CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at people, professor turned down my request to be a reference, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

Due to the quantity of updates we have, posts on Tuesday will publish at 11 am, 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, 2:30, 3:30 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm (all times Eastern).

1. Our CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at people

I am a CPA at a public accounting firm. There are a bunch of cubicles outside of the CFO’s office where about eight of us sit. The CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at everybody. And when I say rubber band, I mean the giant ones that go over large stacks of paper. He shoots them at people’s heads and faces, he tries to shoot inanimate objects, or even papers that people are holding in their hands. It is so very annoying to be constantly dodging rubber bands whizzing through the air at high speeds. Once I even heard him say, “Hey, Hannah, put your glasses on so I can shoot a rubber band at you.”

However, he is the CFO, so everybody just plays along and pretends like they are super into it to be on his good side. Behind his back, there are massive (Anderson Cooper level) eye rolls. One time he hit someone IN THE EYE! Their eye started gushing fluid and their nose bled, BLED!! Their eye was red and half closed for the next week.

How do you tell your super annoying boss to stop doing something that he should be old enough to know not to do? We currently don’t have an HR director and even when we did, they don’t do much HR.

Your CFO is a child.

A rude child.

It’s outrageous that he didn’t stop after injuring someone’s eye. It’s outrageous that no one in your company thought to tell him that he needs to stop.

On the other hand, it’s also ridiculous that people are playing along with it out of fear of offending him. The people acting like this is good fun are enabling this and making it easier for him to avoid seeing how not okay it is.

Try this: “Can you stop with the rubber bands? I am not willing to risk a serious eye injury like Jane got, or worse. This is going to lead to workers comp claims or worse. Someone has already been injured. It’s distracting and it’s dangerous and I don’t want to be around it.”

If you know he’s too immature for that to work, then go over his head. If you’re small enough not to have HR, you’re probably small enough that you can talk to his boss (presumably the CEO or a second-in-command) directly. Say something similar to them.

But you’ll have more sway if you convince your coworkers to speak up with you. People might be more willing to stop playing along if you couch it in terms of being sick of living in fear of being injured and that you’re asking for their help in getting this under control.


2. My professor turned down my request to be a reference

How do I respond to a rejection email from a potential reference?

I am a graduate student and requested a reference from a professor I know well. I was shocked when she responded, “You can use me as a reference, but I would have to be honest… if they ask me about your timeliness or reliability for example, I cannot say that it is excellent. That would be quite bad for you so I’m not sure if I’m the right person to be your best reference. I hope you understand.”

I disagree with her appraisal that I am not reliable, and am wondering why she feels this way. I was late with an assignment, and to her class in the beginning of the semester, but was consistently early after we spoke about it. How do I respond?

Thank her for her candor and then let it go. Don’t push for her to change her assessment, because you don’t want to use a reference who’s anything other than glowing about you.

For what it’s worth, her response doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Yes, you changed your behavior once she spoke to you about it, but the fact remains that she needed to tell you that your lateness was a problem before you fixed it. In a lot of contexts, that’ll put you in the “not super impressive” category.


3. I don’t want to be the backup driver for an oversized company vehicle

A couple years ago, I agreed to be trained (by a professional) as a backup/substitute driver for an oversized vehicle my business utilizes. At first, I thought it would be a fun change of pace compared to my daily desk job duties, but I’ve grown to dread it and become anxious every time I’m asked to drive. A couple of very minor accidents have occurred while I’ve been at the wheel, and I worry that one day something more serious might happen.

My manager is aware of these incidents and my increased dislike of driving, and her response has been “how can we make this easier?” or “there’s no one else who can do it.” Since we can’t make the vehicle smaller or the streets wider, I feel like it’s hopeless. Just practicing more isn’t going to cut it either, in my opinion. My manager says they will ultimately train more people, but they’ve yet to pursue it and we’ve recently been left with a number of staff vacancies. The other day it occurred to me that even though the business’s insurance would cover an accident, if it was deemed my fault, I could end up with a traffic ticket and a black mark on my DMV record, right? This is just going to make me worry even more! How can I successfully back out of an assignment like this?

“I appreciated the opportunity to give it a try, but after the several accidents, it’s clear to me that I can’t safely drive this vehicle. I’m not comfortable risking my safety and the safety of others, or the black marks on my driving record, so I need to permanently step down from doing it.” If she pushes back, say, “I understand, but it’s become a safety issue. We need to get another backup trained, because I’m not comfortable doing it. I’m sorry about that — I wish I were.”


4. Bathroom breaks right after regular breaks

Is there a diplomatic way to ask an employee to use the washroom on appointed break times as opposed to going during working time (which seems to be a regular schedule of immediately after the break, daily)? I feel like there is a lot of wasted time with the transition of getting back into work. I realize I can not dictate when a person has to use the washroom but this regular schedule which makes her breaks much longer then others is getting a bit out of hand.

In general, you should stay away from managing when or how often people go to the bathroom, unless it’s significantly interfering with the work (and then you’d want to prepare for the possibility that it’s a situation where you might need to consider medical accommodations).

And if we’re just talking about a couple of minutes, in most contexts it would be petty to track this or address it.

But if it’s a situation where someone has a scheduled break for a specific amount of time and is regularly lengthening it by tacking on a bathroom break of significant length at the end of it, it’s not unreasonable to say, “Can you plan ahead so that you’re back at your desk and ready to work when your break ends, meaning that you’ve finished eating, used the bathroom, and taken care of any other non-work items by 2:30 (or whatever)?”

More importantly, though, I’d look at the rest of her work. When this sort of thing bothers managers, it’s often because it’s paired with other work issues — and if so, that’s where you should focus, not on the bathroom issue. But if the rest of her work is great, there’s nothing to address; in that case, you should ignore her bathroom schedule altogether.


{ 277 comments… read them below }

  1. Kristina*

    “I feel like there is a lot of wasted time with the transition of getting back into work” – is this in reference to pre-covid and WFH work? If so, please refrain from referencing to in-office work as “getting back into work”, most of us worked the entire pandemic and still continue to do so

    1. Keyboard Cowboy*

      The original letter is from 2015. I think they’re referring to the transition from break time back into work time.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think it just means getting back into the “context” of whatever you were doing, after taking a break (or going to the bathroom).

      Personally I think context switching between different work tasks (or being interrupted with something) has far more time cost than getting back into it after a break.

      1. KateM*

        But then a bathroom break right after regular break means that employee needs to get into context only once, instead of twice like if they took the bathroom break, say, half an hour later. This actually *saves* time?

        1. GythaOgden*

          The work might be, say, covering a desk. When I was on reception, we weren’t policed terribly strictly, but required coverage at lunch. If one or other of us receptionists was off, we’d have to pull in our supervisor from her own back office and other work to cover. If the bathroom break makes that break significantly longer such that my supervisor can’t get back to her work then she’s going to notice — not because she’s consciously thinking where the heck I am, but because she glances down at her watch or phone and thinks it’s 10 minutes since she left, I wonder where she is. It’s a natural reaction to something unusual.

          As the years went by things got quieter, particularly after the pandemic (and I’m totally with you on that score), and we’d leave the door unattended for the few minutes it took either of us to go. (Sods Law dictated, of course, that would be the one time in the whole day that someone would come to the door, but the world is perverse at times…)

          Not a lot of people here have experience with direct coverage jobs, and it shows in some of the assumptions people make about things like this. But I’d imagine that if the additional time is noticeable and it prevents others from doing their work or taking their breaks, then it’s something that may need to be addressed or a reason obtained.

          For medical conditions like IBS the way you’d need to go is to get an accommodation/adjustment for it. 15-20 min breaks, while unfortunately sometimes necessary, will make people notice an absence even just as a casual ‘X is taking a while, I hope she’s ok’ thing, and a short explanation of a medical need under control will ameliorate the issue.

          But yeah, if your absence has an impact on others, people are going to start noticing without really being conscious of it. That could end up escalating into frustration with someone if it happens a lot and and there’s no good reason forthcoming. This is why I’m on the general side of ‘give people a heads up if there’s a personal problem’ because people are always happier to deal with it if they know why something’s happening.

          1. WS*

            Yes, even if it is a coverage job, it can be entirely manageable – I work with one person who has a medical condition that sometimes flares up, meaning they need to spend more time in the bathroom and often with little notice. They let me and the other coverage person know when this might be the case so we’re ready to jump in. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but much more so for her!

          2. Also-ADHD*

            I wondered if it was a coverage job, but I feel like the language of “getting back into the work” is weird for that. I do think coverage vs not, bathroom breaks are handled differently (though coverage jobs should still have someone to bathroom break them as needed or a way to go when works for them). But the complaint isn’t actually coverage in the letter, to be fair.

          3. K8T*

            When I worked at a hotel desk there was a coworker who after their 30 min break, clocked back in and spent at least an additional 10 minutes in the bathroom while we were working through crowds of increasingly impatient people. Some days it wasn’t a big deal, other days it severely impacted us and bred a lot of resentment.
            I think you’re right that when people approach this coming from white collar/office work – they don’t understand how it actually really does add up.

          4. SpaceySteph*

            I worked a technically skilled and salaried 24/7 coverage job for 7 years. We managed to allow employees reasonable break time to attend to bodily functions. What’s the difference? Its not the coverage. Its that we treat white collar workers like people and blue collar workers like robots.

            1. Rocket Raccoon*

              Well, here’s a for instance.

              At my husband’s job, they have to have 2 people on the equipment for safety reasons. If one guy goes to the bathroom, the other guy has to stop working and stand around until he comes back.

              So they have scheduled breaks where everyone stops working. If you take your break, come back onsite, and then someone wants to go pee – it’s a hassle! Their boss wouldn’t care, but the crew sure would.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              It sounds like the scenario in the letter is something more like employee gets break from 1:30-2:00 every day. Employee goes to the bathroom at 2 instead of returning to desk, every day.
              Here and there or whatever, if someone notices they’re paying too close attention. But that consistent a pattern isn’t weird to notice. I took the situation in the letter to be more like “your break is 1:30-2:00, but you come back at 2:10 every time” or something. They “why” in that scenario wouldn’t even need to be mentioned and it’s an obvious pattern that may or may not be a problem given the nature of the job. If the employee is hourly, for example, is it nickel and diming them? or is it “actually that’s a lot of time adding up”? It seems like the main reason LW feels weird about raising it is if they do know it’s always specifically a bathroom break at what ought to be return time, and they feel like…well I can’t really say something about bathroom breaks. But the reason they’re bothered isn’t the bathroom break. It seems like it’s the possibly not-in-good-faith stretching of the break.

          5. Umami*

            Yes, I was thinking more in terms of an employee offering coverage for a colleague’s break of a certain duration, then needing to stay longer (daily, according to the OP) because the other person is taking a work break, and THEN a bathroom break. I thought it was understood that the work break is so that you can also have a bathroom break? I agree with the knowing ‘why’ part – as a supervisor, if I know my coverage employee needs a longer break, we’ll make the break longer! But just … not coming back on time would be weird and creates problems for other staff.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          My thoughts exactly. It’s actually more efficient that way. Pretty sure even in the US the employer can’t require bathroom use to be on break time.

          1. Umami*

            Generally, breaks are not required under federal law. States (and by extension, employers) have a lot of flexibility in how to implement policies around breaks and meals, and whether they are considered compensable time. Just FYI.

    3. Nancy*

      It’s pretty clear that it is referring to transitioning from break time to work time. It’s also from 2015.

