when your new hire is in jail on his first day

A reader writes:

My company hired a new person on my team. He was scheduled to start on a Monday but he pushed back a week at the last minute, and he didn’t notify us until minutes before he was expected in.

The next Monday he didn’t come in, and no one could get in touch with him. We eventually discovered he was in jail. He claimed he was pulled over on the way to work for a traffic violation, then found out he had an outstanding warrant from a traffic ticket mix-up over ten years ago. When he did make it in later that week, he was immediately fired.

I’m wondering how reasonable it was to fire him. A responsible, organized friend of mine also got in trouble from a traffic ticket she was never notified of, so I know his story isn’t impossible. On the other hand, missing your start day because you’re in jail is never a good look — doubly so after he pushed back his start date the first time. My company has a very open culture so I would have some room to encourage us not to put inappropriate weight on what is often a very flawed legal system.

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Giving a reference when I can’t think of any weaknesses
  • Can I be unavailable for lunchtime meetings?
  • What should we do with employees’ email accounts after they leave?

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Dinwar*

    I had a coworker who had a warrant issued for his arrest because of what some other driver with the same name did. He spent a few hours in jail, and went to court over it. Fortunately the judge saw reason (and the address on the driver’s license not matching the one on the warrant), but it was a huge issue that still occasionally flares up.

    The timing is horrible here, but you can’t really blame the new hire for that–there’s not really a good time to be arrested. I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable to push back, and argue that innocence would mean the person isn’t fired. Issues like this do happen.

    1. Observer*

      Even assuming that the former employee was telling the truth, there are a few problems here, which make the company’s actions reasonable.

      The two most important are the fact that they pushed back their original start date – and did so only minutes before they were supposed to be there. There are very few reasons for this to be acceptable, and the rumored reason is not one of them. The second is that they did not contact the employer – and did not have someone else contact the employer. And it’s not unreasonable to expect that he let whoever he did call know that he’s starting a new job, and could they please get in contact with the new employer and let them know that he didn’t just disappear.

      1. duinath*

        yeah, at that point it’s not just one incredibly bad day, it’s pointing to a pattern of behaviour of not communicating with the workplace.

        1. Quill*

          See, I assume the pushing back the start date was a panic reaction to learning they were about to be arrested. Because they definitely don’t want to tell their job they’re being arrested!

        2. you will never find me*

          I mean, yeah, ’cause they were in jail. It’s not like he could just send a text, he gotta pay for the phone, share it with other people, and actually manage to reach the person he wants to speak to.

          1. Enai*

            Also: how do you even know which number to call? I don’t know about you, but I don’t memorise the phone tree of a company I’m scheduled to start work at.

      2. Dinwar*

        “And it’s not unreasonable to expect that he let whoever he did call know that he’s starting a new job, and could they please get in contact with the new employer and let them know that he didn’t just disappear.”

        And then we’d be hearing about how you shouldn’t let anyone, not even a spouse, contact work for you…. Plus, it’s not unreasonable to think a new hire doesn’t have the contact information ready to hand when they’re arrested. I’ve rarely seen the cops provide advanced notice on arrests (it DOES happen, but usually you’ve got to be worth $1 million or more and be an executive).

        I get what you’re saying. And it’s not unreasonable for the company to take the stance they did. All I’m saying is that there’s enough erroneous arrests that it’s worth pushing back and for the company to re-evaluate their policies. Policing in the USA is not without significant, systematic issues, and it’s not unreasonable to ask a company to be sensitive to those issues.

        Part of this is almost certainly stemming from different backgrounds. The company I work for is pretty picky about who they hire, but construction firms and drilling firms are far less so. I’ve dealt with “Jake can’t come to work today until we post bond” a few times. I’ve also seen people continued to be punished for decades because one specific cop was a power-drunk donkey. I’ve seen people thrown off sites because they did something 50 years ago, which would be totally legal if they’d done it today but it’s a felony on their record. In my personal life I’ve also seen enough of the darker side of policing to be more disinclined to give them the benefit of the doubt than most white middle-class dudes in their late 30s would be.

        There’s a spectrum of acceptable answers to this situation, is what I’m getting at. The LW pushing back is more on my side of the spectrum, the company’s actions are more on your side–and none of us are wrong, really.

        1. amoeba*

          “And then we’d be hearing about how you shouldn’t let anyone, not even a spouse, contact work for you…”

          In general, I believe Alison’s advice is “except in an emergency situation”, and this would certainly qualify?

          1. myfanwy*

            Yes, definitely. Phoning up when your spouse is physically unable to do so is fine. Whether they’re in jail, the hospital, trapped in a broken elevator or what.

    2. Sharkie*

      Yep. I have a friend with a semi common name. He was arrested and charged with some pretty heavy charges because he shares a name, birthday, and has a similar Social Security number ( He was born in the same state) with someone who committed horrible crimes. Obviously he was cleared after a record comparison, but it really messed up his life since he has to have certain clearances for work and that is on his record.

      Mess ups like these happen way too often.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I have Google alert on my name and it notifies me anytime my name is in social media. It’s also a semi common name and so far the only match has been a city councillor in California (I’m Canadian) hopefully she stays out of trouble.

        1. Dinwar*

          My first name is a family tradition, and there’s a string of errors stretching back four generations now because of that. Even people who’ve known us their entire lives routinely get us confused on paperwork. Usually it’s not a huge thing, but there have been things like my father’s credit being run when I was buying an engagement ring, or my father being pinged on communications within my company (autofill is dangerous)–minor stuff, of the “Hey, got a funny story to tell you son” variety, but enough that this sort of thing is on my radar.

    3. MK*

      Sure, but with a new hire, you can’t just take their word for it that that’s what actually happened. I don’t blame the company for being unwilling to play detective and/or judge.

    4. Bast*

      Something similar happened to a friend of mine as well — her husband has a name equivalent “John Smith” so that if you search the database of the city we work in alone, you get dozens of matches. He was pulled over for an expired registration and when he handed them his license, was arrested for something else that another “John Smith” had done, despite the fact that they looked nothing alike (other John Smith had quite the record and was easily Google-able) and were 10 ish years apart in age. He spent a night in jail for the crime of having the same name as someone else, and it took a lawyer coming down to the station and pressing for them to actually look at who they got, realize it was the wrong guy, and release him.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        My mom’s boyfriend has a common name and two of them worked at his high-security job. Well, the other guy got busted for bringing weed to work and when mom’s boyfriend rolled in…well, he had to point out they had different last names and his officemates razzed him a lot.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Sheesh, you’d think that police would have the common sense to know that they should look more carefully into a situation involving someone with a really common name. Like, “Is this the same John Smith who has the criminal record or is it possible this is one of the 35 other John Smiths in our area?” Actually, I don’t think this at all but I really want to be optimistic that the police could figure this out because making a mistake is really terrible. (Sure, your friend went to jail overnight and that’s really awful, but it could have been much much worse and wow that makes me furious to even think about.)

        Similarly, we have a family friend who has the same first, middle, and last name AND exact birthdate as a known drug trafficker, and on top of that they are Latino and the friend is an immigrant in the US (though a naturalized citizen; I don’t know where the other person lives or what nationality he is). Even 30 years ago this friend would get stopped in customs every time he traveled anywhere outside the US and it was a giant hassle. When they traveled to southern California his wife wanted to go to Mexico for a bit and said friend was definitely smart enough to be like, absolutely no way, I am absolutely NOT driving across the US/Mexican border.

    5. Mztery1*

      I don’t know if any of you watch the comedian/storyteller Mike Birbiglia, but he tells a story about how he was in a traffic accident with a hit-and-run driver but because the police screwed up the police report, he was accused of the hit-and-run. I’m not sure how it finally wound up, but certainly crazy things can happen

      1. Mztery1*

        And yes, there were definitely issues when you have a common name like my DH does. He had been stopped at the airport for years until we finally asked for a redress from the government to stop hassling him. It looks like he has the same name of someone who lives in Colorado, who has been a problem with some kind of a warrant or whatever. he’s also had his wages, garnished by mistake, as well as other interesting dilemmas.

    6. I forgot my user name again*

      In theory I agree. However it has been my experience when I give the benefit of the doubt to a new hire it always comes back to bite you. There are already 2 strikes against this person. The initial push back and the no show on the first day. 99% of the time the person ends up being more trouble than they are worth. It’s too bad the 1% who re genuinely reliable and have had an incredible string of bad luck are terminated.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I’ve seen this too. There have been a handful of cases where the benefit of the doubt worked out, but usually the person winds up being a problem employee, unreliable etc.

        For me it’s the 1 -2 -3 of the 1) no notice no show on the first day of work (because calling out minutes before you’re scheduled to be there is effectively no notice) + 2) pushing back his whole first week of work, so the day 1 call out wasn’t a one off emergency it was more like … bad planning? deciding at the last minute he wanted time off between jobs? something else that didn’t indicate super reliable employee? + 3) not showing for his rescheduled start date (without notifying the employer that he wasn’t going to be there)

        The actual “the reason why he wasn’t at work is because he got arrested because of XYZ” something that he may not have even been guilty of, as far as the employer would know only shows up on the tail end after this guy has already been through 3 gates of unreliable employee flags.

