update: how transparent should we be with an employee about why we’re not promoting him?

Remember the letter-writer asking how transparent to be with an employee about why they’re not promoting him? Here’s the update.

Thanks for responding to my letter and thanks to readers for commenting. Yes, I am aware that it is ridiculous the nepotism policy isn’t better worded. Unfortunately changing that policy is not within my power although we did pass along feedback to those who do have that power. Here’s an update, as things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned…

This employee is not a reasonable one, which is why we were hesitant to be so direct—we didn’t really want drama. Drama was what we got. The hiring committee ended up telling him they would not be considering his application because of the lack of educational requirement and because if hired he’d be in a position to supervise his aunt. They acknowledged that their relationship wasn’t clearly defined in the nepotism policy but would be a major sticking point nonetheless as our org needed to maintain appearances of being fair. We sent this email and then never once heard back from him, no acknowledgment or even a basic “thanks for the consideration.” I know he got it though because his aunt made a few offhand remarks and because I started to hear grumbling from other community members and employees about how it was a ridiculous reason to not hire someone. I truly felt like I was living in the Twilight Zone that so many people didn’t see nepotism and waiving a rather big education requirement as an issue for hiring! (And for an excellent employee who goes above and beyond, okay, maybe we’d consider it. But this guy isn’t that.)

I resolved to ignore the grumbling, thinking they’d settle down and if asked I only provided the details about our policy and job requirement, didn’t get into his application. Two days later, we got a surprise applicant, someone from within our org at a different department. We were surprised by her app because to many this would seem like a step down from what she was doing. We interviewed her and she made a really convincing argument about why she wanted the job (better hours, she’d learn a valuable new skill set, she had the background we were hoping for even if she hadn’t had the exact experience of this job) and she was okay with a slight pay decrease because our fringe benefits were nicer. It was a no brainer and we hired her, thinking we were lucky to get such a qualified candidate.

I sent an email out to my team informing them of the new hire and letting them know about her start date. I kept it really upbeat and positive. I was in a hurry to make a late day meeting so I sent the email, and immediately shut my computer and went on my way. It was hours later and after work hours when I thought to check my email. My employee had responded within minutes to my announcement with an all caps email of his own about how absolutely ludicrous this hiring decision was. Luckily, it wasn’t a reply-all and went just to me.

That was Friday night. I informed my hiring committee of this and my intent to address this response first thing Monday morning. But then Monday came around and he called in sick. And he proceeded to call in sick for the next three days. I don’t actually believe he was sick—I think he was panicking because I never responded to his email on Friday. It was a frustrating week as I felt we needed to speak face to face to address his behavior but he kept avoiding me. That Friday—a full week after the email—I had scheduled a day off to take care of some personal stuff, and my employees were well aware I was taking PTO. Not surprisingly, he didn’t call in sick Friday. I rearranged some things on my end and made a surprise trip to the office and pulled him aside for the Talk. He was quite defiant and defensive at first and tried very hard to give me nebulous reasons as to why our hiring decision was bad, and I think he panicked even more when I told him his behavior was unacceptable and inappropriate. I told him under no circumstances was this tolerated, and he needed to work with the new hire or find other work. He ended up crying and apologizing and I wrote him up for it, and told him as this was his second write up in a year, the next offense would result in immediate termination. He promised he’d do better…and then the following week he resigned.

Honestly, this is all for the best as it means my department is no longer one where employees are related and I suspect things will be much less drama filled here on out! I was glad we stuck to our convictions on the rules, and I hope that this employee has learned some lessons about how to handle professional situations…but I’m so glad he’s not my problem anymore.

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. Coin Purse*

    Even ready what you had to go through was stressful! Well done to do the work to make appropriate hires.

    1. Whatever*

      I really, really love making him sit on it for so long to talk in person, too, and not giving him the satisfaction of a response. Let him stew in what he’d just done until he has to own it.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Sooo often letting your opponent stew is just good for you. You know they’re constantly refreshing their email, imagining their defense, getting more and more overwrought. And meanwhile you, who did nothing wrong, just have to do – nothing!