  2. Observer*

    Allison, the bathroom breaks one is 8 1/2 years old. Do you still think that I’d look at the rest of her work. When this sort of thing bothers managers, it’s often because it’s paired with other work issues is true? It seems to me that so often manager are bothered by stuff like this for reasons that have nothing to do with actual performance.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t say it’s always paired with other work issues, but often? Yes. Often when managers are concerned about this kind of thing and I ask follow-up questions, both here and when coaching managers in real life, it turns out there are bigger issues — legitimate work ones — but they don’t know how to address those and instead are getting aggravated about stuff like this that feels reflective of the broader pattern (a pattern like “they waste a lot of time”) without realizing it’s the wrong example to focus on.

      1. Overit*

        The only time I was policed on bathroom breaks, it was by my boss when I was pregnant. He excelled at cloaking his sexism and misogyny until I was pregnant. One way he ripped off the mask was with his spreadsheet detailing my bathroom breaks.
        So I suppose his issue with my breaks was indeed part of a larger issue he had with me — the issue that I was a woman in the workplace.

        1. Longtime Reader*

          Were you able to get any justice? That’s clearly documented targeted harassment based on sex/gender and a federally recognized disability (pregnancy). So sorry you went through that!

          1. Overit*

            Nope. 1. He was BFFs with the head of HR. 2. He excelled at cloaking his bigotry with a veneer of ultra left liberalism. When I would tell people what happened, I woukd be told I misunderstood, that I must be taking a joke seriously, or that I was making it up.

        2. LCH*

          really great use of work time. spreadsheeting someone’s bathroom breaks. he didn’t have enough to do.

          1. Unkempt Flatware*

            Oh, he’d get a detailed spreadsheet from me daily with the color, size, consistency, associated pain level, etc. If he pushed, he might even get a picture or two.

      2. Chirpy*

        The main jobs I’ve been told to “try to only go to the bathroom on break” are food service and retail, where everyone is standing all day, and often the breakroom is nowhere near a bathroom. So, if someone actually did that, they would lose their only chance to sit down all day, and possibly their entire break if a customer stops them fo a question.

        And some of the only holiday/stress relief advice I’ve seen online that actually pertains to these kinds of jobs is literally “take extra bathroom breaks so you can breathe for a moment” because a lot of these jobs are just that awful to their employees that it’s the only way to get a break. Obviously there are people who abuse this to avoid work, but still, sometimes it’s the difference between getting a full break and no break at all, at a very thankless, physical job.

        1. Bast*

          I worked retail where there was definite policing, but in some particularly terrible office jobs there has been policing too. In one such job, we had 2-3 bathrooms (3 in the best of times — it seems one ALWAYS seemed to be “out of order” no matter what) — for just over 100 people, leading to a manager may saying something like, “Jane has been out of her seat for 20 minutes; it doesn’t take 15 minutes to use the restroom!” it does when there’s only 2 working restrooms, a huge line in front of you, and someone who decides to do their makeup/talk on their phone/smoke in there. Not to mention these were all on the ground floor, so if you happened to work on the 3rd floor you had to hike down the stairs to wait in said line, and back up to get to your seat. That place was truly terrible in more than one way though, so the policing was not limited to restroom time.

        2. lilsheba*

          And call centers. People always forget the call centers. They tried to tell us that we should only go to the bathroom on our breaks and no other time. Yeah they got to kiss my butt on that one. I take medications for high blood pressure that are diuretics and I am going to go when I need to go, period. It is NEVER good to police bathroom breaks. It’s none of their business.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            So hear you! There is no way I can time my medication to lessen bathroom breaks while at work (save for the middle of the night, and so not happening).

        3. Turquoisecow*

          I was a cashier at a supermarket for many years and we were definitely encouraged to use the bathroom on our breaks. If it was busy and you had to go, then either you had to shut down your register (which, if there was a line, could take awhile) or the supervisor had to cover while you were gone, which meant the supervisor wasn’t able to do their job (bringing change to cashiers, checking prices, otherwise helping). We definitely did it on occasion, especially if someone was working a long shift so might have a long time before their break, and I remember having a few pregnant employees who had to go often, but for the most part people squeezed in bathrooms on their breaks.

          If someone was to go to the time clock, punch in from break, and then announce they were going to the bathroom? Yeah that definitely would have gotten them a talking to from the boss because usually someone else was waiting to go on break or go home, and now you were delaying them.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I think there are two scenarios where this kind of thing bothers a manager:
      (a) the manager is extremely unreasonable and would like their employees to not have bodily functions on work time at all
      (b) the employee is actually unproductive and slacks off in a hundred small ways and the manager is trying and failing at identifying what exactly is the problem, getting hung up on something petty like this.

      When there’s a productive employee and reasonable manager, no-one worries about timing of bathroom breaks. There’s really no difference, work-time-wise, between taking a lunch break, getting back to work, then going to the bathroom half an hour later, or tacking the bathroom onto the lunch break. Except that tacking it on may be more efficient (one less locking/unlocking of computer, getting concentration back up, etc).

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Yes, but it makes it look like the employee is coming late back from lunch. All my experience in the work world indicates for the employee, the way it looks is the important thing to consider. Going to the restroom half an hour later is the way to keep management happy.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I mean, if what’s important to management is that I look like I’m working over actually efficiently working… I can do that, but it’s not what I’d call reasonable management. It would certainly put me in a malicious compliance mindset, which is not in the company’s interest.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Unless they have a clear view of me coming back from lunch and then going to the restroom, they’re going to think I was late back from lunch.
            One manager might understand this, but then another will come along who doesn’t. Are the first one will forget.
            I was always getting in trouble until I realized appearances are just as important as the actual work. I’ve never seen a place where this isn’t true.

          2. hbc*

            The point is, are you deliberately avoiding going to the bathroom during your break? It’s one thing to realize “Oh, shoot, it’s 12:30, gotta clock in and I haven’t yet peed” occasionally, but making absolutely sure that your cheeks don’t hit the seat on your own time is…adversarial at least.

            1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

              This reminds me of the classic bathroom graffiti:
              “I make a nickel while the boss makes a dime/ That’s why I poop on company time.”

        2. Chirpy*

          I once had a job where I was expected to pick up the office mail from the post office before work (it was out of my way, but not too far from the office.) I got dinged for “being late” when I showed up at 8:05-10 because I was paid hourly. I’d previously been told to mark on the time sheet what time I got to the post office, not our office, because it was a work task.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Oh, are you me? I had that go on at one job back in the day.

            And at first I put up with it because I was young and naive. But then I realized how unfair and stressful it was and started scheduling stuff in the office first thing, so my routine became:
            Leave home,
            Commute to work,
            Punch in,
            Do “Thing on Hannah’s calendar that must be done at the start of the work day”

            and then, sometime later, while on the clock, do the work task of:

            Go to the post office, pick up mail, bring it back to the office

            Suddenly, all the stress I used to have about traffic, finding parking downtown, long lines at the post office all went away, because I was doing work I was paid to do, and it was going to take as long as it took, and some aspects of it were out of my control.

            And sometimes, when I felt like it, I would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru for a coffee on the way to the post office. I figured if they weren’t paying me mileage to use my own car for a work task, they could spare a few minutes for me to get a coffee (since people who weren’t driving around on work errands could spend the same few minutes walking to the breakroom to get a coffee while on the clock)

            1. Chirpy*

              I wish I’d thought of that at the time, but I too was young and naive then, and it later turned out that the office manager was lobbying the board to get rid of me so she could hire herself two assistants, so it probably would have ended up the same.

              (but,ooh, the thought of stopping at the really great donut place or the coffee shop that were both just a few blocks away would have been great!)

      2. Observer*

        When there’s a productive employee and reasonable manager, no-one worries about timing of bathroom breaks.

        Agreed. My question was whether Allison’s experience is that it’s common that it’s a problem employee rather than an unreasonable boss.

        I’m kind of surprised by her answer, but it’s something I’ll keep in mind.

        1. Darsynia*

          Even if that is her experience, doesn’t that mean in practice here she would have had to assume bad faith of the letter writer? That’s not something she’s likely to do. She gently suggests better management practices (even says in essence, ‘don’t be petty’) and comes up with alternatives. I’m not sure there’s a different way to handle it.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Her answer is basically to think about the situation. To consider whether you either 1) have other problems you are not addressing and are focusing on this instead or 2) you actually don’t have a problem at all

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m dealing with this person right now. But I’m not focusing on the constant breaks – I’m focusing on the lack of work product and the bizarre mistakes that keep popping up.

      I’m not the person with firing power, but that person has asked me to help document what is going on for the disciplinary process. They are on a PIP – and failing. It’s sad to see this happening, but they are bringing it on themselves and I and my Supervisor just can’t realistically justify all the extra time spent micromanaging them to get them to meet standards.

      However, the constant breaks, or constantly late back from break was one of the first things we noticed, because we also have coverage responsibilities- and their coworkers were complaining about having to spend extra time covering responsibilities not their own.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Agreed. In coverage jobs this would rise to an issue with the work product, because the work product is just that — your physical presence.

      2. Smithy*

        I think that this comment and Allison’s are good about flagging that coming back late from breaks, or coming back from a break and immediately going to the toilet may be the first quantitative issue noticed. But that’s where a good manager does the additional work of seeing beyond just the toilet behaviors.

        If there is a specific coverage piece, that may be part of it, but documenting weaker soft skills, problems with submitted work – that often takes a bit more time and energy than tracking someone’s toilet time over two weeks. So I think the call to go deeper is often about seeing if there is a bigger performance issue at play vs a case where the break room and bathrooms are on separate sides of the building and this person just needs the toilet more than the average employee.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – in my case there are definitely other issues, but the break creep affecting coworkers was the first thing that really got the issue on my managers radar.

          And if there weren’t any coverage issues, there was an accommodation in place, or there was no other issues with their work – then more than likely we wouldn’t care about the break extension issues. But when it impacts the rest of your team because they are having to pick up things you’re letting drop; well then the longer breaks are just one more thing that annoys the rest of the team.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I think that kind of manager – the ones with the diehard bums-in-seats attitude- is unlikely to seek guidance and advice though. If you really only care about being seen as overseeing the optics, and managing the minutes, you would know exactly what you wanted to do about it and it wouldn’t seen undiplomatic to say so. The OP is worried about the “wasted time”, granted, but they are also considering the effect on workflow (even if it’s not clear to us what that effect is).

      1. Boof*

        We can’t know unless the op writes back, but from the letter it regularly “makes her breaks much longer then others” and “is getting a bit out of hand”
        Makes it sound like it’s enough that other employees are getting resentful; of course, other people can be petty too. Or maybe this employee is regularly tacking on 20 min to a shift job at a busy time. Advice should cover both scenarios and “focus on the work impact; is this concern because work isn’t getting done?” Is very valid

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Or it even could be as simple as “keeps being back late from their break” to the point that other people aren’t getting their breaks in a coverage-type job. In that scenario it’s absolutely going to be noticed and complained about because now their long break is affecting everybody else.

      2. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

        Some jobs are “bums in seats” and being die hard about productive seat time is required. I’m not suggesting managers monitor bathroom time, but we all have that one coworker that strolls in with one second to spare, then spends the next 15 minutes preparing their breakfast, getting coffee, going to the bathroom and then the reverse or opposite 15 minutes before quit time…but seemingly always slips out 5 minutes before everyone else.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Sure, but in that context I wouldn’t call that the manager’s fixed mindset necessary; they’re just responding to a work output requirement, if they want coverage were coverage is needed. If they were to move on to a non coverage industry, their management style would not necessarily focus on clock watching.