        We went through this with two different candidates we were trying to interview this summer. We decided to not move forward with either one after they each were a no show for interviews. Each one had a ‘reason’ why that compassionate me would normally be like “oh, no problem, let’s reschedule” (Child care fell through last minute and bad weather had him stuck out of town)

        But because they had both had at least previous weird disconnects of not doing what they’d said they were going to do – like missing scheduled calls, failing to respond to messages, calling same day/last minute to push out prior interviews – AND failed to notify us that they weren’t going to be able to make it to their scheduled interview, and were slow to respond when I followed up about where they were, I was like “nope, this is not going in a good direction”.

        1. Bast*

          It’s one thing when someone is throwing out many, many red flags, but I do try to be generous in my assessment and think “life happens at inconvenient times.” I have been the one who has had a sitter flat out not show up and had to scramble, I have gotten sick at inconvenient times, I have had a flat when I have already been running behind. It’s life. I try to extend the same grace to others that I hope I would get in this situation, and I have no problem rescheduling someone — but if it happens again? Unless there were a really good reason and they were a particularly strong candidate I, personally, would end it there. I’m curious with yours that you mention they were no shows but then that they had stated having “issues” like childcare — did they call after they were already late and try to explain? I’d certainly understand in certain circumstances, like the letter — it is unlikely that when you get arrested work is the first place you think to call, and have the number memorized — or if you were in an accident, etc., but for standard things like waking up sick, flat tire, childcare fell through… there really isn’t much of an excuse for not calling when you have first notice of the issue. If you wake up sick at 8 and your interview is at 11, don’t wait until 11 or later to call and say you’re sick, etc.

          This is slightly different than having already hired someone and them having a really shit week, but I have no doubt that really shit weeks happened. We had one new (only there a couple of weeks) employee who had the misfortune of having her father die, having to fly out for the funeral, fly back out here, only to find she had contracted Covid somewhere between the funeral and home and had to quarantine. My company made her borrow PTO since she hadn’t accrued yet, but she wasn’t fired.

      2. Meghan*

        The initial pushback of the start date (at the last minute) does have me more on the side of “yes, the employer was right to fire this person,” but as we all know, weird things happen. I hope that, at the very least, he got to explain what happened before he was fired. And I say that as someone whose record no longer exists but who has a mugshot out there if you look.

    7. False warrant*

      This isn’t that uncommon. Right before my 18th birthday-at the turn of the millennium, a warrant was issued for my arrest. Apparently, my name was similar enough to the person who committed the crime (a deadly hit and run car accident) that when the police couldn’t find the actual driver, the courts somehow switched the warrant to me. It was a weird and strange deal-involving detectives and attorneys and the police chief. And the only reason, I’m sure, I avoided being arrested was because I was a young, white woman who had a retired police officer in the family. I can see this happening (especially knowing how the system doesn’t always function) to someone and think it’s very unfair.

  2. Chad H.*

    Please don’t do this. Short stays in prison already have the ability to result in permanent damage to people’s lives, and can do so even before any trial is held.

    Even if they’re guilty, prison is the punishment, no need to pile on. If the traffic offences have nothing to do with their job, they’re none of your business.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      This is an excellent point and a huge social problem. I think this situation required a conversation, chance to see what’s going on, how it relates to the job, and steps moving forward. Being fired immediately is harsh.

      That being said, I understand the company feeling like they don’t want to take any chances with someone who seems to be unreliable (ie the week push back with no notice). It’s a hard call!

      1. Presea*

        I wonder what the company would have done if the employee’s behavior was exactly the same, but it turned out the reason they were out and uncommunicative was more along the lines of ‘being unconscious in the hospital’. Hopefully, they’d be treated about equivalently.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, I would hope not. Because “unconscious” means that they CANNOT call and CANNOT let someone else know to call. Getting pulled over and arrested does not mean that. They could have made sure that someone calls their employer.

          They didn’t think to do that? That says something. Especially in light of the fact that they also were also a no-show on the their originally scheduled first day of work and were also almost a no-call.

          1. Presea*

            My (potentially flawed) understanding is that people who are in jail have their communications heavily, heavily restricted and thus also cannot call and may not be able to let someone else know to call, which is why I specified the person in the hospital being unconscious, to try to make the situations as equivalent as possible.

            1. doreen*

              It’s not likely that the police will call the employer and a person might not be able to call their job if they are arrested in the middle of the night – but in the US at least, a person who is arrested will typically be able to make a phone call or two shortly after being arrested and most people will call a person who can then call their job, arrange for kids to be picked up from school etc. and usually once they have gotten to the jail from the police station, they can make calls. The more likely comparison to this person is someone who is hospitalized but just doesn’t call the employer, even though they are not unconscious.

              1. Enai*

                Yes, you can make phone call(s) to your lawyer and such. But a lawyer isn’t a gopher to do $ListOfUrgentTasks for you. You may be SOL, is what I’m saying.

            2. Umami*

              Yes to this. I actually dealt with two similar situations (not a brand-new employee, though, but a fairly new one). She did not come in one day, and we tried to get in touch with her to no avail. Turns out she and her husband got arrested (I won’t go into the reasons why here), and the call she made was to a family member who needed to pick up their child, so work wasn’t her first thought. Their belongings were confiscated, so there was no way to make an additional phone call. I completely understand her not immediately thinking ‘oh yeah, and also call my workplace.

              I also had a student worker who didn’t come in to work one, and it wasn’t until the next day that we learned she had been hospitalized for suicide ideation (which is a three-day mandatory hold). Again, her phone was confiscated, and the last thing her family was thinking about was contacting her job. In both cases, the employees were already established, which is a benefit a new employee doesn’t have.

              1. Umami*

                I would add that both are still employed and doing absolutely stellar work. Every person who gets arrested isn’t a bad person; the person in the letter mostly seems to have had bad timing.

          2. learnedthehardway*

            I don’t know if someone would realistically be able to make a call to their job if they were arrested, and how likely is it really that someone at the police station will call their employer – highly unlikely, I would think.

            1. Observer*

              They may not have been able to call their employer directly, but had to have been able to call SOMEONE. And I don’t buy that the police would keep them from telling whoever they call “Also, please call my employer at Blah Blah Corp”.

              Of course, he were actually arrested for espionage, that might make sense. But for what he’s claiming? Not in the least bit credible.

              1. Andy*

                I find it completely credible. You notify relative, you have one call and that relative has to handle everything for you with no further ability to coordinate and ask further question. And that means bail, layer, notifying other relatives, pets, kids, whatever in addition to fair amount of stress they are in. That the other person either forgets or wont be able to notify new employer would not be shocking at all.

              2. Kevin Sours*

                You’ll get access to a phone *eventually*. Could be a while. Hope you remember the phone number of the person you want to call because the cops took your phone. Also hope they answer because you are probably calling collect so you can’t leave a message. And if you can’t get anybody to accept your call in the time you have available, well, better luck tomorrow.

          3. So Tired*

            You’re expecting someone who is *just starting* a new job to know who to call and their number?? I’ve been at my current job for four years now, and while I have my boss’ number and some colleagues’ numbers in my phone, I couldn’t tell you any of them without looking. So how would I call? And while I do have my parents’ and sister’s numbers memorized (and my grandfather’s, but there’s no way on earth I’d call him from jail…) they also wouldn’t know who to call at my job, should they need to.

            Also, you’re expecting someone who’s just been arrested to prioritize letting their job know, rather than finding a legal professional who could help get them out of jail??? I would do the same in that situation!

            1. So Tired*

              Adding that while my company is small so in the event my parents could find a phone number, they know my boss’ name so would be able to find him. But in a bigger company where there may be multiple Dave Joneses, they could end up letting the IT guy know when it’s the head of the accounting department who should actually be told. There are so many reasons he may have been unable to contact work.

          4. Abogado Avocado.*

            I have represented hundreds of people as a criminal defense lawyer. Through the years, I’ve learned that to make a call to anyone other than a lawyer in most jails costs and arm and a leg (because one telephone company owned by private equity in the US contracts for these calls) and prisoners must have resources (also known as money on their books) to make calls. Even the innocent in jail can be too poor to afford a call to an employer. And should you say, well, they can make a collect call, how many businesses (besides a law office) do you know who will accept a collect call from a jail?

            Second, if you’re alone in a community or new to it — and that seems not too unusual, from the comments on this blog — you may not have have anyone who can put money on your books. Or bail you out of jail. Or call your employer for you.

            Third, studies show that the poor and people of color are more likely to be jailed, rather than bailed out (even for low amounts), for non-violent offenses. A traffic ticket is, by definition, a non-violent offense.

            As the work of the Innocence Project of New York has shown, not everyone in jail is guilty. Mistakes are all too common in the criminal justice system and they too commonly afflict the poor and people of color. I say this as a lawyer who has represented a man who was on Texas Death Row for years and innocent. Fortunately, he was exonerated (after nearly 20 years and multiple execution dates). The assumption that anyone who is in jail is guilty of something or is there through their own fault leads to error — sometimes, grievously so. It costs nothing to keep an open mind, especially when the authorities jail someone for a traffic ticket.

            1. Claire*

              And sometimes there are delays beyond the arrestee’s control. My brother was arrested when he was 16 or 17 (so, a minor), and the sheriff made him wait 4 hours before he could call our parents at 2a.m.

