saying I won’t give rides to work, coworker complains about her family non-stop, and more

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

1. How to tell a coworker I won’t give her rides to work

How do I politely tell a coworker I don’t give anyone rides?

I work in a cafeteria in a factory, it’s not on a bus route and I’m not even sure you can legally walk here since it’s off the expressway. We got a temp worker on afternoons and she’s asked me about sometimes giving her rides.

I don’t want to be rude, but I point blank don’t give rides. I sometimes need to stay later than she’s allowed to, I don’t want to have to worry about plans before or after work and honestly I’m a little late to work a lot (getting better at that though) and my car isn’t the most reliable; it’s broken down three times in the last year. And to be quite honest, I’m a firm believer that you need to know how to get to and from work before you take the job. Do you have any advice on how to say this without being rude?

“My schedule is so unpredictable that I don’t give rides — sorry I can’t help!” That’s it.

If she pushes after that: “I’m really not able to. Sorry!”

2. Should I keep pushing for a resolution to my coworker’s complaint about me?

I need advice on if I should keep chasing after an informal complaint about me was made to HR and my division boss in June. The complaint came from Fergus, who is more senior than me and has a long history of mental health issues. We had been friendly, doing things outside work (I organized a small trivia team; sometimes we had lunch; he had been to my house) and at work I was doing a lot of emotional labor to help him feel more comfortable. The complaint was that because of me, Fergus felt too uncomfortable to come into work and that I was impacting his mental health. I was devastated and mortified.

We don’t work directly together, but he had recently blown up at me in a meeting and said things I was uncomfortable about in the all-work Slack, relating to my work, so I stepped back from the friendship. He had been avoiding me since then; he would walk into the break room, see me, and walk out. I have not organized the trivia team since (although nothing is stopping the others from organizing it) and while I am being professional-friendly, I have not gone out of my way to do things for him or seek out his company.

In the meeting about his complaint, mediation was suggested. I said I didn’t think it would be helpful, but if my boss wanted it for the good of the division, I would — but only if the parameters were about work only and I wouldn’t be asked to do things other colleagues aren’t asked to do (for example, make sure Fergus feels comfortable socially). I also asked for a list of the things that made him uncomfortable, because of course I would stop if possible. I was told we’d touch base at the end of the week.

Since then, Fergus has been blowing hot and cold — actively seeking out my company (without ever referring to this) and actively avoiding me. I have been polite and professional, but I can’t trust him because he chose not to use any of the lines of communication we had (email, text, whatsapp, and more) and instead took this nuclear option, especially as I am on a fixed-term contract.

I have chased my boss and HR for an update five times now. The last time I asked HR for a resolution, especially for the things I’m doing that make Fergus uncomfortable, she said it was at the top of my boss’ list to email me, but two weeks later, nothing has happened (my boss is ridiculously busy).

I think maybe I’ve been making a tactical error in chasing. Part of me thinks maybe they realized this was someone upset about a friendship ending and were hoping it would quietly go away. But if that’s the case, I just want to know it’s resolved, not just have it disappear. I am angry that I had to go through this really anxious few months, especially as I still don’t know what it is I am doing that is making Fergus too upset to come into work. I will not re-start the extra emotional labor for him, and I don’t want to be friends outside work, but I am also scared that if we disagree in the one meeting we are in together, he will go back to HR. Should I keep chasing? Or should I just never mention it again?

You deserve a response! If your employer brings you a complaint that you’re making someone too uncomfortable to come into work — which is a serious thing — of course you deserve to understand what they mean and what they want you to do differently. It’s ridiculous that you’ve asked for follow-up five times without any response.

But regardless of how it should be handled, it’s looking highly likely that you’re not going to get any substantive follow-up. You may indeed be right that they realized there’s no actionable substance to the complaint. If so, they should tell you that, or at least close the process with you in some way so you’re not left hanging. But at this point you’ve done your due diligence in trying to resolve it, and probably need to let it drop. That said, assuming you’re in regular contact with your boss, it would be reasonable to ask about this the next time you’re meeting (as opposed to trying to chase him down about it separately or continuing to ask HR)— but otherwise the complete lack of response from your company is probably a message that they’re done with it.

About your fear that Fergus will revive the complaint in the future if you disagree with him — he could! But you’re on record as being responsive to the first complaint and repeatedly trying to resolve it … and if they’ve figured out the first complaint didn’t have a lot of merit, that context will be there for the second one too.

3. Candidate was rude to the assistant on our interview panel

One of our departments (marketing) has only two employees: a marketing manager, and a marketing assistant. Recently, the manager position was vacant and the assistant was not interested in it. I discussed it with her and made sure she didn’t want to apply. Once I knew she was certain, I invited her to be on the interview panel for the manager. She will be the person working most closely with the new hire, and she has a track record of sound and thoughtful judgment. The other panelists were management and HR staff (four total on the panel).

One candidate we interviewed had an impressive educational background but an inconsistent work history. Still, she had the skill set we were looking for and there are all kinds of legit reasons a person might have gaps in their resume.

At the beginning of the interview, all the panelists introduced themselves and explained how their positions interface with Marketing. When the assistant introduced herself and stated her position, the candidate openly scoffed. I mean, complete with eye roll and head shake. Clearly she was insulted that a subordinate had input into the selection process. For me, the interview was over at that moment. It was so crass and disrespectful, there’s no way I would put this person in a supervisory position over one of my best employees. Or anyone, for that matter. However, I pressed on and we completed the interview, which had plenty of other red flags. Obviously, I didn’t hire her, and I have no regrets. We did end up with an outstanding hire.

My question is: is it that uncommon to include a subordinate on the interview panel? I feel like the assistant’s judgment and perspective were useful in evaluating the candidates. Being a small-ish organization, interpersonal dynamics matter. Most of what we do is collaborative, and we’ve often included a variety of positions on interview panels. This is the first time we’ve had that particular reaction from a candidate, though maybe others were better at hiding it?

No, it’s not uncommon! It’s not the most common way to do it, but it’s certainly not a weird thing to do and it’s especially smart in a two-person department. But even if it were unusual, a candidate openly scoffing at that would be the reddest of red flags. It’s incredibly snotty and disrespectful, and being rude to someone she perceives as having less power than her is a terrible sign about her character. And in an interview, when she’s presumably on her best behavior? Imagine how she treats people with less power than her when no one else is watching.

Frankly, if you had a time machine, I’d encourage you to ask about it in the moment — “Can I ask about the response you just had when Jane introduced herself as our marketing assistant?” — and then perhaps talk a bit about your culture and the importance you place on respect toward colleagues regardless of where they fall in the hierarchy, and especially in people you’re considering for management roles. That’s not everyone’s style, of course (and it’s hard to think to do that in the moment when you’re reeling from unexpected rudeness!) but it would have been satisfying, and likely further illuminating.

4. My coworker complains about her family non-stop

I work in a school, fairly closely with a colleague. Our professional relationship is great and we’re able to collaborate to support our scholars. But personally, I’m at my wit’s end. Every conversation turns to complaints about her husband, frustrations with her parents, or concerns about her children. She’s not interested in solutions, just in complaining. Included in her list are complaints about people who won’t listen to her complain.

We have the same lunch period this year. Aside from hiding in the bathroom, how do I nicely ask her to lay off the moaning? I need a break to recharge, chit chat with adults, or just browse reddit. It’s not that I want to be alone, I just can’t listen to her complain every day for the next year. Do you have a good script I can use to shut down the personal talk but maintain a good working relationship?

“I’m trying not to complain at work anymore. I’ve realized it puts me in a more negative head space, and it’s better for my mental health not to do it. So I can’t be your sounding board for this stuff, but did you see (insert subject change here)?”

She might be annoyed and think you’re aggravatingly pollyanna-ish, and that’s fine. Let her.

Alternative 1: “Sorry, I’ve got so much stuff going on myself that I’m not the right sounding board for this. But I’d love to talk about (different topic).”

Alternative 2: “I’m not in a head space for this, sorry!”

And then when she tries to shoehorn it back in, be ready with: “I really meant it — it’s not a conversation I’m up for, sorry.”

5. Time off for plastic surgery

I was wondering how you would recommend approaching my boss to request time off for an elective surgery. I am planning to get a rhinoplasty in the next year. It is purely cosmetic (no deviated septum, etc.) but I don’t really want to share what I’m taking time off for because I know people have different views on plastic surgery. I’m thinking of just requesting the time and sharing that I’ll be having a medical procedure, but that it’s nothing to worry about. Would you add anything else? Especially since my appearance will obviously change.

You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) disclose any details at all. It’s your private business!

Something like this is the way to go (not just with elective cosmetic surgery but with anything, really): “I’ll be out on (dates) for minor surgery. It’s nothing to worry about, just something I need to get taken care of.”

{ 497 comments… read them below }

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      As someone without a driving licence or car, I fully agree with “don’t accept a job without knowing how you’ll get there”. It’s always my first question to recruiters: “can you get there by public transit?”

      I’ve had to refrain from applying to a lot of jobs, but it is not worth the stress of having to rely on others’ goodwill to get to work.

      1. Phryne*

        I agree too, but I do also think the employer has some part. If your premises can only be reached by car, you need to pay your workers enough to own a car…

          1. münchner kindl*

            That’s what some companies out in the countryside are offering, with the lack of employees making hiring difficult, and most people not wanting the hassle and expense of driving their own car, so they offer a bus shuttle.

            Does require that employee work similar enough time, but with factory or a small company, that’s often the case.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              A local mushroom farm does that. They have several pickup points and even people with cars use the service because of the gas savings alone. It’s mentioned in their help wanted ads as an incentive.

                1. Nicole Maria*

                  Very off-topic so I understand if this is deleted, but I wanted to say that, like any agricultural work, commercial mushroom farming can be very strenuous and painful. From my understanding it’s often done in low light so you’re blindly reaching into these bins/structures to pick the shrooms and there’s a high chance of injury.

            2. Loux*

              A local factory here did that. For like 40 years the only way you could get there was either by car or walking if you lived in the town the factory was in. But after covid, they started having problems retaining staff, so one of the things they did to make it more appealing was to offer a shuttle bus service from a few nearby cities.

              Hell, if I worked there I’d probably actually take the shuttle bus instead of driving in. I would much rather spend my commute sleeping than driving.

              1. Selina Luna*

                I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a public space like this, but spending my commute reading, scrolling on my phone, researching raised garden beds because the soil here is terrible, or even watching an episode of a show (with headphones on, of course) does sound kind of dreamy…

              2. Chili Heeler*

                I would 100% take a shuttle instead of driving if I could. I used to be able to take a commuter train to work and there were definitely hassles but the time on the train was lovely. I’d pop on headphones and relax. Now, I’m on the freeway and there is no relaxing.

          2. ferrina*

            Yeah, this is just practical for the employer. If you aren’t paying your workers compensation where they can reasonably own a car and you aren’t anywhere near public transportation, how do you expect your workers to arrive on time?

            That said, it’s not on LW to figure this out for the company. That’s way above LW’s pay grade. LW gets to live their life and keep their very reasonable boundary about not giving rides.

          3. Dancing Otter*

            Yes, I’ve seen company shuttles crossing the Chicago Loop, where there are lots of buses. It was just a benefit for their employees, and probably more convenient.

            A couple of buildings in the suburbs ran shuttles to the train station.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          This is a temp. No way of knowing if they’re there long enough for it to be worth their investment.

          I work in a small office complex in an otherwise subrural neighborhood. Groups of employees have coordinated rideshare vans with a state program. Other than that, there is no bus and HR emphasizes the need for transportation.

        2. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

          The employer in this case is a temp agency. They should ask at the hiring stage if their employee has transportation or not and if not, how she would get to the jobs they assign.

          It seems to me that a job with no public transportation options ought not be assigned to someone with no transportation. Matching the right person with the right assignment is a temp agency’s job, right?

          My guess is they never asked, they just gave her the address.

          1. Aeryn Sun*

            I straight up told my temp agency I only wanted to be recommended for jobs that were accessible via public transit and they honestly never listened. So I made sure with every job I accepted that I could get there, but it was a pain that I could tell them a dozen times “I don’t drive, I can only work in places that are accessible by bus or train” and they’d still offer me a job off in the middle of nowhere.

            1. FrivYeti*

              Exactly the same experience here. When I was a temp, I made it clear with my first temp agency that I didn’t have a car, and could only go to locations that were either transit accessible or within a certain locational radius that would let me bike there.

              They consistently ignored that request and sent me jobs in locations that weren’t transit-accessible. Now, it just so happened that the first time they did that, the job was in a neighboring town, so I noticed moments before accepting the job. After that, I made sure to check and remind them each time they tried to give me an inaccessible location that I couldn’t reach it.

              Ultimately, they docked my reliability because I “wasn’t taking offered jobs”, I resigned from the agency and found a better one, and about eight months later I was informed that they were dropping me as a temp worker because I wasn’t accepting jobs (again, I had quit.) Then about four months after that they tried to call me to offer me a job.

              It was not transit-accessible.

            2. JustaTech*

              Yup, when I worked for a temp agency they knew I didn’t have a car (I was super clear about that) and still suggested a place that was *technically* accessible by bus, but it was literally like one bus a day, 2+ hours each way.
              I turned that job down and took the next one, which was a completely reasonable bus ride away.

          2. Ms. Murchison*

            Judging by my experience with temp agencies, I wouldn’t rely on them to do this. They absolutely should, but I think it unlikely you’ll find one that does.

            1. Chili Heeler*

              I signed up with a temp agency that specifically asked if I was able to drive places. It was in an area with really minimal public transit considering the size of the local population. I said that I didn’t and I never heard from them again.

        3. Observer*

          I do also think the employer has some part. If your premises can only be reached by car, you need to pay your workers enough to own a car

          Yeah. But that’s not on the OP.

          If this were the manager writing in, I would be all “you should talk to the decision makers about this and try to come up with some solutions.” But it’s not something the OP can take on. And I hope that it’s just the company being clueless – which is bad, not the company expecting poorly paid people like the OP to take on that expense and burden for others – which would be terrible though not unheard of.

        4. lilsheba*

          I agree to all of that. I never took a job in the past without being to get there on public transit. Until now, I work from home and don’t have to worry about that anymore thank goodness! But they should pay enough for them to own a car too definitely, wages are way too low for so much.

          1. Goldenrod*

            “But they should pay enough for them to own a car too definitely, wages are way too low.”

            I could afford a car. I just don’t want one. Not everyone who takes public transportation is poor.

            1. Phryne*

              Well yes, same for me. I could afford a car, but I live in a place that has very good cycling infrastructure and public transport. I assumed the letter writer did not, or this would not be a problem.
              (and even then, my brother for instance used to work morning shifts that started before the first train, so he still could not get there without a car, and it did not earn that much. He carpooled with a co-worker, but he payed a monthly amount for the expenses, so the co-worker got something out of it as well)

        5. Quill*

          Yeah, though this is why on site interviews are also important… so people don’t end up hired and then realize that the road that they thought they could cross is in fact a highway when they try to figure out how they’re getting to their first day.

          1. Sprout*

            We have this problem with interviews too, they apply because it is a good pay for part time, and then no show when they realize they can’t get here by bus.

      2. Chocolate Teapot*

        I was once called by a recruiter to set up an interview. She started telling me how to get there by car, but when I asked about public transport, she broke off the conversation and said there was no point continuing if I couldn’t drive.

        Another job I had was easy to reach on public transport but the bus drivers went on strike for 5 weeks which meant asking for lifts, and trying not to annoy the other people in my team.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          A transit strike is pretty much the platonic ideal of circumstances where asking for rides is reasonable. It is due to circumstances beyond your control, and it is not open ended.

          1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

            I toatly agree but would add bad weather/ car troubles/ missing the bus because of work. Like if someone’s car is dead, don’t leave them stranded. Same thing if the person had a plan to take the bus but they missed the bus or it didnt show up or something.

            1. Lisa*

              Disagree about bad weather. That’s something I would expect people to be prepared to deal with. For example I live in a place where snow happens routinely in winter, you can’t be asking for a ride every time.

              Car troubles or missing the bus maybe if it’s a one off random occurrence. Missing the bus is under your control.

              1. AnonInCanada*

                True, but missing the bus because the one you were hoping to be on schedule doesn’t show up is beyond one’s control. See: me this morning getting to work. Ugh! Hence my other comment upthread about the $15 Uber trip costing $50 this morning if I would’ve booked it.

              2. Cmdrshrd*

                I think that depends on your definition of bad weather.

                I agree/disagree. I wouldn’t call every routine snowfall bad weather, but I do think there are sometimes when the snow is bad/worse than normal and buses public transit is delayed. Asking for a ride in that situation I don’t think is unreasonable. A person is still not obligated to give someone a ride, but I thin it is understandable.

              3. Richard Hershberger*

                There is ordinary bad weather and then there is extraordinary bad weather, the dividing line depending on where you are. Back when I was using public transit for my commute, a routine snow storm was no big deal, but dumping a foot or two was. Of course that largely shut down cars, too. But I can see a needing a ride to get home type situation, where the ride will suck but transit is out of the question.

              4. zuzu*

                There were times when I lived in NYC that it got so cold that the subway tracks froze, or the tracks flooded. Since the trains go above-ground at certain points over bridges and in the outer boroughs, that meant the system was paralyzed, because the third rail that electrified the system wasn’t working, or the switches were stuck.

                I haven’t lived there since they put wifi in the tunnels, but back then, you’d just be standing on the platform until an employee came and told you the system was shut down, and that’s when you either went home and called in if you were close to home, or tried to get a bus if you were mid-commute.

                My understanding is that Chicago has flames on its tracks to avoid them freezing.

          2. Ms. Murchison*

            Or if service is cut. I worked in a major city that I was told used to have weekend and evening service, but when I moved there the last buses rolled out of downtown at 6pm and there was no weekend buses. And I had both weekend shifts and evening shifts that ended at 9pm. I could bike most of the year but not when there was snow on the ground.

          3. Hot Flash Gordon*

            I’ve totally given rides for folks who relied on transit during strikes, even if it was slightly out of the way. It was kind of fun for the short amount of time to have a commuting buddy.

        2. Megan Smith*

          Yeah I once went for an interview for a receptionist position after a lengthy phone screening and they asked me on the way to
          Interview room if I had trouble parking and I said I took the bus and they told me to
          leave, they would not hire anyone without a car. the job was not a high paying job! And I live in an area with pretty good public transport. I wish they had asked that on the phone?

          1. Lily Potter*

            If “own transportation” was a make-or-break thing for a job, it absolutely should have been in the job advertisement or the recruiter should have mentioned it in their screening.

            My guess is that public transportation made a previous receptionist late on one too many occasions, and receptionist is one of those jobs where being five minutes late acutally does matter.

      3. DJ Abbott*

        In all my job hunts since I stopped owning a car in 1990, the first thing I do when applying for a job is look up their address and make sure I can get there on transit.
        I also know from experience that in my city trains are reliable and buses are not. So it has to be by a train stop, or as Green Great Dragon says, run a shuttle.

        1. zuzu*

          Google Maps will give you a route with public transit, complete with transfers and walking required. Many cities with decent-sized bus and train systems will have some way of notifying you of the next bus via an app or text from your stop.

      4. Nightengale*

        one thing I have learned is that most hiring people have no idea if you can get to their location by public transit (even if it is readily transit able)

      5. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I’ve been job hunting recently and one of the things I’ve been screening in all the jobs I look at ahead of time is if they’re within my commuting range. Because of the way our highways are set up and the location of the city I live near, the range looks more like an infinity sign or Pac-Man than a circle because I’m excluding all jobs that would require me to work in the nearby Very Large City with Terrible Traffic, because I’m not doing a 3 hour daily commute unless and until it’s literally my only option.

        All that to say, “how do I get there” needs to be almost as high as salary/hours worked on the list of things you’re considering in a job, because it’s a critical logistical factor.

    2. Aeryn Sun*

      Absolutely. I take public transit to work and always triple check bus lines or transit availability before taking a job. I did this with temp jobs too – sometimes I had to be proactive and ask where it would be located so I could make sure I could get there.