      3. GythaOgden*

        We don’t often know the whole story, though, we don’t know whether or not there’s a reason that they need coverage and the employee themselves are not always self-aware. WFH as I am now, I have much more freedom to move around the house, listen to podcasts while working, use the loo or put the bin out (during a gap in the rain!) or whatever, but I’m still essentially expected to have my bottom in a seat from 9 to 5 to ensure availability and not to wander off completely. If there was an issue, like weird computer outage this afternoon, or whatever preventing me from being fully present I’d drop my boss a text about it.

        Also, different fields have different requirements based on the job. My public sector org forbids compressing your 37.5 hours into four days, for instance, because even at administration level, managers routinely have to be able to be at a site at short notice. Even if they’re not actually going to be pulling out a chainsaw and slicing a fallen tree into pieces, they need to be able to inspect the issue and it’s often more reassuring for the client that they’re there when they get notification of something happening. They can’t do that if they’re trying to fit five days of work into four. (And yeah, management pitch in. We had an issue with people camping overnight in our car park just before I left my reception job. With vulnerable patients coming in and out of the building, my immediate manager came out to the site and asked them to leave. They went off without another argument — I hope they found somewhere safe, but our concern is for the people attending the two physiotherapy clinics in the building.)

        That cascades down through the org chart. To do that you do have to set some ground rules, and to be frank I’ve seen people skirt the actual generally agreed upon working boundaries enough for this situation to need probing a bit more. If someone is in distress then they need to say so. People cannot read minds and almost shouldn’t be expected to — there needs to be a trade off between micromanagement and people just getting away with ridiculous stuff like spending a full hour gossiping at reception like a colleague of mine repeatedly did.

        Adults generally shouldn’t too much oversight, but I think in general this site isn’t well-equipped to deal with coverage jobs where different interests compete more directly and such issues are generally linked to the job.

    5. Longtime Reader*

      Agreed. Frankly, if a manager has enough time to be noticing someone’s bathroom usage like this, unless it’s REALLY egregious to the point that the person’s coworkers are also noticing and outwardly bothered by it, it sounds like the manager doesn’t have enough real work to do themselves.

    6. bathroom break cop*

      I manage employees in a role where each minute actually does impact results (think call center), and we have had to recently discourage people from going to the bathroom right after break or if they do to be very speedy. They’re welcome to go any other time (not expected to only go during break) but when it’s 7-10 minutes after break is over and there’s still less than half our people getting back to work, that causes issues.

  3. WoodswomanWrites*

    The rubber band CFO. Doing that daily? Seriously? Even after he injured someone? I missed the original letter and am dumbfounded that someone could be that… well, dumb.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      What an arse. And I feel like this might be the origin story of one of those office that lock up all the office supplies and make you fill in a form to get a new pen – as opposed to having a difficult conversation with the source of a problem and taking action to address it.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Petty me would be tempted to start walking around in an Autopsy Suit around Rubberband CFO idiot. Not the ones you see on TV shows, but a true one which is basically a Hazmat Suit.

      Really hope that somebody eventually stopped this judgement deficient idiot before someone lost an eye.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Or even just a face shield. Getting a bruise somewhere on the body is one thing, but you don’t eff with my eyes.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I’d be wearing a face shield for this guy.

          Thankfully I work with actual adults, not startup bros who never grew up.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Oh agreed – face shield is as far realistically as I would go. But have to admit I’d be tempted to pull the other stunt if I thought a bigwig would be in and I could make a point about office safety.

        3. Slow Gin Lizz*

          That reminds me of the time in middle school when I was being my usual sarcastic self and my teacher got mad and threw a piece of chalk at me. Luckily it only hit my glasses (and he didn’t really throw it hard) but if that happened nowadays I could have sued.

          1. JustaTech*

            When my mom was a kid (so, long time ago) the kid in front of her was acting the fool in class and the teacher lost his temper and threw the chalkboard eraser at the kid. The kid was looking at the teacher so he ducked and my mom (who had been quietly doing her work) looked up just in time to catch the eraser in the face.

            The teacher felt terrible, and my mom wasn’t seriously injured, but it is a memory she’s held on to all these years.

          2. whingedrinking*

            My mother apparently once threw a book at a student. She immediately felt bad about it (rightly so) and called the parents to apologize, and the kid’s mom replied, “Don’t worry, he probably deserved it.” (It being Saskatchewan in the mid-seventies probably had something to do with this.)

      2. LCH*

        or, like, really play up how much you are hurt when hit. roll around on the ground. scream. cry. hold your hand over your eye and refuse to move it while screaming and crying. threaten to sue. freak him the fuck out so he quits his stupid games.

    3. Elvis's Mom*

      I’m very surprised that the Workers’ Comp insurance didn’t shut that down by raising his rates. If I were the employee with the injured eye, I would have gone to the emergency room on the company’s dime, stayed off work until it healed, and made sure the insurance company knew the CEO regularly shoots people in the face with giant rubber bands.

      1. Observer*

        I’m very surprised that the Workers’ Comp insurance didn’t shut that down by raising his rates.

        Yes, that’s very strange.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Unless the employees were all so scared of RubberBand Dude that they covered and said it snapped accidentally or something similar?

      2. RVA Cat*

        All of this, plus have the injuries documented for assault and battery charges if worker’s comp gets denied.

    4. Grim*

      Yeah, it’s so baffling! I was reading the letter like “that’s so scary, he could hit someone in the eye and potentially really hurt them!” but then to read on and discover that he HAS hit somebody in the eye and that this doesn’t seem to have motivated him to change his behaviour at all?? This person is operating on a very strange, callous, and childish plane of reality.

      1. ferrina*


        As I read this letter, I heard my dad’s voice saying “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”

        Then someone actually got hit in the eye, and the CFO still thinks it’s fun and games! What the actual what?! This can’t be the only way that this CFO is inappropriate.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think you’ll get a lot of takers. I wonder how long the place stayed in business and how it shut down.

    5. kiki*

      This CFO is an extreme case, but I feel like a lot of people who end up in senior leadership end up wildly out of touch and doing things that are obvious no’s. In some cases its obliviousness– they forget that the “playful” things they might have been able to initiate as a rank-and-file employee will be perceived differently because folks may not feel comfortable saying no.

      But then there are also the leaders who get a kick out of lording power over their employees. I’m assuming since this CFO actually injured somebody’s eye and continues to do fling rubber bands at people, this is the more likely case.

      1. RVA Cat*

        I’m thinking he does the rubber bands because the workplace doesn’t have gym towels for him to snap at naked people. The fact he’s targeting eyes and faces really shows how sadistic he is.

        1. kalli*

          Or that people sit at desks and heads are the easiest least blocked target. I promise you he isn’t thinking that hard about it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            We used to shoot those giant rubber bands at OldExjob on occasion, but we shot them up in the air so they fell gently on people. Sometimes we did bank shots off the light fixtures. If someone had gotten hurt, it would have been shut down instantly. It is 100% possible to think about it (agreed; this guy is not thinking — he’s just a butthead).

      2. JustaTech*

        Yeah, I’ve known more than one CEO who would at least *want* to shoot rubber bands at people, and only didn’t because it might “look bad”, not because they actually thought it would be mean/cruel/dangerous/a bad idea.

        Or they didn’t have access to rubber bands.

  4. SAS*

    LW 4: as someone with IBD, sorry (not sorry), can’t help it. I need to go to the bathroom about 15-20 minutes after eating like clockwork. I absolutely HATE imagining someone monitoring my bathroom habits. Monitor their damn work outcomes and if they’re an otherwise good employee, just deal.

    1. TheTrots*

      Agreeing – several years after cancer treatment, the “new normal” is that I have IBS and weak pelvic muscles. (I carry my own toilet paper and wipes with me in the car – and have needed them). It usually strikes about 15-30 minutes after I’ve eaten – but not all the time and with no discernable pattern that I can figure out. I could eat one thing one day and be fine and eat it the next and be in the bathroom 20 min later.

      Thankfully, I work from home and not in an office, so I’m always 10 steps away from the bathroom. I try to time when I eat so I don’t have to excuse myself from virtual meetings, but if I were an employee with set break times, I wouldn’t have an option of when to eat, and I’d have to go to the bathroom when I had to go.

      Upshot – focus on productivity and not bathroom schedules. (I can say that my IBS and other post-treatment issues do affect my productivity – I make up for that in ways like working late. Not ideal for me, but one does what one must.)

      1. LCH*

        My mom has the same issue, same reason. She also has extra lower half clothing in her car in the event the worst happens. She has needed it. It’s awful ☹️

    2. Jess*

      Yes, and that final sentence should be tattooed somewhere managers see it daily! It’s easier for managers to measure things like bathroom breaks than work outcomes but that doesn’t make it good managing.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      It’s not even “only” people with IBD – it’s completely normal for food intake to sometimes cause bowel movements for anybody. As a mother if a child who has trouble having regular movements, I am now a reluctant expert on all the ways to get it going. Eating is a major one (also according to our paediatrician). And, for example, food + coffee + walking will reliably do it for me.

      1. amoeba*

        Yup! Also, for most people it tends to be somewhat regular – so, yeah, it’s really not unlikely that you might have to go to the bathroom after lunch every day.
        And I do notice that the LW does not suggest to go back to work and then to the bathroom later to prevent coverage issues or whatever, but specifically to use the bathroom *during break time*. As somebody who clocks in and out – absolutely no way I’m doing that! I have an unpaid lunch, which is fine. I do absolutely not have unpaid bathroom breaks.

      2. The OG Sleepless*

        There is a medical name for it: the gastrocolic reflex. It’s most noticeable in babies, but some degree of it is normal for all ages. That’s why there is always a line to the bathroom right after meals at conferences, where everyone eats at the same time.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah. Also, I feel like if you have a drink with lunch, it’s not going to feel like you immediately need to pee at lunch either, but a short time later- around the sort of time frame the OP is talking about. I am really curious how this effects the work at all, because unless it does it really can’t be mentioned!

      1. Dot*

        Yes, this! I worked a retail job where my boss would get angry at me for using the bathroom 20-30 minutes after my lunch, because I *just* had a break. Dude. It’s just basic biology. Do you want me to pee on the floor or in the toilet?

    5. Clown Eradicator*

      Yep! I have a chronic GI Issue that they can’t even seem to diagnose – presents similarly to IBS with a few other things, though. I work 6 minutes from home and can’t even make it in the office without needing to get to the bathroom. it doesn’t matter if I arrive early, go before leaving, etc. I am actually WFH today because of repairs in the office that makes it difficult for me to get to the bathroom timely.

    6. Critical Rolls*

      In any job with a coverage element, this type of thing (specifically tacking a bathroom break of meaningful duration onto another break period) will become visible without undue attention or excessive monitoring, and may have work impacts such as delaying scheduled breaks for others or leaving public facing positions short. Reasonable managers will understand and accommodate reasonable needs once they have enough information.

    7. cindylouwho*

      I was thinking the exact same thing! I have no medical reason (that I know of anyways), but I always have to go 30-60 mins after eating. There’s no scheduling that could make that any different for me! And I would feel awful if I knew my manager was tracking when I went to the bathroom even without the added self-consciousness of a medical condition….

    8. Err, Stuff Happens*

      As someone else with an inflammatory bowel disorder, I also came here to say this. I recognize the pattern in the letter because it’s mine, to a T.

