updates: employee is lying and falsifying records, the out-of-tune guitar, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. HR doesn’t want me to fire an employee for lying and falsifying records

I took your advice — particularly the last sentence of it — and I’m no longer working at that organization.

My employee admitted to making the change and lying about it. My manager agreed that we should let them go immediately, but HR insisted on a PIP. There were other performance issues to point to, so I didn’t have to have only a goal of “don’t lie.” Unfortunately, shortly before the scheduled end of the PIP, I caught a major judgement error and, due to that and a lack of progress, we let the employee go.

Interestingly, shortly after this experience, another employee was let go after making a single mistake — no dishonesty involved, and no PIP.

This issue was indicative of others across the organization. Essentially, I was disempowered from doing my job through micromanagement and a lack of information. I ramped up my job search after this experience and started a new position this fall.

2. I play in a church band and the director’s guitar is always out of tune (#2 at the link)

Because it’s the “where are you now” time of year at AAM, I thought you (and the followers of the blog) might find it interesting to hear the resolution to the bizarre out-of-tune guitar situation that I previously emailed in about:

Basically, I found an opportunity to speak to someone with more authority about the situation (the person who manages the worship and music teams), and she
advised me that the band director would be spoken to. I walked away slightly unsure, but after a short period of time the director showed up with a new electric guitar, which to my surprise seemed to resolve the issue. At first I had thought the tuning issue could be simply a lack of awareness, but now I think it was largely a quality issue with the first guitar, which was relatively inexpensive. I really do appreciate all the work the director does, and with the removal of the offending instrument, we’re in a pretty good position now.

Thanks to Alison and the comments section for your advice!

3. My office told me to pump in the bathroom (#3 at the link)

I just wanted to say thank you!

Accommodations were quickly made for me after I sent an email citing the law and cced my boss. HR is new and wrote that email without actually consulting anyone else and was also really wrong about what he told me.

Management contacted me to inform me that the policy has always been to accommodate people in my situation with a clean, private office and apologized profusely that I was told otherwise.

Not sure what happened to HR since I’m not in the office, but I haven’t heard from him since.

4. Can I ask a high-level exec to stop using the one gender-neutral bathroom?

While I got a bit raked over the coals in my initial post, it was a good reminder about other invisible disabilities beyond my own. The building was poorly set up to accommodate folks but that was out of my hands.

In retrospect, the washroom issue was just a big sign of how undervalued and invisible I felt to where I was working … plus some pretty substantial frustrations over having worked from home the first few years of the pandemic but being forced back in and having my accommodation claim to work from home more often denied. In December 2022, I interviewed for a new role in my university in a fully different department and got the job! I got a raise, I work from home 4/5 days a week (5/5 if I’m possibly contagious). PLUS I work with people who actually work hard to use my pronouns, some even gently correct each other even if they don’t know I’m in earshot. And for a bonus, the two washrooms are twice as close as last job and both are gender neutral. It’s not perfect because no job can be, but it’s a pretty amazing improvement over where I was when I wrote in. I really appreciate reading all the great advice from Alison and the commentariat, this is one of the few websites I’ve kept up with for quite a few years now.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

    1. Jaybeetee*

      This and Headphone Husband the other day really do drive home how overall stress or unhappiness can lead to you fixating on one thing as “the real problem.” I’ve learned from (hard) personal experience that if I ever catch myself thinking, “If only I could deal with X problem, everything would be okay!”, that’s a good sign that many things are *not* okay, and I need to assess my situation more holistically.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I just re-read the comments on the original question and was super amused. At some point someone used a fairly good comparison to cheese pizza vs. pepperoni pizza and vegans vs. people with other pepperoni issues and the whole thing devolved into about fifty comments debating pizza etiquette. I love this site.

    3. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      Nice work, OP4!

      Thanks for mentioning the importance of people correcting pronouns. I’m trans and have noticed that some cis people don’t listen very much to trans people but will listen to other cis people. It really does help when allies speak up.

  1. Dust Bunny*

    2) Yeah, my guitar does OK except for the bass E string, which is never really in tune because the neck is just a bit off (and can’t be adjusted). It doesn’t matter because it’s just me playing by myself, but if I were playing in a group I think I would have to find a way to get a better instrument. Sometimes it’s an instrument issue, though.