        1. Nomic*

          He wasn’t an opponent. He was an employee. Conflict happens in the workplace, but that doesn’t make people we have conflict with The Enemy.

          1. Platypus*

            agreed- I also felt vindicated and satisfied for OP reading this update and am rolling my eyes at this employee practically preparing his own noose, but some of the comments (and before anyone gets on me I mean some!! Not the majority or all!!) are starting to lean towards AITA levels of vindictiveness

  2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

    Argh, the co-workers. The nepotism is literal! Literal! The only way it could be more so is if one of them had the big white hat, and the other one the big red one…

    1. RH*

      I know right!! What do people *think* nepotism means, exactly? This is where we got the term from, people!

      Honestly it makes my brain hurt a bit when I read something like ‘nephew relationships aren’t included in the definition of neopotism’. I’m sorry, isn’t that exactly what it traditionally meant, and now it’s just been expanded to include other relationships?!

      (this is mostly tounge-in-cheek but partially not, haha)

      1. metadata minion*

        I didn’t know the etymology of nepotism until this thread, and I’m a huge word geek.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yup – some people can extrapolate from a rule to the side cases that should be considered to be covered by the rule.

              Others look at it and say “how much expanding of policy and creation of new rules can I cause.”

              Sounds like OP’s former employee was more towards the latter category.

              1. Mongrel*

                I’ve interacted with too many people who play dumb around rules with fuzzy margins as an excuse to act badly then act confused when pulled up on it.

                Some rules are fuzzy for a reason and most adults understand this

  3. Observer*


    Even absent the relatives bit, I think your department will be better off without this guy. I can see why you are glad he’s not your problem anymore. I’m glad for you!

  4. TeapotNinja*

    “I rearranged some things on my end and made a surprise trip to the office and pulled him aside for the Talk”

    Ninja move! Well done!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – betting the only reason he showed on Friday was the PTO. This was definitely an in person sort of conversation, and it seems as if he was trying his hardest to dodge that conversation for as long as he possibly could – hoping boss would just drop it. Good on you for being no nonsense and dealing with the hard conversations OP.

  5. pally*

    Unfortunate when someone does not realize they are their own worst enemy.

    Yeah, nice move popping in on the Friday!
    Kinda wonder how long he would have called in sick if you did not show up that day.

  6. Goldenrod*

    Holy cow! It sounds like OP handled it perfectly. But what drama!

    The employee must have been blabbing and whining all over the office, to convince so many of his peers that the situation was unfair. And it apparently worked…?? He must be personally charming, although obviously totally unprofessional.

    I can see a situation in which an educational requirement might be waived if (and only if!) the employee were stellar in other ways. But that still doesn’t help with the obvious nepotism, so even if the employee were amazing, it would not work anyway. Congrats to OP for staying the course and riding out all that unnecessary drama!

    1. Alisaurus*

      I bet he conveniently left out the education bit too. If he just said, “They won’t give me the job because of my aunt even though I’m OBVIOUSLY qualified for it,” that will spread pretty quickly.

    2. FitPro not Fitspo*

      honestly, it doesn’t take much charm. There’s a thing where people believe something if they’ve
      heard it often enough, so the guy only needs one or two people on his side to turn it into a full blown drama. Each of them tell people until a few of those people start telling people, and pretty soon, it’s “everybody says.”

  7. surprisedcannuk*

    I’m not sure it was a smart move bringing up the nepotism. He sounds like even if there was no nepotism he would be a bad choice.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      she didnt give that as the only reason.

      it was smart to include in that even if he somehow met the educational requirement in the future he would not be considered because of the nepotism.

      1. surprisedcannuk*

        Even if he meets the educational requirements and his aunt leaves, he still would be a poor choice.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          correct. but there was absolutely nothing wrong with giving those reasons.

          for those reasons he would not even be considered.

          i fail to see what isn’t “smart” about bringing up nepotism. this feels like nitpicking OP.

          1. learnedthehardway*

            Agreed that it was best to include both the qualifications reason and the nepotism issue in this rejection. BOTH are bonafide reasons to not promote the guy.