      I eat, then I typically have to go to the bathroom 20-ish minutes later, like clockwork. At work, it usually hits just after the lunch hour if I’ve gone somewhere, eaten, and returned — it’s almost always painful, sudden, and “holding it” is not an option. The only reason I don’t have more accidents is because I’ve gotten used to it and can anticipate the timing. (It also helps that my office is just down the hall from a bathroom.)

      I, too, would be horrified if my boss made A Thing ™ of it.

  5. BellStell*

    I was watching the movie Hidden Figures recently and the part where Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson notes the bathroom discrimination in a powerful monologue really struck me. It is not the same issue as here in the letter but I also feel policing bathroom breaks without being understanding as it may be a health issue is not ok. If a person needs to be in a seat like a receptionist etc get them a cover person to help cover the post for bathroom breaks do not penalise them. Gosh when will people become more humane and kind?

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      At first I read your movie titles as Hidden Fergus. Clearly I’ve been reading AAM for a long time.

    2. GythaOgden*

      Humane and kind is fine. But I’ve been the cover person and I still have needs as well. If the cover person is someone else who expects to be there for five minutes and is there for 15, then their job is also curtailed or their break eaten into. In practice, things are much more fluid and forgiving, but the least the person in this situation can do is give someone a nod about a medical issue keeping them in the bathroom for that long, so others don’t start to get resentful of them — and they will. Even if they’re not consciously keeping track of things, they will do so unconsciously, and what goes around comes around — if the person with the medical issue gives their colleagues some ground on another issue, it is more likely that they will give them grace when they need it. Everyone has issues — the person covering might have their own needs later on and if the person having bathroom issues doesn’t give back, that’s when it becomes more noticeable that they’re taking but not giving.

      We’re totally fine if there’s a medical need and you let us know, but having been the part time spare pair of hands and eventually left because I was only ever that and was taken for granted, you can only be dismissive of their needs for so long before they need their own consideration.

    3. Cabbagepants*

      Policing bathroom breaks should only be done in the context of whether the work is getting done. that said, if there is a legitimate coverage requirement or the work otherwise is not being done due to the extra break, the employee needs to ask for an accommodation.

    4. Observer*

      Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson notes the bathroom discrimination in a powerful monologue really struck me.

      It’s worth noting that that scene never actually happened. Although I did think about it when I saw the comment above about the manager who couldn’t understand why it too 20 to go to the bathroom when there simply weren’t enough of them for the number of staff.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        But it for sure has happened elsewhere! It looks like the women in the House of Representatives didn’t get a restroom near the floor until 2011. 2011!!!!!

        1. Observer*

          I . . . That’s insane!

          But I think that this kind of thing is why the scene resonated so strongly. It really feels like it could easily have happened.

        1. Observer*

          Because it’s worth keeping fact and fiction separate.

          It’s a great scene, and I think it speaks to some very real issues then and now. But it’s still fiction.

  6. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, woah! My first year teaching, a student borrowed somebody’s pencil case to use a pen or something out of it. He tossed it back to him and the zip scratched the boy’s cheek. He put his hand up over his face and for a moment, the boy who threw it thought he had hit him in the eye. That was lesson enough for him. These were 12 and 13 year olds and he hadn’t even done him any real harm, but just the realisation that he COULD have got him in the eye made him understand why I always told them to hand things back instead of throwing them.

    That a grown adult wouldn’t realise this after not only nearly hitting somebody in the eye, but actually doing it… I don’t know what to say. That’s utterly reckless.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      And as I read this CFO letter, I’m convinced the CFO was the kid who got an intense reaction from his peers, probably even was shamed, when he did this as a kid but instead of learning from it, he grew angry and resentful and vowed that one day, he’d have staff he could hit and they could do nothing about it.

  7. Was the Grink There*

    Letter 1 reads like a wild 2013-era AAM letter, and yet it was from just 2018?? Demanding an update on that one.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Me too! Did someone finally yell at the CFO? Did the employees go to the CEO as a group and demand the CEO do something about their toddler CFO before they all quit en masse? Did the CFO accidentally shoot a rubber band backwards and give himself a bloody eye? I NEED TO KNOW.

  8. Introvert girl*

    I always have to pee around 45 minutes after I had my lunch/drink. Also, I pee a lot during the day. It’s a medical thing, I never brought it up to my employer. I could never work for someone who monitored my body.

  9. Elio*

    I’m just thinking “hello lawsuit” when the CFO injured the employee. If it were me I’d look into throwing the book at him legally. Since it was deliberate and the employee had blood gushing from their eye, that sounds like assault.

    1. With A Y*

      In the US, it is likely an OSHA issue as well. Depending on the severity, it might even be a recordable injury. If someone loses an eye, that is a big time insurance claim. A CFO should be protecting the company’s finances, not endangering them!

  10. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 The CEO is not just the usual flavour of jerk, but a violent thug.
    I’m staggered that he wasn’t officially warned the very first time he fired projectiles at someone and then sacked once he actually did injure an eye.
    No employer I know would accept injury resulting from physical assault, from even the highest manager or rockstar. FIrings are very very rare here, but the Works Council and the union would both demand immediate sacking (in the unlikely event that his boss dithered) and the HR /legal bods would be screaming about potential massive liability for injury.

    #4 The OP refers to only 1 employee daily taking longer breaks than coworkers, but we don’t know if this is an extra 5 minutes or 20 each time.
    However, bathrooms are so personal that it should still only be discussed if the employee’s job is to be present for a fixed number of hours at fixed times, e.g. for phone / desk / shift coverage – in which case the employee should have proactively informed the OP if they require significantly longer or more frequent breaks (of course without going into exact medical details)
    Do the longer breaks affect coworkers?

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      re #1 and I thought firing was so much easier in the US.
      Even if the CFO has a contract, that can’t include “he is allowed to injure coworkers on a childish whim”

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        It is incredibly easier, but execs/C-suite often get treated as clearly geniuses and thus indispensable.

      2. Grim*

        Not to mention suing people! I’m not normally the litigious sort, but I feel like carelessly launching high velocity projectiles at people’s faces for your own amusement is something the law tends to frown upon.

    2. Angstrom*

      There are a lot of production jobs that require all members of a team to be present for work to be done(think of an assembly line or work cell), and an individual taking long breaks will affect the workflow.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        The OP mentions “breaks” in the plural. Could just be multiple breaks over multiple days, but if its multiple breaks on the same day, I’ve only seen that in production/blue collar type environments.

        (If you’ve never worked in a factory, it’s pretty much standard that you get three breaks. One 30 minute unpaid one for lunch, and two paid 10 or 15 minute ones. These happen on a regular schedule as a group.)

        The line work I’ve done didn’t NEED a full line to function, but I certainly noticed when I was doing my neighbor’s work and my own.

        1. Jennifleur*

          Agreed, the only workplace which did that I’ve ever been in was a company that started out as just a factory and had updated very, very little in terms of policies despite now having 300+ employees over multiple offices.

    3. amoeba*

      Well, he says that makes their *lunch break* longer than other people’s. Maybe the other employees are just taking their bathroom breaks at a different time of day so LW doesn’t notice? Like, come back from lunch on time, work for an hour, then go to bathroom? The actual time not working is the same…

      1. doreen*

        I don’t think that’s a matter of the OP just doesn’t notice the other people’s bathroom breaks – it’s more likely to be that using the restroom an hour after coming back from a break doesn’t give the impression that the person deliberately waited until their break was over to use the restroom. (like the “company time” ditty) just like using the restroom as soon as you walk in gives a different impression than arriving at 7:50 and waiting to use the restroom until after your workday starts at 8. Whether that actually matters is going to depend on a lot of factors but it’s most likely not a matter of “they both work the same amount of time”

      2. doreen*

        Maybe – but it could also be about something slightly different. Going to use the restroom an hour after your break ends gives a different impression than going to the restroom right as your break ends just like using the restroom as soon as you get to work is different from getting there at 7:50 and waiting until your start time of 8:00 to use the restroom. In both cases , the latter example looks like you deliberately delayed until you could use the restroom on “company time” and whether that should or shouldn’t matter is very context dependent. Maybe it does matter if it delays someone else’s break by 10 minutes.

        1. doreen*

          Sorry for the almost duplicate – I don’t know why this happens to me , that sometimes my comment doesn’t show until hours later.

  11. Minutes*

    #4 I remember one boss who said to me that I was stealing 5 minutes from her everyday and thus 25 minutes every week because I didn’t count a short bathroom visit on our floor before going downstairs to the break room as part of my lunch break.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Had a professor like that my first year of law school. Class was right after lunch and she said to all of us– and I quote — at your age you shouldn’t need to take a break in a 90 minute class. Now mind you, that ignores a lot of differences between people. Also, like I said, it was after lunch. When you know, that I gotta go reflex kicks in. She felt we should have gone during lunch.

      She was a terrible teacher in other ways too.

      1. Frieda*

        I had a colleague who refused to permit students to use the restroom during class. For years I had to train students in *my* classes that they could just quietly leave the room, no need to ask me or wait it out. I do not want to be in charge of the toilet access for other adults, full stop.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          As a 20 year old college student after all those years of regular schooling, sadly this wouldn’t have seemed off to me. It was normal all through schooling to have teachers refuse you a bathroom break.
          As a 30something adult, being refused a bathroom break would make me go nuclear. I try to teach my kid that has just started school that NOBODY gets to tell her she can’t use the bathroom before this kind of nonsense gets ingrained in her too.

          1. Phrog*

            In high school, I got stung by a bee towards the end of class. It flew into my shirt sleeve and stung my armpit. I asked to go to the bathroom to take care of it, and the teacher refused, saying class was almost over and I can do that on the 3 minute break between classes (uh, no). I sat there dumbfounded for a few minutes, and then just got up and left. The teacher was a miserable tyrant, but at least for a few moments that day, she had enough sense to not pursue writing me up.

          2. Irish Teacher*

            In primary and secondary schools, some degree of oversight is necessary for duty of care, eg, not letting the bully follow his victim to the toilet so he can bully him there, reducing the risks of a student asking to go to the toilet and instead walking out of school, trying to prevent/reduce smoking, vaping, in toilets, etc.

            Honestly, bathroom use is one of the most difficult/fraught parts of teaching because you really don’t want to refuse to let somebody go if they genuinely need to but you do want to stop the times students are going to smoke/skip school/bully another student/call into the student teacher’s class and cause havoc, knowing that teacher won’t know how to handle it.

            But in college and work, those issues don’t/shouldn’t arise. If an employee is harassing another or vandalising the bathroom or walking out of work in the middle of the day, you can fire them. And you are not going to be sued if your employee walks our of work early and gets hit by a car on the way home.

            I don’t think refusing use of the bathroom is usually the best way to deal with it at school either (except when a kid has twice that day asked to go to the bathroom and both times has disappeared for 20 minutes and been caught causing havoc in other classes and then asks to go again 5 minutes after returning, claiming that they didn’t get to go because of being busy causing trouble – then I do think it is reasonable to refuse and yes, I have had situations similar to that), but there shouldn’t even be an issue with adults.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Yes, thank you. I see some folks in AITA on reddit saying that teachers saying students have to wait are on a power trip, they have no right, etc. And my administrators (US high school, ages 14-18) say I can only let one person out of the room at a time.

              A kid leaves for 20 minutes (no reported health issues)? I have to tell the next kid to wait. Student asks with 2 minutes to go in lecture, before they get 15 minutes of work time? Please wait for two minutes, I appreciate your patience. Some kids use blanket permission to leave class as an excuse to dip out of learning. It’s part of my job to not let that happen.