            2. Criminologist*

              THANK YOU, Abogado Avocado!!

              I hope Alison sees this comment and uses it in any further articles, updates or other

          5. Chad H.*

            In the prison I work in, it can take several days for phone access to be put into place and a phone number (if you know it) added to their white list.

            I think it should go without saying that this prison does not offer a conceriege desk. You might get an officer who may choose to grant you the favour of making that call, you may not. I work for a third party offering advice services in a prison and we would not call an employer on their behalf.

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          If you’re unconscious in the hospital, you are unable to call in, and it’s possible that nobody you know is aware of your situation. (You don’t always conveniently pass out with IDs and contact info handy.)

          I think this was really a second strike for a new hire who had already shown himself to not be communicating well.

          1. Presea*

            If you’re arrested, you also may be unable to call in depending on the exact restrictions on your communication and your exact personal circumstances, which is why I specified unconscious, to make the situations as equivalent as possible. Of course, we don’t actually know if this person could or couldn’t call, but I chose to specify the hospital example as unconscious to make the situations as equivalent as possible.

            Ultimately, I agree that it was (arguably) probably right to let the new hire go, and I think it could also arguably be right to let go of the person in my hospital example. My main point was that I hope it really was just due to the communication issues, and not because of the incarceration angle in and of itself.

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          I really doubt they would, if only because firing somebody when they were unconscious in the hospital would be terrible publicity. That is the sort of thing that would go viral online or would even be a big local news story with the company named and shamed. I don’t think “x was fired because he was in jail” would get the company quite the same level of negative publicity, if only because jail doesn’t get the same level of sympathy as “unconscious in hospital.”

      2. Sales SVP*

        The other piece I would worry about as an employer is whether it’s true this was all related to two traffic offenses, one new and one old. I do not think most traffic offenses should affect your employability (except I wouldn’t hire someone with multiple recent DUIs for a driving job, for example). I also would want to be fairly sure I wasn’t putting other employees (or the company) in danger. I’m not sure how to handle this, but I do think it matters if you can verify these are both traffic issues. If the older issue was actually for a workplace violence issue, and especially if it was fairly recent, I’d want to know.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Yes, but this guy already changed his start date a WEEK, at the very last minute. So he’s already shown some unreliability. Then on his new start date, he doesn’t show up. That’s another strike against someone who is essentially an unknown quantity outside of how they interviewed. I don’t blame them for firing him. The traffic mixup may not have been his fault, but it’s unlikely that he couldn’t find someone willing to call the new job and update them on what’s happening.

    3. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, there’s also plenty of evidence that Black prior are disproportionately likely to be impacted by arrests, particularly ones for low-level offences like traffic offences. I do understand the company’s (and Alison’s) reasoning here, but the way this all adds up when you’ve got racial and class disparities in traffic policing is honestly horrifying. If you have the option not to contribute to that process, I think it’s a morally excellent thing to do.

    4. Walter*

      Opinions vary. I’m at will to use your lapse in judgement as a determination of whether I can trust you to work here or not. Don’t want to be judged? Don’t be a criminal.

      1. So Tired*

        This is extremely harsh, given the number of examples upthread of people sharing names with criminals and being wrongfully arrested. They’re not criminals and still may have had their lives ruined or at least negatively impacted. Not everyone who is arrested is a criminal.

      2. constant_craving*

        At least in the US, being arrested doesn’t mean you’re a criminal. And there’s a very disproportionately high rate of arresting non-criminals who aren’t white.

        And even if he did really commit a traffic offense- I’ve yet to meet a single person who drives who haven’t committed at least one. If you’re the unique person who has never driven over the speed limit by even 1 mph or entered an intersection on a yellow and not fully made it out before the light turned red, more power to you. If you only want to hire people at that same standard though, you’ll be pretty short on employees.

      3. Hell naw*

        Please don’t. An unpaid ticket is not a crime. Your comment also ignores the disproportionate impact of this kind of over-policing on certain communities, namely Black, so this hot take misses the mark.

    5. Ally McBeal*

      Exactly this. I used to work at a university that saw a successful, student-led “ban the box” campaign based on this exact issue. Simply being arrested should rarely lead to any sort of instantaneous termination, and especially not for something like a traffic ticket snafu.

  3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    He pushed back his start date a week — at the last minute. Unless it was a REALLY good reason or his skills were so special you had to have him, that would have been grounds for firing right there. You need reliability. Plans are made around someone starting. Its really unprofessional to push back your start date without good cause.

    That’s before you get to the jail thing. He couldn’t have someone call? The one phone call thing isn’t really a thing.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Maybe I misunderstood but I assumed the pushing back the start date was related to being arrested, and he was hoping to sort it out to avoid going to jail.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        I read it the same way, but the confusion is why I think New Hire should have clued in someone about the delay once he had a sense of what it was. OP’s HR seemed to have to guess at what was happening and decided New Hire wasn’t worth the trouble, but a heads up might have saved the job.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I thought they were linked. My suspicion is he was actually pulled over the first week and that’s why he called in to push the start date back – hoping/assuming it would be resolved by the next week. Then on the next week when it wasn’t, he called in about being pulled over etc but with an adjusted timeline.

        1. Quill*

          Yes. I guarantee nobody wants to tell their new job “hey, can I start next week? I have to talk to the police” for highly obvious reasons.

    2. Throwaway Account*

      I understood this was one connected event. He was stopped for a traffic violation on the original start date on the way to work and notified the office he needed to push it back a week. He pushed the date back as he knew it was going to take some time to sort out the warrant but he did not tell them the reason. Then, it took longer than he thought and he missed start date #2.

      Even if it was 2 events, you could argue that giving some grace during the probation period is a good thing to do given the problems people have due to arrests/jail. For most workplaces, it is not as difficult to fine someone during the first few weeks and you could tell him this does not look good, be perfect!

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Then he had a week to have someone contact the job and update them, if these are indeed one event over two weeks (I read them as unrelated but it’s not clear). There’s zero excuse for the no-show no-info the second week (someone, an attorney, a family member, a friend helping him) could have contacted the job and told them what was happening. Instead, they had one last minute pushback of a start date (impacting training, which they may or may not have outside people do, thus$$) and then the next week they got no information. Learning the reason later doesn’t inspire the job with an aura of responsibility around him. This isn’t a longtime employee that they want to keep/support. This is a brand new person who is essentially unknown, and they’re only acting on the information they get/can see, which is “cancels last minute for no given reason and then no show/no call”

        1. Jaydee*

          First, you’re assuming he had enough advance notice he wasn’t going to make it to work on the second start date to be able to get word to the employer somehow.

          Second, I’m going to guess he thought that telling his new employer he was in jail and couldn’t start work would end with him not having a job to start. In hindsight, yeah what did he have to lose by calling and explaining what was going on – he lost the job anyway. But while he was still holding onto hope that he could sort things out, get to work on his new start date, apologize for pushing the date back because “a personal emergency came up suddenly but it’s been taken care of,” and then demonstrate better reliability going forward it made sense not to tell them why he flaked on his original start date.

      2. el l*

        This sounds like two separate events. Even if it’s one, it may not matter – they couldn’t communicate it all properly on time one?

        More generally, the nature of the situation is a very low-trust one. Everyone finds themselves in these sometimes in life, but it does mean that when you’re in them you do extra things to show trustworthiness. And understand there are failings that you might normally get by with that result here in significant consequences.

        Perhaps it’s all just bad luck. But the circumstances make it totally understandable why they were fired.

      3. Observer*

        I understood this was one connected event. He was stopped for a traffic violation on the original start date on the way to work and notified the office he needed to push it back a week. He pushed the date back as he knew it was going to take some time to sort out the warrant but he did not tell them the reason. Then, it took longer than he thought and he missed start date #2.

        That’s not how I read it. But if that is what happened it’s worse. A *lot* worse.

        Because if he was out of prison working on sorting this out, then there is no excuse for not calling in or being somehow reachable. And if he was in there for a whole week, he still could have gotten someone to call in. But also, it’s really unlikely that he was stuck for a week in prison for just a traffic ticket that was still outstanding. So there is something he’s hiding.

        1. I Work for A Department of Corrections*

          If he were in jail for a whole week, he would have been able to call in and explain, or at least ask someone else to do so. Sure, when you’re first arrested you might not get timely access to a phone call, but when you’re housed in jail there is somewhat reliable access to a phone (yes, it varies but you’d almost certainly be able to make at least one call that week and might even be able to make multiple calls per day)

        2. I Work for A Department of Corrections*

          Also you are 100% right, it’s unlikely he’d be in jail for a week for an outstanding traffic ticket.

          1. Lilo*

            I used to clerk and I’ve never heard of a stay that long for a traffic issue FWIW. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just unlikely.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      Maybe. Maybe not. The “one phone call” isn’t a thing but you get access to a phone at the whim of the cops. It’s not a guarentee.

      1. Nomic*

        Maybe, but how many phone numbers do YOU know? All my contacts are in my smart phone. If I was arrested I would be able to call my parents in another state, and my partner. That’s it.

        I have known people who were arrested who knew ZERO phone numbers, and were just stuck until they received a court-appointed lawyer (this is Texas, ) or a friend happened to find them and help them.

