updates: the exploding volunteer organization, the tax fraud boss, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. The organization I volunteer with is exploding in drama and rage-quitting

Thank you for publishing your thoughtful answer to my question – I have an update to share.

After a week of hemorrhaging volunteers from the program and generally being taken to task by those who were leaving, the tone of subsequent emails from the president became much less inflamatory and she even apologized for not being able to control her anger and frustration. She sent an email to the volunteer group yesterday that confirmed the program is now undergoing a reset and explained the changes, including that the program will be shut down for the time being, but when it reopens, it will be managed by occupational and hippo-therapists. She listed several opportunities for volunteers to help in the interim and stressed that safety for everyone will be a priority.

It appears there is cause for optimism about the new direction of the program, notwithstanding the general dysfunction that seems to surround anything horse related that several comments mentioned. It was genuinely hard for me to determine whether the prior situation was typical and I was seeing it through a warped lens. However, there is another theraptic riding center about 20 miles from where I live, so I’m investigating that program, and particularly how it’s being managed.

I greatly appreciate Alison and the AAM family, and all of your comments! Thank you especially for your good wishes concerning my injury recovery – all seems well now.

2. I feel horrible about reporting my boss’s tax fraud

I wrote in a few months ago to ask for advice when my former boss misclassified me as an independent contractor. Thank you for assuaging my fears, and thank you to the commenters who told me to get it together! To clarify, when I started working there my boss told me that the company was too small and that’s why I wouldn’t get a W-2. She paid me with paper checks and kept saying “soon” every time I asked for payroll, which was often. She seemed to always be at the end of her rope and very touchy about being perceived as doing anything wrong. When I left, her cat was dying and her husband had recently been diagnosed with cancer, which caused my hesitation. But she made the choice to hurt me and was clearly having cash flow issues way before any of that happened.

I finished law school in 2018 and was struggling to find a new job in my niche practice area (immigration, as one commenter correctly guessed), so when this opportunity fell into my lap in late 2021 I was so happy that I didn’t question much—obviously I’ve never done tax law! The legal field is bad enough, especially at small firms, but immigration seems to be a special level of trauma bonding. This wasn’t even the first shit show firm I worked for. I was embarrassed to be taken advantage of and also devastated to lose a job that I thought defined me. I was really too emotional to be thinking clearly, so I appreciated having all of the outside perspectives.

I told my former boss how she could file to fix it to avoid penalties and in return got a long essay about how difficult it was to run the firm on her own. But I spent a year and a half being sympathetic to her struggles, even when it cost me and the firm a lot. So I filed the appropriate federal and state tax forms, which saved me about $5,000, and blasted Vigilante Shit by Taylor Swift on my way home from my accountant (“someone told [her] white collar crimes to the [IRS]”). I don’t feel guilty about it at all and I’m glad that I stood up for myself.

Luckily, I found a new job immediately. It’s not in immigration, but it came with a 401k, health insurance, and a significant pay raise, which is appropriately taxed! It’s also a chance to set up appropriate boundaries—my job doesn’t define me, and my employer is not my friend. Thank you for giving me that push to stand up for myself and start this transition!

3. Do I need to hide my burlesque work at a new job? (#2 at the link)

I’m the burlesque performer who emailed 5 years ago! In a mini update, I’m still at the same job, and some folks know and some don’t. You find your people and share, or don’t. Everyone who has learned over the years has been very cool about it and thankfully no one has asked to see a show, but there are a few who I would welcome if they were curious. That being said, I live in NYC, so I perhaps wouldn’t suggest that to someone in more conservative places!

The most amusing part was seeing a burly regular friend who was like, I KNOW THIS IS ONE OF YOU.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. HannahS*

    A huge thank you to OP1 for introducing the word “hippo-therapist” to my vocabulary. What a delightful image! Glad to hear there are other opportunities available to you.

