom
  • Parking space shuffles are taking up too much time

{ 255 comments… read them below }

  1. Beth*

    I’ve never understood why it’s so normal for employers in downtown areas to not provide parking for employees. Yes, it’s an added cost–but parking is such a hassle, and can be so expensive in urban areas, and most cities in the US don’t have public transit that’s actually reliable and viable time-wise for daily commuting. Deciding that it’s up to employees to figure it out creates exactly this problem. (It extra stings that it’s common enough for big offices to provide parking for their relatively well-paid staff, while low-paid jobs like retail and food service almost never do.)

    1. saskia*

      Yes, it’s always seemed weird to me as well. It’s common at colleges too, where students have to pay for parking on top of massive tuition, room and board fees.

      These companies should do a comparison of cost for lost productivity vs. paying for subsidized parking. They’d

        1. Blarg*

          I always “appreciated” getting to pay to park at hospitals where I worked night shift, coming and leaving in the dark. And still having to navigate dark lots that were barely patrolled.

          1. saskia*

            I’ve worked in hospitals too, and I agree, it’s ridiculous. Especially at the big, rich hospitals where they’re always having catered lunches, new wings built, fancy upgrades, etc.

          2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            Not exactly on topic, but the local hospital my family uses advertises that the parking is free for visitors. They’ve been doing this for years and I think it’s because at some point, they tried charging for parking and people balked at having to pay to visit sick, potentially dying, relatives.

          3. RabbitRabbit*

            The hospital where I work is in an extremely large city just outside of downtown, so completely free parking is a no-go. (I know that I’ve heard from friends who stayed in the hotel adjacent to the hospital and parked in the hospital parking garage because their parking was actually cheaper than the hotel’s parking rate for guests…)

            Fortunately the hospital administration does have mitigating things for making it more reasonable. Staff are charged a sliding parking rate based on salary, disabled staff who need closer parking due to mobility get priority spots in the closest garage, night shift gets to park in the closest garages, lots and garages are patrolled and you can call for a security escort after hours if you’re still uncomfortable, and parking/other transportation costs can be taken out of your check pre-tax.

            For visitors/patients, they can get their parking pass validated for a significant discount. Some clinics also have parking stickers that can give free parking depending on the situation.

        2. darsynia*

          When I worked at a hospital the parking they offered was almost expensive enough to put me at minimum wage. I could walk, but freaking yikes. That + the uniform cost taken out of my paycheck and the spotty, incomplete training was pretty offputting.

        3. Kelly*

          I worked at a university that charged staff making under $12/hour for parking in an area with ZERO public transportation and had a massive problem with car thefts and break-ins. They didn’t have any security patrolling. I managed to get away with refusing for two years and never got a ticket. Same university would also have students call the staff and try to force them to make donations to the school.

        4. Quill*

          It’s hundreds of dollars worth of crazy, often!

          (When I would have had to pay to park at the university I worked at I was barely making $20 an hour. Good thing the local train station had free parking…)

      1. Leia Oregano*

        University employees, too. My partner and I work for our alma mater and we pay for a parking pass for his car, despite us both working here. Honestly the faculty passes aren’t that much more affordable than the student ones, but at least an employee pass can be a paycheck deduction so we pay for it gradually. Our student parking passes are expensive and the parking options for them kind of suck — they’re typically the furthest lots and decks from the main campus hubs. We’re lucky to have a surprisingly decent public transit bus system that students (and faculty/staff) can ride for free, but it could absolutely be better.

        1. That wasn't me. . .*

          This may be because parking at state universities is often “self liqidating” like dorms a d food service facilities i.e. state doesn’t pay -ever – to build these, nor does donor money go to them. They get built with borrowed bond money, then the univsity has to pay off the bonds by generating fees. They can’t roll the parking fees into faculty and staff compensation packages, because then they would be using “state” funds to pay for the decks/lots. You just gotta fa tor in the cost of parking when you choose to accept the job, just like any other commuting expense (gasoline or bus fare)

          1. umami*

            Or tolls. For the longest time I avoided using the most convenient route to work because on principle I didn’t want to pay to get to work. The fees were waived during COVID, so I got used to using the toll road and then discovered that it was only about $1.30 a trip once they went back to charging. We’ve since moved, and my route has an additional toll road that costs more, but it’s still only maybe $3 a trip, so about $120 a month.

        2. dawbs*

          Yeah, local to me, there’s a waiting list the university to get a ‘hunting pass’ as a low ranked staffer.
          (As in, you get the pass that lets you park in one of the crappy outer lots IF you can find a spot. And you will probably spend at least 30 minutes hunting a spot with said pass)

      2. not nice, don't care*

        I pay over $400 a year to park on campus, as I drive in from a rural area and need to know I have a safe place to park once I get there. I don’t have the option to bus, bike, or car pool.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          For a monthly parking pass, that’s actually quite inexpensive. You’re paying about $33/month.

        2. Lorac*

          I knew someone who did the math and realized the chances of being caught without a parking permit and being fined worked out to less than paying for an annual pass.

          So he didn’t bother paying for parking after that.

          1. Uncle Pennybags*

            I learned that since I never registered my vehicle my freshman year of college, they didn’t know who the vehicle belonged to. They would put tickets on my car if I parked in the lot, but since I never paid it, they never connected the car to me or my account. 4 years of free parking.

            Lesson: don’t pay tickets for private lots when the fine doesn’t go to the city, but to that private institution. They won’t find you.

      3. Indolent Libertine*

        At UC Berkeley, one of the perks of winning a Nobel Prize is your own reserved parking space.

      4. Ann Nonymous*

        Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has a huge endowment yet charges the parents of sick children for parking. It really adds up if you need to go there frequently. To add insult to injury, there are no in-and-out privileges, so if you need to pop out to do an errand/get lunch/come back in a few hours after a procedure, you have to pay again. It angers me to no end.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Someone in my city once made a point of breaking a significant number of the parking meters around one of our main hospitals in protest.

        2. Jacquelyn O*

          I lived on the block behind this hospital, and my apartment had only street parking available… but anyone going to the hospital parked on my street and throughout the neighborhood to avoid paying, making it an absolute nightmare to find parking within a mile of my apartment. So, the unpleasant results spread to affect the neighborhood as well.

          1. Jacquelyn O*

            However, there is no available space near CHLA for parking… and it’s literally across the street from the train station. Very easy to get to, especially if you park in a park-and-ride lot elsewhere. I don’t know how realistic it is to expect such a large institution to offer sufficient parking in such a dense neighborhood.

          2. Artemesia*

            the city needs a sticker system for street parking for residents in those circumstances. It is a pretty commonly used solution.

            1. Jacquelyn O*

              Yes! That would have helped 100%. But then there likely would be pushback from the hospital and other parties who rely on the street parking.

      5. A Simple Narwhal*

        I hated how my college had a bunch of parking lots next to the dorms, but they were all exclusively for faculty, grad students, or commuter students. So the people who lived in the dorms were forbidden from using the parking lots in front of them, and instead could only use lots that were a 10+ minute walk away.


        1. Mid*

          I….don’t actually see an issue with that one. The students live right there and aren’t commuting daily, while the staff and commuter students are. The students can easily walk to their classes from the dorms. The people who don’t live on campus get to walk the same distance to their classes. Most students in dorms have very little actual need for a car, and rarely drive them more than once or twice a week. Why should the staff have to walk an extra 10+ minutes twice a day when there are closer lots?

          1. amoeba*

            And why would you even want to encourage bringing a car to campus when it’s not needed? (From the description it sounds like it’s not, at least!)

            I mean, I know I write from a very spoiled perspective public transport-wise, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to encourage people to not use cars if and when there’s other, more eco-friendly alternatives available. (Like, well, walking, in that case).

            And if you do need a car occasionally to go home on the weekends or for the holidays or whatever, a 10 min walk sounds ok?

            1. Kelly*

              Most college students living in dorms don’t live close to the college, hence the dorms. My parents had to drive 5 hours round trip to pick me up each time freshman year. There was no public transportation or trains to go home. We could bring a car after freshmen year, but you had to park out in the boonies which was OK when the shuttles actually ran (it was almost 2 miles from my dorm).

              1. Friendo*

                Plenty of students cannot afford a car, it’s great that they aren’t subsidizing the students who can.

      6. SpaceySteph*

        Common to have to pay for parking and also to have extremely insufficient parking available. I would be afraid to leave my on-campus housing to go to the grocery store, because I wouldn’t be able to get a spot when I came back.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          There were two semesters that I had classes where I had to travel off-campus to attend a class in the middle of the day (one was a practicum, the other was a PE class that needed specialized equipment my school didn’t have) while living on campus and having the rest of my classes there. It was always a giant hassle trying to park again returning from my actual classes, because the college of course had no particular plan to make sure that students who needed to travel off-campus for their classes and then back on campus again for their other classes would have a way to actually do that.

          (Our situation was complicated by the fact that the environmental law students would apparently threaten to sue the school if the school so much as whispered about adding parking, so we may have been uniquely dysfunctional.)

          1. I Have RBF*

            The university I worked at had its neighboring city complain constantly about the traffic, demanding that the university abate the traffic without the neighboring town doing any road improvements at all. Never mind that the town pretty much exists as it is because of the presence of the university and the businesses that get spun off from it. The city had leverage, and they used it in the most NIMBY manner possible, including requiring that only a limited number of cars could park on campus, and that everyone else had to get there by (regionally horrible) transit.

            The university has it’s own free bus line, plus subsidized employee transit passes, plus all the mitigations that the neighboring city demanded. That still wasn’t enough – the city denied their much needed expansion plans, over and over, wringing more and more concessions from the university. At the same time, parking for businesses in the city downtown was an equally expensive mess, with the same “go move your car every two hours or pay through the nose.” The city’s response to both issues was to point at the bus and the train and say “use that”, ignoring the added time and hassle that the inefficient transit added.

            So the university shoved most of the non-teaching staff 5 miles away in a town that wouldn’t whine about the traffic. That removed a lot of cars from campus, which shut down the whining from the neighboring city. Then they charged the now off-campus employees the same exorbitant parking fees that on campus had to pay!! They said it was because of “fairness” and that transit was still subsidized, as if I was going to take transit that took 2.5 hours or more to get there, versus one hour. People at the off-campus site, having moved from actual offices to an open plan but still had to pay to park were very upset. We all saw it as greed.

            IMO, but lots of cities and companies disagree, that I should not have to pay to be allowed to work. To me, it’s the same as requiring a minimum wage worker to buy their uniforms. Yes, at this point in my career I can almost afford it, but for the lower paid employees it was a burden and they would have to triple their commute time just to avoid paying a huge chunk of their salary to park at work. The well paid staff could have a shorter commute, while the poorer staff, faculty and students were stuck on slow transit.

            Sure, I suppose it was greener, but it certainly wasn’t great from a DEI perspective.

        2. NeedRain*

          Similar when you work there. If I leave during the day for an appointment, there won’t be anyplace to park for miles when I come back.

      7. LifeBeforeCorona*

        At one time at my school you could buy a monthly parking pass. But someone did the math and figured that they could make more money by eliminating them and charging by the hour for parking. With a 4 hour limit. So if you had classes all day, you had to leave the lot and return and pay for another 4 hours. They can rest in heck before they get any kind of alumni donation from me.

