my boss is sleeping with my nemesis, I’m about to go on vacation and just used all my PTO on the flu, and more

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

1. My boss is sleeping with my nemesis

I have regular conflict with a team manager, Jane, who is employed at the same level as me in our workplace hierarchy and is sort of my nemesis. She has denied my requests for us to have regular meetings so we can keep on top of co-managing our overlapping projects. Instead of bringing her concerns to me, she consistently escalates these issues directly to my boss, Brian. He usually responds with a directive to me that reflects Jane’s agenda. Jane does not report to him, and I’ve been concerned for some time about the undue level of influence she has with him.

I recently learned Brian and Jane sleeping together, which explains the whole situation. When I “innocently” raised with him that I had noticed a pattern of Jane escalating issues directly to him, he got defensive and stated that it was appropriate that she could, as there is a “dotted line” between them. (She is not in his chain of command, although her area is related to his and mine, so she has reason to consult with both of us.)

I’m feeling sandwiched in a hopeless situation. Part of me has hoped that it will become public so that it can be appropriately managed. And then I realize that it should be being managed appropriately already: Brian is senior enough that he should know better, and already be being highly vigilant about not crossing lines while they’re not being public about it.

I love this job. Everything about it is great except for these two. Leaving is not my first choice. How do I manage this, while their relationship is not public?

I don’t think the other senior people know. And I don’t have the kind of evidence of this affair I would need to bring it to their attention. (The way I know is that a colleague reported to me that another colleague had discovered an intimate voicemail Brian had left for Jane on an office phone; Jane had changed desks and the new occupier of the desk discovered it.)

Yeah, if they’re having an affair, it’s critical that Brian have a firewall between his personal relationship with Jane and his decisions at work.

Any chance you could try talking to Jane about this (not the affair! but about her going around you to Brian) and ask that she bring things like X and Y to you directly so you can figure them out together? Since you’re calling her your nemesis, I’m guessing that might be a no-go for Reasons About Jane, but otherwise it’s worth a shot. Who knows, maybe it’ll shame her into stopping at least some of it … but it sounds likely that Brian is now Her Person and so she sees no reason not to discuss work stuff with him.

If that’s the case, there’s not much else you can do if you’re not willing to escalate it, but I do think you have enough to report it! You’re not a prosecutor who needs evidence to prove a case in a court of law. You have the standing to talk to HR and say, “I’ve noticed Jane seems to have undue influence with Brian in XYZ ways, and I’m concerned that it’s because they have a personal relationship that’s interfering with his objectivity, since there have been indications that they’re romantically involved. I don’t care about that on its own, but I do care if it’s influencing his decisions as my manager and it hasn’t been disclosed.” You’d need to tell them about the voicemail since they’re going to ask why you think that (ideally you’d have your colleague’s permission to share that info, but you don’t need to hide that you were told about it).

In reality, whether or not it’s a good idea to do this depends on how your organization’s HR functions and whether you trust them to ensure there’s no blowback on you from Brian — and that’s a question I’d raise with them explicitly before you share anything else.

2. I’m about to go on vacation — and just used up all my PTO on the flu

I am possibly in a pickle here. I had saved up PTO throughout the year in order to go on a trip for seven (work) days in December, the dates off of which have been approved. Two weeks ago, I got a bad flu and blew though all of my saved up PTO. Now, my trip is in three weeks and I am worried about what my boss is going to say/do about my lack of PTO for my trip. I see some ways that this could go and need your sage advice on what to do:

1. She never mentions it, and I just take the trip unpaid and no need to talk about it.

2. She says that my time off is now not approved since I don’t have PTO — in this instance, I would still be going on this trip that I have thousands of dollars into — but what would I say to her? I can’t control when/how I get sick and this job does not have separate sick time/vacation time (we even are forced to use PTO for holidays).

I have this whole spiel in my head about all of the hard work I have put in this year (with specific examples) and how I have earned this vacation. But I don’t want to seem like a total wad, just saying “I am going no matter what you say.” But basically I will be doing that!

If you’re going on the trip regardless of what your manager says, you’re probably better off just aiming for option #1. I’m not always a fan of “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” but in this case if you’re going regardless, you might as well just do it and hope for the best. However, you’d want to be prepared to be told after the fact that the time will be unpaid (which it sounds like you’re fine with) or for the possibility that they might want to subtract it from your PTO for next year (which you could try pushing back against by proposing taking it unpaid, but they may or may not agree to that).

Read an update to this letter

3. Doing performance reviews when they’ve been inflated in the past

My boss recently retired and I was promoted to his role. It is now time for performance reviews for my now employees, my former peers. I’m prepared to have productive conversations with them about the past year (I took over right after mid-year reviews), but looking back at past performance reviews, I realized that my former boss was padding the reviews. People were getting “exceeds expectations” (or better) when I know he did not consider their performance all that spectacular. I now want to combat this “inflation” by going back to what I think people honestly earned (meets expectations). I imagine this will be a shock for them. Any advice on how to approach this or am I missing the benefit of inflating performance?

First and foremost, make sure you’re assessing people against clearly defined expectations that they have been aware you have. I say this because you’re new to managing the team, and you can’t fairly evaluate someone based on expectations they didn’t know you had.

Assuming you’ve already gotten aligned about that, the most important thing is to be very transparent about how ratings are set — what “meets expectations” looks like, “what “exceeds expectations” looks like, and so forth. Give concrete examples of what someone performing at each level would be doing and achieving, so that everyone is really clear on the definitions you’re using and how you arrived at them. The more you’re using fair and transparent benchmarks — so people understand very clearly what it would take to move from one level to the next — the better. And have these discussions as far ahead of the actual review process as you can; people shouldn’t be blindsided by hearing about it for the first time when they’re reading their evaluation.

You should also address the change in method head-on: “I know this might be different from how Jane handled reviews. I want to be transparent about how I’m approaching them and why, so you know what to expect and what each rating means.” (Hopefully your company has already done this kind of level-setting — where they define what each rating means — and so you can also say that you’re aligning your team’s process with the larger company one. Speaking of which: make sure you are in alignment with your company on this.)

Last, make it clear that you’re open to feedback on their reviews, and that if you’re missing anything or don’t have context for something, you want to hear that. Performance reviews should ideally always be a discussion of some sort, but that’s especially important when you’ve only been managing them for part of the year and really might not have all the context.

4. Should I ask my manager if I was going to be laid off?

I have been working on the finance team at my company for two years. When I started it was a four-person team, and the workload was manageable. But six months after I started, two of my teammates quit, leaving me and the head of the department just when we were heading into a forecast and an audit at the same time. I had to take on many completely new responsibilities on top of my regular workload, and consequently made several mistakes that really frustrated my manager. I was reduced to tears at a few points during this period.

That said, my review at the beginning of this year went well. My manager mentioned my mistakes but acknowledged that I was very green and it was an impossible workload for both of us. By the time of my review, we had hired two more people. But six months later, one of these new teammates was laid off.

My question is whether I should ask my manager at the next review if I was ever considered for the layoff instead of my teammate. I do have seniority, but just a few days before the termination, my manager scheduled a one-on-one with me, which disappeared off of my calendar two days later. What do you think?

Don’t do it. First, if you were considered for a layoff, it’s very unlikely that your boss would tell you that; layoff discussions are typically very confidential (and she might not even know if you had been considered), and you’d be putting her on the spot in an awkward way.

Second, I can’t see what you’d have to gain by that conversation even if she did tell you the truth! Sometimes people want to know things like this because it makes them feel more in control of the situation … but even if she did tell say you’d been considered for the layoff, it wouldn’t mean anything about your job security now. People are laid off for all kinds of reasons and it’s often not about performance at all; in your coworker’s case, it could have been as simple as “last in, first out.”

5. Holidays that fall on Fridays, when I don’t work Fridays

I am an exempt, salaried employee and I work a four-day week (I have Fridays off). This year, due to the way Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall, my company’s paid holidays will include a couple Fridays. I asked what the procedure was for me to take those holidays and it was requested I just work eight hours less those weeks. Is that … allowed? What’s the protocol for holidays that fall outside your usual schedule but that the company offers as paid in our handbook?

It’s allowed! There’s no requirement in the U.S. that workers get any paid holidays or holidays off at all, so companies can handle them pretty much however they want. But in your case, if I’m understanding your letter correctly, they’re saying that the way you’ll “get” the holiday is by getting a different day off that week — so like your coworkers, you get a paid day off; it’s just not on Friday because you’re already off on Fridays. That’s actually an ideal way of handling it. Some companies’ policy is that if a holiday falls on your day off, you just don’t get holiday time at all — which is also allowed, but this is much better!

{ 430 comments… read them below }

  1. Glorybound*

    For number 5, working a 4-day week, my guess is that it’s 4 10-hour days, and the employer is suggesting working 2 fewer hours each day those weeks, to total 8 hours off.

      1. Bruce*

        But if they are exempt maybe they can ask their boss if they can just take a whole day off and not make an issue of 10 hours vs 8 hours?

        1. John Smith*

          Do you not get extra statutory days off in the US? In the UK (public sector), if a statutory day off falls on a holiday or non week day, an additional day is given to make up for it.

          1. Language Lover*

            I’m not entirely sure if it’s the same, but if the holiday falls on a weekend, we do get the closest work day off. If it’s on a Saturday, we usually get Friday off. If it’s a Sunday, then the holiday falls on Monday.

            I suspect the lw doesn’t work on Fridays, but others at their company do. In that case, the holiday does fall on a work day, so it wouldn’t move.

            In previous instances where I’ve worked 4 ten hour days, the company basically said to treat that week as a 5 day week and shave 2 hours from each day. But the lw should talk to their company to see if they can take it all in a lump sum. If they’re 4×10, they may have to use PTO for the 2 additional hours.

            1. Ron McDon*

              I live in the UK and don’t work on Mondays – the majority of our bank holidays are on a Monday.

              On weeks with a Bank Holiday Monday I don’t get given a different day off that week, instead of the Monday – the assumption is if you work Mondays you get a day off, if you don’t work Mondays you work your normal schedule.

              I used to job-share with a woman who insisted she could only work Weds-Fri, so I had to work Mon-Weds. She soon realised I was getting all the Bank Holiday Mondays off while she only got Good Friday off and complained to our boss, who shrugged and said ‘you didn’t want to work on Mondays’. She didn’t get given extra days off to make up for the Mondays, which is what she was after.

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

              Your company may do that but as alison said there is no legal mandate that private companies give a holiday off, at least not on the federal level. Now some companies may do what you are saying, where the closest business day is taken. But not every company does this.

          2. Katie Impact*

            There aren’t statutory days off in the US in the way there are in the UK; federal holidays do exist but private employers aren’t normally required to observe them.

          3. Rew123*

            I’ve worked in a few different countries and UK has been the only place that does that. I do miss it sometimes.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              It basically works that way in Canada.
              Though if you aren’t scheduled to work on the day off, you’re out of luck unless your company is feeling friendly.

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  In Ontario, August is the Civic Holiday which municipalities can redefine as they like (I know of Simcoe Day, and Joseph Brant Day).
                  I believe it’s a weird one in that it’s not a formal stat holiday, but a lot of businesses give the day off anyway.

                  I don’t know the history of how it exists, but we have a few months without stat holidays. There’s nothing in April/March (whichever one doesn’t have Good Friday), nothing in June, and there’s nothing in November. Family Day in February is comparatively recent.

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                That’s really dependent on the province you are working in, as is usual for Canadian labour laws.

                If you don’t work the stat holiday and you qualify for it, you get either paid in lieu or get a different day off with pay in BC, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and in federally regulated workplaces. The only province where you’re out of luck that I am aware of is Alberta, though I’ve never done HR for any east-coast workers so you might be out of luck in some of those provinces too.

                1. Chinookwind*

                  Alberta also has a rule that, if the stat. holiday falls on a Saturday and you don’t work Saturdays, then you don’t get an alternative day off, but if it falls on the Sunday, you get the Monday off. We have had 3 stat holidays fall on a Saturday this year and, as a result, regular Monday to Friday people are working 3 more days this year for the same annual pay (unless your employer gives you the Friday or Monday).

                  It has lead to mass confusion not only as an employee (especially because we are in theory a 7 day a week company but our workload has meant most weeks are Mon. to Fri) but also with vendors and customers as there 3 options to if they are closed around those weekends -either the Friday, the Monday or not at all.

                  I feel for the OP’s confusion – it is almost easier to have it clearly communicated that there is no holiday than to be given a wishy/washy answer of “whatever works for you” and hoping your choice doesn’t come back to bite you.

                2. Lou*

                  In Quebec, it’s as you said as well, at the employer’s discretion. By which I mean your employer chooses whether you are getting a different day off or stat’ pay.

            2. amoeba*

              Yup – Germany is generally more generous than the US (and maybe the UK as well? No idea) but that would apparently instantaneously kill the entire economy, or at least that’s what they scream every time it’s proposed!

              1. The Linen Porter*

                In Finland it gets interesting sometimes, but a ”public holiday” doesn’t count as a ”holiday-day” so if you work in a traditonal office and want to take ”Christmas off” and work last day 22nd and come back 8th Jan, you would use 7 days (if the workplace was open in the ”between days”) depending on the year Easter might also provide a chance for a few weeks using just a couple days.

                It wasn’t always like this though, when the workplaces and schools went to a 5-day week in the early 1970’s the government thought it would provide too much slack, so they rudely switched most of the ”smaller public holidays falling on a weekday” to a preceding Saturday… so like Good Friday was on a Friday, but Ascension instead of the Thursday was on a Saturday… they let the ”public holidays” fall back in the 1990’s to their traditional spots and you could get creative with your allocations.

                Back in the day if you worked say in a shop, they wouldn’t be open on Sundays and one of these ”public holiday on a Saturday” would make it a ”double Sunday”… to be fair, Christmas, Easter and Midsummer even the public transport wouldn’t run so you were kind of stuck then ”holidaying”, so I don’t know if it was that much fun always.

                1. amoeba*

                  Yeah, that’s the same here! On public holidays, everything’s typically closed (like on Sundays, here), and they don’t count towards your PTO/days off. And there are certainly times of the year where you can get, like, 2.5 weeks by only taking 7 days, depending on how the days fall.

                  We still have a few of the Thursday/Monday holidays though (Pentecost, Ascension…), that are always on Thursdays, so nice long weekend. Although I guess it does suck if you don’t work on Thursdays.

          4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            In France, where we have more public holidays overall, if it falls on your day off it’s just tough and you suck it up. I’ve noticed that it kind of evens out over the year so that we always get about the same number of public holidays as in the UK.

            1. Miso*

              It’s the same in Germany. I’m so jealous about the UK, haha. (I do realise we’re lucky and have many holidays and vacation days… But still!)

              I guess overall it evens out, but I work Saturdays instead of Fridays, so I have to take a vacation time or comp time every single year for Good Friday, that kinda sucks…

          5. Seashell*

            We don’t use the term statutory days in the US, but my employer does what you describe for federal holidays. Not all employers do that or only do it for some of the holidays.

            1. Clisby*

              Similar experience here (US), but only for a few of the federal holidays. I have never worked for an employer who gave all the federal holidays off. This is one of the reasons I kind of roll my eyes when people suggest that making Election Day a federal holiday will get more people to the polls. Maybe it’ll get more federal employees to the polls, but aside from that, all bets are off.

          6. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

            This is actually why I loved my old company’s strategy. There were no holidays, we were just given the 11 US standard federal holidays as 88 additional leave hours in our total accrual. So therefore, if you normally got 100 hours of leave earned over the year, you would get a total of 188hours of leave. You accrued it like normal leave, but it was still nice because you could use it whenever you wanted. If you didn’t want to take the holiday you didn’t have to, and you didn’t lose anything (but there was never overtime pay for working on a “holiday”).

            1. DD*

              Our office just changed to counting the holidays as part of your vacation time. Only the office is closed on those days, so it’s not like you have a choice to work that day (and save the vacation time to use another time). If you normally work Mondays, a vacation day is subtracted from your total and if you don’t normally work Mondays, a vacation day is NOT subtracted from your total.

              I guess technically my time off hasn’t been reduced. For my own sanity I’m going to have to continue to think of it as “federal holidays plus X weeks of vacation.” People who don’t work on Monday don’t get docked a vacation day for the Monday holiday, so they essentially have a bonus 7 days or so of vacation time they can take whenever they want. On their 4 day/week schedule, that’s almost 2 weeks of extra vacation. Right?

              1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

                That sucks. We worked at off-site locations that were closed, so we were allowed to either telework or work at the home site for the holiday (this was allowed pre-covid as well). Are you in an industry that would allow you to telework to bank the holiday PTO hours?

              2. bamcheeks*

                I don’t think I get your maths! Assuming they’re on the same 40 hour week, it’s the same amount of holiday overall, just more flexibility in how they use it. More flexibility isn’t nothing, but it’s not the same as more actual holiday.

              3. Jack Russell Terrier*

                At OldJob we had to accrue Federal Holidays. My Jewish colleague said he didn’t want to use his accrued leave for Christmas – a religious holiday he didn’t celebrate. They let him work Christmas, even though the office wasn’t open

            2. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Yeah, this is similar to how my company does it. We have a significant number of employees who work a non-standard work week, including different combinations of weekend days, so everyone gets the eight holidays that the company is closed. If you’re scheduled to work that day, you’re expected to take it off (though exceptions can be made) but if it doesn’t fall on a day you’re scheduled, you can use the eight hours on another day.

            3. Lydia*

              This is such an equitable way to do it. Not everyone’s important days are the same and it 100% means people don’t have to stick to the usual Christian holidays during the year. Do you mind saying what sort of work you did?

          7. Chirpy*

            Nope. My regular day off is Thursday, and my work is closed Thanksgiving as one of our few paid holidays (Labor Day, Memorial Day,
            Christmas, and New Year’s are the others, Easter is unpaid but closed) …this year I did get Monday off that week, but for the last few years, I’ve not gotten another replacement day at all, so effectively I got less holidays off than my coworkers.