      I get it can be tough with temp jobs in particular. I was a temp worker for about a year, and had to ask about this constantly with my agency. I know I specifically asked to only be considered for positions in the metro area because I don’t drive and frequently got asked for jobs far away from that, but I just made sure I had a mode of transporation before taking the job.

      1. Allison Byerley*

        In this context the job isn’t even in the city she lives in, people really only come out this far because the pay and benefits are good and the expressway makes it a faster commute depending on the time of day. That’s part of why I’m a bit miffed that she didn’t plan this out though, it’s very clearly not going to be on City A’s transit system if it’s not even in City A.

  1. Fikly*

    LW2: Reframe this situation. You did nothing wrong.

    Fergus is a grown man who threw a temper tantrum at work, both during a meeting and on slack, and you responded appropriately by setting and maintaining boundaries. He responded by having more temper tantrums, and when that didn’t get the result he wanted, complained to HR, and then refused to provide any evidence of you doing anything wrong, because there isn’t any. HR isn’t calling him on this because he’s a man and they’re HR, and you’re wondering what you did wrong because society tells women it’s always our fault when a man is upset.

    1. Emily*

      A freaking men. OP #2, it was *incredibly* crappy of HR to tell you about this complaint (allegedly making someone feel too uncomfortable to come to work is a very serious charge), but then refuse to resolve it. This says so much about the ineptitude of your HR Department and the serious issues Fergus has. I am glad you started setting boundaries with him. His problems are his own to resolve (I think HR should be pointing him towards your company’s EAP if it has one, but given the ineptitude your HR has displayed, I doubt they are doing that). I would also like to commend you for telling HR that you wouldn’t do things other employees aren’t being asked to do. You are 100% correct that Fergus’s social comfortability should not be your responsibility.

    2. Heidi*

      It’s possible that nothing the OP is doing is making Fergus uncomfortable. Rather, seeing the OP reminds him that she was nice to him and that he behaved like a jackwagon. Stay professional, OP. Presumably people witnessed the blow up in the meeting and on Slack, but document other instances where he’s being a jerk to you.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        ^ I think this is very likely. His gut informed him of the correlation, and then his brain put the causation backward.

        1. Artemesia*

          Except the list that HR now has of problem workers whom the OP is not one of. This was incredibly badly handled by HR.

      2. Twix*

        Agreed. A lot of people don’t understand or can’t tell the difference between “I am uncomfortable around this person” and “This person is making me uncomfortable”. It sounds like Fergus was a jerk, OP very reasonably pulled back from their relationship, and Fergus was upset and ran to HR but has now realized he can’t provide a list of things OP has done wrong because the things he’s unhappy about are things where any reasonable person would see that he’s the problem.

      3. Miette*

        I would also take Heidi’s suggestion to document this to heart. Write down your memory of what’s happened, with dates if you can recall them. If this ever comes to a head or a He Said/She Said, you will have the facts, and he will have nothing but the irrationality he’s been displaying to this point and nothing else.

    3. Green great dragon*

      Presumably HR is waiting for Fergus to provide the list of things he wants LW to stop, and Fergus won’t because what’s it going to say? LW should run more trivia teams for him? Though agree HR should be drawing a line under this, or at least updating LW on what’s going on.

    4. How does everyone manage to come up with such cool names*

      I didn’t see that the LW is a woman, not that it changes my thoughts because it applies either way, my first thought is Fergus has a crush on LW1. Doesn’t know how to deal with it being as he works with the person. Runs hot and cold because some days he thinks it’s all good I can maintain a professional relationship with this person, other days he’s angry that the person doesn’t feel the same way/is in a different relationship / etc. Makes him uncomfortable in the same space with the person. Makes their behaviour erratic. And could also be why HR haven’t responded.

      1. Skytext*

        I definitely think OP2 is definitely a woman. I can’t picture any man I know saying “at work I was doing a lot of emotional labor to help make Fergus feel more comfortable”.

        1. DrSalty*

          It does sound more like something a woman would say, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible LW is a man (or non gendered person, for that matter).

          1. Lana Kane*

            I think it might be the choice of word. “Crush” I think trivializes this a little (not trying to nitpick at the word!). If we said Fergus is attracted to OP, or is starting to obsess over her, we’re getting closer to what might be happening.

            My first thought was what Heidi said above: “Rather, seeing the OP reminds him that she was nice to him and that he behaved like a jackwagon.”

      2. Susannah*

        That was my first thought, too – that Fergus developed a crush, saw it wasn’t returned by (still-friendly) LW, and then felt “uncomfortable” seeing LW at the office.

        At any rate – it’s not your co-workers’ jobs to make you feel “comfortable,” at work or anywhere. If someone is harassing or bullying you, that’s one thing. But you don’t have to right to always feel “comfortable.” Life is full of discomfort. Fergus needs to learn how to navigate it.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        If HR sees it that way, then this would be an instance of a man retaliating (reporting them to HR) against a coworker for turning down their romantic advances. Which is so textbook that if HR can’t figure out how to respond to that, it can’t handle anything at all.

    5. Hannah Lee*

      Great points.

      The only thing I’d add is that LW has a professional reason for asking for the list of things they did wrong (Fergus’s list on LW’s behaviors): Right now she’s got an open complaint against her in her personnel record.

      It may be worth talking to boss about it one more time, and then if there is still no feedback, ask that the complaint be closed with a note that no corrective action was required on LW’s part, it wasn’t actionable and the matter is closed. Because otherwise it’s this thing hanging over LW’s head at work.

      Yeah, HR and boss could all be rolling their eyes at Fergus and don’t think LW needs to change anything, and just want it to go away, but they’re not sharing that info with LW, which is ridiculous. Or worse, they could want LW to do /not do something, but are keeping her in the dark. In any case they are giving Fergus and his phantom list of grievances way too much power, allowing it to drag out at LW’s expense. LW can matter-of-factly call them on that.

      1. HonorBox*

        This. It would be easy to tell LW to not let this live rent free in their head since nothing more has come of it, but this isn’t Fergus just being an ass and complaining to coworkers about LW. Given that a complaint would be on permanent record, asking for closure is exactly the thing to do. Especially when no one has apparently held up their end of the bargain by getting LW any sort of documentation about what specific things they did wrong.

      2. Spero*

        I agree you. Let’s say 5 years from now OP has moved on and someone calls this employer for a reference check, is the HR response going to be ‘well we did have a complaint against them from a colleague and they left soon after…’
        I think a cheery but clear, “I’ve asked before about follow up actions from Fergus’ complaint, and it seems that there aren’t any forthcoming. Does this means the complaint will be dismissed, or what is the process from here?’

      3. ferrina*

        Yep. LW needs to CYA if she’s* expected to do any work that overlaps with Fergus’s work.

        LW’s already done the right thing in pulling way back, not interacting with Fergus socially (except to politely acknowledge him as needed), and dutifully following up to see what steps she* needs to take. Since there is a standing meeting that requires LW to interact with Fergus, LW needs to know the parameters of how she should/should not behave in that meeting. That way if Fergus brings another weird complaint, LW can show that she complied fully.

        *I’m assuming LW is a woman because woman are usually expected to take on the emotional labor.

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        OP also says it’s an informal complaint. I wonder if this is different that an open formal complaint.

      5. Sparkles McFadden*

        In my experience with HR, they try to turn every situation into “all employees involved are at fault” because HR’s job is to protect the company. So, if someone brings a crazy, baseless complaint to them, they call the accused person and suggest mediation. That makes the non-crazy person 50% responsible for whatever the situation morphs into. The alternative is to tell Fergus he’s in the wrong, and then Fergus will be directly upset with the HR person, and HR doesn’t want that.

        Please document like crazy, LW. Write out every interaction with Fergus you can remember, a timeline of events, and your boss’ non-response to queries. If you really want closure on this matter, sum up everything in an email: “I’ve asked for the status of this odd complaint from Fergus and have yet to receive a response, so I am assuming we’re moving forward and there isn’t anything we need to address.” But, really, I’d let it drop, and if anyone tries to follow up later, pull out the documentation you’ve made of the situation.

        1. Emily*

          Yeah, I think this is the way to handle. I think in the email I would outline all of the times I had reached out to them and not received a response. I would also be tempted to include language like “Because I have received no response regarding this despite my repeated attempts, it appears that the complaint against me was found to be without merit. Please ensure that it is reflected as such in the file.”

      6. Office Lobster DJ*

        This. Even if everyone behind the scenes tacitly understands there’s nothing to the complaint, something is presumably in LW’s file, with a pretty serious claim.

        LW, forget Fergus and finding out what you did or did not do. Hopefully once your contract ends you can forget that Fergus even exists. Your concern at this point should be making sure that you can live with what appears in your file, as well as what kind of reference you may get.

        That is how I’d approach the situation: While you are still very open to a conversation, you haven’t received any answers yet and you are worried what appears in your personnel file. You would like to see it, please.

        1. Hot Flash Gordon*

          It could be in LW’s file, but not really in a bad way. It could simply be “Fergus made a baseless complaint against LW and we found no wrongdoing on LW’s part. Fergus was made aware to knock it off and be professional around LW.” This would be helpful documentation if Fergus ends up harassing LW.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            That would be ideal! Hopefully, LW can get their hands on it to check and decide what to do from there.

      7. Betty*

        I agree, and would even go so far as emailing boss and HR to say, in writing, “Given that I haven’t received any instructions on actions needed from me to resolve the situation, despite my repeated requests, I want to confirm that we all consider this matter to be fully and satisfactorily resolved.”

        1. Goldenrod*

          Yes, agree! If it were me, I doubt I would let this drop without a resolution, because it’s impugning my good name. If someone is going to slander me, they better back it up!

          If Fergus has nothing (as I suspect) other than some nonsense he made up in his head, HR needs to retract any semi-accusation that they made.

      8. Miette*

        Yes, this, not least of all because OP is a contractor, and presumably would want to work with this organization again some day. If this complaint isn’t resolved, they may not be able to be rehired/engaged for future work. Being called in by HR and the division head is a serious thing for Fergus to have kicked off, frankly, and the least HR/the boss owes them is to close this out with a note for the future that OP did nothing wrong and is re-hirable.

      9. zuzu*

        I would ask boss to prod HR to either respond or close it out because it’s affecting LW’s ability to do their work having this unresolved issue hanging over their head.

    6. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I feel like the big screwup here (after Fergus) is HR. If they were going to investigate this and found it had no merit, why not do that BEFORE approaching OP? HR is acting like gossips, not professionals. I’m trying to imagine a DCI on a Brit murder mystery approaching a suspect saying “someone said you’re the murderer, we’ll get back to you later…”

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Also, did HR or Fergus’s manager ask Fergus if and how he first tried to resolve his complaint about OP with OP themself? Since OP was blindsided by this complaint, it sounds as if Fergus never brought up his “problem” with OP at all. Frankly, it sounds as if Fergus’s “problem” is due to his own mental illness and has nothing to do with OP’s behavior.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “HR is acting like gossips, not professionals.”

        As they so often do! The most gossipy, back-stabby department I ever worked in was HR.

    7. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Also this is why I would be actively looking for my next contract if I were LW2. That fully sucks, but this employer does not have your back.

    8. That wasn't me. . .*

      IS OP a woman though? Initially, I thought a man, but then considered it could be a woman – based more on Fergus’ entitled attitude than anything OP indicated. I still don’t know.

      1. ferrina*

        I assumed OP was a woman due to:
        1) OP saying that they were taking on emotional labor for Fergus to feel more comfortable. That’s almost always a role that is occupied by a woman (can be men, but overwhelmingly tends to be women)
        2) Fergus’s weird entitlement. That’s much more common to be projected onto a woman (see: “the woman is responsible for my emotions!”).
        3) HR/Boss’s lassez-faire attitude toward the whole thing. It’s almost like they expect LW to magically fix the situation for them- an expectation that is overwhelmingly projected onto women.

        Statistically, it’s likely that LW is a woman because these are projections, assumptions and roles that are overwhelmingly applied to women. If LW is a man, that makes me much more hopeful about how much progress we’ve made toward gender equality.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          That’s the feeling I get too. And, when OP clearly stated that any discussion must be on professional matters and that she would not be doing any emotional labor, HR didn’t know what to do.

    9. Rage*

      Agreed OP2. You did nothing wrong here, everyone else is fumbling the ball, and it’s beyond frustrating to be left hanging like this. I’m in a similar boat, and have been since December 2021. Seriously. The primary players above me have all changed but one, and they all know about the situation, and still nothing has been done. Fortunately, I’m not working directly with her anymore, but it’s made me seriously re-think my plans to advance here.

      But, as Alison said, I’d drop it at this point. You’ve made beyond good faith efforts to resolve this. I’d go ahead and make a document, though, of dates/times and your attempts, to refer to if this ever rears its ugly head again. Just to be safe. And then wash your hands of the whole sordid mess.

    10. Generic Name*

      Co-signed. This exact scenario happened to me at a former job. I still don’t know what I did “wrong”. The guy ended up getting fired years later, and the CEO (small company) actually apologized to me for how the company handled it. I should have quit then. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t think my reputation at that company ever really recovered. I was repeatedly passed over for leadership and company ownership. When I finally moved on, I got a 35% raise and was approached about managing a team in my second week on the job. A place that operates like this does not have functioning leadership, and I encourage you to move on sooner than later. Even if things seem to blow over.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “A place that operates like this does not have functioning leadership, and I encourage you to move on sooner than later. Even if things seem to blow over.”

        This is excellent and astute advice.

      2. Cam*

        I had a similar situation at a past job.

        A coworker started inquiring into my love life and asked me to go on vacation with him, which I obviously declined. I didn’t bother reporting it because the company was a dumpster fire and he’d already been reported multiple times to HR with no consequences.

        He then ran to our bosses complaining I was crazy and trying to get into his pants. I only heard about this years later, long after I’d left the company, but it suddenly explained why at least one of my bosses completely ignored me after that.

        My reputation never recovered at that company. I left soon after for much greener pastures. My ex-coworker lost the company millions when he got caught trying to commit fraud.

        I agree that places that tolerate this behavior tend to have leadership problems we can’t fix beyond changing jobs.

    11. kiki*

      HR really bungled this by not at very least asking Fergus first specifically what LW even did to make Fergus so uncomfortable. I get that when somebody lodges a serious complaint, it feels right to jump to immediately trying to resolve the issue. But this is why a little initial investigation and leg work is important. Sometimes people lodge very serious complaints with no merit. Or the complaint sounds serious actually comes down to, “I have very odd expectations of my coworkers.”

      1. Phony Genius*

        Do we know that they didn’t ask Fergus? Maybe they did and decided that his answer should be confidential.

        1. kiki*

          There’s a chance they did, but what they’ve said to LW since the incident begins wouldn’t reflect that. Since she asked for examples of concrete items, HR & LW’s boss said they’d get that to LW, and now there’s been a significant delay. If HR had received a concrete complaint but thought it should be kept controversial, I wouldn’t expect them to say they could relay a list of behaviors to stop to LW.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I’m not sure a (functioning) HR can keep complaints confidential. Maybe the complainant, if possible, but the actual substance of the complaint? Their role is to protect the company from legal liability, so they can’t just receive a complaint and do nothing about it. “Coworker is legally harassing me, but don’t tell them” or “Coworker is acting in such a threatening manner that I can’t come to work” are things that any functional HR should act on right away, and it’s hard to investigate those things without actually asking the coworker about their behavior.

    12. thelettermegan*


      Any time one finds themselves providing emotional labor in the workplace, one should schedule a long vacation.

    13. Hot Flash Gordon*

      “…and you’re wondering what you did wrong because society tells women it’s always our fault when a man is upset.”

      OMG, A-frickin-men.

    14. goddessoftransitory*


      Seriously. The LW has been chasing the rabbit and HR, Fergus and everyone else has left the racetrack.

  2. Artemesia*

    The best way to avoid doing what you don’t want to do is have a firm policy which you appear to have about rides. ‘thanks for the invitation but I never do sales parties.’ ‘I’m sorry but it is my and George’s policy to near lend our cars.’ ‘Sorry but I never give rides; I won’t be able to help.’ or ‘I have a firm policy about never giving rides; I won’t be able to help.’

    1. Myrin*

      Especially since it seems like OP does indeed have such a policy: “I point blank don’t give rides.” It’s even better when it’s actually true!

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. I would be very tempted to use a slightly offended tone of voice that implies “how dare you even ask such an utterly inappropriate question” to attempt to shame them, but that’s no doubt petty of me. But I’d certainly do it if they had the gumption to ask more than once. That said, it’s extremely unlikely to happen to me because I still WFH most of the time and when I go to the office, I use public transit as do the vast majority of my coworkers. And I work with adults who know they’re responsible for getting themselves to and from work.

      My office building’s right next door to a central transit hub (trains, buses, streetcars), our parking spaces are intended for short-term visitors and have a 4-hour limit. Before the pandemic employees could lease a parking space for about 100 euros per month and many did, but the owner of our office building decided to eliminate reserved parking almost completely, presumably because they got a better contract from the city for public parking. Now if you want to park in a public space, it’s at least 20 euros per *day*.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, this is not a take offence / shaming request. Carpooling or similar arrangements are a thing, some people like having someone to chat with in a car, and it does not sound like OP would need to go out of their way.

          None of that means OP has any kind of obligation to give this person a ride even once, but it’s also not an outrageous thing to ask, as long as the ‘no’ answer is accepted.

          1. Lizzo*

            It would appear that @allathian is in Europe, where public transit is more expansive and robust, and consequently the concept (and necessity?) of carpooling may be very different than it is in the US.

            (I agree with all your points, @Allonge.)

            1. bamcheeks*

              I would think the opposite– we’re more used to the idea of minimising car use and people not having their own cars, so there’s less stigma attached to car-pooling. I’ve never heard of anyone being shamed for asking about getting a lift!

          2. amoeba*

            Yup, plus environmental benefits! In such a case, where a car is literally the only way to reach the site, I’d say employees carpooling is a great idea in general – which doesn’t mean everybody has to do it, obviously, and it’s completely fine to say no. But the question itself isn’t outrageuos!

            (I’m assuming that they ask politely and offer to pay for gas, of course!)

        2. allathian*

          Probably because I can be a bit petty occasionally. I’m from Finland, a country where most parents consider early independence to be a core value in raising kids. We don’t have special school buses, but kids as young as 7 (first graders here) can travel unaccompanied on ordinary public transit to go to school, and most do if they don’t live within walking distance of the school, at least in urban areas with good public transit. In rural areas it’s much more common for parents to drive their kids to school because there’s little or no public transit available.

          Most schools actively discourage parents from dropping kids off or picking them up after school because too many cars in a fairly small area is a safety risk. Traveling on public transit is generally safe here. If there are any incidents, they tend to happen in the evening or at night when kids don’t use public transit. The most common incidents involve kids forgetting their tickets and being thrown off the bus by the driver, even though that’s illegal here. Unaccompanied minors theoretically need a ticket but they can’t be punished for not having one.

          My son started going on his own when he was 10 and some considered him a late starter. My bestie’s daughter couldn’t wait for her 7th birthday in November so she’d get her own ticket.

          The expectations on kids who face various developmental challenges are different for what should be pretty obvious reasons. Kids with developmental challenges often go by taxi. But it’s also a reason why many kids get their first dumb phone when they start school and their first smart phone a few years later.

          Latchkey kids are still a common sight here, many kids get home from school and eat a snack and do their homework before their parents get home from work. That said, it’s usually on the parents to drive their kids to and from evening activities.

          My culture also places a lot of value on self-reliance at any age, which I freely admit sometimes goes too far. It should be OK to admit you need help and seeing a therapist should be seen as as a perfectly normal thing to do when you’re facing mental health issues.

          It really wouldn’t occur to most mature adults here to beg rides from a coworker unless they were friend-friends who also spend time together outside of work.

          1. I Have RBF*

            It used to be like that in the US.

            I spent grade school in a suburb. I lived too close to my school to even be allowed to ride my bike, I had to walk, which sucked (uphill both ways, in snow, sleet, rain, or shine.) Parents were not allowed to drop kids off from cars, not that any wanted to.

            In junior high and high school, I rode my bike or the bus. In high school some kids had their own cars, but not the majority. Parent drop-off still wasn’t really a thing.