      8. Anonymous was already taken*

        When I was at university in the dark ages (early 90s) we used to park in a grass lot between the two car parks for our main building. The parking inspector would come around and put a warning note on your windshield. Then what we would do was keep that warning note, and when we parked there again we’d put the warning note on ourselves, trying to trick the parking inspector that he’d already given us a warning

    2. ferrina*

      I think it’s okay- paying for parking is just part of the investment in work, like making sure you have a professional wardrobe.

      For me, the issue is when there’s a shortage of parking. I worked somewhere where there wasn’t really any parking options outside of one lot, and that lot had a limit of reserved spaces. So sometimes you didn’t really had a choice but to use metered street parking.

      1. Alex*

        It sounds like you’re saying two things here — paying for parking is an investment on the employee’s part but then you don’t like metered street parking?

        I don’t agree that employees should have to pay for parking, whether it’s in a lot or on the street. The company is responsible for providing employees with a safe and adequate workspace. To me, that extends to parking as well (especially if they’re being stringent about having employees come to the office).

        My company is dealing with this currently and it’s a big reason I don’t go to the office more often. They stopped paying for employee spots in a nearby lot because of budgetary reasons earlier this year. That makes sense on paper, and there are some free spots near our building, but lately they have all been occupied all day long. Even if we were okay paying, there are very few metered spots near the building. And, yes, we are in a downtown area.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I think @ferrina is saying that they have a larger problem with a lack of convenient parking options than having to pay for it. Metered street spots are inconvenient not only because of the cost but because you have to drive around looking for one, you usually have to come back to feed the meter during the day, or like in the letter you have to move your car every two hours.

          I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, lack of parking/having to pay for parking is incredibly annoying. On the other hand, it does push people towards using public transit, which in my city really needs the ridership.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Public transit in many cities takes longer than driving (in my area, over twice as long), and if the person doesn’t work a “normal” schedule, or does overtime, they often end up waiting for hours or not getting home at all without paying a taxi/Uber/Lyft.

            This impacts the lower income people the most, since they often can’t afford the paid lots.

          2. amoeba*

            If public transport is available and good, I’m actually all for making driving as unattractive as possible. But of course, if that means a 2 h commute instead of 1 h, I wouldn’t actually count it as “available and good”! (However, if it’s 30 mins instead of 15, but still reliable etc., in my world that’s a very normal thing to do and I’d give people the side eye for deciding to drive…)

            1. Hannah Lee*

              In my area, right now public transport on the regional bus line is free. Which is great, if your work schedule works with their route schedule.

              It used to be that taking the bus would add 1 1/4 hrs each way and the longest I could be at work was 6 1/2 hours if I didn’t want to miss my last bus home, so it was a no go.

              They’ve expanded the schedule, so I could work a full day. But the 25 minute drive I have now would become a nearly hour and a half commute, including 10 minutes of me driving to the local bus station. Adding 2 hours+ to my commute 5 days a week is a no-go for me if I have other options.

              I wish it were better, I’d take a somewhat longer commute, up to 45 mins each way, even one I had to pay a bit for, if it meant using public transport (especially as they are going all electric)

        2. umami*

          Sounds like a double whammy – you have to pay to park, but if there aren’t enough spaces, you have to pay to park somewhere else.

      2. Beth*

        There’s a limit to how much it’s reasonable to expect your employees to invest in work, though. Even in the most formal environment, you don’t expect an entry level employee to show up in custom-made high-end suits–you expect them to wear off-the-rack clothing that fits your dress code.

        Commuting costs feel the same to me. Sure, it’s going to cost something–employers don’t pay for your gas or your car payment, and even when they offer subsidized public transit options, it generally won’t cover the entire cost. But in downtown areas, garage parking can easily cost $20+ a day. Of course people are going to search for free or cheap metered spots instead! That’s too much to expect most people to invest in work. If you don’t want to accommodate that (including the need to move their car every few hours), then you need to offer a subsidized alternative.

        1. ferrina*

          I guess it depends on how much the job pays and what the alternates are. I live in an area with okay public transportation. $20 per day is a normal cost of transportation to/from work.

          Crucial context: we all make well above livable wage. $20 per day sucks, but it’s not going to be the make-or-break on our finances. If you were making minimum wage, $20 per day quickly become undoable. But I think that’s a societal/city planning problem, and individual employers may not be able to solve it. If you have 50 employees and have to pay $20 per day per employee, that’s an extra 200k+ that’s now in your budget. If your budget allows it, yes, by all means! But it shouldn’t be on individual employers to solve this- this is a deeper societal issue.

          I do think when possible, the employer should try to cover this. It makes it easier for people to come to work and brings them less stress, which is very good for retention and productivity. Plus, yeah, I feel icky about “it costs you money to get to work”. But it’s not something our culture requires of employers, and it’s reasonable to expect employees manage their budget and ensure that their compensation covers the expenses they need.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        I feel like paying some for parking is reasonable if it’s the company’s own lot and/or the lot owners are paid by the company to reserve space, and the fees go to maintenance of the lot and/or the cost of an attendant, rather than into significant profit. I feel it is utterly unreasonable to force employees to cover daily street parking costs, which are generally much higher and much more profit driven, without at minimum some form of subsidy.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      To be fair, sometimes it’s just not possible. I worked for a non-profit in DC and they literally had nowhere to park us (and the cost of purchasing out spots in a nearby garage would have sunk the organization). They did help subsidize public transport, though it was still a rough commute for me.

    4. Not Your Sweetheart*

      Even some of my most dysfunctional employers offered an option of parking or transit passes. If one is significantly more expensive, then offer a discounted parking/transit pass.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        My current employer spent a fair chunk of the first interview gushing about their amazing benefits such as having discounted parking for only $10/per month.

        Yes, it’s a great price for downtown. On the other hand, the job I was at had free downtown parking, so it wasn’t the ace-in-the-hole they thought it was.

    5. Love to WFH*

      Some employees bike, carpool, walk or take the bus, so paying for parking will be seen by some people as unequal treatment.

      Paying for parking downtown also encourages driving, in an environment where mass transit is usually good and much better for the environment and congestion.

      Some employers offer a “transit allowance” that you can choose to apply towards a bus pass, parking, or a nearby gym membership so you can take a shower after a long bike ride.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        You can’t ever please everyone.

        But I’d like to point out something that hasn’t been mentioned here, and is often missed by anti-car ideologues: even if a city has decent transit, and even if the job is downtown, there will be employees for whom taking transit is impossible, for two main reasons.

        One, because they live outside the city, and therefore their home isn’t within reach of transit (whether they live rural or in another town/city within commutable distance).

        And two, because they have children that they need to pick up from daycare. You can’t do that with transit.

        And third (not an impossibility, rather an impracticability) because transit often takes 3x more time than driving, even when the job is downtown; for most people (especially with families) time is precious and losing 1+ hour a day on extra commuting time isn’t a small inconvenience.

        1. darsynia*

          Gosh, that last paragraph hits home. My first ever job made me choose between running from the bus stop helter skelter to get there in 5 minutes or showing up an hour and eleven minutes early. So, I would arrive at 6:25, which was 7 reasonable minutes’ walk away from my workplace (that included crossing a major highway), or I’d get there at around 5:20. In the morning.

          I usually chose 5:20 for reputation reasons.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            That wasn’t even what I was talking about, but I should have mentioned that one too: even if the time spent in the transit vehicle isn’t outrageous, transit is often infrequent and the transit schedule may not match with your work schedule… like in this case, having to arrive an hour early, whereas someone driving (or biking!) can time their arrival to almost eliminate such waste.

            1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

              The transit routes also may not work with the combination of where you live and where you work. Out of curiosity, I looked at the bus routes in my city to see if it would be possible to commute by bus.

              In the morning, it would take about 2.5 hours on 3 busses, plus the drive to the park & ride to catch the first bus of the set then a walk to the office after getting off the last one. (Express bus from suburb 1 to downtown, express bus 2 from downtown to suburb 2, and crosstown bus.) I’d get into work about 8:30, assuming all the busses ran on time – there are no alternate options if I missed a connection.

              There were NO options that would let me put in 8 hours of work from that 8:30 start time then take the bus home.

              (Hub-and-spoke system that assumes everyone either lives in a suburb and works downtown, or both lives and works in or near downtown. Pretty much no suburb-to-suburb routes. I swear if our public transit were terrible it would be an improvement.)

              1. Anon in Canada*

                The Antiplanner has talked about this endlessly – and he’s right.

                Transit it set up with the assumption that everyone works downtown. That hasn’t been true in around 100 years. Destinations in a metro area are too diffuse for such transit systems to work for all but a tiny percentage of people.

              2. Turquoisecow*

                Yep. I live in the NY metro. If you want public transit between suburbs, it’s often easier (though not faster!) to take a train or bus into the city and then back out to the other town, there’s not much that goes between the suburban towns. If anything!

                1. Never Boring*

                  In the NY boroughs, even, it can be faster to hub through Manhattan than to get from, say, Queens to Brooklyn directly via public transportation! (I’ve tried.)

        2. Dahlia*

          Some people with disabilities are also never going to be able to rely solely on public transport, either. Like if you’re grocery shopping and you need to leave That Moment because you got dizzy, you need access to a car, not a bus that’ll come in 20 minutes.

          Nothing works for everyone.

          1. Lydia*

            Nothing does work for everyone in every circumstance, but better transit works better for the broadest cross-section, which has an overall benefit for everyone (better transit means more people on transit, means fewer cars driving, means fewer traffic jams, means shorter commutes, etc.).

        3. not nice, don't care*

          I drive 16 miles each way, no bus routes near my house, and even if I drove to a bus stop, found safe parking, I would still need 2 or 3 buses and take about 2 hours. Not happening.
          My employer pays for bus passes and pays car pool parking. Neither option is available to me.

        4. Alex*

          Those are excellent points. To add to that, I work in an industry where a lot of people have meetings with external clients throughout the day, so they need their vehicle to get to and from appointments and the office. The only public transit here is an awful city bus system where the buses are dirty, unreliable, slow and have limited routes. That’s not a viable option.

          Biking and walking sound lovely, but where I live it’s been 100-plus degrees every day for two straight weeks and more to come, so unless you want to spend your day soaked in sweat or worrying about heat stroke, those aren’t great options.

        5. Lizzie*

          Another reason is parking AT the transit location. I know in my hometown, the majority of parking is by permit only, and the waitlist can be years long. I know when I lived at home and commuted, I could walk, or for a while, was lucky enough to be able to park in a lot that was sort of a “free” commuter parking lot, but you had to get there VERY early. The entity that owned the lot eventually forbid commuter parking there but I was long gone.

          1. Quite anon*

            I lived in Princeton for a few years and if you’re in the area, go drive around the Princeton Junction parking lot and look at all the cars. Every one is jammed into the tiny tiny parking spots, almost every one has numerous scratches and dings from being scraped by other cars trying to get out, and if you’re there around 10 or 10:30, you’re probably not going to get a spot that day. Unless the pandemic changed things. All of this, for standing room only on a train that is still an hour away from reaching NYC.