        If I were arrested I would have no way to contact the company I work for now without a lot of help from outside. If my only contact was a court-appointed attorney, where would I end up?

        I think we need to give a LOT more grace to those trapped in the fringe of the carceral system.

        1. Yorick*

          Sure, almost nobody would have their new boss’s number memorized. But you could call your partner or parents and ask them to look up your employer and call for you.

          1. Mostly Obsolete*

            The last time I worked for a company with an actual public telephone number was 2003. I haven’t even had a work desk phone since early 2008. I did gave a work cell phone from 2013-2014, but that was the last time. It’s not a standard thing anymore.

    4. ferrina*

      Would you feel the same if it was a medical emergency?

      This person says that they were stopped for a minor infraction, and due to circumstances beyond their control, they were taken to jail and out of communication (as other commenters pointed out, the phone call thing is not a guarantee, and even if they had a phone call, plenty of people would be too overwhelmed to think “call my new job”). If this person’s story checks out, then this sounds like a perfect storm of factors beyond their control.

      That said….I’d definitely want to verify this person’s story. This is definitely not a good look, and sometimes the perfect storm is a bit too perfect. And pushing back the start time the first time is also really bad- I’d want a really good reason why someone couldn’t contact me earlier. I’d be highly suspicious of the person at that point, and if they couldn’t get me documentation asap, they’d be gone.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        I specifically said without a good reason. Yeah, I had appencitis, so sorry I need to push back a week, you give grace. But just I need to push back a week, k’ thanks bye. Then no show the next week? At some point the grace runs out.

        I also don’t think it was a mixed up with a traffic ticket.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, I don’t think it was a mixed up traffic ticket either. I got the vibe that LW didn’t trust him, and I don’t either.

          If it really was a legal mix-up, I would try to have grace. That seems like a good reason to me. Even if it had happened after he had pushed it back once. Sometimes a lot of things all go wrong at once (I’ve had Perfect Storm of Awfulness a couple times in my life). If his story checked out, I think a company should take that as circumstances out of his control. But I’d definitely want evidence of his story.

    5. Kara*

      For the calling thing, you’d think but I once witnessed a similar-ish situation with a coworker, and it took us almost a week to find out what had happened. Some way or other he wasn’t allowed access to a phone and his lawyer didn’t drop us a line. (A different screwup by his lawyer was why he was in jail, incidentally)

    6. Lilo*

      I agree, pushing his start date last second originally was a big issue. At that point he had no more chances left.

  4. okay*

    #1 – for me the issues is less about the employee being in jail is that from the letter they didn’t explain what was going as soon as it happened. And then didn’t contact the company when he couldn’t get there the following morning. This makes me question his judgment which is a valid concern for an employer.
    My husband had a boss who was arrested on a DUI. He was sent to jail as this was not his first arrest. His sentence made him eligible to do work release after the first 30 days in jail. Unfortunately he had not told anyone about any of this and waited till his jail sentence started to set up the work release. He was fired.

      1. Okay*

        He contacted them from jail when his sentence started to set up work release. He would have had a couple of months or more from his conviction to arrange this. The norm is you set this up ahead so the employer can agree and make whatever arrangements needed to deal with the 30 day absence and restrictions imposed by being in custody for the rest of the sentence (usually an additional 11 months).

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      I worked somewhere that belonged to one of those active background check database programs, where they’d receive a notification if anyone on staff had encounters with law enforcement. So you didn’t have to tell work you’d been arrested and why, because work was told as soon as it hit the database.

      The reason we had the background check database was that we provided youth programming, and we were zero tolerance for violent or sexual offenses as a result.

  5. LCH*

    For #3, if you did end up missing a lunch time meeting, you could ask to receive the meeting notes to catch up on what you need to know. If the meetings are generally inefficient, it may be they are never able to send you anything. Which may give you something to use to decrease the number of the meetings or push back to get the meetings managed better.

  6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Bounce emails letter.
    Why is IT making this a hill to die on?
    Can it not be part of the removing credentials protocol?
    Exiting employees no longer have digital access, correct? IT isn’t saying, “yeah, we will get around to deactivating him one of these days,” but the email is some other big thing?
    So why isn’t a “this email is no longer active. Please contact main number (not even specific department) for support.”

    1. Bee*

      It’s nuts to me that they think it’s a bigger problem that the departing employees have objections than that there are whatever number of fully unmonitored email inboxes floating around. How much important stuff has been lost because the people who sent it didn’t know no one ever saw it?

      1. Cj*

        I don’t know if I’m reading this letter differently than other people or what, but the OP said that the former employees manager or assistant manages the inbox, which I assumed meant that the emails were forwarded to them, and would be something that IT needed to do.

        and I don’t think IT has a problem with it, or that HR would have a problem with it. HR issue is the fact that it is not that the departing employees email, and that they don’t have a reason to question what will happen to it once they are gone.

        while the op does talk about an out of office message, they also said they thought it would be better for the email to just be shut off and bonce back to the sender. I think that is a horrible idea, because the sender may have no idea who can contact instead. if they are being forwarded to someone else, they will get a response from the appropriate person.

    2. Ashley*

      Personally I love the bounce email with an auto forward to the correct person. It was great being able to access a few inboxes from departed employees as well so I could dig through and find old emails. That place paid a lot for IT, but they made life easy.

    3. Throwaway Account*

      It maybe a workflow problem. I’ve worked places where IT does not get any notifications that employees have left and are still expected to know which accounts to deactivate. I can see IT just refusing to take this on.

      1. soontoberetired*

        this is an easy thing to set up – the forward and the message. My company does it. Its a normal part of IT to remove security for someone who leaves for whatever reason they leave, this is just part of that.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          When I had a job that required me to notify about new hires and terminations (both voluntary and involuntary), we had dedicated distribution lists that went to everyone who needed to know. The termination one was easy, because you just had to give the person’s name and user ID. The new staff one required you to list name, position, and access needed.

      2. Observer*

        I can see IT just refusing to take this on.

        Of course. The question I have is why *HR* is not taking this on and giving IT the information they need.

    4. Over It*

      I unfortunately relate to this. Our IT does not shut down an email address unless the person’s former manager puts in a ticket, but no one informs managers this is part of the separation process. Interestingly, HR is the one responsible for submitting the ticket for new employees to get an email. There are 1,000+ people in my agency and this workflow means many people’s emails never get deactivated or have any forwarding set up, and it’s…not great.

      Your company is being very weird about this, but the best thing to do here is have employees who are leaving put up an out of office message with no end date on their last day saying they are no longer with the company, and the contact information of someone else to reach out to. Even if you can’t shut down the email address or get auto-forwarding set up, this should assuage your employees’ fears about looking unprofessional for not responding, since there still is a form of communication going to the client.

      1. Anon for this*

        We remove accounts and add accounts when HR tells us to, but some managers don’t tell HR when their employees quit. And people quit and then change their minds and come back so frequently there’s a “do not delete the account until they’ve been gone a week” policy.

        1. Observer*

          There is a difference between “don’t delete” and “don’t deactivate, auto-forward or put in an auto-responder”, though.

          And it’s also one thing if HR somehow does not know about it (which is deeply dysfunctional) and HR knowing but refusing to do anything about it.

    5. econobiker*

      I bet that this person’s company/job is very small and has a very thin IT department and processes if it has any IT department and processes at all.

    6. raktajino*

      My company apparently just forwards all emails to the departed person’s manager. This is how my manager ended up on a zillion right wing mailing lists right around the 2000 election. (Don’t use your work email to sign up for personal mailing lists, people, especially when they’re political mailing lists.)

      IT refused to help her beyond showing her how to set up a spam rule…that was unable to extrapolate as orgs sold their mailing lists around. And now since political mailing lists are a well-oiled machine, her own email is somehow now on those lists too. It’s still a mess.

  7. Lauren*

    How do you fire someone that never completed paperwork on first day? Can they still claim unemployment? Is this job abandonment?

    1. Alex*

      Some jobs have you complete the paperwork ahead of time (mine did). And usually you can’t claim unemployment until you’ve worked somewhere a certain amount of time…and I’m pretty sure that amount of time is longer than five minutes lol.

  8. merida*

    Re #4: It’s been surprising to me how many companies I’ve worked at seem to have no protocol around what to do with an employee’s email address when they leave. Many times when a close colleague has quit, nothing happens to their email address… no out of office response or no closing of the account, literally nothing changes. So when clients email my colleague and hear nothing they resort to contacting me – at which point they’re already desperate and frustrated so I have to drop everything to respond so I can help them and successfully repair the relationship. My manager doesn’t seem to understand why I always ask what will happen to a departing team member’s email address… it’s because I’ve been burned by that lack of forethought before. It causes more work for the remaining team.

    1. MassMatt*

      I’ve been surprised by this also. Sounds like a solution to your problem might be having the departed persons manager take a few of these irate calls so they realize how half-assed an unprofessional their current approach is.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I worked at a company that had a “fun perk” that if you were the first Alice to join the company, you got alice@company.com as your email address. When you left, the Alice with the most seniority was assigned the email address.

      It was chaos. Weirdly, people who had been trying to reach Alice Werther in HR or Alice Applebottom in Customer Relations weren’t happy about their question ending up elsewhere, and the first few months with the new address were spent triaging messages meant for somebody who had left the company.