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

            I have to say it was a cultrue shock to go from high school to college and when someone asked the professor if they could use the bathroom he looked at them and said “just go” unless we’re in the middle of a test you can use the bathroom without asking.

      2. Freya*

        I get chronic UTIs. Someone wants to stop me from peeing when I need to, they can pay for my antibiotics and if I need one, the next trip to the urologist.

    2. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      Please tell me that was one of the reasons you left that job and told the company why.

      The minute anyone says “steals time” and isn’t referring to genuine bona fide fraud, I want to channel my inner Leroy Jethro Gibbs and slap their head.

      1. Minutes*

        Sadly no. She was the owner and she stressed me out so much that I made a big mistake for which she fired me. I should have walked out when upon accepting her job offer she remarked “well, I guess we will have to make do with you.” Or shortly after when she said that I wasn’t worth my first month’s pay as I had been unemployed a year and needed to get up to speed. She felt she had saved me from never working in my field again because so much new information came forth all the time.
        That was the first time I’d ever experienced a toxic manager and it blinded me to the next who was merely “bad” but not as overtly toxic as her.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      My wild guess was one of those startups with very small numbers of employees and thus someone higher-up gets roped into handling HR-related issues without having that as their sole title.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, the startup vibe is strong with this CFO.

        Among the things I’ve learned during my years of reading AAM is that I never want to work for a startup, a small family-owned company, or a non-profit. They’re so often dysfunctional in ways that I don’t have the patience to deal with that I don’t want to risk it. However, I find it fairly easy to deal with bureaucracy and I’m almost never frustrated by it because it often functions as a kind of virtual security blanket for me, which is one reason why I enjoy working for the government.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ Seconding this. And ESPECIALLY not small family-owned companies that have been passed on to the second generation.

        2. Silver Robin*

          *small* non profits have the same issues as *small* businesses. Nonprofits are often small but there are huge ones too, like universities, or Catholic Relief Services etc. The bigger ones have the bureaucracy that larger companies have to reduce dysfunction. The real difference is whether you can deal with funding frustrations or not (grant specifications, annoying donors, etc).

          and technically, government is nonprofit ;)

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I think the keyword is “small” and “family.” There are many small companies that are great to work for, but, just IME, when a company is *both* small and family-owned, that is a prime breeding ground for all kinds of dysfunction. Small nonprofits that are mostly a product of a single person’s mission often have a lot of dysfunctional aspects as well.

            Small isn’t *necessarily* bad, but there are more avenues for the bad stuff to start creeping in and fewer ways for employees to escape (in a large company there is often the option to switch departments). And *small family-owned* companies or small nonprofits with very bleeding-heart founder/executive directors can wind up becoming places where otherwise unemployable failkids go, because family and friends will make room for them.

          2. metadata minion*

            When it comes to dysfunction, I’m not sure universities are a great example of functional nonprofits :-/ Though to be fair, the dysfunction of academia is its own weird variety and is not the same kind of dysfunction you get in small businesses/organizations.

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Family Owned Small Contracting firm was my guess. The juvenile tendencies are pretty wild at times. I’ve seen that you get lots of important sounding titles, not a lot of reason for them.

        And I’m not joking that they probably assigned HR duties to the first woman through the door regardless her actual title. (Have actively had to fight this off myself. Its nowhere near the realm of what I actually do. Similar as llama grooming and chocolate teapot selling.)

    2. ecnaseener*

      That doesn’t seem weird to me – don’t even the smallest companies need someone in a CFO role?

      1. Peter*

        Agreed. Accountancy/finance team roles are usually among the first thing a typical business looks to hire for (or outsource to an external accountant if they’re just getting started).

        I would be curious about any business that had an HR function but no one was there to track cash flow and profitability, to make sure staff and taxes and bills are paid correctly and on time and so on. At best, the CEO does it all and it’s a big distraction from the job of leading the business, retaining customers and bringing in new business.

        Maybe LuAnne just means the CFO title implies they’ve neglected any HR in favour of building a sizeable finance team? But I don’t think that’s always true of the CFO title.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yeah, I don’t think CFO implies big finance team at all – if you’re a tiny startup and you can only have one person working on finance stuff, that person is your CFO.

  12. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    She rapidly became an ex-boss I hope. Petty tyrant.

    Also I’m baffled about a manager taking it so personally, so that she regards even actual theft of property as stealing from her, unless from her personal belongings.

  13. Melissa*

    I know that #2 is from years ago, so the LW is deep into their career now! But your professor did you a favor by letting you know.

    I briefly worked in an admissions office for a graduate school. We would get reference letters related to students applying to the program. I remember getting one in which the professor had written N/A on all the questions, and in the comments section he wrote “I don’t know this student well enough to give her a reference.” That professor was an ass!— why did he not tell her that directly? “I’m sorry, I don’t really know you very well; you should ask someone else.” Instead he tanked her application by being passive-aggressive.

      1. the Viking Diva*

        this just happened to me. Former student submitted my name to a reference checking system before asking me. I was honest, and that wasn’t particularly in her favor.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I had someone whom we’d let go for performance-related reasons put me down as a reference without asking me, which I thought was bold and not terribly bright. We were very clear when he was let go that it was because he was making far too many mistakes and, during training and attempts to get him back on track, he’d whip out his phone and make/take personal calls for extended periods of time.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I’m speculating here: Do these employees understand what references are? Like most of my knowledge, I was taught what the purpose of a reference is and how to choose them.

          I can see someone assuming that when a job application requires a reference, it doesn’t mean “someone who will vouch for you and your work” but “fill in this contact info for your former supervisors because we want to talk with them.”

          1. kiki*

            It could be a misunderstanding but it could also be that they don’t have any better options for references.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I have a sibling and sibling’s spouse, and a bunch of college acquaintances who work in higher ed and several of them have had this happen to them–contacted for references for a student who never actually asked them to be a reference. They’re not sure if the students were still clueless or knew that they’d probably get denied if they asked and were hoping the profs would be lazy and just give ok answers. It didn’t work.

        Side note: If you’re in graduate school and have to be told not to be late, I wouldn’t be super impressed, either, especially at the start of the year before you know the lay of the land. You’ve already had a lot of practice at school by then.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I’m very curious about your statement that it’s worse to be late at the start of the year “before you know the lay of the land”. Surely that’s exactly when people are more likely to be late? Before they know their way around?

      3. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

        True facts. When I was a professor, I’d get the occasional emailed “Student X has listed you as a reference! Please go to this online form…” Sometimes I only had a vague idea who Student X was, or worse, had no idea at all. Please ask! I was happy to give excellent references when I could, and would gently redirect them when I could not. I also had a google form that I had students fill out to help me write the reference/get it sent to the correct place by the due date if it was not an emailed link. (Don’t ask your prof the day before it is due either- that’s your emergency, not mine!)

    1. Shiara*

      I know someone who did this. In his case, he’d warned the student that he didn’t remember her work well enough and made his reference contingent on her providing him some details on her projects and accomplishments. She didn’t, but he still got the email to fill out the reference. So he filled it out essentially saying that he didn’t remember her but she had taken his class at one point.

    2. Observer*

      But your professor did you a favor by letting you know.

      Both in that you won’t use a bad reference. But also in learning that you don’t always get a “do over”. And that even when you get that second chance it can take a longer time than you might expect to reverse the consequences of whatever it is.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      I’m sure it stung. It probably caused some frantic reconfiguring on applications or may have even upended some plans. They will probably always have some Feelings about it.

      I just hope that with time LW has come to appreciate that they weren’t going to change the professor’s mind (right or wrong), and that being turned down for a reference is better than a bad reference.

      1. AnonORama*

        Yes! This happened to one of my friends in college — she asked for a reference, the prof said sure and then slammed her. Much better to say no! I’m not sure what his issue was with her, as he provided a strong reference for me and our grades and class participation levels were both good; but who knows? I do know I dodged a bullet, but felt bad for my friend. Profs — or employers, landlords, anyone else asked for a reference — please do what this one did and let people know if you can’t speak well of them.

  14. Yup!*

    The professor’s refusing a reference is odd to me. The reference is to support their potential to complete graduate school, and that includes learning from mistakes and adjusting to do better.

    Part of a professor’s responsibility is to write references and explain this. Either something else is actually going on, or the professor is unwilling to do a key part of their work.

    1. Boof*

      No; references are supposed to be from people who are a combination of highest on the authority chain in whatever area you are applying to and like you the most. If a prof’s impression of you is that you were a fairly weak student and you became an average student with coaching, that’s really not a good reference. If that’s still your best reference, well, might want to do a quick project or step up you game next semester or reach outside the usual circle or something. The prof might be willing to go ahead and write a weak reference but they are doing a big favor by being clear they won’t be able to give lw a glowing letter

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      “You need to hand in assignments before the deadline” and “you need to be in class on time” are not subtle field-specific esoterica that someone in graduate school would reasonably never have encountered as expectations.

      Also, the professor is diplomatically saying “Nothing about you impressed me, and so I would not be a good reference. Here is one specific example of why. I am not listing all of them, because this is not a debate.” It’s very unlikely that the student excelled at everything else in the courses the professor taught. Best case, the student does have good qualities which were lost on this professor, but would stand out in a different class context.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      Hi, and also nope.

      My reference letter is meaningless if I have to write one for everybody who asks, especially if I have to fake enthusiasm. When I write a letter for somebody I’m putting my reputation behind it — a lot of the letters I write are for graduate programs at the same institution where I teach, so people will remember if I recommend someone who flames out. (Hasn’t happened yet.)

      I have complete discretion on whether I write rec letters for people, and I use it. This does mean I’ve turned down some students. It has to.

      1. Umami*

        Yes to this. My partner was a college professor for decades, and he would tell all of his classes to never ask him for a reference. If he felt you were someone worthy of a reference from him, he would tell you himself and do it. If you had to ask, then obviously he wasn’t impressed enough with you to write one. Like you said, a reference from him ensured the student would get into their program, so it carried a lot of weight.

        1. Dulcinea47*

          this sounds like it would have worked in the times when people kept a generic letter of reference on file, but it wouldn’t make much sense these days. You need a reference at a specific time for a specific purpose, not whenever a professor might deign to do it.

          1. Just another librarian on AAM*

            Agreed, this is strange. It’s been *mumble* years since I applied to grad schools, but even then I got my references by scheduling meetings with the professors I wanted to ask, providing them a packet of my resume, writing samples, deadlines of the application process, and pre-stamped envelopes (because I wasn’t supposed to see the letters!), etc., and talking to them about what I wanted to go to school for so they could use the context to understand what they were recommending me for. An extremely generic letter that they decided to give me on their time wouldn’t have done me any good.

            1. Umami*

              I may have been a bit unfair to his process by not mentioning that he would ‘offer’ to write letters to those students he was willing to do them for, he didn’t just hand them a generic letter at the end of the semester! I can see why it would sound strange otherwise.

          2. Umami*

            It worked for him, in that he taught a gatekeeper course for people trying to get into advanced programs, and a letter from him pretty much guaranteed acceptance. So he did references at the end of the semester. He definitely was the type to do custom letters for those students he felt would (and should) get into the program they were applying to. Not saying I 100% agreed with his approach, but it worked for him!

          3. Ellis Bell*

            Some people have a lot of clout in very specific directions, and they only give a few references, specifically for those directions, which would be basically giving the person a golden ticket, so it wouldn’t need to be all that nuanced.