        6. amanda*

          Wait, why do you think you can’t pick up kids using transit? You absolutely can, and many parents do. (Not to mention the option of biking or walking with kids, so that they learn healthy habits from an early age.)

          1. Dahlia*

            If you’re late to pick kids up from daycare, you get charged a large fee by the minute. It can be possible, but it’s not a great option for most people.

          2. Anon in Canada*

            Biking with kids in the winter, in a climate that gets 5-9 feet of snow per winter? Huh? (that’s how it is where I live)

            Or in the summer in 35+ Celsius weather? Huh? (not like this where I live, but those places exist)

            Some people are indeed so broke that they have to do it but can you imagine the time it would take to 1) take the bus from work to the nearest bus stop to daycare 2) walk to daycare and pick up the child 3) walk back to the bus stop 4) take the bus home… which may involve further transfers. Rinse and repeat in the morning.

            Oops, daycare doesn’t open early enough/stay open late enough to accommodate all this time.

            You can’t ask parents who already own a car to subject themselves to that.

            1. Sasha*

              Depends on where you live. The original post was talking about people in cities, not suburbia or rural areas. We live in London, used to live in Toronto, and we did took our children to daycare on public transport in both cities. It would never have occurred to us to drive there.

              In London in particular, it would be bizarre to drop your child off at daycare or school in the car. Where would you and the other parents all park? It would be chaos.

              The hospital I work at has no parking whatsoever (on street parking is restricted to local residents only) – disabled patients get hospital transport, everyone else comes on public transport. Land values are simply too high in London to waste valuable space on a car park.

              1. Anon in Canada*

                Based on the last sentence, I assume you mean London, UK, not London, Ontario (first paragraph made me think it was London, ON).

                Yes, in big cities like those which have frequent subways and rail transit, there may be ways of handling kids in daycare with transit. In my city, (pop. 150,000, not too far from Toronto), buses are every 30 minutes – far too infrequent for that to be even remotely feasible unless your daycare is within walkable distance to your workplace or home. And the vast majority of parents do drop off kids at daycare (sometimes school) by car.

              2. NeedRain*

                It’s currently back to school time here and allll my friends and coworkers are complaining about the school drop off/pickup lines. It *is* chaos.

              3. Quite anon*

                For some reason Facebook has started recommending me gossipy slice of life news articles from a UK based online source, and I have to say, based purely on the comments sections, people in London get TESTY when parents drop off their kids with cars.

                1. londonedit*

                  Quite anon – if it’s the Daily Fail then please, please don’t give them your time. They are a disgusting tabloid rag that exists to stoke up hatred, fear and right-wing scaremongering and their stories in no way reflect life in the UK (though you’re right that people get pissed off with parents driving 500m to drop their kids at school in their giant Range Rovers).

              4. londonedit*

                As a fellow London resident I also cannot fathom the idea of driving to work. So, so few people do it. I’ve never worked anywhere where parking was even a consideration – you just don’t drive into central London! It’s not a thing that happens. It’d take forever, you have to pay the congestion charge/ULEZ charge, and parking is ridiculous. We don’t really have many city centre car parks, and the ones we do have are privately owned and incredibly expensive. And there isn’t much space on the street. The tube/bus network is so good that you’d be insane to even try any other method of commuting.

            2. Joielle*

              I mean, biking with kids in a snowy climate may not be feasible for you, but no need to act like it’s some sort of comically absurd proposition. I also live in a place that gets 5-9 feet of snow per winter (7.5 feet last winter, in fact) and the daycare a few blocks from me has plenty of dropoff/pickup bike traffic year round. And the bus I take to work has parents with young kids on their way to daycare/work year round. It’s not a matter of being “so broke” that you have no other options – there are plenty of cities where this is a perfectly reasonable and normal thing to do.

              1. Anon in Canada*

                It’s mostly a matter of how frequent transit routes are, and whether one is able to obtain a daycare spot that’s within walking distance to their home or workplace.

                If the answer to the latter is “no” and transit routes are infrequent (as in every 30, or heaven forbid, 60 minutes), only the most broke parents out there (who cannot afford any car, no mater how hard they try) would subject themselves to such a multi-hour commute morning and evening.

              2. Anon in Canada*

                Cycling handles “trip chaining” much better than transit. If the distance travelled and the weather allow for it (which are legit issues), it’s infinitely more realistic to pick up kids by cycling than by transit.

            3. amoeba*

              I mean, if public transport is bad, it’s also bad for parents, no argument there. And sure, if you have an extra stop on the way home, it impacts you even more.
              But with good public transport/bike routes/pedestrian walkways, it’s also of course good to pick up children! So yeah, I was also very surprised to read this statement, as if it’s a general thing that you cannot handle child pick-up without a car, no matter where you live or how good the other options are.
              Source: neither of my parents has a driver’s license.

          3. wordswords*

            How workable that is depends enormously on where you live, both in terms of what the public transit is like in general and in terms of how conveniently it connects home, work, and daycare. For some people it’s a great option! For others it’s doable but involves weighing the convenience of driving vs the benefits of public transit. For some people, it’s impossible, or an enormous burden of time and inconvenience. (There are places in my city that are a 10 minute drive or 45+ minutes by public transit even if the bus is conveniently scheduled and running on time, for example, because of how the system is laid out.) And for some people, of course, driving isn’t an option anyway.

            Public transit should be a convenient option for more people. No arguments there! But changing that is a longer-term solution, and in the short term, many parents can use transit to pick up their kids, but many others can’t, or effectively can’t.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I lived in my small city for about five years before I got a car. It was doable, but that’s because I planned my entire life around bus routes: I chose an apartment near the transit hub closest to my work, a vet within walking distance, gym and grocery shopping at the transit hub, etc. If I had to stay late at work or go to a medical appointment in the middle of the day I had to get a cab. So much depended on transit routes and timing.

          4. Orange You Glad*

            Yea, it’s not impossible but depends entirely on where you live. I’m in a larger US city so it’s normal for parents to pick up their kids and get them home on the bus. My bus ride home is filled with kids coming home after a school/daycare pickup. I do work with a lot of people that live in nearby towns that are not serviced by public transit so they have to drive to another area’s station or drive in. I imagine if they have kids in daycare, that daycare would be in the burbs near their homes which would require a car to reach.

        7. No Tribble At All*

          Briefly worked a job where I took the bus (~35 minutes because it was a very circuitous route) vs driving (10 minutes). My options were to get to the office 20 minutes early or 5 minutes late. Once the manager started ranting about how 9:02 was late, I started driving again.

          Also one time the bus home never showed up. I sat through three scheduled bus arrival times before giving up and calling my husband (in the next town over at his office) to come get me :)

          I would LOVE to be able to take public transit everywhere.

          1. Beany*

            Obviously people have different constraints on their time, but 20 minutes early doesn’t sound bad to me. Two *hours* early, now …

        8. Elizabeth West*

          I mean, if they can drive and they can afford it, that’s their choice. There is parking at my office building but it’s extremely limited, driving downtown (or anywhere, really) in this city is bonkers, and our parking garage is $31 a day, so I don’t do it. My coworker commutes from another state and that’s how he prefers it. He also gets paid more than I do.

          I also don’t have kids. But you can pick up kids on transit — how else do people do that who don’t own a car? I see small children with their parents/caregivers on buses and trains in every city I’ve ever been in.

          Accessibility, as mentioned below, is a different problem.

          1. Sasha*

            Honestly, most toddlers are far happier on a bus or train than strapped into a car. Stuff to look at, plus a parent who is focused on them and not the road.

            1. Misty_Meaner*

              Happier, maybe. Safer? Not necessarily. They should when possible be buckled in a seat or strapped into a car seat.

              1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

                Around here (Sea-Tac, Pacific Northwest, USA) when I see parents with small children on public transit, mostly the children are contained in strollers, often with the same type of padding and fastening that I’d expect in a car seat. The strollers then share the same reserved spaces that I use with my mobility equipment, which is often made from flipping up the seats reserved for people who have difficulty getting all the way to the back of the bus. On trains we have this priority discussion with bikes also, and with anyone with a significant amount of everyday cargo such as groceries, laundry, or a one-time surprise object like a substantial artificial Christmas tree.

                From an apprentice Real Estate and Workplace perspective, I know that downtown office planning involves an allocated number of parking spots (downtown living as well) and that various factors are forcing down the number of parking spots that each building lays claim to or has to account for. While public transit continues to not meet the needs of people with tight schedules, people going a long distance, people going places other than anticipated, people who need a lot of things with them for their daily work or care, people who need a safe bubble, people who have difficulty with the noise and chaos, and more — there will be a need for cars in city centers.

        9. NeedRain*

          the third one! I’m about to pay $425 a year for a parking pass, because even though the bus stops right in front of my apartment, it takes half an hour one way instead of five minutes and involves standing outside in whatever weather.

        10. Too Many Tabs Open*

          #3 is why I have not taken the bus to work in eight years. Even in the best case scenario, the bus will take twice as long as driving, and that’s assuming none of my connections are delayed. I’d rather have a little extra sleep in the morning and get home in time to have supper with my kids.

          And #2 plus #3 was my life for a year long ago. Work to daycare to home took three hours by bus; once I had a car, that evening commute went to 40 minutes.

        11. Artemesia*

          People make choices. I lived close in which made commuting easy with public transport. Colleagues who got big houses for much less in the suburbs then had to commute and pay for parking. The solution to much of this is better public transport. But if you decide to save money by buying a mcmansion in suburbia then one of the costs is commuting and parking.

          1. Suburbanite*

            The suburbs aren’t all mcmansions. A lot of suburban housing stock was built after the Second World War and is both small and old. The lower prices are offset by frequent repair costs.
            And believe it or not, there are a lot of apartment dwellers in the suburbs. My 2-bedroom apartment is cheaper than a tiny studio near downtown.
            Yes, it’s an hour or more in traffic, each way, but Metra stops running at 7:00 p.m. on my “possible” route, and the downtown terminal is a half-hour hike from the financial district. Fine if you never need to work late, I guess, but that was never my life.

        12. AMH*

          I mean, not to derail too much but most anti-car people are in favor of HUGELY improved transit infrastructure in its place, including high speed rail, more reliable buses and trains, etc. Obviously that doesn’t work everywhere (city to city high speed rail is great but doesn’t cover how to get to that small town without a station). Most of the anti-car people also understand that there are people who will always need cars, whether due to disability, location or what have you — the benefit being that they will have an easier time navigating in this scenario because there would be such a reduction in traffic and cars in general.

          Also, so I’m not replying in two places, “Some people are indeed so broke that they have to do it” about picking kids up by transit is really judgmental. I know a lot of people who live in the city and pick up their kids via transit because picking up via car would take longer or because they simply don’t have a car and it’s not because they are “so broke they have to do it.” Eeesh. And yes, that’s in a place with very hot summers and very cold winters. Doesn’t work everywhere, but it works here.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            If someone cannot find daycare that is within walking distance of their home or workplace, the only way they’ll endure the type of commute I described in that post you’re responding to is if they truly have no other options.

            And if not having a car makes someone’s commute that insane, the only way they won’t just, you know, get a car is if that’s impossible for them.