          8. Nina*

            in NZ we have the concept of ‘otherwise working day’; if you work Mon-Thur, regardless of how many hours a day you do, and a public holiday lands on a Friday, you’re SOL, it’s not an ‘otherwise working day’ for you, you wouldn’t be at work anyway so you get the Friday off with everyone else (and as you do every week), but you don’t get an extra day off.

          9. fhqwhgads*

            The part of Alison’s response that says there’s “no requirement in the US to give workers any paid holidays at all” is the answer to this.
            In other words, there are zero statutory days in the US.

        2. gingergene*

          At my company, a significant portion of the workforce is allowed to choose schedules other than 5x8hrs (4×9+4, 9/80hr, etc.). Some people work M-Th, some Tue-Fri, some Thu-Sun, etc.

          My company solves this by calculating holiday pay for the “standard” 5×8 work week, i.e. 8 fixed holidays x 8 hours + 3 floating holidays x 8 hours = 64 + 24 for a total of 88 hours of holiday pay. Everyone gets that, whatever schedule you work. Not everyone has the alternate schedule available to them, so keeping the holiday hours the same for all schedules feels right.

          If a fixed holiday (Memorial Day, Independence day, etc.) falls on a scheduled work day for you, you use some of that bank of hours for the day. If they holidays fall in such a way that you have extra hours, those hours are essentially added to your vacation pool, although you have to use them in the calendar year and can’t roll any over.

          I work a 4×10 schedule and most years I need to save 2 hours vacation time to cover the last portion of one holiday-day. I consider this an acceptable trade off for a schedule I love, but I would also have the option of changing my schedule on holiday weeks, since my boss is totally chill about things like that. It’s a good system that I like and feels fair to me.

          1. spcepickle*

            At my office – If you work 4×10’s your holiday is 10 hours. We just got Veteran’s day off – If people were not scheduled to work Friday they can pick another day in the pay period for a Holiday (for most that was either Thursday before or Monday after). This works really well for 4×10’s. It is lame for those who work 9 hours Mon – Thur and 4 hours on Friday. I normally just nod and wink around around our policy that says their Holiday is only worth 4 hours and let them go home 4 hours early on Thur.

            Come work for the government! We get so many holidays.

    1. Phryne*

      Maybe it is because I om not in the US, but if someone works 4 days, I assume they work part time, 0.8 FTE, 4 days of 8 hours. Also, if HR suggests taking 8 hours off, I would assume that to mean a day, any other day that week.
      If I were OP I would inquire whether they are open to you spending the day in another week, if you prefer that. There does not seem to be a real need to compensate that day in that very week.

      1. I forgot my user name again*

        Being in the US. I have the assumption that company has flex scheduling to 40 hours. In order to work a shorter week, the OP works 4 10 hrs days to get Fridays off. Because they are salaried, if a holiday falls on Monday, they just work 3 10 hour days and do not make up the rest, if they were hourly they would most likely revert back to 4 8 hour days for that week or take an extra 2 PTO. With the Friday Holiday, I believe they were being told to work 4 8 hour days+Holiday. Because they are salaried they may be able to get away with 3 10 hour days. When I was salaried in order for the the day to count as a work day though, I had to work some part of each day or take PTO for that day.

        1. Lab Boss*

          “With the Friday Holiday, I believe they were being told to work 4 8 hour days+Holiday.”

          That’s how I read it. When my department switched to a 4×10 schedule, part of the deal was that we were to treat ANY week with a holiday as a “normal” 5×8 week- so on a week with a Monday holiday we’d get Monday off and then work the same 8 hour shifts Tu-Fr as the rest of the company (yes, even though we’d normally have Friday off completely).

          Even as we’ve gotten more flexible there’s still the assumption that a company paid holiday is 8 hours of holiday time, so we’re expected to account for 32 hours of work on the remaining 4 days of any holiday week, just with more flexibility in when those hours show up. Yes, I know this is against the intent of how salaried work is done, but I think it’s pretty common for companies to treat salaried work as “at least 40 hours.”

          1. Coin Purse*

            Yes…at my salaried position, the minimum each week however you parsed it was 40 hours. Meaning you were free to work 80 hours a week but had to account for 40 every week in some combination of PTO, holiday hours or work. And it absolutely does cut the heart out of “salaried”.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        Even if it is part time, I once worked somewhere that had a policy that every employee was required to receive a pro-rated number of holiday hours for recognized holidays, whether they were typically scheduled to work that day or not. So a 40 hour employee got 8 hours, a 30 hour employee got 6 hours, and a 20 hour employee would get 4. If it was a Monday holiday and my 30 hour employee didn’t usually work on Mondays, we still had to give them 6 hours of holiday pay on that Monday and take out 6 hours from somewhere else in the schedule that week. It made scheduling a pain, but it was nice to see part timers getting at least some paid holiday time, because not a lot of American employers do that.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Question related to that- OP5, when a holiday falls on Mon-Thu, do you get the entire day off? Because if you do, then on those days you’re getting 2 more hours of holiday time off than your colleagues who only work an 8 hour day. If I’m reading your question right you’re being told that when a holiday is on a Friday you only get 8 hours of holiday time for it instead of 10- the same amount of holiday time off that your colleagues get, except you can take it whenever in the week is most convenient for you.

      It sounds like you’re coming out ahead of your colleagues in this deal. In your shoes I wouldn’t rock the boat too much about “only” getting 8 hours instead of 10 on Friday holidays, or you might find yourself on the wrong end of management noticing you’ve been getting 10h instead of 8h on all the other holidays.

      1. Coffee Queen*

        I work 4 10h days. If a holiday falls on one of those 4 days, we get 8 hours of holiday pay, just like those who work 5 8h days. Then we either have to work 32 hours across the other 3 days or claim 2 hours PTO. Definitely not “coming out ahead”.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Agreed- I meant that if OP was getting 10 hours of holiday pay because their normal 10 hour day was on a holiday, AND got 8 hours of holiday time when their normal non-working Friday was a holiday, they were coming out ahead.

          I’m in the same boat as you, where we get the 8 hours (and only the 8 hours) and have to deal with those extra 2 non-holiday-pay hours on our own, which is definitely not the same.

      1. Lab Boss*

        I assumed it, because if OP normally worked 8 hour days and their company was giving them 8 comp hours for a Friday holiday, it doesn’t seem like they’d have any problem. Contextually it sounds like they’re saying that their “day” is 10 hours, so if they get a holiday it should be 10 hours- although it’s certainly possible I (and others) am reading wrong.

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

      not necessarily, there are some companies who do 32-hour weeks and the employees are considered full time.

  2. coffee*

    For LW1, unless there is some deeper dynamic at play, I don’t see why you can’t tell HR about the voicemail? Is it a feeling that your colleague shouldn’t be listening to other people’s voicemail? Because I think that “My colleague was using her work phone at her work desk and heard a voicemail” is a different situation to “I was sneaking around my coworkers’ desks and listening to their voicemails in the hopes of digging up dirt”.

    Also, since you’re the third person in this “Guess what I found out” chain, I feel like this secret knowledge is probably not particularly secret.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – the OP should go to HR, and tell them that it is common knowledge that Brian and Jane are in a romantic relationship. Explain how you know – the voicemail. Explain that Brian’s management decisions are clearly influenced by Jane, and give examples.

      1. LucyGoose*

        LW#1 here. I’m concerned about retaliation. Neither of the lovers is a particularly good listener. And, they’re also being careless and defensive about their relationship. All of these data points suggest they might not respond from an emotionally intelligent place. Especially if HR can’t protect my identity in this.

        1. misspiggy*

          What’s your ideal outcome? Would you like a different boss ultimately? What other outcomes are possible if HR were to do everything right?

          1. Too Stunned To Speak*

            I don’t understand the advice to just go on vacation and see what happens. It seems like a simple, “I scheduled this vacation not anticipating to need so much time for illness, and I’m unable to cancel because I have thousands of dollars into it already. how can we decide my time off to accordingly?”

            It’s not asking for permission, but it is being proactive to try to resolve a potential problem before it becomes a bigger one. I could imagine the boss expecting they would be working after using their PTO and making a big deal of them not being there…which wouldn’t be a great assumption, but it’s within the realm of possibility. I’d rather have those issues behind me rather than worrying about any blowback up on my return.

            1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

              I was going to say pretty much the same thing.
              At my employer, unpaid time off requires preapproval from HR and your VP (it’s not a big company) but it would likely be granted in this case.
              Simply not showing up to work when you’re out of PTO could very well be considered job abandonment and get OP fired.

            2. amoeba*

              I’d say it depends strongly on your boss. With mine, I agree, because I know he’d be reasonable. But if you think there’s a chance they’ll try to force you into canceling, I’d follow Alison’s advice because what do you do then, otherwise? Quit over it?

            3. AnonAnon*

              Agree. The “ask forgiveness” approach wouldn’t fly in any of the places I’ve worked. The bosses would find out on day 1, and there will be blowback. Unpaid days are straight up not allowed. On the other hand, they allowed us to borrow future PTO time with manager approval. No manager I know of had made a big deal out of doing that. I would recommend LW speak with their boss as soon as possible.

        2. MK*

          That’s understandable, but there is no way for things to improve unless you do something, and that something will carry some rick with it. Otherwise you need to suck it up, there is no magic recipe.

          One thing that might work is going to Brian’s boss, possibly looping in Jane’s boss, not say anything about their relationship, and explain how this system of Jane refusing to cooperate directly with you and always going to Brian, and then Brian relaying Jane’s perspective, is making it hard to do your job. But it will need to be pretty obvious that they are being uncooperative, otherwise it will just look like you are going over your boss’s head to get your own way.

          1. A Poster Has No Name*

            This was my take. If you don’t want to mention the affair, LW, you could go to Brian & Jane’s boss(es?) and see if they’re willing to step in and give Jane the directive to work with you directly instead of sending everything through Brian.

            Going to HR or bosses or whatever could blow up or not change anything, so if you don’t want to risk that, can you deal with the situation as it is and just let it roll off your back?

          2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            I see it slightly differently – by leaving out the affair, it just sounds like LW1 is disagreeing with her boss’s normal business decisions. The fact that he is allowing his personal relationship to influence his work decisions is what’s most important here, and not so much that LW disagrees with his decision.

          3. Observer*

            One thing that might work is going to Brian’s boss, possibly looping in Jane’s boss, not say anything about their relationship, and explain how this system of Jane refusing to cooperate directly with you and always going to Brian, and then Brian relaying Jane’s perspective, is making it hard to do your job.

            I agree with the people saying that doing that makes it sound like the LW is just not happy with her manager. Which can be valid, but management is not all that likely to act unless he’s being really egregious. But if it’s clearly tied to a personal relationship, it really changes the dynamic.

        3. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Something that I’ve learned over my work life is that people having inappropriate relationships aren’t as always as discreet as they think they are. The voicemail is one example. It’s possible that other people are aware of what is going on but because it doesn’t impact their work, they keep silent. Hopefully your HR can keep your identity private while they investigate. Many an affair has been uncovered through IT accessing emails, texts and calls that they have right to access. Retaliation against you when the affair is discovered will be the least of their worries when jobs and reputations are on the line.

          1. jellied brains*

            The way the phones are set up at my job, voicemails are also forwarded to email, so IT could definitely be aware

              1. Anonymoose*

                My boss was fired because of his affair with his employee, and not because he had one but because he used the company’s email system to communicate and then pressured IT to delete those emails.

        4. Random Dice*

          That’s the thing though, the company is very much on the hook if there is retaliation, and HR doesn’t want you to sue them since you’ll likely win.

          So use the word “retaliation” directly when talking to HR, and ask how they will protect you from retaliation.

          My guess is that your boss will be fired for sleeping with someone who he’s functionally turned into a subordinate. Without that dotted-line nonsense, he could claim that it was just sketchy and abuse of power *adjacent* … but once he started to take her side in disputes with his directs and claim she has a dotted line in to him, he hoist(ed?) himself on that dang pet ard.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            > someone who he’s functionally turned into a subordinate.

            Are you sure? It seems to me more like she’s the one giving the orders and then Brian just carries them out.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              But he’s higher level that she is. Just because she is in control, doesn’t mean he has not turned her into his subordinate chain of command wise.

              If fact this is exactly why relationships in chain of command are not allowed — the boss does what the subordinate wants to the detriment of others. Its undue influence.

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

                Yes, she isn’t his subordinate (or any hierarchy relationship) on the org chart, but in effect she is giving him “orders” and he’s getting them carried out by OP. That’s why I suggested that ‘functionally’ (ie. de facto) he is her subordinate. She gives the orders and he gets them carried out per her wishes.

          2. Happy meal with extra happy*

            No, the company is not on the hook, and retaliation is not a magic word. Unless some type of illegal discrimination was happening or OP was whistleblowing, I don’t see how OP would be able to sue. Of course, if OP is at all interested in this as a possible course of action, they should talk to an attorney about it as there may be facts or specific state laws that we’re unaware of.

            1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

              Exactly. Just like “hostile work environment” doesn’t mean any work environment where people are hostile to you, “retaliation” doesn’t mean any situation where you are retaliated against for speaking up. There has to be an underlying, legally protected class or activity such are illegal discrimination, whistleblowing, or protected, concerted activity.

            2. Observer*

              Unless some type of illegal discrimination was happening or OP was whistleblowing, I don’t see how OP would be able to sue.

              Of course you are correct that the OP should talk to an attorney if they are even thinking about legal ramifications. But in this case, there really could be an issue, because discrimination related to sex / sexual relationships can get very messy, legally speaking, very quickly. Would the OP have a case? Hard to tell. I don’t think the answer is clear in either direction.

        5. ferrina*

          Weirdly, I think the third-hand information is your friend here.

          Ideally, the person who found the voicemail would report it. If you have a good rapport with them, go back to them and encourage them to step forward. Let them know that you feel like you need to report it, but would rather they report it, since it will look better for them to come forward. They can phrase it as “This weird thing happened and I’m not sure what to do, so I want HR guidance”.

          If they don’t step forward (or if you aren’t sure), you can go to HR and say “I feel really awkward reporting this, but I also feel like I would be remiss not to say something. I heard that Jane and Brian have an ongoing romantic relationship. Larry told me that Jenny had found a romantic voicemail from Brian to Jane when Jenny took over Jane’s old desk. I’m also concerned because Jane has a tendency to talk to Brian and not me when there are issues that involve our mutual projects, which Brian is not involved in. Brian does not consult with me to get additional context, and consistently gives the edict to follow Jane’s lead. Obviously I’d prefer to trust Brian’s leadership, but it’s very concerning that he doesn’t consult with his own team when Jane makes requests of him.” If they say they will investigate, say “I hate to ask this, but what should I do if there is retaliation? I’ve tried to talk to Brian directly about his management style, and those conversations have been…..tense. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m concerned that he may take out frustrations on me. What kind of things should I report to you, and how can I protect myself during the investigation? I love this company and love working here, and I really want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.” The key is to report the facts, not your emotions. Frame it like you want HR’s guidance in resolving this situation (if you have a bad HR, it’s less likely to ruffle their feathers when you ask for ‘guidance’).

          A good and discrete HR will have enough to try to anonymize the situation. It sounds like enough people are aware that anyone could have reported it. But even if HR complete obfuscates your involvement, Brian and/or Jane could leap to that conclusion anyways. They don’t need proof of your involvement to retaliate.

          1. 1-800-BrownCow*

            I don’t necessarily agree that the person who found the voicemail should be the one to step forward, especially if that person’s job is not being affected by Brian’s and Jane’s relationship likes OP’s job. Basically, “not my circus, not my monkeys” situation. As long as something doesn’t affect my work and it’s not illegal, I stay out of it. Yes, the person who found the voicemail did share for the thrill of having some good gossip, but that does not mean they need to go running to HR and report it. Reporting to HR looks like you’re just trying to get someone in trouble when it’s not negatively affecting your work.

            I do agree with your suggestion for OP approaching HR themselves. Especially the part about asking for guidance in case of retaliation, since OP mentioned that here in the comments. I’m going to file that advice away for myself. I’ll admit, I’ve shied away from reporting incidences in the past because I was concerned the colleague I would be making the complaint would learn or be able to easily figure out it was me and I’d deal with backlash. So simple, and seems like common sense, I just never thought about it before, so thank you!

        6. Annie*

          Lucy, have you looped in Jane’s manager? It seems like if Jane is not doing what she’s supposed to be doing, then Jane’s manager should be involved, and she would want to know about the relationship as well.

        7. Michelle Smith*

          I think it’s important for you to think through all of the possible outcomes. If you do nothing, is your work life sustainable? Are you going to be happy continuing with the status quo for the foreseeable future? If they break up, will your work life implode?

          Consider the opposite: what might happen in the worst case scenario if you do report to HR what’s going on and Brian ends up retaliating?

          And of course, leaving is not your first choice, but would that be better than the worst case scenarios above? If you are pushed out before you’d like, will you be able to sustain yourself financially?

          If the worst case scenario from reporting is that Brian makes your life harder in the short term, but you can afford to quit without something else lined up, that’s a different situation than if you’re going to be out on the street if HR doesn’t support you and Brian retaliates. Same thing in the other direction – if the worst case scenario from you not reporting is that you start to hate your job, it negatively impacts your performance and/or mental health, or it otherwise impedes your professional or personal life, is it then worth it to you to risk the retaliation? I think only you know your situation and the players well enough to answer these questions.

    2. tinaturner*

      I would word it that “I’ve been told they’re involved” rather than stating it outright. Be clear.
      And does the voicemail still exist? That’s evidence.

      Can the 3 of you stick together on this somehow?

      1. Bast*

        Depending on the manager, “I’ve been told they’re involved” with no other context might get you branded as a gossip. You really have to know the manager well to suss out how you believe they might react to phrasing like this — some managers will appreciate the heads up and start their own investigation, others will brand you as someone who likes to stir the pot/get involved in drama.