      2. Candace*

        Absolutely. I teach at a community college. A recommendation letter is just that – a recommendation. We’re not obligated to recommend everyone. I don’t understand why this is controversial.

    4. Pippa K*

      Nope. It is not my job to give my professional endorsement to every single student seeking a job or graduate school admission. That is absolutely not how letters of recommendation work in this context. I write them even for relatively weak students so long as I can find something to praise honestly, but I have (very rarely) declined to do so and gently told the student why. In one case the student reacted badly: he sent me an angry screed explaining that my job was to tell students they could achieve anything and to endorse them and their dreams warmly and supportively. (Yeah, I’m a woman, it was absolutely a set of sexist demands at play.) I replied that it was in fact my job to give honest assessments of their academic abilities and endorse them for roles where they’d be a good fit. If he’d asked for a recommendation to another type of grad program I’d have given it willingly, but he simply demanded that I recommend him for something which, in my professional judgement, he was very unsuited.

      No one likes declining to recommend. The weak-letter alternative is in my view not the principled way to handle it, but I see why people sometimes do that.

      1. Umami*

        And also, OP is saying they ‘disagree’ with the assessment, so that would call into question their ability to self-reflect. I imagine trying to demand a recommendation would make the recommendation even worse lol.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Not all critiques and assessments are valid, and we don’t have enough information to know if OP’s error was a one off, which they fixed, or more egregious. Also, I think there’s a spectrum of how precious professors and teachers treat references, and if you’ve only seen one end (which I have), it would be a bit shocking to get a professor who’s more choosy about references.

          1. Umami*

            True, I’m just thinking what benefit there would be to OP to say they disagree, and how the professor would view that. This professor already has said they don’t believe they could give the best recommendation, so I would take them at their word and move on to someone who would be happy to do so.

            1. Office Lobster DJ*

              This is the key point for me. LW may very well be in the right, in the sense that most reasonable people in the situation would have written the recommendation, but it doesn’t matter. You have to just take them at their word and figure it out from there.

              I also have some sympathy for the LW in the sense that it’s not like listing your last three supervisors. If a student needs a recommendation from someone in specialty X, options may be limited. LW may have been naive, but I can also sympathize with the shock of fostering a connection that you think is leading to a recommendation, only to be surprised at a critical point. Unfortunately, the only advice there would be to turn back time and introduce the topic of a reference as early as possible so you know where to invest your energy.

          2. Observer*

            we don’t have enough information to know if OP’s error was a one off, which they fixed, or more egregious.

            Well, based on what the OP says, it’s somewhere in between. They made a series of mis-steps and while they corrected themselves once called on it, it wasn’t a one off. And it was something that I can see a professor thinking indicates a bigger problem, because at this age and stage she should not have had to call them out on it.

          3. Be Gneiss*

            Even if the assessment is unfair, what benefit could there possibly be to *arguing* with someone to make them write you a letter of recommendation? Don’t you want a letter from someone who – I don’t know – *wants* to say good things about you? Without you having to talk them into it?

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Well, it’s a good thing then I didn’t propose that they should argue with the professor.

    5. Shiara*

      If Professor X writes two letters of recommendation and Jean’s is glowing and full of praise and Kitty’s is “she got better”, it’s generally considered that the more appropriate thing to do is decline to write Kitty’s and have her try to find someone else who can recommend her more strongly. “She can learn from her mistakes” is kind of damning with faint praise in this context. Chances are, Jean has also shown that, but in more complex ways than “didn’t realize it was important to get to class on time.”

      If Kitty was otherwise a fabulous student but needed some nudging on timeliness, the professor probably wouldn’t have declined to write the letter in the first place. And if they were unreasonable to do so, Kitty probably has some pretty good back up options.

    6. I am a unicorn but not your unicorn*

      A recommendation is literally that – a recommendation. I am putting my name on a letter and saying ‘this person could do well at this job/internship/grad school/whatever’. I don’t HAVE to recommend anyone.

    7. LCH*

      I think the LW made an unfortunately bad first impression on the professor and possibly didn’t do anything outstanding later to change it.

    8. Rock Prof*

      Pat of my job is to write letters, but that doesn’t mean I have to write letters, or positive letters, for everyone who asks. In this case, the professor didn’t even refuse, she just said that if she wore one out wouldn’t be super positive.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      What professor wants to write a tepid reference that they know could tank the student’s chances of admission? They were doing the student a favor and giving them an opportunity to seek a reference from someone who could give more of an endorsement. “Stopped being late to class and started turning things in on time when asked to do so” is not something that’s going to stand out as a positive to grad school committees.

      There are also some circles of academia that can get really small really fast, and I could see a professor not wanting to endorse a lackluster student in front of their peers.

      1. Shiara*

        Not to mention the time! If you care about the reference letters you write it’s a non-trivial time commitment, often at an already busy time. It’s a waste of my time to write a tepid reference letter that, at best, is going to be a net zero to the student’s application.

    10. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      “The reference is to support their potential to complete graduate school”

      I’m confused by this statement, but it might be a difference in programs.

      In my graduate program (and all of the ones I know of, which is a limited list), references aren’t part of the graduation requirements. A reference or letter of recommendation would be for moving on from the program (e.g., to a job, to the next degree), but has nothing to do with finishing the graduate program

    11. NeutralJanet*

      Okay, but what if the professor doesn’t think that the student has the potential to complete graduate school? Should they write a letter saying, “This student did poorly in my class and is unlikely to succeed in further education?”

      (I’m not necessarily saying that OP did poorly and is unlikely to succeed, mind you, just pushing back on the idea that professors shouldn’t ever decline to write references.)

  15. ckee*

    I really try to avoid saying things like “that person should have filed charges” because that sort of thing can drift into victim-blamey territory–I will instead say that I hope the eye-injury victim of Rubber Band CFO was aware that they COULD have filed assault charges, and probably would have had a good case, as they evidently had multiple witnesses to this deliberate assault on their eye.

  16. Bast*

    LW 4– I was in a similar position as the employee mentioned in this letter while I was pregnant, particularly in the last month or 2. At the time, I was working a retail job with very strict and set breaks, and you were expected to use the restroom during break times. Unfortunately, baby had other ideas, to the point where I was going nearly once an hour due to the kicks he delivered my bladder. It didn’t matter if I went on my break, it didn’t matter if I refrained from drinking during my break or pre-work so I didn’t have to go, he’d kick and I’d end up having to pee. It was annoying for me as well, having to use the restroom that frequently, and I also had a manager (with no children) complain about “using the restroom during my break.” I did. It didn’t help. Apart from pregnancy, there are many reasons why people might have to go more frequently than others, but in general I’d let it go. I think you’d be pretty embarrassed asking, and then hearing, about someone’s constipation or IBS issues.

  17. Bast*

    LW 2 — When you say “late to class in the beginning of the semester” is this referencing ONE incident of being late? If so, I agree that it is over the top to not act as a reference for a single occurrence, as even some of the best employees I’ve known have been late once or twice. As a manager, if an amazing employee had one late day in a whole year, I’d still count them as reliable. We’re all human. If you mean “continuously late at the beginning of the semester” being multiple occurrences, then I understand the professor’s reluctance. If someone had a constant tardiness problem I would be hesitant to vouch for their reliability as well.

    I can see this not hurting in certain roles — there seem to be an increasing number of jobs where the hours are flexible and/or as long as you are getting the work done, clocking in at exactly 9:00 AM sharp doesn’t matter as much, but I still wouldn’t use this reference unless I had no others to go by, which LW may not if they are fresh in their career and only have professors to go by.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      The thing is, regardless of whether the LW was late once, or late every class for a month until the professor spoke with them about it…why would you want to use someone as a reference if they were anything less than wildly enthusiastic about you?

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      You really should not respond to “I cannot be a positive reference for you; you should find someone else” with “But WHY?!!!! I will defeat this with logic! Your reasons must be unfounded! Argue with me!!!!”

      1. Pippa K*

        Exactly. Also “I disagree with your assessment of me. Please substitute *my* assessment of me, and sign your name to it, thanks.”

        1. Not Alison*

          Also, did Bast ever stop to think that there are probably other reasons why the Professor could not in good conscience write a recommendation letter but didn’t want to list a litany of the student’s failures, just gave one reason. Often people give a reason for something, which in itself is true, but not their real underlying reason for that thing.

      2. Umami*

        Right?? We went to a graduation party recently for the son of a friend, and he told us a story about how unreasonable one of his professors was for not giving him a grade he felt he deserved. Turns out, he skipped a mandatory class, because it was a review class and the professor was providing food. The student scheduled a job interview that would cause him to miss the class, decided not to tell the professor, and when he lost points for not attending, argued that what he was doing was more important than the ‘pizza party’. I don’t know why he thought we would be sympathetic, we literally said, why didn’t you talk to the professor about the conflict ahead of time and clear it with him?? Instead, he took him flight information, interview confirmations, etc. to prove why he was absent and to cajole the professor into giving him back the points. He simply DID.NOT.GET.IT. and was mad that it didn’t work. *sigh*

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      It sounded like more than once if the prof had to step in and have a conversation with OP regarding coming to class on time and turning work in on time. It’s great that the OP fixed it after being called out, but based on the fact that they had to have the prof step in and set the standard, to me it seems more like asking a job where you met the expectations of your PIP to provide a good reference.

    4. Professor X (Formerly Professor Twitter)*

      This was weird because this person is a COLLEGE STUDENT, not someone in the workforce. They are still children, pre-frontal cortex etc. Of course a college student may have needed to be talked to. They are still growing up, getting out of their homes, being on their own for the first time, learning how to be an adult.

      That professor is not great. A reference could have said “LW was late a lot, but after speaking with them about it, they really shaped up.”

      But 2015 was a different time.

      1. LCH*

        or pick a professor of a class you had after learning this lesson. so they would have a more favorable memory of you.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Ugh, I hate the infantilization of college students as “still children” – most are technically adults at 18 and up. (There was a time when most 18 year olds were in the workforce!) But I agree they are learning the norms of the larger world, and many come from homes with helicopter parents who micromanaged them and made sure they got to school on time.

        I don’t think it’s their undeveloped child brains, I think it’s “for the first time in my life Mom is not going to wake me up, make me get dressed, and ensure that I get to class on time. I have to do all this myself now!” Naturally there is a learning curve.

        1. Observer*

          But I agree they are learning the norms of the larger world, and many come from homes with helicopter parents who micromanaged them and made sure they got to school on time.

          That may be true. But it still means that said student has a problem with timeliness. Or at least had one when in Professor X’s class. It’s not her concern as to *why* the OP has a problem, just that it exists.

          Also, if the OP had responded or described the situation differently, I might think that they have gotten it together since then and would be fine. But they seem to be saying “I’m fine, because I’ll show up on time and meet deadlines if you just **tell me** that it’s necessary.” And that’s just not something that is going to make a good graduate student or colleague.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          It’s pretty well established that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t always plateau into maturity until the mid twenties; the brain really doesn’t care about when people are technically adults. That doesn’t mean OP is owed a reference, or that we should infantilize people in their teens and twenties; not only is it highly variable from individual to individual, but this is a subtle and gradual growth phase rather than a simple switch-moment from immature to mature. The growth is probably highly linked to being given adult responsibilities too! But as well as these being new life skills, the brain IS often still growing and may be legitimately struggling to organize these new life skills. If the young adult has also had poor starts in life in terms of nutrition and mental health, which affect neural pathways, or if they’re neurodiverse, then they are learning this stuff at bicycle speed when others have cars.