            1. AMH*

              That’s simply not the case everywhere, I’m sorry. I have relatives who have 2 cars and who pick their kids up on the bus because it is faster in the city they live in — where the roads and traffic are absurd. They also sometimes choose to commute to work on the bus or train instead of driving.

              And yes, this is in a place where the winters are quite cold and the summers quite hot.

              1. Anon in Canada*

                You’re talking about big cities like Toronto and Montreal, if someone works downtown. In those cases yes, there will be a lot of people for whom a transit commute works perfectly fine, even with kids.

                That’s a whole different ballgame from cities in the 100,000-500,000 range, which will have a transit system, but said transit will not be as frequent and doesn’t go to as many places as it does in a megapolis of millions. Traffic isn’t as bad as in huge cities. Downtown parking will still be an issue and determining who should pay for it will still be a debate. My city is in that range, so that’s what I’m familiar with.

                1. Andrew*

                  This conversation might go a bit better if those making generalizations — on both sides — would be more specific about pointing out what kind of cities and/or urban environments they’re talking about.

                  In other words — your pointing out that likely only people in big urban centers will opt in to transit is absolutely fair, and that this doesn’t reflect the experience in midsize cities.

                  But I also think it’s perfectly fair for AMH to respond “that’s simply not the case everywhere, I’m sorry” to your original statement, which never mentioned any caveats about describing a midsize city. You can’t fault someone for providing a counterexample when the example wasn’t limited in the first place.

            2. UnicornUnicorn*

              I live in Queens in NYC. See plenty of people who take a train to drop the kid off at daycare, take a train from daycare to get to work in Manhattan, take the train from work back to daycare, take the train home from daycare. Driving to do all this would be nuts. Where would you park for daycare? The majority of them don’t have lots. Finding street parking would take forever.

              1. Anon in Canada*

                Does it really have to be said that New York City is not like any other North American city when it comes to transit?

                I’m sure what you say is 100% correct, but it’s simply not applicable to the overwhelming majority of North Americans who don’t live in NYC or both live and work in the downtown core of a major city like Toronto or Montreal.

                1. Rach*

                  Exactly, I live in a city that’s part of the Phoenix metro area. When I worked in downtown Phoenix (a 30 to 45 min commute by car), there’s no way I could take the bus to drop the kids off at school and then take the light rail and buses to my job, my commute time would have tripled (plus the light rail is sketchy, I wouldn’t go on it alone). Our public transportation is a joke and not a viable option for the majority of people who have a choice.

                2. Llama lamma workplace drama*

                  When I lived in Kansas City, MO it was a 20 minute drive into work in my car or a 20 minute walk to a bus stop followed by switching busses twice that added up to an hour each way.

                3. Elsajeni*

                  Your original comment did include the specification “even if a city has decent transit” — it seems like a bit of a stretch to then say “well OBVIOUSLY I wasn’t talking about THOSE cities with decent transit!” when people point out counterexamples.

            3. Been There*

              This is just simply not true. Half my coworkers pick up their kids by bike because it’s easier than picking up their kids by car.
              You seem like the kind of person who just cannot fathom people preferring to travel any other way than by car.

              1. Anon in Canada*

                I live in a location that gets snow for 4-5 months a year, at an average of 5-9 feet of snow per winter. No significant number of people bike in the winter, especially not with kids in tow.

                There are multiple comments here from people who explain how unfeasible it would be for them not just to commute by transit (because that, in itself, would double or triple their commute time), but also how unrealistic adding a stop at daycare would be if they even attempted a transit commute.

                I should probably have added a caveat that “most people” with kids in daycare cannot commute by transit, because of course some can (if they’re in a city like NYC, or both live and work downtown). And if someone does their entire commute by bike and the local weather allows it, they picking up kids by bike can be done too. We’re still talking a tiny percentage of all parents here.

                1. Anon in Canada*

                  If you have a mandatory (or desired) stop on your way from point A to point B, this is called “trip chaining”.

                  Cycling handles “trip chaining” much better than transit. (if the weather allows for it, obviously)

          2. amoeba*

            Yup, very much this. I basically live in public transport paradise (Switzerland) nowadays and honestly, there’s really very little reason for people to drive (although, inevitably, too many still do). But with a good system, you really, really don’t have to rely on cars. Basically, even in the remotest mountain village of 200 people, there’s probably at least a bus every hour. I have yet to find a place that *cannot* be reached by public transport.

            Implementing something like this should really very much be a top priority in every country in the current situation. But it’s hard, as the car lobby often very strongly opposes any discussion on how to reduce the number of cars (but freedom!!!11)

            In my home country, it’s generally fine for anything somewhat urban (including metropolitan areas and small cities/towns down to 20k people or so, not just huge cities!), but if you’re really rural, it sucks. However, this really messes up the discussion as people will discuss, say, car-free city centres and people will derail the discussion with “but I live in a tiny village where there’s no bus, how can I survive without a car??” Well, nobody’s asking you to because that’s not what this discussion is about!

        13. bamcheeks*

          I mean, this is also a choice. I have had 7 different working locations over the past 12 years, have lived in three different houses, and my children are 8 and 5. The only time I commuted by car was when I was over six months pregnant. That’s not luck, it’s prioritising places to live and jobs and nurseries which worked with a non-car commute.

          Meanwhile, pro-car ideologies often miss the fact that making non-car alternatives easier benefits those that have to use a car too, because you’re not competing with us for road space or parking.

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            THANK YOU! I do live in a region with good bus & train commuter transit (and some of the cities also have good city transit) but lots of people around here drive to work. Some of them don’t have the option, I get that. Some of them prefer driving. Me, I prioritize employment that I can get to by transit. I can drive just fine — I grew up in Los Angeles — but I prefer to be on transit, even when it takes longer. (I especially prefer to be on a commuter bus stuck in traffic than in my own car stuck in traffic.)

        14. Wendy Darling*

          I theoretically can take transit to my job, but it’s via bus, which takes 3x as long as driving and also makes me severely motion sick. So I feel very ill for the entire journey and it takes me ~2 hours to recover afterwards. I’ve tried basically every available medication for it and nothing works without making me too groggy to work.

          I hate being part of the problem, and I hate paying hundreds of dollars a month for a parking space, but it turns out I hate both of those things less than I hate feeling like I’m about to barf for six hours a day every day I go into the office.

        15. I Have RBF*

          The third is the primary reason I despise transit as a commute “alternative”.

          Why on earth would I voluntarily double or triple my commute time just so they can feel good about being “green” or “environmentally conscious”?? Why should I give up even more of my life, for free, just so they can brag about forcing me to ride the bus?

          If a company really wants to “get cars off the road”, then they need to allow their local workers who can do their jobs remotely to actually do so. Remote work puts even less pollution into the air than transit. The air quality improved during the Covid shutdowns, because non-“essential” people were not commuting, and the on-site people spent less time idling in traffic..

        16. SomePeopleCantChoose*

          So be kind to people who are disabled and cannot drive. That’s what burns me. The constant refrain of “What do you mean it’ll take you 5 hours to go to a 30 minute dr appt? I could do it in a hour max.” or the worst, which is having to do it twice because two hours wasn’t actually enough time to get someplace that’s supposed to be an hour away because a bus never showed up and you were 15 minutes late do they wouldn’t see you.

          Not being able to get to certain jobs at all after 10am and having to leave by 6pm no matter what (or in some cases having a max window to be onsite of 6-7 hours because of the bus schedules).

          Think of the parking fees as a convenience tax.

        17. Friendo*

          Sure, all of this is true. However, think about the people who choose to live closer to work and face added expenses because of that. No one gets to ask for $200 in rent support because they can walk to work but people get $200 in parking benefits.

          Why shouldn’t it just come out in the wash and be part of a salary discussion?

      2. Beth*

        Promoting non-car options makes total sense in areas where it’s genuinely an option! I’m not mad about an employer in Manhattan not offering parking. I’m not even mad about a workplace in downtown Boston or Chicago, where there’s decent train connectivity to nearby suburbs.

        But that’s just not the case in most cities in the US. In many, many parts of the US (including a lot of cities!) driving is the norm and the only realistic way to get around in a timely manner. And garage parking is still expensive downtown . If employers in that environment don’t want to accommodate their employees searching for free or cheap metered parking spots, they need to figure out how to offer a reasonably-priced, reliable option.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          Of course, as you’re saying, in Manhattan? Sure.

          I live in a city of 150,000 that has a bus system, and the office I work at is downtown. Most employees who live in the city could theoretically take the bus here.

          But oops, not all employees live in the city, and most communities in the area have no intercity transit. And oops, some employees need to drop off/pick up kids at daycare/school. Can’t do that with transit.

      3. Bookmark*

        parking “cash out” programs can be a good solution for the argument that employer-provided parking is unfair, and also actually some studies show it could significantly increase non-car commuting. These policies essentially involve employers offering either employer-paid parking OR the cash value of that parking as a benefit. That way, employees can decide whether the value of the parking is really worth it to them (which it likely would be for people for whom transit/biking/etc isn’t feasible) or if they’d rather have the extra cash. Of course, that’s an added expense for employers and it’s hard for them to know in advance how many people will take the cash vs the parking spot so makes it difficult to actually secure the right amount of actual parking spaces.

        The uncomfortable reality is that in dense urban areas and other space-constrained environments if everyone drives alone the roads will be gridlocked and you’d need at least as much square footage for parking as you need for the actual business. This gets really, really expensive. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make modes other than driving alone good options for people, because then life will be much easier for the people who really need to drive for one reason or another. Alas, there’s more work to do on all of this, and we’d actually have to spend money as a society on transit…

        1. amoeba*

          Yup, we have that and quite a lot of people are happy to take the money! You can even park a few times (maybe 2-4?) a month for free in case you do need a car irregularly. And we have electric cars available on site that you can use for free for business travel. There’s also a free shuttle bus from the train station at the nearest city, as well as a train connection to the site every 30 mins. (And we have flex time, so no issue with schedules clashing with timetables).
          It works really well and I haven’t heard a single parking discussion/complaint since I started there three years ago.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            The place where I worked at the height of San Francisco’s “tech bus” problem kept saying “oh no we will not do a tech bus.” They’d run numbers, and the employee density vs. costs, including the cost of permitting needed to use municipal bus stops (which many companies/vendors didn’t bother paying) just didn’t work out. However, the problem was that local bus service to the company campus was via a local university shuttle, and those shuttles ran mornings and evenings only, and didn’t show up very well in trip planning apps.

            So a couple of us went to the usual suspects and said “So, we know you won’t do the classic Tech Bus, but what if you did a short shuttle to bridge the gap between the reliable transit and the campus? In internet service providers, they call that ‘the Last Mile problem’.” So the campus got Last Mile shuttles and they got great uptake!

            … except, they still only run morning and evening.

      4. kiki*

        I think my last employer handled this really well. You could pick between a parking spot, unlimited transit pass, or monthly transit stipend. I picked the unlimited transit pass– I think it cost my company $80 and it covered all my transit, even personal (so it saved me hundreds of dollars). I think there were some grumblings by folks who sometimes took the metro and sometimes chose to drive, but for the most part folks seemed happy.