      1. bamcheeks*

        This is like something that somebody would invent for a Reddit thread, like those worst-UI-volume buttons that go around.

    3. Sssssssssssssss*

      I place an IT ticket for them to access the email and set up the out of office for me (I provide the text) OR I ask IT to grant me access to that person’s email inbox (to look for items that were missed) and I set up the out of office from there.

    4. Coffee Protein Drink*

      Ditto. I know some Chief Information Security Officiers who would be having fits if they read the letter.

      Every company should have an offboarding protocol that includes turning off access and how long to retain the departed employee’s emails (not to mention wiping & re-imaging their computer). I’ve worked some places where the former employee’s emails were automatically forwarded to their supervisor for the first 30 days they were gone and then went to an auto-reply. There are multiple right ways to do this.

  9. Llama Llama*

    I think the grace was the first week where he pushed the start date back at the last minute without a great reason. That is A LOT of grace for the second offense where the person hasn’t shown you anything as an employee yet.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      This exactly! This person is pretty much an unknown, and the information you’re getting is “flaky and unreliable”.

  10. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    That happened to a friend of mine while I was in the car! It had been his last day at our job and we’d hung out with another friend for a few hours to celebrate. He ceremoniously threw away his gross non-slip shoes from work, but didn’t like the alcohol our friend bought and ended up being the only one who stayed sober (which would turn out to be incredibly fortunate).

    It was around midnight or a little later when we decided to call it a night, and he offered to give me a ride home since it was pouring rain. Maybe 500 feet before my apartment, police lights and siren go off behind us. Now this guy was just a super mellow, rule-following kind of person; he wasn’t speeding or anything so we were a bit baffled why we were getting pulled over. Well, it turned out that his dad had gotten a ticket in the car, paid it months earlier, but nobody at the court bothered updating the system to show that and it just automatically generated a warrant at some point. He got arrested, with no shoes on in the pouring rain, and spent the night in jail for literally nothing. It was incredibly messed up.

    1. Kali*

      If it was actually his father’s warrant, he shouldn’t have been arrested. Warrants are for specific people, not just the driver of a car.

      1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

        Yeah, my understanding was that it was a non-moving violation so it was just issued to the person on the registration (this was 15 years ago so hopefully they have a better system in place by now).

      2. Kevin Sours*

        As it regards the police, what should happen and what does happen are entirely different things.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yeah, I can confirm they DGAF, especially considering they can’t even be bothered to do things like confirm they have the right address before raiding a house or confirming they have the right person before arresting them.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      There are a mind-boggling number of warrants just floating around out there, often just for unpaid tickets. Ferguson, MO was is under a consent decree because in 2014 it issued more arrest warrants than the population of the city (an average of 2.2 arrest warrants per adult), most involving unpaid tickets.

      The US isn’t supposed to have debtor’s prisons anymore, but a lot of people in jail just can’t afford to not be there.

      1. Dek*

        Yeah, I had to go to traffic court for the first time last month, and there were so many warrants issued for folks that weren’t there (which…I still don’t particularly understand why you have to go wait for ~4 hours on a workday to be told to pay the fine you already know you have), but also a lot of “Pay $X or spend Y days in jail” for sentencing which is so much worse?

    3. Bad Wolf*

      Something similar happened to a friend of mine. She got pulled over and when they ran her info, there was a warrant for her arrest. She is very much a law abiding citizen and had no idea what the warrant would be for.

      It turned out that a car they had sold the year before had never been registered in the new owner’s name and that person had multiple tickets and traffic violations. She was arrested, booked, fingerprinted, etc and sat in jail for 5-6 hours before they allowed her to make a phone call to get bailed out.

      The charges were only dropped months later at her court date when she brought in all her paperwork proving that the car had been sold the year before. She was incredibly upset about it, as she’s a teacher and was in the process of interviewing for jobs and was worried that having warrants and an arrest would disqualify her for positions.

  11. ThatGirl*

    I am generally anti-prison. I think it’s bad for a lot of reasons and unduly burdens the poor.

    However. I had a newspaper copydesk coworker once who started out seemingly harmless, and then it became increasingly clear that he was both bad at his job and had anger issues. He would mutter about his gun collection under his breath and do other things that were scary and unnerving to the mostly young women he worked with. One weekend he did not show up to work, and we found out later it was because he had been in jail on domestic abuse charges. So that was a huge red flag. However, what actually got him fired was purposely ramming a coworker’s car with his car door, lying about it/moving his car, and then getting threatening when security confronted him.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Just that I think that dude had valid reasons to be in prison, unlike the subject of this letter. Sorry if it bothers you :)

        1. Friendo*

          You really don’t make that clear, it comes off as reinforcing that going to prison is a reason to let someone go, since they could end up committing workplace violence.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Jail and prison are two different things. The letter is about the guy being in jail, not prison.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yes I know they’re different, it just made me think of that situation, I’m sorry if it was a badly written or irrelevant story but geez, what’s with the pile-on.

  12. Brad Pitt eating with Penguins*

    Back in the day when we did interviews (even for entry level) almost entirely in-person, we had one person request to do theirs by phone. A quick Google search turned up that they were on house arrest. Not 100% disqualifying, but they weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt tie-breaker either…

    1. Phony Genius*

      In a lot of house arrest cases they allow you to leave to go to work, which normally includes attending job interviews. Either this person didn’t have that benefit or they did not want to go through the hassle of getting permission, which probably requires explaining exactly where and when the interview is, etc.

      1. Bruce*

        Back in the 80s a lot of the team I worked with were “bad role models” with about half of them having DUI convictions of different levels… one was sleeping in the county jail and was only supposed to go to and from work. He would stop by the gym sometimes, but had to be careful because he would see correctional officers there and did not want to get busted! Luckily I got through that stint with no DUIs and a few stories to tell about behavior that would inappropriate in ANY decade… mostly wild parties and a lot of consensual but creepy affairs that were going on around me

  13. Dust Bunny*

    The last time one of my coworkers at the same level as I am left (retired), they just forwarded her email to me for a few months, with an out-of-office message, and then shut off the account completely once the incoming mail had slowed to a trickle. It was a massive nonissue. I cannot imagine why this is so hard to handle?

    1. econobiker*

      Its difficult when a business / company has no IT processes nor people to really support IT items. The tone of the question seems to indicate there is no IT department to handle these types of issues.

    2. Cj*

      this is how it’s been handled every place I’ve worked, and it’s never been an issue. the OP said that somebody is monitoring the inbox, which I assumed meant it is being forwarded to someone else. if they actually have to log into the old employees account, which would be really easy to forget, I can see that would be a problem. but forwarding seems to me to be the way to go.

  14. cindylouwho*

    I HATE lunch meetings. Just give me 20 dang minutes to chill quietly with my food and eat without worrying or feeling self-conscious about what I brought, what I eat, how I eat, if I’m chewing too loud, etc. Ugh. Hate them.

    1. Cj*

      I’m glad that where I’ve worked we very, very rarely have lunch meetings where we couldn’t also take a break at a different time. I work much better with some time to recharge my batteries, even if I don’t have errands and other personal things to do.

      1. Cj*

        meant to add regarding your point about eating in front of people. I agree with that also. I usually take my break before the meeting and eat then, and maybe just have some coffee or pop during the meeting. by again, I was lucky that way also usually got an additional break.

    2. Bast*

      Yes please! As someone with kids that lunch hour is my ONE hour of peace and quiet a day where no one needs me and no one is asking for anything. It is my one chance to read a book in peace. I do not want a meeting. I do not want a conversation. I just want that little bit of “me time.”

    3. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      I have set up a tentative, recurring meeting “lunch break, flexible” in my calendar for 30 minutes every workday. While I’ll happily move it or even skip lunch for any worthwhile cause, it works well enough to prevent people from scheduling back-to-back meetings without a second thought. I’m working across multiple time zones; last week I had calls 1-3am and 4-6am on different days. Happens, and it’s good that I can work from home!

  15. Sally Rhubarb*

    LW 4: the fact that your company doesn’t get that there are missed emails because there’s no plan what to do when people leave is insane to me.

    1. Bog Witch*

      I work in IT and that letter set my teeth on edge. How on earth is there nothing in place for employee departures??

      At my last job, we asked the departing employee’s supervisor whether they needed delegated access (the ability to send and receive emails on another person’s behalf) and if so, they could have it for a maximum of 90 days. Otherwise, an auto-response is set up to start after the person’s last day with alternate contact info and then the account fully suspended (but not deleted) after that. When an account is suspended, senders get a bounceback message and people will understand that to mean the employee is no longer there. My new job is still in IT but I have nothing to do with setting up accounts and granting rights/privileges — my org is large enough where we have dedicated teams for that.

      At a *minimum* this company needs to be resetting the account password and global email settings are set so that employees cannot reset email passwords without contacting an administrator first. On top of being inefficient, it’s a huge security risk to do otherwise.

      1. Bad Wolf*

        You’d love how my company handles this. Our procedure is to do nothing except, in rare occasions, change the password. The company isn’t notified of the person’s departure, emails to the account aren’t forwarded, and the account isn’t being checked. There’s been plenty of times I’ve emailed a coworker, never heard back, found out they left the company two months prior, and then had to ask around to find out who took over their job.