    3. tinaturner*

      If you tell HR [or management] he’s showing favoritism AND it could be related to the “rumors” circulating of an affair AND cite the voicemail, you don’t have to “prove” an affair. You’re just bringing them this situation. They know what this could mean, legally.
      Say it’s all very “distracting” on top of hurting your work.
      If the co. DOESN’T hear the vcml. it could be worse than if they did, but keep it to “I’ve been TOLD this.”

    4. Kevin Sours*

      If you have the means, I’d recommend consulting with an employment attorney (even if you don’t think you do, it might be worth seeing what a consultation costs). They can give you some ideas of your rights, the avenues most likely to get results, and the language to use most likely to get attention. And you’re employer doesn’t need to aware you are talking to a lawyer unless you want them to be.

  3. Frodo*

    Regarding LW 1, at the very least Jane should be looping in her own boss if she’s having a conflict with LW. Why isn’t she letting her boss know if there’s a real problem?

    1. Mighty K*

      Brian is LWs boss, and LW said “When I “innocently” raised with him that I had noticed a pattern of Jane escalating issues directly to him, he got defensive and stated that it was appropriate that she could, as there is a “dotted line” between them” so it looks as if she’s tried to.

      1. KateM*

        Frodo commented on Jane’s boss, not OP’s. Jane has problems with LW1, why has she not looped in her boss saying that LW does whatever they do?

        1. Red Flags Everywhere*

          Why would she bother since she can go straight to LW’s boss and get the results she prefers?

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              Because her boss won’t give her what she wants and Brian will. This is about getting her way. Not whether OP can question it or not.

            1. Tio*

              I suppose, but if Lucy’s boss is unaware, they may have some feelings about going to someone else’s boss and may help put a stop to that behavior. I would not want my report going to one of my colleagues to try and control their report without at least my buy-in and knowledge. And if they do know – you know you have a bigger problem than just Jane and Brian.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            LW1 needs to cover all her bases and speaking to Jane’s boss is one of them. Focus on Jane’s work behaviour and make no mention of her extra curricular actitivies. It’s important to stay professional and focussed on the work.

            1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

              Yes, I think that would be best. That way she can make it about what it really is, a work conflict between her and Jane. And if Jane’s boss happens to figure out what is going on then it’s just an added bonus.

              “Jane has been elevating issues directly to Bob when she has an issue with me; I would prefer that we handle these items on our level, and if we are unable to, that you as Jane’s boss engage Bob instead of her engaging him.”

              Also, OP are there other areas within the organization that you can perhaps transfer to?

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      OP could try going to Jane’s boss. They have a “dotted line” since they have a shared area of interest… (Jane’s relationship with Brian and its impact on her behaviour).

      1. LucyGoose*

        Yeah, this is interesting. I think I’ll consider this course if my direct approach to Jane is unsuccessful.

        1. Random Dice*

          I really was surprised Alison suggested this. Jane is inherently unreasonable, as is your boss. I’d go straight to HR.

        2. I Dunno*

          Is there no chance of going to Brian’s boss & saying that Brian is taking a lot of input from Jane & as Brian’s direct employee, you’d appreciate Jane coming to you OR Brian not rubber-stamping Jane’s suggestions?
          That you realize that “since they’re so close” that may be why he’s giving her so much validation but it’s keeping you, Brian and your department from doing the best work.
          The person who told everyone about the vm is going to wish they didn’t if HR comes calling. They won’t appreciate being reported and may feel embarrassed.

    1. Pamela Adams*

      I like having two buckets, but am currently using vacation to cover sick time, as I had to use all of it with a continuing health issue.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        This is my life. Any year I actually take a “vacation” (the other year I used it to move, so not much of a vacay there), I end up dragging myself to work sick as a dog in November and December because otherwise I could be fired for not having PTO left.

    2. nodramalama*

      Agree. I much prefer having 2 buckets. Also, my workplace is very generous and it is fortunate that our personal leave accrues much faster than our recreational leave

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Is personal leave analogous to sick days and recreational leave analogous to vacation days?

        1. nodramalama*

          Yeah, except personal leave extends beyond just sick leave. it basically covers all kinds of leave thats not recreation leave- carers leave, volunteer leave etc

      2. Clisby*

        How is personal leave different from recreational leave?

        I’ve only worked in places that had:

        1) sick leave
        2) vacation/personal leave.
        3) paid holidays (although you might be required to work on them and get a different day off.)

        1. nodramalama*

          Personal leave includes a whole bunch of kinds of leave that are not vacation leave. Sick leave, carers leave, mat leave etc

        2. Bast*

          I have only worked for one company with separate banks, including sick, vacation, and personal. The difference was that personal was intended to be used for last minute things not covered by the other two, and the time given was minimal compared to the other banks. (You got 3 personal days a year). Sick was for sick, so typically last minute call outs (though you could swing some sick time if you had a specific medical event coming up, such as wisdom teeth removal or a minor inpatient procedure) vacation was supposed to be put in ahead of time, and personal was supposed to be for last minute items not typically covered by either of the above ie: I have a flat tire, I have a foot of snow outside and can’t leave my driveway, (this was way before work from home was a common thing). my dog has an emergency vet appointment, etc. If you ran out of personal days and something came up, you could use a vacation or sick day instead rather than taking an unpaid day, but they’d give you grief for it. They had very strict definitions of “This is what a sick day is” “This is what a vacation day is” and got really bothered if you went outside their lines. To be fair, their vacation and sick was more generous than most other companies I’ve worked for, so in a pre-Covid world, it really was not as hard to stick to their formulas.

    3. Annika Hansen*

      Me, too. The last two times that have I been really sick were in December. Several years ago, my employer started talking about changes to its employee policies. In a presentation, they talked about combining sick leave and vacation. There was an audible gasp from the audience. When it was time for questions and comments, not a single person thought it was a good idea. They never enacted it.

      Also most places that have PTO vs separate banks in the US seem to have less time overall. It’s very rare to have more than 6 weeks PTO. I have more than that with combined sick leave and vacation.

    4. Phryne*

      I’m glad I just have vacation time and we have laws in place that recognise that people get sick every now and then, that people can’t help this, that you do.not.want sick people to come to work and infect everyone else and that short term absences of employees due to this are the employers problem/risk/cost of being an employer.
      Limited sick time is just a really weird concept.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It’s a method of control. The powers that be think that we’ll all just call out sick all the time if we have unlimited leave because “no one wants to work anymore.” It’s so frustrating.

      2. I Have RBF*

        My company has unlimited sick time and unlimited vacation for salaried employees. My manager models taking adequate vacation. Plus, most of the IT group is remote, so we don’t have the sick -> in office -> infects others dynamic going on.

    5. Cat Tree*

      My company has unlimited sick time, which is really how it should be. I have many health issues and some healthier people might be mad that I’m getting more time off than they are, but that’s the lottery of biology and my sick days are absolutely not vacation days.

      1. Phryne*

        I am virtually never sick, and I have co-workers like you and I can assure you, I am not mad, or irritated or jealous of their time out of the office. At all. Being sick s***s and you have all of my sympathy.

        1. Alex*

          Agreed! At my former job we had unlimited sick time and that just seems humane and reasonable. If your manager thought you were abusing sick time, that is a management issue. No need to punish those of us who are unlucky enough to get ill a lot. I take a sick day maybe once every 3-4 years, but it never occurred to me to be angry about it! I’ll take my health, thanks!

        2. Wonder Woman's Tiara*

          Same. In 11 years at my last role, I *once* took 2 days off sick in a row. One of my favourite former colleagues had an incredibly complex mixture of health conditions including depression and MS, so they were off sick all the time. It would never for one second occur to me to be jealous of them rather than worried about them: I know I won the genetic lottery (at least so far) and am very grateful

        3. Starbuck*

          Same. I never assume they’re coming out ahead because if you are sick that often and seeing doctors, getting medications, etc – that is unfortunately probably very expensive! And not fun!

          1. Starbuck*

            Oh and also I think it helps that where I work they are very generous with both sick leave and vacation leave, so I am able to take off a lot of time anyway. So there’s really nothing to be jealous of.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, my current job gives 3 weeks of vacation time (for new employees), 2-3 personal holidays (depending on the year) and unlimited sick time. I like it way better than having to try to either save a few PTO days “in case I get sick” or feeling like well, I have 5 sick days, is that going to be enough? too much? etc.

    6. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      My last few employers have all had a shared PTO bucket for vacation and sick time. It’s a decent amount, and over 3 weeks. But I am not a fan, as the vast majority of people are afraid to completely plan out vacation days in case they get sick at the end of the year. As it is, most of my team now has to cram in 4+ days off in the next several weeks or we will lose the time.

      1. Smithy*

        The only place I worked that had this was a pediatric hospital – and it was just awful to watch this happen in practice.

        On average, most staff would come in unless they were wildly ill. Staff without kids aimed to save as much of their PTO as possible for “fun” vacation, staff with kids saved as much of their PTO as possible for family vacation or when their kids would inevitably get sick.

        Time did roll over, so there wasn’t the use it or lose it crunch – but the only people it benefitted was scheduling to minimize absences.

        1. Hedgehog O'Brien*

          Yep, this is the problem with combined PTO. I thought it was great when I was in my 20’s, not so much anymore now that I have a 4 and 6 year old who get many, many illnesses during the school year. It really only benefits people who don’t need to use a lot of sick time because they can use it for vacations and fun things, and basically punishes people who need to take a lot of sick time due to chronic health issues or caregiving.

          1. Clisby*

            I’m not sure how having children affects this, unless you work at a place that lets you use your sick leave to look after sick children. I never had a sick leave benefit like that, so I’d have to use vacation leave anyway if they were sick.

    7. Antilles*

      It can be fine but if-and-only-if both of the following things are true:
      -The number of days you get is quite high overall. Far too many companies give a ridiculously stingy offer of PTO, like 10 total days or something.
      -Your company is generally flexible and reasonable. So you don’t have to burn PTO for a half-day doctor’s appointment, you can WFH if you’re slightly under the weather, etc.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It’s a crapshoot either way. With one bucket, there’s a risk of an outcome like OP’s. With two buckets, I was losing unused sick days every year when we had them. (We only got three per year, but my job had a lot of restrictions around what was allowed to count as a sick day.) I am also wondering about OP’s comment that they have to take holidays as PTO – how does that work when you have no PTO left? Can one even work through the holidays or is the office closed on those days?

      1. Anon in Canada*

        That’s exactly how sick days are supposed to work though. It’s a form of insurance. You don’t get sick, you don’t use them; you get sick, you use them. I’m sure most people would prefer not getting sick over getting sick! That’s how it always was until the past 10-15 years when companies in the US started combining sick and vacation days into one bucket.

        The one bucket approach was originally presented as beneficial to employees “because if you don’t get sick, you can still use the time”, but it’s not employee-friendly at all. The only entity that benefits from it is HR, because it’s “easier” to administer; but it’s awful in every other possible way. It also encourages people to come to work sick (and infect coworkers) because using a sick day means losing a vacation day.

        It should be noted that combined PTO is a purely American thing; it’s not legal in any other country that I know of, not even Canada which is the other Western country that tends to be extremely stingy on time off from work. The US is not a model to emulate when it comes to time off!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          So what I meant was, at some point, our sick day policy was changed to say that only unplanned illness counted as a sick day.

          I’m still POd over the two vacation days I had to take for a planned surgery to correct a medical issue, because it was not an unplanned illness! (and I bet I lost sick days that year again)

          1. Anon in Canada*

            Then (based on this and the comment you made below), the proper correction to this would be to change the sick day policy and allow sick days to be used for pre-scheduled medical procedures; not to put sick and vacation into one bucket. The latter has heaps of disadvantages for everyone, and only minor advantages for HR.

            My current job does not allow sick days to be used for medical appointments or pre-scheduled procedures; we get a “flex day” every 2 weeks and are expected to use it for such appointments or procedures. If this isn’t feasible, then we have to use vacation time.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I could certainly make an extra 13 flex days a year work for my appointments and procedures :)

              1. Anon in Canada*

                26, actually. But it’s one per pay period – it cannot be moved outside that specific pay period, so you can never have 2 in a row. (Friday + next Monday is fine.)

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              We ended up going to unlimited and it is such a relief. No one’s abusing it, but no one is losing their sleep trying to figure out how to make a Dr appointment work, either.

      2. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

        You’d have to let go of the mindset that you “lose” sick days if you don’t get sick. Instead, feel lucky that you had a healthy year.

        I suspect people using sick days so they don’t “lose” them is one reason companies implement PTO policies in the first place. (Not the biggest or only reason, but a reason).

        I used to work at a place that had a weird sick leave policy: up to 5 incidents per year, up to 5 days per incident. Apparently a few too many people calculated that as “25 sick days use em or lose em” and so the company started automatically referring you to the short term disability provider and requiring a doctor’s note on day 5 or maybe even day 4 (I forget).

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          But I didn’t though – see above. I worked from home when mildly ill and took vacation time or made up the time for Dr appointments and outpatient procedures. To me it still feels like it was an unnecessarily restrictive policy where, unless you suddenly get sick overnight out of the blue and did not see it coming, it is a vacation. I promise you my eye surgery and the 48 hours I had to spend facedown after it were no vacation.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            And now I am also remembering that I had a herniated disc at some point during that time, was in a world of pain, had to bring in an exercise ball to sit in, ice packs for my back etc, and then when I’d come back from a Dr appointment or physical therapy, I’d have to stay at work till 8-9pm, with back pain, to make up the time. because it was not an unplanned illness! Other than that, a healthy year! smh come on y’all. Why are we twisting ourselves into a pretzel to prove that the policy was fair when it blatantly was not? And I guarantee that a chronic illness wouldn’t have been a qualifying condition under that policy either. After all, it’s not unplanned.

            1. Katara's side braids*

              I agree that sounds awful. It makes zero sense to put planned medical procedures in the same category as time off/vacation. It sounds like the main issue with the policy was the nonsensical “planned/unplanned” distinction, which is not at all intrinsic to the two-bucket approach (speaking from personal experience).

      3. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

        Unfortunately, the office is closed and no option to work on the holidays. So of you have no PTO and it’s Christmas, then you get unpaid Christmas with the day off.

    9. Llama Wrangler*

      Yeah, I moved recently to a company with combined sick and vacation time. It’s relatively generous (four weeks), but still really weirds me out exactly because of situations like this. Because we’re able to carry two weeks over from year to year, I managed to bank two weeks over my first 18 months, and now at least mentally can think of myself as starting the year having two weeks banked sick time, and 3-4 weeks vacation. (And then I guess I’ll start the process over again depending on how much sick time I use next year…)

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      I think this was the issue with yesterday’s question where the manager was trying to get people to take their PTO earlier in the year. People are afraid they’re going to get sick and have no time off left, so they save it all up until the end of the year.

    11. Chirpy*

      I like having two buckets, but when I only get 3 sick days, that doesn’t cover getting something like covid, let alone getting sick more than once a year…

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yeah, no, the two-bucket system is good but you are absolutely spot on that the number of days in the buckets is critical!! Three days a year is not enough for me to even cover my routine doctor’s appointments!

    12. ENFP in Texas*

      I’m really glad that mine is all in one PTO bucket, because I very rarely take sick days. This way I actually have more days that I can use as vacation because they aren’t specifically tagged as sick days.

      1. Katara's side braids*

        Yes, disabled and chronically ill people are well aware of *why* able bodied people prefer combined PTO. Inequitable policies don’t suddenly become okay when you, personally are on the more advantaged end.

      2. a bunny*

        That’s great for you being all healthy and all! But how do you avoid a situation like the one that started this conversation where you’ve planned for a major vacation and an unexpected illness burns through all your days?

        Or do you take all your vacation at the start of the year so the company has no option but to give you additional time off (unpaid?) if you do get sick.

        If your answer is “I never get sick”, that’s true of a lot of people right up until they do.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          I mean, if they had separate buckets, I don’t know how much would be different. OP is completely out all of their PTO now because of the sick time. If they had separate buckets and their vacation time planned, it’s very likely they still would have had to dip into their vacation bucket when they had the flu if they were already out of sick time. Even if the time was approved, it hadn’t actually been used yet so it’s still there.

    13. The Linen Porter*

      Probably causing some envy… I used to work in a country where ”annual leave” (holiday) and ”sick leave” were two totally separate things… for ”sick leave” you did have to provide a sick note from a doctor after 3 days was it, and if you exceeded a certain amount of days the government would step in to pay a part of the salary as benefits… But the beauty of it was that if you were on a holiday, say you took two weeks off using your ”annual leave”, and you caught a cold after the first week – as long as you got a sick note, your ”clock stopped” so you were on ”sick leave” instead of ”annual leave”. In this scenario, if you were out of the office for two weeks, you’d spent only 5 days of ”annual leave”instead of 10, as you were on ”sick leave” the second week…

  4. KateM*

    #5, I think that is the absolutely normal way unless you work as a teacher or other job that has a set plan for each separate working day.
    I had a year when I worked as a teacher on Mondays, and a computer job 30h a week which I had divided as 2h on Mondays and 7h the rest of days. One day a holiday meant 25h a week on that second job, but on teacher’s job it would really depend just on whether it was Monday or not. If holiday was on a Monday, I didn’t have to do my teacher’s job plus had 3 more hours free during some other day; if holiday was on any other day, I had to add an extra hour of work to some non-holiday day.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Perhaps like the letter we had a couple of weeks ago where due to a glitch in the way the HR system was accruing PTO, people were told they had to “pay back” the time that was now considered taken beyond what was owed.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My spouse works what is essentially four tens – so if the holiday falls on Friday (or Saturday) they are asked to shave 8 hours off on Thursday.

      For the folks in their department who have the Monday off – they shave off 8 hours from Tuesday (for a Monday or Sunday holiday).

      Is it perfect – nope, but it’s the closest to fair they have been able to come up with.

      1. Green great dragon*

        What happens if the holiday falls on a working day? Do they get 10 hours off, or do they have to take 2 hours from PTO? I assume they don’t have to work 2 hours!

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          When I had that, I had to take an additional two hours. The additional bank holidays for the queen’s birthday and death last year took half a day’s leave from me (all of the bank holidays together took over two days from my leave bank, which was annoying!), but my manager did handwave it in the end because it wasn’t as though it was feasible for me to work those two hours anyway.