    6. Brain the Brian*

      If nothing else, forcing employees to pay for parking (or transit, if the company won’t subsidize that, either) feels especially ridiculous in an era when companies are trying to convince people to return to their offices more regularly. I realize this letter is several years old, and the issue is even more salient now than it was then.

      1. DontFlameMeBro*

        So, just to play Devil’s Advocate here (because I largely agree with you) … but, I get free parking when I go to the office (mostly WFH) BUT, I live about an hour away so I do spend a not insignificant amount on gas when I do go in. Should I be asking for reimbursement for that? At what point do we expect employees to pick up the costs of their choice to work at a specific location vs. a company paying for or largely subsidizing costs on top of salary? This is particularly relevant to inner cities where parking is often a premium, but also suburban areas where employees choose to live quite some distance away, but perhaps don’t have access to subways, trains, city buses, etc… I don’t necessarily have the answer so I really DO NOT NEED TO BE FLAMED for “how dare you suggest an employee should pay for parking!”. This is a question that I genuinely ponder when I read questions like this.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          I ask myself the same questions, actually. If I’m on a business trip using my own car, the company reimburses me at the standard mileage rate. They don’t do this for employees who drive locally to commute regularly (nor, I think, should they). Somehow, parking and transit cross into territory that I feel like an employer should reimburse — maybe because they’re so directly allocable to work?

        2. MigraineMonth*

          So far as I can tell, conventions rule what companies pay for more than logic. For example, there is no logical reason that my employer doesn’t pay gas for my commute but does pay for my health insurance. (Yes, I know the history, but now it’s just a weird thing that makes changing jobs an absolute pain.)

          I’ve also learned to be wary of companies that pay for too many things. Onsite gym is great, free breakfast and lunch is great… but when you get to free dinner, laundry machines, rec facilities, nap rooms, etc you realize that you now spend 14 hours a day at work and have no non-work friends/family.

          1. Petty_Boop*

            That sounds more like a hotel than an office!! LOL. NAP ROOMS? That’d be a red flag for me, for sure! Like “you’re going to need a nap due to your long days here!” I have gotten subsidies for a gym membership, and because I Do NOT take the health insurance (military retired) I get a $100 per month supplement in my paycheck which is nice. They also paid $100 per month toward my student loan, which was nice. But those kinds of things aren’t “YOU WILL NEED THIS BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE THE OFFICE AGAIN” types of things like you mentioned above. Yikes!

        3. Some Dude*

          Not to mention with WFH the company is essentially externalizing the office cost to the employee. Some will pay for WFH set ups, but beyond an extra keyboard and $200 monitor, mine won’t.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Lol, mine won’t even pay for a keyboard and monitor. But I vastly prefer it to the horror show that is commuting every day and the goblin I become when forced to encounter coworkers in-person for more than about a day at a time.

          2. H3llifIknow*

            My company provided me my laptop, 2 monitors, a docking station, standing desk, and I could have taken an office chair if I’d wanted to, but mine is better anyway :) I already have 400mg internet service so I had no additional costs for that, and my dry cleaning bill and gas bills went WAYYYYY down, so I feel like I’m way ahead on the WFH cost benefit equation. I think for most people, the additonal costs of WFH would be pretty minimal since I think *most* have internet already, and the additional electricty to run a laptop and monitors is pretty minimal. I closely watched my electric and gas and compared the pre and post WFH periods and there was no more than a little more cost for heat in the winter or ac in the summer (and I am talking less than $10 a month) but in the spring and fall it was actually lower (!) presumably since I was home and rather than have the heat or AC on, I opened windows, wore sweats, etc… Everyone’s mileage may vary, but I honestly believe most of us come out ahead on WFH vs having to commute, dress professionally, buy or pack lunches, etc…

    7. HailRobonia*

      I work at a university and the town has a law that the school can only provide a certain amount of parking (I think 25-30% of employees?) to encourage public transportation. The good news is that my employer pays for our transit passes. The bad news is that using public transit would mean a two-hour commute.

      And yet our Executive Director wonders why we are so resistant to returning to the office after working fully remote and hybrid over the past few years.

      1. OyHiOh*

        In my city, which is pretty typical of most mid size US cities, there’s ok-ish public transportation. However, in a choice between driving the school commute (18 minutes door to door, most of it on freeway that generally runs at or very close to posted speed limit and is therefore more efficient than stop and go city streets) or taking public transport (70 minutes one way, a transfer, a half mile walk to the closest stop to home and a nearly mile walk from the closest stop to school) I will choose to drive my own car, ethics be damned.

        I was raised by hippies and am enough of a bike riding, walk in all weathers wild woman this annoys me tremendously, but I would loose like half my day to riding on buses if I exercised that option, and I simply cannot afford to do so.

    8. Spooky Season is at hand*

      As someone who used to live on one of those free parking streets, I can guarantee you the company isn’t popular with the residents there either.

      Of course in my case the company nearby does offer free parking to employees but you have to go through an access gate and some people just couldn’t be bothered to queue up at the end of the workday.

      I did not shed a single tear when my city realised there was a lot of money in fining these people for not moving their car in time and started patrolling here more regularly.

    9. cosmicgorilla*

      I once worked somewhere with this issue. Our challenge, I think, was that we had a lot of part-time positions, and so the company didn’t want to shell out for all the part-timers. That would have added up. And of course the PT’ers didn’t want to throw their limited wages towards parking. FT employees got a small subsidy towards parking.

      Other thing was that this was not a major corporation, and money was tight as it was.

    10. Some Dude*

      Where I live it would be prohibitively expensive to pay for employees’ parking, and it would encourage people to drive when there are decent public transportation options available.

      But I do agree that it is annoying when there are zero public transit options AND it is difficult and expensive to park.

      1. Megan*

        That’s OK. But the trade off is that the LW and her higher ups let these longer breaks to move cars go. They want to have their cake (not pay for parking) and eat it too (complain about employees moving their cars so they can park for free).

        1. mcm*

          This is what I was thinking. The obvious solution to employees moving their cars to take advantage of free parking is paying for their parking. If you don’t want to do that, I don’t think you can really complain about employees moving their cars during work if that’s the only way to not pay for downtown parking rates during the workday.

    11. Sharkie*

      The main reason why I accepted my current job is because I have free 24 /7 parking in our downtown location. It is the BARE minimum a company can do.

    12. Pizza Rat*

      I’m so glad Allison suggested leaving “time theft,” out of the phrasing. Vile phrase.

      I think employers should pay for parking, especially if space is at a premium near their office.

      If they can’t or won’t, commuter benefit plans exist where the employee can have the expenses deducted pre-tax. That doesn’t solve the available space problem, but it does save $ for the employee.

      Commuting to and from the workplace costs a lot of money. Clothes that meet the dress code (and sometimes the dry cleaning thereof), gas for the car or motorcycle, vehicle maintenance & insurance. Even bicycles need maintenance and that’s not cheap. Mass Transit isn’t either and costs time. Is it any wonder there’s a strong resistance to returning to the workplace for those who were working from home since 2020 lockdown?

    13. It Might Be Me*

      It’s not even a cost in some places. On our courthouse square, there is an employee parking lot on the next street. Parking around the square is limited to three hours. Rather than park in the parking lot, a large number of employees park around the square and do this parking dance.

      It’s very irritating and impacts businesses on the square.

    14. Cruciatus*

      I’m one of the lucky ones. My new employer is downtown in my (small) city and I get to park in an ID badge accessible parking garage that connects to my building….for free! My last employer, a university on hundreds of acres, charged us $35 a month (more than students when tallied up), all year round. Taken directly out of our paychecks. And while we did have a staff/faculty lot, we did not get assigned parking or even nice parking lots for the money we paid. (I just did the math, I paid $3,360 in my 8 years there. Yikes to see it written out like that!)

    15. Petty_Boop*

      Yeah my firm in the beltway provides a monthly stipend for parking for those who are not in one of “our” locations with an attached garage. I’m not sure it covers 100% of everyone’s parking, but it definitely covers the bulk of it. They also pay for metro passes for those who use the metro. But, depending on the size of the company and the cost of parking, is paying EVERY employee $50 a day for upwards of 300 days a year really sustainable? It’s all cost/benefit. Is it worse to lose an employee for 30-60 “extra” minutes a day or to pay for parking?

    16. Timothy (TRiG)*

      If there’s any parking spaces at all available in a downtown area, your urban planning is a mess. “Downtown” should not have parking. Paid or otherwise.

      1. DataSci*

        This! Though I’m in a major metro area – if people are in a town of 200K or so “downtown” may still be pretty spread-out and sprawly.

      2. Never Boring*

        Spoken like someone who has never tried to use public transportation with a mobility impairment.

    17. DataSci*

      Most employers in those downtown areas don’t own their buildings, and the building owner often didn’t decide to include a parking structure (because they’re not cost-effective). It’s exactly because parking is so expensive that they don’t provide it. Lots of places will offer some sort of commuting benefit that can be used toward either a parking pass or transit (or toward the cost of a bike – one place I worked even let you use it for walking shoes!)

      I hate it when employers offer acres of free parking for people who drive themselves but can’t be bothered to cover public transit costs, personally.

    18. PhyllisB*

      Yep. When I worked for the phone company this was an ongoing problem. Supervisors would yell at us for this but turn a blind eye to smokers dipping out for a puff or three. Note! I am not slamming smokers, just saying fair is fair.

    19. Sarah*

      I have zero issue with companies not subsidizing parking as long as it’s a downtown where there is presumably public transportation. Those dollars would be far better spent subsidizing employee public transit- my husband’s company does a 50:50 model.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Same. At a former job one of the employees in another department went away on vacation and then just never came back. I was gone by then, but one of my former co-workers told me about it. It was all very mysterious…

    2. Ama*

      Me too! Oddly enough I am also currently looking for a colleague who has mysteriously disappeared — he left his previous employer and no one seems to know where he’s gone, which is unusual in our industry. Thankfully he doesn’t have anything crucial we need back (my employer actually has stuff *he* might want, which is why it is particularly odd that he didn’t let us know he was moving).

      1. HigherEdEscapee*

        This happened at a former employer. Someone went out to lunch and just never came back. His stuff was still in his cube and he just never returned. I know he wasn’t doing well at his job and was probably not far from being fired, but he just vanished. Eventually they just packed up his stuff.

        1. Nitpicker*

          That happened to me too. I was a team leader and one of my team went to lunch and never came back. He left his computer on which muddied the waters a little. I told my boss-I think someone from HR finally tracked him down and he screamed at them to go away.

        2. Writer Claire*

          My ex-inlaws used to run a business that microfilmed old and rare books. Very cool subject matter, but tedious work with lots of paper dust. On week #1, they hired Sandalphon for entry-level microfilming. Sandalphon lasted two days and never came back.

          On week #2, Uriel applied for the same job. Uriel was Sandalphon’s sibling and when asked what happened, replied, “Oh, must’ve been the drugs.” Uriel went into the restroom shortly before lunch and was never seen again.

          On week #3, Michael applied for the job. As soon as my FIL found out that Michael was related to Uriel and Sandalphon, he threw up his hands and said No More!

            1. Writer Claire*


              We suspect that Uriel didn’t actually vanish from the restroom. Or escape through the window onto the roof. Mostly likely she wasn’t spotted as she nipped out the door. (It was a large, warehouse-like setting.) But it was fun to speculate.