  16. I should really pick a name*

    Most jobs I’ve had forward emails to a manager, or whoever is replacing the departed employee.

  17. kendall^2*

    I don’t love lunch meetings, but if they’re consistently, say, at noon, would it be feasible to just decide that lunch is 1p? (I know, that won’t work for some folks, but it might for others.)

    1. Bear Expert*

      This is what I’ve done!

      For various Reasons, I need more time in my work “morning” so my calendar is available for meetings from 8-1, marked as busy from 1-2, and then open again. Some days lunch is 2-3.

      If someone needs me for that 1-2 slot, they can reach out and I can move it. If that “lunch” is actually a doctor’s appointment, me picking my kid up from school, or whatever, then its a previously scheduled meeting and they get to find another time or figure out how to handle it without me.

      We’re biological creatures, eating and going to the bathroom are things that just have to be able to happen during the work day. If your meeting culture is non stop, mark the time on your calendar and schedule it like everything else.

    2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      If only it was that easy! I have a standing meeting at 12:30 3 days a week, and different standing meetings at 1:00 4 days a week, and hour-long meetings at 11:30 2 days a week (of the 3 that have 12:30). Add any one-offs and it’s not uncommon to be in meetings from 11:30 – 2:00 without interruption. (Multi-time-zone team. I’m in US Eastern Time, many colleagues are in US Pacific.) I think you can safely assume people are aware of the radical notion of shifting lunch by half an hour. I’m not senior enough to ask that we change a meeting time of 10+ people for my convenience, so eating during the meeting it is.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Yep. I’m a west coast colleague with a largely east coast team and multiple projects/clients. From the time I log in at 8 until at least 1 or 2 (when they start winding down their days), I simply cannot block off a regular lunchtime during those core hours. Though I often can take a break, it probably has to be short, I can’t insist on when it happens, and it’s different every day due to meetings, many of which include outside clients and revolve around their availability not mine. I have to eat when I can, which is sometimes in meetings! It’s often not doable to take a full lunch, and to take a errands-length lunch that has to be after 2.

        It hasn’t been this way everywhere I’ve worked, but the combination of core hours and client demands is what it is.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, no. I’d rather eat my lunch at 10 am than delay it past noon. I usually take my lunch break at 11 if I possibly can. But then, on the days I’m WFH I’m usually at my desk by 7 am and generally eat my breakfast at 6. I’m definitely a morning person but my whole day can be ruined if I have to rush in the morning.

  18. SusieQQ*

    Re: #4

    Everywhere I’ve worked, the former employee’s email has been forwarded to their manager. Kind of a pain when the former employee was subscribed to a bazillion things (unless you really hate your manager, please unsubscribe from things before your last day, haha).

    One kind of weird consequence of this is that I felt like I was unintentionally spying on an employee that I fired. For some reason they had attached their professional email to a bunch of personal things so I was seeing basically their entire calendar, plus I saw when they applied to a position for a competitor.

    1. Sssssssssssssss*

      Oh, yeah, the lack of discretion or separation between home and work in email is jarring.

      I was granted access to an employee’s inbox. She was on LTD, had an out of office on but we feared that some vendors weren’t reading them and items were being missed. Indeed, there were some invoices but only two had been missed due to the vendor not reading the out of office.

      Her inbox had 700 unread emails in it when I first accessed it. And it was all crap – emails from cruise companies, Michael Kors and similar, emails between her and her veterinarian (why use the work email if you’re on leave for that?) and many confirmation emails of EFT between her and her son. AND many emails of missed payments on small loans (like, buy a $3000 cruise, pay for it over eight months!). Why would you use your work email for that stuff?

      It felt very voyeuristic and left me uncomfortable.

  19. Blue*

    I’m curious about #3 – I have never been in a workplace where you couldn’t take lunch at a different time if someone scheduled a meeting over your normal lunch hour. It seems so odd to me that she wouldn’t have flexibility, especially in a workplace where you’re working across time zones!

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Even if you have the flexibility, that only works if you have time. If you’re booked in meetings from 10 until 3 (or more – on either end), then your lunchtime ends up being flexed to either very early or very late. If you’ve got a meeting-heavy schedule, I can absolutely see the value in blocking out an hour for lunch when you don’t schedule anything else.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        True, but if the issues are errands and eating, a very early or very late lunch still seems like it could work. You just need to bring a lunch to work/prepare it in advance/pick it up the day before instead of running out to get something in the moment and eat during the meeting. And handle your errands at 9 or 4.

  20. Jane Bingley*

    Re references: keep in mind that your negatives can be someone else’s positives!

    When my current boss called me former (then) boss, he was honest about a minor frustration that I tended to act without checking with him and preferred to work outside of the organization’s hierarchy. My boss was frustrated with employees who were seeking a highly structured/rule-oriented approach and wanted someone who would just get stuff done. So I was literally hired in part thanks to an honest reference talking about my weaknesses!

    Different workplaces have different cultures and tolerances, so your frustratingly disorganized but otherwise great employee might be a good fit in a “move fast and break things” start-up environment, or your employee who spends too much time ensuring everything is perfectly in order might be a great fit for a role at an accounting company. Don’t hesitate to be honest – it helps everyone involved make a smart choice.

  21. nnn*

    What strikes me about #4 is people are asking HR what happens to employees’ emails and HR is becoming frustrated because it’s not up to them, when really this is a question for IT. (And nothing in the letter suggests that anyone has thought to ask IT.)

    IT should have a policy for what happens to email addresses after the employee has left. If it doesn’t, the question should be escalated to whoever is empowered to get IT policies made.

    (I absolutely agree that the policy should be communicated to HR because they’re often the point of contact for departing employees, but it’s weird that they seem to be at “I don’t know, it’s not up to us, we’re HR, therefore we’re stuck.”)

    1. Over It*

      I think the issue here is that someone needs to notify IT, and that step needs to be owned by either HR or the departing employee’s manager. If you work at a large org like I do, IT isn’t immediately going to know when someone has left, and IT attempting to monitor accounts for inactivity would lead to accidental deactivations of people on medical/parental leave. But LW’s company is being massively weird about their refusal to do this.

    2. Inkognyto*

      Nope, it’s not just IT, this is a company policy. The employee’s accounts are company property. If HR told us to disable an account for an employee, we did it. No questions asked ever. You do it.

      I work in Information Security and we worked with HR on the policies for this. It’s often a security policy on how to handle it. We suggested that it be disabled, as part of offboarding as you want the email (and often the network account with it) to be disabled. They are often tied together.

      Do what Allison said. If you think someone will need to see/review any potential emails in the inbox, then have a process where HR approves access to the mailbox and maybe get’s access itself to view the data before getting it granted to a Mgr or another employee.

      It’s probably not a policy which is why it needs to be made one.

    3. Observer*

      What strikes me about #4 is people are asking HR what happens to employees’ emails and HR is becoming frustrated because it’s not up to them, when really this is a question for IT.

      Nope. This is an HR issue. THEY are the ones who need to set a policy and make sure that IT is informed when people go out. But their attitude is “we don’t care”.

      Now, if they said “We agree but we don’t know what to do” *then* the answer would be “Talk to IT” (which a side of Duh)

      Now, since HR is not doing it’s job, IT should step up to the plate and craft a policy which they then bring to HR.

    4. Andy*

      IT rarely decides on policies. IT implements policies. But, they rarely have any authority to decide what exactly those will be.

    5. LAM*

      It’s actually a question for records management. It will depend on the role (an admin temp is different than someone who has a lot of external clients.) IT should be taking that into account instead of making up a retention period because of their convenience.

      Doing it the IT way, as they only care about the technology and not the content, sets a company up to risk. This includes ignoring legal holds or deleting records prematurely. At a minimum, emails that haven’t met retention should be kept for a set amount of time and moved to appropriate storage that is not tied to an account to help with the transition and needs of the business. Otherwise, that’s how we get political figures skirting transparency laws.

      Either way, HR needs to be alerting people through some consistent system. IT to set the end day and records folks to deal with centralizing correspondence before that date.

  22. BellyButton*

    The email letter is so odd. I have never worked anywhere where the email was kept active for more than 30 days, and then after that a bounce message was sent. Weird hill for IT to die on.

  23. Kevin Sours*

    Mixed feelings here. Getting fired just because you got arrested is some bullshit. But missing two consecutive start dates with essentially no notice is going to prompt a conversation about your value as a new hire regardless. It doesn’t sound like OP was involved in the hiring/firing decision so there is likely a lot of missing information. Where they a borderline hiring to begin with? Did the events related reinforce concerns from the interview process? Was the employee’s explanation of why the arrest happened deemed credible?

    It’s really hard to know.

    1. ferrina*


      If it was just the arrest that delayed the start date, I’d say that the company was way too harsh. But add in that he’d already delayed his start date at the last minute a week prior, and it’s pretty suspicious. Start dates can be pretty flexible at the beginning of the process, but as it gets closer, it’s harder for organizers to move around. At my company, we have at least a onboarding dozen meetings already scheduled before the new hire starts, and they are set up in the HR software and payroll software. It’s a real inconvenience to move it last minute.