        2. Slartibartfast*

          My system is like this. Depending on your role, you might work 8, 10 or 12 hours/day, and full time could be anywhere from 72 to 80 hours per 2 week pay period. Holidays are paid at 8 hours, and it’s left to the employee’s discretion to take PTO or unpaid time to make up the difference. I’m on 10s, so I usually opt to take 2 unpaid. And if the holiday falls on your day off it “floats” to the nearest scheduled day.

        3. Colette*

          I work 9 days every 2 weeks (i.e. I get every second Friday off). In order to do tha, I work 50 minutes extra every day that I work. If one of those days is a holiday, I have to add another 50 minutes somewhere in my schedule (I usually do 10 minutes/day).

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The employer gave them the option of taking two hours of leave or staying an extra on the remaining days to make up the two hours. Working four tens isn’t the norm – just their unit does it.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I’d rather shave 4 hours off Wednesday and 4 hours off Thursday than work 2 hours and go home… but I don’t want to do 10-4 days at all, so I might not be the best judge.

        1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          I didn’t see anything in the letter indicating that wasn’t an option for the LW. Because, yes and absolutely.

          Unless I WFH and in which case, yes, let me log in for two hours which is just long enough to check my emails, check in with my team, attend a daily meeting and sign off. lol

      3. ferrina*

        it’s the closest to fair they have been able to come up with

        This is really key. I work in an medium sized organization that spans several countries. Navigating around different country’s PTO laws is tricky, and any time an email goes out about a holiday, someone is going to get frustrated. (the teams across the company work closely enough that we need to let each other know when holidays are coming, or else teams will suddenly find their collaborators out of reach). There isn’t a ‘right’ way to do it; we just listen to different teams’ concerns and do the best we can.

    2. It’s Suzy Now*

      I thought she might have been hoping to get paid 8 hours since the Holiday falls on her off day.

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I took it as LW was hoping that they could get an alternate full day off. I wonder if the holiday falls on a Monday that they can just work 30 hours instead of 40 since they do the 4/10s schedule?

    4. SusieQQ*

      Came here to ask exactly this. I would be thrilled with the policy. But maybe I’m misreading the tone of the question.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes I think I’m confused about what it is they wanted instead? This seems like the best possible response to me.

  5. Tech Writer Tucker*

    LW5: when I worked a four-day week (32 hrs, not 4×10), work’s official policy was “well, we give full-time employees ten paid holidays, so you get eight.” My day off was Monday so I picked two Monday holidays that I “didn’t get” (Easter and, um, probably Canucksgiving), and for any others that fell on Monday I took either the Tuesday or the Friday before off (clearing it with my boss & team).

    1. Emmy Noether*

      That sounds like a very fair way of handling it. I also work a four-day week (20 hours total) with fridays off, and if a holiday falls on a friday, I simply don’t get it.

      It’s in line with the general practice in my country, where if a holiday falls on a weekend, it’s not made up for on another day either. Everyone just sort of accepts that there are “employer-friendly” and “employee-friendly” years for the number of holidays. I’d prefer it differently (some years are tough because the holidays are distributed unevenly over the year, so when the one fall holiday falls on a weekend, that leads to a long stretch without any), but there are otherwise good employee protections and vacation time, so it’s a minor inconvenience.

      1. Tau*

        I hear you about the frustrating holiday situation, especially because a bunch of holidays are on the same weekday or 1 off. But, like you say, you get enough paid leave that it doesn’t matter *that* much if the 3rd of October, one of the two Christmas holidays and [insert local state day of your choice] are all on a weekend.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Seriously, it feels like there are barely any full weeks in April and May, and then *nothing* from mid-June to end of December (if October 3rd is on a weekend). Couldn’t they have chosen whch holidays to observe more judiciously? Or do I have to move to Bavaria?

          I know I could make my own holiday by taking a day off, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same. Holidays feel like gifts, while using vacation time is buying a day off. Also it’s better if everyone is off because work doesn’t accumulate in one’s absence.

          1. Industry Behemoth*

            Yes. In the US there is no national holiday between mid-February (Presidents Day) and end of May (Memorial Day). So that’s a long stretch if one doesn’t take a vacation day or something.

          2. amoeba*

            Come to Switzerland – national holiday here is August 1st, great improvement compared to Germany! (Also the day after my birthday, coincidentally, so even better for me personally…)

          3. londonedit*

            We have a long stretch in England between the end of August bank holiday Monday and Christmas Day! Our public holidays are New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the first and last Mondays of May, the last Monday of August, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

            1. Calpurrnia*

              It’s so strange to me that Good Friday and Easter Monday would be state holidays, since they’re really explicitly religious holidays. Obviously that makes me kind of hypocritical about Christmas since that’s officially/originally a religious holiday as well (but to many it’s an amorphously semi-secular holiday on its own, so it doesn’t make me as uncomfortable the same way). But even if you consider Easter as a semi-secular holiday the way Christmas is… Good Friday in particular isn’t celebrated by *any* non-Christians (and for that matter, in my experience it’s not celebrated as an actual holiday even by most people I know who DO identify as Christian).

              Feeling icky about an extremely, specifically religious holiday being designated as an official state holiday – is that just my American-biased-brain talking? Is this a normal thing in other countries?

              FWIW, not at all picking on England here, and I know it’s not *unheard of* to have Good Friday as a state holiday (it is in South Africa, which is the only foreign country I’m familiar with enough to know anything about state holidays, but I’m sure there are others). I had a similar reaction the time I was in Denmark and museums were all closed for Pentecost. Which is such an extremely specifically-religious holiday that I (raised by low-key Christian parents, attended a couple of church services a year) had never even *heard* of it before. In my mind, designating specific religious holidays as state holidays is the sort of thing I might expect in a place like Saudi Arabia, but it’s surprising in generally-secular countries. This is so fascinating.

              1. amoeba*

                Yeah, that’s really common in Europe. We also have Ascension, All Hallows Day, and Corpus Christi as state holidays in Germany and Switzerland (depending on the region though), and in general, the majorly Catholic parts of the country are considered better, holiday-wise, because they have more!

                It’s different than the US, though. In general, society here is much more secular than the US – I think 40-50% of the population are officially not a member of any religion, and honestly, the majority of Christians are just Christians on paper. I know maybe three people who are actually involved in any kind of religious community. The most people do, generally, is to go to Church at Christmas because well, there’s nice music and it’s a nice tradition. Easter is very much about bunnies and Easter eggs for most people here and celebrated quite broadly by basically everybody, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

                At the same time, historically, the continent is quite strongly culturally Christian, with the Christian calendar as the “norm” for centuries. So these holidays were just always… there.

                And now, apart from Christmas and Easter (which, as said above, are also very little about religion for most people nowadays), the holidays are really just treated as days off by people. I mean, I’m pretty sure almost nobody could tell you what the days actually mean and there is zero actual celebration for any of them. They’re just long weekends that people don’t even associate with religion unless you stop and think about the weird names!!

              2. Emmy Noether*

                Yeah, lots of countries in Europe have traditionally Christian days off. In Germany, for example, some states have good friday and easter monday, and also ascension day, whit monday, corpus christi, assumption day, and all saints, as well as two days for christmas.

                If you don’t know what some of these are, you’re not alone. A lot of Germans couldn’t tell you why they have a day off half the time either. They’re holidays by tradition and inertia mostly. Always hard to change this sort of thing.

              3. CE*

                The UK isn’t officially a secular country – we have Church of England Bishops in our upper legislative chamber and a requirement for a daily act of collective worship in state schools, many of which are run by faith, mostly Christian, organisations. And our (unelected) head of state is head of the Church of England. Unofficially, we are a very secular country but no one is going to be removing the Easter public holidays or the late May one which is connected to Whitsun. Most people in the UK won’t be able to tell you what Whitsun celebrates but we’ll keep the day off!

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Similar when I worked part-time, though in my country it’s typically quoted as a fraction of the “full time equivalent”. So if you work three days that’s called 0.6FTE; if you work five short days it might be 0.75FTE.

      Leave benefits are calculated using that fraction. So if the standard is 30 days, you’d get eg 0.6×30=18 days or 0.75×(30×8)=180 hours. Similarly, if the public holiday allowance is 8, you get 0.6×8 or 0.75×(30×8) etc.

      When I went back to work I had a careful look at the calendar and realised public holidays in the UK are disproportionately Mondays. If you routinely work on a Monday as a part-timer, you’d likely not have enough public holiday allowance to cover those days. So I worked Wed-Fri or Tue-Fri instead.

  6. Red Flags Everywhere*

    One of our options is working 4 10-hour days instead of 5 8-hour days. During weeks with a holiday, work days are 8 hours and everyone is off the same day(so). If someone usually takes off Fridays and the holiday is on Monday, they’ll often work choose to work on Monday and use those hours to cover Friday, but the end result has to balance out at 8 hours of holiday leave.

  7. Twinkle*

    #3 I try to ensure that any piece of negative feedback is given to an employee prior to an evaluation. They shouldn’t be hearing bad news for the first time in an eval.
    You might want to slow your roll

    1. ecnaseener*

      To be fair, LW is talking about giving “meets expectations” ratings, not anything negative.

      I do think they should dig into this more though – could be that inflated reviews are normal at their company because that’s the only way to get even minimal COL raises approved or something.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        At an old job, they changed the official ratings scale so across the board, people who had always received exceeds expectations were now receiving meets expectations instead, and they absolutely perceived that as a negative evaluation. If you’re used to being told you’re exceptional, someone telling you you’re adequate is going to feel like an insult.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Personally, something drastic would have to happen to me at work for me to take it as an insult, and being given a Meets Expectations is nowhere near that list. However, aren’t these numbers tied to these employees’ merit increases? E.g. if you’re an Exceeds you get a 5% raise, if you’re a Meets you get a 3.5% etc (all numbers have been pulled out of my rear end just now)? That would make it tricky.

          I’ve had it happen several times at work when a new manager would have new ideas about what constitutes meets, exceeds, etc. (I haven’t seen anyone get an Exceeds in probably a decade.) One comes to mind that straight up announced that no one would be getting higher than a 3 (out of 5) because that was what he believed the average, adequate performance to be worth. 4 to him was outstanding and for a 5, you’d have to pretty much save all of the company’s leadership from a burning building while simultaneously rewriting the company’s software to a more cutting-edge and higher-performing version. BUT he applied that change across the board. Everyone in the department got a 3 where they used to get 4s and an occasional 5. If one group is suddenly downgraded and no one else is, that’s where things get tricky to me. OTOH, if one group’s grades used to be inflated every year when no one else’s were, then this is the right change to make and should be explained as such.

      2. Jackalope*

        Yeah, downgrading your review scores is going to feel like a negative review 100% even if you’re still “doing okay”. For those who are used to American grading systems, it would be as if several students were getting A’s in their classes and then a new teacher picked up partway through the semester and changed everyone’s grades to C’s in the final report to the school, especially if the students didn’t know beforehand or have time to get their grades back up. Saying, “Well, you’re still all passing the class, so I don’t know what your problem is here,” would go over like a lead balloon, especially with students who are used to being A students and felt like their work was legitimately A quality. (And if the employees in the original situation have been getting Exceeds Expectations all along, they may well feel like their work is A quality.)

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I dunno; I can tell when a reviewer gives every decent book 5 stars versus a reviewer who gives books they liked just fine 3 stars, books they really like and want to keep or reread 4 stars and only extremely exceptional ones 5 stars. I know it’s harder when it’s your own grade, but if there’s enough advance discussion it shouldn’t be an issue.

          I really do think the chief concern is the one regarding whether the company as a whole bases any pay grade increase on the number given; it’s one thing to get “Meets expectations” if that means the company as a whole recognizes that this means my boss is genuinely happy with my work, and another thing entirely to get it if it means my income for the next year is going to be less than anticipated.

          1. amoeba*

            Yup. Here, it would certainly go down really badly because this is how it works with raises here. (Also, a “good” – which corresponds to “meets expectations” is just one step above going on a PIP, so… not that great, objectively? I’d say “mediocre” would probably be the best description… there’s not that much nuance on that end of the scale!)

          2. Jackalope*

            The thing is that a) in the situation you described, you aren’t the person being reviewed, you are an outside third party. Your example would be more like the Dean of a department looking at all of the staff reviews; of course the Dean is going to have a more objective view on this than the person who’s being rated. And b) a starred review on a website is usually going to be based on one specific incident – a singular visit to a restaurant or hotel, for example. Even if it’s over a longer period of time it’s most likely going to be a few occasions here and there. A grade or annual personnel review, on the other hand, is based on an extended period of sustained effort. You can’t just count on having 20 other customers to balance out a poor review, because you have just your one professor/teacher/boss who is taking action. It sounded from this letter that employees weren’t even going to have a chance to correct whatever they’re doing that is causing their ratings to go down. That’s severely demoralizing, especially, but not only, if the rating secures your bonus or raise for the year.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I get what you’re saying as emotional reasons it feels that way for a lot of people. Intellectually, though, there’s a big difference between school grading and performance review ratings. Schoolwise to get an A you need to not get more than 10% wrong. Basically, you start with 100% potential and get deducted from there. Performance reviews the starting point is “meets expectations” and you can either deduct OR add from there. So “exceeds” is not an A and should never have been treated like an A. It’s more like getting an A and then doing extra credit work too. Or…getting an A in an AP class so it counts as 5.0 instead of 4.0 GPA-wise.

      3. Quinalla*

        Agreed, make sure you understand WHY old boss was “inflating” the ratings. Sometimes there is a game to be played with the ratings and you need to make sure you are aligned with how others are playing the game at your company. This does NOT mean you can’t give feedback and have high expectations, but it sounds like you may not understand that ratings can become very much something that is gamified to get your teams the best outcome (raises, etc.) Maybe it isn’t and your boss just wanted to give everyone the best ratings, but do more digging before you just change course!

        And as others have said, you may want to change course next review cycle and explicitly say these are the ratings from old boss since you just took over. Again, what is typical at your org?

        1. Dek*

          “Agreed, make sure you understand WHY old boss was “inflating” the ratings.”

          That’s a really good point. Makes me think of those customer satisfaction surveys that wind up punishing employees for anything less than full marks in every area.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Good point. I also think the LW should schedule a meeting with somebody in HR before implementing this. The LW really, really needs to know the organizational context.

          LW — if you’re reading this, please slow down and get some advice before you proceed. You said you took over the position after the mid-year review. It might make more sense to use your old boss’s metrics (if you have access to them) and roll out your new expectations after the annual review.

      4. becca*

        ^ Came here to say this. I bet raises are tied to performance review scores. There’s a difference between, “Well, Jane could be doing better at her job,” and “Jane is doing poorly enough that I want to interfere with her ability to receive a raise” for a lot of managers, especially if you’re working somewhere that you know is paying below market already. (Which, I don’t know if LW works in one of those places. But maybe.)

        I wonder how many years of past performance reviews LW has access to? Because cutting people a break on performance reviews for the last 2-3 years is also a different question than if they’ve been getting them like this for a decade. I feel like we all exceeded expectations in 2021 if we managed to keep our jobs going for the whole year.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        If their bonuses are tied to their reviews and their previous boss always gave them “exceeds expectations” and then a new boss comes in an lowers it that will *definitely* be perceived as negative.

        I’m curious as to how recent “recently” is exactly. If OP is going to be doing these reviews with basically two months of experience as their boss I think that would be pretty unfair. If that’s the case I honestly would roll with exceeds for this year then lay out clear expectations next year and reevaluate. If it’s been more like 6 months then it would be more understandable but I think you need to warn them somehow.

        I also wonder whether there is a grand-boss that might get involved? When I had a manager leave shortly before review period, my review was done by both my new manager and her boss since my new manager wasn’t around for much of my work done that year.

    2. WellRed*

      I had to go back and read how long they’d been in the new role and it says “recently.” So yeah, this isn’t the review to redo expectations.

    3. Random Dice*

      I wonder why #3 is trying to get all of her new-to-her employees to quit, over… what exactly? Some fealty to an imaginary value in the sky?

      The reason to tighten up performance reviews is because the company said either:

      1) You could only have X number of exceeds expectations, or

      2) If there is a limited pool of money associated with it for bonuses or raises.

      It doesn’t make any sense to give lower performance reviews just because. That’s going to insult decent employees so they quit, and then all that hiring and training hassle will be on LW, and they’re likely to end up with people performing the same but in a team with low morale.

      1. doreen*

        LW 3 isn’t talking about changing reviews “just because” . They’re talking about changing them because in the past, people who met expectations were being rated as “exceeds expectations”. Don’t get me wrong, they will probably be upset and the LW should absolutely look at their expectations and make sure they are not unrealistic and should probably change this over a longer period of time. Inflated performance reviews can cause problems too – I’ve known plenty of people who got inflated evaluations and then were upset when they didn’t get the promotion or the award or whatever that went to the person/people who actually exceeded expectations,

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          But how does OP know they only met exceptions? She says because she knows Boss thought they were only meeting. But how does she know? Because Boss told her? Is he otherwise reliable. Was he just the type to complain about his employees behind their back but not really have a problem with their work?

          I think OP needs to be really sure they were inflated — the context Alison mentioned — before trying to correct them.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Cuz it’s been six months since she became in charge and she still doesn’t think they exceed expectations? It read to me like she never thought they exceeded expectations and she knows he didn’t either because he said so to her. But then she saw the past reviews and was like “why’d he mark that?”

        2. Jan Levinson Gould*

          I had a direct report who would throw a fit if they were given anything other than an ‘exceeds’. They usually got ‘exceeds’ because they worked hard and had impressive technical skills beyond what is required for the role, although those skills came in handy. However, their soft skills were atrocious and they grew frustrated that they were not getting promoted despite positive performance reviews every period. The reason was communicated to them every time, but they lacked self-awareness and could be hard-headed while also thin-skinned so they would just disagree with the feedback. Eventually the situation came to a head and they quit in frustration without another job lined up. They were in a comfortable financial situation and quit their previous job that was with a client since they did not get their way with something else at that company.