      2. That wasn't me. . .*

        Oh, I was in a place where something like this happened too! Boss finally found out person had been committed (to a mental health facility). Another possibility is in cancelation in jail, but I’d expect a phone call calling out on that one. Or dead. Everyone dies eventually.

    3. PurpleShark*

      I had this happen at a school I worked at. An employee left for spring break and never returned. Oddly some months later he called me. From what he said he had a mental health breakdown and was committed to a facility by his family. He wouldn’t have been in a position to answer the phone and his family was concerned with him. I think they notified HR. As his colleagues we scrambled because he was responsible for a large career fair at that time.

    4. Ann*

      Sometimes people just quit like that. That seems to be what happened here – sounds like the letter-writer was in touch with this guy for some time after he stopped turning in data.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      I wonder if the data he has is even worth collecting. Maybe he messed something up or corrupted a file, didn’t know how to fix it, and decided to just not bother going back.

    6. I just work here....*

      We had a staff member literally wander off and die. Took a few days off sick (my employer doesn’t require doctors certificates), then never came back. Wasn’t answering their phone, a month or so later their spouse rang up to say they’d died. There was a cutlure/language barrier, but it seemed very weird to us.

      The annoying side inside the company is not so much that we had to get someone to spend a week or two discovering what the person was working on etc, it’s that the company owners did not learn anything from having this happen. We still don’t have proper backup/recovery plans for even the most crucial staff. Sigh.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I don’t think it’s that surprising that when someone dies suddenly, their spouse’s first priority isn’t notifying their employer. Especially if there are family overseas and lots of urgent logistics to sort, all while grieving, in shock, and not being fluent in English.

    7. Petty_Boop*

      Me too! I think the employer should send one last CERTIFIED letter to the address on file, addressing the loss of company owned data with a method for returning the reports: a self-addressed and stamped manilla envelope, a thumb drive and packaging, a link to a URL to upload it, whatever. Make it formal and official and clear that this is not a “you walked away from your job” issue so much as a “you have OUR data and we need it.” Maybe have the legal department draft the letter. This honestly reminds me of an employee I had who submitted the same status report for like 6 weeks and when I went into the system he’d done NOTHING. When I called him on it, he said he was too overwhelmed because he had no idea what he was doing or how so he … did nothing. I’m wondering if this employee even DID the visits/reports he was supposed to… and he disappeared because he had nothing to show for his time there. Regardless though, INQUIRING MINDS….

  2. Tinkerbell*

    I feel for the OP with bathroom issues, but it sounds to me like a job where she has to suddenly and with no notice be customer-ready may not be the right fit for her. If this job can tweak things a bit so people aren’t left waiting (or don’t know they’re waiting, e.g. another employee gets things started or stalls them) that’s fine, but hopefully the OP finds something that will allow them the time they need without interference!

    1. Love to WFH*

      Does the co-worker think that she’s just hiding out in the bathroom, playing games on her phone?

      1. Heart&Vine*

        That was my first instinct. But it’s weird that, if she was so bugged by it, she’s never said anything so OP could clear things up. I can understand her frustration if OP is gone for 30 minutes, esp. if there’s a client tapping their foot right next to you, but that also warrants a conversation – not banging on the bathroom door like OP is passed out on the floor.

        1. Anatical Tree Hugger*

          I’m glad you find it weird that coworker didn’t directly say something (seriously, because I hope that means you haven’t had to suffer through passive-agressive silliness before). As someone who deals with a fair amount of passive-aggressiveness, the indirect “take the hint” approach is quite familiar (sadly so).

          1. saskia*

            One could be forgiven for being indirect about bathroom issues. I think the onus was on OP to speak up, especially because they seemed to know the frequent absences were causing problems for their co-worker. “Hey, whatcha taking so long in the bathroom for?!” is not a question people want to ask.

            1. Victoria Everglot*

              I would rather die than ask someone what she’s doing in the bathroom. “Hey are you pooping or just playing on your phone?” nope nope nope

      2. umami*

        She very well might! It doesn’t sound like OP has mentioned she needs a bathroom accommodation, so it could truly be that the coworker thinks she’s taking a break in the bathroom. It’s rather unusual for someone to be needing 30 minutes regularly for bathroom breaks, so OP would likely be better off mentioning to their supervisor at least that they have an issue and need this accommodation so that someone else can cover.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        Maybe I’ve just worked with a few slackers in my life: I would think that OP would have a legitimate need to be in the bathroom, BUT I would also think that she could hurry up a little bit if she knew someone was waiting. I wouldn’t disturb OP in the bathroom, but would wonder if she wanted a head’s up sometimes. Unless it was a daily occurrence, I probably would never say anything.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      Agreed; while Jane pounding on the door is not going to help anything (and I can empathize with the OP), regularly delaying client interactions by 10/20/30 minutes will either come across as rude or unprofessional. Bathroom emergencies are emergencies, but once it’s a known factor, there has to be some kind of situation management other than just letting the clients wait.

      1. abca*

        There was nothing in the letter about this happening regularly though? LW says it can sometimes take up to 30 minutes. And presumably that does not always happen right when a customer is needing LW. We have no idea if this is actually a real problem that needs addressing. For all we know this happens twice a week, but not always when there are customers, so customers have to wait for 10 minutes twice a month. That’s maybe a bit annoying, but not terribly disturbing. If there is one particular person who can do work, it is not unexpected to have to wait a bit at times.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      This. I mean, it’s possible to have a completely legitimate and sympathy-worthy health thing going on but also have it be non-workable with the job. I have to confess that if I were a client and had to wait half an hour for . . . I assume they’re not telling clients why the OP isn’t available, but since I wouldn’t know why I wouldn’t be super impressed.

      So, yes, Jane is rude, but possibly the OP is in a bit of denial about how much of a problem this is for the job and not just for the OP personally.

      1. Cynic*

        How many times has Jane made the sale, only to lose that sale because the customer walked out after 20 minutes of twiddling their thumbs? Maybe the pounding is for the client’s sake, so they see Jane “doing something.”

        I also agree that LW would be better suited to a different job.

        1. This_is_Todays_Name*

          If I were a client, and the salesperson began POUNDING on the bathroom door and yelling at the “closer” to get out here, what’s taking so long, someone is waiting, etc… It wouldn’t be the person in the bathroom that lost the sale, it’d be JANE! First of all, a polite and professional “OP is the only one who can close this deal, but she’s occupied with another matter at the moment. She’ll be with you as soon as possible.” But if I saw her pounding and hounding someone using the restroom? Nope.

    4. ferrina*

      I felt for Jane. She has a client that is waiting to be helped, and her colleague has vanished into the bathroom. Again. She doesn’t know what LW is doing- plenty of people go into the bathroom to have down time or brush their teeth or refresh make-up. So she alerts LW that there is someone waiting for them, so if LW is doing something that can be paused or expedited, LW has the information that they need. Jane asks for a time estimate on when they’ll be available, because there’s a client waiting and Jane wants to let them know what to expect (cuz, you know, clients don’t exactly like waiting).

      It sounds like LW hasn’t told Jane that it’s a health issue. I think LW should tell Jane that there’s a health issue involved, then work with Jane to make some sort of plan. Would LW prefer to know that there is a client, or just be surprised when they get back to their desk? What can Jane communicate to the client that 1) respects LW’s privacy and 2) doesn’t annoy the client? It sucks for the LW, but it also sucks for Jane who is stuck with annoyed clients and isn’t able to give them any updates.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        “So she alerts LW that there is someone waiting for them,”… Uh nope. She pounds on the door. She yells at the OP. She continues to pound and yell until she gets an answer if the OP chooses to ignore the pounding and yelling. She isn’t discreetly tapping on the door and quietly saying, “I have a client out here waiting on you.” Jane is being obnoxious and inappropriate.

  3. Black cat lady*

    yes I want an update on the missing data collector. Alison did you ever reach out to this poster and ask what happened?

  4. Goldenrod*

    “it sounds to me like a job where she has to suddenly and with no notice be customer-ready may not be the right fit for her”

    I had that same thought.

    I wonder if they can at least make it more pleasant for the customers while they wait – like, is there a budget for food/coffee that could be used to distract them? I might not mind waiting so much, if someone offered me a chocolate croissant and a latte….

    1. Ccbac*

      agreed. I also wonder if Jane works on commission (selling/sales are mentioned) and op handles paperwork for a flat salary and if Jane has lost some sales (ie income) due to the wait time.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        I thought so too. Sort of how when you buy a car at the dealership, the salesperson works with you but the office manager/finance manager “closes” the sale with you. So, Jane won’t get her sales commission of the OP “foils” the sale by being unavailable. But Jane really needs to SIMMER DOWN and be more professional than pounding on the door and yelling. As a client, I’d be super uncomfortable if I heard that going on! I also don’t want to be THINKING about what’s happening in the bathroom so Jane needs to be discreet!

  5. The Cosmic Avenger*

    LW#1 sounds like it was written to sell workflow software. This is why you should have everything attached to a ticket, and supervisors can monitor all open tickets and check in with the assignee if a ticket sits idle for too long.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      It says they conducted field work to collect data. Likely something more along the lines of monitoring of some kind.

      Alison’s advice to require data submitted directly after the field work would be the best workaround.

      1. Ann*

        Only if people actually follow that guidance! Sometimes you have the policy in place and you still have to ask and remind several times. If there’s a lot of field work, it’s kind of understandable because everyone is stretched. But being understanding doesn’t help when you get the data a week late and it turns out something important is missing. Or when the person quits before they get around to it.
        This is my life in a nutshell lately…

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Of course there is never a foolproof way to make people do something.

          I’m always baffled that payroll has to send out regular reminders for people to complete their timesheets….you know how we get paid???? Human nature will always win out over the most explicit of policies :)

      2. I just work here....*

        The contract data collection I’ve done has always had “deliver the data” as an explicit requirement. No data, no pay. That’s separate from “process the data” when that’s part of the job.

        For full time employees it should be almost as easy. If someone doesn’t deliver the data they’re not doing their job… and if delivery isn’t part of their job that’s a management problem. I’m really curious about the data auditing with this job, it sounds as though they’re vulnerable to bad data or other problems not being discovered until they are due to deliver it to the client.

  6. Generic Name*

    I’m really curious how the first letter turned out. Maybe I’m just cynical, but my guess is they never actually did the site visits at all. I had a similar situation at my job, and in my opinion, the company handled it poorly. We had an employee who apparently was having a health crisis, but instead of telling anyone, she stopped doing any work and ignored phone calls and emails. The company is very remote work friendly and I guess no one noticed or spoke up when she didn’t show up in the office for weeks?? We would get increasingly frantic all-company emails from the person who runs payroll imploring people to fill out their timesheets, because this employee (and maybe others??) hadn’t filled out their timesheet in two weeks. Things came to a head when a due date to a client was looming, and the project manager realized that the report she was responsible for wasn’t in the shared company drive, and she wasn’t responding to phone calls or emails asking the status. She also had a habit of saving things to her desktop, so I got the privilege of gaining access to her computer (through IT) to go searching for this report. There was no report, even though she charged a ton of time to the project (which is why the PM assumed she had done the report but just saved it improperly). I had to jump in at the last minute and write this massive report. The employee who no called/no showed? Still has a job. To my knowledge, she was not disciplined in any way. The way the company handled this left a really bad taste in my mouth, and I started job searching shortly after this happened.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      I’m assuming the “he completed required visits” means that he was seen at the customer site.