      I’m also wondering how much conversation happened behind closed doors. Did HR ask for proof of arrest? Did the independently verify something? What was the reason for delay the first time? There may be more there that we don’t know.

  24. not like a regular teacher*

    I left my last position over a year ago and the email is still, to my knowledge, active. I mis-clicked on something and accidentally signed into it a month or two ago and there were a ton of new messages in the inbox, some of which looked to have been directed to me individually (not all-employees messages or similar). I didn’t spend long in there because, you know, I don’t work there but if I had it to do over, I would have set up an out of office message before leaving.

    The position before that, at an extremely similar organization doing extremely similar work, shut my email off the week I left. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I was gone from a job for many months as well when one of my former coworkers texted me and BEGGED me to log into my office voicemail and put up a new message informing people that I no longer worked there. Apparently people were calling and calling and my phone was ringing all day long with no one doing anything to disable the phone line or check and respond to the messages. It never should have happened and I felt weird logging into a system for a government office I no longer worked in, but I felt so bad for my former office mates that I just did it.

  25. Fluffy Fish*

    References and Weaknesses – i cant tell you how much i despise any variation of the “weaknesses” question. is anyone perfect? no. but imo being in the working world no in the third decade is very few people have weaknesses worth mentioning – they’re normal human quirks and maybe it’s controversial but not things that need to be changed or worked on if they are not materially affecting the persons ability to do the job and do it well.

    Nor do i think that working on or improving certain areas automatically mean those areas are “weak”

    and as an interview question – the actual problem employees arent telling you the honest truth.

    in situations like OPs i say something along the lines of they are a good employee with nothing i consider to be weak areas but if you are interested in what areas they are/have been working to gain skills in theyve put work into x and y.

    1. Bast*

      I also think that people lie about “strengths and weaknesses” to what they think the employer wants to hear, so you typically are not getting a good idea as to what someone’s strengths and weaknesses really are anyway. I think there are very few times I have gotten answers that actually impacted us hiring someone. Two notable exceptions were someone who admitted to having a short temper and getting fired and arrested from her previous job for starting a fistfight (in the very recent past), and someone who informed us she that she didn’t really like speaking with people. She was applying for a receptionist position, where a very large part of the job was speaking with people either on the phone or checking them in.

      The same applies when speaking with a reference. As a reference, you are hardly going to want to say anything bad about the person who is using you as a referral, so you tend to get the Office tropes that a candidate would use– something along the lines of “works too hard and cares too much” ie: “Jim is a bit of a perfectionist and won’t stop until he gets the task exactly right.”

      I like this approach of something that the person has been working on improving, and being able to show the steps they are taking, much as they tell candidates to do during an interview.

    2. metadata minion*

      Eh, I have plenty of weaknesses. I’ve tried my best to find a job where they’re not relevant, but in an ideal situation I’d like to be able to say to an interviewer “I’m not a great manager and don’t ever want to move into management. Is there any room for advancement as a technical specialist here?”

      I could also say “I struggle sometimes with keeping track of long-term projects, but I’ve built a very effective system of reminders and tracking tools so that I can keep myself accountable.”

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        So here’s the thing – I don’t think that you are a bad manager is a weakness. Not everyone is and not everyone wants to. I think its a fact.

        If you were applying for a management job sure it’s a weakness – but clearly you wouldn’t apply for a management job so it’s totally irrelevant. Doesn’t tell me a thing about you for the job I’m hiring for.

        Your project example as well. Everyone tracking projects has to have some kind of system to track them. If you didn’t that would be a weakness but that would also materially affect your ability to do the job. Does your example answer the question? Sure, but does it actually tell me anything another question couldn’t? Nope. If the position needs someone able to track long-term projects I would simply ask the candidate what their process for doing that is.

        If I wanted to find out your capacity for continued growth and development, I would simply ask you to share a time you developed new skills or such.

  26. thatoneoverthere*

    This happened to a friend of mine. He had a warrant out in the college town he attended college at. It was for some kind of traffic ticket. He was visiting said college town and got pulled over for a out tail light. The officer discovered he had the warrant. He also had medical marijuana on him from another state and was arrested for possession. He spent the whole weekend in jail. Luckily the judge tossed everything and gave a stern lecture to the cop for wasting the courts time with all of the above. Thank goodness it didn’t affect his job.

  27. Chairman of the Bored*

    My honest answer to #1 is that it depends on how valuable or difficult to find that new hire was.

    If they were bringing with them special skills or experiences or connections that would be very hard to get elsewhere I’d be inclined to work with them as long as they could demonstrate that their description of the events was accurate.

    If the person was more of a general-purpose hire who wasn’t a real standout in the context of the overall job market I’m not going to continue to put up with somebody who misses 2 consecutive start dates for almost any reason. I’d rather just go with the runner-up from the interview process with the expectation that they’d show up when they were supposed to.

  28. Kesnit*

    Re #1

    I used to be a public defender, so have met with a lot of people who got unexpectedly arrested and were trying to get bond so they could get to work. I even had a few who, when I asked if they were employed, told me “I’m supposed to start at XYZ today.”

    OP does not say what the employer is or what days of the week are at issue. I can tell you that being arrested even a few days in advance of the start date can make things difficult. Arrested Thursday night. Meet with the judge Friday morning and we are appointed. We file the bond motion Friday afternoon. Court does not process it until Monday morning. Bond hearing set Wednesday morning. If bond is granted, family has to meet with a bondsman and pay the bond. Then bondsman has to process the paperwork and the jail has to release them. A 9:30 bond hearing will usually have someone out of jail around 1:00 or 2:00.

    And that assumes the person can reach a family member. I cannot tell you how often I tried to call a family member, only to get a message that the “cellular number is not in service” or “the mailbox is full and cannot accept messages.” Now imagine trying to do that from the jail, when all calls are collect (unless you somehow get money put on your account) AND the family member has to answer and accept the call.

    But let’s assume best case… Employee is arrested at 8:30 on the way to work. They are taken to the jail and in-processed. (This will likely take at least an hour.) Finally, they may be in a location with access to a phone. But they have to wait no one else in the block is using the phone. When they call, a family member actually answers and accepts the collect call. Family member now has to deal with trying to bond Employee out (assuming the Magistrate set a bond…). To be honest, even if Employee asks Family Member to call work, it’s more likely the Family Member will deal with the bond and call work once everything else is organized.

    So yes, I think you were harsh by firing Employee because they got unexpectedly arrested. While that isn’t something that is going to happen to anyone, it can and does happen and it is not something quick and easy to fix.

    1. Observer*

      Except that they didn’t get fired for getting arrested ONLY. On top of which, they are an unknown quantity.

      1. you will never find me*

        No, they got fired because they didn’t come in next Monday and it was impossible to reach him. Which, as Kesnit as shown in their comment, is not exactly surprising considering how hard it can be for people in jail to 1) get access to a phone, and 2) actually reach someone.

      2. Hell naw*

        They certainly remain unknown for getting fired after an already difficult set of circumstances. Why defend this as a reasonable response, when so many details are missing?

      3. Michelle Smith*

        An unknown quantity that was only unreliable due to circumstances largely out of their control and who apparently presented themselves well enough in previous interactions (which required sending a resume with relevant skills, showing up to interviews on time, and responding well to questions) to be hired in the first place.

        Let’s change it from an arrest to a medical condition. Let’s say he woke up Monday morning when he was supposed to start 2 hours later and started throwing up profusely. He went to the hospital instead of work, got sicker and sicker, and got admitted for a week and a half while they performed tests and a surgical procedure and he recovered from those things. He was so sedated/out of it after his surgery that he missed his pushed back start date and didn’t get to the office until after he was discharged Thursday morning. Still think he deserves to be fired?

  29. Sylvia*

    I’m horrified that the employee got fired. A lot of DMV systems are a mess, and it’s much too easy to end up in serious trouble because of an office oversight.

    I got a minor speeding ticket in another state while on vacation ($75), which I paid by mail when I got home. I never heard anything else about it. Two years later, I was getting a car insurance quote when I found out that my driver’s license was suspended. I called the DMV and they said that my license had been suspended for the past two years because of the “unpaid” speeding ticket. They claimed that they mailed a notification of this to me. (They did not–I had been living in the same home for five years, and had been receiving communications from them about vehicle registration at that address, but never anything about a suspension.)

    I called the traffic ticket payment office in the other state and they said they had processed the payment a day late and that a notification to my state office was automatically generated by their system, but that they sent a reversal notification the following day.

    Despite having evidence of all of this, I still had to fight with the DMV in my state to remove the suspension. It’s scary to think that I could’ve been arrested, jailed, and had my car impounded if I had a traffic violation during those two years.

  30. Rainbow*

    Maybe I’m just not understanding the American system, but jail – actual jail – for what sounds like a small traffic violation? I can see from the comments it happens, but I mean is OP actually sure that’s what this was really for?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      If you don’t pay a traffic ticket then they will eventually issue a warrant. And if you get stopped with an outstanding warrant you are going to get arrested. Which, depending on timing, can lead to one or more days in jail while the issue/bond is sorted out (a favorite trick of cops is to assert somebody on nuisance charges after COB Friday so that they’ll be in jail all weekend before they can get the paperwork filed for release).