          So in this case, giving them the ‘A’ backfired since it didn’t result in a promotion.

      2. The frogs are okay*

        I don’t think it’s fair to say #3 is trying to get employees to quit. They straight up ask if they are missing the benefit to inflated reviews.

  8. Bulu Babi*

    LW3: please please please check the company-wide culture of performance reviews and their consequences before deflating your team’s reviews! In many large corporations “exceeds expectations” is the baseline, and employees with review scores below that (“satisfactorily meets expectations”) are at risk in the next wave of layoffs. Talk to the retired manager about their reasoning behind the reviews before you change the approach.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I commented it on a thread above that mine were always tied to raises – which factors into your next year’s raise, next year’s pay, 401K match, bonus, all of it. Lower it and you have effectively given the person a pay cut.

    1. WS*

      Yes, I think everything the LW says here is perfectly reasonable – but not if their team is suddenly “underperforming” due to everyone else sticking with grade inflation! There might be a reason why your predecessor was doing things that way.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Indeed, the reason might be “I can’t negotiate higher salaries for my team, but I can make sure they get a full bonus.”

        1. Smithy*

          My mind immediately went here.

          A lot of workplaces have raises tied to labels like “exceeds expectations” – and so the former boss may have decided it was better for his team’s overall budget and morale to get everyone the highest increased pay possible. Regardless of whether or not they were actually doing well. I’m thinking particularly about places that don’t have combined COL/merit raises or just lower than average pay increase options all together.

          In overall functional places where I’ve worked that had that practice, the “exceeds expectations” label would still be given but in the meeting would get a more critical in person discussion about X or Y. Furthermore, actual impact would be felt in the lack there of access to promotions.

          I get that in a perfect world “meets expectations” would be a marker lots of people would hit. And that wouldn’t deny them healthy pay increases relative to COL at the very least. But that just isn’t the way it is in sooooo many employers, so the decision to “exceeds expectations” almost everyone, except for the super strugglers with unprofessional behavioral issues can be a more thoughtful that the previous boss was making.

          1. cardigarden*

            Places that do a combined COL/merit: yeah we only do merit and it’s a 3% pool. It’s done a horrible number on the salaries of people who “meet expectations” and it keeps up with inflation worse than places that do a, for example, 1% COLA plus merit.

            1. I Have RBF*

              I’ve worked for dozens of companies that only give “merit” raises, and often a “meets expectations” raise won’t even keep up with local inflation in a HCOL area.

              If companies gave COLA raises and then small merit increases, I could see the standard being “meets expectations” unless they saved the company’s bacon. But when there is no COLA, “meets expectation” only gets the minimum “merit” raise that doesn’t catch up to inflation and is only one step above a PIP, then “exceeds expectations” should be the average for the group.

        2. Coin Purse*

          Absolutely. My last boss told me I had hit the ceiling for my role so “exceeds expectations” was her only way of getting me the most money…in my case in bonus form.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I think it also could reflect poorly on LW if the team suddenly starts getting poor (or less positive) reviews right after LW took over…

        1. Slow Down*

          My reaction too especially if the employees are having their finances impacted.
          Since the manager has only been in the elevated position a short time, gelling with a new authority figure should be considered before demoting review ratings.
          Definitely ask the old boss or another manager if old boss is not available.

    2. Allie*

      This was my immediate thought as well. You have to understand the full context and reasons behind his decision.

      I once rated someone who was upset he was rated “Fully Successful” and not “Exceeds Expectations” and realized that in his previous job it was actually considered bad to be rated at that level. Whereas for the very specific training program I was rating on, it was basically a binary of “did you finish the program” with “Fully Successful” meaning “yes”. Once he had that context, it went better.

      I think OP3 needs to be really careful and talk to their boss before embarking on this plan. How do other branches rate, what consequences would this have for the employees. And then if you do it, set the explanation clearly BEFORE you deliver their rating.

    3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      This is what I was thinking. From the letter, I get the impression that LW3 is part of a bigger company, in which case your evaluations need to be more or less in step with how other departments are doing them.

      & if you feel strongly about taking the words literally, and the rest of the company isn’t doing that… then you’d need to ensure that the tradition changes company-wide, not just make your team look bad in comparison to the rest.

      Otherwise it’s not fair on your team.

    4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      Yes, this. At my first job I rated myself “meets expectations” – they expected me to do a great job and I did! – and my manager gently explained the situation to me.

      1. Random Dice*

        I’ve been told many times that I get “meets expectations” because I’m a rockstar and so now they expect that of me.

        It pisses me off every time.

        1. bamcheeks*

          “Meets expectations” and “Exceeds expectations” honestly baffle me as a ratings system, because of exactly this kind of stuff. It means something different to everyone.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            That’s why companies should have really clear guidelines! I hate doing self-evaluations but I do appreciate that my company has a really thorough document that basically says “here are the kinds of things a person who *meets* communication expectations does” and “here are the kinds of things a person who *exceeds* communication expectations does.” It’s really helpful and specific!

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Aww what greater way to raise employee morale than to limit their pay growth because they are a rockstar! hahaha

          Wouldn’t “meet expectations” mean the expectations for this role and not for Random Dice specifically? Otherwise, what happens when their expectations are low? “We expected you to break everything and cause an outage a month and you didn’t, here’s your Exceeds Expectations.”

          1. amoeba*

            Yup, that’s how it works here. You have different job titles for people doing basically the same job – so, think X, senior X, principal X. The expectations are defined in writing for each of those levels and it’s that your measured against.
            (It does mean that there’s an unofficial “rule” that you cannot “exceed expectations” after you just got promoted. Which can be annoying and somehow is up for debate every year.)
            But in general, at least the system kind of makes sense – regularly exceeding expectations probably means you’re ready for a promotion, and then you stay on that new level until you’re back to exceeding the new expectations. And so on.

        3. Loredena*

          Same! Nothing like being told that I’m better than my peers but I’m brilliant so should be by even more, thus why they get better ratings /promoted to crush morale and discourage hard work.

        4. We still use so much paper!*

          +1 – “Our expectations are very high and you meet them.” It’s very demoralizing.

    5. Ashley*

      This reminds me of all the stores always wanting 5 star ratings for every interaction and to call the store if it isn’t 5 stars. Companies have set expectations where if you aren’t rating perfect you are dinged which isn’t reasonable. People have mentioned grade inflation, and it does have similarities to that. Average is no longer acceptable so you need to be at the top or you risk punishment. (First on the chopping block, not eligible for bonus / raises, etc.)
      Read the company culture and maybe have a formal written review exceeds expectations, but verbally express how you know they are doing well meeting expectations but this is how to truly exceed. (Though sometimes we should just let people met expectations and be happy with that.)

      1. Phryne*

        Yeah, apparently if you do not give a store on Etsy 5 stars, it is considered a bad store and they get less exposure or something. Equally books on Amazon. I refuse to participate in such a system, so I just don’t give ratings online anymore.

      2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        People with no statistical training don’t understand kertosis. Many people also rate emotionally – things are either “great!” or “terrible!”. When I’m researching something, I skip the 1 and 5 reviews and read the 2-4, because those people are less likely to be emotionally driven. But it *is* reasonable for the companies to follow how people use their systems.

        I’ve noticed more companies switching to binary yes/no, like/don’t like ratings and I think that’s better for the larger population.

    6. Fellow Canadian*

      Yes this is a great point.
      My partner does grade inflation on official company evaluations because he wants to be able to give the best raises to members of the team. He does provide coaching, but in a format with less corporate oversight (i.e. during regular 1-1 meetings).
      The joys of working for a giant corporation that looks for ways to pay people less and pinch pennies at every corner!

      1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        Yeah, this is how performance review ratings are happening at my company (currently in progress this month):

        1. The employee rates themselves and submits their answer.
        2. The corporation puts everyone on a bell curve in order to distribute merit raises accordingly.
        3. The corporation informs managers of how many of each rating their team is allowed to have.
        4. The manager rates each person based on how badly the manager wants to get them the highest raise. For example, two people on my team got out-of-cycle salary adjustments a couple months ago because they were underpaid vis-a-vis market value, and thus they aren’t eligible for a merit raise now, so they won’t be getting the highest performance rating, regardless of actual performance.

        To make matters worse, the paragraph description for each rating is more a description of “junior/mid-level/senior/lead” than a description of “performing badly/okay/well in the employee’s respective role.” A junior engineer who was doing really well and deserves a good merit raise would have to get a rating saying they are not just performing well in their role, but doing big picture thinking and providing leadership and making a big impact on the organization. Whereas a lead engineer who was actually doing that, but who recently got a raise, would have to be marked as “shows up every day and does a decent job at doing what they’re told,” so we could give raises to people on the team who need them more.

        Our reports will at least be informed by my boss and me that the rating numbers and descriptions are corporate BS and should be ignored, and only the words written in the performance review mean anything. And I am informed that there’s no permanent record that anyone cares about (I asked). But I am miffed.

    7. JustaTech*

      I wish “exceeds expectations” was the standard at my company – we’ve been told by leadership that everyone is a “meets expectations” pretty much regardless of your actual performance (unless you suck, in which case you’re fired).
      What a way to boost morale and incentivize people to work harder! /sarc

      1. Bast*

        I worked for a (clearly very corporate) company where there was a specific number of people they could give each rating to, with the result that nearly everyone got “Meets Expectations” unless they were either one of the senior team members or a favorite. Out of 75-80-ish people, only 3 or 4 would receive a rating of “Exceeds Expectations.” Managers were outright told they had to come together and come up with a certain numbers of names for the “Exceeds Expectations” and not go beyond it, regardless of whether you had 4, 14, or 24 who merited the rating. It really was not helpful at all, because when you asked what you could do to improve, there usually wasn’t a whole lot sometimes except a shrug and “You’re doing just fine, but others have been here longer.” This was tied into the % you received for your raise, so it really sucked knowing that no matter how well you did your job, you’d be getting a “Meets Expectations.” If no matter what I do I am going to be rated average, may as well act average.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Every company I worked for “meets expectations” = “you did everything you were supposed to in your role, and did it well”. “Exceeds expectations” = “you did everything you were supposed to in your role, and more and operated at a higher level than said role”.
        In other words…the descriptions have actual meaning? They expect you to do a good job at your job. When you do, that meets expectations. To get exceeds, you have to be surprisingly good.
        I translate the ratings in my head to mean:
        1. You’re about to be fired if you don’t do a 180 soon
        2. You’re not in danger of being fired yet, but you’re not doing all we expected, or you’re doing it all, but not well enough
        3. Good job! You did everything you were supposed to and it was all good!
        4. Wow! You really kick ass. We should probably promote you soon because you’re operating at a higher level.

  9. Been there, done that*

    For #3, the LW needs to be sure that inflated performance reviews isn’t a corporate game in that company – like the only way to get any raises at all for the people she manages.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I don’t really understand this one, because if OP was promoted to the former boss’s role, was she part of the team before? In which case she would know that she’s been receiving “exceeds expectations” for political reasons as well (or is it that OPs ‘exceeds’ is deserved, hence the promotion, but the others” aren’t…?) Even if she’s been promoted from another team she would know that exceeds is given out across the company like this.

      I think it’s more likely that the outgoing boss was a people pleaser or had unrealistically low expectations, and that there aren’t any controls in the company to compare results across teams. I am not saying there should be a bell curve or stack ranking etc but generally, across all departments you would expect a broadly similar distribution of meets, exceeds etc.

      1. Allonge*

        Eh, maybe yes, maybe no. I know I was surprised in my previous workplace how flat-out vicious the cross-departmental ‘who gets promoted’ discussions were when I had to do them one year – and I had been there for ages at that point and I really do pay attention to these things. I think the managers participating were collectively ashamed a bit on how these meetings were and did not talk about it much outside of that circle. So the real impact may or may not be visible for non-managers or even lower level managers.

        Which does not mean you are wrong about how things should be in your last sentence!

        1. Katie*

          Right. My company’s is vicious too where people are happy to rip apart positive reviews. So much so that my department has pre meetings (yes multiple) to be prepared for the viciousness.

      2. Grith*

        It’s entirely possible the former boss didn’t need to share that reasoning with their staff. FB rates everyone EE, everyone gets their full bonus/raise, no one asks any questions. Is that correlation or causation?

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          But OP would know whether her performance was truly “exceeds expectations” relative to what she thinks should be expected for the role.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            It might have been given her promotion. But that doesn’t reliably tell us much about the rest of the team.

      3. Smithy*

        If the OP wasn’t managing or was just managing a few people prior to taking over the whole team, I can see how they might have gotten a more narrow view of how those rankings applied.

        First, it sounds like the OP didn’t give others reviews – so this was a shock. And then if they were an excellent performer, then they’d expect to get exceeds expectations. Even if the OP did give one or two junior staff evaluations, again I see the dynamics playing out on a smaller scale different than a larger team where issues around team budget and recruiting burden can be different.

        I get how someone who’s performance is 50% average, 50% good getting an “exceeds expectations” can irritate a consistently high performer – but if that ranking means the employee gets a 4% or 5% annual raise vs a 2% or 3% one….that may be a choice far more about retention. Instead, that staff member may not have gotten the best assignments and may have experienced greater coaching/hands on management. But the former boss opted correct their behavior with those choices as opposed to by reducing their annual pay increase.

        1. amoeba*

          I also wonder whether there’s only “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations”. We have “good” which corresponds to “meets expectations”, and then ” very good” and “excellent”. Whereas, if you’re ranked worse than “good”, it’s “partially meets” and gets HR involved and basically puts you on a PIP (although you don’t get fired that easily in my country, so probably less extreme than it sounds). So basically, unless there’s severe problems, you generally get at least a “good” as a baseline.

          Which of course than means that “good” doesn’t actually feel that good for people – “very good” becomes the new “good”, and so on! There’s just more room for nuance there. I see how that would be slightly different if there was no additional differentiation.

          1. Bast*

            The one place that I worked at that used these terms had three rankings — “Exceeds Expectations” which corporate dictated could only be given to a handful of people, regardless of how many actually merited the rating, “Meets Expectations” — basically everyone else, and “Does Not Meet Expectations” which likely meant you weren’t long for the company. Very, very few people received that rating either unless someone up top didn’t like you or you did something particularly egregious, in which case, they usually would not wait for a review and you’d just get sacked. As a result, plenty of slackers landed themselves in the “Meets” category just as many rockstars did — it was an awful system with no wiggle room.

            “Good” absolutely did not feel good when you are put in the same category as the company slacker. It loses its meaning a bit.

      4. Antilles*

        I am not saying there should be a bell curve or stack ranking etc but generally, across all departments you would expect a broadly similar distribution of meets, exceeds etc.
        You might expect that, but there are a lot of companies that don’t actually follow that.
        Are you familiar with how companies handle customer service surveys, right? The listed terminology might be 1 is poor, 3 is average, 5 is excellent so you’d expect that 3/5 would be perfectly acceptable grade. But in reality, they believe that “all interactions should be excellent” so they view any grade below a 5 as an abject failure.
        The same phenomenon happens at some companies with performance reviews. And no, that’s not the kind of thing that OP would necessarily know if she’s never had to play that managerial politics game before.

        1. amoeba*

          Or you do have an actual bell curve and that’s also horrible – because it can mean a certain number of people have to be *below* “meets expectations, with all the consequences this has. It’s quite common here and generally… not a good system. Luckily, in my department, it’s not really followed, I’d hate that.

          1. Antilles*

            In the 2000’s, Microsoft used a version of this called “stack ranking” where in every single department, you had to rank a set percentage of employees at the top grade and a set percentage at the bottom grade. The top performers get raises and bonuses, the bottom performers are automatically put on a firing track.
            The result was that top performers intentionally avoided working with other talented people and mid-tier performers were actively back-stabbing colleagues just to ensure someone else would be at the bottom of the ranking.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Yes, bell curves are for randomly selected, large groups. If one picked a team well (and not randomly), it will have a very different distribution. Also it’s meaningless for less than 30+ people. Using bell curves for work evaluation punishes good hiring and retention strategies and is bad for morale.

      5. Daisy-dog*

        Exceeds Expectations usually isn’t the highest rating. It’s 4/5. Because OP was promoted, she might have been receiving 5/5 in most categories. That could be “significantly exceeds expectations” or “sets a new performance standard”.

        1. Stipes*

          I’ve worked places where there are only 3 categories, “needs improvement”, “meets expectations”, “exceeds expectations”. Given the way the OP3 is talking about the latter two, it sounds to me like their workplace is that way.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            If that’s the case:
            1. I would definitely think that LW would *not* know what everyone is getting and that for her receiving the highest rating was likely actually earned.
            2. It’s entirely likely that no one who gets at 1 or 2 is eligible for raises.

  10. LucyGoose*

    LW#1 here. Thanks so much for this advice! Yes, I think I need to try with Jane again, asking her to bring issues to me instead of escalating (at all, let alone inappropriately). Even if the attempt is unsuccessful, I will at least be able to demonstrate that I tried to resolve it my level.

    And that’s really interesting re: escalating this myself. I had thought I would need a lot more evidence than hearsay + circumstantial observations. I do wonder if it will all come out soon anyway, as they’re being surprisingly careless.

    I guess I’ll re-evaluate once I see how Jane responds. At the very least, then they will have each heard from me (and my teammate) that their inappropriate behaviour has been noticed, and is raising complaints. This may give them cause to properly “firewall” it. And if they don’t, then I guess I have my answer about escalating.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      If they’re being surprisingly careless there will be plenty of evidence.
      If there’s a “dotted line of command”, he is being very inappropriate sleeping with a “dotted report”.
      I would suggest:-1 bringing it up with Jane first
      2-bringing it up with her boss since there’s a similar dotted line between you and her
      3-bringing it up with HR once you’re sure you’ll be protected from retaliation.
      Good luck!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When I got to the dotted line part I was like “Oh dude. The only thing keeping this on the up and up was if you don’t oversee her work.”