      But in your example the problem is very clearly management not noticing someone is not working for weeks at a time. And payroll for not contacting the supervisor of people who failed to turn in timesheets when due which might have alerted the manager to the issue sooner.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah the dysfunction here is running pretty deep here– All Company emails when one person isn’t doing their timecard vs addressing with individual and their manager? And how does one get paid if they don’t do their timecard?

        1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

          I’m awful about remembering to submit my timecards (I have 4 different reminders at this point) because while I have to submit them weekly, they’re essentially just a formality. A timecard with a normal 40-hour week on it doesn’t even get reviewed by a human; you can just make a template and fill it out with one click (I’ve been using the same template for like 8 years now). And if I don’t submit it, I’ll get paid for 40 hours anyway. I think it only becomes a real problem after it’s something like 60 days late (when I think it runs afoul of some kind of regulatory requirement).

          1. I just work here....*

            The pandemic finally pushed my employer to give up on timesheets for salaried staff. Some of us don’t even have project breakdowns to do, it’s just “the software” for 38 hours every week. Others have “do tech support” ditto, but there are ~5 out of 20 staff who have multiple projects that need time breakdowns. Which those staff do a few months late when the admin staff come round and stand over them until they do it… why even bother? And now we don’t.

      2. Observer*

        But in your example the problem is very clearly management not noticing someone is not working for weeks at a time. And payroll for not contacting the supervisor of people who failed to turn in timesheets when due

        Very much so.

        If you don’t have a timesheet, you contact the supervisor and HR. You don’t just keep on sending out emails about timesheets.

        But also, how does a manager not realize that they haven’t heard anything from an employee in weeks? This *not* how you do “remote work” properly.

    2. Potatoes gonna potate*

      Wait what hte hell happened to the employee???? She ghosted everyone and right after the report was done (by you) she resurfaced? and….nothing? I really wanna hear how that happened!

      That’s jaw dropping.. maybe it’s my industry/job (public accounting) but charging hours to clients for work that was never actually done is grounds for immediate dismissal.

      I just don’t know how people get away with this kind of stuff. I made a mistake and was having a panic attack before telling my boss about it.

      1. Generic Name*

        I’m not entirely sure what went on behind the scenes, but as far as I can tell, yeah, she finally resurfaced, but came back to work on a part-time hourly basis (before she was full-time salaried) with the understanding that in order for her to go back to full-time salary she would have to meet certain criteria to “restore trust”. That and another similar incident where a different employee just….didn’t do a report, and I had to jump in at the last second to fix things made me go out and get another job. She is still working there.

        1. Generic Name*

          And to be clear, I didn’t leave the company because they were flexible with folks having a medical or personal crisis. I left because I felt like I was the one always picking up the pieces for no reward. And management didn’t seem to think that anything needed to change in terms of processes or their approach. Also, I got a massive, massive raise when I moved on.

          1. Potatoes gonna potate*

            Wow. Great for her I guess for allowing the flexibility but they really should have figured out that if someone is picking up teh slack…reward them!

            Glad you got out and got a better raise!

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Heh, we had someone who led a massive data collection effort and got a lot of positive feedback when they presented on it. But for several years the lead was asked to, and then flat out told to, write it up as a report, and they just didn’t. There was a huge amount of unique data due to the nature of the collection (other people assisted so it was verified), but the raw data disappeared when the lead eventually quit and all that was left was a single minimal-text Powerpoint deck. Big failure of management, but I think they just never imagined that someone in a senior, high-profile role would a) refuse to do basic work and b) either delete or take the data with them so no one else could have it.

    4. Aerin*

      That was my thought, too. Either that or they did the site visits, but the data got lost somehow, quite possibly in a way that’s difficult or embarrassing to explain. Like, their kid was playing with their work computer and overwrote it all, or they logged it with their phone and then dropped the phone in the toilet and it didn’t get backed up the way it was supposed to. NGL, there are times in my life where faking my own death would be a far superior alternative to copping to something like that. (See also the person who let documents pile up until she took them out to a field and lit them on fire rather than confess to having not sent them.)

  7. Heart&Vine*

    #1 – I agree with Alison but also think you shouldn’t be wasting precious time waiting to hear back from his team members if they aren’t replying immediately with more information. The guy could be in a coma and no one else on the team would necessarily know. And even if they do know what’s going on, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to get a response from him anyway.

    It’s probably better to cut your losses, do the site visit again, apologize to the client for any delay, return the data as fast as possible, and eat whatever extra costs crop up. Then, for the future, work backward to figure out what the absolute latest date would be to collect data from your employees and put in writing that you cannot pay them if they don’t supply their data by X date (barring extenuating circumstances). That way you give yourself some padding in case someone doesn’t provide their data and you have to send someone else out.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      This is where I land.

      By all means do some kind of final more intrusive check in as a last effort to make sure the guy is ok but instead of wasting more time trying to get info that every indication is you’re not going to get – just redo the work.

      1. That wasn't me. . .*

        I would assume this type of work IS done by contracts – payment upon completion, not hourly. or if there are partial payments, they are based on a potion of data being turned in.

    2. Antilles*

      I agree. At this point, you have to proceed on the assumption that original site data is gone forever.
      Continue to reach out to him if you’d like, but move forward as though he will remain unreachable. If he suddenly gets back to you tomorrow with what you need, awesome, adjust on the fly, but you can’t just wait-and-see.

  8. Antilles*

    For the missing data, I work in an industry where there’s a lot of field work similar to this and the consistent standard I’ve seen is that employees are always expected to provide copies of their raw field data either at the end of every week or as soon as they get back from the field. The longer the paperwork just floats out there in the hands of field personnel, the more likely it is that the hard copies eventually get buried in a mess of papers or fall under the seat of the truck or accidentally thrown out or a similar “I know they’re here somewhere…” kind of thing.

    Whether or not this standard is actually enforced seems to vary, mostly based on whether or not the individual Project Manager has gotten burned by lost data before.

    1. Ann*

      How would you enforce? I’ve been burned before, but still don’t know what I can do other than repeatedly asking for the data.

      1. Artemesia*

        I managed research where we had lots of subcontractors of various levels of competence in the field doing extensive recorded interviews. We had the tapes submitted immediately on completion of each visit so we could have them transcribed. You never let someone hold raw data for extended periods. You are guaranteed to lose some of it that way and it is sooo expensive and difficult to get in the first place.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Notice when due dates are missed, and actually check in that day? Don’t give more assignments until existing assignments are completed? Decide how long is too long and after that long, re-assign that project so it doesn’t just sit there?

        But honestly, a lot of it really is just following up and getting an answer from the person. (So, just sending an email doesn’t count. Getting the reply is what counts.) It’s pretty much the same as repeatedly asking, yes. Most of the time, that will work, and you’ll end up with many fewer situations where data is lost forever.

      3. Generic Name*

        A good way to automatically enforce is to collect data by electronic methods that are automatically backed up. GIS mapping data is collected to ArcGISOnline. Text or spreadsheet information is collected and saved directly to the cloud via Google or Microsoft Office. Or policy is that paper notes are scanned and uploaded daily, and if someone doesn’t upload daily, their supervisor follows up at an interval that is sooner than “months later”. I’ve definitely been burned by having to piece together field data that was messed up, lost, or just never collected in the first place.

      4. I just work here....*

        In my field we get the raw data ASAP, generally on the day of collection. That way someone can go over it to make sure there are no obvious problems or missing sections. It’s really annoying to be told/tell someone “do the same thing in the same place as yesterday, but this time {change some detail}”. But it’s much, much more annoying to tell someone a month later “go back to the place, try to find the exact situation, and …”

        I’ve never had more than the most trivial push-back, generally “but I’m tired, I’ve been working all day”. Hand over the data and I’ll let you go.

        When I’ve done data collection I’ve generally wanted those audits and often used them to suggest improvements/tweaks that improve things in some way. Simple example is traffic counting in relatively low-traffic areas. Don’t just say “a vehicle went past”, have separate counts for pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks, semitrailers, buses. When the rates are 1-5 per minute that’s entirely practical (anything faster you should use automatic counters anyway).

      5. AcademiaNut*

        If they don’t hand over the data when reminded, they either get fired before the next data collection run (for employees), or they don’t get rehired (contractors), and in both cases marked as ineligible for rehire. For contractors, you can make handing over the raw data a condition of getting paid.

  9. Megan*

    I don’t love the tone of the parking letter. Does your company offer a per diem for parking? If not, you need to be either A. Let this go, because it is the company’s problem that they are housed in a building where parking is such an issue, not the employees.’ B. Offer a more flexible schedule where parking isn’t such an issue. C. Allow more WFH. Whatever you decide, stop referring to it as time theft. It has to be done to accommodate the company and if you aren’t paying extra for parking, it’s not a good hill to die on.

    1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      Yeah, the phrase, “time theft” offends me. We’re real people, not programmed automatons.

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Once upon a few jobs ago, I had a non academic position at a university that was so low paying that I qualified for a few community resources (rental assistance, that type of thing). This was not out of the ordinary for the position, either.

      We got a new director who couldn’t figure out why our entire group left at specific times during the day (moving vehicles – because even the cheapest university permit option was two solid days of work before taxes) and why on earth so many of us had altered working schedules (to permit second retail jobs). He then suggested that perhaps both were against university policies – and discovered that every single chain fast food place in town paid more per hour than our department did. Oddly, he chose to not “…and find out”, but rather, worked to adjust the policies.

  10. Janeric*

    I am in a field with a “missing data collector” problem — I had a few coworkers disappear when I was a data collector, and then I went to grad school with someone who was in the midst of the flurry of “please send us your data” email blizzard.

    I think a part of it is that the data they have collected doesn’t meet submission standards — that the person collected the data that they needed to on site, and then intended to fill in other stuff when they had time — but they never got around to it, and now it’s a huge bolus of a backlog that no one else can resolve. (ask me how I know, though I managed to pull my data into something other people could process via a couple of office days) They also feel horrible for letting people down, and tend to be overwhelmed just thinking about the work needed to begin to fix things — so they leave a couple of paychecks on the table (for a seasonal job that makes up most of their yearly income — so they take a major hit to avoid getting scolded), they plan to never use the job as a reference, and sometimes they entirely change fields.

    Alison’s advice to require submission/copies throughout the season is smart — and it also prevents potential loss of the data due to computer issues/theft/unwise sprinkler placement — and people in the field need periodic office days to prepare/complete their data.

    But also, as a person who now processes the data other people have collected, you need to be incredibly gentle with people who are slow to hand their data in. Shame is not an effective tool to motivate someone who is in a hole like this, and in most cases, neither is money. I have found empathy to be a helpful tool. When I say “Is the issue that data isn’t ready for submission? This also happened to me my first year in this job, it’s an easy practice to fall into, we can fix it now together and then if you choose to do it in the future you know to solve it once a week or once a month, whatever seems best.” I have had people cry out of relief and happiness that they aren’t disappointing their employer.