            If another role comes up in future, and he wasn’t good management potential or had performance issues, then those could be cited then as reasons he wasn’t being promoted.

            You don’t have to tell some ALL the reasons they weren’t the chosen candidate for a role.

    2. Coffee Break*

      I think concerns about nepotism are normal and completely reasonable. There is no reason to avoid the subject unless you have an employee who requires everything to be written in a policy, but in that case, the response is that you don’t need a policy for common sense (of course put this in professional terminology). And it is true. Policies are not documents that exist to capture each and every eventuality that could possibly happen in the world, but they are still enforceable because a basic level of rationality as adults and professionalism as professionals has to be assumed in life. And likewise this is expected from all employees as part of their job so it can be read into all policies.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      You know, I thought that too, but the LW never articulated why he’d be a bad choice for reasons other than nepotism and bending the rules for his family. Maybe the lack of educational requirements and unprofessional familial relationships were the major reasons.

      But clearly he’s also unprofessional, hot-headed, an avoidant scaredy-cat, and also willing to lie about being sick to miss work.

      1. badger*

        LW did, though. LW noted that he was unreasonable and prone to drama, that he’d had a previous write-up, that his performance wasn’t good enough to justify potentially waiving either requirement (the original post noted something about how he wouldn’t be great to supervise his aunt “even if he were to meet the educational requirements and suddenly start improving at work”). The first post noted that LW believed he’d be disastrous and my sense was that the family issue was only part of it; they were thankful that that and the educational component were a handy excuse not to promote the guy.

        Everything in your last sentence is pretty clear as to what type of employee he is, is that not enough? what more did you want LW to say?

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          My point is if he is bad at his job, why not tell him he didn’t get promoted because you’re not a high performer in current role?

          If there’s more than lack of educational requirements and nepotism (that doesn’t meet the company’s definition of nepotism), LW could have told him those too.

          1. Littorally*

            Because the reasons the OP did cite are solidly objective reasons — ie, you either do or don’t have X degree, you either are or are not related to someone you’d be managing — versus poor performance, which is a subjective assessment and can be argued in the vein of “it’s not THAT bad/I’d do better in this new role/I’m just demotivated” and so forth. Since the OP already knew that this guy was a real horse’s *** who would want to argue, they went with the objective reasons. Perfectly valid call to make. Guy wasn’t entitled to hear absolutely every reason they turned him down.

          1. Two Dog Night*

            I don’t see why it’s a problem. LW is under no obligation to give the guy every reason they didn’t promote him–the lacking education and potential nepotism were reasons enough by themselves.

          2. badger*

            well, I mean, he had at least one write-up before, so presumably he was told something somewhere along the line.

  8. Bryce with a Y*

    Often the best thing for all involved—including the “offending party,” is for the offending party to leave the department or the organization, whether by choice or not by choice.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I consider it a bonus when they think it was their idea to leave. Considering the level of drama he instigated over not being promoted when he was not an ideal candidate, can you guys imagine what he’d have done over being let go?

      LW, congrats that this is no longer your circus nor your monkeys.

  9. Myrin*

    OP, I’m really, really impressed with how you held your ground here! Congrats on no longer having to deal with this guy, even if it was a stressful path getting there.

    1. MassMatt*

      Yes, OP really took the bull by the horns, unlike so many of the letters we get here where managers are worried about hurt feelings or otherwise shy away from confrontation.

      The way this colleague reacted (not just the all-caps email, but the grumbling about “unfairness” to coworkers, acting as though he is owed the promotion, and then calling in “sick” for days to avoid the LW) shows he was absolutely NOT a mature enough for the promotion. Bullet dodged!

  10. Petty_Boop*

    I am emotionally and mentally exhausted just READING about all this. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

  11. It's Smokey in Yellowknife*

    “He ended up crying and apologizing and I wrote him up for it, and told him as this was his second write up in a year, the next offense would result in immediate termination.”
    Just want to be certain that you didn’t write him up for the crying and apologizing? He obviously realized what a horrible mistake he made in sending the email and couldn’t face you. The unknown is often times scarier than the known. And not responding to his email, left him in a space of panic and anxiety. Did he do a bone head thing when he sent the email, absolutely. Should he have sent you a mea culpa follow up email, absolutely. I am glad it all worked out for you in the end.