          1. Observer*

            It’s pretty well established that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t always plateau into maturity until the mid twenties;

            It’s equally well established that people by the age of 18 or so are perfectly capable of mostly adult behavior, assuming no health issues. Because this is not an on / off switch.

            The growth is probably highly linked to being given adult responsibilities too!

            Yes, it is. There is a fair bit of evidence for that as well. Which is all the more reason to stop doing this stuff for young people.

          2. GreyjoyGardens*

            I recall a comment on another board from someone in (IIRC) Finland, who wondered why Americans call college students “college *kids*”. She said that in her country, you’re 18, and at college, you are an *adult.* OTOH most Finnish parents do not helicopter in anything like the way US parents do, so, probably their students are more mature.

            Still, I do think punctuality (with grace given for things out of the person’s control, of course) is a skill that needs to be learned, and I think it *can* be learned even when a person is not of legal age. And there is a difference between “late one or two times,” especially when the student is new to the class, and “habitually late.”

      3. Prof*

        As a professor….no. By middle school students should know that turning up for class late and turning things in late is a problem. Students who exhibit behavior like this generally have issues in other areas too and are not generally very good academically either.

        The exception: the student with a conflict/real issue causing tardiness (like a class right before far away). However…mature students will proactively talk to you about this so you know (and I’d not see this as real tardiness and ignore it as long as they come in quietly). Likewise, students who have an issue and need to be late on an assignment who have a conversation…not the same.

        1. Observer*

          Likewise, students who have an issue and need to be late on an assignment who have a conversation…not the same.


          Or a student who messes up and when called on it is profusely apologetic, in addition to changing. And who makes it clear that they understand the problem and that they will not do it again!

        2. LCH*

          yeah, i had a class right before far away (location was changed after the semester started or i never would have set up my schedule that way). i let my teacher know (grad student teacher) and she still found me very annoying always coming in a couple minutes late. it sucked. i would never have used her for a reference! it just wouldn’t make sense.

        3. Professor X (Formerly Professor Twitter)*

          I also work with students, and there is a HUUUUGE difference between what you think someone “should” know and what they actually know. As a teacher/professor, it’s our job to figure that out and understand that.

          But you do you!

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            Okay, so genuine question: Where’s the line? And when do students get to take responsibility for their actions and deal with the consequences of those actions?

            Being on time and submitting work by the due date both are at a low bar to me, especially for a graduate student (i.e., someone who has completed 16 or so years of school which has had those requirements) but you disagree, so where do you think the line should be?

            1. Ellis Bell*

              High school teacher here (obviously different to what colleges should expect), but basic pedagogy is that you don’t have preconceived expectations of what students can do, you investigate what they can do before trying to achieve progress. So, the student who struggles to be on time might need a referral for ADHD. Or, a sharp talking to! It depends on the student. All of this is separate to your stated out loud expectations which would be the expectation of “be on time all the time”. That doesn’t mean students are isolated from natural consequences; like that if the lateness means they’ve skipped parts of lessons and then they’re behind, there’s nothing you can do about that and that has to be explained. Personally I’m more impressed by the student who makes progress in some way than one who remains unchanged, even if they’ve always met basic requirements (So I’m half with Professor X, if the student took the feedback on board then they progressed; punctuality is an important skill but being able to change is even more so). However, if everyone on the course is really exceptional, heading to a career were it’s critical, and the improvement was still way below standards there’s definitely a place to say so.

      4. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yeah, it’s interesting the two different perspectives we’re getting today about being late coming back from your break versus being late to a class before correcting it.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          That’s comparing apples and oranges. To me, the employee isn’t “late coming back from break”. At least if it’s an office-type job. Because going to the bathroom on work time is fine. He could come back, sit down for a second, unlock his computer and immediately relock and get up to go to the bathroom. He would then not be “late”, but it makes no sense.

          Showing up late to a meeting would be comparable, but that’s not what’s happening.

      5. Observer*

        ot someone in the workforce. They are still children, pre-frontal cortex etc. Of course a college student may have needed to be talked to.

        Nope. at 18, this is not a “child” who is unable to understand that they need to be on time. Keep in mind that the OP could just as easily have been in the workforce at the same time as they were in college *and* that lots of 18 year olds *are* actually in the workforce and managing to be on time, with no failure to understand the need for it.

        They are still growing up, getting out of their homes, being on their own for the first time, learning how to be an adult.

        If they are just now learning the *basics* of adulting, they have a major problem on their hands, and their graduate program is not going to be interested in baby sitting them.

        Keep in mind that at this point the OP is *not* just “getting out of their home” – they are finishing up 3-6 years of school, so unless they are a child prodigy they are at least in the 20’s and should have some experience of living on their own more or less. Yet they still don’t seem to understand the problem. So, no, the professor is not the one with unreasonable expectations here.

        1. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

          I don’t think LW’s problem was a lack of understanding. It was more likely ignorance of norms and expectations. If they did in fact fix the problem immediately after getting feedback about it, I think LW was correct to think it’s inaccurate to say they were generally unreliable. But them’s the breaks: in your professional life, people are always assessing you based on incomplete information. And of course it’s possible that LW actually continued to show signs of unreliability and was just unwilling to acknowledge that.

          In any case, this professor deserves credit for probably being the first person to be honest with LW about how damaging lateness was for them. I had problems with this sort of thing back in college (largely related to untreated ADHD), and I wish someone had told me how I was making myself look.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        By the time you’re finishing college, you’ve had years and years of practice at school, including being on time and handing your work in on a deadline. That’s a pretty low bar to meet and I wouldn’t be super impressed if I had to talk to a 21-year-old about it, either.

      7. samwise*

        If they’re asking for a reference for grad school, they are a senior in college. They’ve had three / three and a half years to learn “don’t be late to class” and “turn your work in on time” are MINIMAL requirements.

        First semester freshman year? OK, I understand you’re still a high school student, where good students are given a ton of slack. I’m still gonna talk with you about being on time re attendance and assignments. It’s right there in the syllabus, but I’ll have a chat with you too. (and your grade will suffer regardless, because you didn’t do the MINIMUM required for the class). After that first semester? You know better and it’s on you to be timely.

        1. samwise*

          Just reread the OP letter — they’re already in grad school. They’ve got no excuse, none, zero, unless there is some sort of significant issue out of their control, in which case, they need to talk with the prof and possibly also with campus disability services for an accommodation.

      8. Distracted Procrastinator*

        A college student old enough to be applying for graduate school still needs to be told norms like “don’t turn in work late” and “show up to class on time?” The “developing brain” theory is nice for helping understand why college students still take riskier behaviors than older adults, but it doesn’t excuse them from understanding standard expectations they should already know.

      9. RussianInTexas*

        The LW is in grad school. They are not a child.
        You learn “not to be late to class” and “turn in your assignment on time” by high school.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Being late to class is more like being late to a meeting than being late to work. It’s a scheduled time with an agenda and information that the professor wants to present one time. It can also be disruptive to have people coming in and out. If you’re routinely showing up for meetings well after they’ve started and being disruptive by arriving noisily or requiring that content to repeated to get you up to speed, that’s going to be a much bigger problem than rolling in late based on a time clock.

      1. Observer*

        Being late to class is more like being late to a meeting than being late to work.

        Very much this. In most non-coverage jobs, it just doesn’t make a difference if you show up at x:00 vs x:05 (Yes, there are exceptions!) But, coming in to a meeting late (especially in person!) is different, and so is handing work in late!

        If you’re routinely showing up for meetings well after they’ve started and being disruptive by arriving noisily or requiring that content to repeated to get you up to speed,

        The thing is that even if you come in quietly and the teacher is not repeating the material it’s still disruptive, and you’re almost certainly missing stuff.

      2. AFac*

        And in grad school, assignments are often more like projects or reports, not multiple choice worksheets. They are often very complex and take time to grade. So by not submitting an assignment on time, they are causing delays to someone else’s job: the professor who needs to grade these assignments in addition to the rest of their job.

        If I ask for a paper to be submitted on Wed. and I carve out several hours to grade on Fri., I will be annoyed if it doesn’t get turned in to me until Mon. because I’ll need to find some time to grade it beyond what I had originally scheduled.

  18. Jade*

    As someone who works in medicine and has seen trauma to the eye, this rubber band shooting is outrageous. I would file a complaint with OSHA and request to remain anonymous. That eye injury is a work-related injury. This is a hazardous work place.

  19. Blarg*

    I know the letter is old, but I assume he hasn’t gotten any better, so I’d like to nominate rubber band CFO as worst boss.

  20. 2023 is Ending Soon*

    #3 – the first church I worked for also had a school, which had several sizes of vehicles, including a tour bus. They were always pushing people (not me) to get the license for that one, but that thing is huge. It takes more than a piece of plastic to make someone a good driver for that. About 55 lives depend on that driver.

    1. Glazed Donut*

      I worked for a school that had large vans (15 passengers, I think). It was the largest size vehicle you could drive before you needed a special license. Any teacher with a driver’s license was expected to drive these for our field trips. It made me SO NERVOUS driving a bunch of 12/13 year olds, sometimes loud and energetic, through town for field trips. This was a private school where parents paid $$,$$$ for tuition, so thinking about potential ramifications if I got in an accident….ugh, maybe top 5 reasons why I hated working there.

  21. Yoyoyo*

    #1 – I would have to find a new job. I have PTSD and the thought of projectiles flying all around the office is giving me major anxiety. I can’t stand this kind of person who thinks they’re funny but is setting everyone else on edge…and this guy actually INJURED someone! His behavior is so out of bounds.

  22. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #1 and #3 go together. Both are liabilities to the company. #1 has already injured someone and he needed to be told right then to stop. #3 has realized what a liability she is, and wants to stop. #3, the company may not care about harming your driving record, but they will sure care about their insurance. That’s how you frame it, I’m sorry but if I continue to drive this vehicle it will increase our insurance rates, someone else needs to do it.

    Hit the bottom line to get their attention.

    1. Antilles*

      For #3, I’m honestly kind of surprised the company themselves wasn’t pushing this. Every company I’ve worked at that has official company vehicles has taken even the “very minor accidents” extremely seriously. Vehicle insurance for commercial vehicles is quite expensive and it’s also a huge liability.
      Especially since OP had already gotten into a couple accidents in the company vehicle, this is just begging for trouble if an accident occurs and the other party decides to sue.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        There was a situation at oldjob much like this, having to do with who could drive the bookmobile, and it’s making me wonder if there’s more to the story. As I understood it, they would hire and train someone to get their CDL, but then pay them less than literally any other CDL requiring job. So, everyone left after getting fully trained. And that’s how you end up with situations where someone who doesn’t want to drive the bus is the only one who can and is being begged to keep doing it. It seems a better option (to some) than canceling service entirely.

        (I’m well aware that paying a qualified person adequately is the solution, but this is capitalism, we don’t do that.)

        1. Observer*

          I’m well aware that paying a qualified person adequately is the solution, but this is capitalism, we don’t do that.

          Nope. That’s not actually how capitalism works. You pay what you need to, to keep the staff that you need to, is how capitalism works. You’re old employer was trying to “hack” capitalism. I would not be surprised if it came back to bite them in increased costs elsewhere.

          1. Dulcinea47*

            It absolutely is how capitalism operates in the modern US and has for decades, at least. Especially any person or thing that labels itself conservative. It doesn’t matter how much facts and numbers prove it’d be cheaper in the long run to spend a little money now, they’re not doing that.