    1. Satan’s Panties*

      I’m picturing this guy driving out to a deserted road to set a pile of survey sheets on fire…

    2. Pieforbreakfast*

      This is how I just ended a short term contract job, gathered all the information I could to develop the policies and trainings I was supposed to be developing. I couldn’t get the time, space and technical skills to pull it all together but kept telling my supervisor I was working on it when asked. The embarassment and shame were overwhleming. I basically ghosted the last week of the job without submitting anything I was asked for, even notes and I’m dreading ever running into that supervisor again in this small field in a somewhat small city. If at some point they had asked to review together what I had and maybe help me organize it all it would have helped but I never felt I could ask for that support.

  11. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I was the disappearing employee 20 years ago. Total shame spiral, lots of other crap going on in my personal life. You can have empathy for the ghosting employee and still manage your business.

    1. Panicked*

      The shame spiral is *real.* I haven’t done it at work, but in other aspects of my life. I took a karate class in my 20’s and messed up on one of the sequences. My instructor said “Even 7 years olds can do this.” I just left and never went back. Continued to pay until my contract was up because I couldn’t bring myself to even call them and ask to stop it. It’s just so much easier to avoid instead of having even a brief conversation.

      I’ve grown more of a spine now, but I still have trouble with things if I feel publicly embarrassed.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I can appreciate the karate stuff. While it was free, I had a similar issue with a folk dancing class. It is quite embarrassing to have the teacher practice with you while the others are having a break. I don’t think that I went back either.

        Now, many years later, I have realized/accepted that I am rhymically and right/left challenged.

        1. Dance instructor*

          I feel very guilty, because I often do this. I have always thought that it’s helpful to have some one-on-one time with the teacher to get an extra tricky step or sequence. It’s not meant to embarrass. Apparently I have to be a bit more careful.

        2. Madame Arcati*

          Whilst luckily I didn’t end up out of pocket or in a shame spiral, I feel you re the dance fail. I did one Zumba class, lied through my teeth that I’d come back and hid if I saw the instructor whilst otherwise at the gym (I didn’t last long there). Turns out I am just too bloody british, rather, what ho, spot of tiffin would be splendid, jolly good, for the wiggle necessary to Zumba. My hips lie.

  12. That wasn't me. . .*

    Maybe the guy is dead? or in a come? or just in hospital. It happens. (I’ve had 2 occasions in my real estate career where I couldn’t track down agent who owed me a response – one was dead, one in a coma, died soon after. Also one person who wouldn’t come to the door to sign some contracts he had agreedto (benefiting him, $ to vacate in liue of eviction), though his truck was home, nor respond to phone, text, voice-mail or email, so I called the sheriff for a welfare check. They broke in and found him dying of sepsis, but got him to hospital and he survived. Finally, there was the surveyor who had accepted the order, never produced the survey and never responded. I never found out what happened on that one)

    1. Artemesia*

      This could be (every time I have been involved in a ghosting employee follow up the person was found dead — it does happen). But the most likely scenario is that person was sloppy, didn’t properly record the data or the demographic date related to the surveys or in other ways put off a lot of it till it became difficult or impossible to reconstruct. The data is now chowder and the contractor is hiding because they don’t want to admit it.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, the only time I encountered this sort of thing in real life, the guy had had a stroke. Company found out two weeks after he stopped responding. He survived. But he would not have been capable of communicating what happened or doing anything with the work. Someone else eventually was able to provide a drive with the stuff owed on it. It was 10% done, compared to the 80% done the guy had claimed when he was last in contact, and it was so poorly done it made no sense to try to use any of it. So it was a full start-over. Everyone felt bad for him on a human level, but professionally were pissed. They would’ve realized how not-done the work was around the same time anyway, so that scramble would’ve been the same scramble, whether he’d been in hospital or not.

  13. Alex*

    We’re definitely going to need an update on the missing data collector. OP, I’m curious about your interactions with him prior to the vanishing act. Was he normally responsive or did he sometimes flake out? Do you know if others have been able to reach him? If he’s part-time/remote, perhaps he has another job — could that be taking up more of his time than usual or have they not heard from him either? I’d also be interested to know how he sounded the last few times you were in touch with him — did everything sound normal or did he sound in distress? Finding some of these answers may be the first step.

  14. Era*

    For that first letter — I wonder what the next steps are if you reach out to an emergency contact or fellow field team member and realize the missing employee is dead or in a coma? Reaching out to their relatives to ask them to send on data while they’re grieving and/or dealing with hospital visits sounds insensitive, but it would be frustrating to know that at least some data exists and just leaving it out of reach. Similarly, if you decide to just gather the data again, do you explain why the first data set was lost to the client? I don’t usually go in for making excuses to customers, but debilitating injury might be the exception…

    1. HonorBox*

      Totally agree with your last statement. That’s not an excuse, but more of a reason. “We’re delayed because Joe was in a serious car accident and has been unable to access his work, so while we’re going to get you the report, it’ll be pushing the deadline. Just wanted you to be aware so you weren’t worried when you didn’t get it a week early like we usually do.” That is apt to land well with most people.

  15. Statler von Waldorf*

    I recall back when I did a brief stint as a process server I had a gig that was very similar to the one written here. I was told to locate an individual. The main concern was to find out if they had a legit reason for dropping off the face of the planet with zero notice, like a medical emergency. If that was the story, then I just had to tell my boss that WTF was going on.

    If there wasn’t a legit reason, my other job was to serve them with papers letting them know that their former employer was suing them for failure to provide notice, theft of intellectual property, and breach of contract, among other things.

    There was no emergency, so I ended up serving them papers at the local Dairy Queen. As I recall, they threw their ice cream cone at me.

    I really don’t miss that job.

  16. Tink’s Mom*

    When our office was downtown, I was taking night classes and drove into the city on those days and at one point parked next door, had to get there by a certain time or the price doubled (I think) which I paid for out of pocket because I also bought discounted bus passes for the days I didn’t have classes, I drove to a park and ride and took the bus. I also remember using a parking garage that I paid for part of and employer paid the balance.

    The company should look into mass transit passes, the city might have a program.

    I liked using the bus even though at times it was inconvenient (wet/dirty seats, crowded buses) because I didn’t have to drive. The bus actually came out to my neck of the woods twice a day but I ended using the park and ride lots for convenience.

  17. HonorBox*

    Question for LW1 – Has this particular person been compensated fully, or is there outstanding pay that is waiting for them at the end of a particular project or timeframe? If they’ve not been paid in full, it seems that it would be prudent to withhold fully payment because they’ve not completed the work. If they have, then I’d probably reach out to the team and their emergency contact just to be sure they’re OK. And then I wouldn’t wait too long to redo the data collection yourself.

  18. anywhere but here*

    I hope the employees shuffling cars continue to cause problems for the employer and that more employees do that . . . If it’s necessary for your staff to be physically present for work, then the employer has a reaponsibility to provide the means for them to do so, rather than offload the cost of parking onto their employees. I would rather get a ticket from an expired meter than give my employer a penny for the “privilege” of parking on their property when they require me to be physically present for work. My oh so generous employer charges double digits for daily parking (with no options for discount parking) and kindly caps it at. . . 2 grand a year.

    1. Enai*

      Wait, what!? So you’re essentially paying _them_ to work for them?

      I must be more naive than I thought. Never imagined such a company to exist. Disgusting.

  19. Coin Purse*

    Re: door pounding. When I was a new RN, I worked on a pediatric unit in a regional hospital. We only had one bathroom for 2 units. I was lucky to be able to go to the bathroom once in a 12 hour shift. For maybe 3-4 minutes tops.

    A nurse I worked with would follow me and beat on the door yelling “let’s go, there are children in need of care!” in a grandstanding way. I reported her but it never stopped. She thought it was funny. It wasn’t.

  20. Kevin Sours*

    “it’s not like you’re calling his neighbors or his last employer”

    I’m not sure this would be completely out of line in this instance. If an employee just stopped responding while in possession of expensive company equipment you’d at least consider doing a skip trace to find them to ask for it back/pursue legal action. Is this really that different (other than perhaps not having time to actually do that)?

  21. Single Parent Barbie*

    Time theft is very harsh. I worked in a production facility and when it first opened up this phrase was thrown around constantly. And usually around hourly employees. Some production managers would even stand outside the restroom and watch the clock on their phones.

    Finally we got a some decent HR in place and things were smoothed out a little. If someone clocked in then walked out (all documented through badge swipes and video footage) and it was beyond getting something they forgot from their car (i think the trigger time was 45 mins) then it could be escalated to be investigated for time theft. Otherwise, it was considered “time of task” and was a performance issue not theft.

    With salary employees, I would focus on results. If everyone is still getting their job done, does it matter if they go move their car 3 times a day?

  22. Tipcat*

    Re the parking question: The answer refers to unpaid work at home. The question does not mention that. What gives?

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Alison is trying to reduce the “time theft” accusation. The argument being that it’s unfair to monitor every single minute of a workday if they don’t compensate employees for every possible minute they ever work. That would include times that you think through a problem when trying sleep or plan out an upcoming project on the drive home. The focus should be on the actual work that is not getting done, not the “stolen” time.

    2. linger*

      It’s not about this specific case, but a general point: managers who accuse employees of “time theft” are very likely not to notice or compensate for any time the employees spend at work outside of the scrutinized hours. (One recurring subtype of this is a manager complaining that a worker always “leaves early”, when the worker has a start time 2 hours before the manager gets in the door.)

  23. SB*

    I would not feel even a little bit bad about pulling his address & knocking on his door just to make sure he is still alive. It does not have to be to discuss work, just lay eyes on the man to make sure he is OK!

  24. Beany*

    Obviously people have different constraints on their time, but 20 minutes early doesn’t sound bad to me. Two *hours* early, now …

  25. DannyG*

    Concerning the parking: why not have a buddy system where people just swap places, 2 at a time?

  26. Tater Tot*

    OP1, is your employee okay?

    OP2, your colleague is a jerk. I am really, really sorry.

    OP3, if you want your employees present on site, especially if all or part of their jobs can actually be performed remotely, you need to provide parking or a full parking subsidy. The fact that you don’t do this, while also complaining about ‘time theft’ for the time your employees have to spend to move their cars because of your failure to provide parking, is a worrying sign of a potentially toxic culture, or at least of toxic managers.

  27. Misty*

    I live in a rural area. You know how far away is the NEAREST bus station? 35 miles away from my house. People that live in urban areas have no idea what rural people go through to get places.

  28. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    The clinic I’ve got nearly daily appointments at for the next couple weeks has an extremely high tech parking system in their new building. You hand your keys over, the attendant drives it into a little garage hutch and makes sure the system can take it, then a portable table slides under the car, clamps around the wheels, and gets shuttled through an amazing metal and concrete grid system into a tiny compartment where it’s stored while you’re in the appointment. Then it comes back out when you’re done. The transit time is just a very few minutes. There are a few videos kicking around the internet, search for “automatic parking” and be amazed. Not all the parking garages built on a system like that will be easily reused; I believe this one was designed so it could be dismantled and the enclosure repurposed for something else.

    They might get more patients coming in by the metro transit if the closest stop wasn’t at the bottom of a significant hill.

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