    1. DataSci*

      I had forgotten the details (that the organization was horse-related) and was picturing either hippos acting as therapists or therapists for hippos, both of which were hilarious.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        In my head, said hippos would all be of the Sandra Boynton hippo-type, which makes it even more hilarious and charming!



        Hopefully those links work … the first is to Boynton’s zazzle store
        and the second is to a post she made on Twitte… or whatever it is now on World Kindness Day

        1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          Or, to quote the late, great Flanders and Swann:

          Mud, mud, glorious mud
          Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
          So follow me, follow
          Down to the hollow
          And there let us wallow in glorious mud

        2. darsynia*

          I’m unexpectedly charmed to find out that hippo-therapy wasn’t a typo!

          Sandra Boynton is a DELIGHT. My kids loved her books and my mom follows her on FB, she’s been refreshing the art for some of her older books and posting them for people to enjoy! We have a Hippos Go Berserk mug, and my oldest’s favorite kid’s book was that one. We would always sway around and wave our arms when the hippos went berserk, so it got to the point where at 10 months she’d see the page (or sit with it without one of us reading it to her and do it herself) and sway and wave her arms <3

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            We had a whole square-dance we had to do nightly to Barnyard Dance! I’m pretty sure I still have it memorized. I definitely still have the Going To Bed book memorized. :D She is a jewel.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        “Now, I want you to consider NOT stomping that crocodile next time. Just think about it and see how you feel.”

      3. Bear in the Sky*

        @DataSci I pictured the same thing.

        Then I thought hippo-therapist was probably supposed to be hypnotherapist. Which seems like a strange combination with occupational therapist. Though I suppose they could do complementary work.

        I had to read your comment to understand.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I’m still going….”hippo-therapist?” Aren’t hippos fairly well adjusted? Do they need therapy? They seem to have chill lives….?

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Nah, hippos are one of the most dangerous animals out there. I believe they kill more people in Africa each year than any other animal. So they might very well need some therapy!

        1. Pippa K*

          On the other hand, hippos don’t tend to struggle with unexpressed anger and they have very clearly maintained boundaries.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          They’re in a close race with water buffalo.

          Both are vegetarians, but that’s a moot point after they’ve crushed you to death.

          (This is why I got really annoyed in The Magic Treehouse when they petted the stegosaurus because it was a vegetarian.)

          1. AnnieB*

            I love that hippos are vegetarians. They have no desire to eat you, they’ll just kill you out of spite.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            I feel like wth vegetarian animals, you’ve gotta think about what’s their strategy to not get eaten? Some animals will run away, some rely on armor or horns or such, some seek strength in numbers, and some, like hippos, create a reputation for going absolutely berserk.

        3. Fikly*

          According to the records we have, more pharohs were killed by hippos than crocs. I feel like that says all that needs to be said.

        4. fhqwhgads*

          They are the deadliest animal, not just in Africa. Hippos kill more than lions, sharks, other things people are traditionally scared of. They’re hella territorial too.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I suspect that it’s mainly the fact that they’re so territorial that makes them so dangerous.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I thought they were using hippos as therapy animals and was like, hmm, no way THAT’s a good idea … I know they’re more docile on land than water but still, it’s a no from me …

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        A friend of my sister’s is from South Africa. When he was about 12 he and some of his friends were swimming in the river when three baby hippoes came into sight. They barely made it out of the water and up a tree before Enraged Mama Hippo trampled them, and all they could do was hang on and wait her out.

        Mama Hippo at least could have used some anger management therapy.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Hippos have the temper of zebras and the short fuse of rhinos, unfortunately. They can also spin their tails to propel their–output all over the place.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          A true tale about zebras. This happened at the Wild Animal park in Escondido, CA. One of the male giraffes had never been around non-giraffes before, and tried to mate with a female zebra. The zebra stallion took offense, and amputated the hairy part of the giraffe’s tail.

          Now they live together easily, but the giraffe is the most prolific of the males in the enclosure. (This one has a number of different species living similar to how they would in Africa, but minus the predators). About 100 acres in size.