    1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      If not getting a response to an extremely stupid email left him marinading in panic at his own stupidity…that’s on him. Part of being an adult is facing our terrible mistakes, not calling in sick to avoid our managers, then sneaking in when they’re out.

      (I’m fairly sure ‘it’ refers to the aggressive email, and possibly the bad behaviour beforehand)

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I read the “it” in “I wrote him up for it” as a write-up for his email and/or for his arguing and defensiveness during the first part of their conversation, before the crying and apologizing.

    3. Be Gneiss*

      He called in sick the next FOUR days to avoid facing her, and whatever consequences resulted from the email. LW is not responsible for leaving him in a space of panic by not responding. If she had intentionally avoided HIM for four days to make him sweat, that would be kind of cruel, but LW isn’t responsible for causing him to feel uncomfortable about his bad behavior. When you behave really poorly, one of the natural consequences is that you might feel uncomfortable afterwards. That’s not anyone else’s fault.

      1. jane's nemesis*

        Yes, exactly – OP intended to talk to him first thing Monday. It was his own fault that didn’t happen.

    4. Myrin*

      I’m almost sure that by “it”, they meant, well, the whole situation and his behaviour throughout.

    5. Dr. Vibrissae*

      I read it as OP wrote him up for his behavior (email equivalent of yelling at the boss, calling her stupid). Sure he was panicky, because he realized that he was dumb, but a pattern of making poor decisions like sending an unprofessional response within minutes of reading the first email seems to be part of the problem. I don’t think she had an obligation to respond by email after hours when (as she said herself) a face-to-face meeting was called for. While we can understand why he was anxious and afraid to face her, the (ongoing) issue is the behavior and it needed to be addressed.

    6. Observer*

      He obviously realized what a horrible mistake he made in sending the email and couldn’t face you. The unknown is often times scarier than the known. And not responding to his email, left him in a space of panic and anxiety.

      That’s *totally* on him, though. What he did was not just “boneheaded”, and the OP has no obligation to help smooth this out for him. In fact, I would go further and say that they affirmatively *should not* help him out this way.

      Because the whole thing – ridiculously inappropriate email, lack of apology, calling out sick, defensiveness when confronted – are a pattern on their own, as well as being part of a larger problematic pattern. Unless and until someone shows some sign of trying to get a handle on their misbehavior, no one should be making an effort to shield him from the effects of his misbehavior.

    7. Kella*

      I think you’re misreading this.

      He didn’t cry and apologize after sending the irrational email. He cried and apologized *after* finally having no choice but to face OP, after continuing to be defensive and defiant in person and citing vague reasons of why it was a bad hire, and after OP confronted him and reflected that his behavior was unacceptable. So, no, avoiding OP for 3 days was not an indicator that he realized he made a mistake because he continued to double down on that mistake when confronted about it in person.

  12. not a hippo*

    Always satisfying when the trash takes itself out. Given past experiences with an employee like him, I had a feeling he was going to quit in a snit. Some people just can’t get out of their own way.

  13. Becky*

    I’m glad there’s a happy ending for you here.

    I’m not sure why you would expect this person to respond to a rejection email, especially with a “thank you”. While this person sounds obnoxious, they seemed to have made BEC status for you, and nothing they do can be right.

    I can also imagine his confusion and frustration with this whole situation, and perhaps your management of him, when you’re asking about how to go about lying or “handling” him, when ultimately you can just be honest about why. Yeah, he’s going to react, but he reacted anyway, so why do all this extra?

    But I’m glad this worked out for you.

    1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      They worked together, they need to see each other, a “Thanks for letting me know” seems only polite…which reminds me to send my own email and avoid hypocrisy.