      1. Chirpy*

        This also means the cop might get overtime for doing paperwork after their shift was supposed to end, or during weekend hours.

        And yes, it’s messed up.

      2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        A good friend was caught up in a Friday arrest — everything about the situation was bogus, from the accusation to the charges and the bail — and we couldn’t get him out until Monday. It was terrifying.

    2. econobiker*

      Per the United States legal system (~usually~) is this:
      The arrest and entry to jail are not for the small traffic violation itself but for the presumed FAILURE of the person to pay the traffic fine or to appear in traffic court (court held specifically for motor vehicle offenses) about the traffic offenses. Any traffic offense (usually involve operating motor vehicles) ticket given to you will have a way to either pay for it and will have an assigned date if you choose to appear in court in front of a judge (only) to argue your innocence against why the ticket was issued. (you could bring a lawyer but most traffic tickets are so low in cost that $200/hr lawyer is not a financially wise choice.)
      Some serious offenses are mandatory court appearances, without availability for mail in fines, such as like alcohol involved driving offenses (commonly DUI/DWI/OWI -driving under influence/driving while intoxicated/operating while intoxicated) or motor vehicle offenses involving injury or death of another person.
      If you fail to pay and fail to appear the judge will issue a warrant at that court date for your arrest for failure to appear. The court typically does not mail a written notice of the warrant to your driver’s license listed home address so the first time you might know about the warrant is when you are pulled over for another traffic offense and arrested.

      1. I Have RBF*

        The court typically does not mail a written notice of the warrant to your driver’s license listed home address so the first time you might know about the warrant is when you are pulled over for another traffic offense and arrested.

        This is the most sucktastic thing about the US traffic court system. There is no way to know about a warrant for “failure to appear” on a traffic ticket. If they screw up your address on a non-moving violation, you may not even know that there is a ticket at all, much less a bench warrant.

        I have received tickets for former residents and random others at my home address, without the ability to get them to the victim. All I can do is send them back marked “Not at this address”. The system assumes bad intent on the part of the victim, when it’s actually the incompetence of the police and the DMV that screws them over.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      As a former criminal attorney I can assure you quite firmly that there is no reason to speculate that it wasn’t. It does happen. All the time.

    4. bean counter*

      Jails are typically short term facilities where someone is held until their court appearance/trial/sentencing. If no one can pay their bail, they can indeed sit in jail until the court appearance takes place. It’s a major issue in my city. People who are convicted are typically sentenced to time in prison (long term facility).

  31. Rainbow*

    Also, OP3: my Swedish colleagues block out lunchtimes all the time. I think there’s maybe even a feature in Outlook/Teams/Viva to do it automatically.

  32. Karma is my Boyfriend*

    I wonder what their response would have been if the employee needed time for an emergency—someone’s in the hospital, etc.?

    Unfortunately, I’ve been on the employee’s side of this, and a family member was put into a medically induced coma on a Sunday afternoon, while the doctors kept assuring us that by the end of the first week, they’d wake up the family member. (They ended up being in a coma for three weeks.)

    When this situation happened, my first thought was “hey, how am I going to get to the hospital, 10 hours away, when it’s already 5pm??” and definitely not “Oh, I need to call my employer.” I guess in my case, I was able to let my employer know, but it was definitely later on Monday morning. And because of the day by day changes, I told my boss I could likely return next week on Monday, but alas, could not, because the family member was in the coma for another two weeks.

    So, if I had been starting a new job at this time, I, like the employee OP wrote about, would have had to call in last minute and assure them I could make it the next week, and then not being able to follow through with that.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            If the police decide to arrest you, you aren’t given a choice in the matter. There is a lot jurisprudence supporting the right of police officers to assert and detain you for reasons that turn out to not be your fault. It’s officially not their jobs to get it right. People get arrested all the time for dubious reasons.

            Warrants generated by paperwork snafus are not as uncommon as they should be.

          2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            Do you really believe that everyone who is in jail committed a crime? I don’t know where you’re located but in the USA that is very much not the case.

          3. Bast*

            There are enough anecdotes in this comment section alone to show that it is NOT outside the realm of possibility to end up in jail for something relatively minor (ie: an unpaid or… “unpaid” traffic ticket from 5 years ago) or being John Smithed to jail because other John Smith did something and you have the misfortune of having the same or very similar name, even though you aren’t the same guy, or your dad drove the car and got a ticket but YOU had the misfortune to be the one driving when pulled over, etc. And yes, while these things get sorted out eventually, it kinda blows to have your new job ruined for something so minor.

          4. I Have RBF*

            Actually, jail is very much “out of your control”. See the above anecdotes of mistaken identity and surprise warrants. The police have no sense of humor or proportion when they get to play the heavy and arrest someone on a bench warrant. They treat people the same whether it’s for a traffic ticket or a felony, IMO. Plus, once you have had to deal with the judicial system, you are always a suspect for something, especially if you are a minority.

            I’m white and female, but disabled. The police scare the living crap out of me, because even though I’m stone cold sober, I wouldn’t be able to pass a field sobriety test due to my disability which affects my balance.

            Also, the assumption on the part of so many people that the victim has a family member who they are able to call and have them handled all of the outside stuff, including notifying a (new) job, in the event of an arrest is naive at best. It assumes a standard, middle class lifestyle and privilege, and for a lot of people it just isn’t true. Think about how many times you read about people who die in their apartments because they have no family or close friends to check on them. Now expand that to realize that even family and friends don’t have access to a person’s new job information. Even if they could help, that help would be focused on getting the person out of jail.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        There’s also a huge difference between “our known employee is going through a terrible thing” and “Where the F is the new guy, he already put off his start date once”.

        Also if I were in Karma’s situation with the new job, pretty sure I’d have said “family medical emergency X is happening, doctors say we should be OK by Monday but I’ll have to keep you posted”.

  33. WellRed*

    I recently received an email response from a company that referred to “ex-employee Ferguson Smith” right in the subject line. That seemed a bit harsh.

  34. sometimeswhy*

    For the second letter, a way I pivoted the reference for a high performer was to say what Alison suggested first and then talk about with work environments that would stifle their excellent work. I gave specific examples of management styles I’d seen them work under. They were always a high performer but given a degree of independence, they were just astonishingly good.

  35. Tiger Snake*

    If it was ‘you’re fired for being arrested’ before getting details, even for a security role, I’d say that they were jumping the gun.

    But pushing the start date back a full week last minute (as opposed to, when the original offer went out), and then was in jail on their new start date also last minute is not a positive pattern. Perhaps it is unfair that it starts to make people wonder if you’re being honest – the timing and the fact he couldn’t pay a bail and was in arrest the whole day starts to make a person wonder if the arrest really was only today.

    But perhaps we’re also being led to make assumptions about the actual reason he was let go. It could be that this was just the last straw, and the company doesn’t see value in belaboring the point – I wonder if there was other flakiness during the interview process they gave him the benefit of a doubt over until it was seen this would be a regular occurance.

  36. Bad First Days*

    I once overslept and was about 2.5 hours late for my first day at a new job. I had no way to contact my new boss, so I just got there as soon as possible. I’d never done anything like that and I spent the whole morning horribly berating myself. I must have apologized a dozen times that day and assured them I’d never done anything like that before. To my shock they didn’t care at all.

    At my next job someone else got into a car accident on his way to work on his first day. I don’t think we found out about it for 5-6 hours. Folks were just glad he was okay.

    Would the response have been the same if one or both of us had been in jail? I don’t know, but in my experience being late or missing your first day is a bigger deal to the employee than the employer as long as they don’t make a regular habit of being late or not showing up.

  37. Coffee please*

    I imagine it’s best practice to put an auto respond message under someone who has left and who to reach out to. I recently took on a departed colleague’s inbox and her emails go straight to me now, but have an auto away. Eventually I’ll delete her account once enough time has passed.

  38. Scottish Beanie*

    Years ago, I was headed for the DMV when I was pulled over by a police officer and issued a registration ticket. Long story short, I almost got charged with a felony because the officer failed to check a box on the ticket indicating a minor registration issue (which was why I was going to the DMV the first place).

    There was a long series of mistakes between the police officer and the courts, which resulted in me standing in front of a judge risking arrest for a felony and losing my job, and it would have been the first and only offense on my record. It is very easy to get caught up in the legal system just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong person behind the siren.

    However, that’s not an excuse at all for calling out of work last minute (unless sick or with an amazingly good excuse). Sometimes, even as a new employee, one has to grit their teeth and admit to embarrassing situations for people to trust their character. The new employee erred by calling out and then extending the start date by a week with no justification. Everything after that was tainted.

  39. Michelle*

    Almost this exact thing happened to my husband about 20 years ago. He was leaving the house for a job interview (for a job he badly needed), when two police officers showed up at our door to arrest him over a ticket from several years earlier. He’d been working at a coffee shop, and his boss went to run an errand. While the boss was out, a health inspector showed up, and ticketed my husband for not having the proper credentials to be running the shop by himself. Boss said he’d take care of it, and my husband assumed he didn’t have to worry about it. That was not the case.

    The officers were very nice and let my husband go to his interview, but after that he had to spend the night in jail until we could get the money to pay his fine. It was the only time he’s ever been arrested in his life. I don’t remember if he got the job.

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