      5. Kara*

        They do, but that’s because they tend to kill all their annoyances, including the local predators. They also get regular exercise chasing after the annoyances that try to get away. That pic that makes the rounds of the internet every so often that features a man at full sprint being chased by a hippo is very much authentic!

    3. Phony Genius*

      Yes. First, I though it was a typo/auto-correct of “hypnotherapists.” Then I thought it was one of those cute placeholders this site uses, like llama groomer. So I googled it and learned the truth.

    4. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

      I thought it meant something like music therapy, where they use hippos as part of a therapy regime for humans. I definitely wouldn’t mind playing with hippos all day.

    5. calonkat*

      My job actually requires me to know the term hippotherapy (special education), and it always makes me happy to see it just because so many don’t know the term.

      An easy way (for me anyway) to remember is that “hippopotamus” means “river horse” (well, horse – river in order), which gives you the meaning of both “hippo” (hippodrome = place to race horses; hippogrff = horse and griffin combo; and “potamus”; hippocampus = sea creature and horse) and potamo (potomology = study of rivers; Mesopotamia = between rivers; oddly, not the Potomac river though!)

      For those interested, there is a certification board: https://hippotherapycertification.org/

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

    I volunteer at an equine therapy center and I can assure what was going at LW 1’s place was not at ALL normal. The one I go to is very well run with an amazing owner, dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, incredible staff including hippotherapists, OTs, PTs, and social workers, and very safe and sane horses. I hope things continue to get better!

    1. Rage*

      I’ve volunteered at a number of animal-related organizations, and honestly I think your experience is the exception rather than the rule. Animal orgs bring out the bananapants in a lot of people. I think it’s because “animal” people are not always “people” people and so things like tact, diplomacy, and collaboration are just tossed out the window.

      I’ve been munching my popcorn over here in my city watching some rescue-related drama go down and it’s….just wow.

      1. Guest*

        Lol – The original letter was published a week after the animal rescue I volunteer at nearly imploded from drama, wholeheartedly agree with your take. Definitely agree that animal orgs bring out the bananapants.

      2. Time for Tea*

        Add in how many TBIs your average person working with horses accumulates amongst other factors…

        1. Pippa K*

          Well, I’ve had two from working with horses, but I don’t think it makes me an unreasonable or unpleasant coworker or volunteer, thanks.

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree. It’s unfortunate, but animal-related organizations tend to attract people who either Hate People with a passion, or have terrible people skills. You really do need both animal *and* people skills to work with animal rescues, animal-assisted therapy, and the like. In most instances, you’re going to be working with people as well as animals.

        One of the big problems with this is that it gives a lot of animal rescue and other animal-related organizations a bad name. It’s hard getting donations or adopting animals out when you have the reputation of “crazy animal people.”

  3. Boris*

    To OP #2: from one young immigration lawyer to another, I’m so proud of you. Our work pushes us to ignore our own needs at the expense of those or our clients and our employers because the system is Just So Evil. If you still have days where you feel worried for your former boss, remember that she was only part of the system that screwed you over. All of those statutes that have raised the evidentiary burdens our clients face, such that no one can afford to pay lawyers to meet them are part of it. (I’m looking at you REAL ID, IIRIRA, and IMFA). All of those regs we’ve been fighting against—the ones that make it harder for our clients to get the work permits they so badly need so they can eat and survive and also so they can pay their lawyers—those laws are part of the problem. The dedicated docket is part of that, too, pushing people to fight their claims before they’ll ever qualify to file a 765.

    We have seen a sustained and calculated effort by the DHS to change policies in ways that prevent immigrants and especially asylum seekers (and U Visa applicants. And SIJS kids) from paying for legal assistance, and I’d guess that made it harder for your firm to pay you. That doesn’t excuse what your boss did, but may provide some context?

    Good on you for getting out. You will always be part of the Dirty Immigration Lawyer club.