            The idea of parents driving their kids to a local grade school is mind boggling, yet every school at start time has mobs of cars. Parents also will walk with their kids to school, as if they don’t know the way, if they aren’t driving them.

            1. Bumblebee*

              Same here, but now my kids’ elementary school has the mind-boggling policy that kids are not allowed to arrive without a parent. And only in the 5th grade – their last year – can they leave alone to walk home!

            2. Octhex*

              There may be a correlation between the “mob of cars” and the “walking their kids to school” — specifically, wanting to lower the chance that their kids are hit by vehicles, especially when their children are younger (AKA shorter).

              1. Quill*

                Yep, especially because cars are overall taller on average than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and therefore less safe for small kids! (Harder for the driver to see short people, more likely to impact torso or head, etc.)

          2. Broadway Duchess*

            Asking for a ride is not begging for a ride. I understand that your country’s culture values its interpretation of self-reliance, but the pride over being petty is not a great look to me.

          3. So Tired*

            Sincerely, congrats on living in a community like that. It sounds really wonderful. But you seem to be willfully missing the part where LW indicated that where they work is not at all like that. Their business is *not* on a bus line (or train or streetcar for that matter) and they also indicate that they’re not even sure you can walk there since it’s right off of an expressway/freeway/highway. This is also a temp worker, and LW has not given any indication that the coworker has asked previously for a ride. LW is simply asking for a polite and firm way to deny a ride *IF* this new worker asks. Asking someone for a ride one time is not out of line, a sign of a lack of independence, or something to be shamed for.

            Your descriptions of how life for you in Finland is and how something like this would be seen as unacceptable is not applicable or useful to this LW, nor is it particularly kind to the, again *temporary*, employee mentioned. Also, for the record, your experience is not unique, even in America there are major metropolitan (and some suburban areas, with the use of school busses) where kids are on their own for transportation. But that doesn’t do adults any good when they live in a more rural area where their place of work is next to a freeway without easy access without a car of their own. Quite frankly, your assertion that you would immediately want to shame someone for asking a perfectly reasonable question because you personally know children who can get to and from school in a big city safely, does not sit well with me.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Yep, same. There’s no option for mass transit, bicycling, or walking. Sounds like the temp was set up by her temp agency–sent to such a site when she doesn’t have a car.

              Allathian, what should the temp coworker do in that situation?

          4. Ren321*

            they were asking, not begging. Also carpooling is a thing even in Finland (either formally arranged or just colleagues who live nearish each other) without being friends outside of work. yeah, people are self reliant but this situation is totally plausible and wouldn’t in anyways be considered as outrageous as this post is making it out to be.

      1. Nebula*

        It’s not inappropriate to ask once – it would be inappropriate to keep trying once someone has already said no, but why are you treating a first request as a grave offence?

        1. Antilles*

          Agreed, it’s a fairly normal request and doesn’t really deserve this level of “how dare you ask”.
          Especially since a lot of people would actually say yes; either on a permanent ride-share basis (if it’s convenient) or on a short-term basis till the temp gets better transportation. It’s perfectly fine for OP to say no of course, but it’s not something that’s out of line to ask.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Youu can say no and you don’t have to explain.

          The sorry part is just because you have to keep working with the person. While no is a complete sentence, it can be abrupt in a professional setting. So a simple Sorry I have a policy against giving rides is sufficient. No reason to go into detail about why you don’t give rides.

          If they persist, then you can drop the sorry. If they still persist you can say I stated I do not give rides and that is not going to change. Please do not ask again.

      2. Jessica Clubber Lang*

        I think you may have misread the question – they just asked for a ride, no reason to shame anyone.

      3. Nancy*

        No is a complete sentence.

        It is not inappropriate to ask for a ride and there is no reason to shame someone for doing so.

          1. Nancy*

            OP gives no indication that the intern has asked repeatedly about giving a ride the same day they were told no. If someone asks a month later, it is not inappropriate, unless it was made clear that the answer was ‘no, never.’ In that case, “no, I never give rides” is all that is needed.

          2. Yoyoyo*

            But that’s not what allathian was saying, it sounds like they were saying they would act offended and attempt to shame the person on the first ask, which is unreasonable.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        OP’s office is a very different type of location–but even next to public transit, if someone lives RIGHT next to a coworker it’s not an offense to ask if they want to carpool or buy gas for them to drive an extra person. As long as that person takes no for an answer of course.

      5. Observer*

        I would be very tempted to use a slightly offended tone of voice that implies “how dare you even ask such an utterly inappropriate question” to attempt to shame them, but that’s no doubt petty of me.

        Extremely petty. But also utterly inappropriate. Even if your workplace is right next door to public transit, it’s a bad reaction. When there is no public transit nearby?

        In every functional workplace I’ve observed, refusing to give rides would be a total non-issues, as long as it was done politely and non-discriminatorily. But *shaming* someone? Acting as though they had asked an inherently inappropriate favor? That would be a bad look, and one that would call into question the person’s judgement.

        The OP is fine – they are being perfectly reasonable, and all of the suggested responses are perfectly polite. That’s all that is needed.

      6. Petty_Boop*

        This person is a TEMP, so it’s possible they simply haven’t amassed enough money in any position to buy a vehicle yet. If they knew that someone there lived close to them, it’s not SHAMEFUL to ask, once, “Hey I live on your route here, since it’s only going to be for X days/weeks, would you mind if I hitched a ride with you?” If she continues to ask, yeah that’s obnoxious, but when you’re a TEMP you don’t always know where you’ll be assigned and it’s possible that until this point the TEMP had always been able to use public transport, etc.. so this was a new need. Jeez why are you soooo invested in SHAMING someone for not being able to afford a car. Elitist much?

      7. JaneDough(not)*

        I’m respectfully asking you to rethink ‘I would be very tempted to use a slightly offended tone of voice that implies “how dare you even ask such an utterly inappropriate question” to attempt to shame them, but that’s no doubt petty of me.’

        The world is, and always has been, a mess — bc so many humans are a mess. If each of us can avoid roiling up another person, then let’s do that as a gesture toward a better world — even if the other person has been inappropriate but *esp.* when the other person hasn’t, as is the case here. (There’s nothing wrong with asking for a ride. Pls remember that in the US wages have stagnated or dropped over the past 40 years for almost half of the population, meaning that the ask-er almost certainly can’t afford a car; please remember that public transportation is in adequate in most US cities and is nonexistent in the hundreds of thousands of towns here.)

        Please don’t treat life as a bunch of opportunities to shame or harm others. Thanks.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “the ask-er almost certainly can’t afford a car”

          We actually don’t know this. There are lots of reasons to not have a car. Philosophical, ecological, medical, just personal preference, whatever. Not having a car does not automatically equal being poor.

          In my opinion, it’s not outrageous to ask about the possibility of carpool, regardless of someone’s reasons for not having a car. It’s only rude if it’s pushy or persistent.

          1. This_is_Todays_Name*

            Very true. I know more than one person who cannot drive to a medical condition (e.g. epilepsy) or medication they’re taking. One will NOT drive after being in a horrible accident and gets panic attacks just sitting behind the wheel. But, even if the temp worker *is* too poor to afford a car, that’s nothing to be ashamed of or made to be feel so about. It’s also ecologically conscious to ask to carpool if it makes sense where you are. Fewer cars on the road going to the same place is a GOOD thing.

      8. thanks I'd rather walk*

        It is fascinating to me how hostile some people are here to the idea that someone might ask them for a ride, because as a non-driver I’ve repeatedly had the _opposite_ problem: co-workers with cars who want me to ride with them and get weirdly pushy when I say no thank you, I’d rather walk/bike/take the bus. Sometimes it’s because they’re desperate for gas money, sometimes they’re just lonely and want conversation, sometimes it’s because they’re convinced using other means of transportation are putting me in danger (I’m a small woman).

        The ostentatious concern for my safety has dropped off as I’ve gotten older, but even in my mid-thirties I had a boss insist I text them to let them know I’d “gotten home safely” after I declined a ride in favor of walking home in broad daylight from an offsite meeting a mile and a half from my house.

  3. Beezus*

    for OP 5…I decided to get my tonsils out as an adult fully elective so I know not the same thing but my boss treated it the same as the person who asked for a few days off across a weekend for an augmentation “what’s your timeline, do you need to use PTO or disability and when will you be back to work?’

    1. This_is_Todays_Name*

      And for adults it is so much worse than for a child! My hubby got his tonsils and adenoids out at 40 (to help with chronic snoring) and said it was the most miserable, painful thing he’s ever experienced! So, I’d never let anyone other than a doctor TELL ME to have them removed.

  4. ENFP in Texas*

    #4 – being treated as someone’s emotional dumping ground is completely exhausting, and I really hope you are able to extricate yourself from that situation. I have had a couple people that I have had to limit my contact with altogether because all they want to do is complain, and I just don’t have the capacity for it.

    If your coworker doesn’t respect your boundaries, you may end up needing to eat lunch with your headphones on. Even if you’re not actually listening to anything.

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      A financial independence blogger I really enjoy had a post about the Complaints Ban they instituted, and I think about it fairly often – I’ll post a link as a reply. In your shoes, I would probably go with a response like “I’m doing a ban on complaints this school year, so I’d like to ask you to help me out with it by not complaining to me!”

      The post has some good reasoning about why a complaints ban is helpful, so it could be good to check it out if you want to have some ideas for redirection.

          1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

            Unfortunately, the newsletter isn’t super active anymore, but I do really recommend her first book Work Optional. I haven’t read her second, Wallet Activism yet, but I imagine it’d be great too. She also did a feminist finance podcast that was great.

        1. nonprofit writer*

          Thank you for this perspective, I think it will be helpful to me in my personal and professional lives (which are very enmeshed since I am self-employed). I love the idea of banning the word “busy” from my speech and I think I’m going to try it! Curious to see how often I fail but it’s a good goal.

    2. JSPA*

      Agreed. If you’e entirely conflict averse:
      1. Add an eye mask to the headphones, and make them noise cancelling headphones.
      2. take up power walking at lunch.
      3. strike a meditation pose, and hum, or make a soft but intense keening noise (the sort of thing that makes dogs whine, and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck).

      Alternatively, ask yourself why you would mind being on her “list of people to complain about”–and ask yourself why you believe that you’re not already on that list, when she’s trying to complain to others. Do you have evidence that she fails to behave professionally with them (in the case of colleagues) or to continue her familial functioning (in the case of family members)? If she has a lot of complaints because she unfailingly continues to do her duty (as she sees it) with a smile, then she will probably continue to be a good colleague, even if you don’t let her dump on you.

      Finally, there’s “blame the doctor.” “My doctor told me that for the sake of my [mildly plausible digestion-related organ–liver? pancreas? Sphincter? Duodenum?] to reduce stress, and especially, to avoid mulling over or hearing about stressful things while eating. I’d like to hear your stories–you tell them well!–but for now, I’m afraid I have to decline, in favor of visualizing colors.”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I didn’t realize at first that these are 3 separate options and had quite the visual of OP power-walking wearing an eye-mask and headphones!

      2. Petty_Boop*

        “I’m sorry but I’d like to enjoy my lunch and hearing about your godawful family is giving me indigestion.” Then pull out a book or a People magazine, or whatever and disconnect while she sputters out her indignation.

      3. Sopranohannah*

        You make a good point in your second paragraph. Several people have already told her not to complain to them. It’s not like OP will be revealing some deep personality flaw for the first time if they tell her to stop complaining. You might be one of the people she complains about, but if she run out of people to complain to then maybe she’ll develop some conversation skills.

    3. Artemesia*

      Once again ‘having a policy’ is your friend here. People like this cannot be discouraged except bluntly. Alison’s advice was excellent.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      “It seems like you do nothing but complain, do you have any good news or happy stories?”

      “If you don;t have anything nice to say, can you please not say anything at all?”

      Basically this woman needs to be called out for her negativity at you which is impacting you. And if she adds you to her endless list of people to complain about, who cares? It sounds like everyone who interacts with her is subject to her endless complaining and you being added to her list of complaints isn’t going to hurt your reputation.

      Other extremes “if your husband is so terrible, why don’t you get a divorce?” “If your pareants are so annoying, why don’t you go no contact?”

      IDK obviously I’m a terrible listener for people who just like to complain and aren’t trying to change things/make things better.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Other extremes “if your husband is so terrible, why don’t you get a divorce?” “If your pareants are so annoying, why don’t you go no contact?”

        this is actually not a bad way to handle terminal complainers if you don’t want to be complained to! It’s the opposite of active listening: constantly offering “helpful” solutions and suggestions can make you a very unsatisfying person to vent to.

        1. pally*

          A few months into my first job, I did a variation of this to a supervisor who complained endlessly to the whole lab about how awful her husband was. She criticized everything about him.

          My parents had coached me that in a professional environment, one must never discuss personal stuff. Just keep it upbeat and polite. Which I did. It was very confusing to me to hear this woman go on and on as she did. From the vitriol expressed, I was sure this was a marriage breaking up.

          This supervisor had some admin reason to talk to me after one of her rants. After she talked to me, I felt I needed to say something to her about her situation. “I sure am sorry about you getting divorced. Raising three small children alone can be tough.”

          “What?”, she said, shocked by my words. “I’m not getting divorced. I love my husband!”

        2. JaneDough(not)*

          Some complainers, though, will respond to the shut-it-down question with another complaint: “We can’t *afford* to get divorced. Our money problems … The house needs repairs … We need a bigger house … Our neighbors … ” Etc.

        3. I Have RBF*

          I had a roomie who was a complainer. I would get home at 6, and sit in my living room to read my newspaper. She got home at 6:30, and would block me in to the room so she could sit and complain about everything to me. I would offer advice and solutions – and the response I always got was “Yes, but …”, and more complaints and how whatever I suggested wasn’t feasible or whatever. I finally had to start taking my paper into my room and closing the door, I couldn’t enjoy my own living room in peace.

          This is to say that chronic complainers seldom want solutions or suggestions. They will push back and complain about the suggested solutions! The best solution that I have found is just not being available to listen to the litany.

      2. Observer*

        “It seems like you do nothing but complain, do you have any good news or happy stories?”

        “If you don;t have anything nice to say, can you please not say anything at all?”

        Way too adversarial. The OP needs to continue to work with and interact with her.

        Basically this woman needs to be called out for her negativity at you which is impacting you.

        If someone could knock some sense into her, that would be good for her. And she deserves to be called out. But ultimately, that’s not the OP’s job and I would just use the less adversarial scripts + intently reading / wearing headphones / other “non-interruptable” signals as needed.

        And if she adds you to her endless list of people to complain about, who cares? It sounds like everyone who interacts with her is subject to her endless complaining and you being added to her list of complaints isn’t going to hurt your reputation.

        Yup. OP, this woman gave you the answer. Don’t listen to her, and don’t worry about your reputation. People know what she’s like.

      3. Caramel & Cheddar*

        LOL I was waiting for someone to make this suggestion. It’s kind of a nuclear option, but I do think a lot of people who love to complain like this don’t realise the extent to which they sound utterly miserable (or make those in their lives sound utterly miserable) until someone reflects it back to them and they’re suddenly forced to think “Wait, no, I love my spouse/parents/children/whatever, what are you talking about?!”

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      It may require extra repetition and reinforcement, but I like the alternatives along the lines of “Not up for this / in the headspace for this, sorry,” or “Wow, that’s a lot to handle. I’m exhausted just hearing about it. Why don’t we switch gears. Did you hear about X?”

      There’s just something about a faux cheerful complaint ban that sets my teeth on edge. Depending on the co-worker, it also risks her newest complaint around the workplace being “LW thinks she’s so perfect.” (Maybe that would matter to LW, maybe everyone knows to disregard the complainer and it wouldn’t)

  5. hardlycore*

    LW3: at my last job at a law firm, whenever my practice group hired an attorney we would ALWAYS have our paralegal participate in the interview and provide feedback. While any attorney we hired would have supervised the paralegal and been able to give her direction, she was a crucial part of the team (good paralegals are harder to find than good lawyers, honestly!) and we wouldn’t have wanted to hire someone she didn’t feel comfortable working with. Especially in a small department like yours, I think it’s extremely reasonable to have the assistant participate in hiring, and you were right to be suspicious of a candidate who was so rude to her.

    1. JagoMouse*

      Honestly, the first thing I do following an interview is to check with my Reception team as to the person’s demeanour when they arrive. Were they polite, interested, engaging?
      The ones who are polite and engaging – even if nervous – get extra marks.
      The ones are rude or dismissive – don’t get hired.

      If you think you can walk into someone else’s workplace at that point in the relationship and be rude or dismissive? Think again. I watch what you do from the moment you arrive and take the opinions of everyone you interact with into account.

      Having someone who will be working closely with a candidate on an interview panel, irrespective of their place in a hierarchy, is just common sense.

      1. Sabrina*

        At my previous office interacting with the receptionist was considered the first part of the interview. She once had someone be so nasty to her when she tried to check them in that when the interviewee got in the elevator she called the interview team and told them quickly what happened. By the time the person got off at their floor the interview was only a formality, they did not get offered the job.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Coming to note this. This story is an even uglier version of the conversation about making sure to be polite to the receptionist at an interview, because this job seeker was rude to a support staffer before the WHOLE PANEL. Just, wow.

        1. Observer*

          This story is an even uglier version of the conversation about making sure to be polite to the receptionist at an interview, because this job seeker was rude to a support staffer before the WHOLE PANEL.

          This. This x 1million.

          As Allison noted, I shudder to think about how she treats people when no one is looking. It also says alot about her that she thinks that this is soooo normal that the rest of the panel will just not even notice.

          Beyond that, it also shows her disrespect for the company and it’s management. Think about it – she’s in a panel interview with top management, and she scoffs and *rolls her eyes!* at a decision that top management is clearly on board with. What else is she going to mock – and probably refuse to comply with?

          It’s not surprising that the rest of the interview showed a ton of other red flags.

      3. The OG Sleepless*

        We had someone interview at an animal hospital where I used to work, and as soon as he left, the boss made a beeline to the receptionists to get their thoughts. They were offended because he had walked straight out without saying “goodbye” or “nice meeting you” or anything. They did hire the guy, but his manners never improved. He tended to ignore people unless he needed something from them. You can tell a lot about a person by how they interact with support staff, much like sizing up a date by how they treat the waitstaff.

        1. Ms. Murchison*

          That seems like a gross over-reaction. Being so caught up on your thoughts after an interview that you don’t notice that the desk staff expect a “goodbye” isn’t rude, it’s pretty relatable. Sounds like this was someone who gets very focused and isn’t outgoing. Was he polite when he arrived and checked in? Was he polite and respectful when he did interact with staff because he needed something in the course of doing his job? You’re judging someone as rude for having different social needs than you do, not for actually being actually rude or mean to the people around him. Sounds like my ex-boss who hated me because I was focused on my work and didn’t stop by her office to chit chat all the time.

          1. anono*

            “You’re judging someone as rude for having different social needs than you do”

            Well-put. On that end, couldn’t the receptionists have said goodbye first? If he didn’t respond, THEN that would’ve been rude.

            As a former receptionist, I expected people to say hi and be polite but I never expected them to go out of their way to chitchat or say goodbye to me.

      4. Artemesia*

        I agree with this and in fact did listen to my AA on how candidates interacted with her on the phone and on arrival when hiring, BUT you do have to be careful here. Some people in this position will exceed their brief. I would want to know if a person was egregiously rude to the receptionist. BUT there are people who take the bit and run and are negative about perfectly polite people who are not effusive or charming or whatever to them. Someone who is businesslike but not chatty or friendly to the receptionist should not be penalized. I would tread carefully here.

    2. JSPA*

      I’m going to go somewhat contrarian here. Strictly, we don’t know what aspect of “having the subordinate there” the candidate was reacting to. Or even that it was the job, rather than the last name, that caused the reaction.

      Let’s start with it being the job.

      We’ve had letters here about candidates who “realized” during the interview that the company was going to go with an internal hire, and that this was signalled by the internal-hire-to-be, sitting on the hiring committee.