    1. blue rose*

      Wasn’t there some historical figure music guy who played organ for his church, but he and his buddies would steal pipes to sell for the metal’s value, so he just composed/played around the missing notes? I learned about him ages ago though, so I don’t have a firm grasp of the details and it’s fully possible this is more popular folklore than historical fact, but does this sound familiar to anyone??

      1. 2 Cents*

        Apparently a teenage Puccini would rearrange compositions to avoid hitting notes of the pipes he stole to buy cigarettes

  2. MountainAir*

    Genuinely relieved at the update for #3! It’s shocking to me how common it is for HR people to misunderstand or be ignorant of laws around breastfeeding. So happy to hear that the people around OP #3 understood immediately the stakes, and that the HR guy (….sigh) was out of line.

    When I was navigating this with my first kiddo, I was really lucky to be in a work situation that provided an accommodating and pro-family environment. Even so I found things to bring to the attention of our leadership that they didn’t know – in my case, a good thing, which was that employers who provide paid family leave get a tax credit!

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Very important to know your own rights and raise them, rather than relying on HR to know and assert them for you – very good point!

    2. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I hope that this isn’t perceived as my excusing the HR guy or the situation because I’m not. HR guy should have done his due diligence when the employee asked the first time instead of putting LW in an awkward situation. But I think this is a reminder that there are new/bad workers in every job and people err. The best thing we can do is be our own advocates.

      1. rollyex*


        “HR is new and wrote that email without actually consulting anyone else and was also really wrong about what he told me.”

        It’s weird to me that a new person just jumps to decisive action. Seems to me that when new in a role I would be more careful about an issue like this. Some mediocre men have so much confidence…..

        1. Kaden Lee*

          Some people jump in “to prove themselves”. Not super uncommon in my experience – I’m even prone to it despite my awareness it is more often harmful than helpful.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      While I agree that everyone should know their rights, this is such a basic issue. I do expect HR to know, because regardless of their gender, it’s their frickin JOB. If my company’s HR didn’t know this, I would wonder what the hell else they didn’t know.

    1. Aha*

      I didn’t get that feeling at all. It’s hard to read critical responses about oneself, so I sympathize with that and it sounds to me like they ultimately appreciated the perspective. It does sound like there’s more need for these facilities (gender neutral, ADA, family) than the institution has provided, so it makes sense that there’s still some general frustration. But I think they now understand it as an institutional issue rather than something that is caused by individual users. It’s similar to how women’s restrooms are often insufficient compared to mens’ facilities (see: intermission at a concert) – it’s the architect’s fault, not the fact that other women also exist.

      1. Violet Fox*

        This is also something that is more easily fixable when designing and building new buildings than it is when working on fixing old ones.

        1. Observer*

          I think that that’s part of the background that made the whole thing harder for the OP.

          It turns out that the place had recently had major renovations, including bathrooms / plumbing done, yet nothing had been done about the issue when it was doable. And a number of people pointed out that *that* fact, among others, was giving them pause about whether this was really a good place in terms of DEI

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I’m not sure why, I thought LW4 showed a tremendous amount of insight and growth in this update.

    3. bighairnoheart*

      I didn’t get that impression from their update at all. Bah humbug, maybe your username here is somewhat fitting of your own viewpoint?

    4. Trixie*

      I’ve never equated gender neutral bathrooms with non-binary people. to me it simply means that people of all genders can use it, not just non-binary people.

      in fact, I just read that in New York it is the law that all single stall bathrooms are gender neutral. I sincerely doubt that they intend for only non-binary people to use them.

      I understand the frustration about having to wait in line, but it doesn’t sound like gendered bathrooms are much better.

  3. Heffalump*

    OP1: “Interestingly, shortly after this experience, another employee was let go after making a single mistake — no dishonesty involved, and no PIP.”

    As we know, in the business world, everyone isn’t equal before the law. :(

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      What are you talking about? Everyone is equal. Some are just more equal than others, is all.

      /s (JIC)

  4. Free Meerkats*

    Regarding the tuning, I’m of the view that telling someone they are out of tune in a group setting is never wrong. No need to be precious or beat around the bush with, “Someone is a bit off” type comments; if you know who is off, tell them. Once I started playing a violin, it was something I had to learn prior to that I played trombone where it was easy to flatten the note if my tuning was a bit sharp.

    But glad to hear it was taken care of.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yeah, I remember the original letter and as a musician myself I’m surprised at this escalation. To put it in workplace terms the OP has gone straight to the person’s manager to complain about an issue that ought be be addressable with someone directly, it isn’t contentious at all to say “can we just check the tuning as something doesn’t sound right”, or whatever. Although it sounds like it was effective so it’s a happy update (but I wonder if the relationship between OP and the guitar player has changed).