    1. Silver Robin*


      I work in the non-profit immigration field (not a lawyer, my colleagues are) and it is so rough. We have a hard time hiring and a hard time retaining (that salary conversation is brutal). None of that is an excuse for what happened to OP2. Much respect to you for protecting yourself and getting what you were owed!

  4. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    #2 is my favorite due to the Vigilante Shit Tswift reference. Love the mental picture it gave me!

  5. Boof*

    LW2 glad you set the record straight! And I know how easy it is to try to make something work (mentally as well as the actual work) when you really want it to, and that you probably realize “we are too small for a W-2” is like, a huge red flag / doesn’t make any sense. But for what it’s worth I am a household employer with exactly one nanny and I certainly give her a yearly W2! It seems a bit ironic to me that someone in the legal field was trying to dodge that; no idea what is up with your former employer!
    As an aside note, I like to think I am also friends with my nanny, but 1) my obligations to them as an employer still stand and 2) real friends don’t try to screw their friends over! Your old employer failed by every metric; as an employer and as a friend. It sounds like you have already stopped feeling guilty which is great; keep sticking up for yourself in all walks of life and sorry to hear immigration law is such a poop show :(

    1. Sloanicota*

      Agree. It sounds like OP didn’t realize they had been being as a contractor until tax time? That’s pretty weird. As a contractor, OP would have been responsible for making estimated quarterly payments, along with other costs of self-employment, which is typically why contractors have to charge a higher rate. From the bosses’ comment that she should be paid back, it sounds as if she expected OP understood they were a contractor so the expenses should have been “theirs” not hers. Fortunately, employers cannot just decide to make someone an independent contractor unilaterally; there are rules, and I’m guessing this position violated them, so OP could sue. Lots of places will offer contract positions illegally though. Ironic that OP is a lawyer themselves, but I understand these things happen when you’re new to the workworld.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        A lot of people are unclear on the distinction between a W-2 employee and a 1099 contractor. I don’t find it weird that most people (including the LW) who are mis-classified trust their employers when they (the employers) say “you’re a 1099 contractor.”

        I only know about the distinctions between a W-2 and 1099 employee because I read this site. If I didn’t read this site, I wouldn’t know the criteria that have to be met for someone to legally be a 1099 contractor.

        1. Boof*

          I know about it because when I went to employ someone I made sure to read up on employement laws because I did not want to engage in illegal / under the table shennanigans. I’ve never been to law school and LWs field wasn’t tax/employment law, no I’m more dubious that the employing lawyer can credulously claim ignorance. Between being a lawyer and being an employer that smells funny.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            Oh, to be clear, I think that employers need to do their due diligence with respect to employment law, how to correctly classify employees, etc. Not excusing the boss in the letter at all. I only meant I can understand why an employee like the OP did not know or understand the difference.

        2. Sloanicota*

          I think that’s my issue – it doesn’t sound like the employer ever did say anywhere (the job listing? When OP asked for W2s? Did they send a 1099-MISC at tax time?) that OP was a contractor, based on OP’s confusion come tax time … which is next-level awful. Misclassifying someone is bad but lying (?) or lying by omission to someone new to the workworld who wouldn’t understand that something is up, is really rotten! It does sound like you’re correct and they were hoping to pay OP under the table. If those checks were personal checks, particularly!

      2. Boof*

        It sounds like their employer just didn’t bother with, well, anything and/or was maybe used to paying people under the table and hoping OP was doing that?? Again, particular sideeye with how that intersects with immigration issues and law. LW seemed to imply incompetence over intentional malice, but it sounds like a lot of forced teaming and maybe her boss was hoping LW would panic about being threatened with having to pay a ton of money to her employer and would just drop it /eat it / IDK. Honestly the more I think about it the more I wonder if it was intentional

        1. Sloanicota*

          I did wonder if the employer was picturing a cash-under-the-table arrangement and either thought OP understood that (unlikely given they didn’t give a straight answer on the W2), or more likely could be browbeat into accepting it, which also possibly explains why they were mad when OP advocated for themselves. It’s just particularly ironic to me, as someone outside the field, that these were … lawyers, who I think of as being very rule-oriented.