    2. Baron*

      For an internal position? I would absolutely expect at least an acknowledgement. It’s gracious and classy. I get rejected for lots of jobs, and if I’m an external candidate, I almost always take a moment to say, “Thanks for the opportunity to interview, best of luck with your new hire” – if a process has been extremely awful or frustrating, I won’t. But after applying for an internal role, when you’re going to have to work with the new person and stay on the team? Absolutely, not responding sends a message, in my view.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, I agree. Sure, it’s natural to be disappointed if you don’t get a promotion or some other job that you’ve interviewed internally for, but being churlish about it won’t help. It’ll just confirm to the interviewers that they made the absolutely right choice when they didn’t hire you. “Thanks for the opportunity to interview, best of luck with your new hire.” is pretty basic. If you can say something like “I look forward to working with (new hire) and please let me know if I can help with the onboarding.” would surely show that you don’t intend to carry a grudge or to take out your disappointment about not being hired on the new person.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        “Bitch Eating Crackers,” a condition in which your dislike of someone makes everything they do aggravating, reference to a tweet (I think). “Look at that bitch, over there eating crackers like she owns the place.”

      2. Admin Lackey*

        Stands for Bitch Eating Crackers – it’s when you reach the point of disliking someone where it doesn’t matter what they do anymore, what matters is that it’s them doing it

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        To clarify, it has nothing to do with the specific type of cracker. Triscuit or Saltine, the saying still means the same thing.

    3. Kate, short for Bob*

      Did we read a different update? He responded with an email attack on her. She was straight with him – not lying. Where are you getting ‘his confusion and frustration’ from? He was a bad choice with an over inflated sense of his own competence who wouldn’t accept that he didn’t even meet the educational qualifications for the role, without even getting into the attitude problem and nepotism.

      1. Baron*

        I do see where Becky’s coming from, even as I disagree with her. The employee’s confusion and frustration are real and valid – they’re just incorrect. He felt entitled to the promotion. He thought he was the best. He was wrong. Now, “entitled, arrogant, and wrong” are not actually a winning combination or an admirable set of traits. But I can empathize with someone who would feel confused and frustrated to lose out on a promotion they thought they deserved, even though they would last about three minutes working for me.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          He incorrectly thought he was the best after being told multiple times why he was NOT the best and not even minimally qualified, and not going to be considered for the role at all. So his frustration at someone else getting the job is ALL on him.

    4. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Acknowledging an email from your boss is a basic expectation of all jobs I’m aware of. That doesn’t mean “thank you” or gratitude. That means literally confirming you received and read the email with your own email or spoken words.

      You’re reading a bunch of stuff into this that isn’t here on the employee’s side (where there is demonstrated bad behavior) but not taking the LW at face value. Interesting choice. I don’t know if you are that type of person or have never interacted with that type of person, but trying to avoid a ridiculous melodramatic blowup that’s exhausting for everyone is normal.

      Knowing you have a drama llama on your hands means you try to avoid giving them any more than necessary to minimize said drama. If he wants people to be open with him, he can’t attack them for it. He is getting back exactly what he puts out.

    5. abca*

      Yeah that stood out to me too! Maybe cultural differences, but still, after getting an email like that, it doesn’t seem like a major faux pass for the candidate to not respond with a “thanks for the consideration” when it is extremely super clear that he was never actually in consideration. I don’t disagree that it’s polite to send a “thanks for letting me know” instead, but everyone neglects to do polite things at some point, I’m really surprised this was seen as obviously relevant.

      I also understand this email was written with extra color, and I don’t know the context, but I also do not have a degree that is often listed as a requirement but really doesn’t make a better [position] at all and is usually just gatekeeping, and the only other reason stated was needing to manage his aunt (it is not obvious why it would be impossible to find another solution for that). The complaining email to LW was very bad, and there was no coming back from that, but the other things, I don’t know, do people really think it is already a very bad sign that this person complained to a few people about not getting the promotion? That all seemed so normal to me.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        We need to trust OP that the educational requirement is important. Sometimes formal education IS critical.