        1. amoeba*

          The question is – is there actually a “dotted line” (in which case the affair itself is really out of line) or does he just pretend to OP that there is in order to push Jane’s agenda? Could be both, but I’m somehow suspecting the latter. Not sure which one would be worse, they’re both bad for sure!

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’d ask my own boss for advice before going to someone else’s boss / dotted line boss or to HR. If your boss is handsoff, at least keep her informed.

      1. Wonder Woman's Tiara*

        Please, I beg, actually read the letter. LW’s boss is the person who is sleeping with Jane!

      2. Observer*

        If your boss is handsoff, at least keep her informed.

        That’s like the corporate harassment reporting policies that require that you keep the harasser in the loop when you report a problem.

        There is a good reason why companies with those policies almost always lose law suits.

    3. Enn Pee*

      If you have a conversation (in person or on the phone) with her, make sure to summarize your request and her response in an email back to her. That way, you have a record if you need to escalate it.

      I do not have an exact circumstance to yours, but a similar one: when I was leaving an organization, I had an exit interview with my boss’s boss’s boss (The Big Boss). One of the things I mentioned to him was that there was a woman who’d been promoted to a much higher level — she was sleeping with her boss’s best friend, also in the upper management. There were two other individuals better qualified to have gotten that promotion who were passed over.
      The Big Boss was relatively new and I figured no one would’ve told him what was common knowledge in the office. If those coworkers had been different, he would’ve been facing a lawsuit.
      Anyway, a few months after I left, I heard from a friend that she’d been demoted back to her previous position.
      What I mean is — don’t assume that not having proof (I didn’t have any, just “everybody knows”) won’t mean that a workplace’s management or HR won’t be interested in problems caused by these types of relationships.

    4. WellRed*

      They are not going to firewall it but even if they did, I don’t think it would solve the problems that come with such a relationship. And you have a teammate? Where are they in all this? I wish you luck in approaching Jane!

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        They definitely will not firewall it. Jane is getting what she wants and Bruce is happy carrying out her commands. They believe just as OP did that there is not enough proof to bust them.

        But again — and this goes for so many workplaces things — you don’t need to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonably reliable information is enough to go to HR. I say reasonably reliable because you don’t want to go forth on rumor and innuendo. But if you trust your teammate who heard the voicemail, that is enough. Voicemail is pretty concrete evidence. HR then investigates and determines if there is enough *under company policy* to act. Notice I said company policy, not the law.

    5. Jackalope*

      Whatever happens, please send us an update once you feel like things are at a point where an update makes sense!

    6. Sara without an H*

      LucyGoose, thanks for checking in. My only suggestion is to document everything and keep your notes off site.

      Talking with Jane first is a very good move. If you wind up going to HR, they’re going to ask if you’ve tried to work things out with her directly. Might as well get it done.

      Good luck, and send us an update.

    7. Change name for today*

      I think using the “dotted line” wording is important when discussing the weird dynamic with Jane and HR because that is so bizarre and suggestive on boss’s part. It really suggests some official oversight which can muddy the waters and chain of command quickly, even if they aren’t in a romantic relationship. It still would be inappropriate if they were just close friends. Because this poorly defined unofficial yet seemly sanctioned hierarchy is the root of the problem, regardless of a romantic relationship.

    8. Shoe pop*

      please send in an update when this hopefully gets resolved! I’m so curious to hear what happens — hope it goes well for you and you can go back to enjoying your job!

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, if you do escalate it should absolutely be fine to just be able to say “this is what I am personally experiencing (Jane influencing Brian’s decisions) and this is what I have heard but cannot personally confirm (they are possible in a romantic relationship.”

      Then it’s on them to look into it and see what they find! It is of course possible they either don’t look into it or that they don’t find anything concrete if they do, and maybe nothing comes of it. But it’s absolutely fair for you to at least put it out there.

  11. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (going on vacation regardless, but used up PTO) – this is in the answer:

    > However, you’d want to be prepared to be told after the fact that the time will be unpaid (which it sounds like you’re fine with) or for the possibility that they might want to subtract it from your PTO for next year

    Is that really the worst case? I think in some circumstances the employer might be able to make the argument that OP had gone ‘awol’ by going on vacation when she didn’t have leave accrued (and not making arrangements with the company in advance, like borrowing it). And then that could result in disciplinary action or such like. Best to check all the policies and handbooks etc for this one.

    1. Glenn*

      I was surprised at this one too.

      In my sector/field if you use up all of your PTO, it would be assumed that the vacation is not approved anymore.

      Company: “You were approved to use 7 PTO days, but you don’t have any days to use.”
      OP: [spiel about earning the time]
      Company: “Yes, you earned it. And then you used it.”

    2. Jay*

      Yeah, pretty much every job I’ve ever worked (that’s quite a few, over they years) was like this. Granted, the overwhelming majority had no time off of any kind whatsoever, but the ones that did, this would be considered Job Abandonment. Hard stop.
      Unless you have real clout at your job, prepare to loose it over this.
      I’m not saying don’t do it.
      Just be honest with yourself.
      Does the trip mean more to you than the job?
      If the answer is “Yes”, go ahead and enjoy yourself! Just be ready to find a new job when you get home. As a young man, this might have been the choice I made, and for good reason! The job in question was worth almost nothing, had no future anyway, and no one would really care about what happened, because it’s the kind of job no one expects you to keep for years to begin with. Right now? It would be a hard “No”, as I would quickly end up homeless and the blowback would keep me from getting a decent job again, possibly ever (I am not a young man and really don’t have another 20 working years to build a whole new career on).

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Worst case is LW is fired because unpaid leave is not a “thing” in the LW’s company and if she doesn’t show up for work when she doesn’t have PTO she’s just a no-show especially if she didn’t communicate with her boss about this beforehand.

      Boss is probably not tracking LW’s leave as closely as LW, but when everything is said and done what’s the discipline for taking PTO you don’t have?

    4. Anon in Canada*

      This situation is exactly why:

      1) Combined PTO is complete garbage
      2) Not allowing unpaid time off (not even in circumstances like this) is complete garbage

      Plane tickets are usually non-cancellable; and accommodations sometimes are too. Telling an employee that “oops, you got sick, therefore you can no longer go on your trip, not even unpaid”, even though the trip was already booked and paid for (non-cancellable), is mean-spirited, cruel, and just bad management. It will destroy the employee’s motivation and incentivize them to start job-hunting right away… and probably encourage other employees to seek to leave too. If the employer just says “well, that’s the policy” then THE POLICY IS THE PROBLEM, be a human instead of a robot.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I don’t disagree that it is garbage, but if that’s the policy as it currently stands… wishful thinking about morale and management strategy isn’t going to change the outcome for OP in relation to this specific instance.

        1. Dorothea Vincy*

          +1 And to me, even if the boss does want to “be a human instead of a robot,” it’s much less likely that they’ll get the chance if the OP just takes off and doesn’t talk to them at all. I’ve dealt with situations like this before, and “Better to ask forgiveness than permission” is a snappy saying, not a deep serious life lesson. I’ve been able to arrange accommodations or employees borrowing against their PTO for next year when I knew about the situation, but not in “I did what I want, what are you going to do, fire me for not being there for a week/month?” scenarios. I mean, yes. That’s exactly what happened.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            This. I’ve always understood “ask for forgiveness, not permission” to be talking about situations where there’s some kind of emergency, and it’s not possible to go through the usual processes for getting approval, or someone who ideally should have been informed of something can’t be informed until after the fact. But if you were to wait for that permission, someone would be hurt, or whatever, so you have to act.

            So when I hear people say it to mean “I didn’t know this was a problem [because I didn’t ask], so you can’t hold it against me!”, that always strikes me as a little weird.

            I think people also think “asking for permission” in this context always has to take the form of grovelling, which it doesn’t necessarily. As our gracious host has often said in her answers to past letters, approaching something as a problem to solve collaboratively with your boss can work well, and I think this is one such case! Just lay it out: “I’ve paid several thousand dollars on flights and hotels that I’d simply be forfeiting if I don’t go. But since I got unexpectedly sick, I no longer have the PTO accrued. How can we resolve this? (whether it be taking time unpaid, borrowing it from next year, or whatever)”

      2. doreen*

        I never understand this reason for combined PTO being bad – it seems to me the issue is the total amount of time rather than the fact that PTO is combined. Let’s say that someone has a total of 15 days paid leave – if they planned two week-long vacations , one in August and one in December and then were sick for two weeks in October, they wouldn’t have any PTO left for the December vacation. And that would still be true if they had ten days of vacation time and five days of sick time- unless they were going to go unpaid for one of the weeks they are sick. ( Even ignoring the fact that changing to separate buckets would most likely decrease the total number of days).

        I don’t think the LW should not mention the vacation at all , and I’m not sure if that’s what Alison is recommending. I can’t imagine that Alison is suggesting that the LW not do whatever is normal prior to taking a vacation, whether that’s telling the manager about coverage arrangements or just saying “see you in a week” . I think what Alison is saying is just not to bring the lack of PTO to the manager’s attention – which might cause problems for the LW but it probably won’t be looked at as a no-show if the LW treated it like any other vacation.

      3. doreen*

        I never understand the issue with combined PTO – if you get a total of 15 days , and you take a week off in August and plan another week in December and then spend two weeks out sick in October, you won’t have any time in December whether it’s 3 weeks PTO or 2 weeks vacation and 1 week sick leave. Unless you can go unpaid for one of the weeks in October – which I don’t think is likely if they won’t allow an unpaid vacation in December.

        I don’t think Alison is suggesting that the LW walk out on the day before the vacation as if they will be back on the next workday , without discussing coverage or reminding the manager about the time off or saying “see you in a week” or whatever the LW normally does before a vacation. I think Alison is just suggesting that the LW not point out that they have no more PTO – which probably won’t be see as “no show”

        1. Anon in Canada*

          You don’t get it – one of the major issues with combined PTO (though not the only issue) is that it makes it impossible to plan properly. You don’t know how many sick days you’ll need in a year; this is impossible to predict. Therefore even if someone gets 20 or even 25 combined PTO days, it’s impossible for them to know in advance how many vacation days they can take. No matter the number of days, people will either “hoard PTO days in case they get sick late in the year” then try to schedule a bunch of them in December (which was discussed yesterday in another post); or are at risk of not having enough PTO remaining for a pre-scheduled vacation because they got sick before the vacation (like LW here). Those are features, not bugs, of combined PTO.

          You also say, “Even ignoring the fact that changing to separate buckets would most likely decrease the total number of days” – it’s actually been shown over and over again that companies that offer combined PTO offer less days than those with separate buckets, because they expect all combined PTO to be used, while with separate buckets, they don’t expect all sick days to be used.

          1. Doreen*

            I did get that decrease in days backwards- but thank you for explaining about the planning . Normally, when I see people complain about combined PTO , they don’t explain the planning part.

          2. Velociraptor Attack*

            I agree with you about combined PTO being a problem for planning and maybe I’m being obtuse, but I just don’t see how this applies for THIS situation. She did plan. She unexpectedly got sick. She ran out of hours. She didn’t mention how much of her PTO has been used for sick v. vacation so I don’t want to make presumptions about that.

            If you have two buckets and you run out of sick time, then get sick again, you’re almost definitely still going to have to tap into that vacation bucket. Most places I’ve worked have been two buckets but I’ve never worked anywhere that allowed you to do unpaid sick time if you still had vacation hours.

      4. Bruce*

        Ugh, I just had to cancel a trip since my wife got sick, everyone was very nice about it except the airlines…

      5. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I would also add, this situation is exactly why leave should be generous enough to allow for life to happen. How stingy must this company’s PTO be if LW 3 had to “save up” to take 7 vacation days?

        I would assume that companies that give one bucket of PTO for both sick time and vacation time, and which apparently give less than ~10 days per year deal with a lot of requests for unpaid time off. And I say this as someone who worked for most of my career outside the corporate world where there was no PTO at all. Instead… people took unpaid vacations, and PTO wasn’t a factor in time off requests. It didn’t mean nobody ever missed work for any reason.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          Many companies which offer PTO or paid vacation don’t allow unpaid time off at all. Once you’re out of PTO/vacation, it’s “you show up to work no matter what”. I find this complete garbage. Life happens!

          I much prefer an approach where there are zero paid vacation days (while still having paid sick days), but no limit to how many unpaid days one can take.

    5. Emmy Noether*

      Seconded – I was really surprised at the answer. In my experience, always better to talk it out before. That way, worst case is LW can choose to quit or lose the money for the trip, instead of worst case being a firing for no-show.

      1. amoeba*

        I think Alison read the letter as “not going is Not An Option” (so quitting would, in fact, be the only solution in that case). If it’s actually that way, I can see that going without asking makes it less of a risk – because most companies would probably have an easier time saying “no, you cannot take this holiday at all” than “you’re fired”.

        If the company is reasonable and will probably accommodate the LW, I’d also talk to them first, though. Would certainly be better for LW’s reputation.

    6. Llama Wrangler*

      Agreed, I certainly would handle it by talking to the boss and saying something like, “As you know, I have this vacation scheduled which I am still planning on, since it’s non-refundable and has been booked for months, but because of my recent illness I’ve used up all of my PTO. Should I plan on taking those days as unpaid leave? Or is there a different way [Company] prefers to handle things like this?”

      Something that starts from the assumption of – my actions are reasonable, and of course the company will work with me – but does not actually assume that without asking.

      1. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

        Thank you! This is what I was really looking for, some way to word it to her and talk to her about it if it comes up. It seems the consensus is to not not talk about it at all and at least bring it up. As I said in my letter, the time off has been pre-approved for months, but the sickness blew all of the time up. So I needed a way to word it to still take it, unpaid or otherwise. My boss is a reasonable person, so I am hoping this wording will help.

      2. Echo*

        Agreed, and specifically I would phrase it as “Should I take it as unpaid leave or should I let my PTO go into the negative?”

      3. Velociraptor Attack*

        I think this is perfect wording. You definitely have to talk to them about this though, just going on vacation and presuming it would be fine would be a huge problem anywhere I’ve worked.

    7. BottleBlonde*

      Agreed, I was surprised at the response too. In my department at least, all of the capacity budgeting is based on (40 hours a week * 52 weeks) minus holidays minus 4 weeks PTO. It would definitely throw things off if people started taking off additional time, regardless of whether it was paid or unpaid.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        This is bad management. Life happens, people get sick, and are at work less than they expected. It happens, and companies shouldn’t be pretending it doesn’t. Telling someone they they need to forfeit their (pre-booked, pre-approved, probably non-refundable) vacation or lose their job because they got sick, in the name of “capacity budgeting”, is cruel and bad management.

        Combined PTO is the culprit here, and it can’t be banished from the face of the US quickly enough. (It doesn’t exist in any other country, not even Canada.) Companies need to understand that people get sick, that the number of days they’ll be off work in an unknown, and deal with it.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Losing an employee will most definitely also throw things off, so if the employee poses an ultimatum of “let me have time off or I quit”, or if firing them for going is on the table, there is no option that would preserve the initial planning. Letting the employee take the vacation is less disruptive than rehiring, so good management should go with that.

        2. BottleBlonde*

          Sure, I didn’t mean to imply that there can’t or shouldn’t be exceptions. I was more commenting on the blasé approach of taking the time off without discussion or approval. That strikes me as out of alignment with the impact of taking additional time off beyond the allotted amount and I think it would go over very poorly in many places. The worst-case outcome may not be taking the time unpaid or having next year’s PTO docked – it could certainly be firing. If OP wants to take that approach, they should realize it’s a possibility.

          For the record, I’m not saying I agree with this method of budgeting time or capacity, and am personally in favor of unlimited sick time for this reason, but this is the reality in many workplaces.

        3. Old and Don’t Care*

          I love combined PTO, and so do many people. Probably a better topic for the weekend thread, though.

          1. tusemmeu*

            Yeah I’m at a point where I’m considering just skipping the posts that will lead to this PTO argument since it inevitably leads to people talking like I’m a bad chronically ill person for not seeing how objectively terrible the thing I prefer is (I have trauma around not being believed and being able to just say “I’m using PTO” instead of worrying about people believing I’m sick is wonderful for me). My ideal would be people being able to choose between a one bucket or two bucket system for themselves.

    8. Antilles*

      I was pretty stunned at that answer. In my experience, most bosses would be *much* more irritated to find out about a problem after the fact rather than hearing about it in advance.

      Did you check our internal website and know this was a problem? And you didn’t tell me because…?

      Also from a practical standpoint, waiting till afterwards makes it harder to address because some potential fixes (e.g., using a “nonbillable” line on your time sheet rather than listing it as PTO) are aren’t really possible to do retroactively.

    9. starsaphire*

      The options being discussed for this letter are confusing me, tbh.

      Don’t most people check in (at least via email) with their boss a day or two before they go on PTO, just to say, “Hey, just a reminder that I’m out next week; Jill is covering for me” or something similar?

      Then it’s up to the boss to say something – or not say anything – but either way, you’re certainly not AWOL.

      I can’t wrap my brain around leaving on PTO without reminding my boss I’ll be out – or being fired for taking preapproved leave. Maybe I’ve just been in office jobs too long?

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        Let’s assume the boss is not tracking the LW’s PTO closely and doesn’t know the she’s run out until after the fact by HR when processing time cards. What happens when the LW’s time card is wrong or is marked with PTO that the LW doesn’t have?

        1. fhqwhgads*

          The boss doesn’t need to be tracking it because the PTO system does? If the system doesn’t allow unpaid leave, there should be an automated thing that says “hey this was approved but it exceeds the balance” or it should automatically change status to unapproved, etc. If this gets as far as “HR notices after the fact doing payroll” this company has a super disorganized (or laissez faire) system, and while that may be the case…I just kinda think you can’t have super strict policies that are this easy to fuck up without anyone noticing until afterward.
          That’s actually what sort of supports the suggestion of the “forgiveness instead of approval” approach some folks were gobsmacked by. If OP can look in the system and it still says the December request is approved, and OP takes that at face value, and it turns out they should have assumed this was a flaw in the system rather than something they can trust… allofasudden OP’s not the unreasonable one.