      It’s quite possible that the candidate met competent, collected, respected, promotable Jane, and her visceral reaction was, “well, screw this, I’m clearly just window dressing here.” That’s enough to draw an eye roll from many people (even if it shouldn’t).

      Now, that’s still a jump in logic. And a sign that the person has been exposed to bad hiring practices, and expects them as the norm. Or that they’re prone to getting in their own way, or easily discouraged. So, a fair forest of yellow flags. But it’s not necessarily the same sort of cherry red flag as, “rude to the receptionist.”

      There’s a huge range of other options, though, that are some mix of “something about Jane-as-assistant” and “something about Jane-just-as-Jane. None of them great. Starting with the job related, then veering personal:

      “Jane must be incompetent, or she’d be offered the job, so why is she sitting on this committee?” or,

      “I thought of this job as free creative rein, with a support person to handle the mundane tasks; if the support person is themselves a creative with independent input, the job doesn’t fit my operating style.” or,

      “Wow, she’s high powered. I’m going to be a place holder until Jane decides she would like the promotion after all.”

      or, “Jane reminds me of the [broad social characterization by attitude, age, style, class, gender expression, race] who made my life hell in [school, my prior job, on the dancefloor]. I don’t need that [epithet] energy in my life.” or,

      “I just realized that I slept with [her, her boyfriend /girlfriend, her parent(s)]. It didn’t end well; this is hecka awkward.” or,

      “Jane….Jane WARBLESWORTH? The Jane Warblesworth who [traumatic memory from long ago that Jane has long forgotten, or has the sense not to bring up].”

      I can’t think of appropriate follow up questions that would give us insight or closure on the vast majority of these! But collectively, they do open the possibility of some answer other than, “she’s clearly a jerk about hiring input from a subordinate.”

      1. Sunny Day*

        The LW said the candidate “ . . . openly scoffed. I mean, complete with eye roll and head shake.”

        Some of the suggested reasons that you came up with seem like a bit of a stretch. The letter writer shouldn’t have to figure out why the job candidate openly scoffed at the assistant. Does it really matter why? I don’t think so. I can’t think of a single reason that is acceptable for an interviewee to openly scoff and roll her eyes at someone on the interview panel.

        That she behaved that way during the interview, for any reason, should immediately take her out of consideration for the position.

        1. JSPA*

          Nothing in my post said otherwise.

          (Nor did I claim that these were all highly likely scenarios–though I believe each and every one of them has featured here in some way.)

          This was a strong negative reaction, with nothing to mitigate it. That’s enough to rule someone out, if you have other decent candidates. A hiring committee is not required to bushwhack your way through a briarscape of yellow flags, when there are green-flagged roads that lead to your goal.

          I don’t, however, like imputing reasons to what’s going on in someone’s head, based on an observed reaction.

          “Clearly classist” (like “clearly racist” and “clearly sexist”) is the sort of presumption that’s easy to jump to. (Easy, because it’s–sadly–not uncommon.) But all of those things are really serious character flaws. I’d prefer not to impute deep character flaws to someone, based on a physical reaction.

          You can go immediately to, “not the right hire for this position” without a side of, “because this is clearly someone who thinks subordinates are peons.”

          1. Myrin*

            I’m not really seeing how that matters in this case, though.
            If you decide that someone’s behaviour makes them not the right hire for a position, then their behaviour makes them not the right hire for a position – it’s not really relevant whether you assume their behaviour was caused by thinking subordinates are peons or by having a visceral reaction to all Warbleworths because you’ve decided that it’s their behaviour that’s the problem.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Yes – at the very least this is a person who would potentially be representing the organisation and can’t keep her emotions inside her face.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I think this is being very literal – of course we don’t know with absolute certainty that the motive behind the scoffing was snobbery, but it’s a perfectly plausible inference to draw! The other motives are not the kind of thing that is going to be the most commonly assumed motive – and yes obvious assumptions do matter. The important thing is that the interviewee is someone who can’t avoid appearing snobbish, superior and disrespectful because they give such clear and plausible indications of that – it doesn’t require having the words “assistants are inferior” actually stamped in their mind like a stick of rock. The fact that they behave like they are is enough.

          3. Kaiko*

            This is verging on fan fiction for the scenario, and there’s nothing in the letter that indicates that the marketing assistant fits any of those scenarios. The reality is, it doesn’t matter what the applicant was responding to – the rudeness should have known enough to keep those inside thoughts off her face.

          4. darsynia*

            “I don’t, however, like imputing reasons to what’s going on in someone’s head, based on an observed reaction.”

            But that’s what your entire suggestion list was??

            I think the leeway you’re trying to suggest be given to a person violating regular *social* norms, much less interview norms is ultimately a massive waste of time. It doesn’t matter what their reason was, they clearly can’t hold themselves to a professional standard enough not to act in a way that will lose them the job. The end.

            1. Allonge*

              And on the other hand, OP and the rest of the hiring team is unlikely to waste a lot of thought on this person after the fact. Nobody is going to put a big scarlet R on their forehead for Rude.

          5. Observer*

            “Clearly classist” (like “clearly racist” and “clearly sexist”) is the sort of presumption that’s easy to jump to. (Easy, because it’s–sadly–not uncommon.) But all of those things are really serious character flaws. I’d prefer not to impute deep character flaws to someone, based on a physical reaction.

            Which is very nice of you. But an employer can’t really take the risk of ignoring these bright flashing warning signs of serious character flaws that can impact their other employees. The candidate would have had to have a STELLAR interview, and really really show that they are not that thing that their behavior suggests for the company to reasonably be able to take that risk.

            Also, there is another clear problem here. This is the most likely reason for the behavior described and most people *will8 reasonably consider and treat that as the most likely reason. Which means that even if this person is doing this very rude thing for another reason, it means that they cannot keep from being rude *despite knowing how it would likely be seen*. Or the do not even realize! Which is even worse.

            That’s terrible for *any* employee with any sort of management capacity. One that is essentially the face of the company? No way!

          6. Irish Teacher*

            Honestly, most people have some level of classism or racism or homophobia or sexism. I agree it’s a character flaw but it’s one most people have some degree of and I think that it probably isn’t a good idea to treat it as some major accusation because I feel that thinking of it that way prevents us from noticing our own racism or classism or sexism since most people don’t want to think of themselves as having “serious character flaws.” I think it’s better to think of it as being like selfishness or jealousy or thoughtlessness, something that is problematic and harmful but also something most of us are prone to and not reserved to those we consider “bad people.” Yeah, the extremes are TV villain bad, but those aren’t the only people with prejudiced views.

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        I don’t think it matters the reason for the candidates reaction, because scoffing, shaking your head, and rolling your eyes during introductions is rude. Part of working with people is being able to be gracious and polite and part of interviewing is testing for that politeness. So, I really couldn’t care less the reason for the reaction. The reaction was a red flag.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Agreed, there’s no reason for this reaction that could make it okay (except possibly Tourette’s, but in my experience people with tics apologise as soon as an inappropriate behaviour happens and explain that it was involuntary).

      3. Allonge*

        Jane could remind the interviewee of an alien abduction and the reaction still would be very inappropriate.

        Part of being an adult is that we regulate our outward reactions to things. If someone cannot act professionally in an interview, when they know they are under the greatest scrutiny, they are not going to do it in day-to-day business (or at least hte hiring team cannot take the risk).

        Also, a lot of the possibilities you mention here are a very adversarial look at work, which is another negative in a bunch of places. It’s an interview, in the overwhelming majority of cases you will have competition. It’s not personal.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Part of being an adult is that we regulate our outward reactions to things.
          This. It’s part of professional behavior. I wouldn’t trust this candidate to represent the department/company if they can’t control their reactions. Especially of the “I saw A, and immediately hopscotched a bunch of steps to conclude Q, and Q makes me furious” variety.

        2. Jackalope*

          Yes, and in addition to this, the new hire will have to work closely with Jane on a regular, ongoing basis. Jane is a known quantity as a good employee; it doesn’t really matter why the interviewee wouldn’t get along with her as long as you know that they won’t. Which seems pretty clear here.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        Seeing the assistant on the interview panel and concluding that this is a mock interview with an internal hire a done deal seems rather the non sequitur. Similarly, with the conclusion that the job is hers the moment she decides she wants it.

        1. Allonge*

          Exactly – beyond the (already disqualifying) rudeness, this would be a bad logic error. I would strongly prefer to not hire people who jump to conclusions like this based on very little data.

        2. Venus*

          Agreed, plus a candidate shouldn’t be on the hiring panel, so seeing the assistant on the interview panel almost guarantees that it isn’t an internal hire.

        3. Aquamarine*

          Yes – the assistant being on the panel should indicate that she is NOT a candidate for the job. Deciding it means the job belongs to the assistant and the interview is pointless would be a very bizarre conclusion.

      5. nodramalama*

        I dont think the hypothetical reason for scoffing matters. Fact of the matter is thst she’s rude to someone attending the panel and that’s a big hiring red flag

      6. mlem*

        You’re getting jumped on, but I do think there’s merit in allowing for the possibility that someone’s poor reaction can’t immediately be perfectly explained by a specific interpretation. It’s unprofessional, sure, and I don’t blame the LW for being too taken aback to follow up in the moment, but when possible, it does seem like a good idea to ask questions and to consider that the candidate might need some coaching if they’re otherwise the best fit for the position.

        1. Allonge*

          Eh – this candidate would have to be miles ahead of everyone else for OP to even begin toconsider ‘maybe I can coach the rude’. And especially as it was rude behavior to the person they would work with the most – you don’t invite conflict into your office like that.

          I know we like to allow for all kinds of failings on this board but demonstrated behavior is a good predictor for future behavior.

          Now, if the interviewee immediately apologised, and is really interesting otherwise, maybe it’s a discussion worth having. As it is, though… nah.

        2. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye*

          What is that merit? It isn’t the job of an interview panel to do all this emotional labor, they just want to fill a vacancy. It’s not common to coach candidates, who arguable are not the best fit for the position regardless of technical qualifications if exhibiting unacceptable behavior during the interview. If the unsuccessful candidate requests feedback perhaps they can be told then when there is a deal-breaker such as what happened here. Otherwise, a little self-reflection is in order.

          It’s interesting how it’s so common here to come up with all kinds of scenarios for why unacceptable behavior has occurred. More often than not it is totally irrelevant, with no actionable advice for the LW. Kind of annoying sometimes.

          1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

            When you encounter unusual behavior, there’s a tendency to think “nobody would be THAT blatantly rude in an interview” so there must be a more reasonable explanation.

            In some cases that might matter, in others it might not.

            1. JaneDough(not)*

              If there *is* an acceptable reason for odd behavior on the part of the interviewee, then the interviewee is responsible for addressing that — either at the end of the interview or in the follow-up thank-you email. The interviewee who doesn’t see their red-flag behavior as inappropriate (and therefore doesn’t address it) is bad news, as seems to be the case with this one.

              (I’m thinking about a letter to AAM in which the interviewee was self-conscious bc while dressing they had inadvertently spilled a lot of their partner’s after-shave on them and had been unable to remove most of it; IIRC, Alison suggested making a light-hearted reference to it in the thank-you email. Can’t find the letter — googled for it but to no avail.)

            2. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye*

              What would be a reasonable explanation, yet alone a more reasonable one? I wouldn’t delve that deep with an interview candidate,maybe someone I had been working with for years, but not an interview candidate. No way you know a person for an hour is enough to put any explanation into context.

            3. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye*

              I don’t wonder that at all. If I have several qualified candidates who do not exhibit unusually rude behavior, I just move on. I just don’t see the point in looking for an explanation in this specific scenario.

              1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

                In this case the candidate didn’t sound qualified even beyond this – the op mentioned multiple red flags

        3. Observer*

          it does seem like a good idea to ask questions and to consider that the candidate might need some coaching if they’re otherwise the best fit for the position.

          I can’t see any scenario where this candidate could be the best person for the job, or fit for the job at all. Certainly none of the scenarios suggested would allay any concerns I have. For one thing, outside of something like Tourettes (which sufferers generally explain) there is simply no good reason for this behavior, especially in a scenario where you’re supposed to be on your best behavior.

          Also, by and large, there are very few managerial positions where it makes sense to hire a candidate who needs coaching on *basic courtesy and the minimums of acceptable behavior.*

      7. Armchair Analyst*

        I kind of agree especially as relates to Alison’s wording, which presents a rhetorical question and then almost a monologue about the company culture.

        what if the monologue on company culture was presented first and then an actual interview question was asked and the applicant’s response evaluated? I agree with the folks answering that the response itself was inappropriate and yes it was. I think its worth it to find out why that response was given.

        “How do you work with people of all different authority levels and specialties on a team? What if you had to work with someone older than you but at a lower level? Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult person who made assumptions about others? What about your previous employers’ cultures did you like or not like and why?”

        it can be a real conversation

        1. Allonge*

          Why does it matter why someone is rude?

          Why do you feel you owe it to anyone to ask them how they behave towards people in a lower level when they just demonstrated it live?

          Do a thought experiment please: don’t see yourself as the poor interviewee who lost a chance for a job. See yourself as the admin who is on the panel, a candidate is objectively rude to them, and the rest of the panel goes ‘oh but do we know why they are rude?’ and continues with taking the person who just rolled their eyes at you as a serious candidate to become your boss. Do you really feel there needs to be a conversation on how rude they really are not?

      8. Observer*

        But collectively, they do open the possibility of some answer other than, “she’s clearly a jerk about hiring input from a subordinate.”

        Even if we ignore how much of a stretch some of your possibilities, it still doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t *really* matter why she rolled her eyes and shook her head, Because the *key* piece of this is that she’s a jerk, and it doesn’t matter what part of it she’s being a jerk about. There is simply no way to get around the rudeness of her behavior. Walk out of the interview if you realize that it’s just pro forma or that it’s a terrible fit? Sure, that can be done appropriately. Finish out the interview without putting in effort? OK, it won’t get you the job, but you’re expecting to. Sneering at your interviewer? No. Absolutely not. No way to see this as less than a red flag all on its own.

        And some of you other speculations are red flags by themselves. Your positing some really bad conclusions that would make me extremely hesitant to put someone into any sort of management position, to the point that they might be a deal breaker.

      9. Miriam Margoyles*

        I think a lot of these reasons are a stretch, but….

        First, this isn’t a court of law – the interviewers don’t have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that this candidate is a snob.

        Second, it seems very likely that classism is in play here.

        Third, people do need to be polite at work.

        So it’s reasonable and ethically acceptable to just bounce this candidate.

        However, I wonder about another potential explanation:


        This woman has undoubtedly experienced massive casual sexism in interview contexts; she’s a woman with a career. She may have misunderstood why the assistant was included – not as a potential direct report, but as an indication that she was being undervalued, either as a candidate in terms of her professional qualifications or as a hire in terms of her role.

        She may have understood that this assistant was supposed to be evaluating her as an authority/superior/peer, not as a direct report. She may have read the inclusion of this assistant as a bait and switch, and she might have responded with anger and mistrust or just shock and confusion. “Wait, am I being funneled into an assistant role?” “Do they think I’m not qualified?” Including direct reports is a smart and increasingly common panel setup, but it’s not universal.

        There’s no reason to assume this is the case, let alone give this woman a pass, but that would not be an egregious or implausible level of sexism *at all* – I’ve walked into several interviews as a qualified Llama Shaver where the interviewer did not believe that I knew not to hold the shears by the pointy ends. And I know a lot of women who have run into this exact surprise demotion scenario, myself included.

        1. Observer*

          There’s no reason to assume this is the case, let alone give this woman a pass, but that would not be an egregious or implausible level of sexism *at all*

          Which is true, but not really relevant to the situation.

          No doubt this woman has endures sexism. But, as you say, there’s no reason to assume that that’s why behaved so poorly. And regardless, this is not the way to handle the situation. Also, it would mean that she was jumping to conclusions waaaay too quickly. While it’s true that having assistants on the panel is not universal it is not unheard of. And even if it were really something unique to the OP’s company, it’s just not reasonable to take this – alone and without any other context – as a sign that there is a “surprise demotion” at play. I could see becoming a bit more cautious and asking more questions about the role, but an immediate jump to a high level of rudeness is a bad idea regardless and especially bad because there just is not enough evidence to draw any conclusions.

        2. Gemstones*

          I don’t really see the connection between past sexism and what happened here. All of this speculation is pretty out there.

        3. Allonge*

          Or maybe as a child she way punished by her father the king when she was insufficiently rude to underlings. /s

          It does not matter. Being rude to an interviewer, any interviewer, is a disqualifying event in any reasonable organisation. Why do people try to find excuses about being rude to an interviewer who is also an admin?

          1. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye*

            Yes, it gets pretty ridiculous sometimes, some folks forget this is a workplace related site, not talking about your family.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          If the candidate thought she was getting shunted into an assistant role, that’s a cue to ask a couple of questions. “Just to clarify, I’m interviewing for the Marketing Manager position, correct?” or “What are the regular duties of this role?”

          It was not a cue to openly scoff during the actual interview.

      10. Petty_Boop*

        Even if one of your (pretty implausible and unlikely) scenarios were true, the fact that this candidate was unable to control herself enough to not roll her eyes/shake her head and “scoff” would STILL be a red flag. I’d not trust someone with that lack of control to represent me/my company/project/whatever in a meeting. What’s she going to do when someone (inevitably) says something stupid in a meeting? What is she going to do when someone is dressed in what she considers a silly or inappropriate way? Whatever the reason for her disdain and reaction (and we know what it was), she’s clearly not a person I’d want on my team.

      11. Aeryn Sun*

        I think the absolute very least you can do in this situation is not openly scoff or roll your eyes at someone. You’re right, we don’t know 100% what caused the reaction. Anything from “why is a subordinate on the hiring panel?” to “oh great, this interview is a formality but they’ve already planned to give it to her” to “she has the exact same name as my mortal enemy!” could be the case. However, choosing to respond visibly and audibly shows a lack of civility in any case that is unlikely to be something this organization would want.

        If I was the interviewee I might text a friend afterwards going “well I probably didn’t get that, they’ll probably promote the subordinate!” but openly scoffing? Nah.

      12. Portia*

        It seems best, lacking other information, to defer to the judgment of the person who was actually in the room and was part of the interaction.

      13. fhqwhgads*

        You’re bending over backwards to find an explanation for doing something rude when being introduced to someone. Even if it were the panelists name making her think of something else – you don’t react like that OUTLOUD.

    3. allathian*

      I’ve never participated in hiring a manager, but I’ve certainly participated in interviewing peers, specifically those who had the same job description that I was expected to work closely with. When I was hired, my future coworker was on the interview panel.

      I’ve been on the interview panel every time we’ve hired new coworkers with my job description. When we hired my current coworker, I strongly suspect that my vote was the deciding one. We had two candidates who were equally strong on paper and both interviewed equally well. I would’ve no doubt been able to work well with either of them, but I apparently had such great chemistry with the one we ended up hiring that my boss who was the hiring manager noticed. Near the end of the interview, when we were talking about preferences in work processes, we were pretty much finishing each other’s sentences. I’ve been at my current job for 16 years and my current coworker’s been here for 10 years. The turnover in the rest of the team’s been at least 95 percent in that time, not exceptional for a team that’s expanded from 7 to 25 employees, even though I work for the government and I’ve had coworkers who’ve worked their entire careers from their first internship to retirement for the same employer, even if their job descriptions have changed dramatically as they got promoted or their job descriptions changed due to techological change.

      But yeah, whenever I’ve interviewed for a job, I’ve considered the interview to have started as soon as I enter the building or interact with anyone, no matter how peripherally related to my prospective future employer they may be. For example, my office building contains the offices of a dozen or so different employers, and there’s one reception desk for the whole building in the foyer. Either the reception/security desk calls your host to let them know you’ve arrived, or the host comes to the reception desk to meet you. But in any case, you have to pass the reception desk to sign in as a guest and to sign out as you leave.

      Personally, I’d no more employ an executive or senior SME who was rude to people below them in the hierarchy than I’d consider going on a second date with a guy who’s rude to waitstaff (and a stingy tipper in a tipping culture, which mine isn’t).