        I say that even though I’ve argued that MY OWN job should list X years experience as an alternative to a BA/BS. (I have worked for & with people who “came up through the ranks” without it and were extremely good at the role, but we no longer have that flexibility for future hires.)

    6. CG*

      Right? LW wanted a “thanks for considering me” response when they literally told the candidate he wouldn’t be considered for the promotion. There is no logical response beyond “received,” “noted,” “copy,” etc. For a manager to get hung up on the lack of a one-word reply says something about their own propensity for drama. But I do agree the guy needed to go, and the false rumors, gossip, etc. needed to be shut down. As Becky said, glad it worked out for you.

      1. Observer*

        So, the employee didn’t respond with any of those either.

        But that’s not what the OP was commenting. That was just the starting point. What happened afterwards is a whole different ball game. Pretending that none of that happened or is somehow “explained” because the boss had a possibly incorrect expectation makes me wonder what you and the person you are responding are *actually* after. Because neither that comment nor your response make no sense given the full context.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          “So, the employee didn’t respond with any of those either.”

          Yeah, but we’re not saying we expect him to make that response. We’re saying that not only is it perfectly normal and reasonable for him not to give a response, but even if he did go above and beyond what was expected there was literally nothing else to say but that.

    7. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      It wasn’t a rejection email. (He applied for the job but did not get an interview.) He responded badly to the email LW sent out announcing the new hire.

    8. Martin Blackwood*

      I mean, I’m not reading that section as demanding a thank you. I’m reading it as more “He didn’t do any bland polite acknowledgement to our rejection email” which is, imo, more necessary for internal hiring than external. It’s worded as acknowledgment OR which means “understood” = “thanks for letting me know” = “this important email didn’t get lost in my inbox and I actually read it”

  14. I should really pick a name*

    I don’t know that there’s was a real need to cancel PTO just to meet up with him.

    He’d either come back to the office eventually, or be fired for not showing up.

    1. MassMatt*

      I think it was an above-and-beyond move but a good one on the LW’s part. Who knows how long this might have gone on, or what sort of damage this person might have done? The longer it went on the weirder it would be. This sort of bad behavior needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

      1. bird*

        Also, it minimized the amount of time he had to rile the others up or say anything to the woman that was hired, keeping her from harassment or being set up for failure with a team that’s been poisoned against her. It was the right call.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t know that there was an absolute need, but I think it was a very smart thing to do to bring all this nonsense to a close more quickly.

  15. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW — I went back and reread your original post. Wow. Just wow. Good on you for standing firm and not getting bogged down in misapplied compassion.

    If you can, I agree it would be worthwhile to try to persuade The Powers That Be to clarify their nepotism policy. I’ve worked in several places (usually located in small towns with limited labor pools) where we had multiple relatives on the payroll. It only worked IF they were not in the same departments and definitely not in the same chain-of-command.

    Anyway, here’s to a drama-free workplace.

  16. learnedthehardway*

    A thought – it’s good that this employee has decided to leave. Makes your (and everyone else’s) lives a lot easier – esp. the qualified candidate who did get the job.

    I would be on the look-out, though, for any blowback from his relatives who work for the company. Hopefully, they are more professional, but if the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, then your new report may be in some for some resistance from the aunt or brother.

    I would tell the new hire about the situation (they may already know, since they’re an internal candidate), and would tell them to bring any issues to you. They may need some support to navigate the situation.

  17. anon for this*

    Wow, congratulations on the problem resolving itself! I have to admit that I felt a sense of envy reading the end of your update, as we are dealing with something that sounds similar, though the facts are a little different. It’s exhausting and I wish the drama would just go away.

  18. Susannah*

    Aside from the cluelessness of staff who don’t understand why it’s bad idea to have someone supervising a relative who shares his home, or why an education requirement is there, or why un-selected employee was not promoted….

    How on earth do problem employee and other staff think they have a right to weigh in on who’s promoted or hired? It is just…bizarre.

  19. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Glad that this worked out well for you and the company, LW, your former employee sounds worryingly immature. (An all-caps email castigating you for hiring someone else? Yikes.)

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