      2. amoeba*

        Hm, depends on the role. I do actually work like that, yeah. If there’s a project-related reason, sure, I’ll remind my boss I’ll be out, but otherwise I might of course mention it in a chat, but there’s no expectation we’d remind him! We work very independently though, so I’m sure it’s different for good reasons elsewhere. But these workplaces do exist!

      3. JenB*

        I wouldn’t expect a boss to be tracking all their employee’s PTO balances, which is why I think this answer is terrible. This is probably more of an HR/payroll department issue and less of a boss issue. Which is why they should 100% talk to their boss and see what the options are and who they need to be coordinating with.

    10. Not that other person you didn't like*

      Yeah, I disagree with the ‘get forgiveness’ stance (and usually I’m a big fan of that honestly). I would proactively go to my boss and say “I know I used my PTO being ill and so expect my upcoming vacation will be unpaid.” And if they tried to cancel my vacation or tell me I can’t go, my response would be “I’m still going though, so how do you think we need to handle that?”

    11. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, taking it out of next year’s bank is better than taking unpaid vacation now. Money now is always better than money later!

      I am surprised at all the comments talking about it being treated like going “awol” though. I feel like whether or not you show up at work is mostly between you and your boss and how the PTO gets handled is a question for HR. So as long as your boss is not expecting you to be in that week, I don’t see why there would be any kind of problem with not showing up. The potential problem would then come after when you say “oh wow, I didn’t realize my PTO bank was empty, how should I handle this on my time card? can I borrow from next year or will this have to be unpaid” and then let HR sort that out…

  12. Rachel*

    I work 4/10s and my current employer allows me to bank the holiday or take it somewhere else in the week if coverage allows. Holidays are 10 hours for 4/10 people and 8 for 5/8s people. I’m banking Thanksgiving because we need coverage earlier in the week, but if coverage weren’t an aspect of my job, it seems imminently fair for LW just to start her holiday weekend 8 hours earlier….

  13. some_coder*

    #3 For performance review inflation. i want to link the following comment from an older article. The commenter shared a really great analogy how the different performance levels can be defined. I also face the same problem in my company. But in my case, many people write performance reviews. And if i would do it like in that comment, then my reatings would be really off comparing to the ratings of the other managers. So in my case i would need to make this public too so that the other managers can follow the same analogy to get better results. (i think in my case many ratings would be more average and the top rating would be way more rare)

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      TY for linking this comment. I found some good nuggets in it, especially the comment about hiring another unicorn. I was promoted at the beginning of the year, and my replacement Jane is doing fine according to the job description, but they are not me. It’s become apparent over the past 9 months that we actually need a me in the role and not a Jane. So much so that we’ve created a second level position for our next hire that would be closer to what I did. It’s been frustrating but also eye opening. what you shared and this LW’s question will help at review time so much. Agian, TY!

  14. Ugh*

    At the first-ever real creek/job I had, the President and one of the VPs were a thing (even while one was still married) and what a mess that was. Office screaming matches were particularly fun. I don’t know if you feel ok reporting them, but when an office relationship makes wirk harder for others, it’s a huge issue. Plenty of work couples can manage the balance, but some lack the maturity and tact to keep personal and work separate, and so many people pay the price.

  15. 2cents*

    LW3 – former performance management professional here. Trust me on this, performance assessment conversations are not a good time for folks to be surprised, especially if it’s not a particularly good surprise. If employees are surprised by their ratings and the rationale behind them, the manager isn’t doing a good job with ongoing feedback (barring wild exceptions such as people who flat out refuse that they have room for improvement).

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Can confirm. Was absolutely blinded sided by a new manager this year and received the lowest score of my 20+ year career with multiple different managers. From consistently above expectations to barely above meets.

      We has zero conversations about performance before the evaluation. He could give me exactly zero examples of anything he said I needed to improve on or of things I did that he was dinging me on, was full of contradictions, basically said no one gets a 4 (on a scale of 1-5), was exceedingly defensive and actually admitted to being insecure because of how long I’ve been there.

      So yes I’m side-eying any manager who comes in and goes “the last guy did this all wrong and you guys actually aren’t great at all”.

  16. Constance Lloyd*

    LW3: if the former manager’s reviews truly were inflated, perhaps you could use this review to have that clear conversation with your staff? Outline their performance, provide their ratings based on the former manager’s rating scale, and explain both in conversation and in writing that while the quality of their work has not changed, the former manager was inflating reviews in a way not in line with company standards and that moving forward, the performance they’ve demonstrating will be rated as meets expectations and things like X will bump them into exceeds.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m not sure about the advice for #2 and not saying anything about your trip. It doesn’t make sense that if you’re taking seven days off you’re not going to mention anything about it until you return.

    Won’t you need to work out coverage, projects you’re working on and so on? It seems much worse to suddenly be gone for over a week than to have this discussion beforehand. Plus if you’re going to be worried about it on the trip…

    1. DLW*

      I understood it as the vacation days were already approved and therefore LW was not expected to be there those days. The LW just now has no PTO to cover those days because she had to use it for sick days.

    2. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

      Yes everything has been pre-approved for months, and I just blew through the PTO due to the recent illness. Coverage is already worked out as it is a small office and we are cross-trained to cover for each other as needed. But a good point keeps being brought up that I should just talk to my boss and see what happens as far as just going unpaid. And great point about being worried on my trip because I am a worrier and that will consume me on my vacay instead of relaxation

        1. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

          I have been looking at the policy, and it looks like they only allow that for exempt employees, which I am not

      1. Sciencer*

        Imagine going on the trip without clearing it first, then getting an email or call from your boss on day 2 asking why you’re not in the office since they can see you’re out of PTO. That would ruin anyone’s vacation! Definitely talk to your boss first.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I took the advice to mean not “don’t say anything about your trip” but “don’t say anything about not having enough PTO.” Of course their boss should know not to expect them to come in!

  18. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Yesterday there was a letter from a manager who was upset that people hoarded their PTO until the end of the year, didn’t use, and then the office was effectively a ghost town in November and December so people could use their time off. Today we see exactly why. People can’t control when they get sick and people also deserve to have some time off.

    1. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

      Agreed 100%! I had to use some PTO for Covid earlier this year and a few sick days, but was working really hard to build up my PTO for this end-of-year vacation and it got wiped out with one fell swoop of the flu. It is so tough knowing that I work so hard and earn my PTO that I am supposed to be able to enjoy for time off, but am forced to use it up for sickness and never actual vacation. Its weird too that the exempt employees get a bucket for PTO, one for sick time, and one for holiday where non-exempt (me) get one bucket for everything. But I digress

  19. Policy Wonk*

    LW3 – please check your employees’ work requirements to be sure the evals are actually inflated. Where I work the employee work requirements are set to what, using the school grading system, would be a C. Average. Most people who work for me find it pretty easy to exceed expectations, if not rate as outstanding. It is understood that this is how the system works. As others have mentioned, your reviews will likely impact eligibility for awards and bonus pay, so be sure you understand the system and the rationale behind what may only appear to be inflated evals.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Right, is it possible they had emails and documentation that were sent to the previous manager to prove exceeds expectations? But maybe current manager doesn’t have access to them because they were only under the previous manager’s computer log in/password? Some companies do still keep files on individual computers rather than group or cloud drives, even though it is a dated practice.

    1. borealis*

      And their arch! (which is one of my favourite words from Buffy the vampire slayer.)

      Also, yes, that sounds fun!

  20. EA*

    On the performance reviews, I had a boss who did performance reviews totally different than everyone else in the org and it was hard for our team. Other people would get top marks just for fulfilling their job requirements, but our boss would only give us the meets expectations/“3 out of 5” range because he thought 5/5 was only super exceptional work and (his words) if he gave us excellent reviews we wouldn’t ever try to improve beyond that. It was really demotivating because we were the only team to be handled this way. Maybe you could talk to peer managers and see how they are doing it. I also think it’s good to have a candid conversation BEFORE the review process with the people you’ll be reviewing.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I had a manager who did that to her department. The scale was 1-4, I think? And she goes “well I NEVER give 4s!”

      And the director wondered why she had 100% turnover in her direct reports every single year.

    2. JustaTech*

      My husband’s company does *extensive* inter-group leveling at review time specifically to make sure that an “exceeds” is the same in widget A and widget B and widget C, even if it’s not the exact same work.
      It’s very time consuming for the managers (like, at one point it took a *month* to complete), but it does prevent people from getting screwed by a very strict manager.

  21. Nancy*

    LW2: You should really talk to your boss and anyone who needs to cover you so there are no surprises. At every place I’ve worked at, we would go into a negative balance until those vacation days were accrued again. Others handle it differently.

    LW5: Yes, some companies handle it that way. I guess that’s how yours does it.

    1. ariel*

      I’d add – LW2, if you don’t want to talk with your boss because you’re worried about what she might do, can you talk to HR and just ask if you are allowed to go negative? That’s what my workplace does, it’s not a big deal, but it may give you peace of mind. Or maybe you can work with them to arrange unpaid time, and leave your boss out of it? It’s a bummer you think they might not be fair or help you work out a solution that doesn’t result in the loss of your trip!

    2. Tiger Snake*

      Agreed on LW2.

      I don’t really agree with Alison’s response to not mention it. I trust that my staff are going to generally be adults that can manage their own leave balances and come to me if there’s an issue, but that doesn’t mean that unpaid leave can just be taken – it needs explicit discussion and agreement, and in many companies it has a lot more actions the manager needs to take than PTO.

      In my current company, not only would that mean that LW2’s future pay would be docked (because the unpaid time would not have been registered and so she would have been overpaid) – because it didn’t go through all the necessary procedures and processes and because it wasn’t an emergency, it would trigger a fraud investigation.

      The specifics of how unpaid leave gets approved are super important. Taking it as a given that of course you’re still taking your holiday but talking to your boss about the leave arrangements is very different to just… trying to sneak it behind their back and hope they don’t notice.

  22. FernLL*

    Letters like #2 make me really, really hope that we don’t go down the US-style of employment laws here in the UK . The idea that your pre-booked and planned holiday can be taken off of you if you happen to fall ill some point beforehand is – well, I just can’t get my head around it.

    But anyway, regardless of the above, I most definitely wouldn’t recommend going away without saying anything first; surely that would go against many companies’ PTO policies?

    1. WellRed*

      That’s not a law or even a thing here in the US. Frankly, the LW is making a lot of assumptions instead of just talking to her boss. The real issue is LW had so little time off available that she used it all up.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, I can’t imagine feeling like I couldn’t take annual leave in case I needed to use the days for sick time. Then what do you do at the end of the year if it turns out you haven’t needed to use any sick time? You’ve spent months with no time off and then what? You have to cram your holiday into the last month of the year – which as we saw from the letter the other day is a nightmare for everyone?

      I also really wouldn’t recommend just taking the holiday and hoping no one will notice, though. Seems like inviting trouble, to me. Where I work if someone’s used their holiday allowance for the year and then has to suddenly take time off (not for sick time, but say for some sort of other emergency that wouldn’t be covered by sick leave) you can either ‘borrow’ leave from the following year, or you can take unpaid leave. Of course neither are ideal – the whole situation is far from ideal and I’d absolutely hate it – but I think going to your boss and explaining that your recent sick leave has wiped out your PTO, and how should you best handle leave for your upcoming trip, would be a better idea than just going on the trip and hoping for the best.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      “Normal” would be one of two things: the employer saying “of course, go; relax, recharge, and return ready to rock and roll” and temporarily allowing your PTO to overdraw (which, frankly, is not a worst-case scenario. Money now is worth more than the same nominal amount later, unless you’re in deflationary circumstances and almost nowhere is right now) or allowing the PTO to become UTO. If there’s ancillary stuff to secure approval, the supervisor handles that behind the scenes.

      The problem with the US system is that it doesn’t rule out the worst scenarios (e.g. dismissal over it) and, especially from outside the system, it’s easy to fixate on that scenario. But it’s newsworthy because it’s so rare in the real world.

      All of LW’s arrangements are still place, so no sane person would consider it job abandonment. You’re just rolling the die on your leadership’s sanity.

    4. Engineer*

      Yes, we know, European PTO superiority, blah blah, same tune, different day. Tell us something we don’t know.

      1. EA*

        But it’s always so helpful to know that a totally different place has different rules, and that where you live it’s so bad that they can’t even fathom it!

      2. londonedit*

        I don’t think that was the point being made. There’s a real risk here that if we don’t vote out our current government at the next election, we’ll end up with no NHS and vastly reduced workers’ rights. Now that the UK government doesn’t have to follow EU law, there’s a massive risk of rights being eroded here. It’s terrifying.

      3. Donn*

        I have a non-US friend who recently had to make an unexpected trip, and discovered they had less leave on the books than they’d thought. They had to borrow against their 2024 leave to cover it.

  23. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    LW 2 – I would definitely discuss it with your boss instead of the “ask forgiveness later” approach. Places I’ve worked where I accrued PTO gradually would occasionally allow a negative leave balance as long as you had coordinated with your supervisor about it – you could not just assume it was ok. Unless your boss’s hands are completely tied and she has no discretion (or she’s a total jerk), it should be ok.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I’d want to hear from my report about this. I would understand that its all prepaid and try to do what I can. Including advocating for any exceptions necessary. But I would not want the person to just assume they could go unpaid. I wouldn’t just tell them it was cancelled, but I would expect a conversation about how to handle it.

    2. Dek*

      Yeah, I’m kind of shocked by the suggestion of not doing it. I can’t even *fathom* the trouble I’d be in for not running this by my boss first. Even if it’s just reminding them “Hey, I’m gonna be out next week” or…something, I don’t know.

    3. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

      One key word in my suggestion is “occasionally”. Bosses usually have some discretion if it is very infrequent and under unusual circumstances. Also, if you do work something out with the boss, keep it to yourself so she doesn’t suddenly get a flood of requests for borrowing leave. In my experience, there’s always someone who will jump on a perceived perk even if they don’t really need to, eventually causing the loss of boss discretion.

  24. Wintermute*

    #3– oftentimes when you take over a team you’re not starting with a blank slate, you can’t just do things the way you want and expect that the team will be okay with that if it’s a drastic departure from the past or is much worse for them. Not only that, you don’t seem to understand why this inflation was done, and you should never tear down a fence before you understand why it was placed.

    Going to be honest if I was on your team and you did this, I would leave. If my reviews went down hard I would assume they’re laying groundwork to get rid of me without paying unemployment (not that it would work, companies try anyway) and I don’t think some platitudes about doing things differently would dissuade me.

    You do what you’re proposing morale is gone, and your best employees may well decide to leave– ask yourself if it’s worth it.

    On top of that, you don’t seem to know the context for this there are many good and reasonable causes that would make a boss do this, from reacting to unreasonable expectations from above to protecting their team from layoffs to ensuring they get their bonuses and their effective pay doesn’t decrease after a change in compensation structure. You need to know exactly why this was done before you even consider changing it.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      A thousand times yes to this! Nothing worse then a new boss who comes in, changes everything, and has no clue what’s going on. I’ve been in that situation, was constantly criticized for doing things that were policy and SOP but different then how the new boss’s old company did things … despite the fact that they were vastly different types of companies, vastly different sizes, and budgets. Nothing like being called unethical, lazy, and wrong for dong what you’ve always done without a problem for 10 yrs because of new leadership …

    2. WillowSunstar*

      Also is it possible that some of the employees might’ve had medical issues, and those were taken into account for the reviews? The expectations might be different if they were 20 and super healthy.

    3. Nomic*

      If reviews play into the raise structure, then you could be effecting their raises. Lowering their raises with you reviews is going to cause a lot of tension in your department.

    4. Not that other person you didn't like*

      Completely agreed. My approach would be to carry every midyear grade forward unchanged. Then my messaging in the review meeting would be “here what I have from (prev manager)… since I’m new, I’d like to focus more on expectations moving forward…”

      And then like everyone else said, identify if there’s a reason the ranking are the way they are.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I am so confused about why the VM was not 1) tied to Jane’s number, 2) password protected. Sounds like a security nightmare waiting to happen.

      (Then again, in a similar situation at my old place, a couple was found out after one of them left their alphanumeric work pager in the bathroom, other teammates found the pager, and opened it to look at messages so they could figure out who it belonged to. Found a steamy message from the romantic partner. When people are careless, they’re careless.)

  25. Hiring Mgr*

    I hope more orgs go to unlimited time off (no it’s not truly unlimited, just more flexible). It has drawbacks but at least you don’t have to worry about sick time/banking days/etc

    If you have unlimited with a mandatory minimum it can work great

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      No, thank you; I’ll pass. Unlimited PTO means no PTO more often than not.

      1. jane's nemesis*

        Not at all like that where I’m working. Vacation time is tracked and if people aren’t on track to take at least 3 weeks off a year, they’re encouraged by their managers to schedule more.

        1. Katie*

          Eh 3 weeks is not generous and if I got a job offer for a company like that, I would turn it down. A company should instead offer a generous amount of PTO (actually generous) and then separate sick leave. That way it is for real guaranteed and I don’t feel bad for taking 6 weeks of PTO and get paid out for all that I have banked.

          1. jane's nemesis*

            It’s AT LEAST 3 weeks. Many people take a lot more than that, and 3 weeks matches anything I’ve ever had before and exceeds other places.

            The only drawback is the lack of payout when leaving, I agree that sucks about unlimited vacation time.

          2. Hiring Mgr*

            If you’re already getting more than enough PTO and sick days etc then no, it wouldn’t make sense to look at switching

            As we’ve seen here millions of times though, having too much time off is not a problem most folks have to deal with

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I thought so too. Was apprehensive when my workplace went to it starting 1/1 this year. Turned out to be just… PTO? except now we don’t have to lose vacation plans when there’s a family emergency or stay late after a Dr appointment. I really like it.

        It is not paid out when you leave, but our limited PTO wasn’t being paid out either.

      3. I Have RBF*

        If you have unlimited with a mandatory minimum it can work great.