      1. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye*

        I totally wish I had been on the hiring panel for the person I directly report to, who has been bombastic, rude, and unsupportive since he arrived. My government organization is run in a very top-down manner, no 360 reviews or anything like that. Poor managers abound because of it, as they kiss up and punch down.

        That said, basic politeness on the part of job candidates is never too much to ask for. We learned a lot of that in kindergarten.

        Chemistry is good, but panelists should be cautious using that for the basis of a final hiring decision, as it may reflect unconscious bias.

    4. KateM*

      I understood that the candidate was rude to the one person who will have to work with her day to day. WHY would someone hire her when it is clear from the start that they will not be able to work well together??

      1. Working*

        Completely agree.

        How the candidate interacts with admin staff, their comments on the hotel they’re staying at, whatever, it is all completely illuminating.

        LW3, great work, strike the candidate off.

    5. Doc McCracken*

      LW3 For a short season I worked as a receptionist/ admin for an insurance brokerage. They had a telemarketing department that they were frequently hiring for because the group had high turnover. (That place treated their folks really well so their turnover was much better than normal but still had high turnover compared to other departments.) Owner had a rule if they were rude to me when calling to get info on the job or when they came in for an interview, they were instantly out of pool. If they couldn’t be nice to me for 30 seconds to get info, the owner felt there was no chance they’d be decent in a telemarketing role and refused to waste her time. Assertive was desirable, rude was not! It was very empowering and I felt very respected at that company.

    6. Totally Minnie*

      Honestly, I wish more jobs would involve subordinates in the process when they hire supervisors and managers. More than once I’ve been in a position where a team member got promoted to supervisor and it was a complete disaster that would have been entirely avoidable if the hiring committee had asked that person’s coworkers any questions during the process.

    7. Brian*

      People do not realize how much influence secretaries and other lower ranked employees have on the hiring process. They are the first people you need to impress at an interview.

    8. Bumblebee Mask*

      When hiring a new team member I always have all my staff do a casual chat with them as well. There are only 9 of us total in the department. It’s important to me that they all work well together. And I know that sometimes I can have blinders so I want to be sure I’m not seeing something that isn’t there or vice versa I’m not seeing something that is there. We do a panel interview as well with managers and stakeholders, but this gives my people a chance to meet someone they’ll be working with. My talent manager used to scoff at me for this and asked what if they all said no to my top choice. I said if 6 other people saw something I didn’t see, I need to look again at the person.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      SW engineer here. Not a manager and not on a manager track and don’t want to be. I sat on many panel interviews, as did my teammates, both the senior level ones like me and the junior/mid-level ones. I’ve been in countless panel interviews with fellow devs as well. This is a very common thing and candidate threw up a huge red flag.

  6. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    On a semi-related note for OP#5, we just had another consult for fixing my husband’s verrry deviated septum and broken (4+ times?) nose. This was the fourth surgeon who confirmed that it would be impossible to fix his septum without straightening his nose in two planes, and making the bump on it smaller – which is relevant for us because of insurance.

    So, since people can be so weird and mean about elective surgery, four surgeons have confirmed to us that a deviated septum will often lead to significant changes in nose appearance – so if people are being weird or rude to you, or if you want folks at work to back off, you can definitely use that as a reason to have had a nose surgery, even if your nose looks different at the end! Good luck with your recovery.

    1. Dona Florinda*

      When I got a nose job, I told people that I was getting my deviated septum fixed and just seized the opportunity to get rid of the bump on my insurance, when actually it was the other way around. I just say it matter-of-factly and no one pushes any further.

  7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    For OP4 –

    All the best in finding the correct audience for that conversation, because I am most definitely not the correct audience.

    Delivered with a cheerful smile. Caused my negative Nelly to splutter to a halt, and it also after a few repetitions got them to stop using me as their emotional dumping ground.

  8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (Fergus doesn’t want to come into work because of OP) – it seems clear that this is linked to the mental health and that he is “hitting out” at OP, which I know from experience can be very hurtful. I also suspect he didn’t feel up to going into work and has pinned this on OP rather than give the real reason, maybe because he thinks HR wouldn’t take issues like mental health seriously (and of course there may be a gender aspect to that as well).

    Seen through that lens HRs behaviour makes more sense, although I don’t agree with their approach. They don’t know the history with OP and Fergus, and Fergus has got in first with his side of the ‘story’, and are influenced by that. I suppose if a serious accusation like that is made, HR are obligated to address it with the person (OP in this case) the complaint is about.

    HR referred OP to the manager taking action, so I would bring it up with the manager rather than HR again. Probably with an approach of “can I assume there’s no further action about this?”.

    1. Twix*

      As someone with my own long history of mental health issues, I’m inclined to agree. This very, very much sounds like Fergus is having a lot of anxiety around the situation with OP, which very well may legitimately be interfering with his ability to work, and he’s chosen to blame the situation and his reaction to it on OP. I assume at least part of that is not wanting to take responsibility for his role, although it may also be the case that he thinks “I can’t come to work because a coworker is mistreating me” will be better received than “I can’t come to work because of my mental health”. (And if so, he sadly may be right.) If HR has been down this road with him before, they’re still badly dropping the ball with OP but it might explain their oddly ambivalent response.

    2. Observer*

      Seen through that lens HRs behaviour makes more sense, although I don’t agree with their approach. They don’t know the history with OP and Fergus, and Fergus has got in first with his side of the ‘story’,

      Nope. Firstly, calling a mediation once the OP responded is off. Secondly, it would be one thing if they called the OP in to explain. But at this point, they need to either come back with something actionable or close out the situation and let the OP know. This is absolutely on HR to deal with as that is who Fergus complained to, and who decided to pt in on the OP.

      1. Rp*

        I’m wondering, and this is pure speculation but so are most responses. If OP being Fergus’ friend and helping him feel comfortable masked a lot of issues that now his managers/HR are having to deal with because OP isn’t doing that work for them and what they really wanted from OP by telling (her?) that there was a problem was for OP to run back to Fergus apologize and for them to be friends again but when OP set firm boundaries about mediation (good for OP) they realized that wasn’t going to happen and even though they want OP to do the work they are sensible enough to know they can’t require it and not to say so and now want it quietly dropped so they don’t have to deal with it anymore.

  9. RedinSC*

    LW 5, I took 2.5 weeks off (with half week WFH) for cosmetic surgery. I just told my boss and my colleagues that I was having a medical procedure. No one commented on anything, even though the procedure was on my face, so it was noticeable.

    Don’t worry, it’s just a medical procedure.

  10. SnappinTerrapin*


    If the candidate was that disturbed that the employee she would work most closely with would have any input at all in the hiring decision, she should have recognized that she doesn’t fit into your culture, and she should have withdrawn.

    You correctly recognized the red flags, and you made the right decision to look elsewhere.

    1. Kaiko*

      I once worked at a two-person organization where my supervisor left the week I was hired. After I flew solo for several months, the board finally got around to hiring my boss’s replacement, and I asked several times if I could be involved in the hiring – after all, in a two-person office, it was sort of important that we fit. They declined, hired someone who was a bull in a China shop, and then a few months later, I left. They were stunned – stunned! – but the reality is that their culture meant that my “lower-level” position wasn’t going to hold water next to someone more senior, even if I was the known quantity. It was demoralizing.

  11. Might Be Spam*

    OP2 I had a Fergus, too. One time he took out his frustration on me in a meeting and I naturally distanced myself afterward. I was professional and polite, but no more non-work interactions. He didn’t like it and management got involved.
    There was no doubt about his inappropriate behavior. I was told that he did it because he felt “safe” with me and my (male) boss wanted me to be friends with him again so his feelings wouldn’t be hurt. I was stunned and just blurted out “NO” and stared at my boss for awhile. It ended up being dropped and I’m still annoyed about it.

    1. Sleve*

      The entitlement! “I’m entitled to take out my frustrations on you because you’re nice. I’m entitled to your friendship and all the benefits that come with it, regardless of your feelings. I’m entitled to make your work life difficult when you’re not making me feel happy.” No you’re not Fergus. Push off.

      1. Sage*

        It’s exactly this kind of entitlement towards women emotional labour why there are so many* grown up men with the maturity of a five year old.

        *Not all. Far away from all!

      2. bamcheeks*

        Entitlement which was clearly enabled by the manager. It takes a village to create and sustain a Fergus.

    2. Golden*

      …what on earth? Is your Fergus a toddler? Toddlers and little kids will sometimes act out at home after being angels at school all day because home is where they feel safe to vent frustration, but I didn’t realize this applies to grown men in the workplace.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The gender roles in Might be Spam’s anecdote are definitely not happenstance.

        MbS, good on you for having a strong reaction followed by silence. For the manager expected you to carry out social smoothing of the awkwardness for him, too.

        1. Might Be Spam*

          Thanks, I was raised to be a people pleaser and “fixer” so I often second guess my boundaries. Thanks to therapy and AAM, it’s getting easier to figure out what healthy boundaries look like.

      2. Allonge*

        Yes. Having a pop-psych explanation is not enough in the workplace, and it’s hella inappropriate for a manager to offer this as an excuse.

        (Also not enough for a small child because what they do it still not that ok, but it probably helps the parent to address it better if they know this might be a factor.)

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          I suppose it’s up for debate whether it’s okay for a small child to not be a perfectly compliant adult-pleasing machine every second of their existence, but it’s definitely not okay for a grown man to lash out at a colleague because he feels “safe!”

          1. Observer*

            I suppose it’s up for debate whether it’s okay for a small child to not be a perfectly compliant adult-pleasing machine every second of their existence

            Except that this is not close to what anyone suggested. And it precisely this kind of over-reaction to any attempt to moderate the behavior of children that leads to adults (without other health issues) being unable to moderate their emotions and / or feeling entitled to their “safe” people’s emotional labor.

            1. Sleve*

              Nobby Nobbs and Observer, I think you’re both seeing different shaped shadows from the same cylinder. It’s normal and ok for a toddler to try taking out their frustrations on other people because they’re still learning how the world works. They need to try everything once. But much like eating sand, they then need to discover that harmful behaviour doesn’t give them any kind of reward, and that other behaviours do. Then they’ll quickly stop eating sand and grow out of throwing tantrums, replacing them with apples that taste good and calmly telling Dad they’re tired because they know he’ll help.

              Apparently these Ferguses have never learned that lashing out makes people demote you from friend to polite acquaintance, and that behaving in a civil manner will get you the results you want, i.e. keeping your friendships. We accept these behaviours from children because they haven’t had a chance to learn otherwise, but still eating sand lashing out at Fergus’ age is not endearing.

      3. Quill*

        Teenagers too, but they’re (usually) better at regulating their emotions for daily annoyances and reacting to actual problems. Still no reason for Fergus to behave like this.

  12. Bit o' Brit*

    RE #3 – anecdotal support for having reports in the interview process:

    A few years back we had our department head leave and be replaced without our input – totally normal – and the replacement was such a disaster he didn’t even last 3 months with both of my teammates constantly complaining to other managers about him. I also hated working for him, but he wasn’t abusive or anything so just kept my head down.

    The next hiring attempt (6 manager-less months later) we three reports were the second-round interview, completely unsupervised with very little guidance on how to interview, we were very candid. And now we work for a genuinely fantastic boss who knew exactly what he was getting into and has managed to push for a lot of change that the organisation needs. It worked very well.

    1. English Rose*

      Similar thing where I work, we always include team members in manager interviews.

      The situation I remember best is the interviewee who went out of her way to interact with her assistant-to-be in the most constructive and friendly manner. Really listened to what was going on and also asked great questions direct to the assistant-to-be. We hired her and she is one of the most fantastic managers we have.

    2. Heffalump*

      I do computer-aided drafting. I was once interviewed by my prospective manager and the lead drafter. Having the lead drafter in on the interview didn’t strike me as odd or insulting in the least. Once I was hired, the lead drafter said my predecessor had been incompetent, and the lead had said he wanted to be in on the interview for the next person. They had also shown me to a computer terminal and put me through the paces during the interview, which made sense.

  13. TechWorker*

    Having looked into it recently for my own reasons (I posted on a Friday thread about it too) fwiw #5 is not true in the U.K. (possibly because we have effectively unlimited sick leave). Legally companies have to pay statutory sick pay for whenever you can’t work, including plastic surgery recovery. But for companies who choose to pay full sick pay (Eg, they don’t adjust your salary when you’re off sick for short periods at all) they don’t have to do that for cosmetic surgery. So I don’t know how that works if you just… don’t tell them…

    1. Empress Ki*

      We don’t really have unlimited sick leave in the UK. One can be lose their job for taking too much sick leave.
      You may have to prove you were hospitalised, especially if your absence lasts over 7 consecutive days, but I don’t think they’d know it is for elective plastic surgery, unless you choose to tell them.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh you absolutely can, and I have done. Fired for taking too many times off ill in one year 2011. Basically once the company decides you’re putting an undue burden on their business then you’re gone.

        It does take significantly more paperwork than the US if I understand.

        But getting back to the operation: I didn’t have the specifics of uterine surgery number 3 put on the note to my then employer because some would consider it ‘not medically necessary’ (I am not saying more than that), instead I got a generic ‘abdominal surgery, recommended 1 week off work’ one.

        In my experience surgeons are happy to do this.

    2. amoeba*

      In Germany, elective procedures are indeed not covered by sick leave! In case there are complications that then require additional medical intervention/recovery, however, it is covered. But not the “planned recovery time”.
      As you typically need a doctor’s note for anything over 3 days (sometimes less, depending on employer), you wouldn’t be able to lie, either, because your doctor wouldn’t give you the note.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Do you mean “cosmetic” rather than “elective”? In the US anything that is not emergency surgery is elective surgery, even if very much medically necessary. “Elective” here implies it can be scheduled based on availability, rather than needing to happen immediately.

        1. WorkerAlias*

          Yes, you’re right about the distinction– I live in Germany and elective procedures (can be scheduled whenever, non-emergency) are definitely covered by sick leave and by insurance. Basically anything that is medically recommended is covered. But if something is purely cosmetic or just something that you want without a medical recommendation (such as some alternative treatments), that’s not covered.

  14. Viette*

    LW5: if there’s anything I’ve learned from the history of AAM letters about taking time off to get plastic/cosmetic surgeries — rhinoplasty, chin lift, breast reduction — it’s that most of your coworkers are terrible at noticing surgical changes in appearance and the rest are well able to keep their mouths shut about it.

    You appearance will obviously change to *you*, but (for good or bad) many of your coworkers genuinely might not remember exactly what your nose used to look like.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      For those who register that something seems different, “OP must have a new haircut” is the frequent answer they hit on.

      1. mf*

        Getting a new haircut is actually a thing celebrities do to hide new plastic surgery. So if OP is worried that their coworkers might notice & judge, he/she could get a new cut and/or color.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yep. Also consider that these days, a lot of interactions occur over postage-stamp-sized video windows.

    3. Environmental Compliance*


      I had a colleague come into my office and flat out ask me if I noticed anything different. I was…. very confused. But apparently they had a procedure done on their eyelid (?) to fix….something. Legitimately, I have no idea. They look the same to me.

      I also once went from nearly elbow length hair to a short pixie and had at least two people realize something was different but could not figure out what for a hilarious amount of time in a all-hands meeting, until someone else walked in, did a double take, and went WOW you cut off all your hair! It looks really nice!!

      People are wildly oblivious.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I had a colleague once ask me if I had noticed anything new, and I was genuinely confused. After several moments of confusion I finally offered “It’s stopped raining?” They laughed.

        No, most of us will really not notice.

      2. SarahKay*

        My grandma once said to my grandad “You look different – ah, I know, you’ve shaved off your moustache!”
        He had in fact got new eyeglasses; his moustache was still there.

        Basically, seconding Environmental Compliance’s comment: people are really bad at noticing changes, and even worse at identifying what it is that changed.

        1. JustaTech*

          When my dad shaved off his moustache it took *forever* for anyone to notice.
          My mom “you look a little pale, do you feel ok?”
          I only noticed because my friend commented at school pick up!

          Then again one time I’d gotten a color and trim and my hair blown out straight and the next day at work my boss shrieked at me because he thought that someone else was sitting at my desk. (Literally the only difference was that my hair was straight and not wavy.)

          1. Quill*

            I have very curly hair, which my friends at college straightened once during a long weekend. My RA did a visible double take, and then jokingly gave me a spare new residents packet ten minutes later.

    4. mmmmmmmary*

      I dyed the bottom layer of my hair purple the other day. My own parents (who I work with and have seen every day since) haven’t noticed. And it’s noticeable enough for one guy to have commented!

    5. Nobodynose*

      I can confirm from first-hand experience, people won’t notice. It was a very *MAJOR* change to me, but even my spouse and sibling mentioned that they wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t have known beforehand. My sibling had to ask for before and after pictures because they couldn’t remember what my nose looked like before. None of my co-workers seemed to notice in the slightest. Heck, not even my own parents noticed anything different.

      For PTO I just put in a vacation request and left it very vague. I was taking time off to rest and spend time with my family. I didn’t mention a medical procedure, because I knew that would open a whole other can of worms and questions.

    6. Statler von Waldorf*

      This is so true.

      I used to have really bad teeth. I was obviously missing two teeth in the front, and the ones I still had did not look good. Finally, once I got a job with benefits, I had them all removed and now I have dentures. It was honestly life changing. No more toothaches, and it’s amazing how good being able to smile without feeling self-conscious about it feels.

      I think I had one co-worker who correctly figured out what changed, and we had talked previously about our dental issues. A small minority of people noticed that sometime changed, but couldn’t figure out exactly what. The vast, vast majority of people never noticed at all.

    7. Sleve*

      Personally I’m solidly in the mouth shut basket. I wouldn’t comment even if I did notice, because I’d be terrified that it wasn’t a choice for the person and that I was touching a sore point. A surgery for a deviated septum or to remove a cancer could lead to a changed nose, and I’d feel terrible if I commented and the person told me they were sad about the change to the way their face looked! A person could get a breast reduction for back pain and still be sad about the reduced cup size; an increased cup size could have been secondary to a double mastectomy for a breast cancer gene carrier; weight loss could be due to pregnancy loss or tumor removal; a tan could be Addison’s disease etc. Unless the person comes up to me and says “I’ve changed X, isn’t it great?!” I’m keeping my mouth shut.

  15. Agent Diane*

    OP1. I find it implausible that a factory that is only reachable by car doesn’t do either a shuttle bus or a car share scheme (but I am UK based so…)

    Most workplaces have a means for workers to buy/sell/swap, such as a notice board. You’ll know the best way for doing that. So you could suggest your colleague posts to the nearest notice board to find a car share – or whatever – whilst also making it clear it won’t be you.

    We don’t know what life circumstances mean she’s asking for a share. Maybe she had a falling out with her normal car share. Maybe the cost of getting in is higher than planned and she’s trying to reduce her outgoings. Maybe she’s realised our planet is literally on fire and wants to do her bit to reduce pollution. You can help her without breaking your “no rides” rule by pointing her towards a wider pool of people to ask.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      Also UK-based, from what I’ve seen shuttle buses are very common for business parks but not so much for anyone else. But the only business I’ve seen that actually had enough parking to have a space for every employee was a car auction house, so such schemes are very necessary.

      1. Agent Diane*

        IBM have one from the nearest train station, just to their headquarters. My city has just built a new train station on the industrial estate to reduce the volume of cars driving to it every day as the traffic means the main road to it has the worst air quality in the city.

        I’m not expecting our USA colleagues to have public transport – or private shared transport like shuttle buses – though!

        1. Bit o' Brit*

          I’m not saying it never happens, but for every IBM HQ who puts on a shuttle there’s two AWEs and a dozen BCAs who don’t.