    2. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Yes, once when I went to a choir rehearsal, the director was kind but specific about switching me to second soprano instead of first (we were all happier even if I didn’t get to climb the ladder all the way during the Hallelujah Chorus).

  5. Database Developer Dude*

    I spewed coffee at #3. I don’t care how new an HR person is. Would you eat in the bathroom? No? Then why should food production for a baby occur in the bathroom. This is something that should be common sense. You don’t tell a nursing mother to breastfeed or pump in a place that people take care of urination and defecation. You just don’t. It’s gross.

    1. tangerineRose*

      “Would you eat in the bathroom? No? Then why should food production for a baby occur in the bathroom.” Exactly!

  6. sulky-anne*

    I’m glad you’re in a better situation now, LW4! I have to say that I think you were treated pretty unfairly in the comments. It felt like some people really discounted the importance of gender neutral washrooms and how frustrating it can be to have to organize your workday around washroom access. Solidarity!

    1. Dahlia*

      I didn’t really see that in the comments. Mostly just people pointing out that it is very normal to have to wait to use the bathroom at work.

    2. GythaOgden*

      This is quite a weird take. As someone who would be in line for accessible washrooms and someone who had invisible disabilities (that then, alas, turned visible), I’m not going to begrudge anyone else their direct need to go if they beat me to the loo. It’s bad form to use an accessible toilet if you can see others available and someone with visible disabilities standing near, but when we’re in the situation of needing to go, we’re probably not in the mental position to think through all the potential identity permutations of the people behind us in the queue, and any reasonable person would understand that in return.

      It would be useful to have more unisex bathrooms, but that’s just what they are — usable by anyone regardless of gender identity. I can manage ordinary stalls with a stick, but there are two unisex cubicles in the vestibule of the office I was on reception for and both were freely used by anyone and I waited my turn or walked elsewhere if I was really desperate.

      The issue was probably one of there not being enough in general rather than someone using the most convenient one for them. It’s something to advocate for but ultimately, everyone is a human being with basic bodily needs and this is a really strange take on it. The way to do this kind of thing is to have inclusive signage on accessible bathrooms — please note that some people have invisible disabilities and may need to use the accessible toilet — rather than further segregate people by bathrooms, which for patently obvious reasons is NOT what anyone wants in the long run.

  7. Rosacolleti*

    #4 can someone explain if a non-gendered bathroom is the same as a unisex bathroom? We have lots of unisex bathrooms in Australia but I’ve never heard that they were restricted use in any way.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Yeah, tbh I think it’s the same thing. I’m not sure why OP begrudged her colleague the need to go to a particular bathroom and expected a certain privilege to attach to it. As people have said, waiting to use the loo is a thing everyone has to do at times and the onus is on the building to sort out better provision of facilities than to force people to remember offhand in a time when their body is also ensuring the urge to expel unneeded junk from it who is allowed to use which facility. There are times recently when my urge to go has been so critical that I could not care less about anyone’s needs other than my own. And times when the relief of going has outweighed the embrassment at being in the wrong place (mostly because my local shopping centre is weird when channeling people in the ‘correct’ direction and I’m so desperate I’m not paying attention).

      We actually have more ladies’ toilets at the office I worked from (I’m still with the company but no longer commuting there every day) but the single stall ones are basically unisex and no-one really cares. There is a large accessible closet and a smaller single stall on each floor of the main building, and multi-stall gendered bathrooms in each wing, but the ladies get preference because unfortunately our bodies don’t have, erm, useful taps on the front for dispensing of waste product and thus it’s harder for us to go standing up and our facilities take up more room than the men need. (The old joke — God was an engineer because when designing humans he he put a waste pipe through a recreational area. And I’m in maintenance so I can tell that one without punching down…)

      So I think OP, in her reasonable anxiety over having to use a specific place, has overcorrected. It’s not like she’s being the ridiculous people who stand in the way of bathroom equality, but it’s as well that she understands that when others have as fundamental and overriding urge as she does, immediate convenience is usually going to win out over exact adherence to even a social norm that she wants to cultivate.

    2. A*

      Gender neutral and unisex are the same at least in the US. One term is just replacing the other. In the original letter it seemed like OP was mistaking “gender neutral” for “nonbinary” when in fact, those bathrooms can be used by anyone.

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