        If you do unlimited, you need a mandatory minimum, like Hiring Mgr suggested. Then it doesn’t suck.

        Where I work has unlimited for salaried professionals. I have taken nine days so far this year, and have a request in to take six more before the end of the year. That makes 15 days, which is better than average for the US. My manager models taking adequate time off, which is key.

        I also have unlimited sick time, which was very good when I came down with Covid in April. I ended up working half days for most of it, but my recovery after the acute phase took a month and a half.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Unlimited PTO is a scam. All it means is that 1. you don’t get paid out for unused accrued leave when you quit or get fired, 2. and you will take less PTO than if you had accrued leave.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        #1 is true but the flexibility for many is worth that tradeoff. #2 simply isn’t the case at a good organization. I’ve been working at jobs w/unlimited since 2005 and I take as much or more as I did when I had jobs with accrued.

        The best way to do it is to have a mandatory minimum time you need to take (3 or 4 weeks typically).

        To me the advantage is more in the day to day not having to worry about how many sick/vacation/etc days you have if something comes up or just if you’re sick.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          But then I’d have to worry about whether I was taking more time off than my peers (and that’s not always super visible to me). There’d be this undertone of “OK, but how much time am I *actually* allowed to take?”, which I’d be afraid of getting wrong.

          Don’t some places do unlimited sick time and a specific amount of vacation? I don’t know how common that is, but it seems like the best of both worlds (at least, as someone who’s only ever experienced one-bucket).

          1. Katara's side braids*

            That would be my ideal world as well. Unfortunately I live in the US, so I’ll probably never see it happen.

    3. ThatGirl*

      It sounds great in theory, but the reality is that often people use less time than they would with a set amount, plus in some states (mine included) companies are required to pay out banked PTO upon someone leaving the company; if it’s “unlimited” then there is no time banked and no payout.

      1. Donn*

        I knew someone who for whatever reason, apparently didn’t confirm the vacation policy before taking a job. When they left, they were very upset to learn the employer – in practice if not officially – had an unlimited PTO policy.

        So they didn’t get an unused vacation payout, which they clearly had been expecting to help pay for an upcoming major life event.

  26. Khatul Madame*

    LW2, please notify your boss that you want to use leave without pay for your vacation. Many organizations require pre-approval for leave without pay, even if manager’s approval for sick or PTO is not required.
    Ask your manager how to best cover your time away – unpaid leave, advance leave, or a combination of the two.

    1. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

      Thank you! This seems to be the consensus here and is the least worrying option to me. I was spiraling in my letter because I have so much non-refundable money into this vacay and also I actually love my job so I don’t want to jeopardize either thing

  27. LCH*

    #2: considering it is a place that forces people to use PTO for holidays, i wouldn’t assume a good conversation beforehand with the boss about going into the negative for the vacation.

    since the vacation has already been approved, and no one has said anything about unapproving it, and OP said they will take the vacation regardless of the outcome of any discussion, i agree to just take it and see how things go. makes the most sense.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Holidays, at least wherever I’ve worked in the US, are separate. No PTO used. (I am, of course, referring to the usual ones, like Labor Day, two days for Thanksgiving, etc.)

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          Two days for Thanksgiving in the US is not “the usual.” The US government federal holidays give Thanksgiving off only, not the day following Thanksgiving. The federal holidays are what I consider “the usual” holidays in the US.

          Given the black Friday insanity (although I think online shopping is reducing it), for retail employees the day after Thanksgiving is most definaity not a holiday.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Holiday in the sense of Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc – not holiday as in vacation. In the US most companies have 8-10 paid holidays where the company is closed and everyone still gets paid.

        1. bamcheeks*

          *lightbulb moment* I had never noticed that this is a UK/US English difference! We don’t use “holidays” like that at all, but suddenly “happy holidays” makes sense!

          1. londonedit*

            I guess it also makes sense because in the US there’s a ‘holiday season’ with Thanksgiving and Christmas in quick succession. We don’t have that. And yeah we also don’t use ‘holiday’ unless it’s ‘bank holiday’ or ‘vacation’. It’s odd to me when I see people from the US talking about how Valentine’s Day is their favourite ‘holiday’ – if you don’t get a day off then it isn’t a holiday to me! We wouldn’t describe days like that as a holiday, they’re just sort of events that happen.

          2. The Person from the Resume*

            Yes. Americans do no go on holiday; they go on vacation. I haven’t ever heard an American use holiday to mean a vacation, but I have encountered Brits and Europeans who do.

            For Americans, a holiday is a day on a calendar usually the federal holidays plus the ones like valentine’s day, mother’s day, father’s day that people don’t get off but often celebrate in some way, days of religious signifigance, and locally celebrated holidays (Mardi Gras, Patriot’s Day) which may mean a day off of work in a locality, but these all are a specific day on the calendar.

            US Federal Holidays
            New Year’s Day January 1
            Martin Luther King’s Birthday 3rd Monday in January
            Washington’s Birthday 3rd Monday in February
            Memorial Day last Monday in May
            Juneteenth National Independence Day June 19
            Independence Day July 4
            Labor Day 1st Monday in September
            Columbus Day 2nd Monday in October
            Veterans’ Day November 11
            Thanksgiving Day 4th Thursday in November
            Christmas Day December 25

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Oh thank dog, I was going wild there. “Do… do people in the UK have to request Christmas off even if their offices are closed anyway? What if they’re out of PTO, is Christmas canceled that year?” Meanwhile the UK folks are “People… don’t use PTO to take vacations in the US?”

            1. bamcheeks*

              We also just use “holiday” interchangeably with annual leave / PTO— it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going away. So “we don’t use PTO for our holidays” was throwing me!

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Yeah, I think sometimes some of the disconnect between US PTO practices versus other parts of the world is that these federal holidays often aren’t included in how much PTO one gets – they’re just automatic days off. I think I’ve seen in the comment sections that sometimes in the UK, bank holidays get included in the total PTO amount. So, often in the US, someone will say they have two weeks of PTO but still also have 8-10 days off based on the federal holidays (so closer to a total of four weeks of time off).

          (Obligatory disclaimer that I know that many companies in the US don’t have these holidays off, that the UK may still have more days off in general, blah blah blah.)

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

            Also, not all companies pay for that day if the office is closed. If they are closed you have to use your Paid time off if you want to be paid.

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

        What they probably mean is that the company is closed and no one works the holidays but they don’t get paid unless they use PTO.

        For example, at my mom’s work they get half a day off on Christmas and New Years, as the store and company close early. But if they want to be paid for the full 8 hours instead of 4 then they either have to work extra throughout the rest of the week or use their vacation time for the last 4 hours.

    1. Nancy*

      Every job before my current one had everything in one PTO bucket, including holidays. All were very generous with flexibility and going into negative if necessary.

    2. LCH*

      every place i’ve worked, if it is a work holiday, we don’t need to use any time from a PTO bucket (vacation, sick, personal, whatever). it is completely separate. making employees use days from the 2 weeks (or whatever) of vacation allocated to each employee is bs. which is how i interpreted OP saying they were forced to use PTO for holidays.

      1. doreen*

        That depends a lot on the job – for 24/7 jobs , “10 legal holidays” often actually means 10 days of some sort of paid time off , possibly in its own bucket. The hospital/police department doesn’t close on Christmas and everyone can’t have the day off, so instead, every gets another paid day off in lieu of the holiday. It’s not terribly uncommon for that policy to apply to everyone who works at a particular employer even if they work in a department that closes on holidays – in which case they will have to use one of those days to cover the holiday.

  28. leeapeea*

    “In reality, whether or not it’s a good idea to do this depends on how your organization’s HR functions and whether you trust them to ensure there’s no blowback on you from Brian — and that’s a question I’d raise with them explicitly before you share anything else.”
    Allison – how would you raise the question about HR protecting you from blowback without intimating what the situation is? I can’t think of a script, but it seems like something that would be useful in a variety of situations.

  29. LucyGoosy*

    LW 2 – some workplaces just can’t accommodate unpaid time off, so you may have to see if you can borrow against future PTO. My previous workplaces have usually been able to offer that as an option, and it only presented an issue if an employee wanted to leave before they’d accrued the PTO they’d borrowed against.

  30. Practice Practice Practice*


    Have you discussed ratings with *your* boss? They might have insight into why the ratings were done the way they were.

    1. Wintermute*


      Never tear down a fence before you understand why it was placed there and what function it serves. There are tons of good reasons a boss might do this– from trying to avoid a change in compensation structure to one with a bonus from turning into a net loss of salary to protecting their team from layoffs to dealing with their own management structure who is always looking for people to fire.

  31. Daisy-dog*

    LW4 – I’m sorry for what you went through. I understand wanting to know if you were considered, but there are so, so, so many factors that go into determining layoffs. You may have been considered simply based on your salary being an amount they could reapply elsewhere. So knowing this isn’t helpful or a statement on you.

    What is your goal for finding out this information? Consider an alternative way to overcome that. Being insecure, feeling burnt out, whatever. There are more options.

  32. I should really pick a name*

    Use this round of reviews to discuss how they’ll be handled in the future. Don’t raise the standard now without warning.

    Imagine you got a worse review for the same performance with no warning.

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

      This is a great suggestion. especially being there probably is not much time for an employee to turn around and meet the new expectations.

      I think the OP could have a future conversation with each individual employee at the time of their review. Just keep it how it was from the previous boss (unless something truly has changed) and then explain how they will change next year. By having individual conversations the employees can ask questions, explain situations that maybe OP was not aware of, etc.

  33. Kay*

    My partner’s work tried to force him to cancel our international trip we had planned for our 5 year anniversary after he got sick with kidney stones and ended up in the ER for several days. In the end he just quit. We would have lost more money canceling that trip than he would have even made working there for that week…

    1. tg33*

      1. That s***s.
      2. Wheather it’s worth just leaving would probably depend on how long it takes to get a new job as well!

      1. Anon in Canada*

        This – in this day and age, the hiring process at virtually all public sector workplaces or large private sector companies is months-long (my last one was 4 months between applying and start date).

  34. B*

    1000% this.

    Please do not unilaterally decide to “deflate” ratings if the company culture is to inflate them. That does nothing except punish your staff relative to everyone else. It also may put a target on their back in the event of a future RIF or restructuring–they will all look like they suddenly had performance declines.

    Consider also that *your* ratings were inflated under your old boss! And that probably helped put you in a position to be the new boss.

  35. spcepickle*

    #2 – Your work place sounds terrible so take this with the grain of salt that your reality.
    As a manager I would need to know ASAP if you were going to go negative on vacation. A) Because leave without pay is approved two steps above me and is way easier to ask for then get a nasty gram because the time keeping system sent out red flags everywhere. B) I am the master of creative time off planning. I would swap your schedule around so more of your days off landed on your vacation, see if you want to quick bank some overtime, check if we could have called any of the flu time off FMLA (or other unpaid protected leave). There are options – but they are way better done ahead of time.
    Unless your boss and company suck – then forget them and enjoy vacation.

    1. LW 2 PTO Uh Oh*

      Thank you so much for this insight! I had not considered that getting unpaid/negative time approved may go above my boss and screw her over in some way. I actually really like my boss and love my job, its just the PTO thing screws me over. I have always used up my PTO being sick in the past years and never had an actual vacation, so I planned this one carefully and intentionally saved up PTO only to have it blown out last minute by the flu. So yes I will speak with my boss and hope for the best, as she is a reasonable person!

        1. Hedgehog O'Brien*

          Yeah I wondered the same thing. I agree that you should definitely talk to your supervisor rather than just taking the vacation and hoping it’s ok – but honestly, I was pretty sad that it seems like you have so little PTO that one flu can wipe out almost everything you’ve saved up for your long awaited vacation :( That sucks.

          1. The Person from the Resume*

            I think sick leave combined with PTO is bad, but the LW was saving 7 days off for December. The flu can very easily knock a person out for a week or more.

      1. Velociraptor Attack*

        Where I’m currently at not being in “pay status” can have some big ramifications for benefits if some things with HR aren’t arranged, so it’s not even your boss but it could screw you over in a way that’s unexpected.

        I’m sorry you’re in this situation!

  36. Berin*

    LW2, I very rarely disagree with Alison, but this answer is lacking. Your company can discipline and even fire you for going on vacation without the available accrued PTO. You can argue that they approved the time off, but they approved it when you had PTO available, and they may state that it’s your responsibility to manage your PTO balance.

    All that to say, it’s DEEPLY bullshit that you have a single bucket of leave, and that one illness has wiped out your balance, and I am really sorry you’re dealing with this. But I do think you need to touch base with your manager or HR or whoever to ensure that everyone is on the same page before you go on your vacation. That may mean that they tell you they won’t give you the leave; if that’s the case, you’d need to decide if you want to leave your job over it. But better it be your choice than you getting back from vacation to find out you’ve been fired.

    Good luck; I hope you have a fantastic time on vacation, and that you give us an update!

  37. MissElizaTudor*

    LW2 – If you’re willing to quit or be fired over this (which is what “basically I will be doing that” seems to mean), then just have the conversation with your boss about it ASAP. If you don’t and you just leave, you’ll be leaving with an even worse reputation than if you end up being fired after just disappearing for a week.

    If you aren’t willing to quit or be fired over this, then you should have the conversation with your boss about it ASAP to figure out of there’s any way to still take the time off and keep your job or if you’ll have to eat the cost of your trip. That would really suck, but it would suck less than risking being fired, if you don’t want to be fired.

    Either way, talk to your boss about it ASAP.

  38. J*


    I think it’s important to consider any pay ramifications. Is the team underpaid and the former manager was inflating performance reviews as a method to get them higher annual raises in an organization with a rigid pay structure? I think it’s worthwhile to look at the team’s pay and see how it compares to any industry benchmarks you have. If indeed anyone is underpaid, ideally you’d take steps to get them up to market pay. Ideally there is a way to handle this outside of inflating performance reviews, but some large organizations have rigid pay structures and only very rarely allow for market adjustments. If this change in philosophy for giving out “exceeds expectations” is going to material impact your employees’ raises and bonuses, I think you need to set expectations for that and be transparent about it, since that’s a great recipe for destroying employee moral and people quitting.

  39. Failing Upwards*

    I know hypotheticals are valuable lessons, but letter 5 had me calendar checking and Xmas is on a Monday this year so what company has the paid holiday on a Friday?

    That seems odd.

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

      Some places do. We talked about it at my work. we get floating holidays for Christmas eve and New Year’s eve. So we will use those on Friday the 22nd and 29th. It’s actually kind of nice because that gives people time to travel if they need to or have that day for last-minute shopping or prepping for the holiday.

  40. This_is_Todays_Name*

    I have never worked anywhere *corporate* (so excluding like retail and food service IME) that didn’t allow an employee to go X hours “in the hole”. Typically 40, but I can approve my employees up to 80 in the hole. Of course if they leave prior to getting out of the hole, that gets paid back, but if it’s someone who’s not planning to go anywhere, I think LW2 should at least ASK.

  41. Mim*

    LW2’s situation really feels like a lapse on the part of their employer. It sucks that the burden is on LW2 to figure out what to do, or what they are allowed to do. Unless this whole single bucket PTO thing is new there, this can’t be the first time something like this has come up. Fingers crossed that the reason nobody has said anything to them is because they are not concerned about the extra time off beyond the approved time for the vacation, not because they’re not paying attention or just assuming that LW2 will skip their vacation but not communicating that to them.

    I know it’s not the same everywhere, but we use ADP, and when my supervisor approves a PTO request those hours are immediately subtracted from the bucket of available PTO at the time the request is approved, not at the time the hours are used. Something like that could avoid this mess — LW2 would have not had the hours available to use when they were sick, and I think that reasonable employers would let them use unpaid time off in that situation. (I guess unreasonable employers would make them cancel their vacation and reallocate that PTO to the days they missed while sick, but at least that would be communicated to the employee, vs. what is happening now if that’s what their employer expects.) If they aren’t using software or something that does this, doesn’t someone in payroll look at this stuff? I guess I just hate the idea that the employees need to be sitting there with a running tally of their remaining PTO, and have to be the ones to inform their employer about a problem, and not the other way around. If the employer cares, they should take on the burden of tracking that stuff.

    Ranty rant rant. I know it doesn’t fix anything for LW2. There are definitely jobs I’ve had in the past where I would feign ignorance about the problem and take my vacation, and know that it would be fine. But I know that is wildly employer dependent.

  42. Inkognyto*

    LW 1 – If your company is giving you days off for any reason for holiday’s take them. Don’t question it they are being kind. If you want a true holiday ask if you can use 2 hrs of Vacation on one day and make it a full day.

    I’ve had 4 – 10’s and if a holiday fell on a Monday (day I had off), I didn’t get it. I also only got to reduce my time by 8 hrs for a holiday and they usually asked I take 2 off each day as to not interrupt the main workflow.

  43. Johannes Bols*

    To the LW who blew through her PTO w/the flu. I speak from knowledge here. Don’t sweat it. Know why? It’s your manager’s responsibility to know these things. You’re not using PTO that’s not yours. You just put down the time as unpaid on your timesheet or whatever method you use. Stop worrying about what your manager might do; they’d fire you in a heartbeat. Enjoy your December vacation!!!

    1. Anon in Canada*

      Many companies don’t allow unpaid time off; there’s just no provision for it in the handbook, or in some cases there’s an explicit policy against it. Or they may allow it for hourly workers but not salaried ones. We don’t know if that’s the case at LW’s company.

    2. H3llifIknow*

      Yes, the manager should “know things” like how much PTO the employee has, and so should the employee, but that doesnt’ help the LW here. He/she needs to know if the company permits LWOP, or if they permit using vacation time in advance and going negative balance, etc… Perhaps the LW could work extra hours in the 3 weeks they have before leaving and “bank” that time. But none of those decisions can be made by “not sweating it” and not talking to their manager about what is the corporate policy and what’s acceptable in this situation. Actually, if he/she looks, it may be something addressed in an employee handbook or something even! But ignoring it and just “going anyway” and letting the chips fall where they may is NOT the right answer IMHO

Comments are closed.