      2. Mongrel*

        Also the buses may be concentrated on full-time or shift patterns. If you’re PT it may mean a long wait at either end of the shift

      3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Maybe depends if one is in a ridiculously expensive city like London/Paris, or in a reasonably priced town.
        My jobs (Europe, Engineering) always had plenty of parking spaces for cars & bikes, accessibility on foot and usually public transport nearby too, e.g. 10,000s of cars & bikes at FinalJob, which also had buses & trains every 15 mins plus shuttles to get around the huge site.
        There was always some carpooling, but most folk preferred to travel independently.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          of course even expensive towns & cities in Europe normally have public transport and accessibility by bike or foot, even though parking is not available for everyone.
          (Sucks if you’re disabled though and can’t park by your work – an accommodation should be possible if they give a damn)

    2. Sprout*

      I’m writer #1, the thing is the cafeteria has different hours than the actual factory workers, we’re there for four hours with the exception of our managers, so we come after the factory shifts start and leave before the same shift ends. Plus all of us live in city A, which has transit overlapping with town B, but we’re just over the town line into town C that has no transit at all. The expressway it’s off of goes through several towns and the main city in the county.

      1. Captain Vegetable ( Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        The offset hours are a huge deal. I’d still stress that you don’t give rides, but if your coworker knows they’d be asking you to come in early and leave late just to accommodate them… that’s says a lot about their character.

        1. Sprout*

          We usually work the same hours, but for example yesterday I stayed clocked in to pick up some stuff from a grocery store for night shift and bring it back. Everyone’s saying there should be a shuttle or a ride share with the factory workers, but even if there was she’d be getting off work at 7:30pm and not leaving until 10pm when their shift ends.

          1. Sprout*

            I feel like it’s also important info that she’s an international student and can’t legally work more than the 20 hours we already give her, so she can’t work later like me. She clocks out on time whether or not we’re done, but I have no problem with that

            1. Quill*

              And that probably complicates her ability to drive or get transit partway as well. I think the kindest thing would be to explain that you can’t give rides (Because of the late / early work possibility) and to suggest that she ask someone with a similar role to hers in terms of hours how they do transit.

              1. Sprout*

                There is no one similar. This shift is just me and her. And honestly as of today I’m not sure we’re keeping her because she’s not a great worker.

                1. Quill*

                  Well, I guess that problem would definitely solve itself. It sounds like she isn’t in a place to be doing the job and also getting there.

    3. WS*

      I’m Australian and a factory only reachable by car is very, very common in outer suburbs and regional or rural areas. In outer suburbs there sometimes is a bus, but only every few hours and probably still with a reasonable walk; in regional and rural areas nothing at all.

      1. londonedit*

        I’d say it’s pretty common in the UK too, outside of major cities. I’m thinking about the sort of small industrial parks in the rural area I grew up in – no bus services there and certainly not near a train station. If you don’t drive you’ll struggle to get to work unless you can get a lift with someone.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        US, in a major city, and I can get to work by bus but it involves walking the equivalent of about three blocks either literally through the weeds, or walking on a sidewalk but having to jaywalk across a street with no center lane. If I were less able-bodied or it were bad weather, it would be really bad.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          I’m in a suburb and have to walk a mile to catch a bus that runs once an hour and is always on the removal list because it doesn’t get great use because of the whole walk a mile/once an hour thing. And I’m in Colorado where the weather does try to kill you fairly often.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I also live in the suburbs. My first bus is a park and ride bus, so I still have to drive a short distance, although it mercifully runs every 15 minutes [weekday mornings and afternoons only, though] because it’s on a major commuter route from the suburbs into downtown; then I walk four blocks to the second bus, and then through the weeds to work.

            I’m in southeast Texas where we had 100+ temperatures almost all summer and hurricanes/flooding are routine.

      1. Throwaway Account*

        Agreed. And no, most offices in the US don’t have a notice board for things like ride share or buy/sell/swap.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Everyone in my department comes from different directions. All of them would have to go well out of their way to give any of the others a ride.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          it’s also almost like a lot of major metropolitan areas are actually made up of older, smaller communities that aren’t historically part of the city to which they’re now attached.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      Canadian here. A workplace only accessible by car is completely believable to me, and I wouldn’t expect to see a car share setup.

      The coworker’s life circumstances are irrelevant.
      The LW is one person they’ve asked for a ride. The LW can say no without being further invested in the solution. Presumably, the coworker will ask other people.
      Nothing wrong with providing more help, but I don’t think the LW should feel obligated to.

    5. Dr. Rebecca*

      American who spent most of my life in small-town Indiana, here. We have industrial areas that are in the middle of suburbs that have zero public transportation, and if you suggested the company set up a shuttle they would laugh in your face. Before uber, you either owned a car, begged a ride, rode a bike, or walked. And if you wanted to keep your job, you showed up on time; they could always hire someone else.

      I’m sympathetic to the OP’s coworker*–sometimes people can’t afford the bus; that’s why they’re getting a job.

      *Still agree the OP isn’t obliged to be the one who helps, but if that is the case, SOMEONE should.

    6. Small town*

      I live in rural America and we have a decent amount of factories (I live in a place where factory work has been the norm for most people for the last hundred years) and no public transit. None. No passenger trains, no buses, no taxis, and Uber and Lyft aren’t here either. This is very common in many parts of the US. But plenty of people who live in large cities in the US tend to be surprised by the lack of public transport as well.

    7. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      This is probably in the US, where public transit is often non-existent and the city is built for cars only, without pedestrians in mind. Heck there are places where you can’t walk across the street from your hotel room to get to a restaurant

    8. Loux*

      I briefly worked at a fairly large factory based out of a small rural town that had no public transit. It’s not until the last few years that they even offered a shuttle bus! If you didn’t live in town and could just walk, you either had to have a car or ride with someone else. I’m in Ontario, Canada, but to be honest this is not out of the norm here. It’s just so expected that you have a vehicle that if you don’t work in town or if you work anywhere outside of the hours of 6 AM to midnight, you have a car, because otherwise you ain’t going nowhere.

      1. Sprout*

        I’m OP1, I’m in Ontario too. We all live in city A, transit overlaps with town B but we’re just over the town line I’m town C that has no transit.

    9. TransitIsntMagicSolution*

      I am medically unable to drive and you would not believe some of the things I’ve done to get to jobs. Even in a major Northeast US city (typically better public transit than anywhere else in the US) maybe 5% of jobs are accessible by public transit. Maybe. And that’s including options that take 2-3 hours each way or where there’s no way to spend more than 6 hours a day at the office because of when the buses run and places where buses only run for 2 hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon on weekdays only.

      And then there’s the public transit tax on housing where rent is 600, 800, 1000/month more anywhere on public transit (and I don’t mean in the heart of the city where it’s much more expensive).

      Even in the “good” transit areas in the US public transit is awful. And there are some shuttles, but not many and they usually run very infrequently and only from “end of line” transit stops. So it might take me 70-80 minutes to get to a shuttle that runs once every 45 minutes and takes an hour to get to its location – which might be only a 15 or 20 minute drive from where I started.

  16. Keymaster of Gozer*

    3. If I can, which isn’t often due to workloads, I try to get one of my technical staff in when I’m conducting interviews for people. These are the people who will have to work with this new person and I’ve been burnt before by the ‘technical genius but utter arsehole’ candidate.

    (Worst firing ever resulted. A learning moment for me – in that I had to fire someone who I thought was great but turned out to have some major problems)

    If someone has better judgement on personality than I do (most of the human population really, I’m not great at human interaction) then darn right I want their expert opinion.

    And rolling eyes, scoffing, yeah that’s into ‘I’m going to make an excuse and cut this interview short’ territory.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Why make an excuse? Serious question. Why not tell the candidate exactly why they are no longer being considered? There seems to be a reflexive resistance to this that I don’t understand.

      1. Throwaway Account*

        I’ve been internally debating this but I kinda don’t want anyone to tell them bc next time they are going to fake being nice. They will get hired, bc their flaws will be hidden, and cause problems for support staff or anyone “beneath” them

        1. Mockingjay*

          That’s a possibility, but you aren’t responsible for the candidate’s behavior nor for other hiring managers’ choices at other companies.

        2. tangerineRose*

          “I kinda don’t want anyone to tell them bc next time they are going to fake being nice.” That would be my concern, too.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        I think some of the resistance comes from experiences where reasons are given and the candidate takes these reasons as an invitation to argue.

      3. bamcheeks*

        From my point of view:

        Cons of telling them why:
        – they might very well argue
        – they might think it’s unreasonable / too subjective / not fair
        – they might tell you they were reacting to something else, but since you can’t change the decision, that’s not really helping anyone

        Pros of telling them why:
        – may help the candidate in future interviews?
        – ???

        I mean, it’s kind of “I’m avoiding a potentially awkward and uncomfortable conversation”, and there are some people who think you should ALWAYS have that awkward and uncomfortable conversation, but I think you should only have it when the positives outweigh the awkwardness and discomfort. In this case, I just can’t really see any benefits. Yeah, it MIGHT benefit the candidate to get honest feedback that their inability to keep a polite poker face on in a job interview has undoubtedly cost them a job– but the chances that someone I don’t know will take that on as constructive criticism are small enough that it doesn’t really outweigh the potential costs.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          “may help the candidate in future interviews?”

          That’s another con, imo, because it is more likely to cause them to hide their jerkiness just at interview rather than changing how they interact with coworkers every day.

          1. bamcheeks*

            That’s kind of why I put “may”. 1/10 chance of them having a genuine “oh $H1T” moment and changing their whole attitude, 5/10 chance of them thinking the lesson is “do better at covering up my bad attitude”, 1/2 chance of them dismissing you as a horrible unfair meanie and simply ignoring the feedback.

        2. Gritter*

          “may help the candidate in future interviews?”

          I think this falls firmly into the ‘not my problem’ category.

        3. londonedit*

          Yeah, I think it’s basically a ‘reasons are for reasonable people’ thing. If the person seems nice enough but it becomes blatantly obvious that they don’t have a key skill, then yes, it’d be the best option for everyone if the interviewer just says ‘I’m so sorry, but proven experience with X software is an absolute requirement for this role. Given you’ve never used X software, would you agree that it makes sense to end things here? Thank you for your time’. But if they’re behaving like an arsehole, I don’t think it makes sense to risk escalating that behaviour or giving them a chance to argue (which they inevitably will). Better to just get the interview over with and then give them a generic rejection afterwards. They might still argue with the rejection but at least they’re not standing in your office doing it.

      4. Fluffy Fish*

        For me – people who have shown themselves to be unreasonable are not likely to handle to truth well.

        I’ve had rejected candidate before to some banana pants things.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Yes, this. Some people flip out just finding out they didn’t get the job. Adding specific reasons would add fuel to the crazy person’s fire.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I think that’s it. I’ve had the distinct displeasure of a few unreasonable interviewees (Number 1 looked at my chest the entire time, number 2 rocked up in *very* bodily fluid stained clothing plus 4 kids) and cutting the interview short with a real explaination of what they’d done wrong would have been an arguement I don’t have the spoons for.

          Although, if I got someone who blatantly wasn’t qualified for the role and failed the technical test I’d cut the interview short and suggest they apply elsewhere because they don’t have the knowledge. In those ciurcumstances I would give the feedback. I think. It’s not really come up.

    2. MikeM_inMD*

      In one of my previous companies, the practice was to have a manger interview and a technical person interview. I did some of the latter, and while most were just fine, the one that stands out is the guy who was technically great, but seemed to be proud that he would argue with the customer when the customer did not do as he recommended. This was in world of federal government software contracting where such action could be a blow to the company’s reputation. I’m pretty sure I got that info out of him because I did these interviews in a relaxed peer-to-peer style.

  17. MAOM7*

    #2. I have made it a pretty strict policy in the last 20 or 25 years that I don’t make friends at work. It is just too easy for something like this to happen, because you don’t know these people that well, and it’s okay to be friendly, and supportive, but without building a true friendship. Work is always a competitive environment, even in the best of circumstances. When you get too close to someone, they know way more about you than they should, and can weaponize any information against you. It has happened to me enough times, that I learned my lesson. My social life is my social life, my home life is my home life, and my work life is my work life. and a very rarely cross over into each other.

    1. Thricebitten*

      #2 – How awful for you! It’s so destabilizing having BS “informal” complaints against you. I would take a more assertive approach and seek confirmation that the complaint is agreed to be baseless and considered to have never been made. Some people like to indulge in making regular informal complaints as retaliation for some perceived slight. If you have a culture of believing the victim (no questions asked) then you’re automatically assumed to be the bad guy, and that can have far-reaching effects.

    2. nodramalama*

      That works for some and doesn’t for others. My industry and city is that everyone moves there for work, so making friends through work is natural and the norm. While all jobs might be competitive in the most technical sense, that doesn’t mean most people are out to sabotage you.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I’m not sure “most” jobs are competitive even in a technical sense. Not everyone is shooting for promotion all the time! I’ve worked in plenty of teams where most people are looking for interesting and sustainable work and finding a niche that they can fill, not serving time and trying to beat everyone else to a limited number of more senior roles. Obviously some industries are deliberately structured like that, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Work is always a competitive environment, even in the best of circumstances

      That hasn’t been my experience.
      Most teams I’ve been on have been fairly collaborative and people can progress without it being at the expense of others.

        1. Quill*

          I’ve almost always worked in labs, and promotion via competition with your peers isn’t really… a thing? You already have a manager. Your skills running chemical tests A, B, and C aren’t making you a better management candidate, and, depending on how specialized you are or how the lab is run everybody has a set of slightly overlapping duties… or everyone’s doing the same stuff and collaborating on documentation based on time, etc. Not a lot of competition when the expectation is that tests A-Z, done by assorted members of a larger team, will all either come up within tolerances or have an obvious reason why they did not.

          (Obvious reasons such as “we noticed when we received this product that the package was damaged” or “the L machine started malfunctioning later that day so this reading may not be accurate and we need to do it again once the machine is back online.)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Even on Top Chef, contestants have dropped the “I didn’t come here to make friends” schtick, and now the friendships that arise can be a highlight of the show.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        “Work is always a competitive environment”

        Not normally in my experience, especially for those of us who have collaborative work and have hit the level we want to stay at. Sounds like you experienced unusually toxic environments. However, I did learn early on just to quietly correct or acknowledge any mistakes I made, without excessively publicising them or belittling myself.

        I kept a friendly but generally superficial relationship with coworkers. Occasionally a coworker can become a friend outside of work – I stayed in touch with one person for 35 years through several jobs for both of us.

        1. AnonORama*

          Same — I’m in a weird niche without a lot of promotion potential, where no one else does my job or anything really similar. I’ve changed jobs to get to a higher level, but I’m never really up against my current teammates, so I’ve always thought making friends at work is ok. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but it’s never been a problem and I’ve wound up with some great friends!)

    4. CommanderBanana*

      I totally understand this. Two of my closest friends are work friends, but we only actually worked together for 2 years and we were all in exactly the same job at exactly the same title (contractors for the Fed) and, as contractors, would never be promoted, so there was no chance we’d ever be competing at work. 10+ years later we’re still close friends.

      I’d be very hesitant to make “friends” at work now. I’ve just seen it go so badly. That doesn’t mean I’m not friendly with people, but I keep those spheres separate now.

      1. mf*

        Same! I used to try and make friends at work, but I’ve had multiple experiences where my work “friends” treated me poorly the minute it suited or benefited them. So now I’m friendly with people but avoid building relationships that go beyond work.

        The bonus is that the boundaries are super helpful whenever I experience conflict with coworkers. I find it much easier to deal with someone calmly and professionally when I have no expectations of them treating me like a friend.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Those friends also became closer friends after we no longer worked together, which I think is really key. Often work “friends” are friends because you work together, and it’s totally normal to drift apart as you no longer have the shared common experience of working together.

          I’ve also had bad experiences when work friends were struggling and it was (incorrectly) assumed that I was somehow involved, or becoming That One Person your work friend constantly vents to.

          YMMV, obviously, and I think a lot depends on your industry, your work culture, your role, and a thousand other factors that are constantly changing.

    5. Dallas Houston*

      Totally get it, MAOM7. I’m friendly, but not friends, with people at work.

      Those of you who think you have “friends” at work will be shocked at how quickly those “friends” will go radio silent on you the day you are laid off. Even if you stay friendly with one or two after you leave, things are never quite the same. And don’t even think about crashing a happy hour filled with former work friends. Your former “friends” will be superficially happy to see you but there will be a definite undercurrent of “wonder why he’s here?”

      Guess why I know.

          1. Eliot Waugh*

            “Those of you who think you have “friends” at work will be shocked at how quickly those “friends” will go radio silent on you the day you are laid off.”

            Clearly you think those with work friends are incorrect about their own experience.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        This is far from true across the board. Just over a year ago, we had a number of teachers whose contracts weren’t renewed because the school student numbers fell. We also had some people who took voluntary redeployments (moved to other schools). Many of us are still in contact with those people and some people are good friends with them still and in fact, there was a lot of concern for one person who was unhappy in her new position. They have been invited to staff meet-ups, parties, etc. We are delighted to see them and there is no undercurrent. In fact, one of the reasons I went to a meet up over the summer was that two former colleagues had been invited and I was enthusiastic about meeting them again.

        It probably isn’t exactly the same, because there isn’t the same day-in-day-out contact, but those they were close friends with often talk about “oh, I met such a person for coffee recently. She’s doing x now.”

        I am also still in contact with a colleague I worked with for a year 20 years ago. We aren’t close friends or anything, but we weren’t really when we worked together either – she was friendly with everybody.

        I’m sorry you went through that. It would be hurtful. And of course, it is hard to know while you are working somewhere how many of the friendships are likely to be lifelong ones and how many are based mostly on the similar experiences on a day to day basis. It’s something that can happen but is far from guaranteed.

        I will add that I know somebody who was fired from their job and who still has close friends from their time there.

      2. jellied brains*

        My best friend I met through work and when he was fired, I immediately asked him if he was ok. We’ve remained friends through it so it sounds like you don’t understand the difference between colleagues and friends?

        1. UKDancer*

          I think this is the key thing. I have friends I’ve made through work (very few because I’m fussy). I have a lot more work contacts / connections who are people who, despite not being friends on a personal level, I socialise with.

          So I have several people I have regular coffee with to share information and bounce ideas off. Most of those connections might not last if I move, but it’s worthwhile as part of maintaining a network of contacts. Some of them are contacts I’ve been having coffee with for several years. We’re not friends on a personal level but the contacts are useful.

      3. Gemstones*

        But you could say that about nonwork friends. I saw a tweet last night about a woman who overheard some bridesmaid going on about how awful they though their BFF, the bride, was. Sure, some people aren’t going to have great experiences with work friends, or nonwork friends…but why go through life assuming things are going to be bad?

  18. Bookworm*

    #3: From a candidate’s perspective, I’d be happy to meet with others on the team: seeing how the team interacts is important and would give me a clue as to the dynamics. So while it’s probably tiring and a hassle (scheduling, etc.) and maybe we end up not working together much/at all but it can be very useful. I’ve sat in on interviews and haven’t with others on the hiring side and this hasn’t made much of a difference (other than needing to rely on what my colleagues tell me, etc.).

    That candidate’s reaction told you all you needed to know.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yep. They can’t be professional when its important. That plus the other red flags shows you made the right decision to not move forward with this person.

  19. Tom*

    Surprised at the “drop it” advice for LW2! That HR have raised this with you and *not* resolved it, especially with the type of allegations made by Fergus, is abhorrent and they need to admit that it’s closed or dismissed or resolved.

    Keep pushing for something to your satisfaction if you need it LW2. I don’t think you should accept discomfort for anyone else’s sake

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Alison’s advice is recognizing the reality of the situation.

      Pushing hasn’t accomplished anything so far. You can argue how HR “should” respond, but there’s nothing they “need” to do. They’re the ones in control of this situation, and if they just want to wait and hope the problem goes away, they can.

    2. WellRed*

      I don’t think the advice is so much to drop it (it does suggest another follow up) but to accept this may not be formally closed in the way that it should. OP can keep pushing but that does not mean it will ever be satisfactorily resolved. I mean, I wish Prince Charming would go out with me but if he’s not interested, then I need to accept that as asking every week will not get me the outcome I want.

      1. Tom*

        Yeah, I think implying that LW might need to make their own peace makes sense, but at the same time this whole thing is so egregious I wouldn’t stop until I had HR say “we’ve dropped it”.

    3. Ms. Murchison*

      Nah, continuing to push HR isn’t going to get LW2 what they want and deserve. They deserve resolution but HR has demonstrated that they aren’t going to handle this appropriately. That’s reality. And if LW2 keeps pushing for resolution on something HR is wishing would just go away, they’re risking retaliation.