          1. Boof*

            I just think lawyers ought to be more familiar with the rules and navigating them by trade… certainly being human, many still behave badly despite knowing the rules full well! I’m beginning to think they were hopping they had Op over a barrel somehow, especially that bizarro “what do you mean you won’t work for free, how dare you!” stunt

          2. AcademiaNut*

            I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the habit of hiring new graduates in the hopes that they were less likely to know how things should work, and more likely to be intimidated into going along. But yeah, the paying by cheque with no payroll information struck me as an under the table arrangement.

    2. badger*

      yeah, my first post-college job was working for my dad’s small business and I was W-2 as his only employee.

  6. Jeff Landale*

    I get why everyone is sympathetic to OP1, but sharing that kind of private medical information about therapeutic practices is clearly a…

    …HIPPO violation.

  7. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    This batch of updates was so lovely. So proud of and happy for OP2 especially!!!

  8. Zombeyonce*

    I really love LW#2’s “my job doesn’t define me” comment. Internalizing that idea makes it so much easier to choose better things and make decisions for ourselves that lead to better outcomes.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This is one thing I’d really like to drum into any young person who will listen: You are not your job. You are not your job. You are not your job.

      Some of the most miserable people I managed over my career were the ones who were trying to use their jobs to meet personal needs in ways that no job is ever capable of doing.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “You are not your job.”

        Yes, agree! On “Smartless,” Will Arnett said he got immediately so much happier in life once he disconnected career success with his worth as a person. He said now he makes all his career decisions based on “will it make me happy?”

  9. Temperance*

    OP #2: I hope you filed a wage and hour claim with the DOL in addition to fixing her tax screwup.

    Immigration law is terrible on a good day, both because the system is awful and because, at least in my experience, the clients and other lawyers can be wild, too. Cheers to you for getting the heck out.

    I have a few pro bono green card cases and I genuinely regret even taking those on because of the sheer amount of abuse from the clients when I can’t magically get them the thing they want (instant green card, a US passport, etc.)

    1. Jinni*

      Me when graduating law school: I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t take on pro bono.
      Me 2 years later: *gives up pro bono forever*

      I’m not against pro bono work, but it’s the lord’s work, and I discovered, I’m not God.

      That said, there are so many structural problems with representing those who really need it, REALLY need it, but can’t afford it. Which has far too often translated into their representatives not getting paid, doing it for free, or not getting a fair wage.

      I’m sympathetic to the challenges, but that does not excuse breaking labor/tax laws.

    2. LJ*

      I get it’s stressful for people but… do they really think being abusive to their own attorney is magically going to make things better for them??

  10. SB*

    LW3 – I am the office Nanna & if I find out someone at work has a side gig I try to support them by buying tickets to their show or buying some of their art or ordering a batch of cookies from their online shop (whatever the side gig may be). I can understand that you may be concerned about prudes but like you said, you find your people & I am glad you found yours. Also, burlesque is a skill & not an easy one to master!!

  11. Fire dragon*

    Oh yes…. Some years ago I missed that our insurance had been declined on a project until two years later when we needed to make a claim. I completely panicked and thankfully told my boss straight away. He was probably completely astounded by the magnitude of this monumental mistake but luckily autopilot for him was to be very kind and supportive and he just said “everyone makes mistakes- we can sort it out”. He was even gracious enough when reporting to just say “during our usual checks and processes this error wasn’t picked up” which is kind of true- I made the first mistake but other people should have picked it up too. In the end everyone was so kind to me. I even got emails from the CFO and the CEO making sure I was getting sufficient support through the process. I’m not sure how much it cost them in the end but amazingly it appears to have been a recoverable mistake!!

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