            1. Observer*

              Assuming that you are correct about how the US economy works, that’s not the same as capitalism. The US economy has not been purely capitalist for a long time. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a different question.

              But it’s also true that in the US economy if you are not being subsidized by someone / some organization / the government, you’re not staying in business if you can’t or won’t pay a competitive wage. It’s not for nothing that a lot of workers in many areas – even ones that are not highly unionized – have seen their wages go up, generally more than inflation.

  23. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    #4: If you have assigned breaks and this is a coverage based job, then yeah the bathroom breaks are a problem. You need to address it with her, I am sure others on the team have noticed and are a bit annoyed they are covering extra work for her.

  24. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    Did the CFO actually write up Hannah for keeping her glasses on and depriving him of a target?

    1. Mill Miker*

      It sounds like he told Hannah to put the glasses on. I wonder if this was after the eye injury incident.

  25. Umami*

    I’ve had only a few positions reporting to me that have a built-in required break twice a day, plus a lunch break. I have assumed that the purpose of the break is to take care of any needs, like going to the bathroom, while also taking a break from the work. So if someone were to take their 20-minute break, and then immediately take another 5-10 minutes to go to the bathroom, that sounds potentially problematic? I understand needing to take a break to go to the restroom during other times, but isn’t the purpose of the scheduled break to take care of such things also? I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’ll add that I definitely don’t police this, I have one employee right now with a coverage-based role, and any time she needs to step away we have other staff who can provide coverage (and there isn’t a set time for the break, it’s at her discretion). But I would definitely hear about it if someone is expecting to cover the 20-minute break but the employee didn’t come back in time because they didn’t consider the 20-break as including a stop at the bathroom.

  26. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’d love to hear an update on Letter 1. I hope it includes “and the person with the injured eye took worker’s comp and made the company pay for their medical bills,” at the very least. What would really be nice is “and Injured Eye sued the company and won.”

  27. Lucia Pacciola*

    ““Can you stop with the rubber bands? I am not willing to risk a serious eye injury like Jane got, or worse. This is going to lead to workers comp claims or worse. Someone has already been injured. It’s distracting and it’s dangerous and I don’t want to be around it.”

    Why use many words when few words will do? Why not simply, “I don’t like it when you shoot rubber bands at me. Please don’t.”

    1. Observer*

      Why not simply, “I don’t like it when you shoot rubber bands at me. Please don’t.”

      Because you are not dealing with a *reasonable* person who gives a flip about what people want or need. If you were, the letter would not exist.

      1. kalli*

        IDK, the only reason senior partner treated me with slightly more respect than everyone else who didn’t have an office is because I spoke up, sometimes to his face, using direct wording instead of long scripts. “Don’t touch me.” and “Don’t yell at me.” lasted 6-8 weeks per occasion and if I went higher, twice that. If it had been reinforced with other people saying the same instead of enabling it it might even have stuck, but you can only do so much when you put in a sexual harassment complaint over the touching and your supervisor calls you in to recommend you don’t date the partners but she’d be 100% supportive if you wanted to.

      2. Lucia Pacciola*

        Unreasonable people aren’t known for patiently listening to verbose sermons. They’re going to get bored halfway through, roll their eyes, and shoot a rubber band at you.

    1. Forrest Rhodes*

      Agreed, Dek. I want someone in #1 to have asked the CFO, “Are you under the impression that this rubber-band fixation is cute and charming, rather than adolescent, stupid, and—as already proven—dangerous”?
      Right, it’s too many words, and you can’t talk to C-suite like that, etc., etc. But I’d still like to hear Bozo CFO’s response.

  28. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    My job is different because I work in healthcare during doing coverage/direct patient care based work (anesthesia during surgery). We get a 15 minute morning break, a 30 min lunch and a 15 min afternoon break. Someone has to come to your operating room, get updated on your patient, then let you take your break. You cannot choose your break time (within reason – in an emergency, you could request a bathroom break). Taking 15 minutes to sit around and then go to the bathroom would be a huge problem.

    We don’t have anyone who has asked for a bathroom related accommodation. I don’t know how that would be handled if it was frequent or unpredictable (like IBD or something). In general, the morning and afternoon breaks are supposed to be your restroom time.

    1. Coral Sea*

      +1 I once had a coverage-based job with a 15/30/15 break & lunch schedule. We were absolutely expected to take care of restroom needs during those times. There was a person whose entire job was to rotate around to cover breaks and if you decided to add on a lengthy bio-break after you’d already taken a 15 or a 30, it meant everyone else’s breaks and lunches happened later too. The breaker could usually accommodate very fast “runs to the restroom” at off-break times but you had to wait until coverage allowed, and it was really discouraged. Taking a lengthy “trip to the reading room” at a time other than a break or lunch was out of the question. If someone had started doing that regularly, the rest of us would not have been happy AT ALL.

  29. Alan*

    It’s hard to miss the fact that #2’s prof also cited unreliability, which the student “disagreed” with but otherwise did not address. It’s possible that the prof is wildly negative, but my guess is that the student is lacking some self-awareness here and that there’s more of a pattern (missed deadlines, for example) than they’re willing to admit. Some people just refuse to see what everyone else sees. Yay for the prof being honest though. That must have been a difficult conversation.

    1. NotBatman*

      Yes! As a professor, I think that the prospective letter-writer did OP2 a favor. There have been times when a student has pushed me to write them a letter over my objections — and I’ve honestly reported that, though they did XYZ high-quality work, they were also late to 4 class meetings even though their peers were always on time. That couldn’t have been good for their application, but I also won’t lie in one of those letters because that defeats the whole point.

  30. Unkempt Flatware*

    There was once a very old man who was a regular customer at the grocery store I worked at in high school. This store had dedicated baggers at each station. The baggers were always boys as they were also required to take out every customer’s groceries to their cars (we didn’t allow customers to do it themselves). This old man made a show of body-checking the boys out of his way so he could bag his groceries himself. He never spoke. I think he thought it was funny or bemusing to shove these boys. Once he did it to the boy who just returned to work from a broken leg and the poor boy let out a very intense scream followed by a string of curse words. Old man was horrified and we never saw him again. Don’t do shit like this, people! I hope someone cursed out the CFO and really truly shamed him into stopping.

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

    In regards to #2 I really don’t think a Professor would be a good reference unless the student worked for the professor. Like if they worked doing research, or if the student did work-study or something for the professor. But just a regular student who the professor taught. After all there can be lots of reason for a student to be late to class or have late work (I’m not sure how many time a professor kept the class a few minutes past time. Heck, I even had a professor yell at us because we were all packing up our stuff and he said I still have you, and he made us take our notebooks out and we waited life 5 minutes more.
    And actually, I think it shows that the OP grew because they took the professor’s evaluation to heart and changed their behavior so they were early.
    I do agree that the OP should just leave it alone.

    1. kalli*

      If someone has been studying full-time and hasn’t had a job yet (or had enough jobs the get the required number of references) a professor is usually the best way to go until they do. It’s one of those things we accept so as not to send new grads entirely up unhireable creek.

    2. Deborah*

      To get into grad school, my daughter needs 3-5 letters of recommendations from profs. She’s not going to have worked with 3-5 different profs in a research or work-study capacity. So even just regular students really do have to ask their profs for these letters.

  32. Danish*

    As a chronic health issue person, in a similar way to how I like being able to take actual vacations and not have to spend all my PTO on health related things, I like to not spend all my breaks in the bathroom. So yes – if I have an unpaid break I will probably not intentionally time my bathroom trips to coincide with it.

    if an employer is extremely limiting about where my “time off” is spent, I don’t have the option to ignore my bodily needs, so instead I just burn out by never getting a real break. Let me tell you, it’s a real bummer to have the only time away from your desk all day be spent in the bathroom. Even people with GI issues like to take a walk during the day.

  33. Sleepy in the Stacks*

    I feel like I might be in the minority regarding the bathroom breaks as someone who works a coverage based job. To preface what I’m going to say, I’m not talking about people with medical conditions in my comment.

    If you’re working a coverage based job, someone being late from breaks consistently will throw off every one else’s schedule. Even being back within 5 minutes of your break time ending, you’ve pushed whoever has break next by five minutes. If they do the same thing, the person after them is pushed back by 10 minutes. If you’re pulling people from other departments, you’re messing with their workflow and coverage by being back late.

    I feel most people won’t mind if it is a one off every now and then, but if it is every day at every break or even multiple times a week, resentment is going to build up. Staff *will* notice if their coworker is consistently late coming back from break, especially if it hinders their own break.

    1. Stopgap*

      You say you’re not talking about people with medical conditions. Do people at your workplace always tell their coworkers their medical conditions so the coworkers know not to be resentful?

      1. Sleepy in the Stacks*

        No, but if there is the need for medical accommodation, it can be worked into the schedule so that there IS coverage that doesn’t just hinge on the person with the accommodation coming back, like Umami said.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Some of us stated that coverage jobs were an exception and imo at that type of job an employee should request bathroom accommodations at the offer stage if they know have a medical need.

      In such cases the employer has to make it work somehow, but hopefully not by permanently adding on those minutes to the shifts of coworkers. Whatever the solution, the employee may choose to inform coworkers that she has a different schedule for medical reasons, to avoid comment/criticism.

      1. Sleepy in the Stacks*

        Yup, fully agree with both your comments. The employer needs to find a way to make things work for ALL employees equitably. If someone needs an accommodation, they should get it, but it is then on the employer to find a way to make sure everyone else also gets their breaks in a timely manner.

        As to your first paragraph, I just think that a lot of people who comment here may not work coverage jobs, which is obviously fine, but it does change the advice a bit. We can’t just get up and go at these jobs like you might be able to at other jobs.

    3. Umami*

      Agreed. If someone has a medical condition, everyone affected would benefit from that employee getting an accommodation so that coverage can be worked out appropriately. If not, then they need to adhere to the agreed-upon break time (other than one-offs, like you said!) It’s more in fairness to other colleagues than in wanting to track how people are spending their break time. It can definitely create issues if someone consistently takes a 30-minute break when the break time is set at 20, and everyone else is honoring the 20. If someone legitimately needs extra time, they should get it.

    4. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      If the employee has not requested an accommodation and it is a coverage job, then the manager should warn her that taking longer breaks except for the occasional necessity is not acceptable.
      (at which point the employee can request an accommodation if there is a medical need she didn’t want to divulge before)

  34. Critical Rolls*

    I once asked a professor if she would give me a letter of recommendation. After agreeing, she smiled and said that was a good way to phrase it, because she can *always* provide a reference, but only *sometimes* a recommendation. One of those lessons the privileged sometimes learn early: choose your references carefully!

  35. Raida*

    1. Our CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at people

    We had rubber band guns at an office I used to work at – all in good fun, not powerful, not used often, not used to interrupt people.


    One newer fella thought it was funny, thought the warning “you’ll get all the guns taken away if you’re not careful” was funny when he fired in a nearly-unacceptable way.
    He shot, hit me in the eyebrow, did an “ooops! sorry!” with a bit of a laugh.
    I gave him in response “You hit me in the eye and I’ll break all your c*nt fingers mate. Be careful.”

    And he used the guns responsibly, like everyone else, after that.

    So… not really advice other than SAY SOMETHING. I’d also include:
    Collect all the fired rubber bands. Never give them back. Tell him every time he shoots one he loses the band and we’ll see who gives up first.

  36. Database Developer Dude*

    Shooting rubber bands in the office? No. Just….no. While I would never use physical violence in the workplace to retaliate, I’m not above a little psychological violence for something so egregious….

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