  20. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this with Fergus who you thought was a friend. My question is about the “informal” nature of the complaint. It might just be semantics but this one sounded kind of formal since it involved HR.

    Might not be relevant overall, but I’m curious what the difference is between a formal and informal complaint

  21. Staja*

    OP5: When I took 3 weeks off for my breast breast reduction earlier this year, my email said “I need three weeks to recover from a medical procedure – “can I use sick/vacation time for this or do I need to use short term disability?” That was it — and when it got postponed for 6 weeks (because….elective surgery): I just told my manager I needed a different three weeks off.

    Good luck and easy healing!

  22. NYNY*

    LW3 — I agree candidate was rude, BUT if showed up for an interview and somone supposed to be my subordinate was there as part of hiring committee, i would be like this is not going to work. I hope I would handle it better. I always treat subordinates with respect, but I would regard this as a signal that I would not really be in charge of her, and there would be tension.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Interesting – why would it signal that you wouldn’t be in charge of her, just because she was one of a panel?

      1. NYNY*

        Because if she has a role in hiring me, that implies to me more power than a subordinate typically has. I would pass on the job.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I just don’t follow – it’s not like she’s the sole interviewer or she’ll get to override the hiring manager. The hiring manager presumably decided she wants the perspective of someone who would report to this person, that seems smart to me and not indicative of any undue power balance.

          1. Antilles*

            Especially on a panel interview. The whole point of a panel interview is to get a range of perspectives, because you’re going to spend way more time working with your peers and subordinates than you will working with the VP or Senior Director or whoever. Why even have a panel interview if you’re not going to include people with a variety of roles?

        2. Engineer*

          Yeah, no. You do not get complete control over someone just because you have a higher job title. It’s a two-way relationship, and if a subordinate has a problem with you, they need to feel empowered to say so. And you would be working most closely with your subordinates, so why shouldn’t you both get the chance to feel each other out before a hiring decision is made? Then they can pick up on the fact that you find it insulting for anyone lower than you in the hierarchy to have input and the panel can make the correct decision not to move forward with your outdated sense of power.

        3. bamcheeks*

          Really? Can you not see any advantages to anyone having any input into hiring decisions of people above them? Like, you wouldn’t ever want the opportunity to feed into (not make! but feed into) a hiring decision about someone at director or c-suite level above you?

          I work in pretty hierarchical sectors and the final decision nearly always rests with the person who is going to be the new person’s, but particularly for senior hires they nearly always want to get some input from the people who will be carrying out their strategy.

        4. RabbitRabbit*

          Wow. In my department, we have had subordinates as far as three levels below have a role in the hiring committees. For a nationwide search for a role three levels above me, when we were down to the final two candidates, one of the interview panels was solely several people from my division and at my level.

        5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          IMO, that’s a really messed-up idea of power dynamics you have. Not everything is about ‘power’, and not everyone cares about ‘power’. The point of the job is to get the stuff done that the company wants done, not to stake out a David Attenborough pecking order..

          Sometimes, the subordinate does have more ‘power’, because they’re the one with the knowledge or skills to do something that the notional superior depends on.

          1. londonedit*

            Yep. You could argue that I have more ‘power’ than my boss, because my boss has absolutely no idea how to do my job on a day-to-day basis, and if I stopped doing my job for some reason my boss wouldn’t have a clue what would need to be done. If I was some sort of power-hungry mad person, I’m sure I could wield that over my boss’s head and use it as some sort of emotional blackmail, but I also don’t think I’d last long in my job doing that. The reason I don’t have or want my boss’s job is that I don’t want to deal with all the stuff they have to put up with – so my boss deals with all of that, and in the meantime I do my job to the best of my ability, and between us and the others on the team, with any luck we make a success of things.

          2. CommanderBanana*

            I do love the idea of having David Attenborough narrate some of the interviews I’ve been in.

            Getting to ask a candidate that, if hired, would have been my boss why he ran his previous office off of intern labor but never hired any of them was probably the high point for me.

          3. Peanut Hamper*

            Yes, this is totally messed up. Unless this is the military, this kind of power dynamic is ancient and should be abandoned.

            This is how dictators operate—not effective managers.

        6. Aquamarine*

          More power during the hiring process because she’s an employee and you’re not. But after the hiring is over, you’re in charge.

        7. Observer*

          that implies to me more power than a subordinate typically has.

          Which implies to me that you expect too much power over your subordinates, and that you expect that your subordinates’ voices to never be hear (or raised?)


          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, if they ended up my boss and was on that kind of power trip where they were barely respectful of me but considered me to have no power in the relationship, they would soon not have me and other employees as subordinates.

        8. MCMonkeyBean*

          That’s a pretty gross take but I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you self-select out of the process so I guess that’s a win…

        9. tangerineRose*

          Let’s not argue too much with NYNY – they sound like someone I’d want to opt out of a hiring process. No reason to change their mind.

        10. Quill*

          It sounds like you’re in a position / industry where your subordinates don’t have specialized roles that they may need to actively balance with your requests then.

          In my experience, a long term trusted subordinate who does some of their role independently is a pretty good way to screen for “Hey, this person doesn’t seem to understand that their requests are not 100% of my role”

    2. Angstrom*

      It’s a great opportunity — you can ask about what kind of managerial style they’ve experienced, what they’re looking for, opportunities for improving the department, etc. The view from below is incredibly valuable.
      Wouldn’t you want an opportunity to have a say in choosing your next boss?

    3. BRR*

      That’s such an interesting perspective to read because I wouldn’t think this way at all about the situation. I think a direct report would be an excellent judge if a candidate could do the job since they know the job so well. Plus since interviewing is a two way street it’s good for candidates to meet who they would be managing. Honestly, this reads as a really weird power trip and an undesirable trait in a manager.

      1. NYNY*

        And then what? If person takes the job, is the subordinate going to keep evaluating her boss? It comes off to me is the employer is delegating management to the subordinate, and I would find that unworkable.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I should *hope* my staff feel able to evaluate me! I want them to be able to tell me if I’m doing something wrong (or right!)

        2. BRR*

          I want to make sure we’re on the same page and I’m only talking about the direct report giving their two cents on candidates and the decision still being with the hiring manager. But the whole thing is an odd take.

        3. LimeRoos*

          I mean yes? Generally speaking, people are always evaluating their boss and deciding if they want to stay with their current company or leave for a new job. So yes, as the boss your subordinates are always evaluating you. No idea how you see a subordinate sitting in on their new supervisors interview as them managing. To me it shows a really healthy dynamic where they appreciate everyone’s opinion, which is good.

        4. I'm just here for the cats!!*

          The subordinate is not the one saying yes to the candidate. As others have stated the point of a pannel is to get multiple views. She is just one voice. No one is delegating management to her?

          And guess what, you’re going to be evaluated by her regardless if she was on the pannel or not. That’s just how humans work.

        5. Lana Kane*

          There is nothing about being present in the interview that points to delegating management to a subordinate. I suspect this may come across like that to you because you may see the interview process as being hierarchical in nature. How would you feel if, say, a peer was included?

        6. SometimesCharlotte*

          Many companies do 360 evaluations gathering input from supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, customers (internal and external), etc. So, it’s possible even if they aren’t on the interview panel.

        7. tangerineRose*

          I gotta tell you, your subordinates are probably evaluating you in their own minds from time to time, even if they never say so.

    4. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Strange. I’d find it just as useful to gain an impression of my prospective reports as of my coworkers and boss. I’d want to avoid a mismatch in either direction of the management chain.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, if nothing else! I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to meet the prospective report early in the process.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’d like to meet the prospective report soon in the process, too. If we won’t work well together, we’ve wasted less time.

          1. Enai*

            Yes, I’d hate to find out that I just can’t stand the person I’m supposed to work most closely with on the first day of the job. Especially if I’d given up a decent oldjob and possibly moved my household for this one. So many opportunities to either make like Neo and dodge metaphorical bullets or find the best office atmosphere ever.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Maybe instead of thinking they’re there to make a deciding vote on you, consider they’re just there for an opinion. The balance of power resides with the hiring manager ultimately.

      If you consider it from a perspective of ‘it makes sense that this is someone I’d like to have a good opinion of me before I even start the job’ it’s a lot less offensive. And most people are on their best behaviour in interviews so you could *really* start things off with an excellent first impression.

      It’s an additional opportunity to shine.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

        yeah. any interview pannel I’ve been a part of there was no “vote”. It was just our opinions and what we thought were the pros and cons for each person.

    6. Armchair Analyst*

      but you don’t have insight into how the panel decision is made.
      maybe the other 2 senior folks have 40 or 45% input each, and the junior person’s perspective is more on fit or managerial style or technical skills, and their perspective is more of a tie breaker or confirmation

      I would – and have, in this situation- continue with the interview and speak with all the panel interviewers in a professional, collegial, friendly manner

      what’s the worst that could happen?

      I appreciate your perspective. I disagree strongly

    7. Fluffy Fish*

      This is a really bad take.

      In an interview you want a SME – she would have been the only SME available.

      It is not a sign of power imbalance. It’s a sign of a great employer who values employees regardless of their title. It’s a sign of a great employer who wants to hire someone that is a good fit for the team.

      It’s a panel – they do not have sole hiring discretion.

      It’s concerning how you view subordinates.

    8. M2*

      Really? I wouldn’t want to hire someone who wouldn’t want to talk to people who would work with them. I think of the teams I direct as collaborative no one is a “subordinate”. I find that viewpoint rude and outdated.

      I direct/ manage large teams (3divisions) and almost always have various people from the teams on hiring committees. When I have applied for high level roles I have always had people from various levels on my hiring committee! Once an office manager nixed my hire (told by HR and the President) because she thought I was too young! I was annoyed at the time but later realized if she had that much power she would have been difficult to work with and I dodged an issue.

      It is a two-way street and I would be happy to see someone not take the job who wouldn’t want to interview with colleagues.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, I find “you met with me during my interview and that gives you too much power to truly be underneath me” to be a concerning attitude about someone you’ll manage. I think people should absolutely have input on the hiring of their manager. You want a manager to have a good rapport and good working relationship with their reports, and one of the best ways to have that is to have the reports have input on the hiring decision. “You are too puny to have hiring decisions” is a pretty poor attitude, @NYNY, and I hope you rethink that.

      2. Antilles*

        Same. To me, as someone who’s managed departments and made hiring decisions, my answer is this:

        If you’re the kind of person who cares about who has the Appropriate Rank/Power to be on a hiring panel? I don’t want you here, that’s not the type of culture I’m establishing, that’s not the department I’m trying to build.

    9. No Tribble At All*

      Oh man, we just did several rounds of interviews for a director position, and the first set was always the panel of the subordinates. It’s far from saying the director wouldn’t be in charge of us; they wanted to know if we got bad vibes from the candidates. Haven’t you ever had a situation when upper management loves a manager, but all that manager’s reports hate that person?

      Now we *did* have a candidate that the subordinates all liked by upper management wanted someone more “sales-y” so that was frustrating

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        One of the worst bosses I had at OldJob (an Executive Director, I was a Sr. level Associate Director) was interviewed hired by entirely C-suite and high-level staff. He came of as a delight. He was and is a bully. He punched down. He treated support staff as if they belonged on the bottom of his shoe.

        Anyone who thinks they’re too good to have subordinates in the interview process is not welcome is not a good fit for my team (either above me or below me).

      2. Elsewise*

        Yeah, at my old workplace, managers always interviewed with the team they would be managing. This was extremely helpful- one woman had been perfectly pleasant to her potential supervisor, but launched into a rant about how much she hates millennials in the workforce as soon as she saw her (all-millennial) team.

        What’s more than that, even if it isn’t a supervisory position, interviewing with people “below” them gives you valuable insight into a candidate’s character. If you’re polite to the CEO but rude to the custodian, I probably don’t want you on my team.

      3. Quill*

        Heck, when I was in college one of the departments held interviews for a new professor by having students evaluate them.

        I doubt we had any kind of veto power and the person would definitely still have been a professor, but the panel wanted the candidates to know that actually teaching would be part of their role, so if they didn’t pass the vibe check of “can talk about latin to 18 year olds without turning into a pumpkin or starting a fight” they weren’t going to work out.

        1. dawbs*

          THe college I worked for had a student evaluator on the interview team for some positions.
          It was incredibly useful. The student was hand-picked for the role (she was awesome) & she was able to evaluate the ability to talk to students’ age/knowledge levels/etc differently than I was.
          The student was still a ‘student’ afterwards; the power hierarchy wasn’t in her favor.
          (it also let the rest of the panel see if the candidate got all up in arms and condescending; that would have not been a good fit for us!)
          (And yes, I’m sure she evaluated all of her instructors, and some instructors she only met once in the hallway. She just didn’t always have the platform

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      Interviews are a two-way street overall. That means the subordinate being on the interview panel allows *you* to ask your potential future subordinate questions and see how well you will work together. Seems like a win-win to me.

    11. LCH*

      we hired a department manager someplace i worked. everyone who would be managed by this person was scheduled for one of their meetings during the day-long interview and filled out the form to provide feedback. it’s normal to get all perspectives. we weren’t the sole deciders, but our opinions/observations were taken under consideration.

    12. cardigarden*

      Really, genuinely curious here: how do you prefer to meet the direct reports to the positions you apply to? And how do you figure out if they’re people you’d want to work with?

    13. Observer*

      I hope I would handle it better.

      If you* cannot handle it better, then you don’t belong in a job that has any supervisory aspect.

      if showed up for an interview and somone supposed to be my subordinate was there as part of hiring committee, i would be like this is not going to work. ~~~snip~~~ I would regard this as a signal that I would not really be in charge of her,

      Why? That’s a real leap. If you expressed that to me, I would be worried about your management capacity.

      It gives me flashbacks to one manager who told staff that they were not allowed to go above them to lodge a complaint. That statement was flatly against our policy, and it should have been a red flag for us – they had one of the worst turnover rates in the org, for positions that are not generally expected to have high turnover. And there turned out to have been good reason for that…

      *generic you.

    14. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Wouldn’t you want to meet the person you were going to work with? Especially being that this was a 2 person department. Wouldn’t you have questions for the person who does the actual marketing work?

    15. I Have RBF*

      … if [I] showed up for an interview and someone supposed to be my subordinate was there as part of hiring committee, I would be like this is not going to work.

      Really? You don’t think subordinates should have a say in who they have to work for?

      I get really, really nervous when I end up working for a manager I never interviewed with. It’s such a crap shoot, and if they were hired in over me without me or any of my other teammates doing the interview, it is more likely that they will be a PITA to work for, but impossible to get rid of because the upper management liked them and the peons don’t count.

      Part of building a good team is the two-way relationships between employees and a manager. When I take a job, part of why is that I have interviewed the manager as well as them interviewing me. Same thing about hiring in a manager – I am interviewing them and they are interviewing me, just on opposite sides of the table.

      I always treat subordinates with respect, but I would regard this as a signal that I would not really be in charge of her, and there would be tension.

      So if a subordinate has input on your hiring, that means that they aren’t subordinate enough, is that it? Because that is what you are saying, here.

      Call me unimpressed.

    16. Parakeet*

      Other people have amply covered the odd and concerning views of power here, so I’ll point out that having subordinates on the interview panel is a benefit to you. After all, you’re evaluating the company, not just vice versa. If you have never met your potential future reports before accepting an offer, how do you assess whether they’re people you’d want to manage, or at least be okay with managing?

    17. Samwise*

      That would be highly useful info for me as a hiring committee chair. I try to have one of our very excellent admin staff on the committee and I pay very close attention to their insights. They tend to have a different kind of work experience than I’ve had, and they will see and consider things that I don’t.

      Also, frankly, they’re a valued member of the team and tbh it’s harder to get really good admins than really good professionals.

      Anyone who finds the presence of an admin on the panel to be problematic, they’re not right for our office.

    18. StandardPractice*

      Wow. It’s pretty standard to have prospective reports be part of an interview process. People get a say in the work environment they like and in deciding whether they can work well with someone.

  23. Buni*

    #3 I worked at a Primary school (ages ~5-12) that always included on the interview panel for any teacher or senior management, right up to the Head, one child from each Year. They could ask one pre-approved question each if they wanted to and were included in the basic pros/cons discussion after.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      I love this!
      At college I was involved on student government and got to sit on some administrative candidate interviews or representative conversations with Dean of Students or Ombudsperson or things like that.
      and I remember at public high school we had student representatives to the school board who would also report to the students about candidates and activities

      representation matters!

    2. NYNY*

      Doesn’t including student in pro/con discussion result in less frank discussion? Or should student hear when others see “cons” as to a teacher who may be hired?

      1. Observer*

        Or should student hear when others see “cons” as to a teacher who may be hired?

        I don’t know if I would have a full frank discussion with the youngest kids. But older children – and certainly adults! are perfectly capable of behaving appropriately and respectfully to people who they know have “cons”. Trying to pretend that the teacher / boss is perfect in order to get proper behavior is a losing strategy.

        1. NYNY*

          I do not criticize any employees in front of subordinates. I think this is what is similar to what is being suggested.

          1. Observer*

            You don’t see the difference between criticizing an employee and discussing the merits of someone who does not work for you?

      2. Buni*

        I seem to remember the kids were asked their general ‘thoughts’ first and then sent on their way, and the adults would have further discussions after.

  24. Armchair Analyst*

    not work but re: complaining

    I posted a compliment about a group and event. I am an active member, not a planner or leader. A friend private messaged me with “glad it worked for you, our problem was A”

    I wrote back with “yeah that was hard for us we ended up doing it almost, like lower-case a.” Friend wrote back about B was hard for her. I agreed and said yeah, we did what we could, we did B minus. Friend wrote back and said C did not take into account families like hers. I was like, yeah, that’s tough, C is a hard C or a soft C, could be different for different people.

    Then she said no one in leadership listens to her when she complains. I’d had it and was able to write back *exactly what happened*: I posted a compliment. she’d complained to me – a person who didn’t plan and can’t change anything and has my own difficulties and unique family situation which she didn’t even acknowledge- and kept complaining even after I’d shown sympathy and suggested workarounds. I literally told her, I know you’re always looking for ways to improve situations but I’m also looking to be satisfied and happy and the less I see to complain about, the happier I am.

    she didn’t contact me for 2 years and barely acknowledged me and I’m not mad

    I don’t know that this would work with your co-worker. but i think being direct helps and Alison’s language helps too

  25. 1-800-BrownCow*

    #3: This is not uncommon at all from my experience. It certainly was a red flag with the candidate to react that way.

    For future, I wouldn’t waste mine or anyone’s time continuing an interview with an obviously bad candidate. You mentioned several red flags throughout the interview. Honestly, once you had some red flags and knew you wouldn’t be moving forward with the candidate, you should have just wrapped up the interview and sent them on their way. And given everyone else their time back. Nothing frustrates me more is wasting time interviewing a person when there’s no way we’d hire the candidate for any position at the company.

  26. Fluffy Fish*

    #3 We once interviewed a man who was actively degrading to women in the interview. There were no women on the panel (but absolutely women in the office) – he obviously felt all men think like him.

    It’s fascinating how people will show themselves in interview.

    Just remember, the people you interview are on their best behavior. So when they’re acting like glassbowls, believe that they will be 1000% times worse if you actually hire them.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      At a previous job I was quite often on interview panels for management/supervisory – while I was part of the management team, I was also a young-appearing woman, and I was specifically there to check technical aspects as well as see if they had any problems answering questions from a woman.

      So, so many people told on themselves.

    2. EMP*

      We passed on a candidate recently who referred to our younger colleagues as “rugrats” and was rude to HR when she went over benefits. There’s no technical skills worth that kind of behavior.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Hahaha oh my god! I had an older teammate refer to us as “kids”, but this is a whole another level.

    3. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I work in a male dominant field, however at my previous job, I reported to a woman (only time in the 20+ years of my career). We interviewed a candidate for a position on the team who said his short-term goal was to take over the manager’s position because he didn’t want to report to a woman. He told everyone, including the female manager, that he would become our new manager very quickly as it was his top priority. We couldn’t help but wonder if he was completely serious. He knew the manager was a woman before coming in for the interview as she did a phone interview with him ahead of time. Not sure why someone would waste their time interviewing unless they were that naïve in thinking they actually stood a chance at getting hired.

  27. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    Obviously no one should be rude in an interview, whether it’s to an admin or a CEO. That’s about as clear a flag as there is.

    The one part of the advice I disagree with though is to question the behavior in the interview – not for the candidate’s sake but it might make the admin uncomfortable and I don’t know what’s to be gained at that point.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Interesting. I think it would be better from the assistant to see that her colleagues respect her enough to speak up for her dignity and value in the moment. I can imagine it being disheartening and alienating if they let such open disrespect slide. Since OP knew the marketing assistant would continue working there and the interviewee wouldn’t, I’d prioritize not demoralizing the marketing assistant. So if it wasn’t addressed in the moment, I sure hope OP or other colleagues had a candid conversation with her afterwards about how valued she is and how that moment was enough to put the interviewee on a never-hire list.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        From a career [job] assistant: A thousand times this.

        I don’t expect to have much/any say in hiring decisions, but I’m OK with that if the people who are demonstrate that they’re not interested in hiring someone who would respond to potential reports this way.

        The last two executive directors we hired visited all of our departments (smallish nonprofit) after the first couple of interview rounds and talked to everyone. They were both excellent choices who treated even our “lowest”-level employees very well.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Bit of a different situation, but the answer to this question reminded me of the previous letter “Interviewing a candidate who lied to my company five years ago.” I’ll link to the letter and update in a follow-up comment, but the interviewer took the advice to ask the candidate about the lie, the candidate explained that yes, she had lied on purpose for *reasons*. The interviewer then asked the candidate about the importance of ethics in the workplace, and “she [the candidate] got the hint at that point that she wouldn’t be moving forward with us, because she sort of fumbled over her words apologizing at that point.”

      There is a big difference between a five-year-old lie and 5-second-old rudeness to someone who is still in the room, so the admin may have been uncomfortable with someone questioning the candidate about the eye-roll during the interview. But there can be something gained in politely guiding the candidate to realize their lying (in the case of the previous letter) or rudeness (in the case of this letter) has sunk their chances at receiving an offer.

    3. snarkalupagus*

      As a hiring manager, I’d hope that I would be fast enough on my feet to question the behavior…not only to confirm that the candidate is in fact a jackwagon but also to demonstrate to the admin that I would never subject them to a jackwagon, no matter what said jackwagon’s skill set appears to be. I think the advice to ask probing questions is an excellent way to show everyone in the room (and hopefully the no-longer-a-candidate as well) that that behavior was noticed, is not explainable, and is not acceptable.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I also felt like I would feel really uncomfortable if I were the admin to have it called out in the moment. I’d rather note it and move on, personally.

    5. Katherine*

      It helps to question in the moment if (as an earlier commenter suggested) they then tell the candidate why theyre not moving forward with them (or why theyre cutting the interview short). Just to make sure that there wasnt a misunderstanding.

  28. Vibesgirl*

    #2 (Re: no follow-up on complaint): If the complaint has been documented and exists in the company’s files somewhere, you absolutely deserve a response, and you are 100% in the right for pushing for one. I was in a somewhat similar situation a number of years ago and regret not pushing harder for formal (documented) resolution. My case was pretty bonkers, and I doubt you’ll end up in the same situation, but it’s a cautionary tale. My conflict-averse manager did not follow-through or close the initial complaint, but lead me to believe all was resolved. Manager retires at the end of the year and new manager from outside organization comes in. Complainant brings complaint back up (no new issues, just re-igniting the fire) and I ended up in a terrible, convoluted process that looked like it might end in my firing until their long-delayed investigation finally absolved me of wrongdoing (almost 2 years after the situation began). I finally had to resort to getting a lawyer to write a letter to the organization insisting on a timely and documented resolution to the case. This finally got things moving. All of which is to say that if you think there is any chance that having this issue hanging out in company documentation could come back to harm you in the future, you would not be out of line paying a small amount of money to have a lawyer officially request a formal resolution and documentation of the resolution in your files. It broke my heart to bring a lawyer into the situation, but ultimately, it conveyed a level or seriousness to the organization that moved us forward. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

  29. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    3. Wow! Now that’s a way to not get hired. LOL!
    I always make it a point when interviewing to be extremely pleasant and professional to anyone I meet not directly interviewing me. From the receptionist to the janitor, on the phone, email or in person. Because you never know.

    And it’s a great idea to have others on the team sit in on part of the interview process if possible. I only wish I had been able to interview the manager at my last job, because she was such a controlling micromanager, and I would have easily been able to discern that with a few questions. Unfortunately, I got stuck with a horrible manager.

  30. eeeek*

    Re: including assistants in interview process…
    Our unit’s culture at our university is to include people on the same, lower, and higher levels on panel interview teams. We provide names and titles to candidates at the beginning of the interview period, but do introductions in a way that describes how panel members interact with the person in the position rather than reflecting hierarchy. Since the team culture is that we all work together on various projects, we all use verbs that convey mutual support. This can be confusing to some candidates – and it seems to help identify candidates who flex by dismissing the lowest ranking person in the room.
    It is always amusing when a candidate decides that person is me, since I’m quite senior on the team and positions defer to authority (though don’t report to me). My colleagues still remind me of the fellow who decided he should respond to my question with “well, sweetheart, let me tell you about…” As I recall, that interview ended soon thereafter. heh.

    1. Rp*

      I had a manager who was mid thirties but she was about five foot tall, thin and had a baby face. Some combination of her size and looks seemed to scream vulnerability to a certain type of person (she was actually a take no shit type person but based solely on aesthetics she looked young and vulnerable).

      She was great for weeding out creeps.

  31. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW4 “I need my lunch break to listen to some lectures to further my education.” Then put on your headphones and listen to Dolly Parton. During school time, try to re-direct the conversation back to work. (I know it’s hard, I work with a complainer.)

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      I agree. I’ve found negative people and complainers refuse to believe it about themselves and will fight you about your assessment of them.

  32. Workfromhome*

    #2 I think this is a prime candidate for the implied approval email method. Its often used when you need approval to do move forward someone who is slow or doesn’t reply to emails .

    In this case you email your Boss and HR.
    “in regards to the complaint brought by Fergus that we discussed in our meeting on X date. I have reached out 5 times on these dates so that I may understand what if any steps I need to take to resolve the complaint. I understand people are extremely busy so if I do not receive instructions or next steps by XXX date I will take the lack of response as confirmation that the complaint was unfounded (as per my statement) and that it will not appear on my record.


    Yes it might tweak some people but if there really is a problem this will force their hand to say “oh no wait it not resolved”. If they really do want to sweep it under the rug it gives them an easy out. It also gives you at least plausible deniability should this ever come up in the future.

    1. Fergus Can Fergoff*

      100% the step to take!
      Document the steps you took to move forward or resolve things, and the dates.
      Do not let your manager or HR off the hook.
      If a manager cannot find it in their schedule to get interested in one employee bringing a complaint to HR about another employee, then unfortunately it lands on the LW to make them prioritize it, if only through an email *with a read receipt*.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      Came here to say the same. Bcc your personal email.

      The only people who might feel “tweaked” by this are the ones who deserve it because they’re not doing their jobs.

  33. LessNosy*

    OP5, I was in the same boat as you a few years ago! I even wrote in a similar letter asking if I should disclose what I had done, which led to my AAM commentariat name *pokes above*. Ultimately, a few people knew what was going on (it was related to breaking my nose a few months prior so my direct team knew I was getting something fixed + changing my appearance while I was there), but most didn’t say anything at all. Even when my nose swelled up one day from the stents :)

    One thing I did do was update my haircut between the procedure and coming back to work. That way I had plausible deniability if anyone DID ask me about my appearance, but no one did.

    Best wishes on your procedure!

  34. coffeeIV*

    re: subordinates on an interview panel…
    My department was hiring a new VP, and all the candidates had a panel interview with essentially the whole department (about 5 people). One candidate kept cutting us off, commented multiple times that we were asking “really hard questions” and didn’t think we would take the full allotted hour (we did). When she interviewed with the CEO, she told him “the youngins had too many questions for her.” Not that it should matter, but she knew that the CEO had been my direct supervisor for the previous year without a VP.

    Our leadership team may have some flaws, but that comment immediately knocked that candidate out of the running.

  35. Pizza Rat*

    Rudeness to an assistant on an interview reminds me of the first date who is rude to the serving staff.

    Bzzt! Next!

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      It’s worse than that, because the assistant would have to work with the person the closest. I’d day it’s more like a first date being rude to your roomate.

  36. New Mom (of 1 1/9)*

    LW5, just be aware that there may be some gossip/wagging tongues if you look substantially different when you return! Not that it’s right, but if you take a lot of time off and then you look different, people may talk.

    1. New Mom (of 1 1/9)*

      I love LessNosy’s suggestion about changing their hair at the same time to deflect comments! Brilliant!

      1. LessNosy*

        Thank you! I actually even looked back at my update and saw that, because my surgeon had me stop wearing glasses and only wear contacts for a large portion of the healing process, that helped as well! I had COMPLETELY forgotten about that and it’s a super easy thing to explain away. “Oh, I like to switch it up every now and then.”

  37. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    Hi #3, I wanted to say that my large company always includes at least two people who would be working under a management hire, for exactly this reason. In my experience as the subordinant interviewer, my input wasn’t the Last Word, but I knew it was taken seriously.
    A director candidate had asked me “where’d you get your Master’s?” and I said I didn’t have one and was fine with that. She cocked an eyebrow and said, “well, we’ll see about that! I like everyone on MY team to have an advanced degree.” When I related that to the C-Suite, a couple of people visibly recoiled and the Dean made a note of it. She wasn’t hired.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Wow! Good for you for telling the others about that. Not every job requires a master’s!

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        Yeah, the “desk girl” who takes home 23k a year DEFINITELY doesn’t need a Master’s. I realized a long time ago that almost all knowledge can be acquired for free, and I’m not interested in going into more debt just for the privilege of maybe someday taking home 27k. You know? Not my thing.

  38. NotBatman*

    LW3: I think it’s an excellent idea, but I might be biased. I work in academia, and we usually have a student on the hiring panels. It’s a great policy because it makes sure all stakeholders have a say — and it requires most candidates to be prepared to answer questions from that angle. The student doesn’t get veto power, but candidates’ answers to student questions (and student reads of candidates) are often telling. Candidates sometimes have questions for students, and overall commitment to the org is higher that way. Of the ~15 academic jobs I’ve interviewed for over my career, ~10 of the schools had a student on the panel.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Same! Especially since it’s just 2 people in the whole department. Shouldn’t a candidate want to have someone who actually does the work to be on the interview?

  39. I'm just here for the cats!!*

    #3 Their reaction was very telling, and I’m glad that there were other red flags that you saw. From my perspective, whenever I’ve been involved with hiring, you typically want someone who is the subject expert or who knows the day-to-day stuff. Being that this was for the marketing manager position and there are only 2 people in the department, it makes sense that the other marketing person is involved in the hiring process. If nothing else, to better explain how the marketing department works, what types of projects they do, etc. After all the HR and management might not be able to answer specific details regarding marketing, since they are not in that department.

    The candidate should not have looked at this as “why is this underling making decisions, they are out of their leage” but rather “This person has experience working in marketing and the company appreciates their input.”

  40. I Fought the Law*

    Why are so many people asking their coworkers and bosses for rides to work? I recall at least three letters about this over the past couple of months. Is this really a thing?

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      It’s my understanding that the supply of inexpensive used cars has really dried up in the last few years. Combine that with higher interest rates, and there are people who used to have reliable transportation but now don’t.

      1. Quill*

        Costs of everything regarding cars going up, including maitenance, because of not only inflation but transit of parts and availability of sub parts, like computer chips (which are now in parts of cars that they frankly have no good reason to be in…)

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      many areas in the United States have poor local transit options. in the United States, outside urban areas, typically residential areas are distant from areas of offices or stores or manufacturing. by “distant” I mean more than a mile or 2. a 2 mile walk is about 30 minutes. but even an office near to my house is probably about 4 miles away or more. walking a hour to work, then working, then walking an hour home, perhaps with office supplies like a laptop or in unpleasant weather, would be unpleasant at the least, possibly even dangerous depending on the road or sidewalk paths. this is very common in most of the United States

  41. Irish Teacher*

    Our school hired a new principal fairly recently and while, as far as I know, there weren’t any teachers on the interview panel, we were consulted beforehand about what questions we thought should be asked and what we thought should be prioritised in the hiring process. It seemed reasonable to me to get input from those of us who know the school and similarly, I assume the assistant here knows about the work, etc in a way others might not.

  42. girlie_pop*

    LW 4: I used to have a boss like this, and it was completely exhausting. I eventually just started disengaging and acting completely uninterested in what she was talking about when she started her endless complaining. If we were eating lunch, I would focus on my food, only respond with “Uh-huh”s and “Hm”s until the conversation shifted. If we were at our desks I would slowly start turning back around to work and look at my computer, and if she didn’t stop I would just say, “Oh I just got an email in that I need to respond to,” or something like that. Kind of a version of gray-rocking, I guess?

    I also became comfortable aggressively changing the subject. So when she started complaining about how she’s the only one who cleans up around her house for the tenth time that week, I would just be like, “Uh huh. Oh, did you have time to review that draft I sent over to you?” After a while she mostly stopped complaining about that stuff to me. Since that was most of what we talked about socially, our non-work conversations mostly tapered off, but I didn’t really mind it at that point lol.

  43. SometimesCharlotte*

    LW 3 – I was thinking that if the assistant is qualified enough that she might have been considered for the manager role, maybe it’s time she has a title that better reflects her work and experience? Maybe associate or specialist?

    I’m not excusing the candidate’s reaction at all – even if you’re like the one commenter who thinks a subordinate shouldn’t be in the interview, you shouldn’t openly disrespect anyone like. But having a title that better reflects their place in the organization and the work they do is helpful in a lot of situations but especially because “assistant” has a lot of specific connotations

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Connotations only exist if people have prejudices. Maybe people could stop making demeaning assumptions about assistants.

      (I’m a [job] assistant and there is nowhere to go between this and full-blown [job] without a graduate degree. There just isn’t. It’s not always a thing. And I shouldn’t get side-eye from a [job] candidate for that–they should be glad they have someone who has this much experience and isn’t planning to leave.)

      1. Lily Potter*

        I don’t think that SometimesCharlotte was “making demeaning assumptions about assistants”. The title “assistant” is awful. It can mean everything from the 18 year old kid who does nothing but answer the phone and scroll on their phone all day to the decades-tenured employee who runs the entire department while their boss takes all the credit. Without context, there’s no way to know one from the other.

  44. ECBeace*

    LW5- I would think saying you’re going out for minor surgery would kick off attempts to get you to ask for FMLA, which likely wouldn’t apply. I’d just request PTO.

    1. Orv*

      I had that experience. I made the mistake of saying I was taking time off for surgery and they started demanding all kinds of intrusive information, like a letter from my surgeon and a doctor’s note clearing me to return to work. I think they wanted to turn it into FMLA so they could run down my FMLA quota. When I tried to walk it back and just take vacation they wouldn’t let me.

      The lesson I took from this is never disclose when I’m taking time off for medical reasons — just take it as vacation.

  45. anonymous non-driver*

    Many years ago, early in my career, a (slightly older) coworker figured out that he lived only a 5 minute drive from me. He frequently offered me rides home when he was heading out for the day, which I was usually grateful to accept. That continued for some time, until one day there was a rainstorm in the morning. I texted him, asking “Hey, any chance I could hitch a ride in with you? Totally fine if it’s not convenient.” He was not pleased that I asked, to the tune of several text messages. He never offered me a ride home again, either. So I learned not to ask, because I have no way of knowing if people will read something into the request that isn’t there.

    This isn’t a specific knock on LW1, who asked a simple question with a simple answer. But the fact that they felt the need to ask the question made my Spidey-sense tingle. A few of the comments did more than just that.

    1. Sprout*

      If it were a situation where they need a ride because theirs fell through I’d be okay giving them a ride, but within an hour of meeting me she was asking if I could give her a ride a few times a week and I don’t do that anymore. Every time I have the person I’m driving has started to ask of I could just stop somewhere for a minute for them and it turns into a while thing. Plus like I said, I need to do stuff after work. Yesterday I stayed clocked in to pick up stuff for night shift from the grocery store. Today I had to get groceries. I don’t want to worry about getting someone home and then coming back all the way out here.

      Plus the factory isn’t in the city she lives in, so it should have been pretty obvious that the city transit wouldn’t go out here when it’s a while different town.

      1. anonymous non-driver*

        Hey, you don’t need to justify yourself – that’s kind of the point of my story. It isn’t convenient for you, so your coworker will need to find another solution. She doesn’t need any explanation beyond “Sorry, I can’t. Good luck!” If you feel like you need a script, Alison’s seem fine to me.

        I shared my story more because in my experience, a lot of people see a request for a ride as way more than that, and sometimes it really is a simple request. I would have been perfectly okay if my coworker has just responded with “sorry man, no can do,” but he got angry with me for even asking.

  46. jellied brains*

    LW 3 reminds me of when we had a working interview come in to be observed. My manager wasn’t there but the two of us who were there were pretty senior and she trusted us to assess the applicants.

    The woman was extremely unprofessional up to and including regaling us with a tale where she got into a physical fight with an animal control officer over an abuse complaint against her.

    Needless to say, she wasn’t hired.

  47. AppleStan*

    OP #3:

    As a manager who does NOT supervise the clerical members of our legal team, I am a HUGE advocate of *always* having a clerical member on the interview panel for any position that an attorney is interviewing (whether there role is attorney, managing attorney, or chief managing attorney which are the different “professional” positions available in my department).

    Our a positive and respectful culture is *extremely* important to me for our department, and I ensure that it is a consistent message drummed into everyone at all times. When interviewing, how that candidate treats everyone is extremely important to me. I have some who only give “attention” to a male interviewer, some who completely disregard the presence of a clerical interviewer, and some who only pay attention to the non-minority members of the panel. Sometimes this is subtle, and sometimes it’s blatant, but if that’s what they are doing in the interview…they can’t work with us. I cannot allow that negative energy in our department.

    And FYI, any clerical/receptionist that encounters the interviewing candidate while they are waiting in the reception area for the panel to come and greet them…even though they aren’t officially part of the interview panel, they definitely get asked about their impression of the candidate, or if anything untoward or if anything awesome happened.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, keep those assistants on interview panels!!! I promise it helps!

  48. Mmm.*

    I live in a place where you literally can’t get more than a mile or two without a car. It’s incredibly hard for my friends with disabilities who can’t drive, as even our transport for that community is unreliable and limited. I lived without a car for a good while, and my back goes out to the point of paralysis about once a year.

    You still have to make sure you can get places on your own. What, are you going to take a sick day every time your driving coworker does? What if they leave the company? Has this never been an issue before? I have so many questions.

    1. Sprout*

      This was a huge point for me, I already work afternoons and nights so if I call in my boss has to cover two shifts already, I don’t want to be responsible for afternoons having no one at all if I call in.

  49. Sleve*

    LW5 it’s very normal for plastic surgeons to be the ones to remove skin cancers, especially on the face or areas where the skin is very thin and delicate. Skin cancers can arrive very quickly and they don’t always look like moles. Some of them are just scaly or flaky red patches, something that you could have been hiding with make-up. So, just because you didn’t have anything visible on your nose before and it’s a different shape now doesn’t mean that there’s no possible reason for your surgery to have been medical related, as opposed to purely cosmetic.

    I realise that because you’re in the cosmetic surgery headspace right now it seems as though it’s blindingly obvious, like you’re putting a giant flashing neon sign on your face saying VAIN. But that’s not the case. For those who disapprove of cosmetic surgery, there’s many reasons that your nose could change shape; and if they don’t hate you you they’ll most likely give you what they think of as ‘the benefit of the doubt’. And the rest of us don’t disapprove anyway, so we don’t see any reason why not to use your leave as you see fit. You do you. When you celebrate your new look I’ll celebrate with you, friend.

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